Asia in Review Archive 2020 (January – June)

India

Date of AiR edition

News summary

26 May 2020

India’s new leadership and counterbalance against China in the WHO?

(ls) India has been able to increase its influence in the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Harsh Vardhan, India’s minister of health and family welfare, became the chairman of the WHO’s Executive Board last week. India also occupies the positions of external auditor, which oversees the WHO’s spending, and chief scientist. India’s increased engagement in international organizations appears to make the country a potential partner for Western countries seeking to counter China’s growing influence in global fora. A piece in The Diplomat looks at the prospects of India’s potential. [The Diplomat]

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

New episode in China-India border tensions

(ls) The continued tensions at the border between China and India in the Galwan region in the western Himalayas [Asia in Review, No. 19, May/2020, 2] has seen another episode. Last week, the Indian foreign ministry said that Chinese troops had stood in the way of regular Indian patrols along their disputed border. China did not comment on the events directly. [Reuters]

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

India–Pakistan II: Cooperation to fight the locust plague?

(ls) Despite longstanding animosity and recent tensions, India and Pakistan may cooperate on fighting the current locust plague threatening the agricultural sectors of both countries. India has proposed a trilateral response in partnership with Iran. Pakistan has not yet officially responded to the plan. There is already an ongoing wider regional cooperation in place under the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in Southwest Asia (SWAC), which was established in 1964 with Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan as its members. [Voice of America]

In India, small swarms of desert locusts, in the past weeks, have already arrived from Pakistan, moving east into Rajasthan, and reaching Jodhpur. Locust streams could travel over a land corridor passing over Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India. Another stream could pass over the Indian Ocean, reaching India and Bangladesh. [The Hindu]

Farmers across Pakistan are already suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages. The government declared a national emergency earlier this year. The impact could be economically devastating as agriculture accounts for 20% of Pakistan’s GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. [The Guardian]

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

India–Pakistan I: Tension in Kashmir

(lf/ls) The head of the Pakistani army has warned India that any change to the disputed status of what Pakistan considers Indian-controlled Pakistan will be met with full military force. The army chief cautioned India no to endanger the fragile stability in the South Asia region [Andalou Agency]. The statement came after new anti-India riots in Kashmir [Asia in Review No. 20, May/2020, 3]. 

The status of Kashmir, which is separated into the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese Kashmir has been contested for decades. Since August 2019, Kashmir had been under lockdown after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the removal of the status as special administrative region, which was met with protests [Time, October 2019]. Kashmir experienced one of the longest lockdowns observed, and after initial opening [Time, May 2020], movement had been strongly limited due to the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, health experts warn that communications blackouts imposed by India’s government as part of an effort to limit political turmoil and armed conflict in Kashmir are making the fight against the coronavirus more difficult. During recent blackouts, doctors and other health professionals were unable to consult with colleagues about coronavirus cases. Kashmir is among the Indian regions the worst hit by Covid-19, with confirmed cases increasing sharply. [Reuters]

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

Bangladesh: Cyclone Amphan kills dozens, destroys homes in India, Bangladesh

(yo) Cyclone Amphan, a powerful cyclone that just struck India and Bangladesh, has killed dozens, destroyed thousands of homes and left millions without power. The UN office in Bangladesh estimates that about 10 million people were impacted, with 500,000 people left homeless. 5 million do not have power and authorities expect to lose at least $1bn due to alleviating the disaster. The coastal villages heavily relied on shrimp farms and other forms of aquaculture, but most croplands and fisheries were also torn apart. 

Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management says there are 2.4 million people and more than half a million livestocks being kept in shelters while different interest groups and authorities carry out relief efforts. The mass evacuations were organized beforehand, but Covid-19 toughened the evacuation process due to fears of the pandemic spreading through crowded shelters. Authorities supplied these spaces with masks and sanitizers, but maintaining physical distancing for families that have been packed into several buildings will remain a challenge for the time being. [Aljazeera]

UN Secretary General commended the Indian and Bangladesh governments for their effective preparation of the disaster and relief effort. At the time of writing, 25 have been reported to have died in Bangladesh and 70 in India. Some Rohingya refugee camps were impacted as well and a couple hundred refugees were also evacuated along with other victims. The Bangladesh government replaced 2 million people before the cyclone hit, to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters that had been provided with Covid-19 prevention equipment including masks, sanitizers, soap, and handwashing facilities. [UN News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

India: Critique against PM over Gujarat and economic status

(lf) The opposition has voiced critique against Prime Minister Modi and India’s Home Minister, over the situation in their home state Gujarat previously often praised for its “Gujarat Model”. [Indian Express] The oppositional Congress described the situation in Gujarat as a complete mismanagement of the pandemic with practices of profiteering and attempts to hide scams. The High Court has asked for a report from the regional government on the management of the crisis [National Herald India]. 

Additionally, the opposition has raised concerns about the country’s economic situation in the absence of any plan from the government on how to ease the impact of the economic situation due to the pandemic. [National Herald India 2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 May 2020

India: Arrest of anti-CAA activists

(lf) Two women were arrested this weekend for participation in a sit-in before the start of the eventually deadly riots against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) at the end of last year. The two women arrested are founders of the student organisation Pinjira Tod, which aims to reclaim public space for women. They face serious criminal charges including attempted murder.

Since the coronavirus lockdown in India in March, several activists have been arrested. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of using the pandemic to quieten regime critics who voiced their disagreement against the CAA. Critics see the CAA as highly discriminatory and anti-Muslim. [BBC] [Indian Express]

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 May 2020

Continuation of India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal

(jk) Last week, Asia in Review highlighted the story of the Indian Defence Minister inaugurating an link road through the Lipulekh pass, a territory disputed between India and Nepal and currently under control of Indian security forces. We also noted that Nepal has formally protested the unilateral move [Asia in Review No. 19, May/2020, 2], and since deployed members of its Armed Policy Force to patrol the area. [The Wire]

Over the week, the dispute has not died down and Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has claimed that a number of contested territories, including Lipulekh, belong to them. The cabinet endorsed a new map of the country this week including those territories in a clear sign of claiming sovereignty. [Zee News]

Observers in India have pointed out what they believe to be a distinct “China angle” in the developments as well, especially considering how close the pass is to the Line of Actual control (LAC) and after India’s Army Chief publicly stated that Nepal’s protest was at ‘someone else’s behest’, leaving little doubt he was referring to the PRC. [The Indian Express] Growing Chinese influence in Nepal is of course a concern for India and was only very recently highlighted by the actions of the Chinese ambassador to Nepal amid a serious government crisis as we highlighted then. [Asia in Review No. 18, May/2020, 1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 May 2020

India: Bad news for RCEP? Modi addresses nation and announces “self-reliant” India

(jk) India’s PM Modi has addressed the nation last week and promised an economic stimulus package including for example protection and support for local businesses and favourable loans to the tune of around 10% of the nation’s GDP. [Hindustan Times] Critical business leaders and economists have voiced doubts however and questioned the government’s capacity to implement the policies and really do enough. [Economic Times]

Modi also stated this would be part of the campaign to create a “self-reliant” India. The Finance Minister qualified a day later when she gave more details on the stimulus package that “self-reliance” does not mean India would shut itself off from the world. [Livemint

Indeed, the details the Finance Minister shared at a press conference included news that in order to boost India’s national defence industry, India would ease restrictions on foreign ownership in joint defence ventures, allowing foreign investors to own up to 74% up from the current 49% limit. The move is aimed at reducing the arms import bill as well as strengthening local manufacturing and making big investments in India more likely. [Defense News] [ORF]

Regardless, the term has led to some confusion among analysts and some were wondering if this could also signal India’s hardening stance over its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Later last week, such concerns were felt even stronger when India let a deadline for a response to a new attempt of India re-joining negotiations on the trade deal pass. It was indicated that China’s behaviour during the Covid crisis strengthened India’s opposition to joining as well as insufficient protection of its agricultural and other sectors in the deal. [The Hindu]

 

 

 

 

 

19 May 2020

India: Riots in Kashmir after Indian Army shoots Kashmiri man 

(jk) Indian soldiers shot and killed a Kashmiri man at a checkpoint last week after he allegedly refused to stop his car. His death caused anti-India protests with “hundreds” shouting slogans urging India to retreat from the region before Indian forces entered the village and quelled the protests. [South China Morning Post]

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 May 2020

Pakistan-India: Tensions over occupied parts of Jammu and Kashmir 

(hg) The Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir – its ‘Prime Minister’ – urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to militarily attack India since the Indian Meteorological Department’s regional weather center has included Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in its weather reports. In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – that part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947 and is effectively controlled by it since then – this was seen as the latest Indian assertion that the territories are an inseparable and integral part of India. [Times Now] [Mumbai Mirror

As a retribution, Radio Pakistan has included parts of what it calls “Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir” in its own daily weather bulletin. The initial Indian move, however, followed a decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to allow Islamabad to hold elections in the disputed territories occupied by Pakistan last month which prompted India to lodge a “strong protest”. [Livemint

 

 

 

 

 

12 May 2020

India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal, China and in Kashmir flaring up

(ls) Several incidents have put India’s disputes with neighboring countries and in Kashmir in the spotlight. Last week, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km link road through the Lipu Lekh pass, which is a territory disputed between India and Nepal but currently under control of Indian border security forces. Nepal protested against the move and announced to increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel to the border with India.

