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Indian corruption: CPM-CPI ties in Kerala strained over transport minister Chandy ouster

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It appears that the Communist factions in the ruling Left collation government are looking for opportunities to fight over them, washing dirty linen in public. This presents the leftism and their government in a shabby manner.

CPI (Communist Party of India) and CPM (Communist Party of India -Marxist) are major components of the ruling coalition in Kerala State in South India are still in conflict over their  self importance in Indian politics though their presence is now reduced to just two states: Kerala and Tripura.

CPM broke away from CPI along Soviet-China lines of conflict over leadership of Communist International. After the death of Stalin, Chinese communist party demanded the leadership but Soviet leader President Khrushchev denied that, leading to severe strains in Russo-China relations. CPI followed the footsteps of Soviet Russia while China became the icon of CPM. Although both Russia and China have discarded communism in favor of mixed capitalism, Indian communist wings still toe the same old lines of attachments.

That is the real cause of continued tension among communist factions in India, though many local issues further complicate the discord. CPI blames CPM of showcasing its ‘big brotherly attitude’ and wanted the leader CPM with more MLAs and MPs to consider CPI as equals.  

The non-ideological divide between the CPM and CPI in Kerala over former transport minister Thomas Chandy’s resignation over his partial occupation of a lake in his home town with his own construction activities, deepened last week with senior leaders of both parties publicly criticising each other over the fiasco, affect the strength and unity of the LDF.

CPI was demanding the ouster of a corrupt minister in the Left government while CPM, the leader of the coalition indirectly sought to shield him. Then the court judgment found Chandy culprit forcing him to give in after presenting a bold stand of defiance, refusing to resign. For the minister, perhaps, the strong people have the right cum privilege of looting the public resources. As a minister he only tried to protect his ‘private interests’.

The minister Chandy belonging to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – an LDF coalition partner – resigned but the communists, instead of putting an end to the issue, continued to fight over the issue. Possibly they think this way they can catch the attention of the public. CPI did not attend a crucial meeting of the left parties held in the capital, Thiruvanathapuram.

The blame-game began with CPI mouth-piece Janayugom publishing an editorial on its front page with a string of arguments in support of the CPI ministers’ decision to boycott Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

Sources in both parties said the reactions by state leaders were with the knowledge and approval of their respective central leaderships who have also joined the issue. Though criticism levelled by both parties was sharp, both parties said the crisis won’t blow up to affect the strength and unity of the LDF.

CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan then convened a news conference to counter CPI’s arguments and CPI deputed its assistant secretary K Prakash Babuto pick holes in Kodiyeri’s arguments. Kodiyeri, it is learnt, convened the news conference as directed by the party’s central leadership. In the morning, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who attended the party’s available politburo meeting in New Delhi, appraised the leadership about CPI’s extraordinary mode of protest. The chief minister also told the leadership about past incidents too in which the CPI tried to score a point by playing to the gallery. “If someone thinks that by boycotting the cabinet meeting, he had tried to take the credit behind transport minister Thomas Chandy’s resignation, he can’t be blamed,” said Kodiyeri who termed the boycott as an ‘immature step’, ‘improper act’ and a ‘breach of coalition ethics’. He said CPI’s act only helped the UDF, under fire over the solar scam commission’s findings, save its face.

The cabinet meeting had started after making sure that Chandy resigned. “We cannot find fault with anyone who might think that the CPI tried to take the credit at the last minute. A government might get both plaudits and brickbats. Taking the credit for praiseworthy acts and accusing the allies for criticisms amount to breach of all coalition ethics,” said Kodiyeri.

This argument was refuted by Prakash Babu who said the CPI never received any communication regarding the resignation of Chandy till 9am on Wednesday. “Neither the party leadership nor the parliamentary party leadership were informed about the understanding on Chandy’s resignation. Our stand was clear and it was not to sit in the cabinet meeting along with a minister who had approached the high court against the same cabinet in which he is a member. Our ministers decided to boycott the cabinet when Chandy claimed after holding talks with the CM in the morning that he would attend the cabinet meeting,” Babu said. He said the CPI didn’t want any credit regarding Chandy’s resignation. “The positions taken by CPI would only strengthen the LDF,” he said. Replying to Kodiyeri’s criticism that CPI’s act helped the opposition, he said if Chandy quit as soon as the legal advice on collector’s report came, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala would have to stop ‘Padayorukkam’ (his yatra across the state) mid-way.

The CPM-CPI ties in Kerala are passing through a rough patch after four ministers of the CPI boycotted Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting as they wanted Minister Thomas Chandy to be sacked. The boycott caused embarrassment to the CPM and the government. Another issue that had strained the relationship was the decision of the revenue department to cancel the title deed of CPM-backed Joice George, MP, whose father had illegally acquired reserved land from Tamil laborers in Kottakamboor in Devikulam taluk in Idukki.

