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From Ancient Era to Imperial Era: Indian Ocean in Historical Lenses

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“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters,” Alfred Mahan

Authors: Rana Danish Nisar & Ali Nagri*

Among the oceans of the world, The Indian Ocean is third largest covering 70,560,000 km that is approximately twenty percent of the water on the earth.  This is bounded by Asia on the north, Australia in the east and Africa in the west and the Southern Ocean which is situated in the south.  Its borders were defined in 1953 by Hydrographic Organization.  The average depth of Indian Ocean is 3741 m and the Sunda Trench (earlier known as java trench) is the deepest point of it that has a maximum depth of 7906m.  The important points are Bab el Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, the Lombok Strait, Strait of Malacca and the Palk Strait.  Its seas are Gulf of Aden, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Red sea.  It is artificially connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. The whole Indian Ocean is lies in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is the warmest ocean of the world and its warming is the largest among the tropical oceans. This essay attempts to discuss the history of Indian Ocean from ancient period to imperial period.

Prehistoric and Ancient Era

It is not easy to date back the human history of the world; same is the case with the Indian Ocean. Early rock art in India as in other places like Africa and South East Asia is very difficult to date to a specific period.  The rock art designs found in caves are believed to be 10,000 and 6,000 years back. This art shows a row of animals outlined in red ochre crayon and filled with crisscross lines. According to scientists, around 8000 years ago the first modern humans left Africa and it was through Indian Ocean. They were originated from a single woman from East Africa and therefore named ‘mitochondrial Eve’ as she was ancestor of many Africans tribes and groups of migrants who populated the rest of the world. Bronze Age is some 3500-1100 BC named after a durable metal made by combining copper and tin together.  In southeast Asia bronze spearheads, bells, axes and jewelry have been discovered and some archaeologists argue that Thailand bay have been one of the first centers of Asian bronze industry. Cowries shells (small, oval mollusks, found in many varieties) are very smooth sea shells only found in Maldives, a chain of islands in Arabian Sea, became very important in world trade as these were used as money around the Indian Ocean.  Cowries have been found in ancient Harappa and in tombs in China in second millennium and later. These were not only used in Asia but also found in West Africa where these were used as money. These also provide proof of seagoing Indian Ocean Trade networks and their connection to land routes. Monsoon Winds blow in Indian Ocean in a regular pattern and are playing its important role in sea trade.  Since the beginning of trade and travel monsoon are very important as in one season a ship could sail from Arabia or East Africa towards coast of India and in other season when the wind change its direction this ship will sail back. Merchants are using monsoon winds roughly since 2000 BC and these winds encouraged regular trade, communication and migration across the Indian Ocean.

Classical and Medieval Era

By the end of Classical Era Sugar was very wonderful luxury for cooking and sweetening in Persia. During the next few centuries, sugar spreader widely in the world through Indian Ocean trade. The Isthmus of Kra is a narrow strip of land that connects the Malay Peninsula to continent of Asia. It separates the Indian Ocean form the China Sea.  Traders of Indian reached the rest of Southeast Asia by crossing the Isthmus of Kra rather making the longer and more difficult journey around the entire Malay Peninsula.  By the first century CE, traders from Arabia and Africa regularly transported across the Indian Ocean, overland through the Isthmus of Kra and up to China.  Merchants even continued to use this trade route when political disputes made land travel dangerous throughout the second and third century.  Muziris was also an ancient port city in today’s Indian state of Kerala.  It was famous trading market for Roman-Indian merchants in India. Around 100-200 CE, in Roman Empire pearl jewelry was very popular.  Pearls which were produced by oysters and fished out of sea were very favorite of wealthy Romans.  Pearls were very ideal trade good because it takes very little room on ships but were very precious and commonly used for jewelry and decoration.  These were also used for medicine.  The world’s best pearls came from the water of the Persian Gulf, near Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman.  

The pearling industry was very important to these countries as to export to Roman Empire. Ibn Battuta a very famous traveler and historian also contribute towards Indian Ocean. He tells a lot about Maldives Islands of Indian Ocean and their exchange of unique resources of their islands that directly lie on the Arabian Sea for necessities and food, metals and brass goods and textiles.  Two products were particularly important one was coconut fiber rope very important for shipping industry and second was cowrie’s shells used as currency at that time.  Cowries are known to have been used as money for Indian Ocean trade from the earliest periods to the 19th century. Ivory was another important product highly traded at that time from India and Southeast Asia but African ivory was highly prized because of shapes and very large tusks of African elephants. These were also very soft for carving.  Greek and Roman geographers reported the trade of ivory from East Africa as early as 4th century BC. 

