The Eastern Link https://theeasternlink.com Connecting Regions of Asia. Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:24:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7 https://theeasternlink.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/cropped-external-link-symbol-32x32.png The Eastern Link https://theeasternlink.com 32 32 Chinese Himalayan Dam Plan Worries India https://theeasternlink.com/chinese-himalayan-dam-plan-worries-india/ https://theeasternlink.com/chinese-himalayan-dam-plan-worries-india/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:24:40 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10874

China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges — the world’s largest power station — stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India. The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world’s longest and deepest […]

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China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges — the world’s largest power station — stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India.

The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world’s longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

The project in Tibet’s Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year.

It is mentioned in China’s strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country’s top lawmakers.

But the plan was short on details, a timeframe or budget.

The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.

The “super-dam” however is in a league of its own.

Last October, the Tibet local government signed a “strategic cooperation agreement” with PowerChina, a public construction company specialising in hydroelectric projects.

A month later the head of PowerChina, Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China’s ruling party.

Enthusiastic about “the world’s richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources”, Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section.

Beijing may justify the massive project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it risks provoking strong opposition from environmentalists in the same way as the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012.

The Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million inhabitants upstream.

“Building a dam the size of the super-dam is likely a really bad idea for many reasons,” said Brian Eyler, energy, water and sustainability program director at the Stimson Center, a US think tank.

Besides being known for seismic activity, the area also contains a unique biodiversity. The dam would block the migration of fish as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream, said Eyler.

There are both ecological and political risks, noted Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India.

“We have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage in those areas, and any dam construction would cause ecological destruction, submergence of parts of that region,” he told AFP.

“Many local residents would be forced to leave their ancestral homes,” he said, adding that the project will encourage migration of Han Chinese workers that “gradually becomes a permanent settlement”.

New Delhi is also worried by the project.

The Chinese Communist Party is effectively in a position to control the origins of much of South Asia’s water supply, analysts say.

“Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they allow China to leverage its upstream Tibet-centred power over the most essential natural resource,” wrote political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month in the Times of India.

The risks of seismic activity would also make it a “ticking water bomb” for residents downstream, he warned.

In reaction to the dam idea, the Indian government has floated the prospect of building another dam on the Brahmaputra to shore up its own water reserves.

“There is still much time to negotiate with China about the future of the super-dam and its impacts,” said Eyler.

“A poor outcome would see India build a dam downstream.”

Courtesy – economictimes.com

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India Bans Remdesivir Exports https://theeasternlink.com/india-bans-remdesivir-exports/ https://theeasternlink.com/india-bans-remdesivir-exports/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:21:49 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10871

India on Sunday banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients as demand rocketed due to a record surge in COVID-19 infections and led to crippling shortages in many parts. New COVID-19 cases surged to 152,879 on Sunday, the sixth record rise in seven days, overwhelming hospitals in some regions. India, […]

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India on Sunday banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients as demand rocketed due to a record surge in COVID-19 infections and led to crippling shortages in many parts.

New COVID-19 cases surged to 152,879 on Sunday, the sixth record rise in seven days, overwhelming hospitals in some regions. India, known as the pharmacy of the world, has already stalled major exports of coronavirus vaccines.

In addition to the Remdesivir ban “till the situation improves”, the health ministry said in a statement that manufacturers had been asked to step up supplies.

Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month, for local use and exports to more than 100 countries.

The companies are: Cipla Ltd, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Hetero Labs Ltd, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd, Biocon Ltd’s Syngene, Zydus Cadila Healthcare Ltd and the Indian unit of Mylan .

The World Health Organization in November issued a conditional recommendation against the use of Remdesivir in hospitalised patients, regardless of disease severity, saying there was no evidence that the drug improved survival and other outcomes in these patients.

Many countries, including India, however, have continued to use it.

India leads the world in the daily average number of new infections reported in more than two weeks, accounting for one in every six infections reported globally each day, according to a Reuters tally.

Deaths have also surged, with the health ministry reporting 839 fatalities on Sunday – the highest in over five months – taking the total to 169,275.

India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only the United States and Brazil.

BLACK MARKETING

India’s drug regulator and some state governments have in recent days raised concerns over hoarding and black marketing of Remdesivir, which in some instances is being sold at over 10 times the maximum retail price.

Social media posts on Sunday showed large queues of people in the western state of Gujarat waiting to buy Remdesivir injections for COVID-19 patients.

“Every day the central government is providing 50,000 Remdesivir injections but all of them are getting consumed,” Rajesh Tope, health minister of India’s hardest-hit Maharashtra state, told reporters this week. “Pharmacists and stockists might be doing black marketing and that needs to be checked.”

The federal health ministry wrote to Maharashtra, which is home to the financial capital Mumbai, asking local authorities to improve COVID-19 testing and deploy more manpower.

“Rostering of health care workers, hiring of contractual health workers need to be expedited,” the letter from India’s top health bureaucrat said, flagging an acute shortage of healthcare workers in seven districts of Maharashtra.

Authorities have blamed the resurgence of the virus mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks, even as election rallies and religious gatherings have continued in recent weeks.

Thousands of people thronged the banks of the holy Ganges River in Haridwar city on Sunday for prayers during the Kumbh Mela – where up to five million are expected on certain days.

Authorities have made it mandatory for all people entering the area to take COVID-19 tests. But many devotees on Sunday gathered by the river without masks, in densely-packed crowds.

Courtesy – BDNews24

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Regional Tensions Over Alleged Israeli Cyber Strike On Iran’s Natanz Facility https://theeasternlink.com/regional-tensions-over-alleged-israeli-cyber-strike-on-irans-natanz-facility/ https://theeasternlink.com/regional-tensions-over-alleged-israeli-cyber-strike-on-irans-natanz-facility/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:18:09 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10868

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions as world powers and Tehran continue to negotiate over its tattered nuclear deal. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the […]

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions as world powers and Tehran continue to negotiate over its tattered nuclear deal.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.

Many Israeli media outlets offered the same assessment that a cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged a facility that is home to sensitive centrifuges. While the reports offered no sourcing for the evaluation, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.

“To thwart the goals of this terrorist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to seriously improve nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive sanctions on the other hand,” Salehi said, according state TV.

He added: “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism.”