The revenue department went after encroachers in Munnar which included CPM legislator S Rajendran. This had led to transfer of daring Sub-Collector Sriram Venkataraman. But the new person in his place, VR Premkumar, was given instructions by the Revenue Minister to go after the encroachers. This resulted in the issuing of summons to Joice after failing to appear before officials.

The revenue department cancelled the ownership right of 20 acres of Joice and his family members. An inquiry found that his father had made fake documents in the name of six Tamil laborers to ‘acquire’ the land distributed by the government to landless Scheduled Tribes.

Kerala High Court, emphasizing the need for protection of the fragile ecology of Devikulam, provided the much needed vigor to the revenue department. Former Principal Secretary Nivedita P Haran in her inquiry report had indicted Joice for encroaching in five villages through fake documents.

The CPM has set up a body to fight eviction of people from encroached land, keeping the CPI out.

The unnecessary rift

The rift between the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which leads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), and the Communist party of India (CPI), the second-largest constituent of the front, has widened after it has come to power in Kerala 11 months ago. Even though the bickering between the two parties has been quite common with the CPI charging the CPM with ‘big brotherly attitude’, this time, it is all over the functioning of the government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The differences of opinion between the two parties that cropped up after the killing of two Maoists in the Nilambur forests in Malappuram district in November last year have now become more acute with the CPI coming out openly against the state government’s stand on key issues.

The CPI party has been most critical about the handling of the police by the chief minister, who controls the home portfolio. The party trained its guns against Vijayan after he consistently justified alleged police excesses. He had backed the police in the Maoist killing case by endorsing police chief Loknath Behera’s version that the Thunderbolt men had fired at the Left rebels — Kuppuswamy Devaraj and Ajitha — after they had attacked his men during an encounter.

The CPI, which refused to buy the argument, however, stopped pursuing the case after the state government ordered a magisterial inquiry into it. However, the party raked up the case after the government termed Naxal Varghese, who was killed in police custody 40 years ago, as a hardcore criminal and dacoit.

The home department took this stand in an affidavit filed in the high court in response to a petition filed by the relatives of Varghese seeking compensation for his murder in the wake of the conviction of the police officer responsible for the murder.

CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran viewed the affidavit as contrary to the position taken by the Left in the sensational case. But what has dismayed Kanam was a series of instances, in which home department departed from the Left’s stated positions.

They include the arrest of several people, including writers and social activists, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in various cases. The CPI leader wondered how the Left government could use this law which they had described as draconian while they were in the opposition. The police action against the family of engineering college student Vishnu Pranoy, who died in suspicious circumstances in his college hostel on 5 January, and the subsequent arrest of four social activists, angered the CPI further.

The CPI secretary, who took the initiative to end the fast launched by the mother and sister of the deceased student in the wake of the police action at the police headquarters, has viewed the action as one of the most glaring instances of the government’s departure from the Left’s positions. The party has seen this deviation not only in the handling of the police but also in several other issues, which include the government’s refusal to reveal information under the Rights to Information Act (RTI) and the move to revive various projects opposed by the LDF while in opposition on environmental grounds.

Rajendran felt that the judicial intervention sought by the government to back its decision not to reveal certain Cabinet decisions was contrary to the Left stand on the RTI Act. He felt that the step would erode Left’s credibility as it had worked tirelessly to get the Act passed.

The CPI is also unhappy with the lack of support from home department to the drive launched by the revenue ministry headed by a party minister against encroachments in the state’s tourist hotspot of Munnar. The issue reached the boiling point when the local CPM activists physically blocked Revenue officials from evicting the encroachers, that too in front of police officials.

Though the Revenue department launched the drive as per a collective decision of the LDF, the Idukki leadership of the CPM opposed it, saying that it could affect the poor, who were given land in the picturesque hill town to build houses.  Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan clarified that the action was against the resort mafia, who have grabbed huge tracts of land and erected multi-storey buildings in violation of the rules, but the CPM continued to obstruct the drive.

Curiously, the police remained a mute spectator when activists manhandled the Revenue officials who tried to demolish a shed built on an encroached land in the heart of the town. Though sub-collector Sreeram Venkatarman directed the police to stop the activists, the police acted only after he asked them to give in writing if they did not wish to act.

Unhappy

The CPI plea to the chief minister to take action against the police officials and to restrain the party men from obstructing the anti-encroachment drive has fell on deaf years. The CPI is apparently unhappy with the silence maintained by Vijayan.