As trade with east Africa expanded, gold rhinoceros horn, mangrove poles with ivory tusks from the Africa were goods traded through Swahili cities of East Africa.  Interestingly, Bananas have been cultivated since 6000 BC or even earlier in Southeast Asia, and were spread to Indian and China and major sea routes of Indian Ocean by 1000CE. As Islam spread and its contact along the land and water routes, bananas were also spread across the Mediterranean, in Palestine and Egypt, and from North Africa it moved to Muslim Spain and to the West Africa.  Bananas could not be grown in Europe, but later in the 1500s, the Portuguese carried the banana to the New World, where it has been grown since the 1500s. Biruni a very famous historian and geographer contributed a lot with the efforts and help of Caliph al Ma’mun to measure the meridian in the 9th century.  Al Biruni advanced the technology to determine the positioning and coordination of earth and different places. An advanced form of this is known as Global Positioning System (GPS) today.  He also writes a book “The Determination of the Coordinates of Positions for the Correction of Distances between Cities in 1025 CE by using the mathematical geography.  Al Biruni work was very accurate at that time and modern measurements confirm it.

Global Era 1500 to 1770 CE

Among the famous explorer of this era a famous name is Ferdinand Magellan from Portugal born in 1480.  When he was younger he worked as a helper in the Queen’s palace where he heard the fantastic adventures of great sailors like Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and Bartholomew Dias, and their discoveries.  Magellan sailed under the Portuguese flag form years until he got a dispute with the Portuguese King.   After it Magellan approached the Spanish King join his fleet with an idea to find a western passage to Spice Islands and to compete with the Portuguese trading system in Indian Ocean.  At the time explorers believed that the Strait of Magellan only opened up into a bay rather than the Pacific Ocean but Magellan believed otherwise.  He sent a small crew to explore the western parts of the strait.  Magellan named the strait as Estrecho de Todos los Santos (the Strait of all Saints) but the Spanish King renamed it in the honor of Magellan as a Strait of Magellan.  Magellan set sail from South American coastline into Pacific Ocean; he named it Pacific as he found it very calm as compared to the Atlantic where he spent the most of time. 

The crew continued the journey for three months without fresh food and many died but ultimately reach to eastern Asia.  This era cannot be concluded without mentioning the Captain Cook.  James Cook is probably the most accomplished European mariner of the 18th century.  He went on three official voyages and spent over a decade at sea from 1766 to 1778. His first voyage was scientific in nature to Pacific Ocean in 1766 to observe and record the transit of Venus across the sun. After his return from first voyage Cook was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of Royal Society to search the Terra Australia.  His last voyage was to locate a Northwest Passage around the continent of America.  The purpose of the voyage was to find a Northwest route that many believed led back to Europe.  In 1778 captain James Cook became the first European that has formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Cooked named this archipelago the “Sandwich Islands”.  Captain Cook was also murdered in 1779 on a Hawaiian island by local villagers on his final voyage when Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians.  His voyages are best known for their contributions to geographic discovery, science, and the arts.(Rumely. d, 2007) He brought back plants, animals, and collections of art along with maps he made of his South Pacific voyages.

Captain Cook is credited for mapping New Zealand, some Polynesian islands, the eastern coast of Australia and was the first to circumnavigate Antarctica while searching for a southern continent. Captain Cooke was among the first to use the newly perfected chronometer on his Antarctic voyage, a device which allowed him to measure his longitude with precision. The Dutch East India Company also known as The United East Indian Company was founded in 1602 as a charter company by Dutch Government granting it monopoly over Dutch spice trade business. This company came Indian Ocean later than the Portuguese but it dominated the spice trade of Indian Ocean by taking complete control of cloves, nutmeg and mace. On the other hand, although pepper was most important good of trade for this company yet company failed to control the pepper its sale and shipment as it grew in many places and Dutch East Indian Company could not control ever source of pepper.  According to a rough estimate Europeans, in the seventeenth century, carried out almost seven million pounds of pepper shipment from Indian Ocean to Europe every year. In addition to spices, printed fabrics with fantastic flowers of many colors were very important goods of trade. These were originally printed in France. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, Indian style chintz fashion was very popular. 

These were hand painted on smooth cotton fabric with fast color dyes and imported from the India from Gujarat province and were sold in France by British East Indian Company.  Their demand was so high that French lawmakers were afraid that it would hurt French weaver industry so they banned it by law to import and forbidden to wear it. But amazingly, they continued to be popular, even though the French law included the death penalty. The reason was that the Mediterranean port of Marseilles was exempted from all such laws and it became the heaven for smugglers of Indian cottons and from here it was imitated into other parts of France and people wear these cloths secretly in their homes instead of public places.  Ultimately on the pressure of public these fabrics were made legal by lifting up all laws. During this era when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they established a center point for navigation for their territories around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.

