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Xi arrives, heralding the rise of an influential geopolitical actor in Nepal

The visit of the Chinese President might come with material benefits for Nepal but it is laden with geostrategic symbolism, analysts say.

Binod Ghimire

It was more than two decades ago that a Chinese president last crossed the Himalayas and landed in Kathmandu. But on Saturday, Xi Jinping did not cross the Himalayas, he flew over the Tarai plains—straight from Chennai, India, after the second informal summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Xi’s visit, the first by a sitting Chinese president after 23 years, no doubt holds great significance for Nepal, analysts say it is up to Nepal to make the most out of China’s goodwill, which may come with strings attached.

As far as Beijing is concerned, it is clear about its foreign policy, how it wants to expand its influence in South Asia and beyond, and what measures it will take to broaden the reach and appeal of Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But in the past week, South Asia was on Xi’s mind.

Just before flying to Chennai on Friday, Xi welcomed Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan. In the aftermath of New Delhi’s August 5 decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomous status, Beijing and Islamabad appeared to be on the same page, much to India’s chagrin. The meeting between Xi and Modi too materialised after some level of uncertainty.

But in Kathmandu, despite no official communication from Beijing regarding Xi’s visit until just a few days earlier, preparations to welcome the Chinese president were underway a fortnight ago. China has been Nepal’s all-weather friend, but despite enjoying over six decades of diplomatic ties, high-level visits from the north have been sparse.

That’s one reason why Xi’s visit is a watershed moment in Nepal-China ties, say analysts. 

“Xi’s visit definitely takes China-Nepal relations to a new stage,” said Ajaya Bhadra Khanal, a political analyst who is also a columnist for the Post. “The visit is a positive response from China.”

Khanal, however, did not miss the symbolism of Xi’s arrival from across the plains.

Xi arrives, heralding the rise of an influential geopolitical actor in Nepal

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) in Kathmandu.  Angad Dhakal /TKPbookmark12

“Nepal wants China to look at Kathmandu without bringing in New Delhi, but Xi arrived straight from India. So doubts persist,” he said.

This long overdue visit from a friendly neighbour was not particularly due to China’s unwillingness to engage with Nepal on a high level, say foreign policy watchers. It was largely due to political instability in Nepal. The 2015 constitution and the 2017 elections have brought about a semblance of stability in Nepal, installing a strong government that is largely seen as much more open to engagement with China.

Political stability certainly paved the way for a visit, but Nepal’s concerns are more material.

Constantino Xavier, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings India, a think tank in New Delhi, said that Nepal seeks greater connectivity with China to reduce its reliance on India, whether on trade, energy security or digital connectivity.

“This also explains the strategic debate within the Nepali government, between those arguing for China’s BRI and a northward focus to Tibet, across the Himalayas, and those who have made a case for diversification by linking Nepal southwards, beyond India, to the Bay of Bengal region and the Indo-Pacific,” Xavier told the Post in an email interview.

Nepal has signed up for the BRI but India has cautiously refrained from taking part.

Unlike India, Nepal lacks the economic and geopolitical heft to abstain from a project as ambitious as the BRI. China is a global power and Xi one of the most powerful leaders in the world. China has engineered an economic boom in recent years, while the United States and Europe were licking their wounds after financial crises. With the West, particularly the US, wringing its hands regarding China’s rise, American President Donald Trump has launched a trade war against China.

But Beijing is not naive. It knows that the US move is not just about trade, say analysts. For China, this is a good moment to shore up its backyard.

“Economy and security are the two factors that China is concerned with,” said Khanal. “Taking neighbours along is a must for China, which has as an aspiration to expand its influence globally.”

According to Khanal, how Nepali politicians carry forward their foreign policy will also decide Nepal’s future course.

“Foreign policy must not become a tool for domestic politics,” he said. “But unfortunately, the Nepal Communist Party and its leaders are trying to benefit politically from their relations with China.”

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli won the 2017 elections on the back of nationalist posturing against India, which had just imposed a months-long economic blockade when Nepal was still reeling from devastating earthquakes. Oli played up ties with China as a counter-balance to Nepal’s unhealthy dependence on India, even signing a transit and transport agreement with the northern neighbour. India has not been particularly pleased with these developments, especially since it has long considered Nepal to be within its sphere of influence.

