MonitorsPublished on Jun 11, 2019
Exploring much needed political reforms in the Congress party, the judicial reforms in Maldives and other recent developments from South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 23


India: Congress party and elections-2019

Ameya Kelkar The general elections of 2019 was a moment of truth for the Congress Party. After suffering a stinging defeat at the hands of the BJP in 2014 also, these elections were meant to be a sign of the Congress putting up a stiff contest against the incumbent BJP, ensuring the government was not without an active Opposition to keep the winning party in check. However, those dreams were dashed. The 2019 elections not only gave the BJP government more seats in the Lok Sabha but also the Congress could manage only eight more seats than 2014. This stinging defeat on the back of the successes in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh assembly elections only months earlier highlights some of the serious drawbacks within the party’s leadership structure. Those drawbacks definitely played a larger role in the party failing to achieve its electoral objectives.

Campaign problems

The assembly victories of the Congress party in 2018 were supposed to be a sign of greater things to come for the party. The Congress, riding on a wave of victory in the heartland States, possibly saw these elections as the perfect chance to unseat BJP and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also showing the country that the party deserved to be given another chance at governance. However, the campaigning of the Congress in the run-up to the general elections left a lot to be desired. The party, which was fighting the failures of the BJP to provide for the lowest class of the citizenry, fielded a landmark scheme, known as the Nyuntam Aay Yojana, or NYAY. This scheme, created to ensure minimum income to the poorest of the citizenry, came into the campaign trail less than a month before the first phase of the polls. The party failed to market the NYAY as their flagship scheme, similar to what the BJP had done in 2014, using the anger of unemployment as the cornerstone of their 2014 campaign. Instead of campaigning on the promises of development and upward mobility for the lower classes, most of the campaigning of the Congress focused on the Rafale deal, throwing jibes at the incumbent leadership, and in general trying to defame the BJP without promising any alternative. This failure is one of the main reasons Congress could not muster up the necessary votes, as it was clear that their campaign was mainly to malign the BJP rather than offer any meaningful solutions to the woes of the public.

Gandhi fielding Gandhi

The Congress has, in recent times, generated the perception that it is a party of the Gandhi family, with their leadership mostly passing on from parent to child. The election of Rahul Gandhi as the party president did nothing to alleviate these doubts of the public, giving off the image that there has been no systematic change within the party. Moreover, the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as party general secretary for Uttar Pradesh (east) reiterated the message that the Congress and the Gandhi family were part of the same ecosystem. From the public perception of the party, it gave the party less room to manoeuvre. This image of the Congress party, however subtly, played into the hands of the BJP, which has since 2014 advertised themselves as being a party which looks at the merit of the candidate rather than their associations with existing party members, despite evidence to the contrary. After the loss in the general elections, the refusal of the Congress party to accept the resignation of Rahul Gandhi from the post of the party president only highlights the mentality of the Congress as a whole, which still thinks a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family is required to lead the party.

Possible future

It is no secret that the party is currently undergoing one of the greatest time of turmoil. With a leader who is adamant to resign and his family members and workers within the party refusing to accept the resignation, it leaves the Congress with two options. One: keep Rahul Gandhi, a man who feels personally responsible for the defeat of the Congress as its president and hope he can provide lasting solutions to the problems plaguing the party. However, this will do little to revamp the image of the Congress as a Gandhi running the affairs of the party all over again symbolizes the fact that change within the party is very hard to achieve and it currently only depends on one family for its survival. Another avenue: introspect the failure of the party and find competent leadership outside the Congress. The party was founded as an answer to the imperial stance of the British colonial powers, promising self-determination and independence to the country from foreign rulers. This was embodied in the appointment of various figures as party president, ranging from the poet Sarojini Naidu to the more military-minded Subhash Chandra Bose. The Congress can go back to these roots, finally let the Gandhi's leave their assigned seats of power, and elect a president who has a workable vision for India and can revamp the image of the party, reinforcing the image of the party being one which works for the common good of the public and slowly work towards washing the party of the stain of nepotism it has had for the last few decades. And it is not the case that the Congress does not have competent people working in the party. Figures such as Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who played instrumental roles in the Congress victories in the 2018 Assembly elections, are already two prime examples of buckets of talent already within the Congress, and will help build a new image for the party in the eyes of the Indian public. The onus is now on the workers and the leadership of the Congress -- to either let the party slip into obscurity or implement strong changes which will ensure the party can stay as an alternative to the BJP.

