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India’s purblind opposition to Belt and Road Initiative

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China intends to host second global Belt-Road-Initiative (BRI) meet next month. China expects delegates from over 100 countries to attend the moot. The initiative has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation. Some 123 countries and 29 international organisations have signed the BRI agreements with China. To extract `extra mélange’ from China, India and USA have expressed reservation about the imminent meet. The BRI includes US$ 60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which India opposes as it traverses through Azad Kashmir (Freed Kashmir).  India calls Freed Kashmir Pakistan-administered or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The so-called `constitution’ of the India-occupied Kashmir (valley, Jammu and Ladakh), provides seats for Azad Kashmir area. This gimmick is purported to convey the impression that Azad Kashmir is also part of India-0ccupied Kashmir. Practically India can’t trespass into Azad Kashmir as the Line of Control is heavily guarded by the two neighbours, at daggers drawn. Crossfire among bunkers is an everyday phenomenon.

The first BRI meeting was held in 2017. It was, among others, attended by 29 heads of state and government, the United Nations’ Secretary General and heads of World Bank. After dilly-dallying on various pretexts, India boycotted it. India and the USA have a mélange (sovereignty, debt trap, etc.) of objections against the BRI.

Geographic structure

The BRI initially included six corridors with landmass connectivity besides proposed Maritime Silk Road (MSR):  (a) New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia through Kazakhstan. (b) China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia. (c) China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey. (d) China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore. (e) China–Myanmar–Bangladesh–India Corridor, running from Southern China to Myanmar, and (f) China–Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan. When India decided not to participate in the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural Belt and Road Forum held in 2017, there emerged a dominant feeling among the supporters of BRI that New Delhi would be isolated. India never hesitated to share its concerns and always stood the ground.

No veto power to China

China despite being a stakeholder has no veto power. India is sanguine that Chinese initiative in Indian Ocean region (IOR) will not succeed unless and until India supports the BRI, even if in a piecemeal manner.

EU’s Perspective on BRI

China is an extremely important economic and trade partner for the European Union (EU). The EU is currently China’s largest trading partner, while China is the EU’s second largest trading.  Italy supports BRI. According to informed estimates, China’s Navy, for instance, plans to build 400 warships and 100 submarines by 2030.

India’s qualms about BRI’s impact on Indian Ocean

India is fearful that BRI would exacerbate Sino-Indian tension in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region.  India is worried about four specific corridors that constitute major components of the BRI and run across India’s South Asian neighborhood.  BRI includes the Trans-Himalayan Economic Corridor, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor (1990s), Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), a combination of bilateral infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region, besides the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India perceives these corridors and the associated infrastructure projects are detrimental to India’s strategic interests. They run close to India’s continental and maritime borders and may affect its security interests and strategic environment.

As an example of strategic implication, India quotes strategically located Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. The port was built using Chinese loans but, due to the high interest rates, Sri Lanka was unable to repay and incurred a burgeoning debt burden. Unable to pay debts, Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port to China for ninety-nine years in 2017 (lease rescinded under pressure prematurely).

Indian Ocean in a state of flux

Recent International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll. Many countries, including India are trying to dominate the Ocean

India’s interest

Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 per cent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States

India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan says that ‘this ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters’. This Ocean includes Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Flores Sea, Java Sea Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Savu Sea, Timor Sea, Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal, Mozambique Channel, and Persian Gulf.

Indian Ocean is rich with living and non-living resources, from marine life to oil and natural gas. Its beach sands are rich in heavy minerals and offshore placer deposits. India is actively exploiting them to its economic advantage. It is a major sea lane providing shipping to 90 per cent of world trade. It provides a waterway for heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia, and contains an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s offshore oil production.

Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. India possesses the technology to extract minerals from the deep sea bed. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences. Most of the ships approach the straits through the 10 degree channel between the Andaman and Nicobar islands. To dominate these straits, India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar islands.

China’s interest

In view of the spiraling demand for energy, China is sensitive to the security of the sea lines of communication and choke- points of the region. Sixty per cent of China’s oil supplies are shipped through the Straits of Malacca.

India and China: Eyeball to eyeball

Indian Ocean is fast emerging as the new hot-spot of Sino-Indian rivalry. Indian desire to expand its navy manifold to dominate the Indian Ocean has triggered shockwaves to China and other littoral states. Whether it is controlling piracy or use of sea resources, boats of the two countries face each other eyeball-to-eyeball. As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. The first item on Indian-Navy agenda is getting new aircraft carriers. In their media interviews, the chiefs of Indian Navy have lamented ‘dominance of smaller ships in the naval fleet imposes limitations of reach’. He asserted that ‘the Navy had to be built around three aircraft carriers, at least 30 destroyers and frigates, 20 submarines and replenishment ships’. The present Navy chief’s plans are no less grandiose.

One chief said, “We are looking at a fleet of 140 warships and 300 aircraft” (The News behind the News, April 6, 2009, pp.14-15). What the chiefs of Indian Navy said in the past, or the present chief says is no swagger. Dominating the Indian Ocean has been India’s long-cherished dream since its independence. George K Tanham, in his Indian Strategic Thought, a RAND research, observes that India wants to establish its hegemony over Indian Ocean by establishing Pax Indica, on the lines of Pax Britannica. He adds, India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’ (page vii).

Commodore (Retd) Uday Bhaskar of the Society for Policy Studies says, `India needs to project itself as a credible and long term partner in a more persuasive manner, than what has been the experience in recent years’. He added, `Islands in the Indian Ocean Region have acquired distinctive strategic relevance and India will have to step up its appeal and comfort index, more so since it is pitted against China’s deep pockets.

Barry Desker, Director Institute of defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore says, `The emergence of new powers like China and India is expected to transform the regional strategic landscape in a fashion that could be as dramatic as the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century’.

To counter Indian hegemony, China is intends to have six aircraft carriers. When New Delhi deployed one ship in the Gulf of Aden in October last year with great fanfare, China deployed two warships to the same area. The presence of the Chinese and Indian warships underlines Beijing’s and New Delhi’s intense economic and strategic interests in the world’s third largest ocean.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

India’s troubles in Maldives, Seychelles and Agalega Islands

India denies that its projects in Indian Ocean neighbourhood have never been acquisitive or “colonial”. However, it faced severe resistance, for instance, in Seychelles and Maldives and the Agalega Islands. After facing resistance over placing its helicopters in the Maldives’ Addu atoll and the virtual cancellation of its project to develop the Assumption Island in the Seychelles, New Delhi moved swiftly to ensure its US$87 million project in the Mauritius does not run into trouble. The project involved constructing a jetty, rebuilding and extending the runway, and building an airport terminal. Mauritian vice prime minister explained in the parliament that `the jetty is being improved to be able to receive ships and to extend the runway, which is in very poor condition, from the existent 1,300 metres to 3,000. At present, `only emergency medical evacuations are allowed due to the poor surface of the runway’. While the vice prime minister claimed ` she did not know “of India’s military plans, Indian Naval sources confirmed their involvement in the project. Mauritian opposition members point out lack of transparency in the project.  Mauritian government is still to answer why it has exempted the project from any Environmental license process (EIA clearances).