Nepal’s interests have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Back in 2015, India and China agreed to include the Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route, without consulting with Nepal. And in 2019, India released a new political map including the disputed territories, which led to Nepal’s protest. [Kathmandu Post] [Economic Times] [The Hindu]

At the border between India and China, two small-scale violent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim occurred between troops of the two countries. Soldiers brawled and threw stones at each other. The acts have led both India and China to send additional troop reinforcements to the area, while at the same time officials played the incidents down. The last major violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops took place along the Pangong Lake situated between Ladakh (India) and Ngari (China) in September 2019. In 2017, there was a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near Ladakh and the standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam in the same year. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]

Turning to another hotspot, Kashmir, where Indian troops have intensified operations amid India’s nationwide lockdown. Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles, including Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the biggest separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen. News of the operation triggered clashes across the region in which dozens were injured. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region. [Reuters]

 

 

 

 

 

12 May 2020

India: Modi announces gradual easing of lockdown as tracing app faces criticism

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced to gradually lift the strict lockdown measures that have been in place for several weeks now; however, without giving specific details. India’s railway is partially starting operations again. Political parties, businesses and citizens say the containment measures have destroyed the livelihoods of millions that rely on daily wages to sustain their lives. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, a Covid-19 tracing app for smartphones that has been designed by the Ministry of Information Technology in collaboration with the private sector is facing criticism for apparent data security issues. The government made downloading the app, which is called “Aarogya Setu”, mandatory for all public and private sector employees. Though the app was inspired by Singapore’s “TraceTogether”, the latter is voluntary, and a comparison shows that the Indian version is demanding considerably more data. A useful comparative graph can be found at the [Straits Times].

 

 

 

 

 

12 May 2020

India: Controversial labor law flexibilization to tackle economic fallout of Covid-19 

(ls) A number of Indian state governments last week decided to remove several labor law safeguards to stimulate an economic rebound after the corona-related slowdown. The most significant changes were announced in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, which are all governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, also states ruled by the Congress (Rajasthan and Punjab) have agreed to liberalize. Uttar Pradesh suspended the application of almost all labor laws, including the Act on minimum wages, for the next three years. Critics expect that employment will increasingly turn informal, bringing down the wages. [Indian Express]

In response, ten major trade unions said they were considering lodging a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The unions referred, in particular, to violations of the freedom of association, rights to collective bargaining and the norm of an eight hours working day. [The Hindu]

 

 

 

 

 

5 May 2020

Kashmir: More fighting and deaths in the India-Pakistan border region 

(jk) Once again this past weekend saw gun battles and fatalities among Indian security forces and militants in Indian-administrated Kashmir. India regularly accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movements. India’s army chief reiterated that Pakistan is still following an agenda of pushing terrorists into Kashmir and that India will respond appropriately and with “precision” to any acts of cross-border misadventure after this weekend’s fights. [India Today] In a recent article in a research journal of the Pakistan Army, a Pakistani General firmly lies the fault of the tensions at India’s feet and describes Kashmir as a “nuclear flashpoint”. [WION]

More than 30 militants and several Indian security forces have died alone since the start of the lockdown from late March in “near-daily cross-border firing between India and Pakistan”. [The Straits Times] April has been the deadliest month in Kashmir since August last year when article 370 was abrogated. [The Print]

In J&K itself, many of the “security measures” initially imposed after scrapping Article 370 from the constitution, such as restrictions on internet services and detention of senior mainstream political leaders continue unabated. Last week, the J&K administration extended the restriction on high-speed internet “to curb uploading, downloading and circulation of provocative videos, guard against rumour-mongering/fake news, prevent the use of encrypted messaging and VOIP services for infiltration and coordinating terror activities.” [Observer Research Foundation]

 

 

 

 

5 May 2020

India: Religious freedom of “particular concern” according to US Commission 

(jk) The US Commission on International Religious Freedom observing religious freedom across the world is urging the U.S. State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concern.” It released an annual report pointing towards India’s poor record of treatment of religious minorities, which is echoed by a growing number of countries and organisations from the Middle East. [Al Jazeera]

India’s Ministry of External Affairs called the commission’s work “biased and tendentious”. [The New York Times]

 

 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

The U.S.-Afghan peace deal questions India’s role in the region

(ls) Nearly 20 years after a U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Afghan Taliban regime in 2001, the U.S.-Afghan peace deal signed at the end of February this year could become a mounting diplomatic challenge for India. This may be so as the Taliban, with whom India has never been on good terms, appear to be making a comeback. For years now, India has backed Afghanistan’s democratic system and developed strong relationships with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the country’s development and infrastructure. Much of India’s Afghan outreach such as developmental aid or people to people contact, however, relied on the security cover provided by the US and its allies. Now, the country will need to find its place in the post-peace geopolitics of the region. At the same time, observers consider that the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan and militant groups in the region will have an important impact on the future of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan played an important role in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations even though it has in the past been accused of supporting militants. [Al Jazeera]

 

 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

India opens another access point to disputed border with China

(ls) India has opened a new bridge in Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast to enable faster movement of troops and artillery. The bridge is located in the region, parts of which are claimed by China and which witnessed a months-long military stand-off in 2017 over the Doklam plateau, claimed by China and Bhutan, India’s ally. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is upgrading its infrastructure along the border, having already completed 74 strategic roads. [South China Morning Post]

 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

After last week’s restrictions, India now promises to fast-track Chinese investment proposals

(ls) After India introduced stricter governmental vetting procedures for foreign investments from neighboring countries, among which the most important source of investment is China [see Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3], the government now tries to ease possible negative impacts on pending investment proposals by fast-tracking them. According to government sources, New Delhi will thus try to approve any investment proposal in a non-sensitive sector within 15 days when the stake being bought is not significant. While the fast-track mechanism would be open to all India’s neighbors with a land border, China would be the main beneficiary. It has major existing and planned investments in India. The development exemplifies the dependence of parts of the Indian economy on Chinese investment, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. [Reuters]

 

 

 

28 April 2020

India: Mapping of rural lands could disadvantage lower castes

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week unveiled a new Ownership Scheme (“Swamitva Yojana”) to map rural residential land for the first time in many Indian states, using drones and other technologies. The initiative follows practical needs: As India’s population has expanded, more and more land has been used for farming and building roads and airports. As a consequence, disputes over land ownership have increased, with about two-thirds of civil court cases related to land and property. However, it is currently still unclear whether, under the new scheme, customary titles that do not have a written record, such as those held by indigenous people, will be recognized. In addition, the digitization of records could exclude lower-caste communities due to a lack of access to technology. [Reuters]

 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

India: How the corona crisis could affect Indian politics

(ls) As the corona crisis remains the dominating news in South Asia, commentators continue to speculate about the impact it could have on Indian politics. It appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature projects will receive much less coverage in the months to come. These are, in particular, the constitutional and administrative changes in Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of the Ram Mandir temple in Ayodhya and the various laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship. In turn, the new key issues – response to the pandemic, the health infrastructure at large, and the state of the Indian economy – can be opportunities for the opposition to sharpen their profile. According to some observers, the opposition’s critique in the crisis has been largely constructive. [The Print]

In addition, attention has been called to the multilayered political communication from all levels during the crisis and a change in tone which could both be factors to decrease the central government’s grip on political narratives. This appears plausible as the outbreak of the pandemic has witnessed the rise of the regional leaders in the respective states as primary communicators. At the same time, the crisis demanded a message underlining a conciliatory and united response between Center and the states. [Observer Research Foundation]

An analysis of India’s emergency measures from the perspective of constitutional law can be found at [Verfassungsblog].

Meanwhile, attacks on Muslims, including farmers driven out of villages and others beaten by angry mobs, have been reported across the country. In turn, many are afraid to self-report which could unnecessarily aggravate the virus spread. In what appears to stand in stark contrast to pre-Covid government messages for Indian Muslims, Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “India is heaven for minorities and Muslims; their social, religious and economic rights are secured in India more than any other country.” [Straits Times]

 

 

 

 

21 April 2020

India’s defence exports rise over 5 times in 4 years

(jk) According to data provided by the Ministry of Defence’s Department of Defence Production India increased its export of military equipment by more than a factor of five over the past four years. While remaining a major importer of defence equipment, India has issued several policies under Modi’s “Made in India” campaign that have bolstered the defence industry and its exports. [Zeenews]

 

 

 

 

21 April 2020

India carrying out targeted strikes on terror launch pads along LoC 

(jk) Continuing the violence of the past weeks [e.g. Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3] [Asia in Review No. 12, March/2020, 4] along the Line of Control, the Indian Defence Minister has said the army is carrying out targeted strikes against “infiltrators” and “terror launch pads” from Pakistan. [Economic Times] Ceasefire violations in the area have increased since India’s announcement to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir last year. 