But India isn’t the only country watching Nepal in its pursuit of China. The US, which has long been wary of a rising China, has time and again cautioned Nepal against Chinese goodwill, sometimes bluntly. During their visits to Nepal, American officials have reminded Nepali leaders that any assistance from the north should be in Nepal’s interest, not China’s. Even though they have stopped short of mentioning the Belt and Road Initiative, their references to Sri Lanka and some African countries, which have fallen into what the West calls a “debt trap”, clearly demonstrate what they mean. The Chinese have been quick to counter such statements and they maintain that the Belt and Road Initiative is meant for shared benefits.

The US has also included Nepal in its broad Indo-Pacific Strategy. Even though American officials have attempted to qualify that the strategy is not targeted at any particular country, many, including the Chinese, see it as an attempt to counter China.

An article in The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, on Wednesday said that Xi’s visit to India would improve China’s ties with the South Asian country and also “serve as a response to the Indo-Pacific Strategy intended to contain China”.

In this tussle between the great powers, Nepal is a footnote, but its geostrategic location gives its an edge that belies its small stature.

“Chinese support for infrastructure and foreign direct investment is what Nepal is looking forward to,” said Tanka Karki, a former Nepali ambassador to China. “At the same time, it is an opportunity to show Nepal is China’s trusted neighbour.”
Connectivity with China would not just benefit Nepal but also the region, which is in the shared interest of everyone, including China and India, who aim to take their bilateral trade over the $100 billion mark by the end of the year.

Railway connectivity to India via Nepal is certainly in China’s interest, analysts say.

“After the Wuhan normalisation, China has been insistently advocating trilateral connectivity or infrastructure projects with India, which Beijing calls the ‘India-China plus one’ model,” said Xavier. “Recognising Indian concerns about the BRI and its projects in PoK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir], China has been testing India’s openness to develop a Himalayan economic and transportation corridor between India, Nepal and China.”

The cross-border railway is high on the Xi visit agenda. While there is euphoria among Nepalis regarding a rail link to China, a railway across the Himalayas, by their own admission, will be a test for China’s technological might.

While there are sections in Kathmandu that caution Nepal against falling into a debt trap over a train line, ruling party leaders have rejected the notion of a debt trap wholesale, saying it is an “imported notion”, created by westerners. The experience of many African countries, however, says otherwise. Even China itself is “recalibrating” its BRI in response to criticisms of creating indebtedness among poorer nations.

Nevertheless, around a dozen agreements related to connectivity, infrastructure and hydropower are expected to be signed during Xi’s 20-hour stay in Kathmandu. But more than the material, Xi’s presence in Kathmandu is laden with symbolism.

“More than a few projects Xi is expected to inaugurate or announce, his visit marks the rise of China as an influential political actor in Nepal,” said Xavier. “Beyond financing, China has been silently cultivating a new generation of Nepali politicians, journalists and scholars through public diplomacy and exchange programmes.”

Xi’s visit to Nepal follows a two-day symposium on “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in Kathmandu, which was attended by leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), including Prime Minister Oli.

“The recent workshop conducted in Kathmandu for ruling party members indicates Beijing is using its sharp power to shape the politics and institutions of one of Asia’s least developed democracies,” said Xavier.

But amid all these maneuverings, what is important for Nepal is how it maintains its autonomy, say analysts. Nepali politicians should make prudent moves and exhibit deft diplomacy to make the most of its friendly nations.

“Nepal should be able to maintain its strategic autonomy,” said Khanal. “Relations must be transparent to ensure other friendly nations aren’t skeptical.”

With Xi’s arrival, however, the consensus is that the Oli administration has pulled off a coup by materialising a visit from the northern neighbour.

“In the contemporary world where China is expanding its role, Xi’s visit has huge diplomatic and strategic meaning with long-term implications,” said Ramesh Nath Pandey, a former foreign minister. “Traditional and ritualistic diplomacy has been replaced with direct and tactical diplomacy.”

According to Pandey, while deals on infrastructure and other support from the Chinese side matter, what’s more significant is how the one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Oli and President Xi moves ahead.

“That meeting will pave the future course of the Nepal-China relationship,” said Pandey.