The IAEA, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

Sunday’ developments also complicate efforts by the U.S., Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so it can’t pursue a nuclear weapon. As news of the blackout emerged, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed Sunday in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Power at Natanz had been cut across the facility comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television.

“We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Kamalvandi said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.”

Asked by the state TV correspondent if it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.

Natanz was largely built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site, some 125 miles south of the capital, Tehran.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out that attack as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.

Iran also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz.

Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, though Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat faced by his country in recent weeks.

Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that a cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said Israel was likely behind the attack, citing Israel’s alleged responsibility for the Stuxnet attacks a decade ago. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. None of the reports included sources or explanations on how the outlets came to that assessment.

On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

Since then-President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20 percent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.

The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing IAEA inspectors to keep a close watch on its work.

Courtesy – NBCNews

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India On The Wrong Side Of History With Myanmar ! https://theeasternlink.com/india-on-the-wrong-side-of-history-with-myanmar/ https://theeasternlink.com/india-on-the-wrong-side-of-history-with-myanmar/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:15:02 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10865

Why is India so defiantly indifferent to shaming to the point of attempting to deport a Rohingya girl child back to a Myanmar convulsed by violent turbulence? And to compound that, the Supreme Court has legitimated Centre’s contentious directive of deporting the Rohingya refugees, holding inapplicable the legal principle of non-refoulement and turning its back […]

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Why is India so defiantly indifferent to shaming to the point of attempting to deport a Rohingya girl child back to a Myanmar convulsed by violent turbulence?

And to compound that, the Supreme Court has legitimated Centre’s contentious directive of deporting the Rohingya refugees, holding inapplicable the legal principle of non-refoulement and turning its back on the genocide like situation in Myanmar.

What geo-economic and strategic compulsions are aligning democratic India on the wrong side of history with brutally repressive military dictators in Myanmar? 

At the Moreh border crossing, Rozya Akter (14), took halting steps, relentlessly moved forward by implacable Assam state police towards the check-gate on the international border. They were performing their procedural duty of deporting an ‘illegal foreigner’, a minor Rohingya Muslim girl as decreed by Indian state agencies, indifferent to the violent turbulence that had gripped neighbouring Myanmar following the February 1 military coup.

Ministry of External Affairs officials had turned a deaf ear to the desperate pleas of the girl to send her to her parents – reportedly in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh. How she got separated from her parents and orphaned in a third country in 2019, is mired in murky narratives of vulnerability and likely trafficking.

Across the border were the dreaded Myanmar security forces, from whom 800,000 of her persecuted ethnic community had fled surviving rape-torture and murder. Now, thousands more Myanmar nationals were fleeing the brutal military crackdown. What fate could Rozya, a minor and alone, expect?

Incredibly, though, in what became a surprising act of humanity, the Myanmar immigration authorities “refused to open the gate of the international border saying that the situation is not appropriate for any deportation, currently”.

Rozya Akter is back in the shelter home in Silchar.

Waiting, like 22 other Rohingya Muslims, most of them registered with the Delhi office of the refugee protection agency, UNHCR and randomly rounded up in detention centres in North East.

Earlier in 2018, unmoved by the international outcry at the flouting of the international humanitarian law’s jus cogens principle of non-refoulement, India had deported 40 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. 

Three years later, Rozya, supposedly protected by multiple international and national human rights and humanitarian laws was to be the exemplary first deportation after the upheaval of the military coup in Myanmar. And to compound that, the Supreme Court on April 8 legitimated the Centre’s contentious directive of deporting Rohingya refugees, holding inapplicable the legal principle of non-refoulement, and turning its back on the genocide-like situation in Myanmar.

Why is India, globally upheld for its contemporary history of democratic values and rule of law, so defiantly indifferent to shaming to the point of deporting a Rohingya child, and now some 12,000 persecuted Muslim refugees back to Myanmar where the situation now has become worse?

Why are government directives flouting settled jurisprudence about all peoples (citizens and foreigners) entitled to protection under constitutional guarantees of right to life (Article 21) and right to equality (Article 14). Why is India’s Central authority tying itself in federal contradictions, insisting on closing the North East border against “illegal influx”, but forced by public outcry to pause in pushing back the 1,500 and more Myanmar nationals, including policemen who are fleeing indiscriminate crackdown?

It overturns India’s acclaimed humanitarian tradition of opening its borders, as it did to the flood of nine million people fleeing military crackdown in East Pakistan/Bangladesh. It flies against India’s federal compact, especially with sensitive states Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, contiguous to Myanmar.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zormanthanga has been explicitly defiant about ethnic kin Mizos opening their hearts and homes to fleeing peoples.

His unusual defiance of the Centre and his refusal to seal the borders for Burmese refugees reflects the communal/tribal and familial relationship that transcends India’s north-eastern borders of postcolonial nation-state and its hand-drawn borders.

Mizos and Chin share a longstanding ethnic affinity within the broader Zo ethnic fold. According to Mizo oral tradition, both Mizo and Chin had migrated southward from China and settled in the Lushai Hills around the 18th century. The British colonial rulers had boxed them in to three different administrative regions — India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. But this hasn’t stopped the community, especially in India and Myanmar, from maintaining a shared existence through the ages, marked by blood relations and routine movements across the international border. Turning back Chin refugees and dismissing the Mizoram government’s concerns, New Delhi stands to jeopardise its much-touted Act East Policy (AEP).

When economic sanctions are being imposed by India’s democratic peer countries, and Myanmar’s Generals are ostracised, why is it business as usual with India and Myanmar? What geo-economic and strategic compulsions are aligning democratic India on the wrong side of history with brutally repressive military dictators? 

Within weeks after the military flattened Myanmar’s quasi-democratic structure and unleashed a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for restoration of democracy, on the annual Tatamadaw (military) Day in the capital Naypyidaw on March 27, India was among eight nations that attended the commemorative military parade. Whereas EU, UK, Australia and USA condemned the military for excessive use of force against protesters, representatives of India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand graced the military annual day. 

According to a senior Ministry of External Affairs official quoted by NDTV, “We have a functioning embassy in Myanmar. Our ambassador, defence attaché and other diplomatic officers continue to discharge their regular diplomatic responsibilities.”.  

