India's New Education Policy 2016

By Avasna Pandey

The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog formed in 2015 is the Government of India’s think tank aimed at providing both directional and policy inputs. Structural reform in education – from primary to higher education levels – is part of Prime Minister Modi’s agenda. Hence, the New Education Policy (NEP) was formulated “to meet the changing dynamics of the population’s requirement with regard to quality education, innovation and research”, and aid the country’s move towards becoming a knowledge superpower.

The policy, still at a nascent stage, has proposed various reforms like emphasis on Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), girls, minorities, and other socially deprived groups to accelerate rural literacy by enabling inclusion. Similarly aimed measures include promoting the regional mother tongue as medium of instruction, integrating functional skills for livelihood, incorporating ethical education in school curriculum, and promoting Information and Communication Technology (ICT). These themes echo the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stated aim to promote sociocultural harmony and include the generally marginalized sections of society. Since these ideas also involve the promotion of ICT, they are congruent to the Modi government’s commitment towards skill building and the use of digital technology wherever possible.

The NEP is envisioned to be a bottom-up approach wherein the government makes changes from the very basic unit of school administration – village education committees. There have been other education reforms in India before, but what distinguishes the reforms made under Modi is its focus on inclusivity. India is a diverse country, but there is also rampant inequality. Much of this has to do with the prevalence of the caste system in society, which has created hierarchies wherein some people are highly privileged while others are not. Therefore, in order to close the gap, the government recognized “enabling inclusive education” as one of NEP’s 13 broad themes, which is exclusively aimed at bolstering opportunities for socially-economically less privileged  communities.

The NEP is positive step toward reforming the education sector in India. However, though the policy seems ambitious enough, it is not free from loopholes. On critical examination, the Modi government’s NEP has repeatedly been subject to scrutiny and criticism. No doubt, education plays an important role in enlightening the society, but if education policies are misused, the state could use them as tool to transfer a preferred domain of knowledge to the ordinary citizen/working class. For example, the Modi government introduced the Child Labor Amendment Act of 2016, which allows children to “help the family in the field and do home based-work after school hours.” It has been argued, however, that the “home-based work” is nothing but a reinforcement of caste based occupational division. The criticism is that the NEP is creating an unfair division of labor and training lower caste school children as skilled labor to serve the interest of the higher castes, while at the same time reserving knowledge-based work for the elite and upper caste Hindus.

Similarly, since the BJP came into power in 2014, they have been subject to criticism by the opposition on the grounds of practicing communal politics and taking measures that are not  student friendly. The BJP has had to deal with allegations of communalism regarding issues like the curbing of student politics, fee hikes, dismantling of the University Grants Commission (UGC), seat cuts, reduction in research funds for universities, saffronization of young minds through the imposition of Sanskrit, and rewriting of history textbooks that laud Hindu kings and the Vedic period.  It can be described as the alleged imposition of Hindutva ideology. While not all these examples are linked to the NEP under the Modi government, curbing of student politics was mentioned in one of their draft recommendations. Freedom of speech goes hand-in-hand with student politics; they both foster the critical thinking that is imperative for the development of students.  Therefore, restrictions would mean denying students their basic rights, and that ultimately defies the basic purpose of any education policy, which is to empower and facilitate the holistic development of students.

The policy has its share of negatives and positives, recommendations are still being made, and it needs to be approved by the NITI Aayog before the release of the finalized version. The policy document has undergone various revisions and amendments, and as such, how the policy unfolds is yet to be seen. While the NEP is an innovative measure, still more needs to be done in order to address the issues of inequality and exclusion that remain at the heart of the policy.

While successful implementation is imperative for the NEP to be a success story, the government also needs to increase budgetary allocations towards education. Although the policy has paid much attention to skills and employability, it should also focus on reducing gender disparities. Simply aiming to bridge the gender gap in education will not suffice. Since there is still a considerable amount of gender based violence in the Indian society, it is imperative to draft policy that creates a grassroots level change to ingrained mindsets that spawn this violence.  Mandatory introduction of gender studies is one way of doing so. Furthermore, freedom of expression is critical to the purpose of higher education, and censorship violates this purpose. Hence, the government should pay heed to these issues and revise recommendations like the curbing of student politics if it truly wants to bring about comprehensive reforms in the education sector shape a better future for the generations to come.

The U.S. Election & Its Reverberations in South Asia

By Ali Malik, Hamza Tariq Chaudhary, Konark Sikka


The whole world on the night of November 8th waited anxiously to see whom the American people would choose as the 45th President of the United States. In South Asia, people in India and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal were eager to know who would lead the US after the departure of President Obama and how the next President would draft policy towards their respective countries.

Globalization has made the world interconnected and the events in one part of the world can affect political and economic realities in another. Furthermore, issues such as cyber security and terrorism have been ones that have been hot button issues, not only in the US, but in South Asia as well. Whether it be cyber security, terrorism, or trade, decisions in Washington have lasting impacts in Delhi, Islamabad, and Kabul. As the results of the election became clear, people through out South Asia were either joyful, surprised, or disappointed with the results.



Afghanistan-US relations were barely discussed in the US 2016 election. In recent years, the relationship has been framed around the US military’s involvement at supporting the Afghan regime against the Taliban and monetary aid for the ruling Afghan government.

Trade with Afghanistan has mostly consisted of US exports to the nation at the amount of $478.9 million and imports from Afghanistan at $23.5 million during the fiscal year of 2015.

President-elect Trump has indicated that he would pursue an ‘America First’ strategy, hoping to free up the budget to focus on domestic affairs implying that he might end America’s involvement within the South Asian nation. However, he has also indicated that he would continue to maintain an American presence within the country to keep an eye on Pakistan and its nuclear program.

The current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, congratulated President-elect Trump on becoming the 45th President of the US and stated that “The government of Afghanistan hopes that in close cooperation with the new president of the United States, relations between the two countries expand further and develop in a way that is in the interest of the two countries and nations.” Analysts believe that a President Trump would continue to maintain close relations with Afghanistan through a military lens particularly due to his commitment in combatting terrorism and the Islamic State.



Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated President-Elect Trump the day after his victory and even extended an invitation to him to visit Bangladesh. Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Abdul Matlub Ahmed believes that Trump’s victory gives Bangladesh the opportunity to negotiate duty-free access into the United States.

However, former ambassador to the United States, M. Humayun Kabir did express concerns over any potential immigration laws making it tough for Bangladeshis living in the Untied States.



Thimpu has two key concerns, both of which are shared by other countries in South Asia, immigration and climate change.

With respect to immigration –Bhutanese refugees in the US are concerned about their status in the aftermath of the recent elections. The Obama administration, had promised to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, and given them a legal status. President-elect Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has created grave concerns amongst this community, about the possibility of imminent deportation if Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric were to become policy.

With respect to Climate Change, Bhutan a prominent voice at the 2016 Paris Agreement, and a champion of environmental regulations, is concerned about what President-elect Trump’s policies are in this regard. During the campaign Mr. Trump came out vociferously against climate change but one has yet to see what policy his administration will adopt.




Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst the first world leaders to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump on his election victory on Twitter, followed by a phone call. President-Elect Trump also enjoyed some support from Indian-Americans in the United States. These supporters of Trump organized a fundraiser held by the Republican Hindu Coalition and Shalabh Kumar, in New Jersey, which President-Elect Trump attended.

President-Elect Trump has been in favor of stronger immigration policies throughout his campaign. There is a fear by some over any restructuring of the visa rules and regulations affecting Indians, according to what Shivendra Singh, global trade development for the National Association of Software and Services Companies. According to the Reserve Bank of India, around 60% of India’s software services exports head towards the United States, but President-Elect Trump has called for taxes on companies that outsource, which would affect these exports. Furthermore, Jayadev Ranade, a foreign policy analyst has argued that Trump’s rhetoric suggests the US backing away militarily from East Asia, would be a negative for India. However, others are more optimistic, as Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States believes that Trump will be a stronger ally in the fight against terrorism.




