MonitorsPublished on Jun 02, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 22

South Asia: Developmental aid as a diplomatic tool

N Sathiya Moorthy

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a $ 1.1-billion ‘currency swap’ facility hints at the aid-route New Delhi can take to improve its diplomatic influence in the neighbourhood. Coming as it does in the footsteps of India continually supplying tonnes of medical requirements to fight Covid-19 pandemic, time may be now right for New Delhi to consider ‘developmental aid’ as a serious tool of diplomacy.

“If the government of India could provide $ 1.1 billion special SWAP facility to top up $ 400 million under the SAARC facility, it would enormously help Sri Lanka in dealing with our foreign exchange issues,” the Sri Lankan President’s office said after Rajapaksa made the request during a telephone call from Indian PM Naarendra Modi. The Indian Prime Minister also called Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jagnauth, another Indian Ocean neighbour, the same day to convey India’s continued support to the nation for fighting Covid19.

In their conversation, PM Modi and President Rajapaksa agreed to accelerate the pace of India-aided projects in Sri Lanka. The President’s  office said that Rajapaksa asked Modi to "direct those responsible from India's side to expedite construction of the East Terminal of the Colombo Port as soon as possible". In turn, PM Modi advised Rajapaksa to appoint an official to coordinate the projects-related work with India’s new High Commissioner, Gopal Baglay.

The new Sri Lankan request for currency-swap with India comes days after Chinese President Xi Jinping called Rajapaksa and offered cooperation in all fields. In context, PM Modi’s offer to Gota that India was “ready to help under terms that are favourable to Sri Lanka”, means a lot, especially in terms of the multiple controversies surrounding the Hambantota port project – which was/is seen as a ‘debt-trap’, by public finance experts, within the island-nation and outside.

Independent of the yo-yo nature of bilateral relations and the consequent ‘political delays’ in carrying forward India-aided projects in Sri Lanka, there has been a general neighbourhood perception that the Indian bureaucracy do not act fast as their ‘leaders promise’. There is little acknowledgement of India’s concerns about what tantamount to ‘deliberate delays’ in the Sri Lankan side keeping up its word on the accepted Indian proposals. The failure of successive governments to upgrade bilateral FTA into CEPA and ECTA, as desired by the Sri Lankan side, is not a stand-alone instance.

However, there has been visible improvement in Sri Lanka’s fast-tracking of India-aided projects, lately. For instance, the free housing scheme, first taken up in the war-ravaged North and then across the country, is a pointer in the progress made in this regard, but after avoidable delays. The Sampur thermal power project in the East, which was held up, purportedly in Sri Lanka’s attorney-general’s office, was later upgraded as a non-coal project, but that was certainly the reason for the delay.

‘Not a debt-trap’

At a conference in PM Modi’s Gujarat State, pre-pandemic, Maldives Parliament Speaker and former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed had said that the Indian assistance to his country was “not a debt-trap".  Nasheed said: “As India rises and attains the status of superpower… We do not see how India's actions have ever been a threat to the Maldives or any of its neighbours. India has always respected our sovereignty and always treated us as equals, however small we are.” He compared India to “another super-power coming to the Indian Ocean - China. Unfortunately, the manner in which this super-power is treating the Indian Ocean islands is very, very different”.

Nasheed, though was not referring to China’s Sri Lanka funding, was making a mention of similar funding for Maldives, under the predecessor regime of President Abdulla Yameen. The Chinese loans to Maldives during the Yameen era is put at around $ 1.5-billion, which is beyond the nation’s repayment capacity, leading to Nasheed calling it a ‘debt-trap’ very long ago.

Pre-Covid-19, Maldives had announced an India-aided ‘Greater Male Connectivity’ project, linking capital Male with Vilimale’, Gulhifaru, and Thilafushi islands, in what is called the Male-Thilafushi sea-bridge. While being allotted to an Indian construction company to be chosen by Maldives, the project can be expected to employ locals wherever possible, unlike the China-funded Male-Hulhule sea-bridge connection to the airport-island. It was the case with the post-tsunami housing schemes that the two Asian powers funded in Maldives.

From the Maldivian side, MVR 231-m pre-construction geo-technical survey for the bridge project commenced pre-pandemic, with the Dutch company, Fugro, bringing in heavy equipment for the purpose. With Covid-19 coming in the way, it is unclear if the Maldivian government could float the tenders for the project, for exclusive Indian participation, in July, as originally planned.

