MonitorsPublished on Dec 15, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII-50

India: Dissecting the farmers’ protest

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

History bears testimony to the fact that peaceful expression of public concern has been a hallmark of a robust democracy. India as the largest and a well-functioning democracy has also been an effective breeding ground for nurturing a culture that has consolidated citizens’ right to free expression regarding all issues that concerns their life and well-being.

In tandem with the nation’s deep-rooted spirit of democratic expression and dissent, the country is witnessing a protracted farmers’ protest against the three farm laws that was passed by the Parliament earlier this year. Despite concerted attempts by the Central government to allay the fears of the farmers regarding the contentious legislations, the furore over the issue refuses to die down.

Contextualising the protest

As the country is yet to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the farmers’ decision to hit the streets indicate how serious they view the matter.  It is thus extremely crucial to understand what aggravates the situation and what bearing does it have on the larger democratic discourse in the country.

Farmers from the States of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh are the major force behind the protests. In the Congress-ruled Punjab, the Akali Dal, the other important political party in the State, too is supporting the farmers’ cause against the BJP-ruled Centre. The Akali Dal, which was a long-time ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), quit the combine to protest against the farm laws, and the party’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as far back as September.

For his part, the Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt Amarinder Singh, got the State Assembly to pass laws, nullifying the Central farm laws. The other two Congress-ruled State governments in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh have also initiated steps to take legislative actions of the kind.

The protesting farmer unions in Haryana, where the BJP is in power in alliance with Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), have expressed resentment against the laws despite the State government’s repeated attempts to convince them otherwise. There are reports about tension within the JJP, led by Dushyant Singh Chautala, the Deputy Chief Minister, for backing the laws, even though the party has a strong support-base among the farming community.

According to reports, the Bharaiya Kishan Sangh (BKS), affiliated to the  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in turn the ideological parent of the ruling BJP at the Centre, has also expressed support for the protest and claimed that the contentious legislations seems to favour only the big corporate houses and traders -- and not the farmers. So, it is clear that not only the Opposition parties but also some of the allies of the ruling BJP seem to be apprehensive about the farm laws.

Procedural lacunae

Some major factors are behind the farmers’ protests, both procedural and substantive issues. On the procedural front, the hurried approach of the Union Government in rushing with the three pieces of legislation in Parliament, even while it has a huge majority to get them passed after a full-fledged debate in both Houses. Neither did the Government engage much with the stake-holders.

The second procedural of the Centre’s failure is in its inability to build a federal consensus on a subject like Agriculture which is a State subject under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. This led to the Opposition-ruled States upping the ante against the Centre compromising federal principles.

Substantive concerns

On the substantive aspects of the laws in questions, the aggrieved farmers believe that the legislation is a harbinger to the abolition of the public procurement and the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime. Public procurement and the MSP are major instruments which the protesting farmers feel are indispensable for their survival.

As the laws suggest, there will be an end to monopoly procurement by  Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, which the protesting farmers feel, will be catastrophic to their long-term interests. They also fear that State governments  will not be able to collect market fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets, and the laws will eventually dismantle the mandi system and push them to directly deal with corporates.

The concern is that the current laws “pose a significant challenge to small and marginal farmers who constitute 86 percent of our agricultural class”. Also, the farm laws exclude the State and Central governments, and also civil courts to intervene in any matter pertaining to subjects covered under them, thus depriving the farmers of independent dispute redressal mechanisms.

Searching for reconciliation

Though the Centre has initiated negotiations with the agitating farmers’ unions in order to try and diffuse the protests and accommodate their demands, compromise has proved evasive till now. This is because the protestors would accept no offer other than total withdrawal of the three laws and a legislative guarantee for continuing with the MSP regime.

Succumbing to the pressure of the protesters and rolling back the laws  would mean that any significant step towards positive agricultural reforms in the country might become politically difficult. Considering that the ruling party is politically and electorally strong at present, it could imply that if the reforms are not possible now, they would never be possible in the future.

However, a democratic and peaceful protest based on substantive concerns should not be dismissed or discredited for momentary interests of political mileage and electoral expediency. Every ruling dispensation under democratic conditions must strive hard with good faith for constantly prioritising the possibilities of repeated negotiations and consultations for addressing the concerns of the protesting citizens and finding a solution, not matter how vexed the issue in question is.

The Centre must leave no stone unturned for finding a broad consensus around the issue by bringing on board all the stakeholders, including farmers organisations as well as Opposition parties in order to resolve the exacerbating crisis, for the interest of the farmers as well as for the larger interest of the nation’s democracy.