International

India to soon set up apex water authority for northeast region

To evolve a consolidated strategy for management of its north-east region’ water resources, India will shortly set up a North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA), according to government officials. The authority is being set up on the recommendations of a high level committee headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar, in the backdrop of China’s ambitious $62 billion south-north water diversion scheme.

NEWMA will be the apex authority for developing all projects related to hydropower, agriculture, bio-diversity conservation, flood control, inland water transport, forestry, fishery and eco-tourism in the region. It will also help spearhead India’s efforts to establish prior user rights on waters from the rivers that originate in China.

The committee was set up in October 2017 with the aim of helping India’s flood-ravaged north-east. Its mandate was to facilitate optimising benefits of appropriate water management and NITI Aayog, the federal policy think tank headed the efforts. This assumes significance as India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on rivers that originate in China in an effort to fast-track projects in the northeast. Also, Japan has joined hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in the region with an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East been set up.

“The committee’s report has been finalised and its is on that basis that a structured approach is being considered. The main purpose is to take care of power generation, irrigation, flood control, soil erosion among all other measures,” said a senior Indian government official requesting anonymity.

“The report has been submitted some months back. We are going ahead with constituting the NEWMA. The vice chairman of Niti Aayog chaired this. Niti Aayog has been at the forefront of this,” said a second Indian government official who also did not want to be named.

With one of the focus areas being hydropower, the strategy will also help establish first-user rights to the waters of the Brahmaputra. The total hydropower generation potential of India’s North-Eastern states, and Bhutan, is about 58,000MW. Of this Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328MW, the highest in India.

Queries emailed to NITI Aayog vice-chairman Kumar and a Niti Aayog spokesperson on Thursday morning wasn’t immediately answered.

To have all states on board to work in tandem for implementing a concerted strategy, the chief secretaries of all the eight states of the region were included in the committee. The committee also comprises secretaries from the ministries of development of north-eastern region (DoNER), power, water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, National Disaster Management Authority, departments of border management and space.

Developing hydropower projects has been a recurring theme of India’s strategic play in the border areas, specifically with China and Pakistan in mind. A case in point being the 330 MW Kishanganga hydro power project in Jammu and Kashmir that was commissioned last May on the river Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum. While Pakistan had challenged the project under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in India’s favour in 2013.

India is now also looking at expediting strategically important hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir to fully utilize its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty. State run NHPC Ltd plans to construct these hydropower projects in the context of China developing the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The committee’s terms of reference against the backdrop of floods that have brought life to a standstill in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur also included identification of gaps in the existing mechanisms and arrangements for water resource management, and suggesting policy interventions.

Mint reported on 30 August that 103 private hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh with a total capacity of 35 gigawatts (GW) still to take off despite the government’s Act East policy. This comes against the backdrop of growing concerns on the delay in India’s plans to generate power from rivers originating from neighbouring China. A delay in building hydropower projects on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law.

China on its part is going ahead on its south-north water diversion scheme of the rivers that feed downstream into the Brahmaputra, known in China as the Yarlung Tsangpo. Of the 2,880km of the Brahmaputra’s length, 1,625km is in Tibet, 918km in India, and 337km in Bangladesh. Of the eight river basins in Arunachal Pradesh, Subansiri, Lohit and Siang are of strategic importance, as they are closer to the border with China.

Utpal Bhaskar, the livemint

International

ICFRE-ICIMOD’s REDD+ Himalayan programme extended till 2020

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme being carried out in the himalayan states jointly by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has been extended till July 2020.

ICFRE-ICIMOD’s REDD+ Himalaya: Developing and using experience in implementing REDD+ in the Himalaya programme was launched in January 2016 in Mizoram to addresse the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in India’s Himalayan states. 

While the initiative was meant to last only till 2018, it was on August 26, 2019, “extended till July 2020 keeping in view of the contributions made” by the agencies, RS Rawat, scientist in-charge biodiversity and climate change division, ICFRE told Down to Earth in an e-mail.

“The project was aimed at capacity building. We found that people’s major dependence on forest was for fuelwood, so we tried giving the people wooden stoves with better fuel efficiency. We also created alternative sources of income through planting bamboo, share coffee plantation,” said VRS Rawat, advisor ICFRE, who was involved with the process.

“People grow turmeric in the area and to process it, they use fire to dry it. We provided a village with solar drier for this process to reduce the demand for fuelwood,” Rawat added.