The Foreign Ministry’s position as articulated on the day of the coup was “deep concern”, support for “democratic transition” and “rule of law”. Sharp criticism at home and abroad has prodded a shift in MEA’s non-committal rhetoric of “concern”, towards condemning the violence, and urging maximum restraint as figures spiralled of more than 550 killed, and 3,500 arrested.

Ambassador T.S, Tirumati, India’s permanent representative to the UN, in a social media post following a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on April 1, iterated support for a peaceful resolution that “meet(s) the hope and aspiration of the people”. But that is still a long way off from denouncing perpetrators of the violence or disengaging diplomatically, economically and militarily with Myanmar.

Increasingly, the geo-strategic politics of the China-Myanmar-India tri-junction have driven India’s transactional relations and not democratic values and human rights considerations.

Moving away from its historic foreign policy of actively supporting the then persecuted democratic forces, towards realpolitik pragmatism, India has steadily expanded diplomatic, economic and military relations with the Myanmar military junta since 1993, a decade and half before Myanmar’s democratic reform interregnum of 2010-2021. This volte face was propelled by the isolationist military junta’s opening up to China in the face of intense international criticism of the Tatmadaw’s authoritarianism, following 1988 military crackdown on student protesters, and 1990 military coup d’etat.

Since then Myanmar’s dependence on China has intensified. Senior Counsel Suu Kyi, the democracy icon, facing a battery of international criticism for her anti-minority and majoritarian Buddhist-Burman nationalist position, turned to China and in 2018 signed an MoU to establish the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC).

Accordingly, China flanked by new ally Russia in the UN Security Council has scuttled efforts to issue a sharp condemnatory statement, with new entrant India, as non-permanent seat member, playing a bridging role between the two opposing camps counselling dialogue and reconciliation.

India’s relations with Myanmar have been driven by the strategic rationale of developing a counterweight to China’s dominance in Myanmar. It is competing with China in deepening economic ties, infrastructural development and in transfers of significant lethal military equipment and cooperation in military training. Alongside this, in 2014, the two countries signed an agreement on coordinated patrolling and intelligence sharing sealing insurgent access to sanctuaries across the border.

The Tatmadaw’s support has helped India steadily degrade its North-East insurgencies. Myanmar’s importance has grown as the land-bridge in India’s “Look East policy” initiative towards South East Asia. Riding on Myanmar military junta’s neo-liberal commercial opening up, Indian state-owned and private corporations have developed huge business stakes in Myanmar civilian and military economy. 

According to UN and independent Burma rights and accountability campaigners, India’s state and private enterprises are deeply entangled in commercial relations with the structure and network of the military’s main holding companies: Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). Together, they own at least 120 businesses across almost every sector in Myanmar’s economy. The companies are led by current and former senior-level military officials, including the Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Such commercial partnerships have strengthened the financial autonomy of the military and its clout. The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, in the report, “The Economic Interests of the Myanmar Military,” 2019, emphasises that MEHL and MEC are able to generate enormous revenues, insulating themselves from effective civilian oversight.  This has given the Tatmadaw the financial heft required to dominate politics in Myanmar and also sustain its totalitarian regimes without depending on foreign aid. 

The FMM in successive reports in 2018 and 2019 has called for the financial isolation Myanmar military and its business partners, targeted sanctions against the senior generals and military companies, and arms embargoes.

The FFM warned: “[F]oreign companies involved with the Tatmadaw and its conglomerates MEHL and MEC should sever their relationships with these enterprises and ensure that they are fulfilling their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Those in commercial relationships with MEHL or MEC may find themselves complicit, in law, fact or the eyes of the broader public, in contributing to the resources available to the Tatmadaw to continue its involvement in gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

India figures among the list of foreign companies from seven countries (including those that have provided arms and related equipment to the Myanmar military since 2016, even after the Myanmar military’s brutal human rights record was widely and publicly known. State-owned enterprises Bharat Dynamics Limited, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) have manufactured (or refitted) military-wares for the Tatmadaw, including Shyena lightweight torpedoes, helicopters, and a submarine. Among the private companies, Tata Group and Larsen and Toubro (L&T) have built troop carrier vehicles and torpedoes for the Tatmadaw, respectively.

The FMM report also named Infosys and Adani Group as companies that have contractual and commercial ties with the Tatmadaw. Adani Group is jointly developing the new Ahlone International Port Terminal with Myanmar Economic Corporation, which is owned by the Burmese military. MEC owns the land the port is being built on.

In a May 2019 statement, Adani Australia denied any problem with this commercial deal worth $290million. Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) quotes the Adani Group stating that although there are arms embargoes and travel restrictions on key members of the military “this does not preclude investment in the nation or business dealings with corporations such as MEC”.

Also, “The land where the port is proposed to be built has been leased from Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) following extensive due diligence”. Strategists argue that the Adani built container port on the Yangon river gives India a geo-political counter to Chinese investments in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota and Colombo ports and Pakistan’s Gwadar port as Beijing encircles the region with its Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

Infosys, the software giant has been working with Myawaddy Bank, a subsidiary of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, which is controlled by the military. EdgeVerve Systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Infosys established a relationship with the bank in May 2018, just a few months after the military launched an “ethnic cleansing” operation against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state. Its 2018 press statement, Infosys makes no mention of any military connection. According to Deccan Herald, Infosys clarified, “EdgeVerve Systems began its relationship with Myawaddy Bank as a response to international calls to help Myanmar integrate with the global economy after the US lifted sanctions against the bank in 2016″.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Defence at a press conference in June 2020 claimed that MEC was privatised and was “concerned only with the military”. Activists associated with ACIJ and Justice for Myanmar contend that there was no evidence of privatisation. Corroborating this, Amnesty International’s report on September 2020 claims MEHL has financed “military units that are implicated in crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.”

Following the coup, both Adani Group and Infosys have said that they are “watching the situation in Myanmar carefully” and “reviewing the international community’s response,” but are yet to take any concrete action. Already, three major foreign companies – Japan’s Kirin Holdings and Suzuki Motors, as well as Thailand’s Amata – have suspended their commercial relationships with Tatmadaw-linked subsidiaries.  USA, UK and Canada have snapped military ties and imposed sanctions. 

