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Indo-Nepal Face off: Coercive vs. Soft Power inter-positioning in Regional Politics

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A new 80 km-long road was inaugurated by the Indian defence minister on May 8. 2020, at Lipulekh pass to connect its border with China at the backyard of India, however, without making any diplomatic consultations with Nepal. Originally, the territory became controversial in 1998 when the Nepalese government raised the issue over the location of river, and consequently its territoriality at Kalapani. The Indian act of May 8, was immediately contested and then followed by several retaliatory moves with Nepali police forces deployed in the region. Nepal even summoned the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu. A highly controversial conjecture between the two erstwhile friendly Nepal-India relations was resulted in the initiation of successful constitutional amendment by the pro-China government of the Prime Minister Oli from its parliament. His party credentials are predominantly pro-communist. Nepal decided to reclaim 400 sq km of approximate land from India.  On the other hand, In a lukewarm reaction, India initially postponed its geo-strategic concerns till the end of COVID 19 contrary to the statement given by the India’s Ministry of External Affairs whereby, recognizing that there is a dispute which requires a diplomatic solution. Nonetheless, the coercive tools have been appreciatively kept at bay much to the opposition of the worried demand in India itself.

In any case, emboldened by its increasing lineage towards China, much braver Nepal could logjam the bothersome crisis successfully. What made the Prime Minister Oli put up a brave face with a multifold greater military and nuclear power of India? Is India’s claim of a regional power, backed by the US policy in Asia questioned? Are all comparatively smaller peripheral states of India clubbing together to challenge its expansionist policies or India could no more trample over the region and faces competitive challenger? India’s overstretching in Maldives in the aftermath of 2017-2018 Doklam crisis, conflicts with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all precedence to the non-compliance with the India’s masque rated big brother intimidation. Ruling through causing fear is always counter -productive.  Hence, is it a revolt against the much pronounced Hindutva ideology enwrapping India itself speedily with monolithic claims of ancestry? The counter claims could also bea fence against non-secular interventions in the young democracies at its backyard countries. In either case it is certainly a yet another constitutional and democratic expression of protest, perhaps not as emphatic and painful like the dissent in the Indian Occupied Kashmir after the unconstitutional abrogation of  Article 370 which granted a special status to the Muslim state, gradually picking up the watershed status in the foreign policy status. Kashmir lies close to the neighborhood of Nepal in the peaceful and picturesque foothills of Himalayan Mountains. The domino effect is steady. 

 India had kept an effective possession of this territory for at least sixty years despite the fact that Nepal conducted census there in the early 1950s.It is also highlighted in a detailed and concretely researched essay by Sam Cowan. In fact, a part from Kalapani, there is also a second dispute with India in the Susta river border region. India had however, controlled this territory of Kalapani for long. Apart from conducting its administration and deploying military forces up to the border pass with China, India introduced several infrastructural changes as well uninterruptedly for several years. This strategically important link at the tri-junction of India, Tibet and Nepal in Kalapani provides one of the quickest accesses for thousands of Hindus trekking across the border to visit the sacred Mount of Kalash. The religious significance is as valuable for India and holds the civilian and the military control of the region.

Politically, at its home front, these structural changes by India in the region were a blessing in disguise for Prime Minister Oli’s government who otherwise was under severe pressure of the opposition. They all got united and fueled an uproar across-partisan, nationalist opposition against India and decided to constitutionally approve the geographical definition of its boundaries in the region, unanimously. Although, Nepali government was closely monitoring the situation in Kalapani over the preceding months and years; the Indian government continued to include the territories claimed by Nepal; yet revocation of the Article 370 in August 5, 2019, made the watershed for the region as well. The blatant violation of the international law by an emerging economy of South Asia posed a pronouncedly destabilizing atmosphere. India was no more offering a comfortable harbor to the smaller nations in its neighborhood. Government in Kathmandu took it up officially and publically.  Brewing for several years, it even became a popular issue in Nepal, with the hashtag #BackOffIndia trending on social media. Anti-Indian sentiments have already been running high amongst the predominantly young population of the landlocked country of Nepal though had been alleged as “at the behest of a third party”, by the Indian Chief of Army Staff. He is obviously alluding China.

