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India’s Sri Lanka challenge

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there.



My wife and I recently visited Sri Lanka on a holiday with friends. For both of us, it was the first visit after almost 15 years. At that time, the idyllic island country was caught up in a deadly civil war that claimed countless lives and devastated the economy. When Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed power as the Sri Lankan President, he made the elimination of the Tamil Tigers his foremost objective. After 30 months of relentless assaults, the 26-year-old civil war finally ended in 2009, with the killing of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the ruthless decimation of his supporters.

It is argued that widespread human rights excesses occurred and that the Tamils were openly discriminated against. This is true. Yet, what is also true is that the island country finally saw peace for the very first time after decades of unrest, uncertainty and terrorism. The Sri Lanka we visited was in complete contrast with the one I had grown accustomed to, with gun-toting security personnel everywhere. Now there was a sense of calm. Even impatience, at being held back for so many years. It is as if it was time to claim the life that had been long denied.

For India, the end of the civil war and of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was good news. It had already declared the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but domestic compulsions — with its allies in Tamil Nadu openly aligning with Prabhakaran — forced New Delhi to opt for covert support for the anti-LTTE military operations. Tragically, with the end of the civil war, history repeated itself and India, once again, lost its momentum. Today, we are on the brink of losing Sri Lanka to Beijing.

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is not covert. Far from it. You see them everywhere and the pace of the activity is hectic. Chinese dredging ships can be openly seen working at a furious pace. Work on the Hanbantota port has started. Chinese workers are everywhere, from shopping malls to pubs. Many are learning to speak Sinhalese. Hotels, roads and infrastructure, performing arts theatres, a swanky cricket stadium are not simply projects on the drawing board. People can see them. The importance of the visual should never be underestimated. And given the speed with which the Chinese execute projects, a real estate transformation is credibly under way.

Over a period of 12 years (2005–17), Beijing has poured in $15 billion into projects in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Ambassador conveyed an unambiguous message to India, which sees Chinese presence in Sri Lanka as an intrusion in its immediate sphere of influence, when he said, “No negative force can undermine the cooperation between Sri Lanka and China.”

For India, this is a disturbing development. Indian foreign policy has relied heavily on “time-tested civilisational links”. While this is undoubtedly appealing, there is an aspirational impatience among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to with the scale, speed and imagination that only Beijing appears capable of.

It is common enough to hear Sri Lankans say how disgruntled and unhappy they are with the intrusive presence of the Chinese, who are loud and arrogant. It is like a deadly embrace but one that they find lucrative, if they wish to fast-track to a prosperous future. Artists impressions of future Colombo tell Sri Lankans that it will rival Singapore. It will bring in investments, tourism, employment and economic well-being. This can be seriously tempting.

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there. And Sri Lanka is under an understandable hypnotic trance. India genuinely faces its most serious security challenge.

If India is to get its act together, it needs not only imagination but the speed and efficiency to deliver on its promises to offer Sri Lankans a future that the civil war denied them. For Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, India’s neighbourhood will be a disturbing challenge. The problem he would face is convincing the political, bureaucratic and corporate partners that India faces its greatest-ever security threat and one that we are on the brink of losing.

As the legendary chess player Bobby Fisher once remarked, “If you are playing the game, you play to win. But if you’ve lost the game, it’s because you took your eyes off the pieces and then, you deserve to lose.”

By : Amit Dasgupta

(Amit Dasgupta is a former Indian diplomat. The article is in special arrangement with


Will Drabu’s ouster impact PDP-BJP alliance in J&K?

While even Mehbooba’s political adversaries, including the National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, have welcomed her decision, her allies in the BJP are not happy at all about her decision.



Jammu, March 15 : The decision by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to drop Haseeb Drabu from her council of ministers for his remarks at a business meet in Delhi is being hotly debated in political circles – especially what its consequences could be on the state’s PDP-BJP ruling coalition.

By doing what she has done, the Chief Minister has proved that she is prepared take political risks — and taking her for granted is something her colleagues and allies should learn not to do.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders were aghast after Drabu, who was the Finance Minister, was quoted as telling a meeting organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi that Kashmir was not a political problem and a conflict state but a “social problem”. He said this while seeking investments in the state from businessmen and saying the conditions in the state were conducive to business “where you will find some very interesting opportunities” not just to make money but also to have “a lot of fun and enjoy yourselves”.