Maldives: Will ‘judicial reforms’ be MDP’s undoing again?

N. Sathiya Moorthy Even as the nine-month-old government of President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih seems to be settling down well in office following the sweeping victory for his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the parliamentary polls, trouble may be brewing for both on the much needed pre-poll form to reform the nation’s Judiciary. On the one front, the Supreme Court has charged a government-identified South African jurist with threatening the five-member bench to quit, which has the potential for political trouble, even more. In a separate yet connected development, Parliament Speaker and former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed charged one of the five with taking one-million-dollar bribe to order his 13-year imprisonment under the erstwhile Yameen regime. ‘Judicial reforms’ has been a centre-piece of the MDP’s political and poll agenda this time, as in 2008 when the nation elected Nasheed President in the first-ever multi-party election. An Executive over-drive without adequate parliamentary presence meant that Nasheed could not have his way in choosing new judges for a new Supreme Court under the new Constitution, supposedly in the name of much-needed judicial reforms. It was a replay of what was happening to the Government in Parliament, especially on the ‘GMR deal’ for Male airport modernisation. Ingeniously deploying a rarely-used constitutional provision, Nasheed ensured approval for the controversial deal in the interregnum caused by his returning the bill to Parliament for reconsideration and the latter approving it again for his mandatory assent. On the judiciary front, in an unbelievably unprecedented move, Nasheed also literally locked down the Supreme Court for a day in mid-2010, posting soldiers to check against trespass. An upset public that had much in store for Nasheed, the MDP and democracy, in that order, had no hesitation in backing the political Opposition, especially after he ordered the army to arrest Criminal Court Chief Judge Mohamed Abdulla, midnight, purportedly for granting bail to a political opponent. The nation’s Bar and Bench were already upset over Nasheed allegedly misleading the ‘international community’ (read: West) on dubbing experts in the Islamic Shariat among them as illiterate school drop-outs.

Unilateral initiative

This time round, assessing the public mood and understanding what may be in store after the new Parliament was sworn in (on 28 May), the Supreme Court initiated suo motu reforms even before the Executive and Parliament were ready for and with the same. Whether or not the SC initiative was previously known to the Executive, Attorney-General Ibrahim Rifaath, obviously without consultations with the Bench, commissioned retired South African Supreme Court Judge Johann Kriegler, for assessing the Maldivian judiciary and recommending reforms. In a statement issued after a full Bench meeting with Kriegler, the Supreme Court said: “Instead of discussing the challenges of (the) Judiciary, Kriegler threatened the judges, stating they should retire before the Government forces their hand”. He also told them that “he will recommend sacking all the judges without exception, in his report to the Attorney General’s Office”. According to the Supreme Court, “Threatening a power of the State or a State body or institution by a person working in a professional context as a consultant is unacceptable.” In another avoidable additional embarrassment, the Mihaaru report AG Rifaath condemned the Supreme Court. “There is no doubt that the court is gripped by undue influences. The people of this country and the international community have no confidence in (the) Maldivian judiciary. A statement like that will not make people trust them,” he told Mihaaru. The AG may have referred to how the Judiciary had ‘crawled when asked to bend’ by the erstwhile Government of then President Abdulla Yameen. Almost the very same Judges and the very same Supreme Court and the larger Judiciary changed their stance almost on every court case that the MDP and other adversaries of Yameen had termed ‘politically motivated’ after he lost power. That included freedom for Nasheed and a host of others after the courts had dismissed all pending convictions and imprisonment, citing inadequate evidence or prosecution or both.

Nasheed’s charge denied

In a petition to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the constitutional watch-dog, Speaker Nasheed has sought investigations against Supreme Court Judge Abdulla Didi for ‘misconduct’ flowing from alleged acceptance of $ 1-m bribe in his wife’s Malaysian bank account for ordering his imprisonment. In a subsequent Press statement, Justice Didi denied the allegations and lashed out at the media for “irresponsible” journalism, for publishing a ‘one-sided’ version without seeking his comments. The Mihaaru report on Nasheed’s petition quoted Parliament’s Secretary-General Fathimath Niusha, but Justice Didi’s statement did not refer to either of them. As Chief Judge of the Criminal Court in 2015, Justice Didi headed the three-judge trial Bench that sentenced Nasheed to a 13-year jail-term in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. In June 2018, three months before the presidential polls that he lost, Nasheed appointed Didi to one of the two vacancies caused by the arrest of two incumbents for overnight order of freedom for Nasheed and other ‘political prisoners’ through an unprecedented web-uploaded verdict of 1 February. In a tweet, former Attorney-General Husnu Suood, who was also Nasheed’s lawyer, urged Judge Didi to step aside when the JSC heard his case. As Speaker, Nasheed is a member of the multi-member JSC, but in the absence of precedents, it is unclear if he would/should recuse himself his petition is taken up for hearing.