India’s recent track record does not inspire confidence that democratic, humanitarian or human rights considerations will outweigh MEA’s perception of geo-strategic rationale and increasingly independent business interests. While the UN condemned the “ethnic cleansing” and horrific violence against the Rohingya Muslims, it left India not only unmoved but the country compounded matters by deporting Rohingya who had sought refuge in India. Many of India’s transfers of military equipment took place in 2019 when the process of investigating the Tatmadaw leadership for serious war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) was initiated under the “universal jurisdiction” clause.

Additionally, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), The Gambia filed a case accusing Myanmar of violating the Genocide Convention. Myanmar has already conceded before the ICJ that its security forces did commit “mass killings” against the Rohingya.

India’s harsh response towards a few thousand desperate Rohingya refugees and its contradictory directives to North East border states to prevent influx of people from Myanmar, has further reduced India’s international standing as the “world’s largest democracy”.

Apart from losing its position in the eyes of the international community, New Delhi risks losing the support of its own border people. By closing the borders and throwing asylum-seeking Chin and Rohingya refugees back into the hands of Myanmar army, India stands to jeopardise its Act East Policy.

The simmering anger on the ground against its directive to seal the border for Chin refugees is hardly a good sign. New Delhi needs the support of the people in Mizoram if it wants to keep its border connectivity projects up and running. India needs to keep in mind that while it is the military that is in power in Myanmar today, eventually a civilian government elected by the people will come to power in Myanmar. When that happens, India, to its own detriment, might find itself in a vortex of negative public opinion, particularly in Chin state, which is of particular importance for India. 

One of the key nodal points of New Delhi’s flagship Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) – an inland river terminal – sits along the Kaladan river in the Chin capital of Paletwa. Much like Chin State in Myanmar, Mizoram is especially central to the policy. The 110 km-long road from Zorinpui to Lawntlai – passes through Mizoram. 

Tapan Bose was secretary-general of South Asia Forum for Human Rights based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Rita Manchanda is a researcher, writer and human rights advocate specialising on conflicts and peace building in South Asia with particular attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups. Her latest publication is Women and the Politics of Peace: Narratives of Militarisation, Power and Justice (Sage, 2017).

Courtesy – TheWire

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Burmese Shadow Over RBI Policy Update https://theeasternlink.com/burmese-shadow-over-rbi-policy-update/ https://theeasternlink.com/burmese-shadow-over-rbi-policy-update/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 05:11:27 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10862

Here’s a quiz question: What does India’s refusal to unequivocally criticize Myanmar’s military rule have to do with the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) monetary policy? A bit perhaps. The road to meaningful monetary policy outcomes in India is occasionally paved with geopolitical decisions, with the circle of influence sometimes including improbable candidates like Myanmar. […]

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Here’s a quiz question: What does India’s refusal to unequivocally criticize Myanmar’s military rule have to do with the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) monetary policy? A bit perhaps. The road to meaningful monetary policy outcomes in India is occasionally paved with geopolitical decisions, with the circle of influence sometimes including improbable candidates like Myanmar. RBI’s first monetary policy for 2021-22, presented on 7 April, has an understated flavour: its putative success will depend on how the external affairs ministry plays its hand.

The central bank’s April monetary policy has projected a 10.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate and a 5.1% inflation rate for 2021-22. But given the unusual economic conditions and multiple risks that loom on the horizon, these projections are vulnerable to many external forces. RBI has moderated its standard policy ebullience by stating that while all the ingredients are present for a robust economic recovery, myriad dark clouds could still stop play.

RBI has added various levers and fulcrums to this policy, which are focused on mitigating risks when they present themselves. Apart from committing to inject a predictable quantum of liquidity into the system through buybacks of government bonds in the first quarter of 2021-22 (which helped soften bond market yields on 9 April), the monetary policy committee also gave an assurance that it will continue with the current accommodative policy stance “as long as necessary”, without providing an end date as in the past. A note from Axis Bank chief economist Saugata Bhattacharya says: “…the operating mechanisms have tried to strike a fine balance between a degree of predictability in forward guidance and retaining discretion for RBI to responding to evolving conditions.”

The central bank’s wariness stems from the likelihood of higher supply-side inflation, on the back of an uncertain demand revival following a resurgence in covid infections. It is here that RBI makes a direct appeal to the Centre and states, requesting them to undertake “concerted and coordinated” action in reducing petrol and diesel prices, through lower taxes and retail margins. RBI’s matrix of probable risks comprises rising global crude oil and other commodity prices, including prolonged supply chain disruptions.

Oil plays a critical role in RBI’s inflation control plans—core inflation (retail inflation minus food and fuel inflation) was 6% during February, reflecting the pass-through of higher crude oil and other commodity prices to retail prices. Oil therefore might force RBI governor Shaktikanta Das to look to external affairs minister S Jaishankar for help. This assumes greater significance after India and Saudi Arabia recently engaged in a war of words. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan had requested OPEC-plus (OPEC nations and its allies, such as Russia) to ease supply curbs by pumping more oil from the ground. The Saudi oil minister’s retort, that India should use up its strategic oil reserves first, has reportedly offended the Indian establishment; it has even compelled the government to seriously explore reducing dependence on West Asian oil. This will undoubtedly require Jaishankar’s team in the foreign ministry to work the diplomatic channels.

There is another item—pulses—that could ignite inflationary tendencies and, strangely, Myanmar can lend a helping hand here. The April monetary policy report states: “Persistent structural demand supply imbalances in key food items such as pulses, edible oils and fats, and eggs, meat and fish could also keep inflation elevated.” In two key items—pulses and edible oils—India’s consumption surpasses its production, forcing it to rely on imports every year. Pulses are a vital protein source and rising prices have an adverse effect on consumption and nutritional health.

Inflation in pulses was in double digits throughout the past 12 months, despite the government improving supplies by releasing buffer stocks, easing import restrictions, reducing import duties on certain pulses (masur), among other measures. The monetary policy report says this helped reduce the inflation rate in pulses from 18.3% in October 2020 to 12.5% in February 2021. But it’s still in double digits.

So, where does Myanmar fit in? It happens to be India’s second largest supplier of pulses, after Canada. Myanmar supplies almost 24% of India’s total pulse imports, with Canada providing 34%. India’s acreage under pulses during 2020-21 was below its target, thereby increasing import dependence. India’s diplomatic exertions in refusing to outright censure the military coup may be seen as pragmatic geopolitics, given that we share a 1,600-km border with Myanmar. Plus, there is always a China factor. But is it only geopolitics? Look at it differently. Canada’s statements on the farmer agitation raised hackles in India. Yet, when it asked for vaccines, we promptly exported 0.5 million doses to Canada. And Myanmar? We exported 3.7 million doses to it, ranking it among the top seven vaccine recipients.