Indian view is that `unlike the military bases run by other countries [like Diego Garcia], the Indian model is of a soft base’. India does not ` bar locals from moving through any Indian-made project’. So `these governments get more control over their domain, without diluting their sovereignty’. Even when AFCON and RITES engineers visited the islands `they are greeted by the locals, who took their boats up to the ship that brought them in and even accommodated and feed them during their stay’.

Mauritian prime minister faced tough questions in the National Assembly over Indian involvement in the project, its costs and military implications. Mauritian vice-prime minister had to declare, `Agalega is and will remain a Mauritian territory’. `This is an important project. We don’t want the jetty and the airstrip to remain in poor condition,” she added. Even local people protested when they saw Indian naval and coastguard’s setting up transponder systems and surveillance infrastructure. Several Islanders, including some from Agalega, which has a tiny population of 300, formed the “Koalision Zilwa Pou Lape” (Islanders Coalition for Peace), to lobby against the Agalega project.

A similar situation led to Maldivian President’s decision to cancel the loan of two Indian military helicopters and the visas of about 28 naval personnel. `The Agalega islands, with land of only about 25 square kilometres is now in the crosshairs of similar concerns, although most officials aware of developments believe India’s “softer” methods will ensure the success of the project.

Adversaries’ view of `debt trap’

Smaller countries who received China’s bounteous loans are incapable of paying them back. India thinks BRI may militate against India’s strategic interests. India mulls connectivity offers a set of tools to influence other countries’ foreign policy choices

China’s view of BRI benefits

Chines aid helped build East Africa first-ever expressway, and Maldives’ first-ever inter-island bridge. Belarus was enabled to produce sedans, Kazakhstan connected to the sea, and Southeast Asia provided a high-speed railway (being completed). Eurasian continent gifted the longest distance freight train service.

China’s predecessors Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, the United States have played role in development of Asia. They were the primary donors for development projects in Asia since World War II The Asian Development Bank estimates that between 2016 and 2030 developing countries in the region will need to spend $1.7 trillion per year to build the infrastructure required to “maintain its growth momentum, eradicate poverty, and respond to climate change.”

One Belt One Road was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinxing in 2013. It envisaged constructing a continental road (or the economic belt) connecting China to Europe through South and Central Asia. In addition, it envisioned creating a sea-corridor between China and Europe by way of the Indian Ocean. Regarding the continental route, India’s primary concern is the CPEC and increasing unease about Chinese connectivity inroads in Nepal. The MSR horrifies India as this project could dilute Indian influence in the Indian. China’s  

 connectivity and infrastructure involves  four areas: transport infrastructure, port infrastructure, aviation infrastructure, and energy infrastructure. Besides, it includes Information Silk Road through the construction of “cross-border optical cables,” “transcontinental submarine optical cable projects,” and “spatial (satellite) information passageways.”

China answers suspicions

China says there is no hidden strategic agenda to use this initiative as a means to gain sphere of influence, or to violate other’s sovereignty. Aside from verbose statements, US, Japan or India has not offered any BRI-alternative. Some estimates project that China will invest up to $4 trillion to realize its vision for the BRI. Some of India’s neighbors were among the countries that thronged the forum (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan).

The China-Pakistan Economic corridor

The US $62 billion CPEC begins at Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and ends at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. It would build  a network of highways, roads, railways, pipelines, ports, and information technology parks along the route. It would facilitate movement of Chinese goods from China’s western provinces to the Arabian Sea across the Indian Ocean.  Karakoram Highway between Pakistan’s Punjab Province and Gilgit-Baltistan will be modernised. The corridor aims to connect Gilgit in northern Pakistan to Gwadar in the south. Chinese entities have invested approximately in the CPEC.

India’s narcissist objection to  Karakoram Highway

Earlier, India ineffectually objected to construction of the Karakoram Highway through Gilgit –Baltistan that India described as Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India’s then defence minister A. K. Antony noted in 2012, “Indian territory under occupation by China in Jammu & Kashmir since 1962 is approximately 38,000 [square kilometers]. In addition to this, under the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 [square kilometers] of Indian territory in [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir] to China.”  

Speaking at the seventieth session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Indian representative noted, “India’s reservations about the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor stem from the fact that it passes through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan for many years.” India alleges allowing the CPEC to continue would undermine India’s sovereignty and bolster Pakistan’s claim to the disputed territory.

So-called sovereignty over disputed territories?

India’s real bogeys are denial of Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territories.

Mythical militarisation of  Gilgit Baltistan and Gwadar

Without corroborative evidence, India claims that there are 30,000 Chinese army personnel to protect its economic interests in occupied Kashmir. Any further increase in Chinese troops along India’s borders would further jeopardise India’s security.

New Delhi expects Gwadar to emerge as an important naval base for China. If this turns out to be the case, Chinese access to Gwadar’s port would allow the Chinese navy to sustain a presence in the Indian Ocean, threatening pax indica.  Similarly another

Corridor would connect the Chinese city of Kunming with the Indian city of Kolkata through Dhaka in Bangladesh and Mandalay in Myanmar, seeking to boost trade, build infrastructure, and foster connectivity among these nations.

Pulwama ploy

India’s prime minister Narendre Modi pounced upon Pulwama-suicide attack (February 14, 2019) to project it into international limelight. With general 2019 elections in his mind, he pandered to voter’s sentiments, blaming Pakistan. As a ploy to show India’s chagrin, it launched a `counter-terror’ air strike in Balakot on February26, 2019. The strike foundered as Pakistan Air Force downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured its pilot the very next day (handed back on 1 March, 2019).

India attributed Pulwama attack to Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad). China blocked India-sponsored effort, spearheaded by the US, the UK and France, to get Azhar declared ` a global terrorist’.

India-China-Border (Doklam) standoff

In June 2017 Chinese troops were spotted extending a road through a strip of land disputed between China and Bhutan. India perceived this as an unacceptable change to the status quo and crossed its own border to block those works. The Doklam plateau slopes down to the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow strip of Indian territory dividing the Indian mainland from its north-eastern states. Were China able to block off the corridor it would isolate India’s north-eastern region from the rest of the country, a devastating scenario in the event of war. The Doklam standoff ended with disengagement on 28 August. Troops from both countries remain in the area, but are now separated by a few hundred metres.