Five-year road-map

That all is not well became clear when Chief Justice, Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, declared before the parliamentary polls that (President Solih’s) MDP planned to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. Not long after the election results were known, the Supreme Court on its own unveiled a 20-point, five-year road-map for judicial reforms, “to ensure the independence of judges and improve oversight mechanisms”. Releasing the reforms agenda, CJ Didi said that the proposals called for amendments to laws relating to the judiciary, upholding educational and ethical standards, and changing JSC’s composition. “My wish and hope is to see the successful implementation of the judicial reform road-map and the judicial action reform plan,” he said on the occasion. Though the President and senior MDP leaders maintained silence, other party representatives did question the Supreme Court’s right to initaite judicial reforms. Independent of whatever be the political and official opinion, the SC proposals could at best form the basis for a national discourse, but a basis it could still be. Independent of the reforms issue, the Apex Court has also come under fire for summoning lawyers and parliamentarians, including MDP’s Imthiyaz Fahmy, for criticising the Judiciary, this one in a TV talk-show. In an unrelated, yet related development, President Solih also vetoed a legislation passed by the earlier Parliament, post-polls, to grant a $ 2,270 monthly pension to former Vice-Presidents and ex-Chief Justices. His office said that the bills were contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

Constitutional dead-lock

 The street-fighter in the MDP may be flexing its parliamentary muscle to see through judicial reforms, either based on the Kriegler recommendations, if any, or otherwise. The JSC is empowered to sack sitting Judges and Parliament too can impeach each or every one of them by two-thirds majority, which the MDP anyway enjoys in the current Parliament. In democracies, the Supreme Court is considered the watch-dog of the Constitution and also the final arbiter of legal accusations, including those against judges. It is a tight-rope for all Maldivian stake-holders to walk if they do not want to re-create the forgettable past, and lead to a constitutional dead-lock, for which there is enough scope just now. As an experienced parliamentarian and matured Leader of the House and also of the Opposition in his time, President Solih can be expected to arrest the current drift without allowing it to engulf the nation. In context, the Government could also examine if the post-apartheid South African judicial reforms experience held any promise for Maldives and if neighbouring Sri Lanka found it wanting on the political and constitutional fronts, post-war.

Country Reports


NATO reaffirms support

In a recent meeting between the Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and the US Envoy for afghan Peace Zalmay Khalilzad, the former has reaffirmed that ensuring terrorism never again gains ground in Afghanistan continues to be NATO’s highest operational priority. He added that as Ambassador Khalilzad has created a genuine platform for discussions related to peace negotiations the issue has moved high up on the priority list for the Afghan policymakers as well as the common people.

President for Pak

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is scheduled to pay a visit to Pakistan on 27 June at the invitation of the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. The two heads of state have already concluded a successful meeting on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting that was held in Saudi Arabia. This comes as efforts are underway for peace negotiation between Afghan government and Taliban and wherein the former believe that Islamabad can play an instrumental role.


PM for OIC summit

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is visiting Saudi Arabia, where she will attend the 14th session of the OIC’s Islamic Summit in Makkah. At the summit, Prime Minister sought support from the OIC member states to launch the Rohingya case at the International Court of Justice with voluntary funding and technical help to ensure legal rights of the Rohingyas and address the question of accountability and justice. Additionally, Prime Minister urged OIC member states to show zero tolerance for terrorism. The Prime Minister's Saudi Arabia visit is part of her three-nation tour beginning with her stop at Japan. Saudi Arabia hosted the 14th session of the OIC’s Islamic Summit in Makkah. The summit, titled “Makkah Summit: Together for the Future”, aims to develop a unified stance on events in the Islamic world.

Export ban goes

Ban of rice exported was lifted this week to curtail losses of the farmers following a drastic drop in domestic prices. The country is expecting to export around 1.5 million tonnes of rice. The move followed after the farmers vented out their anger by burning paddy due to falling prices. Bangladesh is the fourth biggest producer of rice globally. Export of some common varieties of rice was banned in May 2008 after a spike in domestic prices. It banned all rice exports a year later.