PDP Vice President Sartaj Madni had said this was something which negated the very existence of the PDP because it is the firm belief of the party that Kashmir is political problem that needed political remedies to resolve.

Interestingly, instead of voices being raised in Drabu’s favour by his own party men, leaders of the PDP’s coalition unlikely partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to be more worried about the decision to drop him.

Some senior BJP leaders have rushed to Delhi to discuss the development and its fallout on the ruling coalition with the central leadership of the party.

How important Drabu had been for the PDP was proved not once, but many times in the past. The late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed trusted him to work out the terms of the agenda of alliance with BJP National Secretary Ram Madhav that finally paved the way for the present PDP-BJP coalition.

“Mufti Sahib always loved him and would overlook what some of his party men would say about Drabu Sahib,” said a PDP insider, not wishing to be identified.

In a letter released to the media after he was dropped from the cabinet, Drabu expressed sorrow for not being told by the Chief Minister or her office about the decision to drop him.

“I read it on the website of daily ‘Greater Kashmir’. I tried to call the Chief Minister, but was told she was busy and would call back. I waited, but my call was never returned,” he rued.

He also said in his letter that he had been quoted out of context by the media and that he what he had said was that Kashmir is not only a political problem, but that “we must also look beyond this”, Drabu clarified.

Sayeed made Drabu his economic advisor during his 2002 chief ministerial tenure and later made him the chairman of the local Jammu and Kashmir Bank. In fact, Drabu became the point man between the PDP and the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections.

The problem is that many PDP leaders had of late started saying that Drabu was more of “Delhi’s man in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s man in Delhi”. Drabu is reportedly very close to Ram Madhav, the powerful BJP leader who is in-charge of Kashmir affairs, which many say “cost him his job”. It is this image that has been floating around in the PDP that finally cost him his berth in the state cabinet.

While even Mehbooba’s political adversaries, including the National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, have welcomed her decision, her allies in the BJP are not happy at all about her decision.

“What did he say? He said it is a social problem and Kashmir is a society in search of itself. Is this wrong? We don’t think this is something for which such a harsh decision should have been taken,” a senior BJP leader told IANS, not wanting to be named.

His successor, Syed Altaf Bukhari, who has been assigned the finance portfolio, took a major decision immediately after taking over. Bukhari announced that the decision to replace the old treasury system by the Pay and Accounts Office (PAO) has been put on hold. The ambitious PAO system was Drabu’s brainchild.

Bukhari’s decision has been welcomed by hundreds of contractors in the state who had been on strike during the last 13 days demanding their pending payments and suspension of the PAO system at least till March 31.

Would Drabu’s ouster be a storm in a teacup or would it have repercussions on the PDP-BJP ruling alliance in the immediate future? Ironically, Drabu’s PDP colleagues say it won’t be, while the BJP leaders in the state say it would.

By : Sheikh Qayoom

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])

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Reports claiming top Indian leaders have fake followers deeply flawed: Twitter

A recent “Twitter Audit” report claimed that Modi, Gandhi, BJP President Amit Shah and others lead the list of leaders with fake followers globally.




New Delhi, March 14 : After reports surfaced that some of the top Indian politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter accounts are infested with fake followers, the micro-blogging platform on Wednesday termed such reports as baseless.

A recent “Twitter Audit” report claimed that Modi, Gandhi, BJP President Amit Shah and others lead the list of leaders with fake followers globally.

According to a statement given to IANS, Twitter said the “Twitter Audit” fake follower measurement tool is not the company’s product.

“The methodology used by ‘Twitter Audit’ is deeply flawed and their incorrect information should not be taken seriously,” a Twitter spokesperson told IANS.

Twitter Fake Followers

The media reports are completely incorrect and do not have any source or authentic veracity of the information, the company said.

Twitter Audit is an external tool not affiliated to the micro-blogging website.