Myth of India’s sovereignty over Kashmir

Kashmir is a simmering cauldron. For about seven decades, India denied Kashmiris’ their right of self-determination. It claims that the occupied Kashmir’s constituent assembly has voted for accession of disputed Kashmir to India. As such, it is no longer necessary for her to let the promised plebiscite be held in Kashmir. Is India’s argument tenable? Does history or documents corroborate India’s stand? Let us look a bit closely at India’s stance.

Kashmir’s accession to India

It is the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) which entitled Gulab Singh to rule Jammu and Kashmir State. This treaty stands lapsed under Article 7 of the Independence Act. The Act was passed by British Parliament on July 18, 1947 to assent to creation of independent states of India and Pakistan. The aforementioned Article 7 provides that, with lapse of His Majesty’s suzerainty over Indian states, all treaties, agreements, obligations, grants, usages and sufferance’s will lapse.

Mountbatten deliberately kept mum about this reality for considerations of political expediency. The Independence Act required intention of accession to be absolute and crystal-clear. But, a stray glance at the ‘Instrument’ would make it clear that it is equivocal. The ‘Instrument’ expresses ‘intention to set up an interim government and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities’ with maharajah’s prime minister. The last sentence in the ‘Instrument’ is ‘In haste and with kind regards’. Handwritten corrections on the text of the ‘Instrument’ speak volubly about the wavering state of the maharajah’s mind. The instrument, extracted under coercion and duress, is invalid under law.

Subsequent accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’ is also void. This resolution violates the Security Council’s resolutions forbidding India from going ahead with the accession farce. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

Renowned journalist Alastair Lamb also regards the Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990). He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947.

Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. The instrument remains null and void, even if the maharajah had actually signed it. The reason, as pointed out by Alastair is that the `signatures’ were obtained under coercion. She points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place. He questions: “Would the maharajah have signed the Instrument of Accession, had the Indian troops not been on Kashmiri soil?”

It is eerie to note that India has never shown the original `Instrument’ in any international forum. If India was truthful, it should have the temerity to present the document to Pakistan or to the UN. Isn’t it funny that, in the summer of 1995, the Indian authorities reported the original document as lost or stolen? This fact further beclouds authenticity of the document. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes. India avoided presenting the Kashmir case under the UN Chapter VII which relates to acts of aggression. Obviously, it did so because it knew that the Kashmir was a disputed state. And, issue of its integration with India or Pakistan remained to be resolved.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Instrument of Accession does not exist. The `accession’ of the disputed state, through a resolution of the puppet assembly, is null and void. This `resolution’ violates the Security Council’s directive forbidding India to forge unilateral ‘accession’ of the state.

India’s connectivity alternative

Chinese initiative is backed up by her surplus capital.  But rueful India has not been able to dangle an alternative to the BRI. Italy’s endorsement of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hasn’t had much impact on Indian officials, who have long objected to the initiative, as media reports said the South Asian country signaled it might boycott the upcoming second Belt and Road Forum, to be held in Beijing.

In fact, the United States, has responded to BRI by launching similar blueprint by recruiting Japan and any other country who feel less comfortable dealing with China.

China, the new global hegemon

Historians, like Ibn-e-Khaldun, Toynbee, and Arrighi, have postulated a life cycle for fall of nations. For instance, Arrighi thinks wealthy hegemonic centres of civilisation last for about a century and then collapse.  If USA collapses, China is likely to take her place. Much to India’s chagrin, Pakistan would remain her steadfast ally.

India’s myopic efforts to isolate Pakistan

India has now publicly stated its intention to isolate Pakistan in comity of nations. An isolated country is a weak target. India made holding the SAARC conference in Pakistan impossible.

India’s developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries in South Asia over the last four fiscal years amounted to over Rs 211 billion. The countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.   India extended developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries. The total aid to Afghanistan from 2014-15 to 2017-18 was Rs 22.32 billion, to Bangladesh it was Rs 5.14 billion, and to Bhutan it was Rs 156.8 billion. The developmental assistance to Maldives during the same period was Rs 2.7 billion, to Nepal it was Rs 13.22 billion, and to Sri Lanka it was Rs 10.8 billion. India has built a dam in Afghanistan and making 11 more there. She has committed Rs 45 billion for Bhutan’s 11th Plan – about 68 per cent of the total external assistance received. Another Rs 5 billion came in from India as part of the economic stimulus plan.

Modi visited only such countries that benefited India internally or externally. Between 2014 and 2018,  over Rs 2,021 crore was spent on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to top 10 countries from where India has received the maximum FDI inflows. Foreign Direct Investments grew from USD 30,930.5 million in 2014, to USD 43478.27 million in 2017. A total of Rs 1,583.18 crore was spent on maintenance of Modi’s aircraft and Rs 429.25 crore on chartered flights during the period between June 15, 2014 and December 3, 2018. The total expenditure on hotline was Rs 9.11 crore. Modi visited over 55 countries in 48 foreign trips since taking over as prime minister in May 2014. Over Rs 1,346 crore was incurred on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Manmohan Singh’s foreign visits from 2009-10 till 2013-14 during UPA-II. The cumulative FDI inflows between 2014 and June 2018 stood at USD 136,077.75 million, compared to USD 81,843.71 million recorded cumulatively for the years between 2011 and 2014.

Kashmir’s current inferno is of India’s own making

While India blames Pakistan for her Kashmir troubles, it is pertinent to recall what India’s former defence minister George Fernandez (June 30, 1930 to January 29, 1930) said about Kashmir. I quote from Victoria Schofield on page 293 of her book Kashmir in the Crossfire (IB Taurus, London/New York, 1996.). `I do not believe that any foreign hand engineered the Kashmir problem’, stated George Fernandez in 1990. `The problem was created by us, and if others decided to take advantage of it, I do not believe that one should make that an issue; given the nature of the politics of our subcontinent, such a development was inevitable’. (Source:  George Fernandez. 12 October 1990, India’s Policies in Kashmir: An Assessment and Discourse, in Thomas, ed. Perspectives of Kashmir.).

Pacifist Kashmiri

An adage about pacifist Kashmiris reflects how timid they were. A Kashmiri youth joined army but never fired a shot. Asked by a Punjabi sikh (assumed to be scion of a martial race), he replied tapsi tey thus karsi.  That is, when my gun heats up it will automatically fire.

How the pacifist Kashmiri is turned into human missiles?

