India

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Tamil Nadu: Time to Tame Hate Campaign

For the last several decades, there have been hate campaigns against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not-so-subtle manner. Initially, it was a hate campaign against Brahmins and the Brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked.  Fearing such conditions,

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Can South Asia’s future be any different?

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A mild flutter ensued after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent meeting with his Turkiye counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on September 21 when it came to be known that Cyprus figured in their discussion. Jaishankar highlighted it in a tweet. 

The Indian media instinctively related this to Turkish President Recep Erdogan making a one-line reference to the Kashmir issue earlier that day in his address to the UN GA. But Jaishankar being a scholar-diplomat, would know that Cyprus issue is in the news cycle and the new cold war conditions breathe fresh life into it, as tensions mount in the Turkish-Greek rivalry,  which often draws comparison with the India-Pakistan animosity, stemming from another historical “Partition” — under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) that ended the Ottoman Empire.

The beauty about peace treaties is that they have no ‘expiration date’ but the Treaty of Lausanne was signed for a period of a hundred years between Turkiye on one side and Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and their allies on the other. The approaching date heightens the existential predicament at the heart of Turkiye’s foreign policy.

The stunning reality is that by 24th July 2023, Turkey’s modern borders become “obsolete”. The secret articles of the 1923 Treaty, signed by Turkish and British diplomats, provide for a chain of strange happenings — British troops will reoccupy the forts overlooking the Bosphorus; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch will resurrect a Byzantine mini state within Istanbul’s city walls; and Turkey will finally be able to tap the forbidden vast energy resources of the East Mediterranean (and, perhaps, regain Western Thrace, a province of Greece.)

Of course, none of that can happen and they remain conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, the “end-of-Lausanne” syndrome remains a foundational myth and weaves neatly into the historical revisionism that Ataturk should have got a much better deal from the Western powers.

All this goes to underline the magnitude of the current massively underestimated drama, of which Cyprus is at the epicentre. Suffice to say, Turkey’s geometrically growing rift with Greece and Cyprus over the offshore hydrocarbon reserves and naval borders must be properly understood in terms of the big picture.

Turkiye’s ruling elite believe that Turkey was forced to sign the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and the “Treaty of Lausanne” in 1923 and thereby concede vast tracts of land under its domain. Erdogan rejects any understanding of history that takes 1919 as the start of the 1,000-year history of his great nation and civilisation. “Whoever leaves out our last 200 years, even 600 years together with its victories and defeats, and jumps directly from old Turkish history to the Republic, is an enemy of our nation and state,” he once stated.

The international community has begun to pay attention as Turkiye celebrates its centenary next year, which also happens to be an election year for Erdogan. In a typical first shot, the US State Department announced on September 16 — just five days before Jaishankar met Cavusoglu — that Washington is lifting defence trade restrictions on the Greek Cypriot administration for the 2023 fiscal year.

Spokesman Ned Price said, “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles.”

The US move comes against the backdrop of a spate of recent arms deals by Cyprus and Greece, including a deal to purchase attack helicopters from France and efforts to procure missile and long-range radar systems. Turkiye called on the US “to reconsider this decision and to pursue a balanced policy towards the two sides on the Island.” It has since announced a beefing up of its military presence in Northern Cyprus. 

To be sure, the unilateral US move also means indirect support for the maritime claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, which Turkiye, with the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, rejects as excessive and violates its sovereign rights and that of Turkish Cypriots.

Whether these developments figured in Jaishankar’s discussion with Cavusoglu is unclear, but curiously, India too is currently grappling with a similar US decision to offer a $450 million military package to Pakistan to upgrade its nuclear-capable F-16 aircraft.

Indeed, the US-Turkey-Cyprus triangle has some striking similarities with the US-India-Pakistan triangle. In both cases, the Biden administration is dealing with friendly pro-US governments in Nicosia and Islamabad but is discernibly unhappy with the nationalist credo of the leaderships in Ankara and New Delhi.

Washington is annoyed that the governments in Ankara and New Delhi preserve their strategic autonomy. Most important, the US’ attempt to isolate Russia weakening due to the refusal by Turkiye and India to impose sanctions against Moscow.

The US is worried that India and Turkiye, two influential regional powers, pursue foreign policies promoting multipolarity in the international system, which undermines US’ global hegemony. Above all,  it is an eyesore for Washington that Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi enjoy warm trustful personal interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The photo beamed from Samarkand during the recent SCO summit showing Erdogan arm in arm with Putin must have infuriated President Biden. Modi too displayed a rare moment of surging emotions when he told Putin at Samarkand on September 16,

“The relationship between India and Russia has deepened manifold. We also value this relationship because we have been such friends who have been with each other every moment for the last several decades and the whole world also knows how Russia’s relationship with India has been and how India’s relationship with Russia has been and therefore the world also knows that it is an unbreakable friendship. Personally speaking, in a way, the journey for both of us started at the same time. I first met you in 2001, when you were working as the head of the government and I had started working as head of the state government. Today, it has been 22 years, our friendship is constantly growing, we are constantly working together for the betterment of this region, for the well-being of the people. Today, at the SCO Summit, I am very grateful to you for all the feelings that you have expressed for India.”

Amazingly, the western media censored this stirring passage in its reports on the Modi-Putin meeting!