Beyond budgetary support

In the past, India has been sensitive to its economic dominance in the region and had restricted its aid to budgetary support, as required by the host-neighbour. However, in the era of Chinese dominance and strategic theories of the ‘String of Pearls’ kind, New Delhi has re-visited its policy and has been making visible investments that the end-user population in those countries can touch, feel and directly benefit from.

It is in this context, that Indian housing scheme, started by the predecessor Manmohan Singh government, and the sea-bridge in Maldives stand out as examples. As is known, in democracies, elected governments cannot but listen to the voice of the people, eternally. The governmental response can at best be delayed, not declined altogether. All of India’s neighbours, from Mauritius and Seychelles to Afghanistan and Myanmar, are now democracies.

By offering project aid that employ local people and increase their family-incomes, India can hope to beat China in its own game. This is more so, considering that most of China-aided projects the world over seem to have been decided and designed by Chinese companies, to physical sizes that are as huge as the budget/debt.

Different strokes

The Hambantota port, the Matale airport are both white elephants by all considerations. Coupled with otherwise useful expressways across Sri Lanka, such debt-trap projects only trigger suspicions in the minds of the local population over the Chinese motives and methods – going beyond their aid-packaging.

India, too, has to face motivated political posturing by parties and groups, purportedly uncomfortable with the presence of the regional super-power. According to reports, Sri Lanka’s left-leaning JVP has questioned the choice of India for developing Colombo Port’s East Terminal. In possibly a first of its kind, the President’s Office issued a detailed statement, calling upon the JVP not to ‘disseminate fake information’.

In doing so, the President’s Office went a step further and contextualised the Rajapaksa-Modi conversation and the East Terminal agreement to what reads like a frank assessment of the Sri Lankan economy, as inherited from the previous rulers and up to the ‘pandemic present’.  If the JVP’s concerns are about India coming to occupy territory as China did, they only need to look back to the past.

The IPKF military deployment was done at the instance of the Sri Lankan government of the day, and was withdrawn, again at the instance of his successor. Murmurs, if any, were from within the Sri Lankan armed forces, who could not reconcile to what turned out to be treachery. Post-tsunami, end-2004, Indian troops were the first again to rush aid to Sri Lanka, Maldives and even Indonesia, all three among the worst-hit. Again, there was absolutely no complaint of Indian troops over-staying there welcome.

Unexplained, yet unprecedented, protests were also witnessed outside the then President’s ‘Temple Trees’ residence, days before then incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, now Prime Minister, was all set to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) during then PM Manmohan Singh’s Colombo visit in November 2008. The two sides had initialled the MoU in New Delhi only a fortnight earlier. Interestingly, despite successor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s promise to rework CEPA as ECTA (Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement) with India, nothing came off the commitment through his near-five years in office.

It was different strokes in the case of Indian private sector involvement in the construction-cum-concession agreement for re-developing the Male international airport when Nasheed was President (2008-12). Lack of internal consultations in a small country like Maldives, where everyone otherwise knew everyone else, and the Indian infra-major GMR group’s insensitivity to the internal dynamics of politico-administrative functioning in smaller nations, cost India massive political advantage that should have accrued even earlier.

Sphere of influence

Not only did the political Opposition stall the project in Parliament and through courts, after Yameen became President in 2013, he also cancelled the work. In doing so, Yameen’s Maldives willingly paid $ 270-million in damages to GMR, as ordered by the Singapore arbitration court. Needless to point out, some of the airport construction work went to Chinese firms.

India needs to prepare for such eventualities while seeking to expand its sphere of economic influence in the region. Over the past couple of decades, the nation willingly and unwittingly surrendered its acknowledged claims to the region being ‘India’s traditional sphere of influence’.

Apart from the sea-bridge project in Maldives, India is committed to the tri-nation, India, Japan, Sri Lanka project to develop the eastern port town of Trincomallee in the island-nation. It may be one of the projects that India and Sri Lanka may have to take up for fast-tracking in the light of the Modi-Gota consultations. Given that India has had ‘internal political problems’ coming in the way of developing a joint project Assumption Island in Seychelles, it may be time looked at administrative issues more seriously than already.

