Neighbourhood in Ferment


By B.G. Verghese

All of South Asia is in ferment. Crucial elections are due in Nepal and Bangladesh amidst uncertainties about the conduct of the poll and possible violence. Bangladesh is witnessing a continuing wrangle over who should constitute the caretaker government. Will the outcomes bring stability and liberal administrations or tensions and conflict that could undermine national cohesion and progress?In Nepal, international observers, President Carter among them, have arrived to oversee whether the polls are fair. But it is disconcerting that the 33-party Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists is boycotting the poll. This, and the fragmentation of parties, 122 in all, could act as spoilers.

In the Maldives, asecond poll has just concluded after the first was rescinded. MohmmedNasheed, former President and head of the Maldivian Development Party took the lead in the first round with just under 47 per cent of the votes cast, but short of the requisite absolute majority. This necessitated a run-off which gave the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) led by Abdulla Yaameen a surprising victory. The PPM, garnered the run-off votes of the Jumhorre party, that had earlier ranked third, and of two other smaller parties. India, that had earlier favoured Naheed, has welcomed the PPM victory and hopefully, Indo-Maldivian relations will be restored to an even keel.

In Sri Lanka, India has not wonany credit for Dr Manmohan Singh’s decision not to attend the Colombo CHOGM in response to Indian Tamil sentiments.  Having tasted blood with this piece of political blackmail, the Tamil Assembly protested the Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid’s leading the Indian delegation to Colombo. The Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted a second resolution, led by the Dravida parties, expressing “anguish” at this acceptance and endorsement of the “inhuman acts and offences” committed by the Sri Lanka government against its Tamil minority.

Apart the dangerous precedent of outsourcing foreign policy to regional chauvinism, India has lost leverage with the Sri Lanka government to move forward with devolution and rehabilitation in the Eastern Province and in the North where a beginning has been made. This can be no victory for Tamil Nadu. It is foolish to mortgage the future to a controversial past, glossing over the LTTE’s black deeds against its own Tamil people and India’s earlier  muddledntervention in Lanka .  

The British primeminister, David Cameron, can now boast that he is the first head of government to have visited Jaffna, heard a horrific tale of Tamil woes and promised to press for devolution. At CHOGM, he gave Rajapakse until March 2014 to investigate and act on Sinhala war crimes, before the UK took up this matter before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and elsewhere internationally. Salman Khurshid lamented that the Indian Prime Minister should have been the first foreign head of government to have visited Jaffna – to which he had been invited by the newly elected Northern Province Chief Minister. He would have seen the progress made in reconstruction and rehabilitation there with Indian assistance.

Cameron perhaps protested too much. Someone in CHOGM should have raised the matter of the inhuman and abominable manner in which the UK, in cahoots with the US, has treated the Chagos Islanders. These people were forcibly evicted from the archipelago decades back and brutally scattered in Mauritius, Fiji, Australia, the UK, anywhere to clear these coral islandsin order to lease Diego Garcia, to the US to build the air base from which it waged war in Indo-China, Iraq and elsewhere. This was an illegal and unjust action and has been so declared by the European Court that Britain continues to defy. How selective can we be on human rights?

In India, the first votes have been cast, in Chattisgarh, in the staggered five state assembly polls whose results will only be known in December. Bastar and Rajnandgaon, both Naxal-affected districts, saw high polling of 75 per cent and more under heavy security protection. There were no complaints of rigging.  Though no votes were cast in 20 polling stations in Maoist dominated areas, the Naxal call for a poll boycott was by and large convincingly defied. There is a message here. The people, tribals included, want peace, development and progress under a just order. This is the challenge.

The Government’s policy however, remains confused. No attention has been paid to the emasculation or abrogation of the legal and constitutional framework provided by the Fifth Schedule and PESA for governance of these tribal homelands. Controversy exists about the special role of the Governor as an agent of the Centre in this process, with chief ministers ousting them from their assigned constitutional responsibility. The Rajasthan Governor, Margaret Alva challenged this some time back and took up the matter with the President who set up a committee of Governor to look into the matter. That committee has held one meeting since but the outcome is not known. This is a critical issue as 80-90 per cent of the country’s minerals are located in tribal areasand mining uncertainties have become a major hurdle to development and growth.

In Mizoram, which is also going to the polls, fewer criminals have been nominated than elsewhere. The Church and civil society continue to play a major role in monitoring electioneering and ensuring fair play such as by prohibiting rallies other than those organised as joint public meetings. However, Mizo nationalism has crept back and there is an incipient demand for “reunification” of all Mizo homelands artificially divided by state and international boundaries, somewhat on the pattern of the demand for Nagalim.  Ingress into the state by outsiders and in-migration of Chins from Myanmaris also creating worries about employment in a not-so-fast developing economy. Such matters must be attended too before they become intractable.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s de facto Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz came a-calling. He had special pre-arranged meetings with various Hurriyat groups, most notably with the extreme Dukhtaraan-e-Millat women’s group led by AsiyaAndrabi, a designated terrorist organisation banned by the Home Ministry. She called for a freeze on all Kashmir-related CBMs and told the Pakistani minister that nothing short of accession to Pakistan would resolve the Kashmir question as this Muslim majority state logically belongs to it.

There was furore in Opposition circles, notably the BJP, over these meetings. Pakistan has indulged in such “consultations with Kashmiri leaders” regularly but meeting with a MHA banned organisation is different and amounts to violation of Indian laws by a foreign diplomat. For the rest, the Hurrityat diminishes itself and its cause by feeding on political crumbs from Pakistan’s table as much as Pakistan casts doubt on its peace-making efforts by hugging and championing Indian separatists while banishing and hounding its own .


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