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Future Belongs To India’s: OPENING UP THE MANTRA, By Shivaji Sarkar, 20 July 2020 Print E-mail

Economic Highlight

New Delhi, 20 July 2020

Future Belongs To India’s

OPENING UP THE MANTRA

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

India has to end its lockdown completely for fast economic recovery. The unlocking is like a see-saw. While the Centre is keen on opening up, the States have become erratic imposing closures either on a daily, weekly or hourly basis, hurting the crucial revival after 15 weeks of complete or partial curfew.

 

With a number of States, including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Rajasthan and Maharashtra re-clamping curfew in parts it has led to closures all over, now in pieces. Very few States are functioning to their full capacity. It is affecting supplies, trade, transport, health of businesses and uncertainties across the country during the 13 weeks since March 25. Over 40 crore Indians are estimated to be still under various forms of local lockdowns.

 

The Narendra Modi government is caring for the health and life of the people, which is a solace. However, the disease is not lethal, says ICMR DG Balram Bhargav in his pre-unlock ‘Meet the Press’. He said overall incidences are low and fatality is less than one per cent in smaller cities and does not consider it to be a fatal disease. A cautious post-unlock approach has caused more piecemeal closures though impact is national. There is little evidence that local lockdown reduces spread of COVID-19.

 

Half of the year, first due to financial crisis since December 2019 and then severe COVId-19 closures, is witnessing tepid recovery. Post-unlock some select big industries such as the automobiles appear to be doing better but it’s still far from normal operations.

 

The US’ flip-flop policies are hitting the global economy accentuated by poor shipping operations and other blockades. The trade war with China has hit the US hard. Disney and Apple, among major US companies, Bloomberg reports, have become pawns of China, enabling Beijing to amass influence and wealth at the expense of the US and western democratic values.

 

India is no less hit by Chinese border and economic aggression. The country has taken tough steps to ban Chinese goods and 59 apps. It made Beijing react sharply and cajole India in diplomatic language. Indian search for alternative has begun but long dependence on Manmohanomics is delaying it. Complete swadeshi, or atmanirbhar Bharat, dream of Prime Minister Modi or every self-priding Indian through “Make in India’ is time-consuming. Total unlocking is needed to pace up these efforts.

 

Key economic indicators such as labour participation rates, mobility indices, and electricity consumption are down in July compared to initial activities in June. The weekly Nomura India Business Resumption Index (NIBRI) has plateaued causing worries. The index fell to 66.8 points till July 12, from 69.3 on July 5 and 70.5 at June-end.

 

June saw a pent up demand due to prolonged lockdown that gave hope. The e-way bills under GST needed for goods transportation also are seeing a slump at 17.2 million in July against 18.7 million till June 15. Similarly, labour participation is falling since June 21 and mobility indices fell 30 per cent below since mid-June.

 

The news of Google’s investment of $10 billion and various other companies, including Facebook and Qualcom in the country are encouraging. These would materialise as the country starts functioning in full scale.

 

At the same time, intermittent closures by city or State administrations are impacting demand generation and production. Large manufacturers and retailers of consumer goods, smart phones, automobiles have declined reversing the initial unlock gains. It is affecting truck movements, already hit by high diesel prices and no relief post-lockdown in toll rates and GST procedures. Markets closing weekends in UP and cities like Bengaluru, Guwahati, Kolkata reduce 30 per cent sales of companies like German wholesale Metro Cash and Carry.

 

Policies like imports are not in a stable zone. The nation has to chart out a clear road map to swadeshi atmanirbharata. Higher tariff barriers may not be a flat approach in an economy that has become dependent on global producers, including China, for many raw materials and finished goods. The nation has to come out of the quandary whether to fully produce internally or have a mix.

 

The political leadership must clarify whether it wants a Gandhian or a modern solution. But no party alone can give a solution. A national confabulation to develop policy for the next 30 years is needed to severe itself from the debilitating uncertain Manmohanomics.

 

The policy to cut on public sector just to boost the private also needs review. The public sector has set a standard not only in production quality but also creating models for labour engagement. This strength of the PSUs is being tried to be eroded through watering down labour laws, wage policies and denying companies like HAL from naval copter production to ‘help’ private sector. To say that PSUs have undue advantage is a move against the spirit of strategic partnership model.