 

 

 

 

21 April 2020

US-India: US proposes additional anti-ship missile sales to India 

(jk) In addition to the MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes which provide capabilities to conduct anti-submarine warfare missions reported on last week [Asia in Review No. 15, April/2020, 2], the US Congress has also been notified that the US wants to sell Boing-manufactured Harpoon air-launched anti-ship missiles, taking the anti-ship missile package proposed for India to US$ 155 million.  

The sale is intended to increase India’s deterrent capabilities “against regional threats and to bolster its homeland defence”. The sale was initiated after a request for these type of weapons by the Indian government but is not yet approved by Congress. [Economic Times]

While anti-ship capabilities are mostly directed at China, Pakistan was quick to condemn the sale of advanced weapon systems to India which in their words regularly “violate[s] the ceasefire agreement”. The sale, Pakistani officials hold, would destabilize the already volatile situation in South Asia. [Arynews]

 

 

 

21 April 2020

India: Tablighi Jamaat leader charged with homicide over coronavirus cases 

(jk) In a latest development regarding the Islamic missionary organization Tablighi Jamaat which held a large gathering responsible for a significant rise in coronavirus cases in India, and the ensuing anti-Muslim actions expressed by government officials and parts of Indian society on social media and elsewhere [Asia in Review No. 14, April/2020, 1] [Asia in Review No. 15, April/2020, 2], Indian police now says charges of culpable homicide against the chief of the organisation have been added. The charges carry a maximum punishment of 10-years in prison. [Straits Times]

 

 

21 April 2020

India: Government amends Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, including China in tougher investment scrutiny 

(jk) The Government of India has reviewed its current Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy regarding takeovers and acquisitions of Indian companies by foreign investors. Now, all neighbouring countries need approval from India’s government for investments, a policy previously only applied to Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

The regulations are particularly relevant for China which has already invested heavily in India. Earlier this year for instance, the People’s Bank of China has raised its stake in India’s largest non-banking mortgage provider HDFC despite “sliding shares” – a warning sign for many observers regarding Chinese influence in India. [India Today]

China is seen by many to be looking to increase their investments and take-overs amid the Covid-19 crisis when many businesses are desperate, struggle and are open to cheap take-overs and investments. The revised FDI regulations are supposed to mitigate this.  [Tech Crunch

 

14 April 2020

US approves possible sale of Mk 54 torpedoes to India

(hg) The U.S. Department of State has approved a possible sale of 16 Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes and related equipment to India worth USD 63 million. The Mark 54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo is developed by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems and a standard anti-submarine warfare torpedo that is supposed to be used on India’s P-8I patrol aircraft. [Defense Post]

 

14 April 2020

Kashmir: Artillery fire between Indian and Pakistani forces

(ls) Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged heavy artillery fire in Kashmir along the Line of Control that divides the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts. At least four civilians were killed, including a two-year-old boy, and several more injured. Both sides accused each other with violating the 2003 ceasefire. The weekend before, five Indian special operation forces and five rebels were killed in fights along the frontier. [ABC News] [Al Jazeera

Pakistan’s foreign ministry had summoned an Indian official to lodge a protest over the incident, also blaming India of hundreds of ceasefire violations this year alone. India accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movement against Indian rule. [Reuters]

 

14 April 2020

India extends nationwide corona lockdown with uncertain economic and political costs

(ls) The Indian government has decided to extend its nationwide lockdown until 3 May. Several states had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend it, even as concerns have risen that the shutdown has put millions of poor people out of work and forced an exodus of migrant workers from cities to villages. [Reuters]

In addition, India’s government is likely to divide the country into red, orange and green zones, depending on the number of registered Covid-19 cases. Whereas no activity would be allowed in red zones, activities such as limited opening of public transport would be allowed in orange zones. The green zones, where no cases of have been reported, would allow the widest range of activities. [Straits Times]

In a video interview with The Wire, political strategist Prashant Kishor discusses the government’s crisis management efforts so far and projects how the crisis could affect Indian politics in the future. [The Wire]

The Interpreter assesses how South Asian countries might get through the crisis, arguing that several factors, in particular the region’s demography, may shield them from the worst impacts. [The Interpreter]

 

14 April 2020

India: Anti-Muslim violence over virus spreading allegations 

(hg) After the Indian government’s crackdown on Kashmir, and the new citizenship law, India’s 200 million Muslims face another challenge over allegations of a “Muslim virus” and “Corona-jihad”.

Like in many other countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, or South Korea, religious gatherings have accelerated the spread of the virus also in India where a single Islamic missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat, held a gathering that was attended by about 8,000 people and seems to have been responsible for a significant share of India’s coronavirus cases. 

Since, officials and privates blame Muslim for spreading the coronavirus with India’s health ministry speaking of “human bombs” and “corona jihad” and the spread of social virus of religious hatred and violence across the country. Muslims have been attacked in mosques, beaten up and nearly lynched. The ugliness of this is well reflected by the assault on a young Muslim who passed out food to the poor suffering from the general lockdown. The leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a far-right nationalist party, even called on the public to shoot Tablighi Jamaat members. [New York Times]

For a fair, shorter take on the development see [The Guardian].

A personal perspective on the broader context of the spreading intolerance and religious hatred in India is provided in [The Atlantic] where the author gives a long-term view on India’s transitioning away from its secular tenets to a state of the country in which “India is no longer India” as the essay is titled. 

 

 

7 April 2020

Correction:

In the entry of last week’s AiR issue on the Moaist attack on security forces in India, an incorrect date of the attack was given. The correct date is 21 March instead of 22 March. 

 

 

7 April 2020

India – Pakistan: Five army commandos and 5 alleged intruders killed in LoC battle

(jk) Five Indian special forces soldiers and five alleged terrorists were killed during an encounter near the Line of Control after the army intercepted a group of heavily armed men who tried to infiltrate Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. [Hindustan Times] Pakistani media reports on the death of five insurgents in addition to a second gun battle 24 hours earlier in which another four people died. [Geo News]

 

 

 

7 April 2020

Indian Senior Advocate launches UNHRC complaint blaming China for Covid-19 ‘conspiracy’

(jk) A [complaint] to the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking compensation from China for “surreptitiously developing a biological weapon capable of mass destruction”, has been filed on behalf of the London-based International Council of Jurists [ICJ] and the All India Bar Association. The complaint was written by and Indian advocate who is the Bar Association’s chairman and ICJ President. He is also former vice-chairman of the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Bar Association, as well as the chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi. In the allegation, he states China “aimed at catapulting itself to the position of a superpower of the world and undermining other countries through biological warfare”. [The Print]

 

 

7 April 2020

India’s army now largest ground force 

(jk) Amid Chinese PLA modernisation, meaning a reduction in ground forces and a focus on navy, air force and new technologies, India’s army, with approximately 1.4 million personnel, has become the world’s largest ground force, ahead of North Korea and China. [The Print]

 

 

7 April 2020

Pakistan: Pharma industry begins shut down due to shortage of raw materials while India lifts export restrictions 

(jk) The pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan has begun shutting down some of its production  due to a shortage of raw material, a majority of which is imported from China and India. In addition, fears over the coronavirus have led to hoarding of medicine stocks. [The Express Tribune]

Meanwhile, India has lifted restrictions on the export of some pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines, according to a  government statement, allegedly due to pressure from the US after a phone call between Modi and Trump on the weekend. [Straits Times] [CNBC TV 18]

 

 

7 April 2020

India: Ruling BJP takes back state assembly leadership in Madhya Pradesh

(jk) After Congress leader’s resignation from the post of Madhya Pradesh chief minister [Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3], ending the rule of the party in the state, PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has again taken over the leadership in the state and picked a new CM. It is the same minister who initially stepped down after the Congress won a narrow majority in the December 2018 Assembly elections. He, and the BJP, is back in the leadership position after 15 months in opposition. [Livemint]

 

7 April 2020

India: New domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir

(jk) The Indian government has released new domicile rules of the new Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir which open up the eligibility criteria for becoming permanent residents there. The new rules mark a change in the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which previously restricted the availability of local government jobs, scholarships and properties for Indian’s from other parts of the country. [The Print]

 

7 April 2020

India: Corona fears and Anti-Muslim sentiments reinforced by Hindu nationalist government 

(jk) After authorities in India had found a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a Muslim group that held a conference in Delhi in early March, fears over the Coronavirus and ever-increasing intolerance towards Muslims continue to reinforce each other. The issue is going as far as creating a narrative over a so-called “Corona Jihad”, suggesting Muslims were purposely spreading the virus. [Time]

Exacerbating the growing sentiments, Indian police said last week that some members of the group would be charged under India’s Epidemic Disease Act over their religious gathering [NDTV 1], and then, the government announced further charges to be brought forward against these “enemies of humanity” under India’s National Security Act for violating quarantine and lockdown regulations. [NDTV 2

While some allegations of violations of the acts may be warranted, the handling of the situation indicates a clear continuation of the trend of a Hindu nationalist government that seeks to target Muslims on many fronts and works towards turning India into a more explicitly Hindu state and Muslims into foreigners.  