Courtesy – LiveMint

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Bangladesh Basks In Middle-Income Country Status https://theeasternlink.com/bangladesh-basks-in-middle-income-country-status/ https://theeasternlink.com/bangladesh-basks-in-middle-income-country-status/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 15:31:13 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10859

The UN recently confirmed that Bangladesh has in concrete terms made its long-awaited transition to a middle-income country status, years ahead of the scheduled date in 2026. There has been some welcome reactions from unexpected quarters such as Indian garments exporters and a few Pakistan –based observers, for contrasting reasons. Among Pakistani garments manufacturers, it […]

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The UN recently confirmed that Bangladesh has in concrete terms made its long-awaited transition to a middle-income country status, years ahead of the scheduled date in 2026. There has been some welcome reactions from unexpected quarters such as Indian garments exporters and a few Pakistan –based observers, for contrasting reasons.

Among Pakistani garments manufacturers, it used to be the standard argument that Bangladesh as an aspiring least developed country (LDC) enjoyed special concessions from the EU, China and other major importing countries, which gave a built-in advantage to Dhaka when it came to winning export orders in the garments sector. The so-called ‘economic miracle’ was therefore partially subsidised by world trade authorities, went the argument.

In recent times, Pakistani industrialists have been outsourcing part of their export orders to their Bangladeshi counterparts or setting up new units in its former Eastern province. Higher productivity, lower labour costs and a steadier power supply acted as attractive incentives.

As for Indian garment makers, the substantial tariff duty relief given to Bangladeshi products by Delhi made it tough to compete with Dhaka even in India’s domestic markets, especially for the inexpensive varieties enjoying bulk sales. They made several representations to the Government to address their needs.

The GoI some time ago pressed Bangladesh authorities to reduce their tariff on Indian imports, in a bid to ensure a measure of parity. Currently, there is new hope that with Bangladesh moving up several steps on the economic development ladder, the playing field will be more level.

However, such optimism needs to be tempered with caution. Present indications suggest that having graduated from an LDC status to a higher level, Bangladesh is not about to abandon its hard-won identity as an export powerhouse in South Asia anytime soon. If anything, its attraction among major international investors has increased much to the surprise of its regional neighbours.

Reportedly, 40 Japanese-owned industrial units from mainland China and around 20 South Korean enterprises mostly based in Myanmar, have either /or are in the process of –shifted/ relocating their operations to Bangladesh. And not all are garment producing units either. The reasons: the prospect of reduced overhead costs, a trained workforce, good connectivity, a friendly government and political stability. It needs adding that Bangladesh currently competes with Cambodia and Vietnam as the new favoured destination in Asia for international investment.

Its new status as a middle-income country will make it necessary for Dhaka to ensure major economic adjustments involving cost and structural overhauling. Observers feel this could for a time slowdown the country’s spectacular performance in the production of relatively low cost garments.

Major Western importers of Bangladeshi garments in the EU or US/Canada will now be more insistent on ensuring that child labour and working conditions get better. The Garments Producers’ body BGMEA, economists and Dhaka-based policymakers have already begun addressing problems the garments trade may have to face from around 2030 or so, as the special relief provided earlier for LDCs come to an end.

Working conditions in most of Bangladeshi garment producing factories – estimates range from 4500 to 5000 of them — are far from comfortable, in terms of space per worker, drinking water facilities/ fire prevention methods and so on. The high decibel noise generated is another concern. Several major accidents have claimed hundreds of lives, leading to inquiries and suspension of overseas orders from time to time.

Yet, the importance of garments exports to Bangladesh economy cannot be over emphasized, nor its larger socio-economic impact denied. Of the nearly 30,00,000 people working in the industry (including children in some places, it is alleged), well over 80% are women/young girls. This directly contributes to women empowerment and gender equity.

At present the sector produces around 7% of the total world production and earns over 44% of the aggregate annual export earnings of over $34 billion. The Government has a target of increasing its total exports up to $50 billion in a few years by strengthening the garments sector. There are plans to diversify production by introducing greater variety and produce more high end stuff.

However, the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic and the accompanying shutdowns have slowed down such plans for the time being. How Bangladesh copes with its new status and wards off regional competition will be watched keenly by its neighbours.

Courtesy – https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/

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The Ghost Of Rafale https://theeasternlink.com/the-ghost-of-rafale/ https://theeasternlink.com/the-ghost-of-rafale/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 15:28:30 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10856

Memories are short. For ordinary people, living every day is a challenge. They are conscious of the larger challenges to the country and its governance, but cannot dwell on them for too long. They trust the institutions that they have installed to tackle these challenges including Parliament/Legislature, the judiciary, the free media, the CAG and […]

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Memories are short. For ordinary people, living every day is a challenge. They are conscious of the larger challenges to the country and its governance, but cannot dwell on them for too long. They trust the institutions that they have installed to tackle these challenges including Parliament/Legislature, the judiciary, the free media, the CAG and the Opposition political parties. When these institutions fail — separately or collectively, because of incapacity or collusion or fear — the people just give up and move on. That is what happened in the Rafale aircraft case.

Four Institutions Failed

Four institutions had an opportunity to scrutinise the case. First, the media. There was enough material to raise a number of questions and demand answers. A major section of the media refused to raise these questions; on the contrary, many media organisations published handouts of the government as if they were authentic ‘news’. In this column, on October 7, 2018, I had raised 10 questions for the Finance Minister. Among them were:

1. Why was the MoU between India and France under which India would buy 126 Rafale twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft cancelled and a decision taken to enter into a new agreement to buy only 36 aircraft?

2. Is it correct that the price per aircraft under the new agreement is Rs 1,670 crore (as disclosed by Dassault) as against the price of Rs 526.10 crore under the cancelled MoU?

3. If the first aircraft will be delivered in September 2019 (four years after the new agreement) and the last in 2022, how does the government justify the transaction as an ‘emergency purchase’?