The most significant concern for the Maldives government is how President-elect Trump – backed by a Republican Congress – deals with climate change agreements. President-elect Donald Trump has long insisted he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. But Amjad Abdulla, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said he expected Trump to do a "great job" delivering U.S. commitments on climate change. The Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Maldives Energy Minster Thoriq Ibrahim was optimistic about climate change prospect even without US involvement: “Whatever happens, the international community is determined to go on.”  




President- elect Trump’s vision is disengagement from foreign issues to divert more focus towards domestic issues. This could result in reduction in trade and aid benefits for countries like Nepal, including a drop in development assistance that Washington provides through USAID and Millennium Corporation Challenge. Outside of Nepal’s borders, there are millions of Nepalese working around the world. Analysts posit that an atypical change in US policy abroad could affect the political economy of East Asia and the Gulf where 2.5 million Nepali’s work and send remittance home.




The current US-Pakistan relationship has been on a steady decline since the start of the current decade and relations seem to continue on a downward trajectory. The current level of trade between Pakistan and the US accounted for a total of $5.5 billion within the 2015 fiscal year with Pakistan exporting $3.7 billion in goods and importing $1.8 billion in goods.

Relations between the two nations are expected to remain steady yet tense due to President-elect Trump’s statements during his campaign. President-elect Trump stated that he would arrange the release of Dr. Shakeel Afridi (responsible for identifying Osama Bin Ladin), would continue to station American troops in Afghanistan so that the US could keep an eye on ‘nuclear’ Pakistan, and indicated that he would be “honored” to help stabilize Indo-Pak relations as well as stating that any future aid to the nation would be dependent on Pakistan dismantling its nuclear program.

During the campaign cycle Mr. Trump repeatedly called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States on grounds of what he termed were security reasons. In spite of the President-elect’s rhetoric and stance on Muslims, the leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan congratulated him and hoped to work with him.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also congratulated President-Elect Trump on his victory. Most analysts believe the US-Pakistan relationship would have continued to deteriorate regardless of who won the presidency. However, the relationship may become one that is beneficial for Pakistan if only because Mr. Trump’s inexperience in foreign affairs may allow Pakistan extra room for maneuverability. It is also possible the relationship may become increasingly hostile, as a President Trump may prefer to focus on domestic issues.


Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka, there has been no significant concern in the aftermath of the election. On November 9th Sri Lankan President Sirisena sent a congratulatory message to President-elect Trump.

From Colombo’s perspective it will be important to see how Mr. Trump’s administration views the ‘Tamil issue’ and how much support they receive for continued economic assistance from the US government and international financial institutions like IMF. 

India’s Act East Policy: A Track Record and Recommendations for the Future


By Trisha Ray

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s new Act East Policy in 2014, his statements were met with optimism about the prospect of the world’s largest democracy finally living up to its potential as a great power. The success of this turn is something of a question mark because India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to be plagued by a reputation for shying away from deeper engagement, especially when the issue of autonomy is at stake. The lack of a formal document elucidating exactly what ‘Act East’ entails has also made judging its success a challenge. However, for the sake of security and in order to pursue action that matches their rhetoric — that of India as an emerging power, and of ASEAN centrality — the two need to move beyond the touch-and-go diplomacy that has characterized relations so far.

Why Act East?

India and the countries of Southeast Asia have significant strategic and economic interests in building closer relations with one another. This realization has triggered India’s switch from a ‘Look East’ policy to an ‘Act East’ policy in order to deepen its engagement with Southeast Asia in light of a belligerent China. India’s Look East Policy began in 1991 in order to engage strategically and economically with Southeast Asia to counter Chinese influence. Act East, though there is no formal definition, is meant to reiterate India’s commitment to Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is emerging as and will continue to be the axis of several important developments over the coming decades. For instance, Vietnam and the Philippines have a direct stake in the South China Sea dispute and are looking to ASEAN for assistance in finding a peaceful resolution. The ASEAN economies will also collectively become the fourth-largest market in the world by 2030. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), if ratified by all parties, will integrate the trade of 12 countries that account for 40% of the world’s trade.

The 14th ASEAN-India Summit and the 11th East Asia Summit, both held in early September, were thus opportunities for India, itself an important center of power in Asia, to assertively weigh in on the aforementioned issue areas.  

Economic Engagement

The regions’ growing markets and proximity to each other should, intuitively, make for a fruitful Indo-ASEAN economic relationship. The India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 2010, was thus meant to usher in a new era of stronger economic ties, and by 2012, the two parties had reached a trade target of $79 billion. Yet in 2014, Indo-ASEAN trade stood at $67.8 billion and accounted for only 2.7% of ASEAN’s total trade and about 9.4% of India’s total trade. In 2015, this figure dropped further to $58.4 billion (about 2.6% of ASEAN’s total trade). There is, of course, variation in India’s economic integration with different ASEAN member states. However, as a proportion of its partner’s trade, trade with India remains below double digits with each country in ASEAN.

Security Engagement

The ASEAN nations and India have much in common in the strategic sphere. The two parties share, for instance, an ambition of carving an autonomous space for themselves in the international system where they can maintain their sovereignty and autonomy. At the same time, as a consequence of a changing threat environment, these states cannot continue to distance themselves from great power politics.

The South China Sea dispute is an immediate threat to the security of several Southeast Asian countries. India too has a stake in maintaining freedom of the seas under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) if it wants to secure trade with Southeast Asian nations. Naval cooperation could thus become the gateway to deeper strategic engagement with the region. Hints of this are visible, for instance, in India’s flourishing relationship with Vietnam. In 2014, India and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that opened up a line of credit for Vietnam to purchase defense equipment from India. The two have also had significant service-to-service cooperation (particularly naval cooperation). In addition to being necessary for trade, keeping the seas secure is also linked to the security of India’s energy sources. The Strait of Malacca, a major chokepoint through which an estimated 15.2 million barrels of oil pass through daily, is disconcertingly close to China’s claims in the South China Sea.  

The Future of the Act East Policy

India and ASEAN both place heavy emphasis on economic engagement, and that is therefore the area in which progress in relations between the two is most likely. However, as mentioned before, trade between the two is lower than one would predict given geographic proximity. Thus, India needs to engage bilaterally with the growing economies of ASEAN. It has, for instance, been deepening economic ties with Vietnam and trade between the two is expected to touch $20 billion in 2020. 

India’s commitment to multilateral trade pacts is less certain. It is unlikely to join the TPP considering the agreement’s stance on intellectual property rights (IPR). While India has begun strengthening the domestic legal framework for IPR, it still has a stake in keeping IPR relatively weak. For instance, weak IPR would help India maintain its role as the “pharmacy of the developing world”.  Similar issues have led to Indian hedging in negotiations surrounding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Source:    Forbes

Source: Forbes

In the realm of security cooperation, India needs to increase its naval footprint. Indonesia would be a useful partner in naval cooperation as it has become increasingly assertive in securing its seas, but there have not been high-level state visits between India and Indonesia since 2013; when Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in 2014, the discussions revolved only around trade and investment. However, if India sets about fulfilling its commitment to “Indo-Pacific security”, we may see it pursue stronger bilateral strategic engagement with other nations in Southeast Asia affected by the South China Sea dispute.

To fulfill the imperative of ‘acting east’, India must deepen its engagement with the nations of Southeast Asia in ways that move beyond the relatively limited engagement that has marked its relations to date. There is sizeable potential in cooperation between the parties, given their strategic and economic affinities. India may yet become a valuable partner in the region.




History of India-Nepal Relations

Prime Minister Dahal of Nepal (also known as Prachanda), visited Prime Minister Modi in Delhi, this past week as the two countries sought a restart to their relations after the Madhesi crisis of 2015, that led to somewhat of a setback between the relations of the two nations. In order to understand the purpose of the visit however, let’s take a look at the historical relations between the two countries.

The History of India-Nepal Ties

The start of ties between the modern day states of India and Nepal can be traced back to the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty. Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the treaty were the key components of the treaty. Article 5 allowed Nepal access to weaponry from India. Article 6 established national treatment for both Indian and Nepalese businesses (ie once imported, foreign goods would be treated no differently than domestic goods). Article 7 established reciprocal treatment of Indian and Nepali citizens in the two countries, in residence, property, business and movement. While light on details, it did serve the purpose of establishing ties between the two nations and Article 5 especially signalling a potential for deeper ties between the two countries. A year previously had also seen the Communist Revolution in China, as well as the Tibetan conflict, which would have been an issue in the minds during the signing of the treaty.