31 March 2020

China-India relations: Mutual distrust runs deep

(dql) 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of China-India relations. Yun Sun at [War on the Rock] provides a historical account of Sino-Indian ties and concludes that mutual distrust between Beijing and New Delhi runs deep suggesting that with both countries pursuing incompatible interests on a number of key issues amid great-power rivalry and domestic populism, the chance of reconciling those differences is not foreseeable in the near future.

31 March 2020

India: Maoist commit major attack against security forces

(hg) In the deadliest attack since 2017, Maoist rebels have killed 17 Indian security forces in an ambush in the central state of Chhattisgarh on March 22, when more than 300 armed rebels attacked a police commando patrol in the jungles. In April 2017, 25 police commandos were killed in an attack in the same district. 

Before last year’s elections, 16 police commandos were killed in a bomb attack in the state of Maharashtra, allegedly also committed by Maoists rebels. The latter have been fighting in eastern, central and southern forest areas of the subcontinent since the 1960s. In the protracted conflict, especially indigenous people in mineral-rich regions have become the victims of the conflict between Maoists and government forces with thousands of mostly tribal people having been killed. The government has deployed more than 100,000 troops – a third of them paramilitary forces from India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – to root out the rebellion in Chhattisgarh alone which has killed more than 2,000 people there since 1995. In the theater, security forces have been accused of committing severe rights abuses including extrajudicial killings of innocent indigenous people. Moreover, also human rights activists and journalists have been targeted by security forces for reporting on abuse and unlawful killings. [Aljazeera 1]

The Maoist are often denoted Naxals derived from the first Maoist uprising in 1967 in the remote Naxalbari village in West Bengal that triggered a first wave of struggle that was brought down by the government by 1972. For the next two decades, the Maoist struggle remained rather subdued and localized. Yet, after the government begun to granting mining licences to private and multinational corporations as part of the liberalization and privatization policies of the 1990s, violence surged again. The current phase of Maoist armed engagement begun in 2004, when two Maoist groups merged: the 1976-formed People’s War Group (PWG) having been active especially in the state of Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) having been mainly active in the state of Bihar. PWG and MCC now formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or CPI (Maoist) which is officially banned. A splinter group is the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) based in the mineral rich state of Jharkhand and commanding about 500 cadres. The Maoists are especially active in the so-called “Red Corridor” – spread across the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh – but are also operating in other states. [Aljazeera 2]

In the endless story of violence, an elected local self-government official has been killed yesterday by Maoists in the state of Maharashtra. [India Today]

31 March 2020

India: Modi orders country-wide curfew

(ls) India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered a 21-day curfew (until 15 April) to prevent the spreading of Covid-19. It is the world’s largest lockdown as it affects a population of about 1.3 billion people. Under the order, there are specified times to go buy essential goods, and people could face up to two years in jail and a financial penalty if they violate the rules. Prior to the curfew order, the government had already banned incoming international flights, grounded domestic flights and shut sea and river ports. Indian Railways had cancelled all services except suburban and goods trains. [South China Morning Post]

The vast shutdown has triggered hundreds of thousands of poor migrant laborers employed in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai to head to their homes in the countryside on foot after losing their jobs. In some parts of India, migrant workers clashed violently with the police. [Reuters 1]

The strict measures have been strongly criticized. [The Atlantic]

The longest-running protest against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act in New Delhi has also been dispersed. The police referred to the ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus outbreak. Many of the protesters have been at the site since December. Already before the coronavirus epidemic, there had been calls by hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s government alliance and residents in the area to clear it out. [Reuters 2]

Constitutional experts have argued that an invocation of emergency rule would not be permitted by any of the three existing grounds (war, external aggression, armed rebellion) in Article 352 of the Indian Constitution. This provision permits the Central government to declare an emergency and suspend fundamental rights. In the current corona situation, the applicable laws are rather the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA) and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA). However, it may appear doubtful whether the current measures sufficiently respect the right to life, in particular of migrant workers. [The Wire]

 

24 March 2020

Indian ruling party MP demands to scrap “socialism’ from constitution 

(hg) An Upper House member of India’s Parliament for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party introduced a resolution urging the government to bring an amendment to drop the reference to “socialism” from the Preamble to the Constitution. [Hindustan Times]

The term ‘socialism’ was inserted in the Constitution only by the 42nd constitutional amendment act in 1976 during the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency, – one of the most important amendments in Indian constitutional history that also introduced the term ‘secularism’ in the preamble. Indian constitutional politics and development policies have been, however, shaped by notions of democratic socialism since independence. 

It will be interesting now to see if the debate about the constitutional reference to socialism will turn out to be a flash in the pan or develop into a more fundamental discourse. After all, the push to drop ‘socialism’ comes in a time in which not only ‘secularism’ is already fiercely debated but in which a generally weak Indian economy finds itself now ahead of a looming global economic crisis. Whether this will heat up the debate remains to be seen.

24 March 2020

India: Former Chief Justice accepts seat in Parliament 

(jk) A former Indian Chief Justice has accepted an offer of a seat in the country’s Parliament under an arrangement that allows for MPs to be selected by the government as a specialist rather than elected.  [The Print]

The move has raised eyebrows not just with other former judges, who have for instance commented that the appointment destroys the idea of an impartial judicative separate from the executive power. It does not help that the former judge, who retired four months ago, has raised suspicions that he was making decisions supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party government which has now appointed him. [The Straits Times]

24 March 2020

India: Execution of four in 2012 bus gang rape case

(jk) Last week, India executed four prisoners convicted for the rape and murder of a woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. The case, in which six men were convicted – one has since died and another who was a minor at the time has been released – led to huge public protests across India and highlighted the high rates of violence against women in the country. As a response, India passed new laws against sexual violence, including the death penalty for rape under certain circumstances. [India Today]

The executions, carried out by hanging, were among the few cases of the death penalty in India that were executed in recent memory despite a legislative increase in capital punishment. The most recent execution before this one took place in 2015.

24 March 2020

Modi’s SAARC mobilization against Covid-19 bears fruits 

(hg) After India’s Prime Minister Modi came up with the initiative to create a Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund in the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – all SAARC member states but Pakistan – have pledged financial support to the fund. Even if the amounts announced by the respective governments are not breathtaking, the development has some symbolic value for Indian attempts to join China’s public diplomacy efforts in wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Modi’s plan had been discussed previously in a video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15. [Livemint]

Meanwhile, China, in turn announced its willingness to provide assistance to SAARC countries such as especially India [Hindustan Times] but also the Maldives to fight the pandemic. [Avas]

24 March 2020

India and France conduct joint patrols from Reunion Island

(jk) India and France have conducted joint patrols from Reunion Island for the first time in the two navy’s history last month. India, according to the source, shows here its intent to “engage with friendly foreign partners in expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits.” [The Hindu]

17 March 2020

Does the Corona crisis revive SAARC?

(ls) Last weekend, leaders and representatives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members held a video conference to discuss ways to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Whereas seven countries were represented by their presidents or prime ministers, for Pakistan the Prime Minister’s special advisor on health took part in the session. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an emergency fund to fight the pandemic, with an initial offer of $10 million from India. Displaying the difficulties of the SAARC format, Pakistan’s representative raised a different topic when he sought the removal of all remaining restrictions in Kashmir. [The Wire]

Conversely, other news outlets such as [Defenseworld] report that Indonesia is still negotiating a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia and has not abandoned it under pressure from the United States. 