Notably, following the meeting between Modi and Erdogan in Samarkand on Sept. 16, a commentary by the state-owned TRT titled Turkiye-India ties have a bright future ahead signalled Erdogan government’s interest to move forward in relations with India.

India’s ties with Turkiye deserve to be prioritised, as that country is inching toward BRICS and the SCO and is destined to be a serious player in the emerging multipolar world order. Symptomatic of the shift in tectonic plates is the recent report that Russia might launch direct flights between Moscow and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state supported and recognised only by Ankara. (Incidentally, one “pre-condition” set by the Biden administration to resume military aid to Cyprus was that Nicosia should roll back its relations with Moscow!) 

Without doubt, the US and the EU are recalibrating the power dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean by building up the Cyprus-Greece axis and sending a warning to Turkiye to know its place. In geopolitical terms, this is another way of welcoming Cyprus into NATO. Thus, it becomes part of the new cold war.

Can South Asia’s future be any different? Turkiye has so many advantages over India, having been a longstanding cold-war era ally of the US. It hosts Incirlik Air Base, one of the US’ major strategically located military bases. Kurecik Radar Station partners with the US Air Force and Navy in a mission related to missile interception and defence. Turkey is a NATO power which is irreplaceable in the alliance’s southern tier. Turkey controls the Bosphorus Straits under the Montreux Convention (1936).

Yet, the US is unwilling to have a relationship of mutual interest and mutual respect with Turkiye. Pentagon is openly aligned with the Kurdish separatists. The Obama administration made a failed coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan.

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Tamil Nadu: Time to Tame Hate Campaign

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For the last several decades, there have been hate campaigns against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not-so-subtle manner.

Initially, it was a hate campaign against Brahmins and the Brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked.  Fearing such conditions, many Brahmin families left Tamil Nadu to settle down in other states in India or have gone abroad.  Now, the Brahmin population in Tamil Nadu is at microscopic level, for which these hate campaigners against Brahmins were responsible.

 Later on, emboldened by the scenario of scared Brahmin families not resisting and running away, the hate campaigners started focusing on Hindus. 

For some years, when M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalitha were the chief ministers of the state, the hate Hindu campaigners were not much heard, as both these chief ministers were staunch believers in Hindu philosophy and have been offering prayers in temples in full public view.

However, in the last eighteen months in Tamil Nadu after the new government has taken over, the hate campaign against Hindu religion has resumed with full vigour and now it appears to be at the peak.

Even during one of the earlier regimes, when Tamil Nadu was ruled by the same party as at present, the then chief minister called Hindus as thieves and questioned the claim of   Hindu God Ram constructing the Sethu bridge and derisively asked as to in which engineering college Hindu God Ram studied.  In spite of such obnoxious remarks, Hindus really did not react in any significant way then.

Now, the worst has happened with a member of parliament who belongs to the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, publicly stating that Hindus are children of prostitutes.

What is particularly shocking is that the Tamil Nadu government has not taken any action against this man. By remaining silent, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and his colleagues appear to give an impression that they agree with the statement of this man.  This is unfortunate.

We know that in the case of Christians or Muslims if anyone were to make an objectionable remark against their region and practices, Muslims and Christians will rise as one man and protest. Of course, the Tamil Nadu government would have immediately taken action against the persons who criticize Islam or Christianity. This is as it should be.

The disturbing question is as to why in the case of Hindu religion, the Tamil Nadu government allows the anti-Hindu hate campaigners to go scot-free.

Though the present Tamil Nadu government claims that it is secular in outlook, several recent actions of Tamil Nadu government against Hindu religious practices appear to give a contrary impression,  that it may not really be secular, in letter and spirit as far as the Hindus are concerned.

In the last eighteen months, after the present government has taken over in Tamil Nadu, one of the focus points of the government is Hindu temples.   With the claim of protecting the interests of Hindu temples and with the claim of “reforming” the Hindu religious practices, there has been gross interference in the affairs of the Hindu temples.  For the first time, archakas (priests) in Hindu temples are being appointed by the government of Tamil Nadu after providing some sort of “training” for a short period. These appointed priests do not know several procedures in Hindu temples and in the process, several well trained Hindu archakas serving for long years have lost their jobs.

The government is taking over the gold, silver and other assets of the temples and is melting them, though these silver and gold have been donated to temples by devotees in the last several decades. Tamil Nadu government behaves as if it is the owner of the Hindu temples and seem to assume that it can do anything  as far as Hindu temples are concerned.   So many other acts of Tamil Nadu government against Hindu religious practices can be readily cited. 

One striking practice that cannot be ignored by anyone is that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and his ministers would not greet Hindus during their festivals but would inevitably greet Christians and Muslims on the occasion of their festivals. Why is this?

The situation has now reached an alarming level that any Hindu hate campaigner can write or say anything against Hinduism and can get away with it without being hauled by the authorities. Dangerous and chaotic conditions are now developing in Tamil Nadu,  where Hindu religion, with more than 80% of the Tamil Nadu population being Hindus,  is targeted,  criticized, abused day in and day out, with the  Tamil Nadu government watching the scenario as if it has not heard them. 

Hindus in Tamil Nadu are known to be very tolerant and peace loving and perhaps, this is why such anti Hindu campaign are being conducted, taking the reactions from Hindus for granted. However, with the hate campaigner going to the extent of calling Hindus as children of prostitutes, the breaking point has been now reached. This situation should not be allowed to continue.