Humiliation

`Credit’ goes to reign of terror by 7,80,000 Indian forces in disputed state for punishing Kashmiri stone pelters with live bullets or pellets that blinded them (Washington Post July 12, 2016, New York Times dated August 29, 2016) . William Lukens, Bluemont (USA) clarified in Washington Post `To most Americans, a pellet gun is an air-powered pistol or rifle firing a single pellet. It is rarely able to kill or even wound a person hit with the pellet. As used by Indian police, “pellet gun” is a 12-gauge shotgun using shells that contain dozens of pellets propelled by gunpowder. There is a huge difference. When Americans read “pellet gun,” they think of “you’ll shoot your eye out.” Even girls and babies in laps are not spared.  Most of the pellets, fired from a high-velocity pump-action guns (outlawed by Amnesty International) hit above chest, usually face. India’s ladla (pampered) army chief (a general’s son) has so far displayed a fight-or-flight response to insurgency rooted in Kashmiris ’multifaceted deprivation. Just recall Indian army chief awarded commendation certificate to Major Leetul Gogoi who drove his jeep with a Kashmiri protester, tied to his jeep front. Gogoi was later caught red handed with an 18-year-old girl in a Srinagar hotel. (The Hindu dated September 19, 2018).  The ladla let the offender off the hook by charging with mild charge `fraternization with a woman’. The army chief is a misogynist who publicly rebuked women and declared them unfit for military service.

Humiliation of Kashmiris motivates them to become human missiles. The Pulwama Fedayeen, a schoolboy, was forced to rub his nose on ground by a `soldier’.

Roads were blocked to prevent mourners from attending funeral prayers of Pulwama bomber. Even dead bodies of stone-throwers are mutilated, paraded unzipped in body-packs, and photographed by way of memorabilia. Renowned writer Barkha Dutt reminisced (Outlook India dated February 20, 2019) a sensible local police officer’s directive `Bodies of those killed in encounters were to be properly zipped in covers and not paraded. At post-mortems of killed terrorists, no photographs were to be taken or distributed.’

A Kashmiri newspaper reported that army mercilessly beats even peaceful Kashmiri `for not hoisting Indian flag on their cars, bikes and even bicycles’, `even for selling or buying a pencil battery for a radio or wall clock’ .The presumption is that  `these batteries will be used in the wireless sets or bombs’.

Persecution of Kashmiri students and traders in Indian states

Kashmir students and traders are being attacked or looted in schools and colleges, at bus stops and in railway apartments throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety.

Some retired generals and RAW’s former chief AS Daulat cautioned Modi against brutal use of force India stayed united while Pakistan broke apart for lack of resilience and political myopia. At the time of partition, India was embroiled in many virulent insurgencies: Dravidian South movement, seven angry sisters of North East, Khalistan movement. India overcame the insurgencies through talks with Laldenga, Master Tara Singh, Dr. Phizo and others. It accepted demand for creation of new states. Gradually the incendiary states merged into Indian Union. But, India stands alienated in Kashmir. Lest India breaks up into `a congeries of states’ (Sir John Winthrop Hackett, The Third World War), it should free Kashmiris before next war with Pakistan.

India buckles on issues

Taiwan

China considers self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province that it has vowed to reunite with the mainland even if it has to resort to force. China warned the US, India and other countries against transferring defence technology to Taiwan for producing submarines. Air India even removed logos showing Taiwan as an independent entity.

Boycott of Chinese goods

Following Pulwama incident, India’s Confederation of All India Traders, which represents 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on March 19 to “teach a lesson” to China. Swadeshi JagranManch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a boycott of Chinese goods. Chinese products like mobile phones made by companies such as Xiaomi Inc and toys are ubiquitous in India. 

Trade between the countries grew to nearly US$90 billion in the year ending March 2018. Aside from gung-ho, India’s trade ministry said in an email the country can’t take any unilateral punitive action against a fellow member of the World Trade Organisation.

India could not boycott import of China-made transistors that accounted for 81.9 percent of India’s transistor imports in 2017. The transistors are an input to almost all Indian electronic goods and machinery. India cannot afford to switch to home-made expensive alternative. These imports also contain embodied technologies, particularly semiconductors, fertilizer and pharmaceutical.

CPEC

India is yet to snatch back the Kashmir territory that China has occupied. No strike on Gwadar so far.

Inferences

Sagging US support

India can’t rely on Trump as bulwark against China. Trump values economic issues more than strategic issues. It may even slap tariffs on imports from India. Then there is the Afghan-exit nightmare.

No aid

There is no alternative to BRI for smaller countries. Gone are UNCTAD (UN conference on Trade and Development) or Lester Pearson’s trade, not aid, days. Countries are fighting for economic survival.  Like it could not stop BRI in other countries, India can’t stop CPEC.

Kashmir is not an intractable problem. Soon, India will have to revert to its foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta’s Kashmir proposals (soft borders). Trade across divided Kashmir, was agreed by India and Pakistan’s Musharraf within Mehta’s framework. It flourished until Modi recently stopped it to convert Kashmir into a veritable prison.. Mehta’s proposals are contained in his article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (quoted in Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press). India’s sovereignty mantra is a hoax to disguise its weak case on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradish.

WTO and BRIC

China’s role under World Trade Organisation and in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would force India to shun its spurious repugnance to BRI. In 1990, BRIC countries accounted for 11% of global gross domestic product (GDP), by 2014 nearly 30%. These countries are not a political alliance, like the European Union or a formal trading association. Yet they have power as an economic bloc.

By 2050 (with China as a sole hegemon), these economies, including India, would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers. Columbia University established the BRICLab, where students examine foreign, domestic, and financial policies of BRIC members. China and India are destined to become the world’s dominant suppliers of manufactured goods and services by 2050. Brazil and Russia will become dominant suppliers of raw materials. BRIC expanded to include South Africa as the fifth nation in 2010.

Writing on wall

Advice to India

India’s ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean does not augur well for the region. It should let Indian Ocean remain the zone of peace.Besides, India should mend its fence with Pakistan, sincerely support BRI and BRIC, or economically perish.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present

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In the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the personal predilections of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his protégé VK Krishna Menon, both influenced by British socialism. Nehru himself handled the external affairs portfolio until his death in 1964.

The policy of ‘non-alignment’ which the duo initiated in India’s foreign policy gained world-wide attention since early 1950s, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (NAM) that consisted of developing and newly decolonised nations from different parts of the world, primarily from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But, the policy never meant isolationism or neutrality; rather it was conceived as a positive and constructive policy in the backdrop of the US-USSR Cold War, enabling freedom of action in foreign and security policies, even though many of the individual NAM member states had a tilt towards the Soviet Union, including India.