Bhutan: Role of tourism in post-pandemic economic revival

Sohini Nayak

The economy of the small landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with subsequent closure of borders -- one of the primary sources of trade and transit. Even though the country has presented a real success story of containing the virus early on, with the lowest number of reported cases in the sub-continent, there has been a deceleration in economic growth from 3.8 percent (FY 2018-19) to 1.5 per cent (2019-20).

There has also been a drastic and crucial decline in the import and export pattern, causing severe disruptions to trade in general. It is not a very good circumstance for Bhutan, which has been trying its best to elevate itself from being lower middle-income country.

When the first nation-wide lockdown was put in place, on 11 August, two important sectors were the worst-hit. The first was the tourism industry with related transport services, as the arrival of tourists had dried up by this time. The second was associated to all sectors requiring close interaction with the Indian neighbour, in turn, one of the primary trade partners and export markets.

India was already under a domestic lock-down for months, thus resulting in an economic slowdown. There was ‘reduced foreign demand for Bhutanese products, especially from India. Additionally, financial cooperation and aid from sectors like manufacturing, non-hydro-electricity projects, construction and labour supply from India were deeply affected, causing long-lasting economic vulnerability for Bhutan. In this circumstance, uncertainty has been looming large on Bhutan’s growth forecast with mainstay areas like hydropower with lower-than-expected generation.

High value, low volume

Bhutan was one of the fastest-growing economies in the region before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The fiscal deficit faced by the country with 6.18 percent has been one of the worst in recent years, primarily due to the socio-economic challenges and the tax incentives that are being provided for businesses.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) June forecast, the deficit number has chances of going up to 7.36 percent. Consequently, in this situation, a way out has been often denoted as a well revived tourism sector, a major national revenue earner. Although this sector is likely to recover in a slow-paced manner as the travel restrictions will still be prevalent until 2021 and global tourism flows in general are ‘expected to remain muted’, the country is still pinning its hopes on it.

However, compared to other tourist destinations in the world, Bhutan is likely to be safer and more flexible. This is due to the long-standing tourism policy of “High value, low volume”, as explained by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Brand Bhutan has always relied on the connotation of being an ‘exclusive destination’. Now, this principle is likely to help revive the economy, with safety and security of the tourists.

The Tourism Ministry has been planning several campaigns to portray Bhutan as a destination for well-being and peace, amidst the present situation with the tag-line “Happiness is a place”. With this new-normal format, the country is offering its natural beauty, unique culture and perfect weather to unwind after the year of turmoil. Bhutan is also often referred to as ‘Menjong, the Land of Medicinal Herbs’ with the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

Bubble tourism

In order to make this possible, the ministry is also paying attention to the upgradation of its online travel portals that provide right information to the tourists with guidance revolving around health precautions. Quarantine practices and online health applications, rapid-test kits and contact-tracing applications are also being put in place accordingly. Measures are also being taken to make the hoteliers and the tour guides aware of the standard precautions.

Another important step has been the introduction of ‘bubble tourism’, through partnership with India. These are also called ‘Travel Corridors’ or ‘Green Lanes’. This is a bilateral arrangement between two countries where no quarantining is required. The system benefits both countries, financially. Therefore, this arrangement will also be a good opportunity for the eastern part of India which is right on the other side of Bhutan- the most crucial border being Jaigaon and Phuentsholing.

This structure is indeed a part of the national response mechanism of the government and the Economic Contingency Plan (ECP) with the reprioritization of the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) activities of the country. There also must be the implementation of unconventional policy responses such as these, thereby helping Bhutan to come back on track in the economic front. In doing so, it can capitalize on the good relationship that it shares with India, churning out maximum prospects for both the neighbours.

Country Reports


Journalist gunned down

Malalai Maiwand, a women rights activist and a presenter at Enikas Radio and TV in the eastern province of Nangarhar, was gunned down along with her driver in the regional capital of Jalalabad. Malalai and her driver, Mohammad Tahir, were on their way to the office when the incident took place, taking the total number of deaths of journalists and media workers in this year to 10. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident comes a month after the death of journalists Elyas Dayee and Yama Siawash. Malalai’s mother, who was also an activist, was killed five years ago by unknown gunmen.

Civilian deaths up under Trump era 

A report released by Brown University Watson Institute’s ‘Cost of War’ project pointed out that there is a sharp 330% increase in the civilians killed annually by US-led airstrikes from 2016 to 2019 as the US escalated the attacks on the Taliban. From the period of 2007-2016, the US-led and Afghan forces killed an average of 582 civilians each year but the total number of civilians killed each year increased by nearly 95 percent between 2017-19 during the Trump administration. The report further mentioned that the number of casualties decreased after the signing of the preliminary peace deal in the absence of the Afghan government in Qatar, Doha. The US forces in Afghanistan disagreed with the report as they found it ‘one sided and relied on disputed data’ avoiding the civilian casualties caused by ISIS and the Taliban.