17 March 2020

India releases prominent Kashmir politician as fights continue

(ls) Indian authorities have released Kashmir’s most prominent politician, Farooq Abdullah. The former chief minister is one of dozens of leaders detained or put under house arrest since the federal government withdrew the region’s autonomy in August last year. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, four militants were killed in a gunfight with Indian forces in Kashmir during a counter-militancy operation. Interestingly, the number of such operations has increased after a communication blockade has been lifted from the region. According to observers, the state’s security tracking system was also hit by the blockade. [AA]

17 March 2020

India: Congress loses MPs in two state assemblies

(ls) In a setback for the Indian Congress Party, one of its prominent politicians in Madhya Pradesh state joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week. Other legislators loyal to him are expected to follow. If the move leads to the state government’s collapse, it provides the chance for the BJP to take over a Hindi heartland state. On the federal level, the Congress lost general elections both in 2014 and last year seeing its political influence waning across India. [Straits Times]

In addition, the exit had spillover effects to neighboring Gujarat state, where five Congress legislative assembly members submitted their resignation. This reduces the Congress’s strength in the state’s assembly to 68, which is short of the required number to win two seats in the biennial Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of parliament) election. [India Today]

17 March 2020

India: Citizenship Amendment Act sent to Supreme Court by another state government 

(ls) Following the state of Kerala some weeks ago, the Congress government in Rajasthan has also called upon India’s Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the disputed Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The state government said that the law violates the principle of secularism, which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and the fundamental rights of equality and life. Under Article 131 of the Constitution, a state is empowered to request the Supreme Court to rule in cases of a dispute with the Centre. [Business Standard]

 

17 March 2020

Pakistan: Impacts of the deepening US-Indian relations

(dql) AiR reported in [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] about the agreement on the expansion of US-Indian security cooperation and the purchase of more than US$ 3 billion of American military equipment during President Trump’s recent visit to India.

Sher Bano at [Modern Diplomacy] informs about the impact of deepening US-Indian security relations on Pakistan and argues that Pakistan, facing an increasing asymmetry in conventional weapons against its neighbor, needs an improvement of its overall conventional capabilities in order to counter the conventional imbalance, along with superior strategy and training as well as stronger ties with China while remaining strategically relevant to the US

17 March 2020

India: Additional purchase of 400 Russian T-90S battle tanks

(dql) Signaling deepening military cooperation between with Russia, India’s Armed Forces announce its decision to buy additional 400 Russian T-90S battle tanks.

According to a British international affairs-think tank more than 1,000 T-90S tanks are currently operational in the Indian Army. [TASS]

10 March 2020

India: a small win for media freedom

(jk) In a development related to media freedom in India and pertaining to the recent Delhi riots, the government has overturned a 48-hour broadcasting ban on two media channels over their reporting of the riots. The two TV channels were taken off the air over allegedly “biased” reporting on the issue, but the ban was overturned after protests against it, including by the channels who called the ban “a blatant attack on free and fair reporting”. [The Straits Times]

10 March 2020

India: UNHRC approaches Indian Supreme Court concerning the CAA

(tk) UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) Michelle Bachelet has filed an application urging the Indian Supreme Court to make the UN body a third party in a petition filed by a former civil servant against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

India’s Ministry of External Affairs defended the CAA as internal matter. A spokesman said that they “strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi [rights] on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty” of making laws. However, it is expected that the Supreme Court will hear the UNHRC application, since India as a UN member is obligated to uphold fundamental freedoms of all people and the discrimination based on religion might damage India’s reputation. [Al Jazeera]

10 March 2020

India: New Developments in Jammu and Kashmir  

(tk/jk) Seven months after the Indian government enforced a total communications blackout, authorities in India on Wednesday temporarily restored full internet access in Kashmir for two weeks, until March 17. In January, authorities already partly restored low speed internet access to 301 government approved websites, excluding social media. [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020

During this time, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media. [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020] Now, social media is accessible to Kashmiris, but internet access over mobile devices will remain restricted to low speeds. While many welcomed the government’s move, some are concerned that now it would be easier for the government to trace the IP addresses of the users which creates fear to express political thoughts about the situation on social media. [Al Jazeera

On Sunday, former lawmakers from three major pro-India parties formed a new political party “Apni Party”, which is the first major political development since last August, when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and jailed nearly the entire pro-India and pro-freedom leadership. The party aims for the restoration of statehood and seeks guarantees from the Indian government that land and government jobs will stay with region’s residents only. 

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, stated that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was final and advised pro-India parties to confine their politics to a demand for statehood. Several pro-India politicians have been released from detention only after signing agreements that they would not speak against the removal of autonomy. [AA]

10 March 2020

Sri Lanka and India score highest on “inclusive internet index” for South Asia 

(jk) The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ‘Inclusive Internet Index’, commissioned by Facebook,  rates countries on the “internet’s availability, affordability, relevance and the readiness of people to use it.” In South Asia, India ranked highest (46th out of 100), followed by Sri Lanka (56th). Pakistan ranked the lowest (76th), Bangladesh at 70th place. Both India and Pakistan did particularly bad in the “availability” category, examining the quality and breadth of available infrastructure required for access and levels of internet usage in relation to the other three categories. [EIU]

3 March 2020

Myanmar: Strengthening ties with India

(tk) During the visit of Myanmar’s president U Win Myint to India from Wednesday to Saturday, Myanmar and India signed 10 memorandums of understanding ranging from infrastructure and wildlife protection to humanitarian assistance. Four of them aim to boost the development of Rakhine state to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees. Further, the two sides also announced measures to improve connectivity and people-to-people contacts. [Hindustan Times] [New Straits Times]

3 March 2020

India: Data protection bill in the spotlight over violence in New Delhi

(ls) Reports of persons who targeted Muslim-owned vehicles for arson in New Delhi by first looking up their license plate numbers on an online government database have sparked new discussions about the currently debated data protection bill. The draft law contains, for example, a provision allowing the government to exempt any of its agencies from following the law for reasons including “the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India” and “friendly relations with foreign states”. Companies and activists also fear that while companies have to hand over “anonymized” personal data to the government when asked, there are not enough protections against possible leaks, creation of super-databases or possible surveillance. [Straits Times]

3 March 2020

Pakistani and Indian reactions to the U.S.-Afghan Taliban peace agreement

(ls/ew) As the United States and the Afghan Taliban have concluded a peace agreement last week, government representatives and observers in Pakistan and India have raised their concerns. The agreement signed on Saturday in the Qatari capital, Doha, creates a framework for the U.S. and NATO to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan over 14 months, pending the meeting of certain criteria. United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo cautiously commented on the peace agreement as the first step towards a meaningful and peaceful withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end of an era of conflict [Politico].

Pakistan facilitated the direct talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban since they began in 2018. However, the country has also long been accused by the U.S. and the Afghan government of providing safe havens to leaders of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the U.S. must be wary of “spoilers” who could derail the process, without elaborating. Commentators said he might have referred to the continued presence of other groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida that are not interested in peace. [Al Jazeera]

India has so far been a development and civilian reconstruction partner of Afghanistan, based on the provision of security by the United States. According to analysts, a withdrawal of U.S. forces and connected substantial security uncertainties could put India in a similar precarious position it was in when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988/89. In prospect, however, India and China are now expected to compete for the Afghan government’s friendship so as to improve their domestic economies and to strengthen their geopolitical hold in the region (in this regard, see also the Background Reading below). [Deccan Herald]

3 March 2020

India: New Delhi’s worst sectarian violence in decades

(tk/ls) Since the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brought in by Modi’s government in December, widespread deadly protests have continued until today. Despite assurance from government and police officials that the situation was under control, the death toll continued to rise sharply and reached at least 47 deaths. More than 350 people have been injured. [Al Jazeera] The majority of them are Muslims, though several Hindus – including members of the security services – are among them as well. [CBS News]

The latest clashes started in Delhi on Sunday, the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India. [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020] Since that day, gangs of Hindus and Muslims have clashed with crude weapons and homemade guns. Numerous homes, shops and cars have been set aflame. [The New York Times]

India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi, who hosted President Trump’s visit, has been criticized for not acting on time, and the police has been accused of failing to stop those aggression against Muslims, while, according to India’s Supreme Court, they could have saved lives. The U.S. government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the Indian government to “take serious efforts to protect Muslims and other targeted by mob violence.” [CBS News] [Al Jazeera]

This situation even led to large protests in Bangladesh, where thousands of Muslims on Friday protested against Bangladesh Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina’s plan to invite India’s Prime Minister Modi to a commemoration next month on the 100th birth anniversary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of the nation who is called the father of Bangladesh. [OpIndia]

Also, Indonesia urged India to protect Muslims and not harm them over differences in faith. Indonesian Minister or Religion Affairs condemned the recent attacks as “inhumane and contrary to religious values”. [AA]

Observers have described the incidents as targeted violence against Muslims, led by Hindu nationalists, rather than mere rioting or communal violence, and view Modi’s hardline politics as a main source of the climate of violence. [The Guardian]

3 March 2020

An analysis of India’s and China’s Eurasian strategies

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation analyzes the trajectory of India’s and China’s Eurasian aspirations. In recent years, both India and China have developed different strategies to strengthen their respective ties with the resource-rich economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, collectively called the Central Asian Republics. The paper argues that India’s “Connect Central Asia” approach is constructivist, while China’s Belt and Road Initiative is hegemonic. It also outlines recommendations for India’s Connect Central Asia policy. [Observer Research Foundation]

25 February 2020

Indian authorities have filed a case against social media users in Kashmir

(tk) Indian authorities have filed a first information report against unnamed social media users in Kashmir under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Section 66-A(b) of the Indian Information Technology (IT) Act, which can lead to detention for months without bail.