However, the lofty Nehruvian idealism of India’s foreign policy in its initial decades was not successful enough in integrating well into India’s security interests and needs, as it lost territories to both China and Pakistan during the period, spanning 1947 to 1964.

However, when Indira Gandhi assumed premiership, realism had strongly gained ground in India’s political, diplomatic and military circles, as evident in India’s successful intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Even at that point of time, India still sticked on to the policy of non-alignment until it was no longer feasible in a changed international system that took shape following the end of the Cold War, which is where the origins of a new orientation in India’s foreign policy decision-making termed as ‘multi-alignment’ lies.

Today, India skilfully manoeuvres between China-led or Russia-led groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with its involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad), in which Japan and Australia are also members.

Militarily though, India is still not part of any formal treaty alliance, and is simultaneously part of a diverse network of loose and issue-specific coalitions and regional groupings, led by adversarial powers, with varying founding objectives and strategic imperatives.

Today, non-alignment alone can no longer explain the fact that recently India took part in a US-chaired virtual summit meeting of the Quad in March 2021 and three months later attended a BRICS ministerial meet, where China and Russia were also present.

So, how did India progress from its yesteryear policy of remaining equidistant from both the US-led and Soviet-led military blocs (non-alignment) and how did it begin to align with multiple blocs or centres of power (multi-alignment)? Answer to this question stretches three decades back.

World order witness a change, India adapts to new realities

1992 was a watershed year for Indian diplomacy. A year back, the Soviet Union, a key source of economic and military support for India till then, disappeared in the pages of history, bringing the Cold War to its inevitable end.

This brought a huge vacuum for India’s strategic calculations. Combined with a global oil shock induced by the First Gulf War of 1990 triggered a balance of payment crisis in India, which eventually forced the Indian government to liberalise and open up its economy for foreign investments and face competition.

India elected a pragmatic new prime minister in 1991 – PV Narasimha Rao. The vision he had in mind for India’s standing in the world was quite different from his predecessors. Then finance minister and later PM, Dr Manmohan Singh announced in the Indian Parliament, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

This was during his 1991 budget speech and it marked the beginning of building a new India where excessive control of the state on economic and business affairs seemed no longer a viable option.

At a time when Japan’s economy was experiencing stagnation, China was ‘peacefully rising’, both economically and industrially. The United States remained as the most influential power and security provider in Asia with its far-reaching military alliance network.

As the unipolar world dawned proclaiming the supremacy of the United States, PM Rao steered Indian foreign policy through newer pastures, going beyond traditional friends and partners like Russia.

In another instance, 42 years after India recognised Israel as an independent nation in 1950, both countries established formal diplomatic ties in 1992. Indian diplomats accomplished a task long overdue without affecting the existing amicable ties with Palestine.

In the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it is worth noting that India took a more balanced stance at the United Nations, which was different from its previous stances that reflected an open and outright pro-Palestine narrative.

Today, India values its ties with Israel on a higher pedestal, even in areas beyond defence and counter-terrorism, such as agriculture, water conservation, IT and cyber security.

Breaking the ice with the giant across the Himalayas

China is a huge neighbour of India with which its shares a 3,488-km long un-demarcated border. Skirmishes and flare-ups resulting from difference in perception of the border and overlapping patrolling areas are a regular occurrence in this part of the world.

For the first time after the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a daunting defeat for India, diplomatic talks for confidence-building in the India-China border areas were initiated by the Rao government in 1993, resulting in the landmark Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the defacto border between India and China.

The agreement also provided a framework for ensuring security along the LAC between both sides until a final agreement on clear demarcation of the border is reached out. The 1993 agreement created an expert group consisting of diplomats and military personnel to advise the governments on the resolution of differences in perception and alignment of the LAC. The pact was signed in Beijing in September 1993, during PM Rao’s visit to China.

Former top diplomat of India Shivshankar Menon noted in one of his books that the 1993 agreement was “the first of any kind relating specifically to the border between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China … It formalized in an international treaty a bilateral commitment by India and China to maintain the status quo on the border. In effect, the two countries promised not to seek to impose or enforce their versions of the boundary except at the negotiating table.”

The 1993 pact was followed by another one in 1996, the Agreement on Military Confidence-Building Measures. The following two decades saw a number of agreements being signed and new working mechanisms being formalized, even though two major standoffs occurred in the Ladakh sector in 2013 and 2020 respectively and one in between in the Sikkim sector in 2017.

The agreements served as the basis upon which robust economic ties flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, before turning cold as a result of Chinese aggression of 2020 in Ladakh. However, the 1993 agreement still was a landmark deal as we consider the need for peace in today’s increasingly adversarial ties between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Integrates with Asia’s regional architecture

Before the early 1990s, India’s regional involvements to its east remained limited to its socio-cultural ties, even though the region falls under India’s extended neighbourhood, particularly Southeast Asia. But, since 1992, when the Look East Policy (LEP) was formulated under the Rao government, India has been venturing into the region to improve its abysmal record of economic and trade ties with countries the region.

New Delhi began reaching out to the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1992 and was made a Sectoral Partner of the association in the same year. Thus, India kicked-off the process of its integration into the broader Asian regional architecture.

In 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a key platform for talks on issues of security in the wider Indo-Pacific region. India became ASEAN’s summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012.

A free trade agreement (FTA) was agreed between ASEAN and India in 2010. And in 2014, the erstwhile LEP was upgraded into the Act East Policy (AEP). Today, the ASEAN region remains at the centre of India’s evolving Indo-Pacific policy.

Bonhomie with the superpower across the oceans, the United States

1998 was an important year, not just for India, but for the world. Until May that year, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council possessed nuclear capabilities. That year, ‘Buddha smiled again’ in the deserts of India’s Rajasthan state, as India under PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee successfully conducted a series of underground nuclear bomb tests, declaring itself a nuclear state, 24 years after its first nuclear test in 1974 code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’.

The move surprised even the US intelligence agencies, as India managed to go nuclear by bypassing keen US satellite eyes that were overlooking the testing site. Shortly after this, Pakistan also declared itself a nuclear state.

India’s nuclear tests invited severe international condemnation for New Delhi and badly affected its relationship with Washington, resulting in a recalling of its Ambassador to India and imposed economic sanctions, which was a big blow for India’s newly liberalised economy.

But, a bonhomie was reached between India and the US in a matter of two years and then US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, the first presidential visit since 1978. The Indo-US Science and technology Forum was established during this visit and all the sanctions were revoked by following year.

Bharat Karnad, a noted Indian strategic affairs expert, notes in one his books that, “Vajpayee’s regime conceived of ‘strategic autonomy’ to mask its cultivating the US, which resulted in the NSSP”.