The project is supported by the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety ministry of Germany, was implemented in four countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region— Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal.

The REDD+ programme was initiated by the United Nations in 2005 to mitigate climate change through enhanced forest management in developing countries. It aimed to create incentives for communities so that they stop forest degrading practices.  

More than 300 REDD+ initiatives have taken place since 2006. The mechanism is enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement and its implementation transitions from smaller, isolated projects to larger, jurisdictional programmes with support from bilateral and multilateral agencies. 

By Ishan Kukreti
International, Water

No Change in India’s Position on Proposed Teesta Water-sharing Agreement: Jaishankar

After a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart AK Abdul Momen, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday said there is “no change” in India’s position on the proposed Teesta water-sharing agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka.

“We have a position. We have a commitment to that position. There is no change,” he told the media after his meeting with Momen at the state guest house Jamuna, reported Dhaka Tribune. Sharing of water of the Teesta River, which originates from Sikkim and flows through West Bengal to merge with the Brahmaputra in Assam and Jamuna in Bangladesh, is the most contentious issue between New Delhi and Dhaka. While Bangladesh has demanded 50 per cent of the river’s water supply from December to March, India has claimed a share of 55%.

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Previously, the Teesta water agreement was slated to be inked between the two countries on September 6, 2011, during the visit of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka. But the proposed deal was called off after repeated objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The water-sharing issue was once again discussed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015. Modi had assured his Bangladeshi counterpart, Shiekh Hasina, that the waters of the river would be shared while looking forward to achieving a quick resolution to the issue.

Jaishnakar, who is on a three-day visit to Bangladesh, held “fruitful interaction” with Momen on a wide range of bilateral issues including Rohingyas and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to New Delhi in October. The External Affairs Minister said India is looking forward to host her. Jaishankar described Bangladesh-India relations as a model for other South Asian countries.

“Speaking to the media after the bilateral discussions #JamunaGuestHouse, EAM @DrSJaishankar said that he had a fruitful interaction with Foreign Minister H.E. Dr. @AKAbdulMomen and that #India is looking forward to host Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina in #NewDelhi in October,” the Indian Embassy in Bangladesh tweeted.

While speaking on the issue of Rohingyas, Jaishankar said Bangladesh and India have agreed upon their “safe, speedy and sustainable return” to Myanmar.More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state after a military crackdown that started in August last year. Many of them entered Bangladesh and are living there since then. Jaishankar is scheduled to meet Hasina. Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Riva Ganguly Das, will be hosting a private dinner for the minister tonight.

Dr S Jaishankar on Tuesday told Bangladesh that Assam’s citizenship register was an ‘internal matter’ for India.

The new external affairs minister was replying to questions at a joint briefing with his Bangladesh counterpart AK Abdul Momen at the state guesthouse Jamuna in Dhaka after bilateral talks on Tuesday.

Before the meeting, the foreign minister visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum at Dhanmondi-32 and paid tributes to Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by placing wreaths at his portrait there.

S Jaishankar, who arrived in Dhaka on Monday night on a three-day official visit to Bangladesh, said the two countries can take the relationship to the next level.

Rohingya repartition is in ‘national interest’

On Rohingya issue, Jaishankar said they agreed that the “safe, speedy and sustainable” return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State is in the national interest of the three countries — Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.

We reaffirmed our readiness to provide more assistance for the displaced persons in Bangladesh and to improve the socioeconomic condition in Rakhine State, he said.

Dhaka-Delhi Working for resolve Teesta issue

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said Bangladesh and India were working to find “mutually acceptable formulas” to share water from 54 rivers which flow through both nations while keeping India’s commitment to resolving Teesta issue unchanged.ADVERTISEMENT

We look forward to making a progress to find mutually acceptable formulas to share water from our 54 shared rivers, he told reporters adding that they are ready to make a start wherever it is possible.

Asked about long-pending Teesta water-sharing matter, Jaishankar said there has been no change regarding their commitment to resolve the issue. We have a position. You all are aware of it. We have a commitment on that position. And there’s no change in that regard.

Bangladesh-India partnership role model for the world

Jaishankar said India’s partnership with Bangladesh remains an example of what neighbours can do if they work together.

He said the Narendra Modi government is determined to ensure that this partnership is truly a role model in South Asia and for the world.