The Ottomans were well aware of the growing competition from Italy and other European powers. The King, Sultan Mehmet, built a naval ship building arsenal on the Golden Horn, known as Halic in modern Turkey a waterway of Istanbul, and appointed a Commander of the Navy. At the arsenal, galleys, or ships with oars, were built, repaired and equipped with supplies. This arsenal was consisting of more than 200 buildings for preparation and repair of ships, ammunition depot, a mosque, a prison, kitchens for preparing food for working labor and to store on ships, water reserves for fresh water supply for voyage and administration buildings including studios for artisans related to shipping and outfitting.  There was no match Istanbul maritime Arsenal but only one in Arsenal of Venice.  A large Ottoman fleet which expanded in sixteenth century was built in the arsenal. Sultan announced that he would build 500 warships in addition to already existing hundreds of war ships to threaten other powers. They were already controlling the ports in Syria and Egypt, and wanted to hold major Eastern Mediterranean islands. Thousands of men from all over the Ottoman Empire were employed in Ottoman navy.  They were organized into Officers and crews.  The commanders and seamen who sailed and other were the workers and managers of the Arsenal, and both braches were headed by the Grand Admiral of the Fleet who directly reported to the Sultan.  The whole operation was highly organized and well financed. 

The Ottoman Navy kept it organized for centuries and ensure its presence it three major seas. The people living on the Malabar Coast of Kerala province of India are known as Mappilas. This community was grown by intermarriages of Arab traders and local Hindus on the coast of Malabar.  This community maintained peaceful trade relations for centuries with other communities of India and Indian Ocean.  These links with traders of Arab and Persia dated back to centuries.  According to a legend, the King Chera Manperumal Malabar had a vision during the time when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived and the king departed to visit Makkah. King Chera Manperumal embraced Islam and supported its spread on the Coast of Malabar. The Malabar mosque, built in 629 CE, is the oldest on the continent of India. It still exists today.   The community of Mappilas developed their own culture in dress, food music and in dance also.  They lived in a peaceful and beneficial way with other groups and communities and Hindu king of Malabar Coast treated them as a merchant caste, who gained wealth and status from their activities as traders.  Famous explorer like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo mention this community as a peaceful trader.  When Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean he was amazed to know that Muslims were prominent merchants in Africa and Asia and Portuguese had fought against Muslims traders to gain control of trader routes.  They anchored on Malabar Coast with cannons and demanded the Hindu rulers to expel the Muslim traders from the coast. 

The Hindu rulers were stunned and refused to do so. Portuguese bombarded the towns and demanded the control of seas also authority to allow the passage by special permission.  This situation was very awful for Mappilas so they retreated inland and became farmers or involved into fishing business.  Others used their maritime skills and fought against Portuguese ships, captured them and continue trading.  To the Portuguese the Mappilas were pirates and smugglers. The Europeans used the Carracks to take the control of all trade in Indian Ocean.  They also armed these ships and attacked major ports of Indian Ocean for example Mombasa and Kilwa in Africa, and Calicut and Malabar Coast in India.  They also attacked on Arab merchant’s ships and other ships that have not trading permits form Portuguese government.  This was to take all the trade control of Indian Ocean trade and to control the ports. However, they only had limited success and they met a great resistance from Ottoman Empire Navy and from other Europeans.  Besides, the Indian Ocean was too large to control by this way.

The Opium became also an important product for trade. Opium poppies are natively grown in Mediterranean region from thousands of years. From this it traveled to Greek, China and also to India by sea routes before 12th century.  Opium poppies were grown also in India and the Mughal Empire controlled the trader of Opium.  The Narcotic property of opium was used as a medicinal plant and its use can be found in Greek and Arabic manuscripts.  When Muslim medical work was translated in European languages it also became known to Europeans.  The trade of opium increased extensively after the entry of Europeans into Indian Ocean region in 16th century. It was imported to Europe as a popular medicine.  Portuguese also trader the it from India to China and the Dutch brought into China and Japan the practice of smoking opium through tobacco pipes.  After the weakened the Mughal Empire the British gained power in India and British East India Company gained complete control of trade also of opium and started taxing the sale of Indian Opium. European also gave very importance to opium by using it as an exchange commodity for trading of tea, silk and porcelain instead of gold and silver.  They expectant Chinese merchants to buy opium they bought in India as an exchange for trade. Soon the Chinese became addicted of it and by seeing all this situation Chinese government banned its import and use. But on the other hand British started its smuggling and increased opium production as it was most profitable crop. This all situation leaded to Opium Wars between China and British East India Company.

Industrial and Imperial Era         

During 19th century the Royal Geographic Society of Britain announced a prize competition to find and chart the Nile’s source.  Two explorers Captain John H. Speke and Captain Sir Richard F. Burton found this in 1858. Captain Speke named the lake after the Queen Victoria. James Bruce a Scottish explorer also claimed to be the first from Europe to reach to Nile source.The people working on ships of British were known as Lascars. The word Lascar is drawn from the Persian language that means army.  This term was used by the East India Company for the persons who were working on their ships.  These persons were skillful seamen, rope makers, ship carpenter and other crew needed on the board belonging from different regions of coastal areas of Asia.  These were free men who sold their services for wages mostly came from Indian Ocean region. These people were later settled.  There life was not easy and they had to do all the chores of the shipping life.  The Lascars worked long shifts in the dark, hot, dangerous engine rooms and coal furnaces that powered the ships. By 1928, there were more Lascars employed on British ships. Slave trade was common in regions associated to Indian Ocean. Slavery in the Indian Ocean was consisting of a wide variety of peoples of scattered cultural and backgrounds. 

