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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 17 New Delhi April 16, 2016

Assam Polls, Kollam Tragedy, India-US

Friday 15 April 2016


The polling and campaign for the State Assembly elections are in full swing. Even though the States where elections are being held do not have any strong presence of the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP is making a desperate bid to wrest power in Assam, the key North-East State in the poll-fray.

However, the latest news from Assam is not that hopeful from the BJP’s standpoint. Its full-throated campaign for communal polarisation alongwith calls to seal the India-Bangladesh border in order to stop the immigration of Muslims from that neighbouring state appears to have heightened the sense of insecurity amoing the minorities, who are thus preparing to strike hard by consolidating their support to the Tarun Gogoi-led Assam Government of the Congress. If that really happens then the BJP’s poll strategy will boomerang and Narendra Modi would be compelled to bite the dust in Assam as he did in Bihar and Delhi.

Meanwhile the Kollam fire tragedy in Kerala with explosions killing over 100 persons and injuring nearly 400, some of them seriously, has once again brought into focus one basic issue: how far the law is subverted to appease religious sentiments. Significantly, as has been highlighted in several media reports, permission for conducting fireworks display at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam was denied by both the District Collector and Additional District Magistrate who underscored the potent danger of such fireworks going awry by quoting from inquiry reports of fire, environment and police officials. But, as The Times of India has editorially pointed out, not only did the temple management, with full support of local politicians, go ahead with the fireworks display disregarding the opposition from the district authorities, “communal motives were attributed to the objection” as both the DC and ADM happen to be Muslims, “in itself a communalised way of seeing”. But a few other points need to be reflected upon: there have been around 750 firecracker-related incidents in the State and many deaths in the last two decades; the police could not implement the law in the State since police reforms are in limbo despite the Supreme Court ruling upholding reports of commissions of inquiry advocating such reforms. The Time of India aptly stresses, “as long as political heavyweights prevail, police will never be truly responsive to community needs”.

While such events in the domestic sphere cause legitimate concern, what has happened on the Indo-US front is no less alarming. The details of the talks between Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and the decisions arrived at have not been made public but it has been officially stated that India and the US ‘have agreed in principle’ on the Logistic Support Agreement which will allow the US to control our civil and military airports and seaports.

Such a development will have wide-ranging diplomatic implications as well. Allowing the US to use our air and seaports will not be to the liking of Russia, a time-tested friend of this country. Already, US economic sanctions on Russia following the Ukraine controversy have brought Russia closer to China. If India appears to be totally under US influence, it will also further antagonise China.

Beijing has made formidable logistic build-up on India’s northern borders. Two of China’s seven Military Regions (MRs) face Arunachal Pradesh and span the entire North-East of India from Arunachal in the west to India-China-Myanmar border trijunction in the east. India has done precious little to counter this threat. Even the raising of a Mountain Strike Corps specifically to defend the North-East against a possible Chinese attack has been shelved on cost consideration. Does the Modi Government intend to hand over the task of defending India’s borders to the US?

Of more concern is the fate of India’s nuclear arsenal. Reactors producing material for weapons production are not at present under IAEA supervision. Will Washington now supervise our nuclear arsenal and the production of fissile material? India has so far steadfastly refused to sign the iniquitous FMCT (Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty) despite strong US pressure. What is going to happen to all that? Signing the FMCT will mean India will lose the right to make nuclear weapons in future.

India’s independence and sovereignty is getting eroded by the day without the people being hardly aware of the fact and those who were to make the people aware and mobilise them against the policy of the government, that is, the Left, cannot see beyond their electoral gains and losses. Political myopia has severely restricted their field of vision. What is expected of them is not the adoption of a resolution or the issuing of a press statement but mass mobilisation. They are either unwilling or unable to do what their obvious duty is. Trying times, indeed, for a country with a population of one thousand and two hundred million people.

April 13 Analyst

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