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Power plays in Bhutan exemplify India’s growing influence March 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Maldives, South Asia - General , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

For nearly a decade the intensifying rivalry between India and China has been seen in practically every country in South Asia. In South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India has often encountered hurdles in attempting to expand its influence due to both political and historical reasons. Conversely, and as recently demonstrated in the Maldives, India has also successfully strengthened its influence in a number of smaller regional countries.  For example, in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, India has positioned itself as Thimphu’s  closest ally.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the population Buddhist and 25 per cent Hindu, the people of Bhutan have traditionally shared strong linguistic, religious and cultural similarities to India, Nepal and Tibet . Since British influence was removed from South Asia following Indian Independence, relations with China have grown more complicated, especially since 1950, when China invaded and occupied Tibet resulting in thousands of Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in Bhutan. Later, in 1960, Bhutan decided to close its northern border with China. The border remains closed to this day.


Two boys in traditional dress outside the King’s palace, Thimphu, Bhutan.

For decades now Bhutan’s relationship with China has remained underdeveloped and practically stagnant, with no official diplomatic relations. However, some minor successes have been noted, such as when Bhutan voted in favour of China’s UN seat in 1971. Similarly, Bhutan has continued to honour its commitment to the ‘One China’ policy and has also signed the 1998 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity in the Bhutan-China Border Areas. Nonetheless, these minor achievements have not necessarily translated into better relations. For example, trade relations have remained at minimal levels and equated to around US$1 million in 2002, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, bilateral trade statistics have been difficult to obtain, but there are few indications to suggest any marked increases in trade.


The future of nuclear energy in India March 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

From mining to waste disposal, the nuclear energy industry faces hazards at every step. The recent nuclear accidents in Japan following the massive Tsunami have shaken any confidence we may have had in viewing nuclear energy as a safe alternative to hydrocarbons. These accidents raise serious questions regarding the ability of developing countries like India, which have weak regulatory bodies and dysfunctional disaster management systems, to deal with nuclear accidents. There is very little scope for public scrutiny of the nuclear energy industry in these countries due to “national security” considerations.

Let us focus on a specific problem highlighted by the Japanese accidents, namely, uncertainty associated with emergency cooling measures. A large number of nuclear power plants across the world are located near the sea to ensure adequate supply of coolant in emergencies. Tsunami is, however, just one of the numerous threats to the safe operation of coastal nuclear power plants. Rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of high intensity weather events like cyclones due to climate change means that such plants will increasingly face emergencies of the kind seen in Japan. The alternative is to locate plants inland. But climate change has also made that option unattractive in two ways. Firstly, inland water bodies are warmer than ever before. Secondly, such water bodies are prone to dry up in summers. So, switching to nuclear energy cannot be a reasonable answer to climate change. Nuclear power plants are, in fact, sitting ducks for nature’s fury. (more…)

India’s nuclear energy future – a positive outlook? March 22, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

Amid media comments on nuclear energy post-Japan’s earthquake and tsunami such as labeling it a pariah in supply terms, latent fears of uranium use have re-emerged with nations assessing their nuclear energy plans.  India however, has strong reasons to continue its commitment.

On 14 March, three days after the start of the emergency at Fukushima, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament that the safety of all India’s nuclear power plants would immediately be inspected. Reuters reported the following day that India’s nuclear program was on track, there would be more stringent controls and, quoting the Prime Minister, “The department of atomic energy and its agencies …  have been instructed to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants … with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes”.

On 16 March the Hindustan Times editorial enlarged on the Government’s underlying concerns; that no technology is without risk and that India’s safety procedures are less than well-rehearsed, but that nuclear power remains “the only economically viable renewable source of energy”. The editorial concluded that nuclear power has a relatively good safety record and that “India must not take nuclear power off the table”.  (more…)

India-Australia: skepticism beyond the economics March 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author: Nabeel A. Mancheri, Postdoctoral Associate, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 16 February 2011.

Recent developments in India-Australia relations indicate that both countries are now rigorously advancing their international partnership. There has been increased engagement between the two, with a greatly expanded diplomatic presence. There are many developments on all fronts — economic, political and strategic — yet deep engagement between the two countries remains elusive for a number of reasons.

Economic relations between Australia and India have improved in recent years. India is now Australia’s third-largest export market and its fifth-largest trading partner. Australia is India’s sixth largest trading partner. In 2009-10, India’s exports to Australia stood at just US$1.38 billion, while imports amounted to a whopping US$12.4 billion, translating into an Indian trade deficit of about US$11 billion with Australia. At the same time Australia’s and India’s relative importance to each other has grown. The share of Australia in India’s imports is 3.5 per cent and Australia exported about 8.1 per cent of its total exports to India and imported around 0.9 per cent of its total imports from India.