New Delhi may need to identify socio-political consultants with knowledge about the working of neighbourhood nations, to advice Indian investors, including the government – or, train them from within the system, with the longer term in mind. The idea is to ensure that the Indian prestige and political standing did not suffer over the short, medium and long terms.

This is more so when the Government of India for some years now has created systems within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on funds allocation for developmental projects in neighbourhood countries. Working under a senior diplomat, the ‘Development Partnership Administration’ also aims at minimising the time spent in consultations with other ministries and department, when it comes to the nation funding projects in third nations, especially Third World nations.

India: Imperative of Centre-State cooperation on Covid19

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

As India continues its fight against the spread of COVID-19, new dimensions of policy challenges are gradually emerging at the surface. One such challenge lies in the domain of federal politics. The spread of the contagion in the past few months has already compelled the Centre-State relations to adopt a coordinating and cooperative demeanour despite the obstacles.

As India enters its fifth phase of lockdown, the number of coronavirus positive cases continues to steeply rise in the country. Hence, the imperatives of mutual trust, assistance and constant communication would increasingly become an indispensible asset for the Centre as well as the States to assiduously confront the crisis. The unprecedented policy challenges that the pandemic and the prolonged lockdown has posited requires innovative policy interventions where the Centre in cahoots with the States must act efficiently in order to assuage the bludgeoning human sufferings.

Evolving challenges

In India’s fight against the pandemic, the Centre-States relations have witnessed some frictions regarding vital decisions in its initial period.  Political scuffle over key issues like declaration of the nationwide lockdown without the consultation of the States, the irregular supply of essential medical equipment, the plight of the migrant workers and the tackling of the crisis by few opposition ruled States, came to the forefront.

However, subsequent attempts of forging coordination between the Centre and the States as well as amongst the States mitigated the chances of political acrimony and policy ambiguity in the middle of the health crisis. But as the life and the livelihood challenges are getting severe with time, further federal cooperation would be of paramount importance in dealing with the evolving problems regarding two significant aspects during the pandemic.

First, the abysmal nature of information asymmetry regarding the profile, location and status of the millions of migrant workers, which triggered the crisis in the first place, would also hinder the present and future attempts of providing them health and socio-economic security. Second, the rapid spike of the coronavirus positive cases in some States has given rise to sub-national protectionism which might lead to a serious political, administrative and economic crisis between certain States.

Information asymmetry

One of the most pathetic and heart-wrenching outcome of the lockdown due to COVID-19 is the unimaginable sufferings of the millions of internal economic migrants who worked in India’s major urban conglomerates and lost their jobs in this crisis. After facing the tremendous brunt of the situation in the last two months, they are now going back to their native States in the Shramik Express and buses that the government is running for transporting the migrants from the State where they worked to their native place.

However, despite the governmental assurances and policy declarations, the vulnerability of these workers is unlikely to be taken care of due to the ensuing lack of communication and absence of information sharing between the Centre and the migrants sending and receiving States. Such lack of coordination is posing health as well as socio-economic insecurity for these millions of returnee migrants in their native States.

First, as it is being widely reported, the workers are not transported keeping the social distancing norms in mind and they are also facing humongous hardships during the journey as well, increasing their risk of getting infected. On the other hand, the States where the migrants are being sent back are accusing the Centre of not informing the respective government regarding the details of the arriving migrants.

Hence, proper health screening measures are not being able to be taken up for these migrants, risking their health as well as the health of the people of the State. So the States have already started highlighting the flight of the migrant workers for the spike in the COVID-19 cases. Apart from the health crisis, such persistence of fear and paranoia related to the return of the migrant workers, might give rise to social stigma and subsequent social instability further adding to the woes of these innocent hapless populace.

The Centre is planning to redefine the categorisation of “migrant workers” in order to ensure better dissemination of social and health benefits to the hitherto excluded economic migrants who remain at the receiving end in this crisis. Though the initiative is well-meaning, any such attempt would require systematic and elaborate information gathering and sharing between the Centre and the native as well as the host States of these migrants.