The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the US and India was launched in January 2004 that covered wide ranging areas of cooperation such as nuclear energy, space, defence and trade. This newfound warmth in Indo-US relations was taken to newer heights with the conclusion of the landmark civil nuclear deal between 2005 and 2008.

Today, India is a key defence partner of the United States, having signed all the four key foundational pacts for military-to-military cooperation, the latest being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation, signed in October 2020. The two countries are key partners in the Quad grouping and share similar concerns about an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to cultivate this special relationship with the United States, reinforced by cooperation in the Quad grouping and also by constantly engaging a 4.8-million strong Indian diaspora in the United States.

The leaders of both countries, from Vajpayee to Modi and from Clinton to Trump have reciprocated bilateral visits to each other’s countries. And, India looks forward to the Biden-Harris administration for new areas of cooperation.

But, a recent military manoeuvre in April, this year, by a US Navy ship (which it calls a FONOP or Freedom of Navigation Operation) in India’s exclusive economic zone, off Lakshadweep coast, casted a shadow over this relations.

The US openly stated in social media that it entered the area without seeking India’s prior consent and asserted its navigational rights. This invited mixed reactions, as it was highly uncalled for. While some analysts consider it humiliating, others think that the incident occurred due to the difference of perceptions about international maritime law in both countries.

Today, along with the US, India skilfully manages its ‘historical and time-tested’ ties with Russia, a strategic foe of the US, and moves forward to purchase Russian-made weapon systems, such as the S-400 missile defence system, even after a threat of sanctions. But, in the past several years, India has been trying to diversify its defence procurements from other countries such as France and Israel and has been also promoting indigenisation of defence production.

A BRICS formula for responsible multilateralism

India is a founding member of the BRICS grouping, formalised in 2006, now consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – the emerging economies of that time with a potential to drive global economic growth and act as an alternate centre of power along with other groupings of rich countries such as the G-7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

India always stood for a responsible global multilateral system and rules-based order. Indian leaders have attended all summit-level meetings of BRICS since 2009 unfailingly. Last year, the summit took place in the backdrop of India-China border standoff in Ladakh, under Russia’s chair, a common friend of both countries, where the leaders of India and China came face-to-face for the first time, although in virtual format.

The primary focus of BRICS remains economic in nature, but it also takes independent stances on events occurring in different parts of the world. The grouping also established a bank to offer financial assistance for development projects known as the New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, China, in 2014, with an Indian as its first elected president.

BRICS also became the first multilateral grouping in the world to endorse the much-needed TRIPS waiver proposal jointly put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid vaccine-making during the duration of the pandemic to provide developing countries that lack adequate technologies with means to battle the virus.

As India gears up to host this year’s upcoming BRICS summit, there is no doubt that being part of the grouping has served the country’s interests well.

Manoeuvring the SCO, along the shores of the Indo-Pacific

The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a regional organisation consisting of eight Eurasian powers, largest in the world both in terms of land area and population covered. It stands for promoting mutual cooperation and stability, where security issues can be freely discussed and conflicts are attempted to be resolved.

India is not a founding member of the SCO, which was created in 2001. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members in 2017. The grouping’s members also include Russia, China and four Central Asian countries, excluding Turkmenistan.

Sharing a common platform with Pakistan and China and the presence of a long-term friend, Russia, has helped India diplomatically in key occasions. Using the SCO platform, the existing differences between member states can be discussed and prevented from escalating into major conflicts.

This was evident most recently visible in 2020 when the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on a plan for the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops from the LAC, as a major step in the diffusion of tensions in Ladakh that had erupted since May that year.

But, Russia and China collectively oppose the usage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, something that surfaced into political discourse with the famous speech delivered by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 in the Parliament of India, calling for “the confluence of two seas” and hinting at a new maritime continuum of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

It is in this context that the grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States gained prominence. The four Quad countries came together to offer humanitarian assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ambit of the grouping’s co-operation ranges from maritime security to cooperation in Covid vaccine production and distribution.

After a decade since the first joint naval exercise of the four Quad countries took place in 2007, the ASEAN’s Manila summit in 2017 provided a platform for the four countries to connect with each other and enhance consultations to revive the four-nation grouping.

The Quad has been raised to the summit level now with the March 2021 virtual summit, and has also conducted two joint naval exercises so far, one in 2007 and the other in 2020. This loose coalition is widely perceived as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land border with China. At the same time, India is also the only country that is not a formal security ally of the United States, meaning if India quits, the Quad ceases to exist, while the other three countries can still remain as treaty allies. However, setting the US aside, cooperation among the other three Quad partners has also been witnessing a boom since the last year.

India and Japan have expanded co-operation in third countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region and offer an alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is perceived as having implications of a potential debt-trap aimed at fetching strategic gains.

Amid the pandemic, both the countries have joined hands with Australia to launch a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify key supply chains away from China.

However, India doesn’t perceive a free and open Indo-Pacific as an exclusionary strategy targeted at containing some country, rather as an inclusive geographic concept, where co-operation over conflict is possible. This was articulated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.

Various additions were made to this view in later stages, as the concept evolved into a coherent form, representing New Delhi’s expanding neighbourhood. This vision aligns well with related initiatives such the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), aimed at improving maritime security, trade, connectivity and management of shared resources.

The future

For India, this is an era of complex multi-alignment, different from the Cold War-era international system, where multiple centres of power exist. At different time periods in the past, India has adapted well to the changing circumstances and power dynamics in the international system.

India’s strategic posture today, despite being aspirational, is to have good relations with all its neighbours, regional players, and the major powers, to promote rules-based order, and in the due process to find its own deserving place in the world.

In July, last year, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India ‘will never be part of an alliance system’, even though a tilt towards the US is increasingly getting visible, taking the China factor into account. Jaishankar also stated that global power shifts are opening up spaces for middle powers like India.

As the world tries to avoid another Cold War, this time between the United States and China, the competing geopolitics of the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime region is poised to add up to New Delhi’s many dilemmas in the coming years.

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The unrecognized demographic situation of West Bengal and consequences yet to occur

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World’s second large demographic nation India’s state West Bengal is now apparently residence of over 91 million population. At the same time, West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the fourteenth-large state by area in India. It is also the seventh-most populous country subdivision of the world. To get an insight into the present situation of West Bengal anyone has to look back in 1947 and later consequences. As being a prominent ethnocultural region of India, West Bengal faced political partition in the year 1947 in the wake of the transformation of British India into two separate independent nations India and Pakistan.  Under the process of partition, the then Bengal province was bifurcated into two segments. The predominately Hindu living area named West Bengal, a state of India, and the predominately-Muslim living area turned as East Bengal and after becoming a province of Pakistan that renamed as East Pakistan and later in 1971, the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh.