It takes a sample of 5,000 Twitter followers and assesses them on the number of tweets, followers, mutual followers and other parameters.

According to its website, “the scoring method is not perfect but it is a good way to tell if someone with lots of followers is likely to have increased their follower count by inorganic, fraudulent, or dishonest means”.

According to Twitter Audit, Rahul has the highest percentage of fake Twitter followers at 67 per cent, followed by Shah, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and Modi.

In Modi’s case, Twitter Audit claimed 61 per cent of his followers are fake. Modi has 41 million followers.

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Gorakhpur, Phulpur results may set opposition template for 2019 polls

The opposition parties are expected to wait for assembly elections this year in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh before taking a call on the issue.



Samajwadi and BSP Uttar Pradesh

The shocking defeat of the BJP in Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliamentary bypolls has raised the morale of the opposition parties, set a successful template for them for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and sent out a message that the BJP will not find the going easy in crucial Assembly polls in four major states this year.

The Samajwadi Party’s triumph in Gorakhpur and Phulpur as also Rashtriya Janata Dal’s retention of the Araria Lok Sabha seat in Bihar has led to demands for a Grand Alliance of opposition parties to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party in the next General Elections.

The results of the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh are significant as they came almost a year after the BJP’s unprecedented victory in the state Assembly polls. The two Lok Sabha seats were held by present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (Gorakhpur), and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya (Phulpur).

The BJP had won the two seats in 2014 by big margins of over three lakh votes. The failure to retain the two seats has again showed the BJP’s vulnerability in a contest against a combined and determined opposition.

The BJP had been defeated by the Grand Alliance of Janata Dal-United, RJD and Congress in Bihar in 2015 Assembly elections despite aggressive campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

If the Congress — like the Bahujan Samaj Party — had not put up its candidates in Phulpur and Gorakhpur and instead decided to support SP nominees, the victory margin of the winning candidates would have been bigger.

Any alliance between the three parties in Uttar Pradesh for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will make the going extremely difficult for the BJP and impair its chances of returning to power at the Centre. The state has 80 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP had won 71 of these on its own in 2014, with its ally bagging another two.

The poll verdict in Phulpur and Gorakhpur also showed a remarkable transfer of votes at a relatively short notice and has a lesson for the opposition parties.

The Bahujan Samaj Party had announced its support for SP candidates only about a week before the polling after the BJP triumph in Tripura Assembly elections and its improved performance in Nagaland and Meghalaya. The BSP, with its disciplined and dedicated workers, was particularly effective in the task.

The results in Gorakhpur and Phulpur will have ramifications for national politics, with the opposition parties now expected to step up efforts to forge an electoral alliance against the BJP for 2019.

United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has been holding meetings of like-minded opposition parties to discuss ways to take on the Modi government. Some senior leaders, including Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, are also expected to make renewed efforts to emerge as the pivot of opposition unity.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao has pitched for the formation of a Third Front opposed to both the BJP and the Congress.

The shocking defeats have come at a time when BJP is facing trouble from its allies. The TDP has withdrawn its two Ministers from the Modi government over its demand for special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

Shiv Sena is becoming increasingly assertive and its MPs have also protested in Parliament when the government faced disruptions from the opposition.

The BJP-led government is also under sustained attack from the Congress and other opposition parties on a range of issues, including Rs 12,600 crore PNB bank fraud and its adversaries are likely to step up their attack in the coming days.

The results of by-elections have taken some sheen off the BJP’s electoral performance in the northeast earlier this month.

The by-election results have shown that the BJP has to contend with diminishing returns in the Hindi heartland states which were crucial to its success in the 2014 polls.

Apart from its stunning success in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, the BJP had swept states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh.

The BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha has come down to 274 now from 282 in 2014.

But the opposition has its set of challenges in coming together against the BJP. It entails fighting far less number of seats, curbing ambitions and conceding space to parties who were rivals not long ago.

The ruling party in each state is keen to fight all or maximum number of seats and any alliance will entail hard negotiations.

There is also the question of putting up a prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi with Congress keen on Rahul Gandhi. The opposition parties are expected to wait for assembly elections this year in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh before taking a call on the issue.

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