Sculpture vandalised

The sculpture of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was defaced in Kushtia in western Bangladesh. Four people -- all teachers and students of madrasa -- were arrested in connection with the incident. The defacement of the sculpture of the national icon took place amidst controversy over conservative religious group Hefajat-e-Islami’s opposition to construction of Bangabandhu’s statue in the capital Dhaka.

UN, US concern over relocation

The US has expressed concern over the relocation of Rohingya refugees in Bhasan Char, an island by the coast of Bay of Bengal. Cale Brown, principal deputy spokesperson at the US Department of State in a statement said that his country is concurs with the UN that any such relocations must be fully voluntary and based on informed consent without pressure or coercion. Government is planning to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees from the congested camps in coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. The Government claims to have made state-of-the-art facilities for the refugees in the island and recently 1,642 of them have been relocated. However, rights organisations and the UN have expressed reservations over the government’s move.


Business incubation centres

Economic Affairs Minister, Loknath Sharma, reiterated the establishment of Business Incubation centres. These provide technical assistance, space and monitoring to start-ups, which are extremely crucial for a small landlocked country like Bhutan that has been trying to raise its economy a notch higher. In fact, academic institutions will also have such facilities. This initiative is under the CSI Flagship Development Program and has a budget of Nu 100 million.

Flu vaccine gets clearance

‘Regulatory requirements’ of the flu vaccine for the general population of the country has been cleared. The Ministry of Health is also working on the vaccine for the high risk and aged population, which is also in its first phase. Satellite clinics, in line with the Covid-19 zoning system, have also been curated so that there is no over-crowding and the government can bring about proper dissemination.


Farmers’ protest continues

The farmers continued their protests against the recently passed farm laws by the Central government. The talks of the Central government with the farmers once again broke down last week and the farmers Unions have decided to intensify the protests. As a response, the Delhi police have blocked various border points as the protesters have announced to block the Delhi-Jaipur highway and the Yamuna Expressway. Prime Minister Narendra Modi have assured that his government is committed to the welfare of the farmers and the reforms are made in the interest of the farmers.

Political violence up in West Bengal

Ahead of the Assembly elections in West Bengal scheduled next year, incidents of political violence between the rival political parties are on a rise. Last week, a worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was killed as violence erupted during a protest march that was being conducted by the BJP to the State Secretariat building in North Bengal. As a response, the West Bengal BJP also called for a 12- hour strike in north Bengal to protest against the incident. In another incident, BJP national President J.P. Nadda’s convoy was attacked during his visit to the state. The incident has been criticised by the BJP but the West Bengal police claimed to have taken immediate action by arresting all the accused involved in the case.


Tourist arrivals in six-digit

Despite the Covid pandemic, foreign tourist arrivals have touched the 100,000-mark with the authorities celeb rating the arrival of Jasmin Burki at the Velana International Airport (VIA) in Male. "Surpassing the milestone in advance of the projections is really encouraging,” said Tourism Minister Abdulla Mausoom. This became possible due to the “travel and tourism industry partners, health professionals, the diplomatic and international community”, he said. Given the country’s excessive dependence of tourism economy, the Government of President Mohamed Solih took courage and opened up air-travel and tourism industry on 15 July, even though the pandemic management is still on, simultaneously.

Joins issue

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Lizhong has joined issue with Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed that the nation had to pay $ 15 m, of half the earnings during the period, to Chinese banks in upcoming 14 days. He said no such payment was due, according to information provided by the banks. Nasheed, a former President, has for long long maintained that Chinese debt was a great threat to the nation’s economy – and even more to its sovereignty.


Quality education

Myanmar President, U Win Myint, on 9 December pledged to upgrade all aspects of the education sector including human resources, infrastructure, technologies and others nationwide for quality education. The president made the remarks during the centenary celebration of National Victory Day. It marks the day when a group of patriotic Myanmar university students started the Rangoon University boycott in order to abolish the colonial education system. The president pledged that investment in education will be increased in every corner of the country, especially in the areas where national races are residing.