4. Why was the agreement to transfer technology to HAL scrapped?

5. Did the government suggest any name as the offset partner and, if not, why did the government not suggest the name of HAL?
These and other questions have not been answered so far. The media, with the notable exception of a few, failed the country.
Second, the Supreme Court expressed its inability to probe vital questions in a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. For instance, the Court declined to examine the issue of price or matters relating to technical suitability; the decision to buy only 36 aircraft instead of the 126 aircraft that were needed by the IAF; or the deviations from the established procedure of acquiring military equipment. The Court also accepted the contents of a note submitted by the government in a ‘sealed cover’ and in the ‘oral submissions’ of the government. The Court was misled into believing that there was a report of the CAG, when none had been placed before Parliament or the Court until that day. Hailing the judgment, the government claimed that its position had been vindicated when the truth was that vital issues had not been examined by the Court.

Parliament Abdicates Powers

Third, Parliament was divided on party lines and failed to exercise parliamentary oversight into the actions of government. Parliament alone could have asked — and found the truth — why the transfer of technology and work share agreement dated March 13, 2014, between Dassault and HAL was abandoned when 95 per cent of the negotiations had been completed; if the price under the new agreement was 9-20 per cent cheaper, why was the offer of Dassault to sell 126 aircraft not accepted; and why did the government not push the case of HAL to be chosen as the offset partner? Parliamentary oversight was scuttled by the brute majority of the government.

Four, the most egregious failure was by the CAG. In a 33-page report, the CAG placed a dark shroud on the transaction and buried the facts of the case along with the truth. Unprecedented for the CAG, the authority conceded that the government had “strongly reiterated their stand for redaction of commercial details in MMRCA case on the grounds of security concerns”. Such forbearance — and deference — was not shown in the Bofors case or in any other case. As a result, pages 126 to 141 of the report made no sense to a person of average intelligence. In particular, Table 3 on page 131 and Table 4 on page 133 were just gibberish. Yet, the CAG was forced to reject the claim of the government that the new deal was cheaper (per aircraft) by 9 per cent. The CAG had a wider brief than any other authority but the independent constitutional authority miserably failed the country.

Disturbing Revelations

I may recall that the new agreement, unusually, waived the mandatory anti-corruption clauses, namely, clauses on no undue influence, no agency, access to books of account and integrity pact. Was there a hidden purpose behind that waiver? We don’t know, but the absent clauses have come back to haunt the government. A French media organisation, Mediapart, has, in a three-part investigation found that France’s Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA) had found evidence that Dassault had agreed to pay one million euros to a known middleman who is under investigation in India in connection with another defence deal, and actually paid € 508,925 to an Indian company, Defsys Solutions. The Mediapart story also revealed that French and Indian investigators discovered a great deal of compromising information but “the affair was buried in both countries”.

This is as specific as an allegation can be. The Rafale deal will be exhumed. Until then, the ghost will haunt the government.

Courtesy – https://indianexpress.com/

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Tripura Defeat For BJP https://theeasternlink.com/tripura-defeat-for-bjp/ https://theeasternlink.com/tripura-defeat-for-bjp/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 09:45:44 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10852

The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), a newly formed tribal based party in Tripura on Saturday secured absolute majority in the 30 member Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held on April 6 last. In the 30-member tribal council, elections were held in 28 seats on Tuesday last and the remaining two […]

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The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), a newly formed tribal based party in Tripura on Saturday secured absolute majority in the 30 member Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held on April 6 last.

In the 30-member tribal council, elections were held in 28 seats on Tuesday last and the remaining two seats would be nominated by the Governor at the advice of the state government.

Sources in the State Election Commission after counting of votes said that Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), secured 18 seats, BJP won in nine seats and one seat was secured by an independent candidate.

TIPRA chairman Pradyot Kishore Deb Barman said TIPRA won  the election and secured absolute majority in the tribal council and also appealed to people to maintain peace and calm in the area.

The TTAADC constitute two third of the state territory and is the home to tribals, who constitute one third of the population.

“We have to maintain unity. I appeal to the people to refrain from attacking the party office and houses of the supporters of IPFT, BJP, CPIM and Congress. They too are our people and we do not want to fight amongst ourselves. If we want unity then we have to maintain peace. They too will join our party after elections,” Deb Barman told reporters.

He also said that no house of indigenous people or any community should be attacked  on April 12 as the party would organize a victory rally on that day from the tribal council headquarters at Khumulwung, about 25 km from here.

“Do not fight amongst yourself, this has continued for 70 years and let the whole of India see how Tipraha maintain unity even after winning the election,” Deb Barman said.

Deb Barman who was the state unit President of Congress resigned the party in September 2019 citing his differences with the party high command. A month later he announced the name of the new organization— The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), which was initially a social organization but later in 2020 it turned into a political party.

Speaking with reporters, CPIM leader and former chief executive member (CEM) Radhacharan Debbarma said that the win is for the people as they have exercised their franchise.

“We accept that we lost this election. Why we have lost the election will be discussed and reviewed later by the party, but presently, we can say that it is the win of the people,” Debbarma said.  

 “People made a promise to each other that they want to defeat the present government which is what we believe was responsible behind the defeat of the government,” Debbarma said.

BJP state spokesperson, Subrata Chakraborty said that the party contested in 14 constituencies and won in nine seats.

The CPI-M led Left Front, which governed TTAADC for the last twenty years before the April 6 elections, could not win a single seat.

The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), the ally of the ruling BJP in the state, which contested in 17 seats also could win in a single seat.

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BJP’s Defeat And Tripura’s ‘Royal Factor’ https://theeasternlink.com/bjps-defeat-and-tripuras-royal-factor/ https://theeasternlink.com/bjps-defeat-and-tripuras-royal-factor/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 09:40:36 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10849

The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), a newly formed tribal based party in Tripura led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore Deb Barman has secured absolute majority in the 30 member Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held on April 6 last. In the 30-member tribal council, elections were held in 28 seats […]

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The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), a newly formed tribal based party in Tripura led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore Deb Barman has secured absolute majority in the 30 member Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held on April 6 last.

In the 30-member tribal council, elections were held in 28 seats on Tuesday last and the remaining two seats would be nominated by the Governor at the advice of the state government.

The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), secured 18 seats, BJP won in nine seats and one seat was secured by an independent candidate. The BJP’s partner , IPFT, was wiped out.