Such sharing of information is extremely crucial for ensuring proper food distribution and other welfare services as well as for new work allocation to these migrant workers scattered in various regions of the country who have been rendered jobless and would urgently require state assistance for survival. Tracing the location and identity of the migrant workers who are involved in menial labour is a daunting task because of their high mobility and inadequate documentation. So, ground analysis of their situation would involve high level of administrative collaboration between the Centre and the States in the coming days.

Sub-national protectionism

As the lockdown demanded the closing of the inter-State borders, the crisis has witnessed the rise of the salience of sub-national identities in many states. Such rise of the regional identities might spell an imminent crisis in the inter-State relations in the near future. Such a tussle can propel serious economic and cultural disruptions. Hence, the coordinating role of the Centre in order to avert any such crisis would be extremely crucial at many levels.

As the reports of the sufferings of the stranded migrant workers in many States came to the forefront, the governments of their native States have accused the host States of mistreatment of their people. On the other hand, reports suggest that many migrant workers, especially the ones involved in essential services, are leaving the host States concerned about their healthy security due to the increase in the Covid-19 cases in those States.

Both these developments might give rise to reluctance and antagonism amongst these States and its people which might discourage inter-State mobility of labour in the future. The people who had to face tremendous hardships during the lockdown might not want to return to their workplaces in the host States and might try to find work in their own native State that might trigger a serious labour crisis in the host States. Though some attempts are already being made by some states to stop the flight of workers, but it might prove to be too late and too little.

Moreover, the States which have witnessed the flight of migrant workers involved in essential services in this hour of crisis might see reason to rely more on and recruit more people from their own States in order to shed their dependence on the migrant workers during such crisis. Adding to this, the hardening of States borders in order to restrict the entry of people from the States where the COVID-19 cases are relatively high, might herald a new form of regional stigmatisation which is detrimental to inter-State cooperation.

This might trigger a serious inter-State economic and well as cultural disruption which might impact seamless State to State mobility which has till now been the hallmark of regional integration and national unity in India. In such an evolving challenge of inter-State discordance, the Centre’s role as an efficient mediator will be significant in order to quell the confusion and misunderstanding amongst the States.

Imperative of cooperation

History bears testimony to the fact that Centre-State relations as well as inter-State relations in India have passed through turbulent phases in the past. Hence, cooperation among the Centre and the States has always been instrumental in governing a diverse polity like India. But the pandemic and the prolonged lockdown has given rise to unprecedented policy challenges that warrants systematic and sincere cooperation and coordination both between Centre and the States as well as amongst the States.

The ruling dispensation at the Centre, which has pronounced its commitment towards ‘cooperative federalism’ must be the lynchpin around such a cooperative framework amongst States, can be devised. In this regard, the existing institutional mechanisms like Inter-State Council which has remained largely moribund can be rejuvenated during this crisis. But above all, sincere and immediate repudiation of political hoodwinking and opportunism by all stakeholders will be instrumental is shaping the trajectory of relations between the Centre and the States during this crisis.

Country Reports


Violence resumes

Two days after the ending of the three-day ceasefire that the Taliban had announced in observance of the holy festival of Ramadan, the insurgent group killed 14 Afghan soldiers in two separate incidents. Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpoint in Parwan province, shooting dead 7 police personnel, and mounted another attack in the western city of Farah, where 7 police officers succumbed to the assaults.

NATO meets with donors

On 28 May, the NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana convened a meeting via teleconference, of international donors to Afghanistan, to discuss the best possible ways of collectively contributing to security and development in the country. He reaffirmed the commitment of the NATO-led Train/Advise/Assist Resolute Support Mission to support the efforts of the Afghan government and other stakeholders to achieve lasting peace and security in Afghanistan.


RMG wans of ‘black-listing’

The readymade garment (RMG) manufacturers have threatened to blackl-ist international fashion brands if they exploit the country’s industry by not paying their pending bills foregrounding excuse of the evolving global crisis because of the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. The caution followed in the aftermath of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the sector’s leading body, wrote to British Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) group asking it to pay for its orders before 25 March.  To Bangladesh garment manufacturer, certain buyers are taking undue advantage of the Covid-19 situation and demanding unreasonable discounts on pre-pandemic contracts.