In 1971 at the time of partition, the Muslim population of West Bengal counted 12% and the Hindu population of East Bengal remained 30%. While at present, with continuous Muslim immigration, Hindu persecution, conversions, and less production of offspring, West Bengal’s Muslim population has increased to 30% (up to 63% in some districts). While as per the counting report of 2011 Bangladesh’s Hindu population has decreased to 8%. When at the present situation for Hindus in Bangladesh is certainly dire, then life has become increasingly difficult for Hindus in West Bengal, having a Muslim-appeasing government. The governance of the elected government led to the demographic and cultural shifts in West Bengal. Prevailing of the same governance after the 2021 Bidhansabha election leads to the destruction of Hindu’s belonging everywhere in Bengal. The situation stood worse in the outskirts where media coverage is poor, compelling Hindu families to flee in adjacent states or to hide. A sizable number of Bengali Hindu families already preferred to shift to Assam.

Looking back as per a striking report of July 2014 by Times of India fewer children were born in Bengal and the prediction was there will be even fewer in the next generation. The 2011 Census shows a decadal growth of 13.84% in West Bengal, which was significantly below the national growth average of 17.7%, and the decadal growth was lowest ever and beaten only by the aftermath of the infamous Famine of  Bengal,1942.

While the retrospective study of the demography of West Bengal shows that the culturally dominant Hindu population in West Bengal during the first census of 1951 was around 19,462,706 and in the 2011 census it had increased to 64,385,546. While the percentage of the Hindu population in the state decreased from 78.45% in 1951 to 70.54% in the 2011 Census. The data sharply indicates fewer children birth within families of Hindus only while the population of Muslim counterparts tends to grow over time. Once considered a symbol of Indian culture, what has happened in Bengal for the last few decades is the indicator of West Bengal’s demographic future.

Starting from the diminishing of the Hindu culture, communal riots against the Hindus have started happening for quite some time and the situation has been that the banning of celebrating the festivals of Hindus has started in the last few years. Added to those the recent genocide of Hindus depicting a recent trend of population.

Back in 2015 the famous American journalist Janet Levy has written an article on Bengal and the revelations that have been made in it state that Bengal will soon become a separate Islamic country. Janet Levy claims in her article that civil war is going to start soon in Bengal after Kashmir. Which almost begun in recent times in the wake of the Bidhansabha Election of West Bengal.   

Ushering the prediction of Janet Levy mass Hindus will be massacred and demanded a separate country.

She cited the facts for his claim back in 2015 that the Chief Minister of West Bengal has recognized more than 10,000 madrassas who were privileged to receive funds from Saudi Arabia and made their degree eligible for a government job, money comes from Saudi and in those madrassas, Wahhabi bigotry is taught.

In the recent past Chief Minister started several Islamic city projects where Islamic people are taught also started a project to establish an Islamic city in West Bengal. It’s evident that Chief Minister has also declared various types of stipends for the Imams of mosques but no such stipends were declared for Hindus primarily. Janet Levy has given many examples around the world where terrorism, religious fanaticism, and crime cases started increasing as the Muslim population increased. With increasing population, a separate Sharia law is demanded at such places, and then finally it reaches the demand of a separate country.

Author and activist Taslima Nasreen once became reason to test the ground reality for West Bengal.

In 1993, Taslima Nasreen wrote a book ‘Lajja’ on the issue of atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh and forcibly making them Muslims.

After writing the book, she had to leave Bangladesh facing the threat of bigotry. The author settled in Kolkata considering that she will be safe there as India is a secular country and the constitution also provided the freedom of expression. Eventually experienced the nightmare that Taslima Nasreen had to face a riot-like situation against her in 2007 in Kolkata. Even in a secular country like India, Muslims banned Taslima Nasreen with hatred. Fatwas issued to cut her throat on the secular land of India.

Upholding the threat the author was also attacked several times in different cities of the country.

But the secular Leftists never supported Taslima, not even the Trinamool government of West Bengal because the Muslims would get angry and the vote bank would face shaking.

That time first attempt was made in which Muslim organizations in West Bengal demanded the Islamic blasphemy (Blasfamie) law. Raising questions on India’s secularism and action of secular parties.

Janet Levy further wrote that for the first time in 2013 some fundamentalist Maulanas of Bengal started demanding a separate ‘Mughalistan’. In the same year riots in Bengal, houses and shops of hundreds of Hindus were looted and many temples were also destroyed by rioters under the safe shelter of government and police.

After the Bidhansava Election 2021 the Hindus of West Bengal facing the same or even worse situation.

Are Hindus boycotted?

Victorious party supremo of West Bengal was afraid that if the Muslims were stopped they would get angry and would not vote and after getting freshly elected her government falls into that vicious circle again.

It is evident from the aftermath of the election result in West Bengal that not only riots but to drive away Hindus, in districts where there are more Muslims, boycotting Hindu businessman. In the Muslim majority districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur, Muslims do not even buy goods from Hindu shops. This is the reason why a large number of Hindus have started migrating from West Bengal like Kashmiri Pandits, here Hindus leaving their homes and businesses and moving to other places. These are the districts where Hindus have become a minority.

Invoking such incidents Janet, stated that the demand for partition of Bengal from India will soon begin from the land of West Bengal. No demographic theorist interpreted the present demographic situation of West Bengal sabotaging Malthusian theory.

In accord with Janet’s analysis, a few recent sources also indicated the number of the Muslim population, in reality, is much higher than the number on record given to the hiding of numbers of children by Muslim parents when a survey takes place. Implementing CAA, NRC could have been way out for West Bengal to check the proper demographic status and to prevent further population explosion to sustain Bengali Hindus. Perceiving the appeasement politics of government for the last 10 years it’s seeming to be unlikely to get any sharp solution. 

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Covid-19 has made Feminist Foreign Policy all the more Relevant to India

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Photo: Amit Ranjan/Unsplash

As the impact of the year long COVID19 pandemic continues to be felt across different parts of India—where patriarchy is entrenched in the social code and inequalities against women are being intuitively practised—the repercussions of the health crisis along with the ever deepening gender gaps are being disproportionately and severely borne by women. Yet, most of the discussions revolving around the pandemic have either been gender-blind or gender-neutral, often resulting in the systemic subjugation or marginalisation of women.

