Open Forum

Open Forum provides a platform for all those interested in issues of interest and consequence to the South Asian region to voice their views on pertinent issues. South Asia Monitor welcomes contributions that can promote meaningful debates and discussions on interesting topics. There will be no payments for contributions to Open Forum. Editors reserve the right to appropriately use or reject contributions.


Lessons in democratic decision making – the Gandhian way

So at the start of his 150th birth anniversary let us all remember Gandhi and try to follow his path of democratic style of functioning - taking everybody together and his appeal to higher emotions in all of us so that we show love and peace for our fellow countrymen, writes Anil K Rajvanshi

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India-Bhutan ties: Profundity and Challenges

The King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, will be the chief guest for the 64th Republic Day of India, on January 26, 2013. With this invitation Bhutan will be the second country whose leader has been invited four times as chief guest on Republic Day. France is the only other country enjoying such a distinction. In 1984 and 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the present king's father, was invited as chief guest on Republic Day. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck of Bhutan,the third druk gyalpo (king) of Bhutan, who began to open Bhutan to the outside world and began the process of modernisation and democratisation, was invited as chief guest in 1954.

  Strategic and diplomatic considerations are often behind the choice for Republic Day chief guests or for recipients of prestigious awards.  Take for example, the Republic Day chief guests from 2007 to 2009, all of which helped India advance its energy security goals, especially those related with nuclear power. In 2009 President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan was invited as the chief guest on Republic Day and India signed a civil nuclear deal with Kazakhstan during Nazarbayev’s visit. In 2008 President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was invited and the two countries finalized a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. In 2007, President Vladimir Putin of Russia was invited and, during this visit, Russia formally acknowledged India as a nuclear weapons power and offered to set up four more nuclear reactors at Kudankulam. Even the 2005 invite to the former King of Bhutan was widely interpreted as a sign of gratitude by India for the ‘Operation All Clear’ launched by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to flush out anti-India ULFA separatist cadres in Bhutan in 2003. Thus, the choice of dignitary for attending an important occasion in India is an example of Indian diplomacy at work by honouring a leader of a country that India has special or strategic ties with.   The invitation to King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as the chief guest  this year is also not without ontextual implication. China’s increasing proximity to Bhutan, which was clearly manifested in the former premier Wen Jiabao and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley meeting in the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, has caused India to take cognizance of the possibility of formalization of diplomatic relations between the two nations. In a subcontinent fraught with turbulent political conditions and deepening Chinese economic and diplomatic incursions, both increasingly detrimental to India, Bhutan has remained a nation hitherto oblivious to either issue. India, no doubt, is channelling its efforts to remain Bhutan’s first choice in matters economic and strategic, or at least remain ahead of China, if the country were to seek aid or contracts with another nation.   There are several methods which India could use to continue its cooperative ties with Bhutan and ensure that it is not easily weaned away from India’s influence. The Republic Day invite comes at a critical juncture for Bhutan which is currently negotiating the amount of grant the Indian government would provide for its 11th plan. India is Bhutan’s largest donor since its first plan. Undoubtedly, Bhutan would welcome continued Indian investment but it would not shy away from accepting investments from China if offers were to be made. Growing Chinese investment in Bhutan would signal creeping Chinese economic inroads in Bhutan. The visit of the king provides an opportunity to India to showcase its interest in continuing as Bhutan’s largest donor and thereby undo any economic leverage that other nations could gain.   In assessing India’s concern about Bhutan, the most worrisome point is the disputed border between Bhutan and China. The areas coveted by China sit perilously close to the Siliguri Corridor which connects India's northeast region to the rest of the country. In case of an emergency or conflict between China and India, this region would become vulnerable to Chinese onslaught and may be severed from the rest of India, if China settles the border dispute with Bhutan on its terms. The unsettled border between Bhutan and China will continue to be a major issue for the Indian establishment in the near future.   Growing Chinese influence among India’s neighbouring states- Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan  - is fast becoming a major foreign policy challenge for India. Losing influence over Bhutan to China will only mean further loss of strategic space to China in the neighbourhood. India is required to leverage its multi-dimensional relationship with Bhutan to ensure that further strategic space in not ceded. Strategic and economic cooperation and cultural and religious linkages are characteristic of India-Bhutan ties. India is Bhutan’s main development partner and its largest trading partner. In 2011, 72% of Bhutan’s total imports and 85% of its exports were with India. India has agreed to provide assistance to Bhutan in developing the hydropower sector and to purchase 10,000 MW of power from Bhutan by 2020. Growing Chinese investment in energy and communications related projects is another area of concern. However, by far, India continues to be Bhutan’s number foremost trading partner, donor and partner in development assistance.   China’s overtures to Bhutan apart, most other aspects of India-Bhutan ties continue to be smooth, albeit a few issues, the most important being a spate of kidnappings along the Indo-Bhutan border. The 32-km stretch between Sarpang and Gelephu of Bhutan, which runs along the Indian border of Kokrajhar and Chirang districts of Assam, has witnessed a series of abductions, suspected to have been carried out by Indian militants. India and Bhutan have a long history of cooperating on tackling insurgency and unlawful activities and are cooperating with each other to end this menace of kidnappings along the border.   The multi-faceted nature of the relationship brings certain tenaciousness to India-Bhutan ties which need to be strengthened. The king’s visit as chief guest is an opportune moment to enunciate the profundity of bilateral ties and further secure the relationship. With both China and India vying with each other for a greater role in the subcontinent, Bhutan may end up the biggest winner of them all.   (The author- Obja Borah Hazarika, is a student of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be contacted at