The minister said the Indian government would like to offer all possible support to realise Bangladesh’s development agenda which is in India’s interest as well.

Claiming that the ties between two nations were currently in golden age, he said India and Bangladesh will benefit mutually if the partnership grows.

Jaishankar said the two countries have a very important shared history and they look forward to sharing Bangladesh’s celebrations of birth centenary of Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence in 2021.

On trade issues, Jaishankar said they are ready to move to the next stage of economic partnership as Bangladesh’s economy develops and matures. We’ll make progress at a phase which is comfortable for Bangladesh.

On people-to-people contact, he said the largest consular operation of India is now in Bangladesh and they are very proud of that.

The foreign minister is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence on Tuesday. Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Riva Ganguly Das will host private dinner for Jaishankar. He will leave Dhaka for Kathmandu on Wednesday morning. ( India T0day/ ANI)

Economy, International

 Arunachal Prades Tea touches the record heights set by Assam tea

 A variety of tea grown in Arunachal Pradeshon Wednesday touched the record heights set by Assam tea earlier this month selling for Rs 75000 per kg at the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC). 

Golden Needle‘ tea produced by Donyipolo Tea Estate in Arunachal Pradesh was sold by Contemporary Tea Brokers and was bought by city-based buyer Chattar Singh Narendra Kumar for online tea seller Absolute Tea, GTAC Buyers Association secretary Dinesh Bihani said. 

On August 13, Dikom Tea Estate of Assam had sold its Golden Butterfly tea at Rs 75,000 per kg at the GTAC, auction centre official said. 

Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg, Bihani said. 

​Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg. (Representational Image: www.taooftea.com​)
Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg. (Representational Image: www.taooftea.com)

“These teas do not draw the real picture of the tea industry. But the industry should appreciate producers who are making top notch teas and are making a name for Indian Tea Industry in the world,” Bihani said. 

Arunachal Pradesh recently came up in the tea map of the country for producing speciality tea. These have been appreciated by tea lovers across the world, Bihani said. 

“We had bought Donyipolo Golden Needles in the past few years. The response has been superb and we expect a similar response this year,” Kumar said. 

The tea was made from the tips of selected clones by skilled artisans, Satyanjoy Hazarika, managing director, tea, of Contemporary Brokers said. PTI

International

Monsoon misery: Assam’s annual tryst with floods

If preventive measures are not taken immediately floods will cause more damage.

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra, east of Gauhati, India, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra. (Photo: AP)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excess monsoon rains
  • Brahmaputra carries a lot of water and sediments – another natural reason for floods
  • Destruction of wetlands and encroachment of plains have worsened the situation

It’s tucked away in the inside pages of national newspapers, rarely makes it to prime time TV bulletins, hardly finds mention in the national discourse on development…floods in Assam are an annual affair, rarely raising more than an eyebrow.

As sure as night follows day, floods in Assam (and in most parts of the Northeast) follow the monsoon. This year has been no different.

According to data put out by Assam State Disaster Management Authority, till July 18 the death toll has touched 27 and is likely to go up. Over 4,000 villages in 28 districts out of the state’s 33 have been affected.

Assam’s population is just over 3 crore; of this 53.5 lakh-plus people are under threat. While close to 1,000 houses have been damaged, 88 animals have been washed away. Over 16 lakh animals, including livestock have been affected. Pictures of rhinos trying to reach higher grounds at the Kaziranga National Park surfaced on Thursday.

(Photo: Reuters)

Over 2 lakh hectares of crop land have been affected by the flood waters. Infrastructure — roads, bridges, culverts – and public utilities have also taken a hit.

Floods lead to loss in human lives and the economy takes a big hit. According to Central Water Commission data (1953-2016) on average 26 lakh people are affected every year in Assam; 47 lose lives, 10,961 cattle die, Rs 7 crore worth of houses destroyed and the total damage comes up to Rs 128 crore every year.

Why is Assam flood-prone?

There are both natural and man-made causes for the annual deluge.

Most of Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excessive rain during the monsoon season. According to the Brahmaputra Board, a central body under the Ministry of Jal Shakti tasked to monitor and control floods, the region receives rainfall “ranging from 248 cm to 635…Rainfall of more than 40 mm in an hour is frequent and around 70 mm per hour is also not uncommon”. There have been occasions when 500 mm of rainfall has been recorded in a day.