There hangs a tale for those who have rushed to conclude that this TTADC poll outcome was a huge setback for the BJP .  The BJP contested 13 seats of the 28 in TTADC and won 9 seats. It is their ally IPFT which contested 15 and returned to pavilion with a duck. That is where the BJP ‘s alliance with the IPFT failed to deliver.

 In the 2018 assembly polls, the IPFT had won 8 of the 9  tribal reserved seats it contested , the CPI(M) won 2 and the BJP got the rest.  The tribal vote played a key role in bringing the BJP-IPFT alliance to power in 2018 — it’s 18 out of 20 score in ST seats ( roughly corresponds to the TTADC constituency) explained its phenomenal victory.  The CPI(M) which had never lost more than two to three tribal reserved seats since the party’s 1988 debacle lost out primarily because CM Manik Sarkar’s administration and party lost its tribal connect big time.

This time it is the IPFT which has faced a similar debacle — and that alone explains the setback of the BJP-IPFT alliance in TTADC polls.  In short, the IPFT has failed to hold the line in the face of a phenomenal surge by the new outfit , TIPRA led by a young-looking but not-so-young royal scion.   

Hailing from Tripura and having covered elections in the state since 1983, let me draw the readers attention to the royal factor in Tripura politics.  The state has witnessed a ‘King is dead, long live the King’ syndrome since it merged with the Indian Union in 1949.  As the Communists held sway in the tribal areas since their brief insurrection in the 1948-50 phase, the uncrowned king of the state’s tribal politics Dasarath Deb won successive Lok Sabha polls from the state’s East Tripura (ST reserved) constituency in 1952, 1957 and 1962. Deb (originally Deb Barman) appeared unstoppable until the Congress drafted in the real Maharaj to fight him in 1967.  ‘Maharaj’ Kirit Bikram, Pradyot’s father won comfortably.  Since then, the Maharaja and his second Maharani Bibhu Devi have not only represented the state in parliament frequently but Bibhu Devi also served as Revenue Minister in the 1988 Congress-TUJS state government.  And guess who did she defeat in 1988 from the prestigious Krishnanagar seat in Agartala — future CM Manik Sarkar. In 1991, she trounced Marxist heavyweight Bajuban Reang to return to Lok Sabha . In 1998 she refused to contest from Matarbari in the state polls when the Congress was keen to field her.

Pradyot has, since he left the Congress in a huff by resigning as party’s state president, has only built on the ‘royal factor’ rather than creating a new magic out of his royalty.  Tripura’s progressive rulers had been extremely popular with both tribals and Bengalis , despite the occassional insurrection caused by revenue stress and forced tax collections , specially during the World War 2.  The most enlightened king Maharaj Bir Bikram not only created the state’s educational infrastructure but excelled in ethnic management. He created the Tribal Reserve to protect tribal lands from takeovers but also sheltered hapless Bengali refugees , even leading his cavalry into Raipura in East Bengal to rescue them.  So much as he patronised the great Rabindranath Tagore by awarding him ‘Bharat Bhaskar’ much before he won the Nobel and much as he brought educated Bengali Hindus to man the royal administration and Muslim and lower caste peasents to start settled agriculture to boost his revenue, Bir Bikram created the Tribal Reserve to protect tribal interests by ensuring their lands in the core tribal area was safe from takeovers. The Tribal Reserve is the precursor of the TTADC created in the 1980s. In a way, Bir Bikram is the patron saint of tribal autonomy in Tripura much as he is the saviour of hapless , partition struck refugees. 

My grandfather was the chief of the royal bodyguards and later founded of many police stations in Tripura. Our family still swear by the ‘ Maharaja’ or ‘Maharani’ (Rajmata) and they are honored guests in our family Durga Puja. Without doubt, Tripura’s royal family is the only one of its kind in Northeast and East with much post-monarchy political influence in the state , much of it owing to the legacy of the great Bir Bikram.  They are the Scindias of the region. 

Pradyot Kishore has emerged as the state’s most south-after politician , having singlehandedly led his party to a convincing victory, and thereby proving that regional parties in the Northeast do not exactly need hand holding by national parties like BJP or Congress. In a way, he was taken the Mamata Banerjee path . But if he wants to graduate to becoming the state’s most important politician from its strongest tribal leader, he has to now promote the politics of ethnic reconciliation rather than illusory tribal homeland demands. A tiny 10000 sq.kms state with a population lesser than three to five Calcutta Lok Sabha constituencies cannot be subjected to any further division. It will ruin Tripura as a viable economic and social unit and finish all geo-economic opportunities born out of proximity to Bangladesh and the new flush of connectivity projects between the two countries.  With Bangladesh opening its ports for use by India to connect to its northeast, Tripura and not Assam would soon be the gateway to the region and the Northeast’s gateway to the sea. 

Having created a political base by playing on tribal sentiments by raking up ‘Greater Tipraland’ , the ‘Maharaj’ may now consider reverting to his grandfather’s politics of ethnic balance . TIPRA can well ask for 50percent ST reservation in the 60-member state assembly to ensure tribals have equal share of political power in a Bengali majority state , but to push for a vivesection of the state would not only mean doing something alien to the royal culture of Tripura ( where kings were always fair to both tribals and Bengalis) but also jeopardise the enormous opportunity that awaits Tripura. Pradyot’s early indication is positive – he  appealed to people to maintain peace and calm and told his supporters to avoid attacking any political rival. He called for a politics of unity. That is what Tripura needs after four decades of ethnic strife that started with the bloody 1980 Mandai riots.

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BJP’s Rise In Bengal Not ‘Subaltern Hindutva’ https://theeasternlink.com/bjps-rise-in-bengal-not-subaltern-hindutva/ https://theeasternlink.com/bjps-rise-in-bengal-not-subaltern-hindutva/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 07:26:57 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=10846

The cotton kurta-clad cultured “bhadralok” squirms at the very thought of his daughter marrying an “Arora”. Bengali culture, literature and music have no match, he proclaims. The family stays in a tastefully done-up house, complete with a rich collection of books and precious works of art adorning the walls. This vignette from the 2012 Bollywood […]

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The cotton kurta-clad cultured “bhadralok” squirms at the very thought of his daughter marrying an “Arora”. Bengali culture, literature and music have no match, he proclaims. The family stays in a tastefully done-up house, complete with a rich collection of books and precious works of art adorning the walls. This vignette from the 2012 Bollywood hit Vicky Donor reproduces the popular imagination of the elite, bhadralok household which has come to (mis)represent Bengal’s social-cultural life in popular culture.