 

The Modi government has taken many good steps, it should allow PSUs to function freely so that Indian private sector could also achieve an overall quality level – a plank they are trying to compromise for fast growth by demolishing the standard makers. The PSUs are needed to be strengthened for atmanirbharata or self-dependence of the country. The nation needs to learn from the US, which despite private sector growth has not compromised on public sector. Most western countries too have followed that pattern.

 

The private sector should be advised to come up to the level of PSUs but they also be told that it cannot be at PSUs’ cost. The PSUs and private sector must compete to make this a strong nation and not annihilate each other. Public money is involved in both. Growth of one is integral and mutually beneficial for the country.

 

Similarly for overall growth they need to coexist and not go for handing over select profitable rail routes to private sector. It may emerge as a poor imitation of the Praful Patel policy of annihilating Air India.

 

India has to go on a fast trajectory. It must now open up, end lockdown irrespective of the disease and start operations of railways normally to avoid an abnormal shrinkage of the economy. The country has its strength, it has to take a plunge and not be cowed down by fear, apprehensions or panic. With a bold and practical step, the future belongs to India.—INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Political & Partisan: SPEAKER CAUGHT IN DESERT STORM By Poonam I Kaushish, 21 July 2020 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 21 July 2020

Political & Partisan

SPEAKER CAUGHT IN DESERT STORM

By Poonam I Kaushish

A charade of duplicity or theatre of bias? For nearly a week now, the fast spinning political wheel of the ongoing Rajasthan roulette has left everyone guessing. The grubby tale has its genesis in Rajasthan Dy Chief Minister and Congress Chief Sachin Pilot and his 18 MLAs brood being sacked earlier this week after they rebelled against Chief Minister Gehlot.

Topped, by Assembly Speaker CP Joshi issuing notice to explain why they should not be disqualified for defying a whip by their no-show at two Legislature Party meetings under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. A provision which disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.

 

Threatened Pilot and Co move Rajasthan High Court against the Speaker’s disqualification notice which asks Joshi not to take any decision till 5 PM today. Contends his lawyer ex-Solicitor General Harish Salve that “acts outside the House are not violation of Anti-Defection Law as a Party whip applies only when the Assembly is in session, hence one cannot disqualify MLAs for not attending a meeting.” Adding, “raising disagreements regarding 'dictatorial functioning' of a Chief Minister is an internal matter and doesn't amount to defection,” as it is an issue of freedom of speech of legislators.

 

The issue is not whether Pilot will remain in the Congress, switch to the BJP like many other Congressmen before him or risk announcing his own political outfit. More important it puts the spotlight once again on the Speaker’s role with their penchant for using, mis-using or abusing their powers specially the Anti-Defection Law.

 

Over the years, there have been instances aplenty where the Speaker has precipitated a crisis by seemingly political decisions by being deeply involved and playing partisan politics. An example, the Anti-Defection Law which bestows the power of deciding whether a representative has become subject to disqualification, post their defection, is made by the Speaker offering ample scope to him to exercise discretion and play political favourites, ignoring the letter and spirit of the anti-Defection Law

 

Undeniable since it came to power in 2014 the BJP has been busy preparing for a saffron waltz in various Opposition-ruled States with its proven prowess at toppling Governments. Recall, a few months ago, 22 Congress rebel MLAs led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, including six Ministers, sent in their resignation to Madhya Pradesh Speaker Prajapati. While the MLAs were kept in a resort in Bengaluru, Prajapati accepted their resignations only a day before the Supreme Court ordered a floor test which culminated in the fall of Kamal Nath’s Government. It’s another matter the defectors are Ministers in the BJP Sarkar.

 

In July 2019 Karnataka Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar disqualified 11 Congress and three from JD(S) MLAs whose resignations were pending with him leading to the collapse of Kumaraswamy’s Government. The MLAs were disqualified for the remaining term of the Assembly and not allowed to contest polls till the term ended. However, they won a reprieve from the Supreme Court which while endorsing the Speaker’s disqualification allowed the defectors to contest the by-polls, which they did as BJP candidates. And many who won were made Ministers in the BJP Government.

 

In 2015-16 the BJP which had only 11 MLAs and support of 2 Independents in Arunachal Pradesh engineered defections by winning over 21 of 47 Congress MLAs in the 60-Member Assembly. The Speaker disqualified 14 of the rebel MLAs who were opposed to the Chief Minister Tuki. Simultaneously the BJP held an extraordinary session in a community hall wherein rebel Congress-BJP MLAs removed the Speaker. While the Gauwhati High Court upheld the disqualification, the Supreme Court refused to give a verdict on the disqualification but restored the Tuki government in July 2016.

 

Ditto in Uttarakhand where the Speaker disqualified nine Congress rebel MLAs ostensibly for voting against the Appropriations Bill despite the MLAs not leaving the Congress or voting against it in the Assembly. The MLAs joined the BJP and upstaged the Harish Rawat-led Congress Government in 2016. This was preceded by 25 BJP and the nine Congress rebel MLAs moving an impeachment motion against the Speaker. The Uttarakhand High Court upheld the disqualification but the Supreme Court ordered a trust vote which led to restoration  of Rawat’s Government in May 2016. 

 

In the 1990’s Meghalaya Speaker suspended the voting rights and later even disqualified five MLAs just prior to a no-confidence motion. In 1988 Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker Pandian disqualified six senior AIADMK Ministers for giving up their Party membership, along with 27 other MLAs (disqualified for not attending a confidence motion), identified with the pro-Jayalalithaa faction.

Alas, its par for the course when MLAs-Speaker roles are inter-changed at a drop of a hat. Whereby, ruling Party Ministers, MPs and MLAs accept Speakership only to exploit the office for richer political dividends. Whereby, it is increasingly difficult to keep track of Minister’s becoming Speaker’s and vice versa.

 

Think. In Indira Gandhi’s era Dhillion shuffled between being Speaker for two terms and then made Union Minister for Shipping in 1975. In UPA I Meira Kumar was a Congress MP and Minister and became Lok Sabha Speaker in UPA II. As her erstwhile predecessors, Shivraj Patil, Sangma, Balram Jhakar et al. More scandalous is the situation in the States. In Goa former Chief Minister Pratap Rane was Speaker and in J&K Lone, a confidant of then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah presided over the Assembly in 2011.

Undoubtedly, the Speaker’s position is paradoxical. He contests the election for Parliament or State Assembly and then for the post on a Party ticket, and yet is expected to conduct himself or herself in a non-partisan manner, all the while being beholden to the Party for a ticket for the next election.

Confided a former Lok Sabha Speaker: “We are elected on Party tickets with Party funds. How can we claim independence? Moreover, even if we resign on becoming the Speaker, we would still have to go back to the same Party for sponsorship for the next election.”

 

The entirety of a Speaker’s decisions can also be an inducement for abuse. Instances of suspension of almost all DMK MLAs who were evicted en masse from the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2016 while protesting or the violence in the J&K Assembly resulting in senior PDP leaders hurling abuses and a pedestal fan at the Speaker raise crucial questions about the health of our democracy.

 

Such suspensions are increasingly becoming common across State Assemblies, with a partisan Speaker in the vanguard of eroding India’s democratic character. Bringing things to such a pass that the Speaker seems to have acquired a “larger than life image and role”, so like a school teacher whereby he has become the primus entre peri.

 

A kind of a demi-God who can do no wrong, and whose actions are unquestionable. Forgotten in the quintessential position, is the fact that the Speaker who is essentially the servant of the House has fast become its master, thanks to the rules of procedure. Highlighting, falling standards in conducting legislative business in Assemblies and bringing into sharp focus the Speaker’s role and powers. And, the need to clearly define these.

 

True, the rules of procedure give the Speaker absolute discretion to decide on all issues but his  approach to important issues ignores much that is expected of him in accordance with time-honoured conventions.   Pertinently, his extraordinary power was given to guide proceedings of the House effectively in the formative period and to help build healthy conventions and a strong Opposition in the best national interest without whom, according to Erskine May, “the House has no Constitutional existence.”

 

Where does one go from here? Time to look afresh at the Speaker’s powers establish the supremacy of the House.  Remember, the Speaker is the servant of the House not its master! Time we condition ourselves to expecting and promoting neutrality in the Speaker and contain the raging desert storm. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

New Delhi, 21 July 2020

Rajasthan Verdict: CONG ITS OWN WORST ENEMY! By Insaf, 18 July 2020 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 18 July 2020

Rajasthan Verdict

CONG ITS OWN WORST ENEMY! 