1950 also saw the signing of the Treaty of Trade and Commerce between India and Nepal. Along with strengthening trade ties, the treaty would also streamline customs and duties regulations between the two nations, an important factor for Nepalese trade, given that it is a landlocked country. An Indian military mission would also be established in Kathmandu and be the source of tension in Nepal towards India.

The 1960s would mark the beginning of Nepal balancing its relations with both India and China. 1962 King Mahendra dissolving the parliamentary government and installing the Panchayat System, which was marked by the lack of political parties and constituted of a structure consisting of village panchayats all the way up to a national panchayat. Furthermore, the King was to remain as the head of state under this system.

Prior to that, in 1960, Nepal would sign another Peace and Friendship Treaty, with China this time around. Furthermore, in 1961, Nepal would sign a border treaty and also agree to the building of a highway route that would connect with China. All this signalled a drift away from India, but post the 1962 war between India and China, Nepal would sign a ‘secret’ agreement with India that allowed Nepal to only import arms from India in 1965. This would however be cancelled by Nepal in 1969, along with a call for Indian military personnel being removed from Nepal.

Multiple Trade and Transit Treaties were signed between India and Nepal as trade ties strengthened between the two countries in the 1970s and the 1980s. The first being in 1971, and in 1978. 1978 also saw an increase in the number of joint investments between Indian and Nepalese firms, all signalling further cooperation between the two nations.

Meanwhile, on the China front, Nepal would not see any significant developments in the 1970s, or the early 1980s, although strong relations would be maintained between China and Nepal throughout this time, as Nepal continued to balance its relations between India and China. The tipping point would come in 1989, with the failure to negotiate a new trade treaty and the purchase of weaponry from China, leading to the expiration of vital trade and transit of goods treaties between India and Nepal, placing massive strain on Nepal’s economy.

That massive strain would result in the restoration of the parliamentary democracy in Nepal in 1990 and after visits and meets in the early 90s between Indian and Nepalese leaders, trade ties would resume again with the signing of new treaties.

The 2000s would see the monarchy getting restored under King Gyanendra, only to be overthrown in 2006 and abolished in 2008, when Prime Minister Dahal (also known as Prachanda) started his first tenure as Prime Minister of Nepal. Under King Gyanendra, China delivered arms to Nepal after India had stopped its weapons supply once the King seized power. India would normalize its relations with Nepal once again after the King Gyanendra was removed from power.

Recent Developments

Currently, India remains the largest foreign investor in Nepal, is providing aid and is jointly constructing hydel power projects with Nepal, some of which was announced during Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 visit to Kathmandu, with the extension of a $1 billion credit line. Wary of these developments, China too has has made recent efforts to maintain a presence in Nepal, with investment in the Araniko Highway that connects Kathmandu with the Nepal-China border and facilitates easier trade and movement of goods between the two countries. Hundreds of millions of dollars have also been pledged to Nepal by China for infrastructure and even military aid.

Last year saw the Madhesi crisis, when people from the Madhesi community setup blockades at vital border crossings for trade with India, as they protested for better representation in Nepal’s constitution. This resulted in tensions between India and Nepal, with then Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli asking India to remove the official blockade. However, India denied any role in the blockade, stating that internal tensions in Nepal were the cause behind the blockade.

Prime Minister Dahal visited India this past week and along with Prime Minister Modi, signed agreements aimed at improving infrastructure and aiding the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts in Nepal. Border security and hydropower were other topics that were discussed. The purpose of the visit was to restart the ties that had taken a hit post the Madhesi crisis and blockade controversy, which led to Nepal increasing its ties with China.

Soon after there were reports in Chinese state-run media that stated the visit to India was detrimental to the previously burnished Nepal-China ties. There were also unconfirmed reports that President Xi Jinping of China was to cancel his future trip to Nepal, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry has come out and denied those reports.

Looking Ahead

Landlocked between two major regional powers, the quick readthrough of Nepal’s ties with India and China shows that not being overly dependent on either India or China is a crucial aspect of Nepal’s foreign policy. Strategically, it makes sense for Nepal to balance between India and China, as being landlocked hinders Nepal’s opportunity to trade with the rest of the world freely and being overly reliant on either nation would only lead to potential problems if either country withdrew their support. The latest developments hence, suggest no diversion from this historical status quo and future talks between China and Nepal should be expected. 




By Anuja Patel, Abdullah Qayomi, Trisha Ray and Shefali Dhar.


SS Ahluwalia

Minister of State, Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare

BJP’s National Vice President, elected from the Darjeeling constituency in West Bengal. Ahluwalia is known for being very vocal, especially on minority issues. In August 2015, for instance, he spoke in support of a separate Gorkhaland, and in opposition to BJP’s non-separatist stance. He has been appointed to the Council of Ministers, and says his priority will be “bringing development to the people”.


Ramesh Chandappa Jigjinagi

Minister of State, Drinking Water & Sanitation

Three-term MLA, Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, from Bijapur in Karnataka, was sworn in as a Minister of State in the Modi government today as part of the cabinet reshuffle.


Parshottam Rupala

Minister of State, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Panchayati Raj

Parshottam Rupala (61), who hails from Amreli district, is considered an influential Patidar leader from Saurashtra. He has been the state BJP president (2006-09) as well as a Rajya Sabha member earlier (2008-2014). He also served as a minister in the Gujarat Government from 1995 to 2002

MJ Akbar

Minister of State, External Affairs

National Spokesperson for the BJP, and a Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand. Akbar is also a prominent journalist and a former Congress MP.

MJ Akbar’s debut as a minister, brings in “an eloquent English-speaking Muslim voice” to Modi’s Cabinet.


Arjun Ram Meghwal

Minister of State, Finance for Corporate Affairs

Member of BJP from Bikaner District, Rajasthan. Elected to Lok Sabha in 2009 and was reelected in 2014. Member of various committees, including defense, science and technology, and environment.


Anil Madhav Dave

Minister of State Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Independent Charge)

A BJP member and RSS Swayamsewak, Anil Madhav Dave is a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh. Dave has previously served on parliamentary panels on Committee on Water Resources, Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Parliamentary Forum on Global Warming and Climate Change.


Vijay Goel

Minister of State, Sports and Youth Affairs

Former Union Minister of State. Member of BJP. Since April 2014, he has been a member of the Rajya Sabha.


Rajen Gohain

Minister of State, Railways

Four-time BJP MP from Assam. Elected to Lok Sabha in 1999.


Anupriya Singh Patel

Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare

An Apna Dal MP from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, Anupriya Patel is the daughter of current Apna Dal party chief, Krishna Patel. The two are currently in court over control of the party. Her appointment comes in time for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next year, pointing to a BJP- Apna Dal alliance to oust the current dominant parties: Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.


CR Chaudhary

Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution

CR Chaudhary -  70 years old - is a BJP member and represents Nagaur constituency in the Indian Parliament. He has been appointed as the Minister of State in the newly expanded PM Modi’s cabinet for his expertise in rural development. He holds a degree in rural development from Birmingham University, UK. He started his career as lecturer and later joined the Rajasthan Administrative Services to serve as civil servant in different capacities.


PP Chaudhary

Minister of State for Law & Justice, Electronics & Information Technology

Former Rashtriva Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member, PP Chaudhary joined the newly expanded cabinet of Modi’s Administration as part of the cabinet reshuffling that took place on July 5, 2016. Chaudhary represents Pali constituency of Rajasthan in 16th Lok Sabha. Holding a degree in Law, he is a senior Supreme Court advocate and claims to have conducted 11,000 cases in the past 38 years. According to his own confessions, he comes from a poor farming community and has actively worked on many causes and projects for farmers. He is a farmer-friendly lawyer, and is the head of the Seervi Mahasabha too.


Ramdas Athawale

Minister of State, Social Justice and Empowerment

A Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Athawale is a prominent Dalit leader who heads the Republican Party of India, has been described as a “potent mass leader”. He was one of the Dalit activists in 1972 when Dalit Panthers Movement was founded.