On the contrary, the CPM has tried to put the CPI in the dock. While CPM former general secretary and politburo member Prakash Karat accused the CPI of behaving like an opposition, senior leaders of the party in Idukki, including Power Minister MM Mani have been firing barbs at the Revenue Minister and the CPI secretary. While Mani asked the party not to take the revenue department as their fiefdom, local MLA S Rajendran threatened the officials involved in the anti-encroachment drive. “The officials should not remain under the impression that they would be able to continue with the drive by targeting the common man. Don’t blame the government if people start dealing with you directly,” he warned.

Rajendran also attacked the Revenue Minister saying that he was intervening in needless issues. He has asked the minister to restrain the sub-collector, who, he said, was trying to become a hero with the help of media.

The CPI state executive that met at Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday came down heavily on the CPM for the attack on the party. Party secretary Kanam Rajendran pointed out that the CPI has been pointing out the wrong-doings of the government in order to strengthen the LDF and the government. “We have been speaking as a Left entity and not as a party in the opposition. We have only stated the positions taken by the LDF at the national level on various issues. Any attempt to deviate from these positions will weaken the government,” he said. He said that his party’s attempt was to thwart attempts by certain quarters to weaken the government. However, political analysts feel that the open spat between the two parties would affect governance, which is already hit by a standoff between the IAS and IPS lobby.

Charges against notorious Chandy

The problem began when the CPM leadership, including CM Pinarayi Vijayan, has made it clear that the minister will be protected at any cost even as many in the ruling alliance want Thomas Chandy’s ouster. It has been alleged that Vijayan’s rapport with Chandy goes beyond immediate political considerations. A section in the CPM thinks of Chandy as a reliable source for party fund-raising.

Kerala transport minister and businessman Thomas Chandy is caught in a firestorm of allegations —he has encroached upon lakeside land to build a resort and allotted Rs 28.5 lakh of government fund to improve its approach road. But Chandy, the nominee of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the ministry, is not new to such scandals. What’s new is the response of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government. Given their history, who would have ever guessed that the LDF or the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would try to protect Chandy?

Sixteen years ago, Chandy was the subject of a hot political debate allegedly initiated by the CPM. In 2001, Kairali TV, the Malayalam television channel launched by the party, sent its then New Delhi bureau chief John Brittas to Kuwait to work on a two-part investigation story titled Neru Thedal (In search of the truth). The investigation accused KP Mohanan, then head of rival Asianet News television channel in the state, of embezzling Rs 420 million from the Indian School at Salmia in Kuwait and named Chandy as the co-accused. Kairali claimed Chandy could evade arrest because he paid a huge fine to authorities.

Today, Chandy is the richest MLA in Kerala with over Rs 920-million investments. Brittas is now an official advisor to the Kerala government and Kairali TV is a fierce defender of Chandy, who is embroiled in a series of allegations, including land encroachment, violation of wetland protection laws and corruption.

Kairali TV is now claiming all allegations against Chandy are false and are part of a political conspiracy to destabilize Kerala’s Left government.

The main allegation is that Chandy’s Lake Palace Resort encroached upon Marthandam Lake and that its parking area was constructed illegally. Further, in the case of Vembanad Lake (of which Marthandam Lake is a part), Chandy is also accused of using buoys to shut off direct access to his resort. This means the often-poor residents of tiny islands in the backwaters can’t use their country boats to get anywhere near the resort. After the allegations surfaced, the buoys have been removed but cases are pending. Chandy is also accused of constructing a road to it by illegally reclaiming paddy land. And that tarring was done in August by Harbour Development department after Chandy allegedly diverted Rs 28.5 lakh worth of development fund of two Rajya Sabha members.

The allegations began doing the rounds since July first week, a few months after Chandy became transport minister. By September, the district collector TU Anupama was asked by revenue minister E Chandrasekharan to conduct an inquiry. On September 22, Anupama submitted the report. Sources in the revenue department say Anupama compared satellite images of the area prior to construction with present images. The collector’s public report says, “Reclamation of land without permission is an offence according to the third section of Wetland Conservation Act. Thomas Chandy has flouted this rule. The approach road to the resort was also built illegally. The direction of the stream near the resort has been redirected without permission. Examination of satellite images proves reclamation of land.”

Since the allegations became public, the NCP has been deeply divided over Chandy retaining his ministerial position. A sizeable section led by the NCP’s national general secretary TP Peethambaran wants him to stay on, a rival group led by AK Saseendran (the former transport minister who had to resign because of a sex scandal) has demanded his immediate ouster. The student and youth wings of the party have already adopted resolutions seeking his resignation. Saseendran and Chandy are the only NCP members in the state assembly.