By Insaf

 

The Congress High Command’s worry in Rajasthan is far from over. Ushering normalcy or some semblance of order will be a tall order, given the big fight between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his then number two, Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who has since been stripped of the portfolio as well as PCC chief, not yet fully over. The entire drama since Monday last ran like a Bollywood thriller, with ‘handsome and English-speaking’ Pilot ending up as the ‘villain’ and Gehlot as ‘hero’, after attempts to topple government failed miserably. Though Pilot says he’s a Congressman and would never join the BJP, Gehlot insists the whole drama was plotted by him along with BJP: IT raids on Gehlot’s men; hotel in Gurgaon where Pilot and his herd stayed being declared as COVID quarantine centre; horse trading to tune of 20 crore being offered for an MLA; State BJP planning a meeting, which had to be aborted, etc. It’s a different story that the plot failed, but the war is clearly between Pilot and Gehlot, with BJP now in the shadows. What is the future for Pilot is a nagging question in Congress circles, given that keeping him in the State would be difficult, as Gehlot won’t simply allow it. However, it appears that Rahul Gandhi has kept the doors open for his friend and will need to work out some face saving for Pilot. Dreams of becoming Chief Minister are over, what can Pilot bargain for? Or rather bargain at all?

*                                               *                                               *                                               * 

 

MP Brutality

Madhya Pradesh government needs to hang its head in shame. Corrective measures are not enough, following police brutality in an anti-encroachment drive in Guna district, wherein farmers were being removed on the land to build a college.  On Tuesday a Dalit couple drank poison after the police allegedly tried to destroy their crop in that drive. In fact, a video went viral showing cops brutally beating up some of the residents with lathis, a woman pleading and trying to shield the man, a child following the couple and then the couple falling unconscious after consuming poison. A day later, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced removal of Guna Collector and Superintendent of Police from their posts and an inquiry ordered.  While the couple is said to have recovered, they have been booked among others for trying to obstruct public officials on duty. Chouhan has assured that action will be taken against the guilty. His predecessor Kamal Nath has hit out and asked “What kind of jungle raj is this?” Valid question, but the incident shouldn’t be used to score brownie points, rather to set it right. Is anyone listening?

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

 

Delhi Spat

They are at it again. Delhi’s Lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal and Arvind Kejriwal government differ on appointment of special public prosecutors (SPPs) in the High Court on cases concerning North East Delhi riots in February and anti-CAA protests. While the Delhi police recommended names of six SPPs, to fight the 85 cases, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, holding temporary charge of Home department, rejected this. Instead, he insists government’s counsel and team are independent, technically qualified and capable of handling the cases and sent the file back to the Delhi police. Baijal, using his special powers has summoned for the file and matter is expected to reach Rashtrapati Bhavan again. A month ago, similar disagreement was on appointment of 11 public prosecutors by Delhi police in lower courts for NE Delhi riots cases. Citing difference of opinion, the LG chose to refer matter to President Kovind, following which then Home Minister Satyendar Jain approved Delhi Police’s panel. Which way will this round go is anybody’s guess.  

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

 

BJP Eyeing Jharkhand?

Is Jharkhand the next State being eyed by the BJP? The answer is in the affirmative, according to Congress State president and Finance Minister Rameshwar Oraon in the coalition government. On Wednesday last, he claimed the saffron party ‘tried to entice few Congress MLAs (offered money and posts) during the recently held Rajya Sabha elections in a bid to form government.’ However, he was confident that his and alliance parties MLAs are intact and the BJP will never succeed as their flock ‘got elected after fighting the BJP on the street for the people.’ But there is no room for complacency despite the factor that the coalition government has a comfortable majority in 81-member Assembly: the JMM has 29 members, Congress 17 MLAs, and RJD (third partner) a single legislator and BJP 26. Both JMM and BJP managed to send one party candidate each to Rajya Sabha, though Congress candidate couldn’t make it. The State BJP President Deepak Prakash has rubbished Oraon’s statement saying he is diverting attention of people from the government’s handling of the Corono crisis. Set your house in order first, is his advice. The Congress has reason to worry, as the idiom goes once bitten, twice shy!

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

 

Manipur Drug Cartel?