Subhash Ramrao Bhamre

Minister of State, Defence

Bhamre, who is from Maratha community, is an oncologist and a surgeon. In 2014 elections, Bhamre defeated Amrish Patel of Congress and entered Lok Sabha to represent Dhule constituency. He is first time MP. He completed his education in medicine at Grant Medical College, JJ Hospital and Tata Cancer hospital. According to Indian Express, he offered free medical treatment to cancer patients. His induction into PM Modi’s new cabinet as the Minister of State for Defense is seen as a compensation to Maharashtra for the Exit of Raosaheb Danve, who resigned after becoming the president of BJP’s state unit. Bhamre is also member in several committees and organizations such as: Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare; the Consultative Committee, Ministry of Railways; and the Committee on Welfare of Other Backward Classes.


Jasvantsinh Bhabhor

Minister of State, Tribal Affairs

Bhabhor, a resident of Dahod district, Gujarat, is an BJP MP in the 16th Lok Sabha. It is his first term as MP, but has previously served as legislator for five terms. He had also led several ministerial portfolios in the past in Gujarat, which includes tribal affairs and environment, and was also part of PM Modi’s council of ministers in Gujarat.


Mansukh Mandaviya

Minister of State, Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Chemicals and Fertilizers

Mansukh Mandaviya, who is from Patel community, is a BJP MP from Gujarat. Mansukh Mandaviya holds H.S.C, Veterinary Live Stock Inspector from Songadh Gurukul and Gujarat Agriccultural University, S.K. Nagar, Dantiwada, Gujarat. He has worked with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and has been with BJP since then. He has also served as the Chairman of Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation and claims to have promoted the farm mechanization and farmer markets. He also assisted farmers find direct access to markets for their products through fairs.


Faggan Singh Kulaste

Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare

Faggan Sing Kulaste, who is a member BJP, represents Mandla constituency of Mandhya Pradesh in the 14th Lok Sabha. He held the Mandla Lok Sabha Seat from 1999 to 2009, and then lost to Basori Singh Masram of Congress. Afterwards, he served with Rajya Sabha until 2014 elections, when he regained the seat by defeating his opposition Omkar Markam. He also served in the Vajpayee government as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Tribal Affairs.


Ajay Tamta

Minister of State, Textiles

Ajay Tamta, who is a dalit leader and a BJP MP from Almora, has been inducted into the Modi Administration. He is appointed as the Minister of State and is the fourth leader to become Union minister from Uttarkhand. Tamta was also a minister in the BJP government from 2007 to 2012.


Mahendra Nath Pandey

Minister of State, Human Resource Development

Mahendra Nath Pandey is a Brahmin and a member of BJP. He for the first time won the general elections in 2014 to represent the Chandauli constituency in the 16th Lok Sabha. Pandey was previously a social worker and has completed MA and PhD in Hindi language as well as a master’s degree in journalism. He also holds ministerial level experience, which includes his position as Minister of Urban Development in Uttar Pradesh. His previous positions include BJP MLA from Saidpur in 1991 and 1996, and BJP state secretary.


Krishna Raj

Minister of State, Women and Child Development

Krishna Raj, who is currently an MP from the reserved constituency of Shahjahanpur, was inducted into the ministerial council of Modi’s Administration as a result of cabinet reshuffling that took place on July 5, 2016. Krishna Raj had previously served as MLA from the reserved seats of Mohammadi in 1996 and 2007. Her education qualification is a post-graduate degree in business.


By Trisha Ray and Anuja Patel


Indo-U.S. Relations: A Snapshot

Indo-U.S Relations during the Cold War period were chilly at best due to issues arising from the U.S’s military support to Pakistan and India’s foreign policy stance that can be best described as non-aligned with a Soviet bias. Relations deteriorated further when India conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and again in 1998, and refused to sign onto the new non-proliferation regime. The thaw in relations began with President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000. The two nations have since found common ground on a number of issues, notably in cooperation vis-a-vis the rise of China as well as energy, trade and maritime security.

This backgrounder will highlight various aspects of current cooperation between the world’s largest democracy and its oldest, particularly in light of Modi’s recent state visit to the U.S.

Present Relations

Today, the relationship between India and the U.S. is flourishing. In Prime Minister Modi’s speech to Congress on June 8, he spoke extensively on the strong relationship between the two nations and the importance of continuing this partnership. In his speech at the 40th AGM of US India Business Council (USIBC), Modi said, “India’s bilateral relationship with the US is stronger than ever and we [President Obama and the Prime Minister] both agreed that the future would be even brighter.”


Security Cooperation

Modi has expressed that India and the United States will work together to combat terrorism in the coming years. This fight includes stopping the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world. To that end, President Obama approved India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to achieve this goal.  

Under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), India and U.S will cooperate on Naval Systems, Air Systems, and other Weapons Systems. Additionally, the “Technical Arrangement between the Indian Navy and the United States Navy concerning Unclassified Maritime Information Sharing” allows for greater exchange of maritime information. 



Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing Congress on June 8, 2016

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing Congress on June 8, 2016


In his speech to the USIBC, Modi asserted that India had a lot to learn from the United States in terms of the economy, and that the two nations could mutually prosper in the future if India were to expand its economy. The Prime Minister said that India is more than a large market; in addition, it is a partner and a source of talent.   


Modi asserts that India’s now flourishing economy is largely in part because of the implementation of carbon taxes on fossil fuels. This step, which helps both the environment and the economy, has enabled India to both decrease their carbon footprint as well as boost their domestic economy. According to the India-US Joint Statement, both nations are committed to aggressively combating climate change.


During his visit, Westinghouse finalized the deal to build six nuclear reactors. These AP1000 reactors will add an estimated 6660 Mwe to India’s current nuclear capacity. Solar energy is the other major alternative sector expected to benefit from the recent slew of energy agreements. The new $20-million U.S.-India Clean Energy Finance (USICEF) initiative will mobilize up to $400 million to provide clean and renewable electricity to up to 1 million households by 2020, the White House said. Another $40-million U.S.-India Catalytic Solar Finance Program will provide financing for small-scale renewable energy investment, "particularly in poorer, rural villages that are not connected to the grid." That initiative is expected to catalyze up to $1 billion worth of projects. Both financing projects will be equally supported by the two countries.” Additionally, India and U.S signed a Memorandum of Understanding on production and distribution of natural gas. The U.S’s massive proved reserves (388 trillion cubic feet as of 2014) and India’s position as the fourth largest importer of natural gas will make this a very lucrative partnership.

Science and Technology

Modi praises the United States’s technological innovation and claims that India needs to follow in its footsteps. He hopes that India will follow in the years to come in the areas of air quality improvement, drugs, drones, hybrid cars, and hydro fracking.


A MOU on “Development of an International Expedited Traveler Initiative (the Global Entry Programme)” will make it easier for ‘pre-approved’, ‘low-risk’ travelers to gain expedited entry to the U.S, contingent on clearance by both countries.

Further Reading

Modi and the Budding U.S.-India Alliance

Full Text of Modi's Speech in the U.S Congress (June 8, 2016)


Image: Youth Ki Awaaz -

Image: Youth Ki Awaaz -

Indian state elections


April 26, 2015


This backgrounder is meant to give an broad overview of the election process. For our in-depth state backgrounders, which give greater detail into the social, economic, and political dimensions of each state and union territory, visit our page on Indian States, where we currently have backgrounders on Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Puducherry, West Bengal and Kerala.

Vidhan Sabha / Legislative Assembly

While most states in India are unicameral, seven out of twenty-nine are bicameral , which entails two Houses of Parliament. In bicameral state legislatures, the lower house is the Vidhan Sabha, or the Legislative Assembly, and the upper house is the Vidhan Parishad. In unicameral states, the Vidhan Sabha is the sole house.

Members of the Vidhan Sabha are direct representatives of the people of a particular state as they are directly elected by the people. The Vidhan Sabha, as outlined in the Constitution of India can be no more than 500 members, and no less than 60 members.

Each Vidhan Sabha assembles for a term of five years, after which elections take place again. However, the term may be extended during a state of emergency, and the session may be dissolved earlier than 5 years by the Chief Minister of the state.

