Sri Lanka

Onion crisis and its political shadow in India is one of history’s poor jokes

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

History pulls some poor jokes and I am afraid onion is one of them though it’s unlikely millions of my agitated fellow Indians would view the matter as funny.

Onion prices have hit the roof in India, a kilogram costing one-third of an average Indian’s daily income of $4 dollars, forcing a worried government to seek tranches of supply from Egypt of all places lest the people’s anger extracts a political cost too grave in nature.

There’s a precedent for such grave forebodings too as governments once fell on rising onion costs in Delhi and Rajasthan and Indira Gandhi once channelized such anger to ride to power in 1980 even though the excesses of Emergency were still fresh in people’s mind.

Onion to Indians is what air is to human life, invisible yet impossible to do without, a bulb of a food which launches a thousand curries, an essential even if inconspicuous item on your food plate, peeling of which is always a teary proposition and consumption of which is strictly no-no if the next thing you are doing is to kiss your lover. You see, what is pungent for your food is odour between two mouths!

Onions were once despised by Indians

Yet history tells us that onion was one of the forbidden foods for ancient Indians who were seeking an austere life. Holy scriptures despised it as an aphrodisiac, unsuitable in quest of a spiritual life.  One of history’s most famous travellers, Hieun Tsang of China, observed in the seventh century that very few locals used onions for fear of being expelled beyond the walls of the town.

Muslim invaders then came in hordes but always returned after loots, unlike the Mughals who dominated the next millennium and barely ate anything without the onions. Their cuisine of rich meat dishes and biryani (flavoured rice), virtually embedded with this layered bulb, sometimes raw, mostly burned brown and mixed, let a strong aroma to the royal kitchenette and their dining halls. The smell soon blew down to the masses beyond the royal walls and before long, onion occupied the pride of place which it retains to this day for an average Indian’s food buds.

The irony won’t be lost to a history student as he observes a renaissance of ancient India and its true ethos of our times which laments the loss of its virility due to a thousand years of servility at the hands of the Muslim invaders and British colonialists and yet is unmindful that one of Indians’ staple food, the unputdownable onions, is actually a gift of the Mughals. That’s what you call out history for one of its poor jokes.

As onion grew in importance, so did its crop for farmers to the extent that India today is the second biggest producer and exporter of onions in the world and earns $360 million each year from its surplus. Once in a while, the monsoon is delayed or rains are active till the onset of winters and this double whammy makes onions scarce and dearer. That’s when fumes of anger hit the power corridors of government and occasionally envelopes it too. This year is a classic case study of such a frightful scenario.

Plans and the battle ahead

India hopes to come to grips with it in a matter of month or two for there is always an abundance of onions between January and May which allows the excess to be stored and used till August before the fresh crop in winter keeps Indian kitchens running for the rest of the year. It’s this winter crop, called Rabi crop in India, which has suffered the vagaries of weather this year.

Indian government is countering the crisis by banning exports and calling for imports from diverse nations such as Egypt, UAE and Turkey to meet the shortfall. Times were when India turned to Pakistan in such crisis as it was in 2010 but now the ties between the two neighbours is in deep freeze and India even needs permission to use air space of its arch-rivals. There are also measures to subsidize such imports for Indian consumers as well as a policy to ensure Indian farmers don’t get shortchanged in price only because the weather has played truant.

Such assurance though are difficult to extend to its Middle and Far East clients as well as to  neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who are used to special brown Indian onions and find the alternative, say the white ones from Egypt, too bland in taste.  Yet Egypt is now shipping its onions to Sri Lanka which it had done never before. Even the Netherlands is importing onions to Sri Lanka though the transportation lag is no less than six weeks. Onion cost has skyrocketed for India’s traditional export clients and there is fear that India might have yielded too much ground to exporting rivals such as Pakistan, China and Egypt.

(This piece also appeared in rt.com).

 

 

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(A reprint from NewsBred).

India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli  has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.

Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.

India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.

Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.

Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.

China: Talks after talks

India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.

The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.

Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.

Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.

Pakistan: An intractable issue

The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.

Bangladesh: All quiet at borders

India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.

Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.

The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.

 

 

 

 

No sooner “violent Muslims” emerge than the “victim Muslim” card is brought to play

Sri Lanka, shook to the bone because of terror attacks of Easter Sunday, has asked its people to be without veils. It has upset Indian Express greatly. For two successive days now, it has front page and edits on how it has upset the local Muslim community and that it goes against the fundamental rights. “Why are women being asked to shoulder the burden (of terror attacks)?” the newspaper asks indignantly in its editorial today.

So being freed of veil is a burden for Muslim women. Look at umpteen photos of the 1970s in Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Kabul or Cairo (like in the image above and below) and you would see Muslim women in shorts and skirts. Barely anybody had her face covered on those streets. They did their hair, wore skirts above the knees, and often outdid their western sisters. They must be being envied by their daughters today for they had so much freedom.

So what changed? Pretty little. There are still 14 countries which have banned hijab or naqab. It’s not a law for women to veil themselves in Afghanistan. Turkey doesn’t allow it, nor does Syria or Tunisia. Lebanon doesn’t enforce it; Tajikstan is against it. Cameroon, Chad and Gabon etc ban it.

The focus of this article is not who does and who doesn’t wear veils. The idea is to pin down the narrative and zero on who could be behind these damage-control operations. Why as soon as Muslim jihadists cause violence our newspapers start portraying Muslim community as victims? Why headlines such as “son of a school teacher” start making rounds? (Remember the Pulwama attack: as soon as it happened Lutyens Media started spreading fake stories about Kashmiris in other parts of India being made to flee).