Manipur is in the throes of an unusual squabble between government, a woman police officer and the High Court, over a 2018 drug smuggling case. It hit headlines as in a recent affidavit in the High Court, an officer and additional SP, Narcotic Police, Th. Brinda has accused politicians, including a close acquaintance of Chief Minister Biren Singh, and top police officers involved in the racket. But she faces a contempt case for her “offensive” remarks on FB allegedly undermining judiciary after alleged drug kingpin Lhukhosei Zhou was granted a 3-week bail by court of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Zou, then Chairman, Autonomous District Council, Chandel, was arrested in 2018 with “4.6 kg heroin powder and 2,80,200 tablets of ‘World is Yours’ worth Rs 28 crore.” After a year into trial, he jumped bail, was pronounced a proclaimed offender, but has since returned. While CM assures ‘the war against drugs will continue and no party involved, whether friend or relative, will be spared under the present BJP regime’, Brinda claims pressure is mounting on her from different quarters, government’s war on drugs is an eyewash. Will truth prevail?

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

 

Offer To Plasma Donors

Assam has come up with a plan to lure plasma donors. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has made a commitment to donors that they will get preferential treatment in government jobs and government schemes. Plus, those who come to the State from outside to donate shall get State guest honour besides flight tickets. This follows the State starting plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients and setting up of plasma banks, particularly in State capital, Guwahati, which has been under lockdown since June 28. It was hoped the situation would improve, b but even as doubling rate of cases has come down, there are good number of cases from police, security forces and jail inmates. The government has thus started contemplating a publicity campaign both in and outside the State to get plasma donors, as one donor’s plasma can save at least two patients’ lives. Will Sarma’s plan have a better success rate than other governments who too are urging people to donate plasma? Statistics need to be watched. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Privatising Railways: JUDICIOUS PLANNING VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 15 July 2020 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 15 July 2020  

Privatising Railways

JUDICIOUS PLANNING VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The Indian Railways plan to allow privatisation has been announced and it is to become a reality from April 2023. However, there is need to get down to specifics and tie up the loose ends. This is the first initiative for private investment for running passenger trains on the Indian Railways network, though recommended many decades ago. It actually began last year with the IRCTC, a subsidiary of the Railways, introducing the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express.

 

Private companies would operate passenger trains on its network by inviting Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for participation on 109 pairs of routes through 151 modern trains, with each having minimum of 16 coaches. According to Railway Ministry, 18 pairs of such trains will be operated under Mumbai cluster followed by 13 pairs each under Delhi and Prayagraj regions. As per the bid document, 12 pairs of such trains will be operated under Chennai region, 10 each under Howrah, Patna and Secunderabad clusters and nine each under Jaipur and Chandigarh.  The entire project would entail a private sector investment of around Rs 30,000 crore.

 

In the North East, nine routes have been identified for private sector investments. Among those selected in Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) are Guwahati’s link to national capital, Delhi and cities such as Kolkata, Pune, Bangalore and Bhopal. Importantly, the routes move through Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Cooch Behar – all tourist destinations of the region from where profits would be quite high. 

 

Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav recently stated that while the objective is to increase availability of trains, fear of job cuts is unfounded as these trains would constitute only five per cent of mail and express trains that are operated. However, questions arise as to how the trains would be operated by private parties in highly congested routes as right now tracks need to be increased and so also the focus on renewal, improved signalling, and rolling stock maintenance.  

 

As per the Ministry’s statement: “Objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world-class travel experience to passengers”. It insists that majority of such trains are to be manufactured in India (Make in India) and that the private entity shall be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains.

 

Trains shall be designed for a maximum speed of 160 kmph and thus there would be a substantial reduction in journey time. The running time taken by these trains shall be comparable to faster than the fastest train of Indian Railways operating in the respective routes. Moreover, the coaches will be modern and require maintenance after running 40,000 km compared to the present 4000 km.

 

The Government thus wants to allow private parties to bring out special category trains that would compete with flights and air-conditioned buses. Presumably, the fares would be quite high, even higher than existing premium trains, such as Rajdhanis and Durontos, and obviously beyond the reach of a major section of the population, which does not have the resources to pay for a faster and more comfortable journey.

 

Though there may be need for such trains, modelled on lines of foreign countries, this would not reduce congestion as the masses would not be in a position to pay the high fares. In our planning strategy, we fail to take into account the needs and aspirations of the economically weaker sections and lower income groups. When we talk of railway modernisation and/or expansion, what must be our priority focus is to provide safe journey for the aam janata (masses) who have to strive hard for their sheer existence.

