April 16, 2018

Indialogue: Newsletter by Aman Thakker

By Aman Thakker


Welcome to Indialogue, a weekly newsletter dedicated to analyzing major developments in India. This week’s brief looks at some heavy news, with two awful rapes in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. I also look at reports of a new China-built road near the Siachen Glacier, news coming out of India’s DefExpo and some obstacles facing the privatization of Air India.

- Aman

Horrific Reports of Rapes in Unnao and Kathua 

Two dreadful reports of rapes in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir revealed the darkest and most despicable parts of Indian society and politics this week. I’ll warn the readers that there’ll be some graphic descriptions below.

In Jammu and Kashmir, an eight year old named Asifa was gang-raped by eight men insight a prayer hall, and then strangled and hit on the head. Further reports outlined that the perpetrators undertookthis grotesque action in order to “dislodge” a group of Bakherwal Muslim nomads from Rasana village in Kathua near Jammu.

In Uttar Pradesh, a BJP MLA named Kuldeep Singh Sengar has been arrested for raping a 17-year old girl who used to address the MLA as “bhaiyya” or “brother,” given the “cordial relations” their families enjoyed. The victim’s father, who was arrested earlier this month after he was allegedly attacked by the Sengar’s brother Atul, died in police custody and could have been beaten in custody, according to a Special Investigative Team.

Protests around India over the rapes in Unnao and Kathua

Large swaths of India’s quickly pointed out how, despite the BJP’s slogan of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” or “Save our Girls; Educate our Girls,” the Unnao rape was perpetrated by a legislator of the BJP. Meanwhile, in Kathua, a self-claimed “Hindu Nationalist” organization called the Hindu Ekta Manch undertook marches in defense of the accused rapists, and two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government also criticized the police’s investigation. Opposition parties, too, weren’t any better, with local J&K leaders from the Indian National Congress also criticizedthe police.

Prime Minister Modi, and other top leaders from the government, including the female ministers in the Cabinet, did not speak on the incidents at all untildays after the reports had broken on Friday.

Comment: These reports, and the politicized and communalized reactions to them, such as providing support to rapists, politicizing the stories of the victims, as well as not speaking out at all on the allegations, displays the ugliest side of Indian society and politics. Horrific reports of rape are much too commonplace, but this incident of rape as tool for communalization, as well as the public reactions to rape, such as positing a “Yes, but…” or attacking the victims and supporting the rapists, are completely unacceptable. Such incidents undermine the moral center of the country, and demands that Indian society, at large, has to stand up for the victims and unequivocally demand justice, because standing idly by just means contributing to a moral decline of Indian society’s collective conscience.

Concerns over a Chinese Road North of Siachen

Reports emerged early this week that the government had received intelligence reports that China had constructed a 70 km road between September 2017 and February 2018 in the Shaksgam Valley, north of the Siachen Glacier in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and that the government was trying to confirm these reports. (For its part, ThePrint, an Indian news outlet, claims it had reported the construction of the road in January of this year. Read their report here). The Valley was ceded to China by Pakistan in a 1963 boundary agreement which India contests and claims was illegal.

Map of Shaksgam Valley and Siachen Glacier

Why This Matters?: Although Indian troops are stationed in the nearby Siachen Glacier, this construction does not pose a direct military threat in what is considered the highest battlefield in the world. However, the construction does is likely to be considered a provocative alteration of the status quo, and has significant implication for the China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Indian intelligence officials believe the road construction is an attempt to “realign… the Karakoram highway in order to keep the 1,300 km road linking Pakistan Punjab to Kashgar in Xinjiang snow-free throughout the year.” The Karakoram highway is a strategic road that is central to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The ability to access the Persian Gulf and Arabian sea via the Gwadar port throughout the year would be crucial for China’s interests.

We should also consider this in the frame of the ongoing Indian “reset” of its relations with China. I’m certain that this construction will be brought up in conversations between high ranking Indian and Chinese officials. Indeed, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj are slated to visit Beijing in the coming months, and even Prime Minister Modi will be in China in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, and are likely to bring up this issue. However, what remains to be seen if and how India can square this development with a reset in relations, and whether India’s “reset” in relations toward China will result in a reciprocal “reset” in relations by Beijing towards India on issues, including addressing India’s sovereignty concerns over CPEC.

Defence Stories from India’s DefExpo Week

India held its biennial DefExpo this week, and with it came a flurry of defence related news. Here’s a summary of some of the biggest news:

Mahindra Group signed an Memorandum of Understanding with ShinMaywa Industries of  Japan to manufacture and assemble the Amphibious Aircraft US-2 in India

Ajai Shukla reported that “The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) draft Defence Production Policy (DProP) spells out the goal of making India self sufficient in 13 key weapons – including fighters, warships, submarines, and tanks – by 2022 and, eventually, one of the world’s top five defence manufacturing countries. Yet, at Defexpo 2018, which opened in Chennai on Wednesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated she had only a limited ability to induce the military to use indigenously designed and manufactured weaponry.”