Also working against Chandy is a clear paper trail. The current DC’s report says that a previous DC, Veena N Madhavan, had instructed the revenue divisional officer to restore the paddy field, after learning about the encroachment. Though the collector sent the instruction on November 12, 2014, it was not executed. As the land encroachment scandal was heating up in August, further documents surfaced in the media accusing Chandy of hiding significant investments — Rs 150 crore in Lake Palace Resort — in his affidavit to the Election Commission.

Meanwhile, the tax rebate granted to the resort by the municipality has been withdrawn. And on September 15, the Alappuzha municipality suspended four of its officials (pending inquiry) in connection with the disappearance of files pertaining to the resort. This had come into focus when the district collector asked the municipality to submit all the rebate-related documents granted to the resort and permission given for the construction of several structures.

Opposition anger

The opposition has been continuously demanding Chandy’s resignation — it had strong reservations against him being made minister because of his alleged dubious record. The Congress has approached the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau demanding a case against Chandy. “He has no moral right to continue in office. The CM fears Chandy and his money power. So he is ignoring voices even within his party to sack Chandy,” said leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala at a press conference.

Naturally, there is discontent in both the CPM and the LDF. What makes matters more complicated is the fact that the revenue department is controlled by CPI’s E Chandrasekharan who has taken a clear position on the scandal. “We have ordered for a detailed probe after the collector’s initial report indicated that there were violations. The government requires more facts to know who did the violations. What I can say now is that the investigations are impartial and are progressing fast. We will not tolerate any encroachment on government land and natural resources,” Chandrasekharan said.

Earlier, the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that transport minister Thomas Chandy should be expelled from the Cabinet in the wake of the Vigilance Court order for quick verification against him in the land encroachment case. The report of the district collector has confirmed that there is land encroachment in the resort of the minister, and hence he has no right to continue as minister, he told reporters at Sreekandapuram, after a reception to the campaign, Padayorukkam, on Saturday. If Chandy is not ready to resign, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan should expel him from the Cabinet, he said, adding that the minister is clenching to power with the support of the chief minister. Alleging that there is a nexus between the CPM and the BJP, the Opposition leader also said that the CBI’s decision not to move appeal against the High Court verdict in Lavalin case is the result of the secret pact between both the parties. The stand of the Kerala faction of the CPM that the party should keep away from the national alliance led by the Congress against the BJP is also the result of this pact, he said.

Repeating the stand that the UDF will be forced to take up the protest against the GAIL pipeline project if there is no effort to solve it through talks, the Opposition leader also alleged that Pinarayi Vijayan is trying to make another Nandigram out of Mukkam in Kozhikode, where the people are protesting against the GAIL pipeline project.

The BJP state leadership has demanded a probe into the allegations that Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman and Congress leader PJ Kurien and CPI Rajya Sabha member KE Ismail were used for constructing the road. “Chandy wanted to construct an illegal road to his resort. He gets MPLAD funds for the private road from none other than top Congress leader Kurian. Ismail is a top leader of the same CPI that claims probity and accountability. It is ironic that both Congress and CPI are now turning against Chandy,” said BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan at a press conference.

Rise of Kuwait Chandy

Chandy began his political career as an activist of the Congress’s student wing, the Kerala Students Union (KSU) in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district in the 1970s. He suddenly vanished from the scene to re-emerge as Kuwait’s most influential entrepreneur with high stakes in hospitality and education sectors. Better known as ‘Kuwait Chandy’ in NRI circles, in the 1980s, he limited his political enthusiasm to Pravasi Congress (its NRI wing), as a highly influential powerbroker in Kerala for the Malayali community in Kuwait. He enjoyed a warm rapport with then chief minister K Karunakaran. Chandy’s adversaries allege that it was his association with Karunakaran that helped him expand his business empire in Kuwait and Kerala.

The evolution of Chandy as a politician with significant clout since his relatively recent electoral debut is quite evident in the strong support he enjoys from Vijayan. Chandy became active in politics during the 2006 assembly elections, when he filed a nomination on behalf of Karunakaran’s now defunct breakaway Congress outfit, the Democratic Indira Congress Karunakaran (DICK). Though DICK had the support of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the election, only Chandy was able to win. He was then re-elected from the same Kuttanad constituency in 2011 as the NCP candidate after the DICK merged with the Pawar’s party. This brought him into the LDF fold and he became the transport minister in April.

All through Chandy has denied allegations. The minister told HT that he had neither encroached on government land nor the lake. He also alleged a high-level political conspiracy. “All these allegations are politically motivated. If they can prove any of these allegations, I am ready to quit. Vested interests are plotting against me and my party. Nobody would believe that I am an encroacher on government land or lake. The road was constructed using funds from MPs only to help those poor families living close to the resort,” he said.