Peoples were involved in different capacities as slaves, slave traders and owners of slave’s form regions of Africa, Arab, Asia and Europe. Male slaves were indulging in the business of pearl divers, ship crew, employed into trade, working in agricultural fields and as soldiers of wars while female slaves often worked in homes as maids, nannies and nurses.   In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries African slaves demand was rapidly increased because of less price and hard working.  British worked hard to end slavery. British Empire declared protect zone for slavery. But unfortunately, till to date, slavery is persisting is some sorts of forced labor, especially involving women, children and poor population of third world countries and refugees. Suez Canal was also built during this era. This is the artificial waterway is 163 km long, running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt and shorted the distance between the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea. This canal is one of most important water ways of the world.  This is also known as crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia because it is interlinking these three continents. It was built in 1856 by a French company after ten years’ hard work.  This made trade easy as traders had not to sail around the Africa or carry goods overland and gained its importance to European Imperial powers. in combination with the expansion of the American transcontinental railroad, the canal permitted the world to be circled in record time. The Suez Canal was not initially a financial success for Egypt, nor for France. Due to the growing debt required to finance it, Egypt was forced to sell the canal to Great Britain in 1875.

The English controlled the Suez Canal until shortly after Egypt regained its independence from Britain and nationalized the canal. Steamships changed the Indian Ocean trade by opening new routes that were not dependent on the winds.  By the mid to end of the 19th century, the British Empire had the largest and most successful naval force in the world powered by steam. Steam power allowed for expanded exploration of the continents, the mass movement of people around the world, and caused great changes in the trade system. During the period of the steam engine ships grew larger and faster, but they had to refuel often. The ships were first used for short and regular service, like mail and wealthy passengers. These first ships had a huge advantage over sailing ships, in that they were much easier to navigate upstream and this made rivers and canals more accessible. Steam-driven railways also transformed the British Empire, and the Indian Ocean region, increasing business activity, and giving consumers access to cheaper goods. In 19th century the most important and the busiest port of Arabian Peninsula was the city of Muscat in Oman. Being an international port, the city was heavily populated, having different religious, and multi-ethnic. Muscat was the crossroads of trade between East Africa, the eastern shores of the Gulf, and western India. In the 19th century every kind of merchandise could be found, silk and linen, spices, dates, coffee brought across the desert by caravans, pearls, grapes, bananas, figs, butter, fowl, and many more. Muscat was known for being supreme in trade and military power, and the city produced a lot of wealth for the Omani nation. Omani rulers carried out careful associations with customary Indian Ocean trading partners and with the European powers. They even concluded a trade treaty with the Americans.

*Ali Nagri, PhD Candidate, School of Politics and International Studies

PhD Student of the School of Politics and International Studies, Central China Normal University 152, Luoyu Road, Wuhan, Hubei, People’s Republic of China 430079

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South Asia

Saga of Indian Disinformation Campaign

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In December 2020, the EU Disinfo Lab made revelations in its report on the “widespread Indian network of subversive activities” vindicated Pakistan’s position and exposed its detractorsThe report has tracked all these operations back to a Delhi-based holding company, the Srivastava Group (SG).EU Disinfo Lab, an independent EU-focused NGO which monitors disinformation online, revealed in the report “India Chronicles” that has uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs that supported and propagated Indian interests and criticised Pakistan in Geneva and in other multilateral forums.

The sheer volume of information revealed about this network is astounding and its long-term objective gives credence to the term ‘fifth-generation warfare’. Such campaign aims to reinforce pro-India sentiment while pushing anti-Pakistan sentiment across the world by manipulating the media i.e. by multiplying the online negative content about countries in conflict with India i.e. Pakistan, through repackaging and dissemination of op-eds and articles via the prominent Indian News Agency, ANI.

Pakistan on a number of occasions have identified and accused India of running a campaign against Pakistan to damage its international image especially with regards to terrorismAdditionally, ISPR spokesperson Major General Babar Iftikhar in an interview with Global Village Space termed misinformation campaign against Pakistan on social media as a major challenge. 

India is struggling hard to shape international opinion and use every possible mean to discredit its adversaries especially Pakistan for the past 15-year which is debunked by EU DisinfoLab.  Due to its growing importance for several western major powers, New Delhi feels more emboldened to indulge in illicit disinformation operations as it enjoys support from major western powers in many ways.

In the backdrop of all this, battling misinformation remains the biggest challenge for Pakistan. It ranges to a number of issues but the most important issue lies with the case of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).It is an open secret that India wanted to place Pakistan on the FATF’s ‘black-list’, however, it miserably failed to do so.  Since India joined FATF in 2011, it has been pushing hard to black list Pakistan through fake evidences as Pakistan’s addition to the grey list has plenty to do with the geopolitics in the South Asia and Asia-Pacific region.