After a complete internet blackout for six months since the government had revoked Kashmir’s special status, authorities restored low speed 2G internet on January 24 for 301 websites approved by the administration, which excluded social media [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020]. Thus, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media.

The police case aims to take actions against those who misused social media sites for propagating “secessionist ideology and promoting unlawful activities”. According to an official, “anyone found using social media and posting any anti-national material can be called for questioning.” This action created panic amongst Kashmiris, seeing it as a step to ‘criminalize everyone’. A university student said, “I did not use the social media to post any political update, but I am really panicked and have now deleted the VPN and deactivated my social media accounts. It means the can now arrest anyone.”

The IT Act, on which the first information files are based on, was struck down by India’s top court in March 2015 as it violated free speech. Thus, an independent researcher calls the move “unconstitutional” and says that “this is a clear violation of digital rights of people. Today it is being implemented in Kashmir and tomorrow it can become a general practice in India.” [Al Jazeera]

25 February 2020

India-US relations: Trump visits India with defense deals in focus

(jk) After a day of mega events and great fanfare amid US President Trump’s visit to India, the second day of the visit focused more on policy issues and details about the future relationship.

The two leaders signed MoUs and discussed defense, security, energy strategic partnership, trade and people to people ties. As was expected, Trump declared the two countries expanded defense cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than US$ 3 billion of American military equipment, including helicopters for the navy, air-defense radars and missiles, rifles and other equipment. [The Straits Times] India has previously signaled that it will continue to spend big on defense equipment and will remain among the world’s biggest arms-importers. [Nikkei]  

It has also been announced that in discussion on a major trade deal that have now begun, both side made “tremendous progress”, however, there is currently no timeline for the talks.  [Indian Express]

Parallel to the visit, in the capital on Monday, at least seven people were killed and over 150 injured during protests over the new citizenship law. [Channel News Asia]

18 February 2020

Pakistan & India: Governments adopt strict social media regulations, provoking criticism

(fs/ls) The Pakistani Government passed a regulation concerning social media platforms. Although the cabinet had already approved the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020” [Copy of the Regulation] on January 28, this has only now become publicly known through a leak. Only recently, public allegations came up that the government around Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military were already censoring the media and trying to silence the opposition. [RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty]

As per the new regulation, social media companies will now be obliged to disclose any information or data demanded by any designated investigation agency, whenever asked. Failing to abide by this will attract fine of up to Rs 500 million (3.2 million USD). It also enables the government to ask social media platforms to remove content deemed “unlawful” within 24 hours, in emergency cases six hours. Furthermore, social media companies are required to establish offices with a physical address in Islamabad during the next three months. [Al Jazeera]

The minister of Information Technology Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqi, said that the law is necessary to preserve “the integrity, decency and respect of individuals and the sanctity of institutions” and would help to “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content.” The opposition Pakistan People Party believes that this is about restricting freedom of expression. [The New York Times]

The Committee to Protect Journalists is also asking the government to change course, fearing the restricting of reporting since journalists could no longer protect sources and contacts. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Digital rights activists worry that the new rules will give authorities unlimited power to restrict social media. Digital Rights Foundation speaker Nighat Dad gave a statement saying “the worrying part for is that the definition around extremism, religion or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means they have these unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist or anti-state”. [Reuters]

The Indian government introduced new rules for social media companies and messaging apps, too. They are expected to be published later this month. The new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, as no warrant or judicial order will be required. [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, the Modi administration is currently seeking bids from companies to help set up a National Automated Facial Recognition System. It would match photos captured from CCTV with existing databases, with policing a key potential use for such technology. Critics equate the project with the far larger-scale surveillance system in China. [DW]

18 February 2020

India: Political parties ordered (again) to publish criminal history of their candidates

(ls) The Indian Supreme Court has ordered political parties to publish the criminal history of their candidates for Assembly (i.e. state parliaments) and Lok Sabha (central parliament) elections along with explanations in case they fielded suspected criminals. The information will need to be published in traditional as well as social media. According to data cited in the judgment, in 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them. The decision confirms a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which, however, has widely been ignored. [The Hindu] [Jurist with link to the decision]

18 February 2020

India: Modi’s BJB loses also New Delhi elections

(ls) In last week’s elections in India’s capital New Delhi, the incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (“common man” party) were able to defend their seats in the state assembly. They won 62 of the 70 assembly seats, whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its seats only from three to eight. The result is widely seen as a defeat for the BJB, the latest in a string of setbacks for Modi’s party in regional elections over the past two years. It is also interpreted as a backlash against the government’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. [South China Morning Post]

Nonetheless, Kejriwal said that he intended to work closely with the Central government to develop Delhi in his third term, which has been seen as quite unlike the confrontation that marked his second term in office. He had even invited Modi for the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, but the Prime Minister could not attend. [The Hindu]

Kejriwal is a former bureaucrat and tax inspector who helped launch the AAP in 2012 to rid the Indian political system and government of corruption and inefficiency. He has pushed pro-poor policies, fixed state-run schools and provided free healthcare and utilities services. His popularity in New Delhi’s teeming slums therefore rivals that of Modi. [Al Jazeera]

However, an opinion piece in the New York Times argues that while Modi and his party might have lost an election, they won the ideological battle by setting the terms of electoral politics. For electoral success in India, the article argues, it is no longer acceptable to speak about equal citizenship and political rights of India’s Muslims or speak out against the violence and hostility they encounter. [New York Times]

18 February 2020

U.S. classifies India as a developed country, cutting support

(tk) The Trump administration has declared India a developed country, as it has a share of 0.5% or more of world trade. In 2018, India’s share in global exports was 1.67% and in global imports 2.57%. [The Economic Times

This decision means, India will lose all the benefits it used to receive under the Generalized System of Preference Scheme (GSP). Under the GSP, duties on thousands of products imported from emerging countries like India were eliminated. Until 2018, India received benefits worth up to $260 million, which helped it grow exports at a rapid pace. Without the benefits, Indian companies will be at a severe disadvantage, and exports to the U.S. as its largest importer will come down.

Not only the Indian economy is likely to be damaged by the Trump administration’s decision. It could also harm Modi’s reelection probability, because he might not be able to achieve his plan to turn India into a $5 trillion economy by 2024.

During President Trump’s visit on February 24, India was planning to finalize a limited trade agreement with the U.S. which now stands in question. [CCN]

18 February 2020

India under mounting diplomatic pressure over Kashmir situation

(ls/tk) India is facing increased scrutiny over its handling of the situation Jammu and Kashmir, but maintains that it is a domestic affair. The Modi government rejected a mediation offer from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying the focus instead should be on making Pakistan vacate the territories that it has “illegally and forcibly occupied”. According to the External Affairs Ministry, “India hoped that the UN secretary general would stress on the imperative for Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism against India, which threatens the most fundamental human rights – the right to life of the people of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir.” [NDTV]

Guterres expressed “deep concern” at the heightened tensions, demanding India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory. He also called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which date back to 1948, calling for a plebiscite to be held among Kashmiri residents on whether they would join India or Pakistan. [Al Jazeera]

India also sent a diplomatic note to Turkey over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the Kashmir crisis. Erdoğan said the Indian government’s “unilateral steps” in the region over the years have accelerated the suffering of the Kashmiri people, aggravating the current situation and revoking their freedom and rights. [Daily Sabah]

Meanwhile, Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP from the United Kingdom was denied entry to India. Abrahams has been an outspoken critic of the Indian government for stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomy last August, demoting it from a state to a federal territory, saying the action betrayed the trust of the people of Kashmir. [The Guardian]

11 February 2020

India-USA relations: Tightening relationships to counter China as global power

(tk/jk) President Trump is expected to visit India in late February and sign a limited trade deal with Modi which will be a significant rapprochement after more than a year of escalating tariffs and counter-tariffs. The premise of this relationship is to balance the offensive emergence of China seeking to expand its global reach. 

For President Trump, who has been facing an impeachment trial and is beginning his re-election campaign, even a modest deal with India would allow him to tell voters that his tough talk on trade is working. For Modi, it could help to counter India’s economic slowdown and ease perceptions that his nationalist government is hostile to foreign companies.

Some protestors in India fear an intensification of Modi’s Hindu nationalism as a threat to India’s secular democracy by close relations to President Trump who appeared sympathetic to Modi after he revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and passed a controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims. At the recent “Howdy Modi” event in the US, Trump said: “India and the United States understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders.” [The New York Times] [AXIOS]

India already made the first step in this relationship by giving final approval to a $2.6bn deal to buy military helicopters from a United States defense firm. Those helicopters are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is rapidly expanding its presence. [Al Jazeera]

On a related, yet more domestic note, India has disappointed observers of its defense posturing when India’s finance minister presented the country’s budget earlier in February. The country’s defense budget increased by 5% from last year, but considering inflation observers call this “a cut in real terms” and nowhere near enough to even attempt to address the structural challenges that are there. 

In addition, with an eye on naval competition in the Indian Ocean, the allocations for the various military services remain concerning. The army has received 56, the air force 23, and the navy only 15 percent of the budget. At any rate, at only 1.5 % of GDP overall, India won’t be making any major strides towards modernization of its military any time soon. [Asia Times] [Observer Research Foundation]

11 February 2020

Pakistan: Plea for Kashmir discussion at IOC denied 

(fs) Saudi Arabia again turned down Pakistan’s immediate request to convene a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the current situation in Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized the division between the Islamic countries and stressed the urgency to clear up the issue. He has been lobbying for an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting since India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August last year [The Hindu]

4 February 2020

Is “insurgent constitutionalism” the new form of Indian constitutionalism?

(ls) In an interesting opinion piece published by The Wire, the author argues that, for the first time in the history of the Indian republic, it is not jurists and lawyers who are interpreting the constitution, but street protests. He argues that popular struggle on the streets, campuses, squares, towns and cities, tea shops, clubs and assemblies has found novel ways to bring back the question of justice. The author terms this form of constitutionalism “insurgent constitutionalism”. [The Wire]

4 February 2020

India: Abortion legislation to be eased

(ls) The Indian government has approved extending the legal abortion deadline to 24 weeks from 20. The measure still needs to be approved by parliament. Under current law, terminations after 20 weeks are not allowed unless a mother’s life is in danger. However, many women and girls, including high-profile child rape victims, have sought court permission for later abortions. [Reuters]

Despite government awareness campaigns, contraceptive use in India is not very popular. According to studies, 50% of pregnancies in six of the larger Indian states — Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — are unintended. Responding to these numbers, the proposed law accepts failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion not just in married but also in unmarried women. [Indian Express]

4 February 2020

India: Political functionaries released from six months detention

(tk) After nine political functionaries had been released from detention in Srinagar last month, the Jammu and Kashmir administration released four more political functionaries of the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday, after almost six months of detention. Over three dozen former Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) were among the political activists and office-bearers of various parties who have been detained in August when the government revoked the erstwhile state’s special status of the region. Still, 17 political functionaries remain detained. [The Times of India]

4 February 2020

India: Violence against anti-CAA protesters

(ls) In the continued protests against India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), some incidents have turned violent. In New Delhi, a man fired gunshots at a protest against the law outside Jamia Millia Islamia University. The incident raises concerns that people siding with the government may try to take the law into their own hands to crush any dissent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rejected the protests and described the protesters as anti-nationals. Finance minister Anurag Thakur had encouraged supporters at a rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot. [Reuters]

There have been at least three shooting attacks in New Delhi. The new law seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants of all faiths from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except Muslims. Thousands, especially students, have hit the streets since Parliament approved the law in December. [Bloomberg]

28 January 2020

On the importance of female workers for India’s future economic growth

(dql) Against the background of a lowest growth rate of India’s economy for 11 years expected for 2020 and unprecedented unemployment levels, Ankita Shree underscores the need for an increase in the female workforce as a pre-condition of an economic recovery in India, where women currently contribute to 17% of the national GDP, compared with the global average of 40%. [Asia Dilaogue]

28 January 2020

India: Partly restoration of internet access in Kashmir

(tk) In response to the Indian Constitutional Court’s ruling from January 10, in which it declared the long-term internet shutdown in Kashmir as illegal, low-speed mobile internet was restored on Saturday in Kashmir. Eight million people were suffering from this internet suspension nearly for six months after the Centre decided on August 5 last year to revoke Article 370 provisions that gave the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir special status. [Asia in Review No. 2, January 2020]

The restoration applied to 301 websites approved by the administration including search engines and those associated with banking, education, news, travel, utilities and employment. However, people could not access most of the websites due to the 2G data limitation. Affected people are frustrated and call the restauration “a joke”. They say, “it is just a game to tell people we have restored internet services, but on the ground, it doesn’t work and is of no use”. [The Hindu] [The New York Times]

The partial restauration of internet access was then again interrupted on Saturday evening as a precautionary measure for Republic Day on Sunday. [The Hindu] Officials said, low speed internet service was restored on Sunday evening. [Hindustan Times]

28 January 2020

India announces shortlisted cooperation partners for its submarine acquisition program

(jk) India announced a shortlist of domestic and foreign defence companies for the eventual domestic construction of six diesel-electric submarines worth over US$7 billion. In addition to the domestic companies, original equipment, knowledge and technology-providing companies considered are from Russia, France, Spain, Germany and South Korea. The final selection is not expected to be made before 2022. [Defense News]

28 January 2020

India: Supreme Court refuses to put CAA on hold as protests continue on Republic Day

(tk/jk) The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it will not put the disputed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last month and the exercise of the National Population Register (NPR) on hold. It granted the Government four weeks to respond to the 143 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law. [The Hindu Business Line] The three-judge bench also decided to refer the petitions to a five-judge constitution bench. [India Today 1]

Petitioners are disappointed by the suspension of the decision. To them “justice delayed is justice denied”. In their opinion, the government should demonstrate willingness to seek a judicial closure in the matter that had led to brutal violence throughout the country. [Al Jazeera] [Asia in Review, December/2019, 5]

On January 26, the Indian Republic Day, which Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attended as chief guest [India Today 2], hundred thousands of protesters across India used that day to enter the streets and to express their strong will to continue their protests until the CAA is withdrawn. [India Today 3]

Meanwhile, the Indian government is increasingly refusing the right to emergency health care for some. Medical establishments have confirmed that the police told them not to admit wounded protesters, alleging others would attack ambulances trying to reach victims and block doctors from treating protesters. The approach of the police has support from some hospital owners: “The police were right – a whole mob would have followed the injured people into our hospital if we treated them. It was better for us to send them off.” Art. 18 of the fourth Geneva Convention bars the targeting of medical facilities even in time of war. [OZY]

21 January 2020

UNSC views Kashmir issue as “bilateral”

(tk) Another attempt by China to discuss the issue of Kashmir internationally failed at the UNSC on Wednesday. All other 14 members of the UNSC were of the view that this was not a matter that needed discussion at this point. France, Estonia and the UK called this a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan, to which Russia agreed. [India Today]

21 January 2020

India and Sri Lanka to intensify security cooperation

(ls) India and Sri Lanka are in negotiations to enhance their existing security cooperation. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with recently elected Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed setting up a maritime research coordination center as well as intensifying military and coastguard cooperation. Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India, but China invested and loaned large amounts to the island nation during the decade-long (2005-2015) reign of Gotabaya’s elder brother, Mahinda. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was tilted significantly towards China under Mahinda. In December, Gotabaya said that Sri Lanka would need more financial assistance from China if other countries, particular India and EU countries, do not invest. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, Indian concerns over Chinese ties with Myanmar are growing. Through the construction of the Kyaukpyu port, China will be making its presence felt on India’s eastern flank. India is already wary of China’s presence at Gwadar in Pakistan (in the west) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka (in the south). Though India and Myanmar have conducted several joint military operations along their borders, with China moving in with economic and other incentives, there could be pressures on the India-Myanmar relationship, according to observers. Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited Myanmar over the weekend. [Livemint]

An often-overlooked organization in this region is the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec). Its member states are Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. These countries have been negotiating on and off since 2004 for a free trade agreement (FTA) but differences between India and Thailand over market access remain a major problem. However, in 2017 India made a commitment to hold more regular and high-level meetings. While China is physically disconnected from the Bay of Bengal, Chinese investment has poured into Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where Beijing has made its presence felt. A piece in the Bangkok Post discusses Bimstec’s challenges and chances. [Bangkok Post]

21 January 2020

India: Major differences among UN members over India’s permanent membership in UNSC

(tk) On Thursday, China countered Russia’s backing for India and Brazil’s entry into the UN Security Council (UNSC) as permanent members. From Russia’s point of view, the trend of the global development is the formation of new centers of economic might, financial power and political influence, to which India belongs. China on the other hand, which has veto power in the UNSC being one of its five permanent members, has been opposed to India becoming a permanent member for years. Even though the other four permanent members (US, UK, France and Russia) have backed the reform, China states that “all parties have major differences and we do not have broad consensus on the reform”. In China’s eyes, the reform should enhance the representation and say of developing countries, so that also smaller countries can be part of the decision-making process of the UNSC. [Times of India][Financial Express]