Whatever may be the personal view of the Chief Minister and ministers in Tamil Nadu government and the leaders of some of the alliance parties with ruling party, Tamil Nadu government should stop this hate Hindu campaign forthwith and put down the hate campaigners with an iron hand.

 If Tamil Nadu government were to fail to do this, the consequence would be too severe to imagine.

Certainly, Tamil Nadu deserves better.

Assam: Emerging Epicenter of Islamist Extremism?

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There are few noted arrests were made by police to nullify multiple ABT (Ansar al-Islam/Ansarullah Bangla Team)-linked/inspired modules, spread across Dhubri, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Morigaon, Kamrup (Metropolitan) and Nagaon Districts, which have come to focus since March 2022. On March 4, 2022, the Assam Police arrested five ABT cadres including Saiful Islam aka Haroon Rashid, a Bangladeshi national, from Barpeta.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over Saiful Islam’s case on March 22, 2022. According to the NIA First Information Report, there is an active module of ABT in Barpeta District, led by Saiful Islam, who entered India illegally and was engaged as an Arabic Teacher at the Dhakaliapara Masjid. Saiful Islam was active in motivating impressionable youth/men to join jihadi outfits and to work in modules, Ansars (sleeper cells), to create a base for Al-Qaeda and its manifestations in India. The other members of the module were Khairul Islam, Badshah Suleiman Khan, Noushad Ali and Taimur Rahman Khan. All the accused persons were involved in the commission of various offences, including conspiracy, waging war against the state, harbouring, and collecting funds for committing unlawful and terrorist acts.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 30 ABT-linked extremists have been arrested by the Police from different Districts of the State since March 4, 2022, (till September 11, 2022).

Though details about ABT activities are still emerging, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma stated on August 4, 2022, that ABT had increased its focus on Assam during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the administration and police were busy handling the crisis. He disclosed,

These people [ABT cadres] were working as preachers in mosques – as a cover job – their aim was to wage jihad against India and establish ‘shariat’ law. Several training camps were organised by these people especially during COVID-19 times. They were trained in tradecraft (techniques/technology used in modern espionage), radicalisation, indoctrination, gun training and bomb-making… They [ABT] do not use mobile calls but use chat apps to communicate. Not Telegram, but these chat apps found are unheard of. They are peer-to-peer encrypted chat apps and are more sophisticated and beyond the end-to-end chat apps.

Further, on August 28, 2022, Special Director General of Police (Law and Order) G. P. Singh noted that, “till now, we haven’t received any indication of arms training’’. When asked whether the madrasas (seminaries)-linked to ABT were registered, he asserted, “We will take action if they are not as per govt guidelines.” Earlier, on April 25, 2022, Additional Director General of Police (Special Branch) Hiren Nath added that, though “there was no formal arms training” by the ABT, they have “started indoctrination”.

Also, on September 1, 2022, a long-time observer of militancy in the Northeast, Rajeev Bhattacharya, comparing ABT with others like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), wrote, “Jamatul-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), for instance, was structured unlike the ABT which is loosely organised and decentralized.”

There have been earlier instances of infiltration by ABT into Assam as well. The interrogation of a Bangladeshi ABT cadre, Faisal Ahmed, arrested from the Bommanahalli area of Bangalore city, Karnataka, on July 1, 2022, revealed that he had arrived in Silchar in the Cachar District of Assam in 2015. He, thereafter, made a fake voter ID card under the name, Shahid Majumdar, and also obtained an Indian passport. Importantly, Faisal Ahmed was one of the four ABT militants convicted for killing Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in thr Subidbazar area of Sylhet on May 12, 2015. On March 30, 2022, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal-based in Sylhet convicted and sentenced four persons, including Faisal Ahmed to death.

Meanwhile, another Bangladesh-based Islamist terrorist group, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) continues with its efforts to extend its influence in Assam. The presence of JMB came to notice when, on October 2, 2014, Shakil Ahmed and Suvon Mandal aka Subhan, both active members of the JMB, were killed, and Abdul Hakim aka Hassan sustained injuries in an accidental explosion in a rented two-story house at Khagragarh under the Burdwan Police Station of Burdwan District, West Bengal. All three were found to be Bangladeshi citizens. A spate of arrests that followed the incident underscored the extent of the spread of the outfit.

According to the SATP database, since October 2, 2014, at least 61 JMB cadres have been arrested in Assam. The last arrest was made on July 7, 2022, when two JMB terrorists, Mokkodos Ali Ahmed and Sofiqul Islam, were arrested from Barpeta District.

The interrogation of arrested JMB militants revealed that their objective was to counter purported ‘Bodo aggression’. Between 2008 and 2014, there have been periodic clashes between Bodos and Muslims in lower Assam.  In 2008, at least 55 persons were killed in such clashes; 109 were killed in 2012 and 46 in 2014.

Before the advent of these Bangladesh-based jihadi groups, several Islamist extremist formations existed in Assam. The then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain informed the State Assembly on December 15, 2014, that between January 2001 to November 2014, a total of 130 Islamist extremists, including 106 Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) militants, 14 Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militants and 10 JMB militants had been arrested in the State. Since then (December 1, 2014) another 149 Islamic extremists [including 55 JMB, 30 ABT, 26 Muslim Tiger Force of Assam (MTFA), 21 MULTA,10 Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), five Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), one each from Muslim Liberation Army (MLA) and Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF], have been arrested in Assam.