Subdued Eid al-Fitr

Under the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic, the celebrations of the Eid al-Fitr was subdued this year.  Eid al-Fitr is celebrated at the end of month-long fasting during holy Ramadan. The country being a Muslim majority, Eid is the largest religious festival and the day is celebrated with much fanfare.  This year, the traditional big Eid congregation were curtailed and people offered the prayer in the mosque maintaining social distancing.  The number of Covid-19 infection are rising steadily and has around  40000  active cases and nearly 559 deaths until the writing of the report.

Modi offers support

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephonic conversation with Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina this week. Greeting her and the people on Eid al Fitr, Modi enquired about the losses incurred in the country due to the cyclone Amphan that had a landfall in the coastal areas of the country and the bordering Indian state of West Bengal. Prime Minister Modi reaffirmed India’s support to Bangladesh to tackle the challenges.


Hydro project delayed

The works for dam construction for the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Power Project (PHPA) remains hampered because there is no resolution to the problems of the sliding area on the right bank of the dam site. The representatives from the two parties who met with the project’s technical committee at the 28th technical coordination committee (TCC) meeting on 28 March were unable to resolve the issue. The PHPA- I is yet to receive a report to resolve issues related to the dam and the sliding on the dam’s right bank.

Foreign workers held

Three foreign workers without any documents issued by the Department of Immigration were apprehended by the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) on 26 May. They were found at a private construction site close to the international border at Pekarzhing under Phuentsholing Thromde. They had entered the country clandestinely in collusion with the construction site supervisor and the case is currently under investigation by the Department of Immigration and the RBP. The foreign workers and the site supervisor, who is a Bhutanese citizen, were immediately quarantined, owing to the Covid19 pandemic threat.


Stand-off with China

The Chinese soldiers have been reported to have forced their way into the Galwan valley in Ladakh in early May. According to sources, Chinese troops have moved heavy equipment deep into the Indian territory across the border. The move is suggested to be in response to the construction of road by India in the Galwan river area which is well within India’s own territory. Two rounds of talks between the Indian and Chinese military commanders remains inconclusive and further multiple levels of communication is on in order to de-escalate the crisis between the two countries.

Modi 2.0 completes first year

The BJP-NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which retained power with a larger mandate in the national elections in May 2019 has completed its first year in office. In this connection, PM Modi has written an open letter to the nation, listing out the achievements of his government so far and thanked the people for their support to his government so far. The opposition leader, Gulam Nabi Azad of Congress party accused the government of destroying the secular and federal structure of the nation in the last one year of its tenure.


Bid to revive tourism

Even as the country’s Covid10 count refuses to stall or reduce, President Ibrahim Solih has announced deferment of lease amount from tourist resorts by six months. In a bid to revive the mainstay tourism economy, the Government has also decided to open Male’s Velena International Airport on 1 July. Estimates show that the country will face a shortfall of $ 450 million (MVR 6.9 billion) in foreign currency owing to coronavirus lockdowns, while projected state deficit would reach MVR 13 billion this year. Already, the government has also introduced a financial relief package with MVR 2.5 billion intended to mitigate the lockdown effect on local businesses and the consequent job-losses. With the total number of Covid19 positive cases in the country put at 1672 and recoveries at 401, the government has also decided to keep public offices open for three days a week from Monday to Wednesday, 9 am-1 pm, for internal transactions. However, the offices will not interact with the public during those days, according to a statement issued by the President’s Office.


Preparing for poll campaign

With the upcoming elections slated to be held in November, some political parties have begun their preparations as the government cautiously eases restrictions meant to prevent the spread of Covid19. Party officials said that while they cannot yet go all out in their campaigning because of the ban on mass gatherings, they are acting within the limits. They might organize online party offices. However, the country’s two biggest parties – the National League for Democracy and the Union Solidarity and Development Party – refused to discuss their preparations for the polls. Some parties have opted to postpone their preparations until the Union Election Commission (UEC) announces the election date.

Return to Thailand uncertain

According to Suphaphimit Paorik, a deputy governor of Tak province, 75 per cent of over 1,800 Myanmar nationals, who crossed the Thai-Myanmar border from Mae Sot district to Myawaddy Township earlier this month, responded to an inquiry posed by Thai immigration officials only to say it would be unlikely for them to come back for jobs in Thailand again. The Myanmar nationals, who have undergone anti-pandemic measures at the Mae Sot border checkpoint, were quoted as saying they would have difficulties finding jobs in Thailand in the foreseeable future due to the pandemic and economic slump.