To re-shape public opinion, Indian diaspora abroad is also playing an important role through different international forums. As PM Imran khan mentioned that India “exports and funds” extremism through its network of fake news organizations and think tanks. Almost every international think tank has Indian researchers that specialize in South Asian issues. Many of these think tanks are funded and supported by entities associated with the Indian government. They publish research articles and book projects with associated privileges and generous funding offers.

The rather shocking aspect of this report has been the impunity with which these entities have been working in major capitals around the world. As per EU report, a number of fake think tanks are working in various countries that include London, Washington, Brussels, and Geneva receiving funds and operating suspicious sources. Such platforms are playing an additional part in spreading disinformation by organizing seminars and online courses/lectures that specially serve to disperse anti-Pakistan elements.

India is using all tactics to mislead world opinion on Kashmir. Pakistan has consistently been drawing attention of the international community to India’s “subversive activities” to undermine democracies in the region. Such disinformation campaigns by Indian do not only affect Pakistan or China but on a broader term the world community, international organizations and state systems.

In the end, the West’s muted response to such disinformation campaigns raises question of India’s increased strategic relevance for western nations to contain China. The international community must take note of Indian ulterior motives of propagating fake information. Such propaganda is dangerous and has far-reaching consequences. The stellar investigation taken up by EU should serve as a wake-up call for the world to see how India has invested in such nefarious campaigns for the sake of fulfilling its own agenda. The main objective to paint itself as a victim of terrorism, however, the reality is quite opposite where India itself is a hub of disinformation.

It is time for Pakistan to engage in active diplomacy not only by exposing Indian revisionist and nefarious designs to other nation-states, but formally taking up this case at UN and EU for assistance in investigations, especially funding of all the involved media centers, think-tanks and owner groups of fake websites. Pakistan must then advocate a case in UN, EU and Financial Action Task Force against India.

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Farmers’ Protest: A Case for Policy Communications

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This article aims to develop the case of strategic communications over policy matters to ensure better implementation. The on-going farmers’ protests in India are examined and the different government communications as a response are studied. Lastly, the conceptual framework of policy communications is also explained.

Public Policy communications are an effective tool utilized by agencies of the government to inform, educate and in turn achieve the objectives of the policy. In most developing countries, policy communication is viewed as anchors of a transparent and positive work agenda. As the link between the government and its citizen, effective communication is crucial for the successful implementation of the public policy. [1] Motivating, persuading and information- sharing are the basic functions of an effective communication strategy, Hence, as an essential prerequisite for execution of public policy, communication has transpired an important role in all aspects of development policy.

Iris Marion Young, a contemporary political theorist, in her book on Inclusion and Democracy, emphasizes that inclusive political communication is key to the legitimacy and success of democracy. She argues: “Law and policy are democratically legitimate to the extent that they address problems identified through broad public discussion with remedies that respond to reasonably reflective and undominated public opinion. The associational activity of civil society functions to identify problems, interests, and needs in the society; public spheres take up these problems, communicate them to others, give them urgency, and put pressures on state institutions to institute measures to address them. Young then also concludes that, “The democratic legitimacy of public policy, moreover, depends partly on the state institutions being sensitive to that communication process. The moral force of the processes of public communication and its relations to policy, then, rests in part on a requirement that such communication be both inclusive and critically self-conscious. [2]

Farm Laws and its Passage

In September, three contentious farms laws were passed by the Parliament, that were first introduced as Ordinances in the month of June. The three laws, that have now generated massive nationwide protests are, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. While the government claims that the new laws introduce much need reforms in the agriculture market, will lift trade restrictions, reduce corruption and finally liberalize the agricultural market. Farmers, on the other hand, fear that these bills will undermine the APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) regulated ‘mandi’ system, erode the government guaranteed MSP (Minimum Support price) and make farmers vulnerable to the market forces.

In the Upper House of the Parliament Rajya Sabha, two out of three farm related legislations were passed by voice vote amidst strong protests by the Opposition. Chaos broke out on the floor of the house as parliamentary proceedings were subverted to pass the bills according  to the Opposition. Demands of referring the bills to a Parliamentary Committee were also ignored by the government in this hasty passage. This move alone had garnered a lot of negative press, as to view examinations of the bills by the Select committee as defeat, is a dangerous trend for democracy

Farmers’ Protests and the Communication Gap

Farmer Unions have been protesting the farm laws for months now. Soon after the acts were passed, massive protests engulfed Punjab. For nearly two months, these protests largely remained local with invitations extended from the Centre to overcome the discord to the protesting farmers were declined. Meanwhile, protestors in Punjab disrupted rail traffic which led to claims of shortage of coal at the thermal plant as no goods trains entered Punjab for one and a half month. On November 13th, 32 farm unions were invited by Centre and the first round of talks were held between three central ministers and the farmers. As the discussions remained inconclusive, mostly protestors from Punjab, Haryana along with protestors form Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand gathered at the Delhi border. Thousands of farmers reached border points from Punjab and Haryana amidst the usage of water cannons and tear gas. Hence, the three contentious farm laws have been vehemently protested by the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, in a nationwide protest since 14th  December 2020. Subsequently, the government has held 8 rounds of discussion with leaders from the Farm Unions, with agreements only being formed on 2 of the 4 demands put by the farmers.