With the ongoing assembly elections taking place, this stereotypical image has been rehashed and reinstated in a range of analyses on the ongoing election. Several analysts and political commentators attribute the BJP’s rise in Bengal as a subaltern revolt of the rural-agrarian masses against the urban-centric socio-cultural elites, the bhadraloks. The BJP’s successes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and its emergence as the principal challenger in West Bengal is seen as proof of the success of “subaltern Hindutva”.

However, hastily employing this narrative to read Bengal’s contemporary political situation ends up generating a context-blind and ahistorical picture. In doing so, it crucially ignores the role that elites, albeit of a different kind, have played in the BJP’s power-grabs in the east. A more historically-informed reading of contemporary political developments in West Bengal and Tripura underlines this point.

The twilight years of the Left government in Bengal witnessed the growing hold of a stratum of entrenched local elites. Perceptive studies on West Bengal’s politics, such as Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya’s Government as Practice (2016), have captured how this growing stratum of self-serving political-economic elites gradually took over the Left’s machinery. With the Left Front government committing serious political and ideological mistakes in its final years, the party machinery imploded, jolted by the Singur and Nandigram agitations. In this changing political context, while some were sidelined, many of these self-serving elites joined the TMC.

Mamata Banerjee’s spectacular victory in 2011 brought great expectation of change. Her populist politics and overarching persona paid rich electoral dividends in subsequent elections. However, underneath Banerjee’s popularity remained the TMC’s dogged control over political life through a network of local elites and strongmen. Acting as key nodes, these actors dominated the party-society and marginalised the opposition space, all the while enhancing their own political and economic fortunes. Figures like Arjun Singh, Suvendu Adhikari and Arabul Islam typified this stratum of political elites. The TMC’s decade-long reign meant that these actors consolidated an iron-like grip over political life while simmering anger built up over the years with scams, petty corruption and “syndicates” becoming an everyday part of people’s lives.

Today, the defections of some of these actors from the TMC to the BJP only confirms their continued importance. The BJP’s resource-heavy campaign, its channelising of a strong anti-incumbency feeling amongst the electorate and its attempts at religious polarisation have made it a serious contender for power in West Bengal. However, one cannot ignore the fact that in the run-up to these elections, the BJP has gone out of its way to woo the kind of political-economic elites that festered in the party system over the last decade. This pattern of defections must be seen as central to the BJP’s plan, with as many as 100 of its 283 candidates being turncoats. Facing a serious organisational deficit, the BJP has ended up relying on the very elites against whom popular anger has been palpable. Underplaying this point under the garb of subaltern support for the BJP is where analysts have gone wrong. More importantly, while these defections have grabbed headlines and created the impression that the BJP is on its way to victory, this could well create challenges for the party in Bengal, whether in the ongoing elections or thereafter, as experiences from Tripura would testify.

The fall of the Left in Tripura was also seen by many as a fallout of the bhadralok-dominated CPM local leadership, with prominent leaders from the marginalised communities pushed to the margins. The overwhelming shift of the Congress’s vote share to the BJP is seen just in terms of numbers. A closer look at the electoral data shows that the bare numbers hide more than they reveal. Right through the Left-dominated years, the Congress consistently retained a vote share of nearly 35 per cent in the state, winning nearly all the prominent urban centres, home to the socio-cultural elite, even during the heydays of the CPM. In the run-up to the 2018 state polls, virtually the entire Congress leadership switched to the BJP. In the polls, the Congress’s vote share crashed from 36 per cent to 1.4 per cent. Quite evidently, along with the Congress’s vote share, the BJP also accepted into its fold the kinds of support bases that it represented. Three years down the line, many erstwhile Congress leaders today occupy cabinet positions in the BJP government and other important posts in the administration.

The Left decimation is also attributed to its inability to hold on to its tribal base in the state, which underwent a tectonic demographic shift, reducing the indigenous population to a minority. During the Left’s long stint in office between 1978 and 2018, barring a brief interlude between 1989-1993, Tripura saw only one tribal CM from the CPM. For a party that so assiduously carved out a space among the indigenous population, first as a movement against the monarchy and tactically using education and land reforms in the later years, this is a dismal record indeed. But even in 2018, there was no organic support for the BJP, or for that matter any national party, in the hills. The BJP stitched a coalition with the Indigenous Nationalist Front of Tripura (IPFT), a deeply entrenched political force that had revived the demand for a separate state in 2016. Its state leadership went all out to woo the tribal elite, by offering to make royal scion Pradyot Debbarman the deputy CM, or a Rajya Sabha MP, after the polls. Even though the arrangement with Pradyot did not work out, the BJP settled for another member of the royal family, Pradyot’s uncle Jishnu Dev Varma, the incumbent deputy CM. Even as the IPFT’s campaign hinged on its core demand, the BJP either remained silent or issued insipid statements saying that it won’t give in to any pressure. The strategy worked favourably with the BJP-IPFT combine wresting 18 out of the 20 ST seats, traditionally seen as Left citadels.

Today, what was hailed as yet another feather in BJP’s social engineering cap, seems to be under strain. The two ruling partners have repeatedly sparred, its workers clashed, even as the demand for a Greater Tipraland has gradually clawed back to the centrestage, with Pradyot rallying a number of indigenous platforms under the umbrella of TIPRA Motha. The verdict of the tribal areas autonomous polls, which took place on April 6, is expected to redefine the political dynamics of the state.

To return to the bhadralok versus subaltern narrative, come election time and the “decline” of the bhadralok gets repeated ad nauseam. Stuck on this regurgitated frame of the bhadralok’s decline, such analyses end up omitting the continued presence of elites, not just of the bhadralok variety, in the political life of Bengal or Tripura. While Bengal’s political landscape today is witnessing a democratising turn, whether on the issues of caste or the citizenship question, the rise of the BJP and its embracing of political elites points to an underplayed continuity of a political order dominated by these actors — despite the BJP’s tall claims of real change.

Courtesy – https://indianexpress.com/

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