To become a member of the Vidhan Sabha, a person must be a citizen of India, over 25 years of age, and be mentally sound, with no criminal procedures against them. A Vidhan Sabha holds equal legislative power with the upper house of state legislature, the Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council).

                                                                                                                          Current Trends

State elections are fair game for national as well as regional parties, hence the performance of the union government is often a time-sensitive, influential aspect in state elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won the general elections in 2014, is either forming coalition with regional parties or contesting alone in the state elections. It faces an advantage as well as a disadvantage of being the majority party in the national government, as the state elections are acting as a test of its performance in the last two years. The largest party in the opposition at the national level, the Indian National Congress (INC), faces a similar fate. Each state has unique key issues, and thus parties contesting in many states have a unique manifesto for each which can be found in the Indian state backgrounders.

Upcoming State Elections

The elections this year are the first phase of staggered polls in both states. Assembly elections are being held in five Indian states in April and May, and votes will be counted on 19 May - which include West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry.


Further Reading:

Structure of Government in India

Election Commission announces dates for 5 state polls in April and May

Indian State Backgrounders - Demographics, Economics and Politics


Patel Protests, image by Ajay Umat for Times of India.

The Patidar Agitation in India

By Gayatri Oruganti

October 27, 2015

             Hardik Patel, the self declared leader of the Patel protests.

             Hardik Patel, the self declared leader of the Patel protests.

In late August of this year, widespread demonstrations by the Patidar Community in Gujarat India have garnered the attention of the Central Government of India. Hardik Patel, the 22 year-old*, self declared leader of this movement is demanding that the prosperous and politically dominant Patidar community, commonly identified by the surname “Patel”, be given reservations in the Indian quota system; a designation only given to the poorest and historically victimized communities in India.

The Patidar movement, led by a youth organization named “Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti” (PAAS) began as early as July 2015, when Hardik Patel began giving rousing speeches about the unfair treatment of the Patel community in India. PAAS’s followers, who are overwhelmingly young, now feel that the reservation system puts them at an unfair disadvantage compared to reservations-entitled castes. The movement has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers with the aid of social media platforms. On August 25, reporters estimate that one of Hardik Patel’s rallies in Ahmedabad, Gujarat drew anywhere between 200,000 to half a million people. The protests have turned violent and have resulted in the burning of police stations, attacks on government officials’ houses, and nine confirmed deaths. Despite the violence, Hardik Patel stated, "We will not let the government suppress our demands. They can kill as many Patels as they want.”

Who are the Patidars?

The Patidars are a large community of nearly 27 million people, mostly concentrated in the Western state of Gujarat. Since the Middle Ages, the Patidars were a landowning class, given ownership or tenancy to large areas in the princely states. Within the Indian caste hierarchy, the Patidars are considered to be upper caste; their status in society and land ownership gave them an ability capitalize on the agriculture industry and eventually branch out to numerous other industries. “Patels” are now associated with enterprise and wealth, they own up to 70% of the small and medium size enterprises in India and contain a significant presence within the Indian diaspora in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Some famous members of the community include Popat and Chagghan Patel, creators of the oil-engine industry in Rajkot. Tulsi Tanti started Suzlon, a company that provides pioneering insight into wind energy technologies. It is estimated that some 35% of motels in the United States are run by Patels. Although Patidars are only 15% of Gujarat’s population, 30% of the representatives in Gujarat state Parliament are from the Patidar community.

What is the Reservation System?

The Indian quota system is essentially a form of affirmative action that was introduced to Gujarat in 1981 by then Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki. At that time, the Patidar community campaigned against the program, believing that reservations allow less-qualified individuals to take an undeserving step towards success. Now, this same community is insisting that they deserve a mandated reservation due to the rising competition for skilled labor across India. Presently, there is a 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBC), 15% for tribal peoples, and 7% for Dalits. There is a government-imposed maximum of 50% for reservations for admission into public-funded universities, public sector jobs, and increasingly, for private organizations. Reservations also aid marginalized communities by setting the passing marks lower than a non-reservation applicant or student.

Why are the Patidars protesting now?

Some news analysts claim that the reason behind the Patidar protests has an economic origin. The Patidars are, by and large, communities with large stakes in farming, landowning, diamond polishing, and hospitality among many other industries. However, they claim that their holdings are decreasing, citing crop failures and falling commodity prices. The stability of white-collar jobs has attracted many young people to pursue highly competitive opportunities in urban centers. Coincidently, the majority of Hardik Patel’s supporters are youths.

In addition, Liz Mathew, senior editor of the Indian Express, identifies two circulating conspiracy theories: 1) RSS (a Hindu fundamentalist organization) is trying to promote the unrest so there is a debate about the quota system as a whole and 2) a section of Gujarati BJP leaders is trying to expose Anandiben Patel’s , who is the Chief Minister of Gujarat, inability to handle the state leadership. Neither of these theories has been proven.

What has been the Government response?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Gujarat and served as the state’s Chief Minister for thirteen years, has called out for peace, but has not shown any signs of acquiescing to Hardik Patel’s demands. After widespread protests on August 26, the government of Gujarat deployed the Indian Army to maintain order, and instituted mandatory curfews for two full days. On September 19, Hardik Patel was arrested and detained in the city of Surat, as a result, the city erupted in protest, leaving the local government with no choice other than to release Patel on bail. The government briefly instated a mobile and Internet services ban was enacted in the cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara; it was lifted the next day. On October 3, Patel was arrested again after attempting to incite violence following Vipul Desai, a Patidar youth, announced he would commit suicide in support of PAAS. Patel allegedly said “If you have so much courage…then go and kill a couple of policemen. Patels never commit suicide.” Patel has also called for major highways and roadways to be blocked, and attempted to disrupt a cricket match to bring about support his political organization. He was arrested a third time on October 23, this time for sedition and disrespecting India’s flag. Patel has since filed a plea for charges to be dropped but has yet to appear before a district court in Ahmedabad.

*age is disputed.


Further Reading

BBC Profile of Hardik Patel

Patels and the Neo-Middle Class Syndrome

Affirmative Action: Reservations in India- The Economist


Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images



October 26, 2015

As one of the first states to recognize the PRC, India established diplomatic relations with the PRC on April 1, 1950. Both seeing themselves as once victims to western imperialism and now leaders of the developing world, the world’s two most populous nations had good relations at the beginning. In April 1954, India and the PRC signed the Panchsheel Treaty or the Five Principles of Peace Coexistence. In this eight-year agreement, Tibet was identified as the “Tibet Region of China”, indicating India’s consent that Tibet constitutes an integral part of China. The treaty and Nehru’s visit to Beijing later that year marks the apogee of India’s “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (India and China are brothers) policy.

The China-India relationship remained tense in the late 1950s. As anticommunist rebellions activities supported by CIA and nationalist Chinese intelligence agencies became more rampant in Tibet and later spread to Lhasa in 1959, the Chinese Communist Party decided to take a more religion-repressive policy and enhance its control over the territory. After the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama sought sanctuary in India. Since Tibet has strong cultural connections with India - Buddhism in Tibet originated from India and Tibetan way of life is also greatly influenced by India - Tibetan refugees received overwhelming sympathy from ordinary Indians and the Dalai Lama was welcomed as an honored guest by the Indian government. The Central Tibetan Administration was established in Dharamsala and remains in India today, becoming another destabilizing issue in the China-India relations. In the late 1950s, various military incidents took place at the border due to territory disputes. The disputes have not yet been resolved and will be discussed in greater details below.

The tense situation finally escalated into a border conflict in 1962. Both countries blame the other side for starting the conflict. China calls the border conflict “Sino-Indian Border Self-Defense Counter Strikes”, while India refers to it as the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The war lasted less than a month and ended when China declared a ceasefire and withdrew after pushing the Indian forces to within 30 miles of the Assam plains in the northeast and also occupied strategic points in Ladakh.

In 1971, India signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR. In the last two decades of the Cold War, India sided with the USSR, while China and Pakistan with the US. Lack of progress was made on the border issue and the China-India relations remained strained in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some positive movements of the relations were seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s. India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his successor Narasimha Rao were more pragmatic on the economy and in international relations. Economic liberalization initiated by Narasimha Rao’s administration in 1991 lifted most restrictions against foreign technology and investment.  Gandhi visited Beijing in 1988, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to visit China since 1954. Both countries issued a joint communique and established Joint Economic Group on Economic Relations and Trade, Science and Technology (JEG), a ministerial-level dialogue mechanism which lasts till today. Ten sessions have been conducted so far.

During Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to Beijing five years later, India and China signed the border agreement. Later, Beijing announced that it not only favored a negotiated solution on Kashmir, but also opposed any form of independence for the region.

In 1998, India conducted the nuclear tests. In his letter to US president Clinton, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee justified the test by arguing that it faced threats from the nuclear state China, and China has materially helped Pakistan to become a covert nuclear weapons state. This response received strong criticism from China. In the Kargil War a year later, China voiced support for Pakistan, but also counseled Pakistan to withdraw its forces.

China-India relations warmed up in the new millennium, especially after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China in June 2003. China officially recognized Indian sovereignty over Sikkim, a state in the northeast which was annexed and became part of India in 1975. Growing trade between the two countries started to play an important role in the bilateral relations, which will be discussed in details in the later section.

Current issues

Economic Cooperation and Trade

Boosting India’s economy is on the top of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda when he came into office in May 2014. Modi launched the “Make in India” campaign to attract foreign investors. For Chinese businesses, the slowing Chinese economy, the loss of advantage in low labor cost in the global market, and the large demand in India make India an attractive market and testing ground for new products. In July 2015, Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecoms giant and the world’s third largest mobile phone maker, won security clearance to manufacture telecoms equipment in India, and may start to supply locally made products for India’s mobile phones market. In spite of these positive aspects, tough security reviews, visa restrictions and bureaucracies still remain to be barriers to Chinese investment. China and India signed MoU on setting up two industrial parks exclusively for the Chinese in Gujarat and Maharashtra during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014. However, no actual investment is yet reflected on the ground due to issues such as the slow land acquisition process.

The demand for massive infrastructural constructions makes India more attractive to experienced developers in China. National railway administration of China and India agreed to further develop cooperation and signed an action plan in May 2015, as one of the 24 agreements signed during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China. Cooperative activities may include training programs and assessment. A consortium led by China’s national train operator was recently awarded the contract to conduct a feasibility study for a 645-mile high-speed rail link between Delhi and Mumbai. China faces huge competition from Japan in building India’s infrastructure. Japan has agreed to participate in the Indian Railway’s $140 billion investment plan over the next five years and offers to fund Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor at a low interest rate of 0.25%. It has recently submitted a final feasibility report on the more than $15 billion project.

Trade imbalance also deserves great attention in China-India relations. China has become India’s largest trade partner, while India is China’s seventh largest export destination. The bilateral trade totals $ 70.59 billion in 2014, with $ 37.8 billion in favor of China (figures from China’s General Administration of Customs).  In the face of this large trade deficit, India blamed China for not providing India’s companies enough access to Chinese market, especially in IT, pharmaceuticals and agricultural sector. While Chinese leadership has promised to give more market access to Indian products, including pharmaceuticals and farm products, the large trade gap may be unlikely to narrow in the short term, considering India’s poor manufacturing capability to meet the domestic demand and its unfavorable business environment to attract foreign investors. According to the recent data for fiscal year 2015 from India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India’s trade deficit with China spiked by 34 percent from previous fiscal year.

Border Dispute

The contested areas cover two large and various small pieces of territory. The first contested territory lies in the western end. Aksai Chin, largely uninhabited, is currently controlled and administrated by China. Yet it is claimed by India as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and region of Ladakh. The other large disputed territory lies in the eastern end or South of McMahon Line. The area is currently referred to as Arunachal Pradesh by India and Southern Tibet by China. China rejected the agreement of McMahon Line, which was part of the 1914 Simla Convention and questioned its legitimacy by arguing that it was an agreement between British India and Tibet without the participation of Chinese government. China claimed that the contested area in the west belongs to the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Since Vajpayee’s administration emphasized India’s commitment to a “One China” policy and China officially recognized Indian sovereignty over Sikkim, in the past two decades, China and India were able to keep the border disputes aside and avoid major conflicts. However in recent years, the need to resolve the border issue has become more salient, as skirmishes on the border become more frequent and more infrastructure, such as road and highway, are built or planned along the side of Line of Actual Control. Leaderships from both countries have expressed their will to resolve the border disputes as soon as possible in their recent meetings. The two countries agreed to start annual visits between their militaries, expand exchanges between the border commanders and start using a military hotline, according to the Joint Statement during Modi’s visit to China in May 2015.

In spite of the political will to resolve the disputes, it is hard to expect that any side would be willing to make a significant concession. Several proposals to address the border dispute have been brought up on the negotiation table in the history. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping broached the “package settlement” in his meeting with the Indian foreign minister in February 1979: Beijing would drop its claim to the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh/ Southern Tibet), subject to "minor readjustments" in the line of control in the exchange of Delhi accepting Chinese control over Aksai Chin. In the subsequent backchannel talks, China has proposed an LAC plus solution, whereby status quo in the Eastern Sector would be maintained, while China would make some territorial concessions in the Western Sector.  A more recent proposal, which was brought up in 1985, demands that both sides make concessions in their current area of control, China in the Western Sector, while India in the Eastern Sector.

The key issue in current stalemate of negotiation is Tawang. Tawang is a town in the northwestern Arunachal Pradesh/Southern Tibet, 23 miles away from the border. Since 1985, China has made an explicit demand that the “restitution” of Tawang is indispensable to any boundary settlement. According to Beijing, Tawang and its surroundings were under the suzerainty of the Qing dynasty. In addition, Tawang is also the home of the Sixth Dalai Lama. Beijing’s argument is if Tibet is Chinese soil, which New Delhi has officially recognized, then Tawang ought to be as well. However, in academia, there are also debates about whether Tawang should be considered as part of Tibet. Moreover, Tawang is a critical corridor between Lhasa and Assam. For India, giving up this strategic valuable point may allow China to militarily throttle its hold on its northeastern region.


Yarlung Zangbu/ Brahmaputra river is a transboundary watercourse with headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau of the Himalayan and is shared by three riparian states: China, India and Bangladesh. China sits on the upstream, while India and Bangladesh on the relative downstream. About one-third of India’s water is dependent on waters originating from across its frontiers, largely Tibet.

Recently, China operationalized its 510-MW Zangmu Hydropower Station, built on Yarlung Zangbu/Brahmaputra. Two more dams (Jiexu and Jiacha) were reported to be built within 15 miles from Zangmu power station on the Brahmaputra. Indian media have often raised the issue that building dams on the Yarlung Zangbu/Brahmaputra would reduce the flow of water that comes into India, while the Chinese has assured the Indian government that the only purpose is to generate electricity for the Tibetan region, which would not affect water flow. China also denies that it has any intention to divert Brahmaputra, the biggest concern at the Indian side, as part of a potential water transfer plan to address the rising water demand.

In 2013, Ministry of Water Resources of both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding, on which both sides agreed to further strengthen cooperation through the Expert-Level Mechanism on the provision of flood-season hydrological data and emergency management, and exchange views on other issues of mutual interest, and the Chinese side agreed to extend the data provision period of the river. The MoU was later reinforced with the Implementation Plan for Provision of Hydrological Information of the Yarlung Zangbu/ Brahmaputra River in Flood Season by China to India in June 2014. However, the agreement does not mention information about future plan of Chinese dams, and there is still no official water-sharing deal between the two countries.


The biggest challenge for China-India relations to move forward is the distrust between two countries, which is mainly driven by the unresolved border dispute. Unfortunately, even though both sides have shown political will to resolve the issue, neither of the two is willing to make significant concessions. The occasional skirmishes at the border – there is lack of evidence showing whether all the orders come directly from the top decision makers – becomes a destabilizing factor of the bilateral relations. Moreover, the distrust is further magnified by the nationalist and over-sensitive media from both sides.

On the Indian side, this distrust leads to a greater concern about the trade imbalance, Chinese infrastructure building (i.e. dams.) along the border or potential ones in India, hindering further economic engagement. On the Chinese side, the general public’s perception of India as a far less important power than how India perceives China may not be good for the balanced bilateral relations.