A majority of the Islamist militant groups in Assam were founded between 1990 and 1996 with the prime objective of safeguarding the ‘overall interests’ of the minority Muslim communities in the region. These groups had the backing of Pakatan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime in Bangladesh. According to SATP, at least 21 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods.

The entry of the Bangladeshi groups is partly due to the severe crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government of Bangladesh that had disrupted the networks of all Islamist groups, including the JMB and ABT, forcing them underground or to seek refuge in bordering regions of Indian states like Assam, Bengal or Tripura, where the demographic composition is favorable for concealment.

Moreover, the present polarized political debates have created a perception of targeting/isolating religious minorities (especially Bengali speaking Muslims) in the state, due to recent events, including the Supreme Court monitored updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951, followed by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as well as administrative measures such as ‘anti-encroachment drives’ to free government land. The division of Muslims along ethno-linguistic lines can also be a pull factor for these jihadi groups.

The conflict in Assam is largely shaped on the discourse of identity-based politics based on insider-outsider identification, as well as claims to autochthonous status and primacy over local resources, but has gradually been transformed into a religious struggle, and a polarizing politics to consolidate electoral gains. The dominant narratives are likely to be counterproductive, rupturing social bonds and leading to destabilization.

This article is a part of SLG Syndication project. Giriraj Bhattacharjee, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi wrote this for South Asia Terrorism Portal, where this piece first appeared. Click here to read the complete article.

Counter Productive Media Report on Nano Urea Fertiliser in India

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Nano Urea, a fertilizer patented and sold by the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), has been approved by the Government of India for commercial use because of its various benefits.

Unfortunately, a counter productive media campaign has been levelled against nano urea, ignoring the merits of nano urea.

When extensive field trials have been carried out on more than 94 crops across 11000 farmer fields in different parts of the country by several organisations , research institutions putting their efforts together and results have been proved as per the claims , it is counter productive that some controversial views appear in the media, which cause only sensation and nothing more than that.

Product details :

Nano Urea is about a billionth of a metre in surface area and contains nitrogen particles of 20 -50 nanometres.

The average thickness of conventional urea particle is 2.8 mm, which is equal to around 55,000 nano urea particles in size.

Chemically, conventional urea has 45% nitrogen content ,which means a 45 kg urea bag contains about 20 kg of nitrogen. In contrast, nano urea sold in 500 ml bottles has 4% nitrogen (or around 20 gm)

The process for nano urea uses organic polymers that keeps the nano particles of nitrogen stable and in a form that can be sprayed onto plants.

Liquid nano urea is sprayed directly on the leaves and gets absorbed by the plant.

Urea in nano form provide a targeted supply of nutrients to crops, as they are absorbed by the pores found on the epidermis of leaves.

IFFCO advises that 2-4 ml of nano urea should be mixed in a litre of water and sprayed on crop leaves at active growth stages.

Due to the ultra-small size and surface properties, the nano urea liquid gets absorbed by plants more effectively when sprayed on their leaves.

With 40,000 milligram per litre. of nitrogen in a 500 ml nano urea bottle can be sufficient for providing nitrogen to one acre of the field with crops compared to 2.5 bags of urea.

One bottle of 500 ml costs Rs.240 whereas the conventional subsidized urea is sold at Rs.266.5 per 45 kg bag.

Over 3.6 crore bottles of this urea have been produced by IFFCO , of which 2.5 crore have been sold.

The question :

The critics have raised the following questions about the wisdom of introducing nano urea as substitute for conventional area in agricultural operations,

• Chemically,conventional urea has 45% nitrogen content , which means a 45 kg urea bag contains about 20 kg of nitrogen. On the other hand, nano urea sold in 500 ml bottles has only 4% nitrogen (or around 20 gm). How can this compensate for the kilogrammes of nitrogen normally?

• “Urea is highly water soluble and already reaches the lowest form of concentration when absorbed. How nanoparticles can increase the effectiveness of nitrogen uptake by being still small in size?.

• Not all the nano urea sprayed on leaves can be utilised by the plant.

Merits of nano urea :

Because nano particles are so small and numerous, they have a lot more surface area relative to their volume, compared with the millimetre-size grains of urea that plants are exposed to .

Unlike the conventional urea which are coarse particles that farmers normally throw onto the soil during sowing, the nano particle form of nano urea, when applied on to the leaves, stimulates a range of enzymes, like nitrase and nitrite reductase, which helps plants metabolise nitrogen

Upon penetration, these nanoparticles reach plant parts where nitrogen is required and release nutrients in a controlled manner, thereby reducing usage while also reducing wastage into the environment.

Small size (20-50 nm) of nano urea increases its availability to crop by more than 80%.

Liquid nano urea has a shelf life of a year, and farmers need not be worried about “caking” when it comes in contact with moisture.

Field trials and results :

IFFCO says the product has been tested on more than 94 crops across 11,000 farmer fields in collaboration with Krishi Vigyan Kendras of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR-KVKs), research institutes, state agriculture universities, and progressive farmers. “The trials began in November 2019

According to a release from IFFCO, field trials have shown that a 500 ml bottle of nano urea can replace one bag of conventional urea, as it has 40,000 ppm of nitrogen, which is equivalent nitrogen nutrient provided by one bag of conventional urea.