On the other hand, much to the disappointment of India, Nepal had already chosen not to attend a multilateral BIMSTEC counter-terrorism exercise hosted by India, in 2018. Nepal considers BIMSTEC as an anti-China military alliance driven by India. Similarly, the US sponsored MCC grant to upgrade the Nepal’s electricity transmission system and connect it to the Indian power grid was also vehemently opposed. Conversely, China has been the only regional and the international power deepening its heels in the region with its massive BRI project along with several smaller supplementary projects for the smaller regional countries as its allies.

At the same time, Nepal’s foreign policy has also been gradually embracing a motivational and futuristic curve for external balancing and diversification since the recent years. The leadership of its Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali has given a new impetus to its foreign policy. The participation in the Fourth Indian Ocean Conference, held in the Maldives in 2019, by Nepal’s Foreign Minister further augments Kathmandu’s widening and ambitious geostrategic horizons. They are meant to place Nepal as a critical connectivity pivot between China, South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

One agrees with C. Raja Mohan no less, who has identified several choking points in the territorial dispute as“a symptom of the structural changes unfolding in the external and internal context of the bilateral relationship” between India and Nepal. India’s reference to its exclusive sphere of influence or satellite statehood with a mindset of colonialism in the neighborhood no more holds the cogency particularly vis a vis China’s soft power interpositions. The economic delivery will be certainly more powerful to make the mare go and hold a sustainable relevance to the regional politics in South Asia. India needs to come up with something as substantive to remain vital in the regional politics of South Asia.

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Rohingya crisis: How long will Bangladesh single-handedly assume this responsibility?

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Photo: IOM/Mashrif Abdullah Al

At least 8,60,000 Rohingya FDMNs, mostly women and children entered Bangladesh fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape by the Tatmadaw in Rakhine, what the United Nations has decried as textbook example of ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning on August 25, 2017. The latest influx of Rohingyas brought the number of undocumented and registered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to more than 1.1 million. Not a single Rohingya returned home to Rakhine when the Myanmar government blocked the repatriation process in various ways. Owing to critical socio-economic, environmental and security concerns, the Bangladesh government launched a project of relocating one-tenth of the Rohingyas to Bhashan Char on a voluntary basis. So far 18,334 Rohingyas have been relocated to Bhashan Char and they expressed “high satisfaction” over the existing considerable safe, secured and crime-free environment compared to the mobbed camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh government invested more than US $310 million from its own funds to develop the 13,000-acre island with all amenities and facilities of drinkable water, electricity, sanitation, agricultural plots, 120 cyclone shelters in each cluster, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, learning centers and playgrounds which is far better than the facilities in the Cox’s Bazar camps. From the outset, the initiative was called into question by some human rights organizations and NGOs. However, in the wake of recent visits by high officials of the international community and donor states, it has been proven that the allegations against Bangladesh were merely political and propaganda.

Delegates from the EU, the OIC and the UN all demonstrated their prima facie satisfaction by seeing the facilities and living conditions of the Rohingya refugees in the Bhashan Char. Previously, a few INGOs and interest groups disseminated that the conditions in Bhashan Char are inhabitable and the relocation plan is a wrong decision of the Bangladesh government. But now all the foreign delegates and human rights proponents agreed that the decision to relocate some 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char under the Ashrayan-3 project was a timely decision for the well-being of the Rohingya community itself. Since the massive influx of Rohingya into Bangladesh in August, 2007, Bangladesh has actively carried out its humanitarian role. But, has the international community fulfilled its duty, apart from criticizing Bangladesh’s initiatives and raising funds for refugees for the time being? Bangladesh has done its part, and it is now time that the international community shares the burden and puts pressure on Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya refugees.

Bangladesh is trying to solve the crisis with its utmost efforts using all of its diplomatic maneuvers in the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral levels. Acknowledging the outstanding assistance in hosting 1.1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh, the US special envoy for climate change John Kerry during his recent visit to Bangladesh said that the global community must hasten its efforts to resolve the crisis as it is not merely responsibility for the country. Bangladesh in every multilateral forum has been desperately raising the issue of the Rohingya crisis as it has a far reaching social, economic, environmental and security concerns not only for Bangladesh but also for the South Asian region. For instance, Bangladesh raised the Rohingya issue at the 10th D-8 summit held in Dhaka and sought international support.  But it is ironic, due to lack of goodwill of the concerned parties, the situation is protracting. All the international community including the UN, the EU and the OIC members should work in a coordinated way to find a comprehensive and durable solution to the Rohingya crisis.

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Covid19 mismanagement in India

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© UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

The writer is of the view that the pandemic in India would have been less virulent if the Indian government had been more truthful and egalitarian in its preventive policies. India prematurely claimed a “victory” against the virus. It vowed to export vaccines to other countries while its own states groaned under shortage of vaccine, drugs and oxygen. The government called the foreign Muslim preachers “super spreaders of the virus” and “terrorists” while allowing elections rallies and  Kumbh congregation. The pandemic brought home one truth. Lies do not always fructify.

India is struggling to contain the spread of the new ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant which has turned out to be quite lethal. The positivity peaked with 3, 82,315 new Covid-19 cases pushing the country’s overall caseload to over 2, 06, 65,148. With fresh infections, the total active coronavirus cases in the country has mounted to 34, 87,229, according to the data released by India’s health ministry. The New York times reported, ‘The sudden surge in recent weeks, with an insidious newer variant possibly playing a role, is casting increasing doubt on India’s official Covid-19 death toll of nearly 200,000, with more than 2,000 people dying every day (New York Times April 24, 2021). However some reports indicate death of 2, 26, 000 to 3, and 23,000.

How the virus ran amok

White House chief medical adviser and America’s top pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci says, `India’s home-grown COVID-19 vaccine (Covaxin), has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus’. The mounting deaths are apparently due to India’s failure to inoculate its whole population. India’s prime minister Modi had declared a premature “victory” against the virus. India announced that it has enough vaccines to export to over 76 countries. The government looked the other way when police carried out a witch hunt against the foreign Muslim preachers when they visited India. They were labeled “corona super spreaders” and even “terrorists”.  However, the courts exonerated most of the preachers of the charges.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party fumed and fretted about the preachers. But, it allowed a Hindu religious congregation of naked or semi-naked pilgrims (Kumbh) to be held without any let up or hindrance. The BJP chief minister of Uttarkhand declared that faith and the purifactory power of the Ganga River would suffice as a Covid shield, though it did not. The mounting deaths are apparently due to India’s failure to stop congregations and inoculate its whole population. India’s prime minister Modi had declared a premature “victory” against the virus. India’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, audaciously claimed that India’s fatality rate is still “the lowest in the world”. Two months back, he declared that his nation was “in the endgame” of the pandemic.

His boss, Modi, boasted to the World Economic Forum in January that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively”. Narendra Modi’s claim was preceded by the announcement that he was bringing a “message of confidence, positivity and hope from 1.3 billion Indians amid these times of apprehension”.

He looked the other way when police carried out a witch hunt against the foreign Muslim preachers when they visited India. They were labeled “corona super spreaders” and even “terrorists”.

White House chief medical adviser and America’s top pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci says, `India’s home-grown COVID-19 vaccine (Covaxin), has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus’.

The new variant ‘B.1.618’ is a major immune escape variant. India hit the world’s highest single-day tally when it recorded more than 300,000 active cases in a day. Hospitals in the country are running out of oxygen supply, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of deaths. Viral videos showed desperate people exhaling into mouths of their dying kins. Wood became short to cremate dead bodies. While patients kept dying for want of a bed or oxygen, par-medical staff kept minting money by stealing medicines from hospital stores, allocating and re-allocating beds, or charging exorbitant price of about Rs. 3000 a kilometer.

Situation in occupied Kashmir

The situation in occupied Kashmir became particularly gruesome. Oxygen cylinders from the disputed state were “bought out” for other states. Vaccinations centres soon vanished as no vaccine was available. The viral videos indicated that Kashmiri leaders were languishing in jails without medical treatment. Kashmiri women mourned deaths of their relatives outside hospitals. Simultaneously,

cordon-and search operations continued to kill innocent Kashmiris.

For a population of nearly 1.2 crore, there are only 600 ventilators. In Srinagar city, there is an availability of only 13,000 litres of oxygen per minute which, the medical experts say, was too low to cater to the ongoing rise in the cases. Several doctors said that each patient requires between 5-10 litres of oxygen per minute and the existing supplies at Srinagar hospitals are sufficient only for 2,000-3,000 people in a given time.

The work on the oxygen plants at the government hospitals is either stalled or has been going on at a snail pace. Although two more plants were opened in the northern Kashmir areas of Kupwara and Sopore on Sunday and another one was ready for use in southern Kashmir’s Shopian. The plants with their capacities of 1,000-litre per minute could cater to a few hundred people in a given time only.