The valley through which the Brahmaputra flows is narrow. While the river occupies 6-10 km, there are forest covers on either side. The remaining area is inhabited and farming is conducted in the low-lying areas. Overflowing rivers and flowing rapidly down the valley tend to spill over when it reaches the narrow strips.

(Photo: AP)

The zone’s topography also complicates matters. The steep slopes force the rivers to gush down to the plains.

Assam lies in a seismic zone — in fact most of the Northeast does. Frequent earthquakes and resultant landslides push soil and debris into the rivers. This sedimentation raises river beds.

According to a paper published in the International Journal for Scientific Research and Development, “Brahmaputra water contains more sediments raising river by 3 metres in some places and reducing the water carrying capacity of the river.”

Then there are man-made causes that have worsened the flood situation. Encroachment is a big issue. The population density of Brahmaputra valley was 9-29 people per sq km in 1940-41; this shot up to 200 people per sq km now, according Brahmaputra Board.

The systematic destruction of wetlands and water bodies that act as natural run-offs have aggravated the flood problem in Assam. Though embankments provide protection, most of them have not been maintained leading to breaches.

Is there a way out?

First and foremost is the need for early warning systems. There are reports that around the Assam-Bhutan border, villagers form WhatsApp groups to warn people of rising water levels.

If such people-people arrangements can work out then there is no reason why more institutionalised systems, based on technology, cannot be put in place.

(Photo: AP)

These early warning systems should be institutionalised based on scientific approach.

Wetlands and local water bodies should be revived so that the natural drainage system can act as a basin for excess water to flow. This would entail clearing human encroachments in the Brahmaputra flood plains.

Embankments should be regularly checked for breaches and systems put in place for maintenance; a first step would be to break the babu-contractor nexus that finds floods an easy way to sponge money from the system. (India Today)

International

Slovakia’s first female president takes office in a divided country

In a country rife with corruption and unease, Zuzana Caputova steps forward as the fresh-faced first female president, sworn in on 15 June, 2019

Zuzana Caputova had been battling to close a toxic landfill in her hometown, Pezinok, in Slovakia for years when she learned that the wife of her closest colleague had been stricken with an aggressive form of cancer. That same week, her godfather was told that he, too, had cancer. “Part of my personal motivation to get involved in this case is that I was scared of cancer,” she says. “And suddenly, in this week, the first week of June 2006, these two roles – the personal and professional – came together.”

That experience convinced Caputova that what counted most was doing her best to win the case and not to worry about the result, which she could not control. She did eventually win it before the European Court of Justice in 2013, and says she now plans to bring that same attitude to her new job.

On 31 March, Caputova, then a 45-year-old lawyer and political neophyte who had never held state office, became the first woman sworn in as president of Slovakia.

At her swearing-in ceremony in Bratislava, the capital, she vowed to continue to work for the forgotten and the dispossessed. “I offer my expertise, emotion and activism. I offer my mind, my heart and my hands,” she said. “I want to be the voice of those who are not heard.” Caputova rode a wave of public disgust with a political system rife with corruption to a victory widely seen as a rebuke of the illiberal and nativist strain of populism that has swept the European continent in recent years.

“I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without an aggressive vocabulary,” she told her supporters during her March victory speech. 

Caputova is proudly European, supports minority rights and does not shy away from controversial stances, like her support for gay rights, including the adoption of children by same-sex couples. Significantly, she was able to do so in a way that many in this still deeply conservative country did not find threatening, perhaps offering a model for others.

“When I talked about these things, for me, this attitude is based on a value that I believe to be very conservative and Christian – empathy and respect for other people,” she says. “And, for me, this value leads to tolerance and respect.” By any measure, it has been a remarkable year in this small central European nation, which emerged from communist rule in 1989 and became independent in 1993, after a peaceful split with the Czech Republic.

The revolt against the governing party, Smer-SD, began after the murders of a young investigative reporter, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018. Kuciak had been looking into the nexus between politicians and the Italian mob, the ’Ndrangheta. A prominent businessman, Marian Kocner, would later be charged with ordering his killing.

But that came only after hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets and town squares across the country, the largest protests since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The protests brought down the government of the prime minister, Robert Fico, and paved the way for Caputova’s election a year later. But her ascension promises to be anything but smooth, as she is about to enter a political maelstrom that will test her skills and determination. 

Fico’s Smer-SD party remains the dominant political force in the country, and the anger at the government that led many voters to embrace Caputova’s reformist vision has also emboldened the country’s far right, with avowed neo-Nazis winning seats in Slovakia’s parliament.

An unlikely supporter of Caputova is Ivan Kocner, the brother of the businessman charged with ordering Kuciak’s murder. His brother also had a stake in the landfill that Caputova fought to close and had once, not so subtly, threatened her. “I remember the first time we met, and her eyes grew wide,” Ivan Kocner, 48, recalls. “She knew I was Marian Kocner’s brother, and she did not have good experiences with the Kocners.”

Here is this group of angry men, very emotional. And she took it all in calmly, got to the essence and then focused on what needed to be done to fix the problem.

By that time, around 2009, Caputova had won a reputation for helping people take on the authorities. Ivan Kocner had gone to her because the mayor of his small village was trying to sell public land to a political patron and he, along with others from the village, wanted it stopped. “Here is this group of angry men, very emotional,” he recalls. “And she took it all in calmly, got to the essence and then focused on what needed to be done to fix the problem.” 

They prevailed. “She is not easily influenced or distracted by outside things,” he says. “It is going to take real effort to keep this part of herself.”

While Ivan Kocner became a documentary filmmaker, his brother surrounded himself with people who saw the country’s transition to democracy as a chance to get rich quick. Many of them would go on to become central figures in the organised crime world. Caputova, who was born in 1973, grew up thinking that communist rule could never last. “I remember how schizophrenic it felt,” she recalls. “To be talking with your friends honestly one moment and then having to hide your opinions with other groups.”

Then it all changed. Able for the first time to travel without a permit, her family visited Vienna during the Christmas season in 1989. “I can still remember the dazzling lights,” she says. When she entered college, she intended to study psychology. But she forgot to bring her paperwork and was rejected from the department. So she took up law instead.

While still in school, she worked as a legal assistant in the mayor’s office in Pezinok. “We had a feeling that we needed to care for something else than just ourselves and our studies,” she says. She volunteered to work with local children who had been neglected and abused. She left the mayor’s office in 1998, along with the heads of several other departments, after a disagreement with the administration. 

Jaroslav Pavlovic, who has known her since she was a child, would go on to work with her at city hall and, later, joined in the landfill fight, says he remembers her being fired with “the injustice of it all”.

“It was just brutal how the state could ignore the will of the people,” Pavlovic says.

Caputova says she was pregnant when she joined the landfill case. “Motherhood inspired me to get involved,” she says. The case soon took over her life. The day she went into labour, she says, she was completing a legal brief. Pavlovic says she was nothing if not tough and stubborn. There were many times before they won the landfill case that it all seemed overwhelming and hopeless. “She was the one who would motivate others,” he says. “And she took a lot of the burden on herself.”

Slovak president Zuzana Caputova

Pavlovic says she helped him deal with the pressure by introducing him to meditation, something she had been doing for some time to deal with stress. “I try to meditate every day,” Caputova says. She first came across books on Zen meditation as a teenager and has been a regular practitioner for 13 years. “I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that now,” she adds. “But the regular practice is important for me.” 

Pavlovic recalls that Caputova first broached the idea of running for president right after a meditation session early last year. “She asked me what I thought,” he says. “I remember she was very unsure about joining politics. My first reaction was, of course, ‘That’s fantastic,’” he says. “But she told me to think about it.”

After thinking it over, he sent her a passage from a favorite book, about how there are two roads one can choose. The dragon’s path, flying up into heaven; and the worm, digging deep into the ground. To do the job of president well, he says, she would have to make the harder choice – to be the worm.

“But on election night,” he says, “I told her that she had finally managed to connect these two roads into one.”

© New York Times

International

BRI summit: China removes map showing all of J&K, Arunachal as part of India

ith the second edition of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit underway in Beijing, China has removed a map from the BRI website that depicted entire Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

After reports emerged of the map “misrepresenting” China’s stated position on Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and Arunachal Pradesh, the map now does not show up on the website.

The map had also portrayed India as part of the BRI project whereas New Delhi has been opposed to the idea of joining this initiative since it has projects such as CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) which fall in PoK and violate India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

India had boycotted the first summit held in 2017 and despite Beijing’s efforts for India to at least represent itself at the forum, New Delhi decided to sit out.

China had recently destroyed thousands of maps which showed Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

China considers Arunachal Pradesh as part of their territory and refers to it as “Southern Tibet”.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, or BRFIC was held on May 14–15, 2017 in Beijing, and drew 29 foreign heads of state and government and representatives from more than 130 countries and 70 international organizations

The purpose of the forum is described by Wang Xiaotao, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, in an interview with Xinhua as building “a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system.”[3]Western media coverage portrays the forum in a similar way with CNN referring to the event under the headline “China’s new world order” and the Los Angeles Times running the article “Globalization 2.0: How China’s two-day summit aims to shape a new world order”.

There will be an opening ceremony and high level meetings including a plenary session and six parallel panel discussions during the first day.[3] A round table summit will be held on the second day, chaired by President Xi Jinping with the participation of all attending heads of state and government and heads of the UN, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.[3] At the conclusion of the round-table summit, the body will issue a document agreeing to goals and principles for the initiative.

The forum will be a platform for working out action plans for implementation of the initiative in the areas of infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment and identification of major projects.[3] It is also intended to be an opportunity for the signing of cooperation agreements with countries and international organizations in the areas of financial cooperation mechanism; a cooperation platform for science, technology and environmental protection; and enhanced exchanges and training of talent and financing agreements for backing projects.

International

Smiti Iranis qualification exposed

Dubbing Union minister Smriti Irani a “serial liar”, the Congress on Friday alleged that she has “falsified records” of her educational qualifications and submitted contradictory affidavits to the Election Commission for which she should be disqualified.

Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also accused Irani of misusing her influence and power as a Union minister.

“We have no issue with the fact that Smriti Irani is not a graduate. The issue here is that she has lied repeatedly on oath and to the courts. People of India will see through these lies and give a befitting political reply to a ‘serial liar’!”

It is clear that she has not only “falsified records” of her degrees but has submitted contradictory affidavits to the EC for which she is guilty of offence under Section 125A read with Section 33 of the Representation of Peoples Act, Chaturvedi said.

Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Amethi Lok Sabha seat Smriti Irani on Thursday submitted to the Election Commission that she did not complete her graduation from Delhi University.

In her affidavit filed during her nomination, Irani, who is contesting against Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, said she passed secondary school examination in 1991 and senior secondary school examination in 1993.

Irani has said she did not complete her Bachelor of Commerce (Part-I) – a three-year degree course – from Delhi University’s School of Open Learning in 1994.

In her affidavit for 2014 polls, she had reportedly said she graduated from the university in 1994, triggering a row over the veracity of her claim, with opposition parties alleging she was not a graduate.

International

Mopin Festival celebrated at Basar, Arunachal

The Inspector General (IG) of the North East Frontier of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sanjeev Raina, on Tuesday inaugurated the Mopin Festival at Basar in Arunachal Pradesh’s Leparada.

The festival is celebrated for good harvest, health, peace and prosperity.

People also pray to Mopin Ane for her blessings.

Informing about the inauguration of the festival, the ITBP on its official Twitter handle on Tuesday stated: “Sh Sanjeev Raina, IG NE Frontier ITBP inaugurated Mopin Festival in Basar, Leparada Arunachal Pradesh. Celebrated for good harvest, health, peace and prosperity. People pray to Mopin Ane for her blessings.”

According to information, during this festival, locals smear rice powder in each other’s face to mark the start of the festival.

This is an important festival celebrated by the Galo Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh and it is celebrated during the month of April.

The women dressed in white perform dance on the occasion.

The Galo tribe actively participate in the festival which is celebrated to drive away the evil spirits.

An animal is sacrificed to please God.

Mithun is considered as the auspicious animal to offer God.

The festival is celebrated in Arunachal Pradesh for five days.

During this five-day celebration, the people chant folk songs along with an elegant dance known as Popir.

The people also enjoy locally-prepared rice beer called Apong.

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Sh Sanjeev Raina, IG NE Frontier ITBP inaugurated Mopin Festival in Basar, Leparada Arunachal Pradesh. Celebrated for good harvest, health, peace and prosperity. People pray to Mopin Ane for her blessings.

Source : NE NOW