When asked about the recent findings of the revenue department, Chandy claimed that the collector filed the report without hearing his arguments.

Like many other stakeholders in this scandal, Kerala’s environmentalists want action again Chandy. But at the same time they want the government to not stop with Chandy. “The allegations against Chandy are just the tip of the iceberg. A whopping 40 percent of the lake was encroached upon by private parties and most encroachments happened in the past 15 years,” points out social worker Jacob Lazer, quoting from a study conducted by the People’s Commission on Vembanad Ecosystem (PCVE), constituted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad. “If the government acts tough on Chandy, other encroachers would feel the heat too. The backwaters of Kuttanad are vital to the fragile local ecosystem,” he said.

Fellow environmentalist Purushan Eloor says they are “waiting and watching the government’s move over the issue. Since the area around Vembanad lake was declared as a Ramsar site [wetland of international importance], even minor encroachments would invite strict action.” “The defence put up by Chandy about the allegations levelled against him for land encroachment has fallen flat with the preliminary report submitted by the district collector indicating that land has been usurped,” says Kochi-based environmental activist and lawyer Harish Vasudevan. “By defending Chandy and ignoring the evidence piling up against him, the CPM leadership is creating a bad precedent. The CM, who asked two of his former ministers to resign in the face of allegations, is now afraid of the money power and influence of Chandy,” says Vasudevan.

On September 9, the administrators of the Mathoor temple in Kuttanad have approached the government accusing Chandy of encroaching upon land belonging to the temple, located close to Chandy’s resort. On September 21, after the TV channel Asianet did a 20-part series on how Chandy used his money, power and influence to escape legal hurdles after his involvement in the land encroachment, its Alappuzha office was attacked. According to a petition that Asianet filed with Alappuzha police, the goons were hired by the minister. The police is investigating the attack.

Observation: Can corruption be ended in India?

Kerala as well as India is infested with many Chandys that first use the government to make and increase their wealth and then become a part of the government to loot the public resources and to decide the fate the state and nation.  

Rise of an ordinary Chandy to become a top neo-capitalist of Kerala is phenomenon but not exclusive. Unfortunately, India system provides for all loopholes for the strong people to manipulate and swindle the state cum alien resources. There is an apparent steady helping hand from the government to those that seek illegal wealth. Many rich and corporate lords are the beneficiaries of this process and they use their media to divert the attention of the people from their corrupt practices. Many people share the corrupt booty. Obviously this arrangement has promoted mafias in all fields around.

Chandy’s troubles are not exclusive but prevalent across the state of in Kerala and India s a whole and it does not look like going away any time soon.

Corruption and nepotism are rampant and all pervasive in India in all states and only by degree and level they differ from one another. It is very difficult to root out corruption from Indian society as politicians and officials work for bribes and without greasing the dirty palms in offices – top to bottom – nothing gets done in India.

Bribery seems to be the birth right of greedy Indian politicians and so Indian Parliament should consider making bribery-corruption, public cheating, stealing, etc by political class non-punishable offense.

Under the circumstances when corruption has become a part of Indian system, as the political class is the main culprit in making corruption rampant state wise and nationally it is worthwhile to  consider making corruption a permissible crime and no punishment could be awarded to the registered politicians. 

Politicians pay bribes to the people during the poll and spend huge resources to get elected and once they win and become the ruling party or in the opposition they demand to be given the right to loot the nation or state as the case maybe In fact that is reason why the politicians are engaged in wholesale corruption activities. The regime tries to trouble only those politicians who pose problem to their misrule of the regime/government.  .

Without politicians the governments, assemblies and parliament cannot be run and without extra earning by bribes, politicians won’t be interested in entering politics at all. .

If, however, officals and other mafias are engaged corrupt operations they must be dealt with the worst possible punishments.

If political and officals cannot punished for their crimes, the law must be amended suitably to provide them the necessary relief.

Hide and seek principle won’t work. 

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Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations

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Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations (Picture source news .cn)

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as  the Minister of Foreign Relations after his  Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister  Gunawardena  hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena   is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena  a  graduate  from the University  of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as  the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP)  he entered Parliament in a  by-election held in Maharagma.  He  is well-known as a  long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new  Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena  is  supposed  to  implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated  “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there  is a history to this non-aligned policy.     At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new  Sri Lankan government had outlined in the  manifesto how the  presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The   manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister    mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

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Kartarpur may be the first drop of rain

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On November 09th, 2019, Pakistan and India opened the first-ever visa-free corridor between the two countries to facilitate the pilgrimage of Sikhs – a minority community in both India and Pakistan but with major chunk of its populace settled in India – to their second holiest site located in Katarpur, a border village in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Inaugurated on the respective sides by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, the4.1 km long corridorconnecting­ Dera Baba Nanak Shrine in India with Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan – will enable more than5,000 devotees to visit the holy shrine everyday and is widely being regarded as the first drop of rain in the decade’s long history of the desiccated and conflictual relationship between the two neighbours.

An occurrence such momentous that it effectively exalted Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan as the most beloved figurefor Sikhs, besides actuating Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue a rare and extraordinary message of gratitude towards his Pakistani counterpart, despite the contextual reality that later has been drawing parallels between the Indian PM and Nazi leader Hitler after the Indian government’s draconian venture in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) steeped the relations between the two countries to an unprecedented low.

The trudge to this landmark breakthrough was as arduous and bumpy as it could have been between the two nations that share a 07 decades-long history of the antagonism. Although, the demand of Sikhs to be granted access to the revered shrine – located just a few kilometers away from the Redcliff Line – is as old as the two antagonist nations, interminable strains in the relationship between the two countries proved to be an impediment in the way of this few kilometers of journey across the border.

Even as Pakistan extended the olive branch and Indian politician Navjot Singh Sihdu – who attended PM Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in August last year – was apprised by Pakistani COAS about his country’s readiness to open the “corridor of peace”, cynicism and suspicion from Indian side were axiomatic. Sidhu was barraged with denunciation back home for embracing Pakistan’s top military official, while the sciolists in Indian political and strategic community tried to conjecture about the “covert designs” behind Pakistan’s apparently benevolent move. Indisputably, India was not left with any other choice except for accepting the Pakistani offer as responding otherwise could have infuriated its 22 million-strong Sikh minority. Though the Modi government hesitatingly expressed its consent for the construction of the corridor, it didn’t respond positively to the successive dialogue offers made by PM Khan.

To add to the complexity was the hyper-nationalistic and anti-Pakistan narrative adopted by PM Modi during his recent election campaign after he had fallen short of delivering on his previous election promises as regards transforming the Indian economy and improving people’s lives. As if Pakistan bashing was not enough to garner votes, Modi went as far as to push the two countries almost to the brink of a nuclear exchange in February 2019 when in response to an attack– purported to be a false-flag – at Indian security forces in restive Kashmir, he ordered Indian Air Force (IAF) to bomb targets inside mainland Pakistan, provoking a daring response from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) the next day resulting in the downing of an IAF jet and arrest of an Indian pilot by Pakistani forces, who was returned few days later.

Nevertheless, the perilous brinkmanship worked spectacularly for Modi and his right-wing BJP secured an overwhelming majority in the lower house of parliament, full credit to the shrewd manipulation of mainstream and social media– which abetted the regime’s efforts to cunningly overshadow the embarrassment of aircraft downing and capture of pilot with the celebrations of “punishing Pakistan”.

After winning elections, Modi further upped the ante in the disputed J&K and after imposing an all-out communication clampdown and enacting a security blanket over the valley of Kashmir – the state’s only Muslim majority region – unilaterally repealed the region’s decades-old semi-autonomous status.

Predictably, it evoked a strong response from Pakistan which downgraded diplomatic ties with India, cut-off trade and expelled the Indian High Commissioner while refusing to send his own to New Delhi. Then followed a long diplomatic scrimmage between the two countries with Pakistan trying to rally the support of international community against the tyrannical Indian moves in the occupied valley and India responding with counter moves aimed at hurting Pakistan diplomatically and economically, besides propagating the deceitful mantra of “all is well” for Kashmir.

Notwithstanding the reignited tensions, when Pakistan decided to move ahead with the opening of the corridor as per schedule, it was regarded as a bold diplomatic move. Though it would have earn the country appreciation abroad, a severe backlash from the opposition at home was very much on the cards and at a time when leader of a right-wing political party Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman was holding a sit-in in Islamabad with his thousands of zealot supporters demanding Khan’s resignation, the risk of domestic backlash had increased manifold.

Nevertheless, Khan’s government with the undisguised support of country’s powerful military moved ahead with the decision despite criticism from opposition politicians like Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – whose left-wing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) frequently champions religious freedom and interfaith harmony but didn’t miss the opportune moment to ensure the “obligatory” political point-scoring.

Although, Pakistan has made a landmark move despite soaring regional tensions and domestic pressure and opening of the border corridor can be rightfully considered as the first drop of rain after decades of desiccation, the chances that a rainstorm may follow which can convert the roads into the river, remain ever more slim and the major impediment is the simmering volcano; the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) – a sticking point mentioned by Khan in his speech on the day of the inauguration of corridor.  