However, an escalation of the border disputes to a major conflict may be also less likely, as both countries have plenty of domestic problems that need to be focused on now. Both countries have taken minor steps to advance current relations: state-level and business cooperation also develops as nation-level engagement enhances. The two Asian giants understand that in order to address domestic economic issues and to strengthen their role in global or regional governance, they need each other.


Suggested Readings

Chellaney, Brahma. Water: Asia's New Battleground. Georgetown UP, 2011.

Garver, John W. Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century. University of Washington Press, 2011.

Gupta, Shishir. The Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and the Indian Riposte. Hachette India, 2014.

Maxwell, Neville. India's China War. Natraj Publishers, 2011



Zhonghe Zhu is a recent graduate from Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. His research interests are India’s political economy and China-India relations. He can be contacted at


Prakash Mathema- AFP/Getty Images

Nepal's Constitutional Controversy

By Gayatri Oruganti

September 28, 2015

On Sunday, September 20, Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav ratified a groundbreaking new constitution that was almost seven years in the making. Early last week, the Nepalese Constituent Assembly (NCA) put the draft constitution to a vote and passed the controversial document by a 507 to 601 margin, despite boycotts and abstentions from 9% of members. The new constitution is the product of an unusual political cooperation between the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal, and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

The NCA began voting on the contentious draft constitution amid nationwide protests that have claimed nearly 40 lives so far. The National Democratic Party Nepal (NDP), a Hindu Nationalist political party, put forth a proposal to reinstate Nepal as the world’s only Hindu nation. Nepalese Constituent Assembly voted to retain Nepal’s “secular” state designation with well over the required two-thirds majority, despite widespread protests. Despite the 81% Hindu majority in Nepal, NDP’s proposal failed gaining only 21 supporters out of 601. Another law, which proposes Nepal be divided in seven administrative “provinces” has led many to worry about possible gerrymandering. Many smaller ethnic groups are concerned that creating the new districts may undermine their efforts for greater representation in the Constituent Assembly.

The draft contained several other clauses that instigated widespread unrest, particularly in the rural south of Nepal. Inhabitants of these areas are members of traditionally marginalized communities who were under the Maoists’ constituency, yet they feel that their political party is no longer able to secure their interests. Communities, such as the Madhasis and the Tarai, claim that the new constitution limits their representative voice and have responded violently. Journalist and author on Nepali politics Prashant Jha warns that the new constitution could “…be the cause of a prolonged conflict, civil war, and even a secessionist movement right across the open border.” In order to contain the violence, military and riot police have been deployed and curfews have been imposed in some areas of the south.

Rural communities and women’s interest groups are also protesting the constitution because of renewed citizenship laws. Nepalese citizenship is not automatically granted to many people who live in the Indo-Nepal border regions, and many Madhasis and Tarai’s claim that they are discriminated against. The volume of cross-border marriages in the south further exacerbates the problem for these communities; as the new constitution only allows citizenship to be passed to a child if his or her father is a Nepali citizen.

Nepal has witnessed more than a dozen political incarnations in the past twenty-five years. Discontent with the autocratic monarchy began as early as 1979, with student protests successfully resulting in a constitutional referendum. Between 1985 and 1995, widespread clashes between the monarchy and the Communist and Maoist rebel forces escalated into a full-scale Civil War. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) declared war against the existing administration in February of 1994 and gained followers in large swaths of Nepal’s rural territories. In June 2001, following the murder/suicide of nine members of the royal family by Prince Dipendra, Prince Gyanendra succeeded his father, King Birendra. Later that same year, the Maoist rebels pulled out of scheduled peace talks and began attacking military and police targets. After more than 100 casualties occurred within a four-day period, King Gyanendra declared a State of Emergency and began military campaign to eliminate the rebels. In the following years, strict curfews and the prolonged war greatly reduced the monarchy’s popularity, inciting more Nepalese to protest against the king.

In 2005, King Gyanendra declared another State of Emergency and dismissed the elected Congress and nearly all of the members of his own administration. Amidst widespread violence and instability, the Maoists (along with several other opposition parties) declared a ceasefire and agreed to restore democracy to Nepal. In 2006, Maoists and government officials settled upon a “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”. Two years later, they gained representation in Parliament and orchestrated the abolition of the monarchy. Following the establishment of a Nepalese Republic in 2008, a string of Prime Minister resignations and political squabbling has delayed an acceptable draft constitution since the initial deadline of May 2010. Since the deposition of the monarchy, Nepal has been operating on an interim constitution.

Although the adoption of a constitution solidifies Nepal’s sovereignty, Nepal’s political environment remains delicate due to the deeply mixed reactions. It remains to be seen whether or not the Nepalese government will be involved in an editing process to eventually turn the constitution into a truly inclusive governing document.


For Further Information

Al Jazeera discussion between Prashant Jha, Mara Malgodi, and Shiwani Newpanay.

An Indian Council of World Affairs issue brief

UNICEF Nepal working paper on Post Constitutional Nation-Building


Photo Credit: BBC



February 16, 2015

On February 3, 2016 the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen glacier, was in the news again when an avalanche trapped 10 soldiers of the Indian Army. One soldier, Lance Naik Hanumanthappa was found alive during the rescue operation and was immediately airlifted to New Delhi for treatment. Prime Minister Narendra Modi,accompanied by Army Chief General Suhag visited the Army Hospital to inquire about his condition. Unfortunately, he passed away on 11th February. His cremation witnessed thousands of fellow villagers thronging to see his last glimpse and pay their respects to this bravehart.

This is not the first incidence of a mishap. According to a recent disclosure by the Government of India, 869 Soldiers have died since the Indian Army first occupied these icy heights in 1984 under Operation Meghdoot.  The recent tragedy puts this figure at 879. In 2012, an even more horrific tragedy befell Pakistan when an avalanche on the Pakistani military base (Gyari sector, near Siachen) in this region killed 140 people, majority of whom were soldiers. In total, more than 2000 soldiers  have died on both Indian and Pakistani sides.

The importance that India accords to Siachen is evidenced with the fact that within a few months of being elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi visited the Siachen Base camp and praised the valour and courage of the soldiers who are posted there.

Siachen glacier has been an arena of on and off conflict (armed as well as diplomatic) since 1984. The uninhabitable terrain of Siachen and the exorbitant costs incurred by both Indian and Pakistani Armies to maintain troops in this region have time and again raised voices ranging from demilitarization of the region to setting up a Peace Park as a symbol of Indo-Pak solidarity. Nevertheless, Siachen remains a simmering issue between both the sides.  Knowing that the  standoff has claimed more lives due to climatic freeze than from actual fighting: what explains the unending nature of this conflict? Most importantly, what is the rationale for a dispute over a no man’s land?

Therefore, the events leading to Operation Meghdoot demand a closer analysis, which will also reveal the colonial legacy of this dispute.  Operation Meghdoot reveals that it was not unrelated to the colonial politics of dealing with the northern borders of Kashmir. The British obsession with defining  India’s northern borders  directly affected the post-colonial Indian psyche as it inherited the same insecurities. It actually turns out that India’s policy on Siachen has been a defensive one, but in a sense resembles old colonial fears.


Operation Meghdoot

On April 13, 1984, the Indian Army launched Operation Meghdoot and captured the inhospitable heights of the Siachen glacier, thereby bringing the glacial landmass under its control. The operation was launched a few hours before the Pakistani  Army was set to launch Operation Ababeel to capture the glacier. Following Meghdoot, several attempts were made by the Pakistan Army to dislodge the Indian Army from Siachen, all of which were successfully thwarted. This glacial region, which is strategically located between India, Pakistan and China, is also the world’s highest battlefield with the Indian Army occupying posts close to 20,000 feet altitude. The North of Siachen Glacier bordering China and its west with Pakistan makes Siachen world’s only Trilateral border junction of nuclear powers. A ceasefire was finally agreed between India and Pakistan in 2003, but, this has not ended the militarization of this region.