So in Sri Lanka, as soon as the terror strikes happened, our newspapers reported how it was Muslims only who pointed out the terror hideouts to police. How they were helping out the state apparatus.  Now for two days the narrative is fixated on Muslim veils as if it is a religious assault. (It’s another matter our newspapers, fed by Communist and Saudi patronage, would never call out China for its ban on Muslim veils).

You wouldn’t be told that it’s a temporary measure in Sri Lanka. That the island nation is under Emergency which automatically means restricted freedom. There won’t be insightful discussions on what drives the ideology of Islamic State (IS) and thousands of rapes they justify in the name of their doctrine. Where are feminist icons? The flagbearers of freedom of choice and expression? Who ask women to fight for freedom and equality even as they tell Muslim women its’ okay to cover their shameful bodies?

You won’t be told of surveys which reveal 99 per cent of Egyptian women report being sexually harassed; that up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day. That in Iraq not too long ago there was a proposal to lower to nine the legal age of marriage for girls. That UNICEF estimates more than 125 million crimes of female genital mutilation have been reported from Africa and Arab nations. That immigrant communities to Europe and North America carry such practices with them.

The fact is nowhere in Quran women are asked to cover their bodies completely. While the Quran calls for modest clothing and for women to cover their hair, the holy book doesn’t ask for women to cover their faces.

However, cooked narratives serve up a totally different course on the table. We all have heard that devout Muslims go to paradise but what happens to women? Is there a mention that they too go to paradise?

To go back to my original question why our newspapers compete to replace “Violent Muslim” with “Victim Muslim” narrative? It’s not a one-off thing—there is a pattern. It’s an agenda. Who enforces this agenda? Such agenda could only run on the fuel of funds. Who supplies funds? Who gains by white-washing Islamists/Jihadists crimes? The logical corollary is the Wahabbi doctrinaires. Do they have Left as its accomplice? Or why our Leftists newspapers would peddle in such an agenda?

India-China Cold War is bad news for BRICS

The Indo-US agreement on sharing military logistics to counter China’s assertiveness in Indian Ocean could have wider ramifications.  The two can use each other’s land, air and naval bases for supplies and repair. A piece on the essentials of this conflict:

India and China have been engaged in a Cold War since the beginning of 2015.

New Delhi feels a certain hegemony over Indian Ocean. China, which views it as vital to its survival as a trade route, won’t let it happen. The trade deficit between the two doesn’t help the cause.  Both are wary of each other. It’s a real bad news for the future of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—much to the delight of western powers.

India has made a few moves in recent past which shows its anxiety. Modi visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March last year but ignored China-friendly Maldives as an apparent snub. Also a conference of “Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilisational Linkages” was held in Bhubaneswar.  India wants its own Cotton Route to challenge China’s New Silk Road.  The Grand Prize of East Africa doesn’t lessen their friction.

China has its own “String of Pearls” strategy. The Gwadar port in Pakistan; naval bases in Myanmar, intelligence facility in Bay of Bengal, a canal-in-construct across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, a military tie-up with Cambodia and building military bases in the South China Sea. The “String of Pearls” is meant to secure the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea for its energy and security concerns.

With the Strait of Malacca enabling almost 80 percent of passage to China’s energy needs, it has looked to build its naval power at choke points along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

A look at the two Asian powers’ position vis-à-vis critical nations/islands strewn across the Indian Ocean:

Myanmar

This Southeast Asian state was close to China for two decades. But in 2012, it began a “pro-democratization” process—most likely under US pressure—and is now seen close to India. The two together plan to extend Myanmar-Thailand Highway into a trilateral deal.

India’s “Cotton Road” strategy is meant to counter China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan. India wishes to integrate with its ASEAN counterparts and block china from dominating these states.

Sri Lanka

In a surprise result last year, the pro-China leadership in Sri Lanka, under Rajapksa was ousted and pro-India Sirisena came to power. The first thing Sirisena did was to suspend China’s $1.4 billion investment in port infrastructure.

With Sri Lanka back under India’s influence, for the moment, the link between Maldives and Myanmar for China has been “cut,” so to speak.

Pakistan

Pakistan has decisively moved into China’s arms and there’s no going back on it. The $46 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is well and truly underway. From an Indian perspective, it’s a bad news.

Bangladesh

In order to counter China-Pakistan alliance, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi went to Bangladesh and paved way for resolving the 40-year old border disagreement. It can also have a vital impact on India’s control of its northeast region.  India can also now directly use Bangladesh’s ports, instead of relying on vulnerable Siliguri Corridor. Till Modi visited Bangladesh, the latter had been cuddling up to China.

Nepal

Nepal has been a clear loss to India.  New Delhi reacted badly to Nepal’s new federative constitution, as did the pro-India Madhesi ethnic group that occupies the Terai border. Subsequent riots and Indian trucks refusing to cross the border into Nepal worsened the situation. Kathmandu sees the hand of New Delhi in this unrest.

China moved in swiftly, providing 1.3 million litres of petrol and signing a deal to fill in Nepal’s demand in the face of India’s monopoly. In one swift action, Nepal has pivoted itself on China’s axis. China surely eyes the control of strategic Karnali and Koshi rivers that sustains 200 million Indians who live at the southern border.

Maldives

The ouster of former head Nauseed and his Maldivian Democratic Party is a big blow to India’s plans for this little island nation. The current president Yameen is well-disposed towards China which gives it a proxy control on this island chain. There have been multiple attempts on Yameen’s life and India has found itself drawn into the scandal.