For more than seven decades the outstanding issue of J&K has been instigating hostilities between the two now nuclear-armed neighbors and recent unilateral actions by India – which violate numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions and various bilateral accords with Pakistan – have just added to the fire and fury. Essentially, Modi’s regime’s recent actions in J&K has taken the matters to a point of no-return and the chances of Pakistan making any further peace overtures towards India or responding to any – though highly unlikely – Indian peace initiative, are slightest.

The pessimism around talks has already been echoed by Khan when he made it abundantly clear that until Indian government ends its oppressive clampdown in the valley of Kashmir and restores pre-August 5th, 2019 status of disputed J&K – an even distant possibility – negotiations remains out of question.

Even though, there is a remote possibility that Khan’s government – which has almost lost its initially built momentum against India over Kashmir and seems to be more concerned with other domestic and regional issues – will even subtly try to normalize the relationship with India, yet a slight nuance of any such move is likely to evoke strong backlash from country’s religious right as well as the political opposition. And given the virtual reality that supporting Kashmir cause is regarded as a symbol of nationalism in Pakistan, and country’s powerful military establishment and Khan are already facing accusations of striking a deal on Kashmir, it is even unlikely that Pakistan will venture on taking any further risk of making up with India, only to spark a general enragement.

India under Modi is undergoing a massive transformation and into the 6th consecutive year of BJP’s rule, the country’s fundamental secular outlook is under threat. In 1947, while Pakistan was being founded as a country for Muslims, India’s founding fathers envisioned a secular outlook for the culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse country. Seven decades below the line, Modi regime – despite publically pledging to safeguard India’s secular constitution – has embraced a fundamentally opposite course.

Rise of far-right may be a global phenomenon but India presents the most extreme and violent version of this imminent menace – a reality axiomatic by the rising religious intolerance, especially against Muslims; increased and generally overlooked incidents of mob-violence against minorities; cow vigilantes– which represent a militant brand of Hindu nationalism – patrolling the streets of India to impose their own version of “law” under state’s patronage; a sudden rise in the incidents of hate speech by the leaders of ruling party without facing any admonishment; the taming of Indian media to ally with government’s jingoistic policies and religiously incendiary rhetoric; various democratic and constitutional institutions conceding to the majoritarian impulse rather than adhering to constitution; ever reducing political space for dissent and opposition parties; and the recently introduced Citizenship Amendment Bill, which exclusively discriminates against Muslims.

These alarming trends clearly point out that Modi regime – in pursuance of Hindu supremacist Hindutva ideology – is steadfastly navigating the world’s largest democracy into the abyss of Fascism. Arguably, given the emerging trends in Indian society, Khan’s analogy between Modi and Hitler was not that erroneous and many Indian politicians and commentators have also expressed concerns that the early signs of Fascism are already obvious in Indian society.

Narendra Modi – who came to power with an alluring economic reform and development agenda – is now totally reliant on anti-Muslim divisive politics and to a tragic consorting, the democratic and constitutional institutions of the country – which were to place a hindrance in the way of this majoritarian brand of politics – seem to be accomplices. With no institutional and social hindrance to the Hindutva –a brand of politics kept at bay for many decades – this divisive menace is now finally engulfing India’s political and social landscape and ultimately threatens the internal cohesion of diverse Indian society.

Given the ideological and historical context, Kashmir presented a test-case for the protagonists of Hindutva. The state of J&K – a Muslim majority region that acceded to Hindu majority India –was cherished as asymbol of India’s secular identity. However, Modi’s government’s revocation of region’s special status – which is fundamentally aimed at paving the way for introducing massive demographic changes in the region converting Muslims into a minority, essentially following the Israeli model in the West Bank –will not only help the regime in crushing the self-determination sentiments in the valley but will also be a major milestone achievement en route to transforming India into a Hindu state.

Ironically, Muslims living in India are not the only prey of rising Hindu Fascism and expansionist Hindutva have regional and global implications. Being a homeland to the successors of those “outsiders” who ruled the Hindu majority India for more than 850 years, Pakistan becomes the major nuisance for the Hindu supremacists currently in-charge in India. February 2019 nuclear brinkmanship by Modi regime; uninterruptedPakistan bashing by Indian media; adaptation of a well-choreographed anti-Pakistan narrative during elections campaigns by Indian politicians; vigorous Indian attempts to get Pakistan blacklisted by FATF; and continuous fomentation of subversive activities by Indian intelligence inside Pakistan point out that Pakistan’s long-held apprehensions about India plotting to weaken the country’s federation to ultimately subsume its tumbling parts, were not misplaced.