While commentating for the Farm laws and the political backlash, Ashok Gulati, an Indian agricultural economist in his article for the Indian Express wrote “I feel there is a gross communication failure on the part of the central government to explain to farmers what these laws are, and how they are intended to benefit them. This communication gap was fully exploited by some political parties and social activists, who themselves are facing an existentialist threat and believe that the Narendra Modi government can do no good for this country. A massive misinformation campaign was launched, saying that these laws are a sell- out to corporate houses, will abolish the MSP system, dismantle APMC mandis, and even capture farmers’ lands. Nothing can be further from the truth.” [3]

Government Outreach

Since the outbreak of massive protests, the government and its ministries have made multiple attempts to communicate and explain polices that are ‘misunderstood’ by the farmers. Communication mostly has been one-way and has focused on bringing out success stories over the benefits of the farm laws. The government has also highlighted farm unions from across the country that are in support of these reforms.

The following are the central communication campaigns undertaken by the Centre to explain these reforms:

November 29 Mann Ki Baat

Speaking of the farm laws, Prime Minister Modi said the farm reform laws have broken the shackles of the farmers and also provided new opportunities to them. In his address to the nation through his monthly radio programme, he said, “”New dimensions are being added to agriculture and its related activities in India. The agricultural reforms in the past few days have also now opened new doors of possibilities for our farmers. The demands that have been made by farmers for years, that every political party, at some point or the other made the promise to fulfil, those demands have been met.”

December 17 Letter to Farmers

In an open letter addressing the farmers, the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar wrote, “I am from a farming family. I have grown up seeing, understanding the challenges of farming. I have seen the distress of untimely rain, the happiness of timely monsoon. These were parts of my growing up. I have also seen the week-long wait to sell crops,”. “As the agriculture minister of the country, my duty is to dispel farmers’ misconceptions, to make every farmer of this country tension-free. It is my duty to expose the conspiracy being hatched to create a wall between the farmers and the Centre,” he wrote in Hindi.

In an open letter written as an reply to Prime Minister Modi and the Agricultural Minister, the farmer unions such as the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee called their statements “factless” and also that the Centre has zero empathy for the farmers.

December 27 Mann Ki Baat

During the December 27th  Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Modi paid his tribute to several revered Sikh personalities, including the sons of Guru Gobind Singh for their sacrifices. Meanwhile, protesting farmers banged utensils during the radio show to stage their protest. Yogendra Yadav, the Swaraj India chief had said, “On December 27 when the Prime Minister gives his Mann Ki Baat radio address, farmers will say ‘we are tired of listening to your Mann ki Baat, when will you listen to our Mann ki Baat?’ So we will bang utensils so that the noise of his Mann ki Baat doesn’t reach us,”.

Putting Farmers First

In “Putting Farmers First”, a 100-page e-booklet released by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the government asserted that the three farm laws passed in September were result of “two decades of consultation”. The booklet lists measures taken by the government since 2014 to make agricultural profitable and also says “While farmers have made India extremely productive with their sweat and toil, the issue of profitability was always being sidelined because reforms in agriculture and agricultural markets never got priority,”. The government says that the booklet clear the air and mentions the “truth” of has mentioned “what will happen” and “what will not happen” for farmers.

Though efforts have been invested to bridge the communication gap, there are no indications of them being effective on ground. The messages constructed under these campaigns include sweeping generalizations and don’t included critical reasoning. If the messages are being received and understood well by the intended audiences, is difficult to measure. However, it is safe to say that there have been no real breakthroughs on ground. Perhaps the issue is no longer just a communication gap but also a trust deficit. Amidst the farmers’ protests a booklet on ‘PM Modi and his Government’s special relationship with Sikhs’ was also released on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti. This could be a move to appease the community and earn some social capital over it.

Resolution

While the government has refused to repeal the three farm laws, both the sides have engaged in several rounds of discussion now. After six rounds of talks between the government and the farmer unions, the Centre agreed to meet two of the four demands raised by the leaders of the union. The government represented by the Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and MoS Commerce and Industry Som Prakash settled to exclude farmers from the penal provisions of the Commission for  the Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020. The other is non pursual of the draft Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.

On the two out of the four demands being accepted, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha and working group member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination committee, said: “The talks took place in a somewhat conducive atmosphere. The government had a conciliatory approach today…They were agreeable to discussing how to make the MSP system better but did not commit to give a legal framework. There was some one percent flexibility on part of the government.”