Hospitals have no drugs, not even  Remdesivir. A court observed, ‘Death of Covid patients due to non-supply of oxygen not less than genocide’. Another court asked people to register murder charges against the election commission for allowing election gatherings.

Taking advantage of abrogation of special status, the Indian government is bringing people affected by the Corona epidemic into the Kashmir Valley.

Covid19 exposed limitations of propaganda

Modi’s gung-ho announcements of victories against the virus did not end the pandemic. He owes many of his electoral victories to the power of propaganda. He blamed Pakistan for bomb blasts in India and Kashmir. A self-styled businesswoman Madi Sharma (RAW surrogate) arranged a guided tour of far-right members of European parliament to the occupied Kashmir (October 30, 2013) through a fake International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies. The Institute paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on. The delegation’s shikara (boat) ride in Kashmir Lake (dal) pictured Kashmir as a heaven in serene peace. Some members however smelt a rat and abandoned the free joy ride. The aim was to convince the world that it was all hunky-dory in the occupied Kashmir after abrogation of the special status and age-old hereditary-ownership law.

Modi acted on Hitler’s propaganda playbook

It appears India has meticulously implemented Hitler’s propaganda theorems: `The bigger the lie, the better the results. The success of any propaganda campaign ultimately depends on the propagandist’s down-to-earth understanding of the “primitive sentiments of the popular masses”. Mein Kampf (pp. 179-180).  

The Arnab Goswami transcripts exposed Modi’s fake “surgical strikes”. Goswami referred to the Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019. Three days before the Balakot air strike on 26 February 2019, Goswami purportedly said India’s response would be: “Bigger than a normal air strike. And on the same time something major on Kashmir (abrogation of Special Status)”.

The leaks of the WhatsApp messages of Arnab Goswami (Republic TV) brought into limelight some bitter truths. One bitter truth is that the general public is a ‘bewildered herd’ (to quote Noam Chomsky) who could easily be made a fool of.

The leaked WhatsApp chats revealed that the Balakot ‘surgical strikes’ were conducted to shore up Narendra Modi’s image as a `strong man’, a Brobdignagian among the self-centered Lilliputian Indian politicians. The ‘strike’ helped Modi win elections with a thumping majority.

Though Modi is educated only up to high school, he understands the power of propaganda. He has done a three-month course in the USA on Image Management and Public Relations. His campaign blitz cost about $700 million. Modi is considered the most techno-savvy leader of India as he is very active on various social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The WhatsApp chats between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta run into 500 long pages. They revealed the nexus between the media and politicians to hoodwink the masses.

Modi considers Indian people a “herd”. Modi owed his electoral victory to the power of propaganda. He made a fool of not only the Indian masses but also the world around until the West Bengal debacle.

History tells that the people, even the Americans, are gullible. Propaganda deeply influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with the words ‘we the people’. Chomsky says even the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking. He asserts that, in a “properly functioning democracy”, there are a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … “analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War. The Wilson Administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Committee, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world…. After the war the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Scare…’.

Conspiracy theories exposed

One of the first conspiracy theories that came to light was that China created COVID-19 as a biological weapon in a laboratory in Wuhan (Jaaved, 2020). Another widespread conspiracy theory is that 5G technology is the primary cause of the highly contagious virus or even the amounts of deaths. Without enough evidence there are two sides to this theory: it is the direct cause of the virus because it has a very high level of frequency or it uses these high levels of frequency to weaken people’s immune systems and that way causing a lot of damage and fear. But this 5G theory also comes back to China. China has a very impressive technological security that uses 5G technology, and some traces show a connection between 5G hotspots and the first COVID-19 outbreaks (Thomas, 2020).

According to “The WHO terms the conspiracy theories as “infodemic” that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”.

Concluding remarks

The pandemic has proved that propaganda does not always succeed. Abraham Lincoln was right in saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

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The World Biggest COVID-19 Crisis: Failure of India’s Vaccine Diplomacy

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Health workers pose with a vial of COVID-19 vaccine after receiving their shots at a hospital in India. UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

As over 100 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated and the world’s daily count of new cases is falling, India faces healthcare system collapse as a second coronavirus wave is devastating. In accordance with the recent statistics of the WHO, in the past week approximately 2 million new confirmed cases were reported worldwide – almost half were from India. Interestingly, India is one of the main producers and exporters of coronavirus vaccines in the world and since mid-January, the federal government has approved a British-made Oxford-AstraZeneca, and a locally developed– a national pride Covaxin (both are being produced in India) for the massive immunization drive that has set the ambitious goal of fully immunizing 300 million people, particularly healthcare workers by the end of summer. Meanwhile, India had initially been planning to set the world record for mass vaccination but they ended up with the world record coronavirus cases, surpassing 400.000 daily COVID-19 cases for the first time.