In fact, weakening Pakistan internally, disintegrating it and ultimately subsume its parts will be a step forward in the way of realization of the “Greater India” dream of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),the organization regarded as the ideological patron of ruling BJP and the major proponent of Hindu supremacist, majoritarian and expansionist Hindutva ideology with current Indian PM and most of the leaders of BJP as its life-long members.

To put the things in a nutshell, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor may be a sanguine gesture by Pakistan but India doesn’t seem to be even interested in some reciprocity. The issue of J&K – which has become further complicated due to India’s overassertive and intransigent attitude – presents an immediate stumbling block in the way of this “first drop of rain” being followed by a “downpour”– which can turn the dry and desiccated road into a river.

In the long-run, as the Modi government pursues the Hindutva policies and continues on a path to hurt Pakistan internally, economically and globally, chances of any further optimistic gesture from either side become even remote. And given the aforementioned immediate and long-term hurdles and the virtual reality that relations between the two countries have gone such desiccated that only continuous down pouring turning the roads into the rivers can provide the required panacea, Kartarpur corridor is likely to be proved as yet another noteworthy but futile confidence-building measure (CBM), without any significant headway towards long-lasting peace in the region. 

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South Asia

Lebanon and Sri Lanka: An Extraordinary Relationship and a Bright Future

Mohamad Zreik

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Since the Silk Road, Arabs turned to Asian countries, and this was the reason for the spread of Arab civilization in many Asian countries. The Arab merchants headed towards Sri Lanka because of its geographical position. This island was a point of rest and cultural interaction between Sri Lankans and Arabs, and this is an important reason for the presence of Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan-Lebanese relationship is long established. In the common history of these two countries, there are many good events. It is important to note that Sri Lanka is a peaceful country that has always been friendly to Lebanon at all times. In 1990, the relations between Lebanon and Sri Lanka became official after the establishment of diplomatic exchange. Sri Lanka’s first ambassador to Lebanon was appointed in 1997 and the diplomatic mission began in 1998. Prior to that, the Sri Lankan ambassador was appointed to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is based on the principle of friendship with all and hostility to no one, which has made this country a special place for Lebanese diplomacy. Sri Lanka traditionally follows a non-aligned foreign policy and does not take sides with major powers. Sri Lanka also has good relations with ASEAN countries, South Asian countries and major powers such as China, the United States and Russia, which has strengthened its internal peace.

Political and economic interest requires any country with ties to Sri Lanka to engage peacefully and diplomatically, because power and superiority with this island will have a negative effect. Sri Lanka is an active member of the United Nations and founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), member of the Commonwealth of Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Colombo Plan.

The estimated number of Sri Lankan citizens in Lebanon is between 80,000 and 90,000, most of them workers. There is also a Sri Lankan battalion active in the peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The main task of the Sri Lankan battalion is to ensure security of Force Headquarters compound where all command elements, branches and all key personnel including the Force Commander / Head of the Mission are accompanied. These tasks also include; applying all FB measures in accordance with the alert status established by UNIFIL Force Commander, providing updated information and assesses the FP situation in their respective areas as requested by the Force Protection Working Group.

During the visit of the State Minister Mr.Vasantha Senanayake to Lebanon, he expressed his country’s desire to develop bilateral relations with Lebanon and joint support in international forums. During that visit, the State Minister considered that the Sri Lankan state is interested in direct flights between the two countries in order to encourage tourism and communication, and called on the Lebanese state to open an embassy in Colombo. He said that Sri Lanka’s participation in UNIFIL reflects the goodwill of the Sri Lankan state towards Lebanon for the security and safety of the people.

Trade relations between Lebanon and Sri Lanka are thriving and are developing considerably year after year. Lebanon can import a lot of goods from Sri Lanka especially since this country is rich in natural resources such as rubber products, garments, gem,jewelry, spices, fisheries products, fruits, pharmaceuticals, coconut charcoal, pearls and precious stones. Many Lebanese products can be exported to Sri Lanka such as Dairy products, marble tiles, cosmetics, construction machineries, agricultural and hospital equipment.

The bilateral relationship between Lebanon and Sri Lanka is a good example of active and peaceful diplomacy. The actual history of that relationship dates back to time and in 1990 it was formalized through diplomatic representation. Many generations of Sri Lankans have come to know a lot about Lebanese culture because they were brought up in Lebanon; those can be considered honorary citizens.

You will hear from every Lebanese who visited Sri Lanka amazing words about the beauty of this island and the goodness of its people. The Lebanese should welcome every Sri Lankan in Lebanon and treat them in a respectful and humane manner, whatever their job or social position.

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