In light of these challenges, the thematic debate on gender equality can no longer continue just on papers, it in fact, needs to be converted into actions by the Indian government in order to deal with the short term consequences of the pandemic as well as to develop long-term sustainable peace. The adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework is the best way to achieve this dual goal. A FFP could offer a concrete opportunity for India to build a more inclusive policy making set-up; breakaway from the predominant patriarchal notions; and, address pandemic relief strategies—from the viewpoint of women and other vulnerable or under-represented sections of society.

Gendered Impact of COVID19 in India

Within India’s socio-cultural and economic realms—that have historically been marred by inequalities and rigid stereotypes—the gendered effects of the COVID19 pandemic have been both, intersectional and complex.

To begin with, owing to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients, health-care workers in India, particularly the nurses of whom approximately 88.9 per cent are women remain much more vulnerable to contracting the deadly virus. The existing problem of shortage of basic equipment for these healthcare workers further aggravates these concerns.

Second, the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on an already shrinking Indian economy resulting in financial cut downs and rising unemployment. Women—either due to the deeply embedded patriarchal attitudes or due to the subconscious bias that arises out of such attitudes—have stood at the forefront of being temporarily or permanently laid-off from their jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, with the commencement of the nationwide lockdown, the rate of unemployment reached 23.5 per cent in March to April 2020 with higher shares of unemployed women. The unemployment rate for women further reached 12.39 per cent as of February 2021.

Third, women in India are now being confronted with a shadow pandemic where forced proximity, isolation, increased substance abuse, lack of access to justice etc. during the on-going health crisis has resulted in an increasing threat of domestic or gender-based violence.  As per a set of data released by the National Commission of Women in April 2020, there was an almost 100 per cent increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.

Nonetheless, these are only some of the immediate effects of the pandemic on women in India. There are other sequential consequences that will emerge in time including, the problems of depletion in savings and assets, pandemic-related widowhood, etc., which would collaboratively make recovery extremely difficult for women.

Evidently, in India, the pandemic is exploiting pre-existing economic and social inequalities along with social norms that give men embedded advantages, and has been posing a real threat to closing gender gaps. In fact, according to the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, India has already slipped down 28 spots to rank 140th among 156 countries in comparison to its 112th position among 153 countries for the year 2019-2020.

But despite bearing a differential impact, women in India have not been included either directly or indirectly in the development of response strategies to deal with COVID19. As such, they remain absent from decision-making tables that involve the shaping of the future of our societies. However, research indicates that the inclusion of women along with other diverse voices makes for better options in policy making and in bringing about comprehensive outcomes that accommodate the needs and concerns of all groupings.

How can a FFP help?

These unfortunate states of affairs demand an adjustment in India’s thinking and strategy, bring about a paradigmatic shift in its traditional policymaking and allow for diverse representation to effectively deal with COVID19 pandemic. The present crisis is therefore, precisely the time to be talking about a FFP in India and for its representatives to make a stronger commitment to mainstream gender at the policy level.

By critically reflecting on the existing international power structures, a FFP framework focuses on protecting the needs of marginalised and female groups and places issues of human security and human rights at the heart of discussions. In doing so, it provides a fundamental shift from the conventional understanding of security to include other arena of foreign policy such as economics, finance, environment, health, trade etc.

With this new perception of health risks and crisis management as a security threat, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, India can potentially explore broadening the humanitarian trade options under its international arrangements to address shortages of medicine and lack of access to personal protective equipment for health workers within its territory— a vast majority of which continue to be women.

The adoption of a FFP could also pave the way for an increased regional cooperation, facilitate regional discussions on myriad issues and enable the development of targeted recovery program designed specifically for the empowerment of women. Such a program would account for the fact that the economic repercussions of crises disproportionately affect women and therefore, help India in securing assistance from its neighbour to address the gendered economic and social effects of the COVID19 pandemic.

Besides, FFP does not only mean considering power structures and managing relations at the global level alone but also evaluating outcomes within the country’s own domestic landscape. In this sense, a FFP could provide India with an important starting point for bringing about an internal shift by focusing more on gender issues, especially in terms of the strictly defined patriarchal gender roles and eliminate barriers that continue to restrict women’s participation in decision-making processes.

An emphasis on women’s participation in India’s leadership positions would in turn catalyse the application a gender lens to the process of domestic policymaking, thereby, achieving comprehensive outcomes that are inclusive of diverse perspectives. Such policies will promote women’s concerns as humanitarian issues, prioritize and safeguard the continuum of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and continue to facilitate the provision of information and education, thus making women better equipped to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.


Adding on to these factors, given that the FFP is an all-inclusive approach, its application could also potentially strengthen cooperation between the Indian government and civil society organisations or women’s network at home as well as abroad to manage the pandemic and its deleterious effect on people, especially women. At a time when the government resources are overwhelmed in their fight against the pandemic, greater involvement of civil society organisations can in fact, play a critical role in advocating social justice, women’s rights, social equity, and provide medical and food support, distribution of hygiene kits, spreading awareness about the virus, etc. These efforts could bring about a considerable improvement in women’s vulnerable position under the current Covid19 crisis in India.

Conclusion

As such, the FFP approach offers huge potential to address some the major institutional and organisational injustices against women in India, and the COVID19 pandemic represents a critical juncture in this regards. A FFP is important not only to ensure that the gendered imbalances inflicted by COVID19 do not become permanent but also for the long term economic and social development of the country, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and the advancement of national security as well as peace. But whether India will adopt or even consider moving towards a FFP in the near future remains to be seen.

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Economy44 mins ago

The free trade vision and its fallacies: The case of the African Continental Free Trade Area

The notion of free trade consists of the idea of a trade policy where no restrictions will be implemented on...

Africa Today2 hours ago

Mozambique: Violence continues in Cabo Delgado, as agencies respond to growing needs

Civilians continue to flee armed conflict and insecurity in northern Mozambique, more than two months after militants attacked the coastal city of Palma, located in...

Americas5 hours ago

Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in...

Economy6 hours ago

Turning to sustainable global business: 5 things to know about the circular economy

Due to the ever-increasing demands of the global economy, the resources of the planet are being used up at an...

Reports8 hours ago

How the Pandemic Stress-Tested the Increasingly Crowded Digital Home

The average U.S. household now has a total of 25 connected devices, across 14 different categories (up from 11 in...

small-business-economy small-business-economy
Finance8 hours ago

Top 5 Examples of Best Nonprofit Grant Proposals

Introduction Compiling a grant proposal is a complicated task. Nonprofits have to conduct ample amounts of research, create multiple drafts...

Energy News11 hours ago

It’s time to make clean energy investment in emerging economies a top global priority

The world’s energy and climate future increasingly hinges on whether emerging and developing economies are able to successfully transition to...

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