The Ceasefire Line: Karachi Agreement and Point NJ 9842

The roots of the Siachen conflict can be traced back to the days of Independence when dispute arose between India and Pakistan over the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim-majority territory ruled by a Hindu King, Maharaja Hari Singh. Hari Singh, owing to this complex situation, requested for a ‘Standstill Agreement’ with Pakistan rather than accede to either  nation. Meanwhile, a covert offensive took place by Pashtun tribesmen to occupy the Kashmiri territory following which the Maharaja appealed to India for assistance. He signed the ’Instrument of Accession’ with India on 26th October 1947 and the Indian army was immediately dispatched to defend Kashmir from being completely occupied. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took this act of aggression to the United Nations and negotiated a ceasefire under its aegis.

The Karachi agreement was subsequently signed by India and Pakistan in 1949. Its demarcation of the Ceasefire Line through the territory of Jammu and Kashmir set the stage for the Siachen conflict. The agreement distinguished the line as a temporary border in Kashmir up to Point NJ 9842. The agreement stated that the border will run ‘thence north to the glaciers’. While Pakistan interprets ‘thence north’ as a northeastern extension of border from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass, India interprets it as a northwestern extension along the Saltoro Ridge towards the Indira Col, which is the head of Siachen glacier. It is precisely near the Indira Col where India’s border meets Pakistani and Chinese territory that makes Siachen such a coveted region. Had the Pakistani version been accepted, the trijunction of borders would have shifted eastwards in the vicinity of Karakoram Pass, near the tense Line of Actual Control (between India and China).

Even the Simla Agreement of 1972, signed between India and Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, left this ambiguity of borders beyond NJ 9842 unresolved. The Ceasefire Line was renamed the ‘Line of Control’ (LoC), but, its terminal point remained Point NJ9842. In the 1970s the Pakistani Army promoted foreign mountaineering expeditions to legitimize its claim on Siachen. The official maps in U.S. and Europe also began to show Siachen glacier in Pakistani territory. A discovery of a similar map by an Indian Army officer, Colonel Narinder ‘Bull’ Kumar alarmed the forces and in late 1970s sought permission to carry out expeditions to the glacier. This was perceived by the Indian establishment as a ‘cartographic aggression’ by Pakistan. The Indian army increased its presence in this region through several follow up expeditions and aerial patrols. Finally, Operation Meghdoot was executed and troops were airdropped on to the strategic passes; Bilafond La and Sia La located on the Saltoro ridge, to the west of Siachen.

However, the question still remains of what it is that has extended this dispute on? Despite India’s occupation being contested on rational/financial/geopolitical grounds, there must be factors that explain such a stance. It is here that the role of  map comes into light as mapping Kashmir’s borders was one of the key concerns of the British administration.

Nature of warfare in Siachen : Domination of Heights

After Meghdoot, several attempts took place by the Pakistani army to dislodge the Indian army from these positions. One of this was the Pakistani occupation of a cliff overlooking Bilafond la which brought Indian army posts under direct surveillance. The Pakistanis named it Quaid Post, after their founding father Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Indian army launched Operation Rajiv in June 1987 and the assault resulted in Pakistani army being outflanked and the captured post was renamed as ‘Bana Top’ after Naib Subedar Bana Singh (later promoted to Honorary Captain), the brave soldier whose team led the Operation from front and captured the post.

Another face off took place at Chumik glacier, which witnessed a heli-dropping of Pakistani soldiers to capture a strategic point. In 1989, the region was demilitarized after a mutual agreement

A Legacy of Colonial Cartography

The mapping of India’s northwest and northern frontiers was carried out in the heydays of the Great Game, a 19th century scramble between Russia and the British Empire over the unexplored terrain of Central Asia. Historically,  since all invasions of the Indian subcontinent took place from its northwest frontiers, the threat of an expansionist Russia alarmed the British of a possible invasion. This was a prominent reason behind the demarcation of the Durand Line (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan border) in 1893, which ran from Balochistan in the South to the Wakhan region in the north with Indo-Afghan border securing India’s frontiers on its north-western fringes. Once 3000 miles apart, the distance between Russian and British territories got reduced to Wakhan corridor (Afghanistan). The Wakhan corridor is a narrow strip of mountainous territory, which once separated India from Russian territory (between present day Gilgit - NWFP region and Tajikistan). Russian invasion of Central Asian Khanates brought them to the Pamir Mountains (present day Afghan-Tajikistan border). Additionally, Russia’s commercial ties with Xinjiang posed a threat of an invasion from the Ladakh region. It must also be noted that by 1880s, the Russians had been foraying in northern Kashmir, which led the British to suspect possible Russian ties with the ruler of Hunza, which was a princely state in Northern Gilgit. Therefore, the mapping and surveying of the Karakoram/Pamir mountains were carried out to secure India’s northernmost frontiers by bringing under its fold several strategic ridges and passes. Several cartographic missions were dispatched by the Survey of India to reconnoiter and map all the passes that could potentially provide an easy access to Russian army from Kashmir’s northern border.

By late 19th century, the British administration had mapped almost the whole Himalayan region. In Kashmir, the strategic passes of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh were also mapped. However, Siachen glacier remained unexplored and had been vaguely mentioned by earlier explorers. Neither its length, nor the direction of its slope was known. Even the legendary imperial explorer Sir Francis Younghusband gave it a miss while exploring the high Karakorams in 1889.

It was Tom George Longstaff, an officer in the British Indian Army who gave a precise account of Siachen’s topography in 1909. He discovered that Siachen glacier gives rise to the Nubra river, which later merges with the Shyok River and finally the Indus river. It makes the glacier a part of the Indus river basin. To the north of Indira Col (Siachen Glacier’s head) is the Urdok Glacier, which flows into the Shaksgam river (which merges into the Yarkand river), making it a part of the Tarim basin in the Chinese territory.  In 1911, an American couple, Fanny Workman and William Workman, spent two months mountaineering at the glacier and mapped it thoroughly and named several mountain peaks surrounding the glacier. The head of Siachen was named by the Workman’s as ‘Indira Col’. In this way, Siachen was cartographically represented on the Indian side whereas the Urdok glacier to its north a part of Chinese territory. Being a 76 Kilometres long glacier, it could also mean that once at Indira Col, the glacier would automatically lead one smoothly into the Indian territory. Already a natural border as the glacier fed into Indus system, the strategic reasons had their share as well in its demarcation.

British mapping and border demarcation also came into conflict with  Chinese authorities that had never accepted the British demarcation of India’s northern frontiers with China’s Xinjiang. Later, Pakistan was repeatedly asked by China to adjust the borders as Pakistan was in possession of the Northern Areas (Gilgit Baltistan), which border China. As a result, the region to the north of Siachen ‘Trans-Karakoram Tract’ was ceded by Pakistan to China under the 1963 boundary agreement, hence bringing the Chinese directly to the north of Siachen.

In the bigger picture, India not only inherited the borders demarcated out of colonial calculations but also the colonial fears, which led to such mapping. The presence of a hostile Pakistan has reproduced the same fear of invasion; one which had bothered the British during the era of Great Game.  The fear of Russian invasion had prompted the British to secure India’s northwest frontiers through the Durand Line and later the northern borders of Kashmir (Karakoram Range). It has transcended into the present, post-colonial era with the Indo-Pak conflict, courtesy the cartographic ambiguity of the area beyond NJ 9842. The rationale which prompted the British to map Kashmir’s borders was to bring into their ambit those access routes, which the Russians could possibly have used. It is precisely this fear that led the Indian establishment to occupy Gyong la, the Bilafond La and the Sia La, which are entry points into Siachen from its Western Side(Saltoro Ridge).  

In her book Heights of Madness, veteran journalist Myra Macdonald referred to the events leading to Operation Meghdoot as a reproduction of the fears, which characterized the Great Game. Indian Army’s expeditions in Siachen preceding Meghdoot resembled the colonial era British missions that focused on locating  infiltration routes.

After the unfortunate mishap, debates on demilitarization have got revived. Time and again, analysts and even retired senior military officers talk of demilitarizing this no-man’s land citing human costs, strategic irrelevance as well as  financial burden to the state.  However, what is missed amidst such  debates is that the colonial legacy has prompted the Indian establishment to make similar calculations, which the British did out of insecurity. The spirit of Great Game is still alive, only its canvas has been reduced to Siachen Glacier.