Union Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman at DefExpo18

Boeing on Thursday announced a partnership with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS) to manufacture its carrier and land based F/A-18 Super Hornet multi-role fighter aircraft in India. Manu Pubby of ThePrint tweeted “This is the first time that HAL has entered into a partnership with a private firm to (potentially) make fighter jets in India. Gives Boeing an edge for its F/A 18 Super Hornet offering to the Air Force and Navy.”

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reacted to questions about a recent parliamentary report wherein the army outlined that the central government had not allocated enough money to pay for emergency purchases, critical ammunition, and construction of strategic road projects on the India-Chinese border (Indialogue covered this story here). She pointed to Defence Ministry decision to sign a Rs 639-crore contract with an Indian firm for supplying 1.86 lakh bullet proof jackets to the army, and other developments to “remove doubts in anyone’s mind that nothing is happening in the ministry.

And as always, there was a flurry of discussion regarding India’s ongoing attempt to acquire 110 fighter jets to upgrade it’s woefully out of date squad of MiG-21s and MiG-27s. I’ll point you to this piece by Ajai Shukla and this articlein The New York Times for a good overview and analysis.

Air India Privatization Already Hits Roadblocks

Two weeks ago, Indialogue covered the government’s decision to privatize Air India the nation’s wholly government-owned national airline, by inviting bids for 76% stake in the company. As of Sunday evening here in Washington, D.C., no company or group of companies has publicly declared that they are interested in bidding.

Confirmed Dropouts

IndiGo, a low-cost carrier,announced that the company would not participate in the bidding process.

Aditya Ghosh, the President of IndiGo, said the airline has been predominantly interested in buying its international operations and low-cost carrier Air India Express.

"However, that option is not available under the government's current divestiture plans for Air India.”

“We do not believe that we have the capability to take on the task of acquiring andsuccessfully turn around all of Air India's airline operations”

Jet Airways also announced that it would not participate in the bidding process for the privatization of Air India.

Deputy CEO, Amit Agarwal,said “considering the terms of offer in the information memorandum and based on our review, we are not participating in the process.”

Earlier reports had statedthat “a consortium of Jet Airways, Air France-KLM and Delta Airlines was understood to have expressed interest in the disinvestment of Air India.”

SpiceJet, another low-cost carrier,ruled out their participation in the bidding process back in January, before the bidding rules were announced.

“We are too small to bid for a large airline like the national carrier,” said Ajay Singh, Chairman of SpiceJet

“Air India is a national asset and I am pretty that sure there will be many takers for it... But we are too small to bid for such a large asset.”

Meanwhile, a Reuters report this past week stated that Tata Group, one of India’s largest conglomerates, would likely not participate in the bidding process. However, there has been no definitive public statement from Tata Group yet. Indeed, N Chandrasekaran, the Chairman of Tata Sons told CNBC TV18 “There is a deadline which extends till, I think, middle of May, so I will leave it at that.” The report also argued that “A lack of interest from Tata is likely to put pressure on the government to rethink its terms or even the structure of the sale.”

However, despite the lack of takers from any Indian companies, foreign airlines have previously expressed an interest in acquiring Air India, and have not yet ruled out their participation. Industry sources, including aviation consultant Mark Martin, report that Star Alliance members such as “Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air China, Air Canada and United Airlines will gain immensely if they were to pick up stake in Air India.” Moreover, British Airways and Etihad might also be interested.

Stories you might enjoy:

Iain Marlow and Ismail Dilawarargue “A remote Iranian port could be the next trigger for geopolitical tensions between rivals China and India...On a March trip to Islamabad, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he’d welcome Chinese and Pakistani investment in Chabahar...The shift makes sense for Iran, which wants to ensure Chabahar is an economic success. But it could be a strategic loss for India, which opposes China’s expansion in the Indian Ocean and is already worried that Gwadar could one day be used as a military base -- along with other China-backed ports from Myanmar to Bangladesh to Sri Lanka.”

Aditi Raja and Kamal Saiyed report“The National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRC), which has begun its meetings with “stakeholders” to assess the social impact and damage from the ambitious Ahmedabad-Mumbai ‘bullet train’ project, is facing protests from farmers and environment activists over the lack of time and clarity in the discussions.”

Arihant Pawariya writes “Passed in 2009 and in force since 2012, the Right to Education Act has forced the closure of thousands of budget private schools, with thousands more on the verge of closure. It has robbed school owners of their autonomy and has frustrated genuine education entrepreneurs to no end.”

Indrani Bagchi notes “India and Sweden are looking for a couple of big outcomes at next week's summit, when prime minister Narendra Modi travels to Stockholm for a bilateral summit and the first Indo-Nordic summit with Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Sushant Singh reports “India has declined an offer from the US for talks between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis in lieu of the ‘2-by-2’ dialogue between India’s foreign and defence ministers and US secretaries of state and defence. The inaugural ‘2-by-2’ dialogue was scheduled to be held in Washington this month, but was postponed as the US Secretary of State-designate, Mike Pompeo, is still awaiting his confirmation by the US Senate

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