India must get in on the ground floor

India needs to think strategically about the next generation of Millennium Development Goals

At the end of 2012, India completed its seventh two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In a period that proved unexpectedly challenging for the principal organ of the U.N. system, India was actively involved in debates over crises in North Africa and the Middle East. On the more mundane but no less fundamental issue of international development, however, New Delhi has sat largely on the sidelines, paying insufficient attention to opportunities for addressing domestic priorities and enhancing India’s standing in international affairs.   Disconnect   Indeed, there is a fundamental disjuncture between India’s overwhelming domestic imperatives of equitable growth on the one hand and the nation’s external policies on the other. Too often we are content to act the part of a powerful and technologically sophisticated nation without actually pursuing a foreign policy that might serve our basic developmental goals. Nowhere are such failures more evident than on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Signed into existence in 2000 by 190 countries, they represent a historic global framework and universal goals (with specific targets and indicators) in the areas of poverty, gender, health, education and the environment for all signatories to achieve by 2015. Powered in part by the MDGs, 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty, 56 million more children go to school and 14,000 children escape death each day.   Work on next goals   With the 2015 deadline approaching, the international community is now starting to develop a framework for the next generation of development goals. The U.N. Secretary-General has appointed a 26 member high-level panel to advice on the new framework. Simultaneously, the U.N. is facilitating national consultations in 100 countries (including India) to make the process as participatory as possible. The panel and consultations will feed into inter-governmental negotiations preceding the adoption of a new framework in September 2013.   This process is clearly important for both poor and rich countries, yet most members of India’s foreign policy establishment and the informed public remain oblivious to its significance. It is easy to dismiss a largely U.N.-driven negotiation that could set arguably unrealistic targets for all countries to meet. India is a sovereign nation that need not take direction from any constellation of international actors. The goals themselves are not immune to internal inconsistencies and contradictions, and will be variably relevant to India. Moreover, a fixed set of overarching goals may constitute an unwise approach to development policy in general.   What MDGs stand for   These critiques notwithstanding, the MDGs represent an unprecedented international consensus on priorities and targets for equitable growth. Developing the next set of MDGs affords the international community an opportunity not only to take stock of achievements since the turn of the millennium but also to establish norms and principles that will define and influence the next stage of global development. India can and should play a key role.   Two principal opportunities beckon India. First, in the domestic realm, significant efficiency gains would derive from aligning the next generation of global development goals with India’s goals, only some of which overlap with the MDGs. Rather than having parallel bureaucracies for the implementation of two different development agendas, the government can do more with less by influencing global post-2015 debates to reflect Indian concerns and priorities. This may be all the more readily achieved because India is widely seen as the ultimate laboratory for development. Moreover, many developmental challenges — for example, sustainability, financial inclusion, information and communications technologies — can no longer be effectively addressed within nationally circumscribed approaches.   The second major opportunity lies in the international realm. The post-2015 effort offers emerging powers, particularly India, an opening to shape the rules of the game at a critical juncture of global institutional development, which can be significantly influenced by a positive Indian vision for national and global economic and social progress. If we can establish our own international aid agency and trumpet the merits of Indian “soft power,” then we must also actively participate in the post-2015 process. As a rising power desirous of a seat at the global high table, India can accumulate influence through constructive leadership in international institutions, which often requires creating original solutions and forging consensus around them.   Three ways for India   As things stand, the Indian government could do more to engage with the post-2015 process. There are at least three ways in which the present level of involvement could be improved. First, the Ministry of External Affairs — the government’s first point of contact with the U.N. — should urgently consult the relevant line ministries and State governments and commission a white paper on its own recommendations that can then be deliberated in the public sphere. Second, to be genuinely inclusive, the government should go beyond traditional civil society to engage faith-based groups, trade unions and people’s movements in any discussion on development frameworks. Third, India should work towards building collaborations with other similarly placed countries in the international negotiations.   Whether India takes note or not, the global post-2015 MDG process has institutional momentum and will result in an outcome relevant to India. By not actively participating in its formative stages, we risk missing a vital opportunity to address key domestic challenges and to shape global norms in ways that protect our interests while projecting leadership in international affairs. In the final analysis, Indian diplomacy needs to think more seriously and creatively about India’s development.   (Shailey Hingorani is Advocacy Coordinator at Save the Children. Email:; Rohan Mukherjee is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Email: The views expressed are personal.)   Shailey Hingorani and Rohan Mukherjee, The Hindu, 18 Jan 2013
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Sikkim shines; receives FAO award for becoming world's first organic state

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling received the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) prestigious Future Policy Gold Award from its Deputy Director Maria Helena Semedo, who commended the Himalayan state for setting an example to the world by becoming the first totally organic state.


China backs Pakistan's request for IMF assistance

China has endorsed Pakistan’s request to the IMF for a bailout package, but cautioned that it should not affect economic cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing.