BY SHASHI MALLA
PM OLI’S DIPLOMATIC GAFFE PROVIDES HILARITY
Last Friday, Sonia Gandhi, the president of the main opposition Indian National Congress, had in a video message to the nation, condemned the Bharatiya Janata Party’s utter disregard for people’s voices and its attempts to suppress them with brute force [see below].
This was then tweeted by an Indian journalist questioning Modi for not addressing the nation calmly like Sonia Gandhi. From Oli’s own personal Twitter account this was – horror of horrors – re-tweeted to the utter astonishment and hilarity of the general public, and the dismay and consternation of government circles. This could very well have created a diplomatic incident. This faux pas again highlighted Oli’s bumbling art on a personal level, and his government’s performance generally.
India Persists in Denial of Cartographical Aggression
India has finally responded to a diplomatic note sent by Nepal on November 20 protesting the aggrandizing the Nepalese area of Kalapani in far western Nepal [in the Nepal-India-China tri-junction] (The Kathmandu Post, December 24, 2019).
A new Indian political map, released on November 2 to mark the Modi government’s decision to end Jammu & Kashmir’s autonomous status and bifurcate the state, had unilaterally placed Kalapani within Indian territorial borders, leading to a massive uproar in Nepal. This in turn forced a reluctant Communist government to demand redress from the Indian government, and the main opposition [would be] democratic socialist Nepali Congress to also criticize New Delhi.
A senior Nepali Foreign Ministry official has conceded that India has once again reiterated the usual position that Indian officials have continuously expressed, i.e. the new map had not revised India’s boundary with Nepal and that the map “accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India” (Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson in India’s Ministry of External Affairs). India will continue this position ad infinitum and will nor budge from it.
Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali – and the whole government – are at their wits’ end. After all, they have to placate both their ‘Burra Sahibs’ in the Delhi Durbar, as well as, an angry, but enlightened Nepalese public. Gyawali had the temerity to claim that he had yet to go through the Indian correspondence!
South Asia Watch
INDIA: VIOLENT PROTESTS CONTINUE OVER CITIZENSHIP BILL
The ongoing violent protests in many parts of India over the most controversial “Citizenship Amendment Act” (voted through parliament) show no sign of abating. In the face of massive police brutality, so far at least 23 people have died (DW/Deutsche Welle online).
Last Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called a meeting of his full union council of ministers to discuss the continuing protests as more demonstrators were killed in clashes with police in the state of Uttar Pradesh, bordering Nepal. After a large rally of 2,500 people in the holy city of Varanasi, a stampede was caused by police chasing the crowd and an 8-year-old boy was crushed to death.
It is not known what measures Modi’s government will now adopt, but so far the government has taken a hard-line approach to the protests.
The government evoked a British colonial-era law banning four or more people from assembling in order to stop the protests. The internet has been periodically cut off in some states and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asked for “strict compliance” from news channels to not broadcast any content that was “likely to instigate violence.” The Indian government has interrupted internet services over 102 times this year.
The information/communication shutdown has mostly affected the capital New Delhi, the northern city of Aligarh, the eastern state of West Bengal and the entire north-eastern state of Assam.
The prohibitory and forceful measures have not succeeded in deterring protesters with demonstrations continuing throughout the country. In Gauhati, the capital of the ethnically diverse north-eastern state of Assam, women staged a sit-in to protest the law. In New Delhi, police arrested 15 people over violence in the Daryaganj old quarter.
A broad spectrum of protesters from all over the country have reacted angrily and very concerned that the bill threatens India’s secular constitution and the citizenship of India’s Muslims, as well as over uncontrolled migration.
As one of the few foreign leaders, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad roundly criticized the law. At a news conference at the end of an Islamic summit last Saturday in Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir said India is a secular state and the religions of people should not prevent themfrom attaining citizenship.
AFGHANISTAN’S FLAWED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Afghanistan’s latest presidential elections have turned out to be most problematic. They truly reflect a country in chaos. According to preliminary results, the incumbent Ashraf Ghani is to remain president, but only by a razor-thin majority of 50.64 percent of valid votes.
The circumstances and aspects of the elections are indeed troublesome. The election results were made public only after almost three months – a record in itself. But the fact that these results are still preliminary is unprecedented.
Ashraf Ghani has not really received a clear mandate. If he had received just 0.7 percent less votes, the election would have had to be repeated. The turnout in the elections was at a historic low, with only 1.8 million voting from among the total of 9.5 million registered voters. This was, of course, a result of the massive threats and widespread violence orchestrated by the Islamist militants, including the Taliban.
His main rivals, including the infamous Islamist Gulbuddin Heckmatyar or the current chief executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have already challenged the results and eroded their credibility. The latter has even claimed massive fraud.
The future looks bleak, and the political establishment is also to blame that they are not masters of the fate of their own country. The United States brazenly negotiated with the Taliban until this autumn without the involvement of Afghanistan’s elected government. Then, again without consulting Kabul, Trump abruptly called off the talks, and now they have been resumed.
Public security is in a pathetic state and innocent Afghans become victims of the Taliban and other extremist Islamists on a daily basis. Afghan leaders must get their act together and explore strategic alternatives to the U.S., which under Trump is hell bent on decamping as soon as possible. It could look to two powerful regional powers – China and India – which have a vital national interest in the stability of Afghanistan.
Unite Kingdom: Boris Johnson & Conservatives Win/End of the UK Looming?
In the last UK general election, PM Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a solid majority. It was ground-shattering in many respects – domestic and international, and can, therefore, be termed momentous, stunning and historic. The outcome of this election will define British politics for years to come (DW/Deutsche Welle online).
The last time the Conservatives cruised to such a crushing victory was in 1987 under Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady”. She also railed against the European Union (EU), demanding: “We want our money back”[!] Boris used the magic three words to convince the British electorate: “Get Brexit Done”!
However, the UK’s exit from the EU will not be that easy and swift as Johnson has promised, and it is highly doubtful whether a trade deal will be in place by the end of the transition period in December 2020. After all, it took Canada and the EU 10 years to finalize their trade agreement!
LABOUR PARTY ON THE ROCKS
This election went horribly wrong for the Labour Party. Most experts are united in blaming the leader Jeremy Corbyn, none more despised and divisive. He was absolutely disillusioned to believe that he could pull off another upset along the lines of the 2017 election when he managed to prevent a Conservative (or Tory) majority under then PM Theresa May. Depressingly, Johnson won the ‘Unpopularity Contest’ [just as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, whose disparaging remarks on the ‘Deplorables’ in 2016, resonates to this day].
His final service to the party would be to step down [as should his democratic socialist ideological comrade Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress]. Devastatingly and incredibly, Labour even lost huge swathes of itstraditional heartland – the so-called “Red Wall” – to the [rich-friendly] Conservatives. These were large areas of post-industrial northern England where the Tories’ austerity cuts have crippled society and the economy, making the poor even poorer. They have fallen prey to the Conservatives extravagant promises.
Corbyn’s ambiguity on Brexit did not help matters in the least, although ‘Brexit fatigue’ was palpable in the country as a whole. Also lamentably, Labour’s progressive manifesto could have overhauled an economy and society blighted by years of Tory mismanagement. The Labour Party lies in tatters and heading into oblivion much like the Social Democrats in Germany [and, of course, the Nepali Congress].
Johnson claims that ‘Getting Brexit Done’ is the irrefutable decision of the ‘British’ people, but at the same time, the election results – taken separately in the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – could cause irreparable damage in an already deeply divided and polarized country.
United Kingdom towards Dissolution?
The reality of a ‘Disunited Kingdom’ cannot be disputed. The question is whether Johnson is steering the ship of state towards a ‘Little England’.
Scotland heeded the call of the “Scottish National Party” (SNP) to ‘take back control’ [ironically, also a rallying cry of the Brexiteers] with the SNP winning a stunning 55 of the region’s 59 seats. There is bound to be a massive push for a second independence referendum. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has fervently underlined that Johnson does not have a mandate to take her country out of the EU!
In Northern Ireland, for the very first time, the Irish nationalists have made more gains than the pro-British unionists. They may also push for a vote to split from the UK and unify with the Republic of Ireland (EU member) to the south. [see our last week’s column]
Thus, “the result of this election defines the UK’s future role in the world. And it marks a massive transformation of British politics that will resonatethrough the country for years to come” (DW).
(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])