The development and deployment of an effective and safe vaccine against the coronavirus was a key pillar in the authority’s current strategy to break down the chain of transmission. However, despite a promising start of a vaccination campaign at the beginning of this year, one of the largest immunization programs across the globe, it turns out there is not a sufficient amount of vaccine supplies in a number of states across the country. As cases continue to surge, many across the country have rushed to register for shots but most states are running out of doses and a large number of vaccination centers across India turned away people due to chronic shortages or complete lack of availability of jabs. While India is one of the major producers of COVID-19 vaccines with a monthly capacity of 70 million doses, now forced to import jabs, as local manufacturing facilities are facing challenges to meet growing demand. As India’s expansion of its immunization campaign has been failing badly, it makes a disastrous situation even worse. On the other hand, the current devastation leads to a depression in global vaccine supply and consequently, it hits the low and middle-income countries, as they rely on the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

The second devastating wave was hitting the country since mid-April and apparently, India’s poorly funded public healthcare system is not capable enough to overcome the world’s largest surge in COVID cases. Health facilities overwhelmed as infection rates explode; therefore, many hospitals in the large cities already suspended admitting even the critically ill coronavirus patients as all beds were full and medical equipment, particularly oxygen concentrators, ICU beds, test kits, PPEs and ventilators in short supply, while corpses pile up at morgues and crematoriums. As a death toll rises sharply, additional crematoriums are being built in order to deal with the grim situation, especially in the hardest-hit cities and states. Furthermore, in the midst of a big surge Indian government also launched a vaccination drive for anyone over the age of 18 starting 1st of May.  Ironically, along with China and Russia, India was a country that had begun exporting home-grownCOVID-19 vaccine doses to foreign countries, but only less than 3% of its population has been fully vaccinated so far. During a global pandemic, thanks to its massive production capacity, India actively donated locally produced Coronavirus vaccines to the Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and African low and middle-income nations under the “Vaccine Friendship” program. The initiative was launched in early 2021 and it sought to promote cooperation and cement ties by distributing a dozen of jabs through the Vaccine Diplomacy. In reality, in the battle to gain political influence across the developing world, India shipped millions of doses to poorer countries before managing to secure an adequate amount of vaccines for its own people.

India’s infections keep surging due to the unavailability of medical resources and thus the crisis also affecting the global vaccine and medical supply chains, as over 40 countries, including Russia, European Union, China and the United States and numerous international charities are proactively providing a range of humanitarian aid and emergency assistance.

Many events marking religious festivals and cultural events across the world have been banned because of Coronavirus; on the contrary, despite the high risks of infection several crowded religious festivals and gatherings have been taking place in India’s various holy sites and places of worship with a thousand of unmasked pilgrims and devotees. Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s total23campaign rallies that brought tens of thousands of incautious supporters together caused the spike in coronavirus cases. Hence, the federal government acted reluctantly to impose major restrictions for containing the virus by relying on local authorities to take action.

Indeed, India is the third country with over130 million doses administrated in the world, the highest figure just behind the United States and China respectively, but even the large-scale vaccination process was insufficient to prevent the second wave for a population of more than 1.3 billion people. Although international flights are being suspended to and from India by many governments, a more transmissible India COVID variant, formally known as B.1.617has already been detected in multiple countries and territories worldwide. India’s COVID -19 crisis warns that the risk of infection remains high and many countries could face a strong resurgence of COVID-19similar to India. Health experts concern that a new and more contagious strain spreads more easily and it could even evade vaccines. The current outbreak shows that every country remains vulnerable and could find itself in dire straits unless the adaptation and implementation of strict anti-pandemic measures and policies. However, strengthening the public health system, enhancing safety protocols and sanitary measures, ensuring transparency and accountability, and initiating a successful immunization campaign will be seemingly crucial to combat the pandemic, otherwise, a similar crisis could soon become a common tragedy for the entire world in the foreseeable future.

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