Nano urea has also been tested for biosafety and toxicity according to norms followed in India and the international guidelines developed by OECD, which are adopted and accepted globally.

Comparison of conventional urea and nano urea :

As of now, just 30-50 per cent of nitrogen from conventional urea is utilised by plants in farms , while the rest goes waste due to quick chemical transformation because of leaching, which contaminates soil and water bodies, and volatilisation that causes emissions of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere — leading to air pollution and global warming along with low nutritional efficiency for the crop.

While conventional urea is effective just for 30-50 per cent in delivering nitrogen to plants, the effectiveness of the nano urea liquid is over 80 per cent.

A major reason for this increase in efficiency of nano urea is because of the fact that nanotechnology, which is the base of this new form of urea, enables designing ultra-small particles that offer higher surface-mass ratios, and help in the controlled delivery of plant nutrients.

Approval :

According to critics, nano urea is yet to be fully tested despite having been fast tracked for commercial application.

According to the critics, normally, three seasons of independent assessment by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is required for approving a new fertiliser, but in the case of nano urea this was reduced to two.

The above stand of the critics is not logical and acceptable, since nano urea is not different from urea in chemical constituent and the difference is only in the form and particle size.

Therefore, there is no need to consider conventional urea and nano urea as separate products for approval by the authorities , particularly since extensive field trials have been carried out with nano urea and the results have been announced which are positive and are proven to be beneficial.

Views expressed are personal

Hasina’s India Visit: A Balance Sheet of Diplomacy

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On Sept 5, India welcomed one of the closest friends in the neighbourhood, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who visited India on a four-day visit. During the course of her trip, she hold a bilateral meeting with PM Narendra Modi as well as interacted with President Droupadi Murmu. The immediate outcome of the visit was the signing of the seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in various fields, including the withdrawal of water from the cross-border Kushiyara river, cooperation in space technology, collaboration on IT systems used by railways in areas such as movement of freight, science and technology cooperation, training of Bangladesh Railway personnel and Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, and cooperation in broadcasting between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Television, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.

Among the seven pacts signed on September 6, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on withdrawal of 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara by Bangladesh is most welcomed by Dhaka. It is the first such deal the two countries have inked after the Ganges River water-sharing agreement in 1996 and is seen as a breakthrough in addressing an issue that has cast a shadow on their otherwise close ties. The deal came to the Sylhet region as blessings that are expected to help alleviate some of Dhaka’s concerns. A pact to share water resources from transboundary rivers that run downstream from the Himalayas from India into Bangladesh has long been a priority for Bangladesh, a lower riparian state that suffers from crippling water shortages. Earlier, India and Bangladesh finalised the Teesta water-sharing deal in 2010 and it was likely to be signed in 2011. But it could not be inked due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.

The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. According to the agreement, the withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara river through Rahimpur canal will bring major changes in dry season farming in Jokiganj upazila bordering Bangladesh. At the same time, the farmers of Kanighat and some parts of Biyanibazar Upazila will benefit.

The two leaders engaged in talks on connectivity, trade, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships. In a bid to help Bangladesh deal with the energy crisis, the two leaders unveiled the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a 1320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. The project is being set up at an approximate budget of $2 billion out of which $1.6 billion was Indian Development Assistance that will enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities. Experts believe that the Maitree Power Plant will give citizens of Bangladesh access to affordable electricity, boosting Bangladesh face the difficulties that the country is facing in because of the growing energy prices worldwide.

Both leaders also discussed the issue of counterterrorism. “Today we also stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very necessary that we face such forces together, who want to attack our mutual trust,” PM Modi said. In flood management, India has extended the period of sharing flood water-related information in real-time which will help Bangladesh counter the annual floods.

Connectivity boost

An important project that was inaugurated was the Rupsha bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single-track Broad Gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port (Bangladesh’s second largest port) with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to Central and North Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal. “The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha river is a remarkable step towards enhancing connectivity. This bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India’s Line of Credit” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a joint media appearance with Hasina.

An announcement was also made that India would supply road construction equipment and machinery in 25 packages to the road and highways department of the Bangladeshi government. The Khulna-Darshana railway line link project was also announced to upgrade the existing (doubling of broad gauge) infrastructure, linking the current cross-border rail link at Gede-Darshana to Khulna and thereby augmenting the rail connections between the two countries, especially to Dhaka, but also in future, to Mongla Port. The project cost is estimated to be USD 312.48 million. Another project, Parbatipur-Kaunia railway line, will see the conversion of the existing metre-gauge line to dual-gauge line at an estimated cost of USD 120.41 million. The project will connect the existing cross-border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and enhance bilateral rail connectivity. The connectivity initiatives are part of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh that are aimed at converting the country into a major connectivity hub of South and Southeast Asia.

It is mentionable that, India has provided concessional loans worth $9.5 billion for development projects in Bangladesh, especially connectivity initiatives. These initiatives include improving rail connectivity between Khulna and Dhaka, Chilahati and Rajshahi and connecting Mongla port with Darshana-Gede at a cost of $312million, the Parbatipur-Kaunia rail project to facilitate the transportation of fuel that is being built at a cost of $120million, and the supply of road construction equipment and machinery worth $41million to repair and maintain Bangladesh’s road network. With the expansion of connectivity between our two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other.