21 January 2020

Japan-India relations: Joint coast guards drill 

(dql) Signaling efforts to strengthen military cooperation between Japan and India, the coast guards of both countries last week took part in a joint anti-piracy exercise off the Chennai coast. It was the 18th exercise of this kind between the two nations and comes amid China’s expanding maritime presence in waters near India. [Japan Times]

21 January 2020

India: New BJP president

(ls) India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected Jagat Prakash Nadda, a veteran lawmaker and long-time associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to become its president. He replaces Amit Shah. One of Nadda’s main tasks will be to increase the party’s profile in several states ahead of a string of elections. Since late 2018, the BJP has lost control of the western states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Jharkhand in the east and Chhattisgarh in central India. Since its national election victory last year, Modi’s government has made a number of controversial decisions, removing special provisions on the disputed Kashmir region, gaining legal approval for building a temple at a contested site in the northern city of Ayodhya, and introducing the new citizenship law. [Reuters] [Hindustan Times]

 

21 January 2020

India: State of Kerala challenges citizenship law in Supreme Court

(ls/tk) In the ongoing tensions about India’s recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the southern state of Kerala has filed a petition with the Supreme Court, asking to review the constitutionality of the Act. The Kerala government argues that the Act violates the secular nature of the Indian constitution and accused the central government of dividing the nation on religious lines. A number of Indian states have already said that they will not implement the law. Besides Kerala, these include West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh as well as Maharashtra. [Al Jazeera]

Kerala’s petition has been filed under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution which empowers the Supreme Court to hear disputes between the government of India and one or more states. The petition states that the CAA violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, the right to life under Article 21 and the freedom to practice a religion under Article 25. 60 petitions filed by individuals and political parties challenging the validity of CAA are already pending before the Supreme Court. [Hindustan Times]

An analysis published on the Lawfare blog establishes a connection between the CAA and another important and related piece of legislation, the 2003 amendment of the Citizenship Act, aiming to create a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC will require every individual across India to demonstrate that they are Indian citizens through certain specified documents, which will be difficult for certain poor and marginalized groups. The author argues that the new CAA might be strategically used to protect (presumably Indian) individuals from six non-Muslim religions who may be excluded from Indian citizenship under the NRC. Thus, a loophole would be created for individuals who are from one of the six non-Muslim religions and have been designated as noncitizens under the NRC process. They could then seek citizenship through the recently passed CAA. [Lawfare]

For another recent analysis of the CAA’s legal and political consequences, see also [The Diplomat].

 

21 January 2020

Bangladesh: Death toll rising on the India-Bangladesh border

(tk) Even though Dhaka and New Delhi agreed on a “zero deaths” policy along the India-Bangladesh border, in 2019 at least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by Indians, which is a threefold increase from the previous year. A Bangladeshi human rights activist explained that no internationally accepted border protocols allow the shoot-to-kill policy that India has been pursuing. A report from the US-based Human Rights Watch said: “Some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed.” 

Many international media and rights organizations have termed this border as the deadliest. This issue is becoming even more relevant since India passed its new religion-based citizenship law that excludes Muslims as immigrants from a new fast-track procedure. Thus, a high number of Muslims emigrating from India to Bangladesh can be expected. [Asia Times]

14 January 2020

India begins implementation of Citizen Amendment Act 

(lf) In Uttar Pradesh, the government has started identifying illegal immigrants who might be eligible for citizenship under the Citizen Amendment Act. Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has experienced extremely violent protests with 30 deaths. Uttar Pradesh has a large Muslim population, who fear the CAA will marginalise them [BBC].

14 January 2020

India: Court rules on internet shut-down in Kashmir 

(lf) Last Friday, the Indian constitutional court has ruled the over 150 days long internet shut down illegal in Kashmir. The court’s ruling states an internet shut down can only be temporary and has ordered the Indian government to review the shutdown immediately. [Reuters 1]

India has also opened Kashmir´s doors for foreign diplomats for the first time since August. 15 countries have followed the invitation of a two days organised trip to the region, which lost its autonomy last August and has since then been under lockdown. The Indian government had been highly criticised previously by several foreign governments for blocking diplomats from the US, UK and Germany from entering the region. While the US has been part of the visit of the delegation to Kashmir, several countries including from the EU have declined an invitation and called the visit orchestrated, as it didn’t allow for free movement of the diplomats. [Reuters 2]

14 January 2020

India urges boycott of Malaysian palm oil after diplomatic tensions

(ls/tk) The Indian government as informally pressured Indian palm oil importers to effectively stop all purchases from top supplier Malaysia, following Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir’s criticism of India’s actions in Kashmir and its new citizenship law. India is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, buying more than 9 million tons annually, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia. The block of imports could push up the country’s palm oil inventories and put pressure on its prices, which set the global benchmark for the oil. [Reuters]

Mahathir said at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in October that India “invaded and occupied” Kashmir. And regarding the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which critics say undermines the country’s secular foundations, he said India was stoking unrest. [Economic Times]

Under Prime Minister Mahatir, Malaysia has been increasingly engaged with Pakistan, while criticizing India’s treatment of Muslims. According to observers, the case is a vivid demonstration that Mahathir’s moralistic rhetoric can have actual costs for Malaysia’s economy. India, however, is reminded that its approach to Kashmir poses complications not only for its domestic politics or alignments with Western countries, but also for select Muslim-majority countries in Asia. [The Diplomat]

14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Deputy foreign minister cancels visit to India

(lf/jk) While the Foreign Ministry has announced the cancellation has nothing to do with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Deputy Foreign Minister is the fourth senior official to cancel a visit to India since the protests started. 

The CAA addresses minority religion refugees – who are not Muslim- that have experienced religious discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Indian government has clarified that persecution in Bangladesh occurred prior to the rule of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hassani, Bangladesh has made clear that it is not happy with the characterisation of a country that discriminates against religious minorities. 

It has also voiced concern over India deporting those deemed “illegal” to Bangladesh and with that putting further strain on bilateral relations. Bangladesh is worried both the NRC and CAA could lead to dramatic increases in refugee flows to the country. [The Hindu] [The Print]

7 January 2020

2019: A year of Internet shutdowns in South Asia 

(lf/jk) As the protest in India continues against the CAA, the police and government have shut down the internet in several provinces. The most recent shut downs have affected the Province of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, where protests have been especially violent and large in scale. As mentioned previously, this is not the first time authorities in India have used this practice and India remains the country with the highest shutdown rates. [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4]

Earlier this year, the Indian government shut down the internet in the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in one of the longest consecutive internet shutdowns in a democracy, lasting since early August [Aljazeera]. India is not the only country in South Asia however that has used internet shut downs. Bangladesh, in the past week, shut down internet access in its border region to India [Businessinsider] [Reuters], and has previously done so in the Rohingya refugee camps where the internet has been cut since early last year [Washington Post]. 

Pakistan, ranking low on Freedom House’s freedom of the net index, [Freedomhouse Pakistan], also has a history of shutting down the internet, as does Sri Lanka. There, officials had cut down social media access to reduce the spread of misinformation after the Easter Bombings last year [CNBC]. Southeast Asian neighbour Myanmar is also known for its internet shutdowns in various states [The ASEAN Post].

Reducing the freedom of the internet and shutting it down altogether to silence oppositional voices is a worrying trend in the region. Overall, 2019 has seen unprecedented lows in internet freedom all across Asia, with several countries seeing their internet freedom decrease [Freedom House].

7 January 2020

Continued protests in India

(lf) As expected, protest in India continue into the new year. One recent clash took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, where several masked men attacked students and teachers. Left and right-leaning student groups at the University blame each other but there is a fear that the BJP wants to silence the anti-government voices within the traditionally left-leaning University. 

While protests at JNU mostly evolved around University fees, and not specifically against the CAA, they are part of larger anti-BJP protests and exemplify fears of escalating violence and lawlessness in the capital, as well as the silencing of opposing views to the ruling party. [BBC1] [The Guardian 1] [BBC2].

In Hyderabad (a city with 40% Muslim population) 100,000 people gathered in peaceful protest against the new law. [The Guardian 2] 

7 January 2020

India: BJP loses another State Assembly 

(jk) Despite Modi’s sweeping victory in the federal elections, the BJP has been removed from several state governments since. Among the key states that have been lost more recently was Maharashtra, a particularly important state due to its elevated economic and financial status. [Asia in Review, No. 49, December/2019, 1]

Last week,  the ruling BJP lost yet another state assembly poll in central Jharkhand State. The BJP’s 25 out of 81 seats were not enough against a tri-party opposition alliance including the main opposition party Congress. [Livemint]