Jaishankar meets PM

India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar embarked on a two-day visit to Bhutan on 7 June, his first overseas trip after assuming charge of the office. In Thimpu, he met with Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji. Jaishankar during his visit would discuss upcoming high-level exchanges, economic development and hydropower cooperation.

Gay ban may go

The legislative committee of the National Assembly seeks to remove section 213 and 214 of Penal Code on unnatural sex which criminalizes homosexuality. In what could be a historic moment for the country, all members of parliament of the committee are in favour of dropping the section after Finance Minister Namgay Tshering sent a written suggestion to this effect.


Search on for missing AN-32

The Indian Air Force has expanded its search to locate the missing AN-32 aircraft. The search operations have included coordinated operations by local and state administrative agencies, along with IAF radar and sensor equipment to expand the search radius. The aircraft went missing on 3 June at 12:27 AM, carrying a total of eight crew members and five civilians on board. While weather is likely to hamper search efforts, the Air Force is currently employing all the tools it has in its arsenal to ensure their operations can continue in any adverse weather.

Terrorists killed in Pulwama

Four terrorists were killed in a routine search-and-cordon operation in the village of Panjran in the Pulwama district of South Kashmir. While the identities of the terrorists is yet to be ascertained, security forces have given clear indication that they belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist outfit. The operation which resulted in these deaths began on Thursday, with the operation still underway.

Bail for ‘foreigner-soldier’

The Guwahati High Court has granted bail to retired Subedar Mohammad Sanaulla, after he was detained due to the declaration that he was an illegal foreigner. The court has also sent notices to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Assam Border Police. The arrest has been alleged to be done without any proper investigation being conducted into his nationality, and another claim states that the Subedar was part of counter-insurgency operations during the time period in which the investigation allegedly took place.


Solih honours Modi

President Ibrahim Solih conferred the nation’s “The Most Honourable Order of the Distinguished Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen", the Maldives' highest honour accorded to foreign dignitaries, on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the latter’s maiden overseas visit in his second term. Modi gifted Solih a cricket bat, signed by all members of the Indian team playing the Cricket World Cup now in the UK. While the two nations signed six agreements after delegation-level talks between their leaders, Modi also met with leaders of the four ruling coalition parties. Later, addressing the nation’s Parliament, the second by an Indian leader after PM Manmohan Singh in 2011, Modi made a veiled reference to China in terms of debt-trap that India would not impose on Maldives, and also to Pakistan, when he mentioned the need for global cooperation against State-sponsored terrorism.


Suu Kyi for EU

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently in Europe to strengthen the relationship with her western neighbour which had been tarnished following the Rohingya crisis. The State Counsellor and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban both view migration as "one of the greatest challenges" currently facing their countries and Europe and South East Asia in general. The talks between the two personalities covered topics such as "illegal immigration and bilateral economic, educational and cultural relations.

New policies on environment

President U Win Myint on 5 June announced the two new policies, namely the National Environmental Policy and the Myanmar Climate Change Policy, at an event marking World Environment Day in the capital. More than 400 attended the announcement, including senior government officials from Union ministries, states and regions and representatives from civil society, academic institutions, businesses and the international community, including the acting UN resident coordinator and EU ambassador.


Oli to visit Europe

Nepal has been looking forward to Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli’s trip to Europe, primarily premised on the country’s participation in the ILO Conference in Geneva. Official visits to United Kingdom and Nepal have also been fixed up. This visit has presented itself as a wonderful opportunity to interact with the European countries and talk investment along with challenges in the labour sector.

Transit bridge ready

The embodiment of the Nepal-China friendship concrete bridge near the transit point at Rasuwagadhi has finally been completed. The main objective is to increase trade with the movement of at least 100 cargo trucks. This is yet another milestone in Sino-Nepal friendship.

Higher growth feted

A growth rate of 7.1 percent has been pointed out by the World Bank for Nepal’s current fiscal year. This would be all the more increasing if economic benefits from India and China can be harvested within time. Moreover, there has been an increased focus on the agricultural and the infrastructural sectors.


PMs meeting not on

No bilateral meeting have been arranged between the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the recently re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The summit is to be held in Kyrgystan from 13 to 14 June. This comes as the previous Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj held an unplanned and informal meeting with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Memood Qureshi last month at the margins of the SCO.