Conceptual Framework

For a holistic understanding of policy communications, it is essential to understand its conceptual framework too. Public policies can generally be categorized as preferred policies and non-preferred policies based on their attributes. Non-preferred policies are those that often suffer conflict and delay in their adoption and implementation. Conflict among concerned parties generally arise with the government’s intention to instigate the fast adoption of the non-preferred public policy. The government imposes their will on the citizens and force them to adopt non-preferred polices, without proper communication over the need and consultation with concerned parties. Hence, citizens become hesitant or show resistance in adopting these policies. [4]

According to the psychological reactance theory, if the individual is compelled by authority to follow advice, adopt recommendations or make changes, it leads to psychological discontentment. The individual feels that their flexibility is under threat and they are being deprived of personal discretion.

Conclusion

Hence, the three farm reforms fit well in the non-preferred policy category. These reforms though discussed and recommended from across the political spectrum suffered inaction in formulation. However, the current top-down implementation of these reforms with no consultation with the stakeholders has led to trust deficit and hostility. The lack of policy deliberations outside and inside the Parliament during its passage and insufficient policy communications have only exacerbated matters. It is important to note that the general environment of distrust with plenty of fake news leaves citizens angry. As citizens fear change and globalization, it is crucial that media spaces are well utilized by government to mount complete and coherent arguments. After eighth rounds of deliberations, the farmers have only warned to intensify their protests with a show of strength through tractor march on Republic Day. Even the intervention of court to resolve the deadlock has been met with suspicion from the farmers. The recent Supreme Court stay order is now being viewed as a dangerous precedent that blurs lines between the legislature, executive and judiciary. The move of setting up of an expert committee has not been welcomed by the protesting farmer unions.

The course this conflictual discourse will only be evident in the coming months but one thing is clear, commitment to policy communications is quintessential at all stages of policy matters.

References

  • [1] ADB (2011) Public Communication Policy 2011: Disclosure and Exchange of In- formation. SBN
  • 978-92-9092-483-8, Publication Stock No. RPT114096.
  • [2] YOUNG, I. M. 2000. Inclusion and democracy. Oxford University Press.33, 647 – 673.
  • [3] An Expert Explains: The arguments for and against the three central farm laws
  • [4] Kang, I., Lee, G., Park, C. and Shin, M. (2013) Tailored and Targeted Communication Strategies for Encouraging Voluntary Adoption of Non-Preferred Public Policy. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 80, 24-37.

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South Asia

Hambantota: The Growing Nightmare For India

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Authors: G Nitin &Juhi*

China’s inroads in the Indian Ocean Region has alarmed India. Particularly since the controversial Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka was given on a 99 year old. Should India watch the fate unfold or take decisive action to protect its vital trade and security interests?

***

The new global order has seen the rise of a new form of diplomacy – Debt Trap Diplomacy – a practice of funding expensive projects in the host country to a point of pushing the host country into debt, to gain political or economic concessions. China has been practicing this under the Belt and Road Initiative or One Belt One Road strategy, and many countries have effectively plunged themselves into massive amounts of debt. Of the many countries that have faced the brunt of asking Chinese for loans has been Sri Lanka. From the perspective of its larger neighbour, India, this is a worrisome proposition. India has vital stakes in the region, spanning trade, energy and security interests and Chinese presence has heightened tensions. Sri Lanka’s gravitation towards China in recent years has further fueled New Delhi’s anxieties.

India has had deep seated ties with Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. After the ethnic war broke out between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils on the island state, India offered help owing to two factors – firstly it was impelled by its domestic concerns of Tamil Separatists reigniting their campaign; secondly it wanted to prevent other large powers from exploiting the power vacuum. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the LTTE suicide bomber in 1991, although India was forced to keep a hands off policy, it wasn’t entirely in India’s interests to stay away from the civil war. Meanwhile China was strengthening its relations with Sri Lanka while it opened up defence company NORINCO in Sri Lanka to provide arms to the Sri Lankan Army. By the final stages of the war, while India was forced on moral and political grounds to cut off the supply of offensive weapons, the Chinese happily provided Sri Lankans with the desired weaponry and later on support in the international fora over human rights violations and war crimes. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then President had an obvious reason to tilt towards China, that further helped him strengthen his base in the country. The massive economic costs that Sri Lanka incurred during the civil war pushed Rajpaksa to find International partners to develop Sri Lanka’s most important economic assets, it’s ports. While Rajapaksa clearly had an option of developing its existing ports – Colombo and Trincomalee, he chose to develop an economically wasteful port to bolster his support in his home constituency by developing Hambantota Port.

While India refused to invest in an economic dud, the Chinese stepped in to finance a port that was predicted to handle a minuscule amount of the marine traffic compared to Colombo Port. Upon realising their inability to pay the debt, the Sri Lankan government, as a consequence of scant marine traffic, had to give the port on a 99 year old lease to Chinese State owned company in 2017. 