 

Presently, the Railways run on the basis of cross subsidies and budgetary support. Passenger services are subsidised by freight earnings. The Railways finances are so stressed at this moment that there has been postponement of renewal of aged assets, as per the Comptroller and Auditor General report. In such a situation, it cannot be expected that the transporter would renew these assets from borrowed funds and then invite private parties to run trains.

 

There has to be definite plans as to how much the private parties invest to gear up the finances of the railways or the profit-sharing when private trains would eventually run. But so far what is known is that the private entity shall pay to Indian Railways fixed haulage charges, energy charges as per actual consumption and a share in Gross Revenue determined through a transparent bidding process. Remember, the Bullet train which is expected to run shortly (between Delhi and Ahmadabad) necessitated upgradation of tracks, which are being carried out. The question is whether private parties will they pay at least a part of such upgradation?    

 

A point that needs attention is that probably last year or even earlier, proposals were floated regarding giving land near railway stations for setting up markets, restaurants, hotels etc but this has not been implemented. Also modernisation of stations was envisaged with public-private partnerships (PPP) but here too there is not much progress. This is obviously a judicious way to earn resources for the national carrier and, in the process, ensuring that stations remain clean.

 

The present conditions of the Railways functioning as also its coaches need drastic improvement. While the air-conditioned coaches are relatively better, there is need for upgradation of sleeper coaches, which are the lower income group’s mode of travel. This can improve if serious efforts are made to generate more revenue by weeding out ticketless travel, purchase of platform tickets, strict vigilance to check corruption and, if necessary, raising a minimum amount of the price of tickets.

 

The purpose of privatisation as can be assessed is to gear up functioning and provide extra comfort for those who can pay for it. The pricing structure of tickets should receive the nod from the Railway Ministry and should be in consonance with the Rajdhanis and Shatabadis. Obviously, it is not intended to give profits to some private parties who are close to the powers that be.

 

Thus, a regulator has become all the more necessary to protect consumer interest, as pointed out by Railway Board Chairman a few days ago. It is expected that such a regulator would draw up a proper strategy and fixing returns that would accrue to the zonal railways before finalising any plan of privatisation. The Railways should remember the idiom ‘Well begun is half done’.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Resetting India-Nepal Ties: NEW DELHI SHOULD INITIATE, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 17 jULY 2020 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 17 July 2020

Resetting India-Nepal Ties

NEW DELHI SHOULD INITIATE

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

In a desperate bid to stoke the passion of cultural nationalism, Nepal Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli has kicked off another controversy with India. He has claimed, ‘Lord Ram was born in Nepal, in Thori in west Birgunj. The real Ayodhya lies in Nepal, not in India where a temple is being built after years of political and legal wrangling.’ Oli’s statement has not been made on the spur of the moment or in passing. As the Prime Minister he is consciously seeking to bring another dimension in joining issue with India.

 

Most obviously Oli is under pressure both at home from his party, and from abroad by the Chinese leadership. The China hand is visible in its ambassador in Kathmandu brokering rapprochement between Oli and former Prime Minister Prachanda.

 

Oli’s anti-India rhetoric and posturing cannot be attributed only to generation of nationalist fervor, which may prop him up in power by temporarily overshadowing the cracks within the party. He has a conscious and consistent anti-India approach at the behest of China. He pulled out the old and stale issue of Limpiyadhura, Lipuletk and Kalapani belonging to Nepal. The historical and cartographic facts have been widely discussed since Nepal re-made its territorial map with legislation in Parliament. I shall deist here from going deeper into it.

 

The second anti-India ranting from Oli came vis-à-vis the territorial claim. He said “the virus coming from India is more harmful than the virus from China and Italy.” Challenged by his own party on his non-inclusive style of functioning and anti-India posturing, he came up with the third tirade against India. He said “his government was being disassembled by the vested interest conspiring with Delhi”. That brought the roof down on his own party. His detractors demanded proof of his wild allegation or resign.

 

The Standing Committee meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party was called to force Oli to resign from the post of Prime Minister, or give  up the position of co-chair of the party in favor of ‘one person, one post’ principle. The meeting has been postponed thrice and now sine die, apparently, to bring about reconciliation.