Hopes for dialogue with India

The State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of parliament invited Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 29 May afternoon to discuss the boundary row on the heels of India’s unilateral move of opening a strategic road link to Tibetan Autonomous Region of China via Lipu Lekh, a Nepali territory which lies on the north western frontier with China.  Gyawali has said that the Nepal government is awaiting dates for holding talks with India on the border-related issues. He also reiterated Nepal’s stance to resolve the boundary-related issues with India through diplomatic dialogue.

Funds-cut for expressway

The government has reduced the budget for the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway project by half while also announcing that the multi-billion rupee highway would be completed in three years.  The government will have to allocate Rs 150 billion in the next two fiscal years to complete the project in time. The officials at the Ministry of Defence say the Covid-19 pandemic is the reason behind inadequate allocation to the national pride project. They also fear that budget crunch could affect the project’s completion deadline.


India blamed for Ladakh row

Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi blamed that illegal constructions by New Delhi in Ladakh has caused the conflict between China and India. He expressed concern on the construction of roads and airstrips by New Delhi in what he claimed as a “disputed territory”. He also added that New Delhi's “aggressive policy against its neighbours is putting regional peace and stability at stake”. Qureshi also expressed concerns about the demographic change in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 last year. He further said New Delhi used Afghan soil against Islamabad and also urged the world to take notice of India's motives.

Locust threatens famine 

The invasion of swarms of locusts – the short-horned grasshoppers in Pakistan -- has challenged the country’s food security. Standing crops have been damaged in locust attacks in 60 districts of the country. The locusts travelling at a speed of 149kms a day reportedly entered southwestern Baluchistan from Iran. Locusts use the agricultural fields of Pakistan as breeding place and these insects may have caused financial loss worth PKR 600 billion ($3.72 billion) according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).To contain the locust plague and improve its pest control system, Turkey is helping out the Islamabad with purpose-built Piper Brave spray aircraft along with four crew members.

Loses bid on OIC grouping

In a virtual routine meeting of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member-countries, Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations Munir Akram highlighted charges of Islamophobia by focussing on the alleged plight of Muslims in India’s Jammu & Kashmir. However, his attempt to form an informal OIC envoys’ group at the US on the issue was thwarted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Maldives. The UAE envoy who chaired the meeting rejected Pakistan’s request, while envoy of Maldives Thilmeeza Hussain said accusing New Delhi would be factually incorrect and detrimental to religious harmony in South Asia.

Sri Lanka

UNP sacks rebels

Signalling the end of repentance and return period for rebels who had signed in for the one-time dissident leader Sajith Premadasa’s SJB, the Opposition UNP has sacked 99 of them, including the latter, for contesting the upcoming parliamentary polls for ‘another party’. The UNP leadership of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also put paid to motivated rumours of the party forming a ‘national government’ with the ruling SLPP combine of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Poll date case drags on

The five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court has since adjourned the poll=-date case for further hearing on the admissibility of a batch of fundamental rights petitions, to the third week in arrow. Should the court ‘admit’ the petitions worthy of a full hearing, then it will fix a new date for commencing the same. If not, the court may dismiss the petitions, but its observations and orders, if any, on the need for President Gtoabaya Rajapaksa to reconvene the dissolved Parliament and the Elections Commission to hold the polls on the rescheduled date of 20 June. With less than three weeks left, which is also the mandatory minimum time-limit granted under law for political parties and candidates to launch their election time, the indications are that the polls will have to be postponed further, which the ruling SLPP combine stoutly opposes.

Thonda no more

Leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the nation’s largest ethnicity-based trade union and political party of India-origin estate labour, died of a massive heart-attack on 28 May. Thonda, as he was popularly known, was the grandson of Soumiamoorthy Thondaman, the leading light of the Upcountry Tamils, and was the Minister for Community Development and Estate Infrastructure Development in the coalition government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. With his death, the CWC working committee has nominated his sone Jeevan Thondaman as the party candidate from native Nuwara Eliya district for the delayed parliamentary polls, as permitted under the relevant laws. 



