As the fiercely fought and the keenly watched Gujarat Elections draw to a close today, another discourse is set to dominate the Indian National Media. No doubt the recent polls in Gujarat have been a battle worth watching with personal attacks, violent barbs and extravagant one-man showmanship that put the entire nation to shame but the results are expected to just as unsettling to the mood of the nation.
In this battle for Gujarat, no quarter was asked and none was given. The results are expected to come next week and whatever, they may be, they will determine the course of my great nation.
Beneath all this cacophony of the Gujarat Elections, shrill voices of protest and reason (according to the speakers themselves and their supporters) gained volume. These voices called for the scrapping of the polls being held using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and a return to the era of ballot paper elections. The reason for this is that they believe, the EVMs are being tampered with and results being manipulated in favor of the ruling party. This claim has found much traction in the national media and it is rare to find any newsroom debate where the viability of the EVMs is not being questioned and sad as it may seem, the national Innovation which has made the Indian democracy hassle free & tamper-proof, become a subject of ridicule.
Before going into any nuances of the accusations being made against the EVM, let us first examine the Indian Electoral Process and the role of EVMs in it. India is the world’s largest democracy. Every adult citizen of India has the right to vote and elect a leader. The entire geographical spread of the nation is divided into small units, known as constituencies. Democracy in India is deep rooted and elections are held for the local bodies, the state assembly and the national assembly. This democratic decentralization has ensured that more and more people become the part of the system meant to govern them. Every voter in India is listed in a register prepared by the Election Commission of India (ECI), whose sole job is to ensure a free and fair election. The ECI takes charge of the entire official apparatus in a bid to ensure that every voter is able to go out and vote without any fear. During the Election period, the entire region is under a model code of conduct and the administration keeps a keen eye on those with the potential to violate the sacred sanctity of the electoral process. The Indian Democracy, while the largest in the world since its inception, had never been fool proof. Booth capturing, ballot-stuffing and cash-for-votes were some common problems that dominated the early elections. The ECI gradually managed to weed out most of the peculiarities of the electoral process over time. The introduction of the EVM allowed the ECI to reduce organizational & logistical hassles dramatically. The EVM is a standalone machine with no connection to any wireless or network devices. It is powered by a battery and has no need to rely on local power. The EVM comprises of two pieces, a ballot unit and a control unit. Each EVM has a chip and access to EVM internal circuitry to a select few. More so, the polls and counting are carried out in the presence of ECI observers, neutral observers, party delegates and in the security of Central Armed Police Forces. EVMs completely negated the ballot stuffing and the massive booth-capturing that was part and parcel of elections in the Hindi Heartland.
While allegations of EVM tampering were made ever since their introduction, these allegations gained much traction after the massive scale of BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh (India’s most populous and political bellwether). BJP and its allies won over 80% seats in a state which is the world’s most populous sub-division. It won’t be a hyperbole if I call UP the world’s fourth largest democracy. BJP and its allies won a little near 40% votes which translated into a humongous 80% majority in a three-cornered fight. While the sheer scale of victory was unprecedented, it was not entirely unexpected. Moreover, Data from the past election i.e. the 2014 General Elections showed that BJP lost votes and seats. But the Opposition could not comprehend this. For them, it was difficult to recognize that they had woken a sleeping giant and they were babies trying to take it on headlong. The opposition grappled with the possibility of looking weak and acknowledging that they had been out-maneuvered by the BJP and its massive election machinery. They could just very well say the same.But, saying so would have undermined their leader’s standing. A king never blames himself for the loss of his kingdom. He always has a fall guy.Hence, the Opposition looked for a fall guy. EVMs were a convenient fall guy. EVM tampering, they said. How else can BJP win in a state like UP?
A closer look at the polling data shows that what happened in UP was entirely predictable. The principle opposition parties of BJP in UP, the SP, BSP and the Congress all targeted a similar vote-bank- the Dalits& Muslims for the BSP and the Yadavs& Muslims for the SP-Congress combine. While formidable on paper, these 3 communities comprise only of 40% of the total electorate and this left the silent 60% open for BJP’s wooing. It is said that to win a war, you should consolidate your army and split that of your opponent and this is what happened in UP. It should not take a PhD in Psephology to realize where the BJP succeeded and where the opposition failed. On closer observation of the crowd making the most noise about EVM tampering, throws up a very interesting insight. The loudest voices against the EVMs are those who were considered to be king-makers and vote banks. Politicians lined up to woo them and doled out massive largess to ensure their support. In the media, those questioning the EVMs have always been anti-BJP and have a history of crying foul over the most trivial of issues (the Rafale “scandal” is their latest talk of the town).
Coming to Gujarat, the BJP’s stronghold and the home state of the current Prime Minister, the ruling party’s campaign appeared to have taken multiple hits (GST, Demonetization, the anti-incumbency of 22 years and the reservation protests) and was fast losing steam. Congress appears to have taken a lesson or two from its past blunders and had modified its campaign accordingly.A community which was aggressively wooed by all “secular” political parties is suffering from political irrelevance in Gujarat and Rahul Gandhi, the recently appointed party president is going on a literal temple run in Gujarat and is busy flaunting his upper caste credentials in a bid to woo the Hindu vote. The situation in Gujarat seems poised to be polarizing against BJP.But why do we forget a basic tenet of science, for every action there is equal and opposite reaction. For every instance of polarization, there is a counter polarization. Congress may have tried to polarize the Patidars on reservation but deep while, it split the OBCs with its reservation talks and there is a severe threat of counter-polarization. Who wins Gujarat remains to be seen but for now, BJP is clearly in the leading seat.
I know that the day when the results come and if they come in the favor of BJP, a shrill cry of EVMs being hacked to ensure the BJP’s victory will start to gain volume. Look closely at them, for you will find will, be none other than those who sit in TV New rooms and flaunt their secular credentials, all the while ignoring the fallacies of their own arguments. In the street, you may find a youth or two crying EVM fraud, blaming the Government for their joblessness while not acknowledging their own shortcoming of education and competency. Religious leaders with hushed voices who will say that they knew this would happen and the EVMs were hacked as no one could save the BJP, not acknowledging their role in mobilizing votes via sermons had come to a cropper and the electorate has become smarter. You will find opposition leaders rumbling and venting out their frustrations on the Election commission, not acknowledging their own shortcomings and weaknesses. Then there will be that odd guy on social media, who has no clue about how the electoral system works but always starts and ends his rants with EVM tampered. Look no further for these are the kings who have lost their kingdom.
The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region
Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.
The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.
According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:
[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]
Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.
While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security. Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.
In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:
(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)
India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.
A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.
This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.
IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan
Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership. People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.
The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees. Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.
IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.
We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.
It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.
Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.
The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.
Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.
People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.
Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors
Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.
Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.
Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.
Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.
Nepal & Pakistan
You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.
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