Scholars have underscored this policy of developing Chinese projects as aimed at encirclement of India, spanning Xiamen in the north, connecting Gwadar port under the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan, Kerung – Kathmandu on the north-east front, China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and rail and road bridges in Bangladesh in the east, and Hambantota in Sri Lanka in the south. While some emphasise that China is ramping its efforts to safeguard its vital economic interests that lay in the vital sea lanes of communications (SLOCs), China has evidently ratcheted up its military foothold in the region that has been the domain of its South Asian rival, India, thereby posing a threat to India’s economic and security concerns.

For China, securing its trading interests via naval dominance in strategic points across the Indian ocean is imperative. This has been dubbed by some analysts as “string of pearls.” Its Achilles’ heel, the Malacca Strait, through which over 80 per cent of its oil imports are transported, remains prone to piracy and terrorism. Having Hambantota in its ambit is a tactic of guarding its interests in the region. Hambantota’s strategic position, that lies at the crossroads of trade channels across the Indian Ocean makes it an important ‘pearl’ in Beijing’s long term interest. China’s domestic concerns for strengthening its economy aside, its hawkish ambitions signal a doom for India’s interests in the region, as China gears to encircle India with its military might in the region.

First implication is that with the development of such projects, that are solely handled and undertaken by Chinese (state owned) companies and workmen, there is a growing fear of colonialism of sorts. Scholars have identified this pattern with European Colonialism where an outside power increased its strength over a sovereign. This can be problematic in the eyes of International law. Although Colombo may try its best to classify this deal as an opportunity for increasing job prospects for the natives, there is no way jobs can be created when Chinese labour will be the sole workmen on these projects.

Second concern is regarding the growing Chinese naval presence in the region. Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been docking its ships along major sea routes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), fomenting suspicion. For India, the IOR holds significant value, as vast pipelines and trade networks take place in the region that are a catalyst in India’s domestic growth. The Sri Lankan government has reaffirmed that the Chinese presence in the port city is purely commercial, however Chinese have dismissed this account stating the military presence was also a part of the agreement. Given Chinese presence at pivotal points across the region, China gains easy access to India’s security apparatus and intelligence collection and in case of a crisis, India remains engulfed from all sides. The recent incident at Galwan Valley has exemplified India’s concerns in the border regions, as Beijing shows reluctance in resolving the border dispute through dialogue.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government in 2019 decided to reevaluate the 99 year lease, however Rajapaksa’s affinity with the Chinese would imply glossing over the issue for other gains. India is exercising restraint in not antagonising Sri Lanka in a bid to keep it from drifting towards the Chinese. At best, India generously disburses funds and loans, and engages in developmental projects in order to remain in Colombo’s best books. Post war reconstruction in Sri Lanka was a courtesy of India’s Humanitarian and Recovery Projects amounting to US$112 millon. India took up a Housing Project worth US$270 million and provided Line of Credit for important infrastructure projects such as the Southern Railway Corridor from Colombo to Matara, Pillai-Jaffna railway track, 500MW Coal-Based Power Plant in Sampur.  Hambantota’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region, which makes it an important node in maritime trade and surveillance, coupled with Sri Lanka’s proximity to the Indian peninsula is enough reason for India to fear Chinese presence on the Island State. It won’t be surprising to see a repeat of the 2014 incident of Chinese Submarine docking on Colombo port, this time, however, on a much bigger scale.

Indian Ocean Region metamorphosed from a relatively peaceful region to a hotly contested region with India and China vying for greater influence. For a region that contains 36 littoral and 14 adjacent states; having a vast oil trade and abundant natural resources, establishing greater control is of paramount importance to India. With a burgeoning population and greater influence in global trade, India’s vital economic and security interest lay in the Indian Ocean Region. With Hambantota being at the crossroads of this marine traffic, it occupies a significant position and thus raises India’s security concerns.

In the aftermath of the Galwan Valley clash, keeping the Chinese away from India’s backyard has become a priority. Consequently, India has been rapidly enhancing its naval assets and bolstering alliances with regional allies such as Vietnam and Japan. Additionally, the revival of the Quad is perceived as another positive sign in bolstering the anti-China collation in the region. Notwithstanding progress on these fronts, being in Colombo’s good books remains a priority. Any fallout with Colombo will result in pushing the country deeper into China’s orbit. For Sri Lanka which had been devastated by civil war, reconstruction is of prime importance and this is a suitable opportunity for India to gain a foothold in the region. The most affected regions in the country have been the erstwhile stronghold of LTTE in the north that remains one of the most underdeveloped regions. India’s significant influence among the Tamils in the North can be used to its advantage in securing infrastructure projects in the region.

At the same time, India must make its no-nonsense attitude towards Colombo clear that it has had a history of crossing lines with India. New Delhi will have to convey to Colombo that the relationship and the mutual trust between the two countries should not be violated by either side. While it is of essence that India be accommodating towards Sri Lanka, history cautions New Delhi to be vigilant of Colombo’s flirtations with Beijing.

*Juhi is a Final Year Law Student, pursuing LL.B. at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. The author can be reached out at juhijain341[at]gmail.com

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