  

The sensational statement on Lord Ram may have been prompted by at least three strategic drivers. One, having realised that his territorial nationalism neither took off in a big way nor did it divert attention away from his unpopular leadership, he decided to throw a religious stick to the political cauldron. He perhaps calculates that this might stoke the fire.

 

Second, the ruling BJP in India has become the main adversary of both Chinese, and Nepal Communists at least the Oli faction. In India too, BJP faces Communists and the Congress as the main Opposition. The ruling BJP’s rise in electoral politics in the last 20 years has been due to their rigorous and persistent campaign for building temple for Lord Ram in Ayodhya in place of the old one desecrated by Mughal invader Babur. The temple was to acknowledge Hindu faith, and to restore their cultural pride. Oli is trying to undermine BJP’s political capital with the controversy.

 

Third, Oli may be trying to puncture the ‘special relationship’ between India and Nepal based on cultural and religious similarities and interactions from time immemorial. By driving a wedge into the cultural sameness of the two countries, Oli wants to break the historical friendship and affinity.

 

We know the story of Nepal unfolding since it switched from monarchy to democracy. The increasing interference of China through projects and loans, to turn Nepal against India is no secret. In the past, China was content to keep an eye on the activities of Tibetan refugees. But with the phenomenal growth of their economy, the Chinese Communists harboured ambitions for world leadership. This is the legacy of Lenin’s slogan “Workers of the world unite”. The Soviets tried to unite them by militarily invading Eastern Europe and other countries. China is doing so with its new-found economic might and flexing its military muscle. Chinese are investing heavily in co-opting into their sphere of influence, political leaders, the top-brass in the army, and buying off lobbyists. Nepal, given its need for resources, has fallen an easy prey to Chinese predatory expansionism.

 

How does New Delhi plan to counter it? How can it regain an old and trusted friend like Nepal? In fact, New Delhi has let Kathmandu slip out of its friendship. In order to fix the problem and reset the ties, New Delhi must reflect on the recent past that has led to the current hiatus.

 

It all started in 2015, when Nepal was writing its Constitution. A year before in 2014, Modi had won the hearts of Nepalese with a tremendously successful visit. As Madhesis were protesting their marginalisation in the new Constitution, they imposed a blocked on the Indian border. New Delhi implicitly supported their demand and the blockade. That was bad diplomacy. India should have dealt with Kathmandu, not just one segment, Madhesis. It was their internal matter. New Delhi could have offered to help in mediation or reconciliation if asked, not support a section of people, even if they were of Indian origin.

 

Secondly, New Delhi had been non-aligned between two super powers USA and USSR, tilting more towards the latter. Small countries perhaps would like to keep good relations with big powers. But if a country has to make a choice for a preferred partner, it must do so. India did not, until today. It was adopting the same tactic between the US and China. The Chinese dictator is forcing a choice on New Delhi, which, interestingly, in the longer run, would be good for India. New Delhi showed deferential attitude to China, certainly in the two informal summits, the second one at Mahabalipuram. New Delhi’s attempt to placate China sent wrong signals to Kathmandu. They thought, if New Delhi plays up to China, why not we! From Mahabalipuram Xi Jinping flew to Kathmandu to sign some 20 agreements.

 

Thirdly, when Oli was raving and ranting against New Delhi, redrew the Nepal’s territorial map, New Delhi did not respond. It has not, till date. On the contrary, the Chief of the Army made a rather insensitive statement that Kathmandu was making territorial claims at the behest of Beijing. He should not have said it even though that was the case. Indian Army chief is Honorary General of the Army of Nepal and vice versa. It may be a good strategy not to react and let the Nepal domestic politics sort things out vis-à-vis India. But to ignore a country’s demand or grievances may hurt their sensitivities.

 

New Delhi must take fresh initiatives in re-setting the ties with Nepal. The first step is to make it abundantly clear than Kathmandu has to make a strategic choice between India and China. The rift between Beijing and New Delhi is wide open and irreparable until ‘Chinese Empire’ breaks up or the Chinese communist autocracy mutates into a multiparty democracy. The second step is to regain the emotional bond with Nepalese dispelling any perception than New Delhi is a bully or a Big Brother. The third step is to let Kathmandu know that even in terms of national interest, its core interests lie with India, the biggest democracy not China the biggest autocracy in the world. The GDP will grow and fall, but its institutions that sustain society, politics and civilizations. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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