Campaign for mid-term polls

On the notion that the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has “completely failed to deliver and steer the country out of crises”, the opposition party Pakistani Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) has planned to build up its campaign for midterm polls. Earlier the plan had been to press for replacement of Imran Khan with some other candidate from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf, but the idea lost ground as there were not many takers within the PML-N for this specific agenda.

Sri Lanka

Modi at Easter blast site

In the first visit by any foreign leader to Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday serial-blasts, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to the victims at the St Anthony’s Church in Colombo. Received by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a rare gesture, Modi met with President Maithripala Sirisena, and also predecessor, Mahinda Rajapakse, who is at present the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, apart from leaders of the Muslim community, who are being targeted by stray groups in the aftermath of the blasts. During his stay, which included an all-party social lunch organised by Sirisena, Modi promised all Indian help for Sri Lanka to fight terrorism.



Opinion Pieces

Fahim Abed, “Afghan Peace Marchers Take Cease-Fire Plea Directly to Taliban”, The New York Times, 2 June 2019 Gabriel Piccillo & Mark Thomas Patterson, “Forgotten Voices: The Critical Role of the Afghan Diaspora in the Pursuit of Peace in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 2 June 2019


Afghanistan Times, “Intensifying violence”, 3 June 2019 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “‘Taliban in Moscow and Kabul’ Different?”, 1 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

Tahseen Lubaba, “An Overview of Environmental Laws of Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 4 June 2019 Salehuddin Ahmed, “Charting Bangladesh’s economic growth”, The Daily Star, 2 June 2019 A N M Muniruzzaman, “Belt and Road Initiative and what’s in it for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 30 May 2018



Kuensel, “Where sobriety is expected”, 1 June 2019 The Bhutanese, “Age of Consent”, 1 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

Saikat Majumdar, “The Liberal Professional?”, The Indian Express, 7 June 2019 Harsh V Pant, “Modi Reimagines India’s Role in the World”, Foreign Policy, 4 June 2019 Madhavan Narayanan, “The Surgical Vikas Strike: How BJP Got To The Winning Side Of The Poverty Line”, Outlook India, 3 June 2019 A.S. Panneerselvan, “Noise too is a Form of censorship”, The Hindu, 3 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Majlis elects Nasheed Speaker, maiden resolution invites Modi to address the House”,, 4 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

Aung Zaw, “‘We Are United Because We Are All Under Threat’: AA Chief”, The Irrawaddy, 6 June 2019 Lawi Weng, “AA Can’t Count on Northern Allies for Help on Battlefield in Rakhine”, The Irrawaddy, 5 June 2019 Aung Naing Oo, “EAOs Should Separate Their Strategies on Ceasefires and Political Dialogue”, The Irrawaddy, 4 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

Narayan Manandhar, “The Modi ripples”, Republica, 6 June 2019 P Kharel, “The creed that failed”, The Kathmandu Post, 3 June 2019


The Himalayan Times, “The budget blues: Nepal’s poor spending capacity”, 7 June 2019 The Kathmandu Post, “Nepal should promote the use of solar energy”, 5 June 2019


Opinion Pieces

Rafia Zakaria, “Unsuspecting Pakistani brides”, Dawn, 5 June 2019 Ignacio Artaza, “Urbanisation in Pakistan”, The Express Tribune, 5 June 2019


The Express Tribune, “Divided we celebrate”, 5 June 2019 Dawn, “PTI restructuring”, 5 June 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajeewa Jayweera, “Blackmailing government”, The Island, 9 June 2019 D B S Jeyaraj, “Mass resignation of nine Govt Ministers and Muslim politics under-currents”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 June 2019 Kelum Bandara, “Collective moves by Muslim MPs exacerbates polarization”, Daily Mirror Online, 6 June 2019 Malinda Seneviratne, “Politics and alienation”, Daily Mirror Online, 6 June 2019 Lynn Ockersz, “SL opinion all at sea on Indo-Pacific questions”, The Island, 6 June 2019 Jehan Perera, “Politics without scruples undermines the reforms that can unite”, The Island, 5 June 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Where from here, presidential polls?”, Colombo Gazette, 4 June 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “For a clean Constitution under a clear mandate”, Ceylon Today, 4 June 2019


Kelum Bandara, “Presidential Candidacy I am prepared to consider if there is a Unanimous Request: Karu”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 June 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ameya Kelkar Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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