Pankaj Oswal and India-Australia business March 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

When Pankaj Oswal arrived in Perth early in the new millennium, along with wife Radhika, the pair was immediately the focus of speculation, curiosity, envy and suspicion in about equal measure.  They were young, obvious, ambitious and daring – he was aiming to create a $1 billion ammonia fertiliser factory on the Burrup Peninsular in the northwest next to Western Australia’s massive natural gas reserves.  The gas would provide the considerable energy needed to create the product.  Oswal swept aside the problem that his site just happened to be home to one of the world’s prime rock art concentrations, while Radhika moved towards creating a worldwide vegetarian restaurant chain.  Together, they became famous for their parties and the general lifestyle of the rich and famous.

It was not all straightforward, though.  There were immediate questions about how a twenty something had the $300 million that allowed him to leverage the huge loans needed to get his enterprise going.  Diligent journalists in both Australia and India lit on the information that he was the grandson of one of the great Ludhiana textile magnates but, even more significantly, the son of Abhey Oswal who had moved from textiles to fertilisers.  Suspicious minds thought the son’s stash might just have emanated from the father’s labyrinthine commercial deals from which some investors emerged much the poorer financially.  Pankaj Oswal, however, consistently denied that source, instead usually citing rich investors/friends. (more…)

FEATURE ARTICLE: Where are the women? The anguish of displacement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Sri Lanka March 10, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, D'Costa, Bina, Features, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Bina D’Costa

Some 43 million people have been driven from their homes by local or cross-border warfare. The international community needs a much broader and better protection for them. The year 2009, which saw a world total of an additional 15.2 million refugees, was the worst ever in terms of the numbers who returned home voluntarily, mainly because conflicts were becoming more intractable and peace more difficult to achieve. In addition, there are some 27 million people who have been forced to flee their homes but are still living inside their own countries as IDPs (internally displaced persons). This figure does not include people uprooted by disasters like earthquakes and floods, who numbered 36 million in 2008, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Women and their children account for 80 per cent of the global displaced population.

Indeed, through my research in various camps and with hidden communities around the world, but especially in South Asia, it is clear that displaced women and their children are at serious risk. These women and children are ghettoized in horrid camps, slums and other constricted spaces either as IDPs or on the move as refugees or stateless people in other states. Unfortunately, gender-based violations of rights of displaced communities, especially in societies emerging from protracted conflicts and militarized environments, have received scant attention from the media. (more…)

Work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants in India March 8, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Bangladesh is not only one of the most densely populated countries but also among the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. Gautam Ghosh’s award winning movie Padma Nadir Majhi (The Boatman of River Padma, 1993) beautifully captures the dilemma of people locked in a grim existential struggle against nature. The movie opens with the birth of a child and a chunk of river bank falling into water and ends with people compelled to go to a tiger and reptile-infested island. Ghosh’s characters cannot be stopped by any manmade boundary. They would also be prepared to work at unbelievably low wages, which ensures a steady demand for their labour in neighbouring India. In the foreseeable future, climate change is likely to accentuate their existential crisis and by implication, the problem of “illegal” Bangladeshis in India. Hidden in the midst of this sea of humanity are drug-traffickers, arms smugglers, and Islamic terrorists. The Indian government obviously finds it impossible to screen the immigrants.

To address this problem, the Indian government has already fenced as much as half of the 4053 km long Indo-Bangladesh border. However, complete fencing will be hampered by riverine landscape and incomplete demarcation of the international boundary. Also, even if it is feasible, complete fencing will block the easiest escape route for the targets of Islamic extremism including not only non-Muslims but also syncretic Muslim Bauls, Ahmediyas, etc. People such as Taslima Nasreen are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The share of minority religions in Bangladesh’s population has, in fact, halved since its independence. The struggle for scarce resources is routinely, and conveniently, provided a communal cover, which allows Islamic extremists to fish in a troubled delta. A major atrocity against fenced-out minorities of Bangladesh will translate into greater support for Hindu majoritarian parties in India, which will endanger Indian minorities as well as existing Bangladeshi immigrants and provide an ex-post justification for attacks on minorities in Bangladesh. So, complete fencing will strengthen religious extremists on both sides of the border. Faith-based screening of immigrants at designated points along a completely fenced border will permit the vulnerable to escape. But it will allow the Islamic extremists to portray India as a Hindu majoritarian country with which Bangladesh cannot be friendly. In any case, faith-based screening will be struck down by the Supreme Court as repugnant to the basic structure of the Indian constitution. It will also be opposed by Indian politicians who depend on immigrant votes or have links with human traffickers.