Opinion Pieces

Daniel Sixto, “How the Islamic State Fractures Afghanistan’s Peace Prospects”, Eurasia Review, 29 May 2020

Wazhma Frogh, “Give Ceasefire a Chance”, TOLO News, 27 May 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Actual Progress Being Made”, 28 May 2020

The Wall Street Journal, “Trump’s Withdrawal Temptation”, 25 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Marco Tedesco, “The virus and the cyclone: The tragedy in India and Bangladesh is double”, State of the Planet, 28 May 2020

Kazi Abul Kalam and Nurul Islam, “COVID-19 and the impact on overseas employment”, Prothom Alo, 28 May 2020

Mahmudur Rahman, “The days after”, Dhaka Tribune, 28 May 2020

MashfiqueWadud, “News Analysis: Is Jamaat dying?”, Dhaka Tribune, 26 May 2020

Syed NazifIshrak, “Is RMG ready for future”, Dhaka Tribune, 24 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Wangchuck Dema, “Green’ menstruation in Bhutan: for health, climate and beyond”, Kuensel, 28 May 2020


Kuensel, “Agriculture and Opportunity”, 27 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Harsh Mander, “A Moment for Civilisational Introspection”, The Hindu, 30 May 2020

Gulam Nabi Azad, “A year of misgovernance: NDA govt has presided over an economic crisis, and handled pandemic poorly”, The Indian Express, 30 May 2020

Dipankar Gupta, “Covid crisis offers room to erase thresholds of Industrial Disputes Act that affect workers, employers”, The Indian Express, 30 May 2020

Mohammed Ayoob, “Beijing’s Ladakh brinkmanship”, The Hindu, 29 May 2020

Krishna Kumar, “A moment to trust the teacher”, The Hindu, 28 May 2020

Rakesh Sood, “For a reset in India-Nepal relations”, The Hindu, 29 May 2020

Rajeev Bhargava, “The heavy burden of social suffering ”, The Hindu, 27 May 2020


The Telegraph, “Iron hands: India powering authoritarianism”, 29 May 2020

The Telegraph, “Going home: Unplanned Shramik Special trains”, 29 May 2020

hindustantimes, “Speaking for migrant workers”, 28 May 2020

hindustantimes, “A wake-up call for Mumbai”, 26 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Apparently, Myanmar Govt’s COVID-19 Rules Don’t Apply to Yangon Chief Minister”, The Irrawaddy, 27 May 2020

Tony Waters, “Shan Pants, Burmese Longyi and Teenagers: Finding the Moral Imagination for Peace in Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 26 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Shiva Gautam, Ambika P Adhikari and Keshav Bhattarai, “Nepal is not playing China card”, My Republica, 29 May 2020

Bishnu Raj Upreti, “Way to solve India-Nepal border dispute”, My Republica, 29 May 2020

Bipin Adhikari and Bidushi Adhikari, “BRI after COVID-19”, My Republica, 29 May 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Nepal’s budget: Not quite all there”, 28 May 2020

The Kathmandu Post, “The Digital Divide”, 27 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “Very old normal”, Dawn,29 May 2020

Zahid Hussain, “Afghanistan’s shifting sandsDawn, 27 May 2020

Mahir Ali, “China syndromeDawn, 27 May 2020

Irfan Husain, “The perks of powerDawn, 30 May 2020

Durdana Najam, “Migrant workers: Victim of India’s uneven development patternThe Express Tribune, 28 May 2020

Inam Ul Haque, “The future of warfare — India and Pakistan”, The Express Tribune, 28 May 2020


Dawn, “New locust attack”, 30 May 2020

The Express Tribune, “Expansionist pursuits”, 29 May 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Phiilips, “The coronavirus and Sri Lanka’s pre-existing non-medical conditions”, The Island, 31 May 2020

D B S Jeyaraj, “When Thonda clashed with MR…”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 May 2020

M S M Ayub, “The importance of being a Thondaman”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 May 2020

Kusal Perera, “Who is MR the politician?”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 May 2020

Kelum Bandara, “Fresh approach to joint ventures between India and Sri Lanka”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 May 2020

Adm Ravindra C Gunaratne (retd), former Chief of Defence Staff, “Sri Lanka expects every man will do his duty”, The Island, 28 May 2020

Jehan Perera, “Continuing need to keep independent commissions independent”, The Island, 28 May 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “National problem and Constitution-making”, Ceylon Today, 26 May 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Where did the LTTE go wrong?”, Colombo Gazette, 26 May 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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