Trade prospects under CEPA

It is true that While India is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching a record $18 billion in the last financial year, there has been a significant trade imbalance between the two countries. To narrow the trade gap and to further accelerate this growth, two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) this year. When the CEPA is operationalised, bilateral trade potential would be USD 40 billion. Moreover, the CEPA will boost bilateral and sub-regional connectivity that Bangladesh is championing in its policy initiatives.

During this trip, PM Hasina met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Adani Power, a subsidiary of Adani Group, will supply power to Bangladesh from its upcoming 1,600 MW thermal power plant in the Godda area of Jharkhand. The project is significant as Bangladesh has been recognised as an important partner under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

Finally, it is observed that the cooperation during the visit extended to all fields, including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, rivers, and maritime affairs. The visit will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation in resolving all issues, including Teesta river water sharing. It is also expected that Indo-Bangladesh ties will touch new heights and will continue to add more depth and momentum in the coming days.

Strategic Importance of Hasina’s Sojourn to India: A Post Script

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who completed her India visit recently, attended a closed-door meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday (September 06). After the meeting, the two Prime Ministers attended a press conference. In this conference, Sheikh Hasina termed the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India as a role model of ‘neighbourhood diplomacy’.

She also said that she agreed with the Prime Minister of India to work together on various bilateral issues. Sheikh Hasina said, we have agreed to carry out cooperative efforts to maintain our economic growth and regional peace, security and stability.

If Bangladesh and India can work together as partners, it will bring peace and prosperity not only for the two countries but also for the region. On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, we have emphasized on cooperation against terrorism and radicalism. He said, those who want to hurt our mutual trust.

Security cooperation, investment, enhanced trade relations, Rohingya issue, water resource management, border management, cooperation in power and energy sector, common river water sharing, prevention of drug smuggling and human trafficking were discussed in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.

Despite the delayed progress on the line of credit extension in 2018, different types of equipment are being considered at various stages. According to media reports, Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka recently shared a wish list of military platforms and systems that its armed forces would like to purchase from India, marking some progress on the delayed implementation of the $500 million defence Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India to Bangladesh. This contains a wide variety of tools, such as an oil tanker for the Bangladesh Navy, a logistics ship, and a floating dock.

India considers the signing of the first contract between Bangladesh and India under the $500 Line of Credit (LoC) to be an “important first step” in bolstering bilateral defence cooperation.

“This week, I believe the first contract under the defence line of credit was signed. You have undoubtedly been paying close attention to this. Despite being small, it was an essential first step “said Vinay Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, in New Delhi

According to its “Forces Goal 2030,” Bangladesh is modernizing its military by introducing new weaponry and enhancing infrastructure. A large portion of these requirements can be met by India, which will also boost defence cooperation between the two countries.

China has sold Bangladesh weapons, including two traditional diesel-electric submarines. China has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of weapons, particularly to nations in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

India has recently greatly increased its military support for capacity building and capabilities development for nations in the Indian Ocean Region in an effort to counter this.

The “intensification” of bilateral defence ties was welcomed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

According to the joint statement released following the bilateral talks between the two leaders, they also agreed on the early completion of projects under the Line of Credit for Defense, which would be advantageous for both nations.

India looks forward to strengthening bilateral defence ties and welcomed the completion of “first purchase plans” for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Both parties stressed the importance of cooperating closely to implement the $500 million Line of Credit offered by India for defence items at the 4th Bangladesh-India annual defence dialogue held in New Delhi in August. At the meeting, representatives from Bangladesh and India reaffirmed their commitment to improving interactions between their armed forces and discussed the development of bilateral defence cooperation programs.

For in-depth conversations, various facets of defence industrial and capability-building cooperation came up. Both nations looked at the possibility of working together on joint production, co-development, and commerce in the defence sector.

The Indian side reaffirmed its demand for the 2019 MoU’s provision of a coastal radar system for increased marine security to be implemented as soon as possible.

After the meeting between the two leaders, 7 MoUs were also signed between the two countries. These are – MoU on withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiyara River under Surma-Kushiyara Project, MoU between BSIR of Bangladesh with Council of Science and Educational Research of India on Scientific Cooperation, MoU between Supreme Court of Bangladesh with National Judicial Academy at Bhopal, Indian Railway Training Institutes, an MoU between the Railway Ministries of the two countries for the training of Bangladesh Railway staff, an MoU between the Indian and Bangladesh Railway Ministries for information technology cooperation in Bangladesh Railways, an MoU between Bangladesh Television with India’s state broadcaster ‘Prasar Bharti’ and an MoU between BTCL and NSIL on space technology cooperation.

The relationship between Bangladesh and India is long-standing. We hope that this relationship will become closer and closer in the future. But it is also true, even though the two countries have maintained good relations, some issues have not been resolved yet. These include the Teesta water sharing agreement, border management and trade deficit. Regarding the Teesta water distribution agreement, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed optimism and said that the agreement will be signed very soon.

It may be mentioned that all the formalities of signing this agreement have been completed but it was not implemented at the last moment. Indian authorities should consider to resolve the matter expeditiously. Indian government should also be sincere in stopping border killings. Reducing the trade deficit between the two countries is also of particular importance. We hope that the relations between the two countries will be strengthened through the settlement of the outstanding issues in the coming days.

Trade and cooperation between these two close neighbours have grown as a result of their special friendly relationship, promising advantages for both nations. To advance their relationship even further, Bangladesh and India signed seven agreements on Tuesday. These agreements covered important topics like water withdrawal from a shared river, railroad development assistance, judicial officer training in Bangladesh, science and technology cooperation, and broadcasting cooperation. These agreements portend a strengthening of the bonds that unite the two nations.

Compared to 2010, India’s loan assistance to Bangladesh has now increased tenfold. 25 percent of India’s total foreign aid is allocated to Bangladesh. In the meantime, the country has handed over a billion dollars to Bangladesh, that too at less than one percent interest, a generosity that no other friendly country has shown to Bangladesh.

India’s provision of tariff-free transit facilities to Bangladesh for exports to Nepal and Bhutan is considered a major step in bilateral cooperation. Also, since India can use the Chittagong seaport, not only the Seven Sisters of India will benefit from it, but Dhaka will also benefit from it. Because, due to this, the South Block of Delhi expects that the export of Bangladesh to Northeast India will increase significantly.

The visit also made it clear where India wants to take its relationship with Bangladesh in the days ahead. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA for short, with Bangladesh. As a result, the products of both countries will get duty-free access.

It is estimated that the volume of trade between the two countries will increase from the current 1.4 billion dollars to 15 billion dollars in the next ten years. India was also requested to implement SEPA by Japan and China. But India chose Bangladesh as its fourth largest trading partner before Japan or China. Besides, in the coming days, the area of ​​cooperation between the two countries is going to expand in space as well.

India: Modi Should Meet Dalai Lama

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1 min read

It is reported that respected the Dalai Lama has now reached Delhi after visiting Lhasa.

It is surprising that Indian Prime Minister Modi has not met His Holiness the Dalai Lama for more than three years now. Some months back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kushinagar international airport in Uttar Pradesh, which connects the key Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. Kushinagar is believed to be the final resting place of Gautam Buddha and therefore, is an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination A large contingent of Buddhist monks from different countries were invited for the inaugural programme of Kushinagar airport. However, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the renowned Buddhist monk, was not invited to the meeting.

Obviously, Mr. Modi has not met the Dalai Lama for several years and has not invited him to the Kushinagar airport inauguration programme, fearing China’s reaction. In viewing these incidents, one gets an impression that Mr. Modi does not want to displease China, in spite of China’s grave injustice to Tibetans and brutal aggression against Tibet by China

However, Mr. Modi has sent birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama recently, even though similar birthday greetings were not sent earlier. One is not sure as to whether Mr. Modi has decided to change his Tibetan policy in any way.

China killed thousands of Indian soldiers in 1962 Indo-China war and in several other subsequent wars and skirmishes on the border. China has made several insulting remarks against India in many world forums and China is known to support terrorists who have attacked India in the past. China is occupying area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is claimed by India as its own. It is still occupying thousands of kilometres of Indian territory and is claiming Arunachal Pradesh in India as its own.

In such circumstances, it would not be in the interest of India or in fairness, if Mr. Modi would think that China must be kept in good humour at all costs.

Millions of Indians think that India has done harm to the interest of Tibet, by not protesting against the occupation of Tibet by China and by approving that Tibet’s occupation by China is legitimate. With regard to Tibet policy, millions of Indians think that India has erred.

In any case, by avoiding meeting with the Dalai Lama, should India go to the ridiculous extent of fearing China’s criticism?

The Dalai Lama is the most respected and senior Buddhist monk in the world. He is applauded everywhere for his advocacy of peace and harmony and hatred for none. He was awarded the Nobel prize for peace

India should consider itself honoured to have the presence of the Dalai Lama on Indian soil for so many years.

If Mr. Modi were to continue to refrain from meeting the Dalai Lama, many people would consider that it would be a case of showing disrespect to the great Buddhist monk by the Indian Prime Minister and against India’s culture, tradition and value system.

India at 75: Indian I was born; Indian I shall die

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2 mins read

India of 2022 is spectacularly different from the India of 1947. There is one vital element that has remained active, unchanged—democracy.

I am 18 years older than Independent India. I remember vividly keeping awake till midnight of 14/15 August 1947 to listen to Jawaharlal Nehru’s never to be forgotten speech.

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the World sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the larger cause of humanity…”

This was great and moving English, but 80% Indians did not understand it. Nehru also disregarded the fact that half of the world was wide awake. A majority of the members of the Constituent Assembly present in the Central Hall of Parliament understood English. The applause was thunderous. That speech of Nehru lives in our hearts and minds. India of 2022 is spectacularly different from the India of 1947. There is one vital element that has remained active, unchanged—democracy. That miracle has been endowed to the nation by the people of India, not by its elite.

The Indian Freedom Movement under the unique leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was one among the historical and unforgettable events of the 20th century.

India’s Freedom Movement inspired other countries under British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spain’s imperial/colonial rule.

In 1947, Africa had three independent countries, South of Sahara, Ethiopia, South Africa—dedicated to perpetual white rule, even though three fourth of the population was non-white. The third was Liberia. Several African leaders admired Gandhiji, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Chief Lithuli of South Africa. Ahmed Kathrada, a colleague of Mandela, all mention Gandhiji in their memoirs. Kathrada spent 27 years in jail with Mandela. He writes, “My own views on multiculturalism are best summed up in a passage by Gandhiji: I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to blown off my feet by any.”

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana led the freedom struggle in his colonised country by following Gandhian methods, “I described Positive Action as the legitimate and constitutional means…. Non-cooperation based on the principle of absolute non-violence as used by Gandhi in India.”

Lech Walesa, the Polish leader of the movement called, “Solidarity” and future President mentions Gandhiji several times in his autobiography, “The Struggle and the Triumph”. I met him in Warsaw and in New Delhi, when he paid a state visit to India.

How do I see the future of India? Unlike the chronic pessimists and congenital grumblers, I am confident of a brighter future for our country. India will become a world power, working in a balanced way for the establishment of world peace and goodwill. Poverty will become a memory and so will joblessness. It goes to the credit of the Narendra Modi government that not a single serious communal riot has occurred in the past decade.

I do not have time for those of our countrymen and women who rush to the United States. After completing their education a majority accept the status of second class citizens. One or two make it to State Legislatures or House of Representatives. Some succeed in business, but Mother India is no longer a priority. They encounter not so subtle racism and put up with it.

Some even acquire various kinds of accents, which sound phoney and grating. They have made their choice. Good luck, but no respect from this corner. Indian I was born and Indian I shall die.

India at 75: Question of Fundamental Values of the Nation

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3 mins read

Readers will recall the three words Sovereign, Secular and Democratic in the Preamble to the Constitution of India. They are the defining qualities of a modern republic. India won its freedom on August 15, 1947, in order to establish such a republic.

Tomorrow, the nation will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Independence. I am certain the nation will survive to celebrate the 100th anniversary and many more anniversaries, but — I ask this question with great trepidation — will the Republic remain sovereign, secular and democratic in 2047?

Whither Sovereignty?

For centuries, most parts of India were sovereign only in the sense they were not ruled by foreign kings and queens. The state was ‘sovereign’ but the people were not. Several rulers were despots, incompetent and did little to improve the lives of the people.

Under a republican Constitution, it is not only the State that is sovereign, the people are also sovereign. The power to change the rulers is the hallmark of a sovereign people. Free and fair election is the sovereign right of the people. However, in recent years, that has come under a cloud. Elections, nowadays, seem to be largely determined by money and it is the BJP which has the largest amount of money. In fact, the BJP government invented a diabolically clever and opaque instrument (Electoral Bonds) to garner nearly 95 per cent of the money donated to political parties. The BJP has also other instruments to win elections: media that is tamed, institutions that are captured, laws that are weaponised and agencies that are suborned. And if the BJP loses an election, it has the ultimate weapon called Operation Lotus that it shamelessly employed in Goa, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and attempted in Rajasthan.

Will we reach a point when elections cease to be free or fair? I sincerely hope not, but that danger cannot be ruled out altogether. Congress-mukt Bharat is not a bullet aimed at the Congress alone. Mr J P Nadda’s recent statement that “small parties will vanish leaving only the BJP as a national party” is more than the usual political rhetoric; it is an idea that is carefully nurtured in the BJP nursery.

The people will not lose their sovereignty in a flash. It will be like the spread of slow poison. The erosion will begin by depriving, bit by bit, personal liberty, freedom of speech and writing, right to dissent, right to protest, privacy, freedom to travel and, ultimately, freedom from fear. Ask yourself, in which direction is India headed?

Whither Secularism?

India will be the most populous country in a few years and the population will peak at 160 crore. Since fertility rates are converging, the religious composition of the population will not change significantly from the current proportions: Hindu 78.4 per cent, Muslim 14.4, Christian 2.2, Sikh 1.7 and others 3.3. For 2,000 years India was a plural country and, today, India is a plural country, but we seem to be in an overdrive to deny our pluralism. On the contrary, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among others, proudly acknowledge the huge benefits of having a plural society. Their institutions including courts, media and universities, actively seek and promote diversity in their ranks. Currently, there is one honourable judge each from the Muslim and Christian communities in the Supreme Court and none from the Sikhs. There is an apprehension that another Muslim or Christian judge may not be appointed until after the incumbent retired.

Ask yourself, can India be anything but secular? Our music, literature, cinema, sports, science, medicine, law, teaching and civil services will be poorer if we exclude Muslims and Christians. It is the leaders of the BJP and the RSS who gave a bad name to secularism. They called it ‘appeasement’, and that has distorted their outlook and policy on Jammu & Kashmir, electoral representation, reservations, language, food habits, clothes, and personal law. The death of secularism and the declaration of a Hindu rashtra (nation) will be a body blow to the idea of India and may hasten the death of democracy itself. The overwhelming majority of Indians does not wish that outcome, but the overwhelming majority of BJP supporters seem to want a Hindu rashtra. When an irresistible force (the Hindutva believers) meets an immovable block (the moderate and tolerant Indians), I do not know which will prevail.

Whither Democracy?

Democracy is not just voting once every five years. Democracy has to be practised every day through dialogue, discussion, debate and dissent. By that standard, democracy in India is gasping for breath. There are fewer days every year on which Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies meet. The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute called India an “electoral autocracy” and lowered India’s rank to 53 in the Democracy Index 2021. Each state party fights for its space in its home-state but is loath to help other state parties to protect their spaces or to join forces to fight the BJP. Nightmarish as it may seem, we cannot rule out the emergence of a one-party system (as Mr Nadda devoutly wishes). His party will claim we are a democracy but with Indian characteristics!

Tomorrow, when you salute the Tricolour, please remember its designer, Pingali Venkayya, and that, in the current political context, the tri-colour represents sovereignty, secularism and democracy.