Mitsubishi signs contracts

Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation has signed two contracts with Myanmar's state-run railway, Myanmar Railways, to deliver new rolling stock. The total cost of the two projects is approximately 69 billion yen ($663.2 million), which will be covered by an international yen loan agreement between the governments of Japan and Myanmar. The projects are part of the Japanese government's railway infrastructure export drive. Mitsubishi will deliver 66 cars for the Yangon Circular Railway, which runs through central Yangon and 180 cars for the Yangon-Mandalay Railway, which connects Yangon, Naypyitaw and Mandalay.


Constitutional Council meets

With the primary aim of filling up vacant constitutional posts, the high-poer council for the purpose met and discussed the matter. Council These include various bodies like the Election Commission (EC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Women’s Commission. Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli will be leading this meeting along with the members of the Council and leader of the main Opposition, Speaker of the House of Representatives, cairman of the National Assembly, deputy speaker of the lower house and law minister as members.

BJP-NCP consultations

Vijay Chauthaiwale, the head of the foreign affairs cell of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in neighbouring India, met Nepalese Foreign Minister, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. The former was invited by the ruling Nepali Communist Party (NCP) for a meeting on areas of mutual interest, future collaborations and discussing the present state of bilateral affairs between the two countries. The two countries are  taking more interest in breaking the ice after the relationship had been going through a period of strain over the past one year, owing to the border and map row.


Army on high alert

Pakistan has put its army on high alert to thwart any attempt to conduct a surgical strike inside its territory by India. According to Islamabad, New Delhi will try a “false flag operation” to divert the attention of the world from many of its internal issues including the ongoing farmers’ protests. The other reasons for Pakistan fears of a strike by India include its relentless flagging of the treatment of minorities and atrocities on Kashmiris by Indian forces at international fora. It is pertinent to mention here that the relations between Pakistan and India are all time low after the abrogation of Article 370 by New Delhi in August 2019.

US concerned

The US has placed Pakistan included Pakistan among “Countries of Part­ic­ular Concern” (CPC) under its International Religious Freedom Act. The countries placed under this act are considered to be engaged in “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”. According to the CPC report of 2020, religious freedom in Pakistan has continuously shown a negative trend as Islamabad has failed to address forced religious conversations of minorities like the Hindus and Sikhs. Furthermore, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which recommends the designations has also taken a negative approach towards India. The USCIRF has downgraded India to its lowest ranking of in the CPC report of April 2020.

Sri Lanka

TNA abstains from Budget vote

In a significant step possibly aimed at conciliation with the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the 10-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) abstained when Parliament voted Budget-2021, 151-54. Another Tamil party’s lone member, retired Supreme Court Justice, C V Wignesaran, too abstained, while a third, two-member party, headed by Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam voted against the Budget, along with the rest of the Opposition. The TNA’s abstention is significant as even its voting against the Budget would not have altered the result, but its abstention has sent out a message, however short-lived, about their intention for political reconciliation and dialogue, after strongly campaigning against President Gotabaya in the November polls, last year.

Only WHO-cleared vaccines: PM

The Government will permit only WHO-approved vaccines for Covid-19 in the country, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has said. “There is a clamour in some quarters to procure these global vaccines but WHO approval and certification are mandatory to use the products in our country,” he told an interviewer. He said that those who are vociferous that the government should access these vaccines should understand that this cannot be done without the WHO’s stamp of approval on 100 percent safety and efficacy on their use on Sri Lankan coronavirus patients. Adherence to health safety guidelines is the answer to prevent the further transmission of the virus, Rajapaksa stressed. “Unfortunately, some people are still not taking the threat seriously as they tend to ignore preventive measures,” he regretted.



Opinion Pieces

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, “One Side-Not Both-is increasing violence in Afghanistan’” Tolo News, 8 December 2020

Sultan Barakat, “A peace deal alone cannot solve Afghanistan’s myriad problems”, Al Jazeera, 6 December 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Corruption a great shame, 9 December 2020

The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Releasing more fighters to kill more people”, 8 December 2020


Opinion Pieces

Md Rakibul Islam, “Turning the dream into reality: Crossing Padma by high-speed train”, Prothom Alo, 10 December 2020

Sohrab Hassan, “A democracy to speak, or not to speak”, Prothom Alo, 5 December 2020

Syed Zakir Hossain, “Preserving history through sculpture”, Dhaka Tribune, 8 December2020


Opinion Piece

Sonam Tshering, “The vulnerability of expropriation of national natural resources for political promises,” Kuensel, 5 December 2020


Kuensel, “If people are taking it lightly, it calls for stricter measures,” 9 December 2020

Kuensel, “A scope,” 5 December 2020


Opinion Pieces

Gautam Bhatia, “A tale of evasion, deference and inconsistency”, hindustantimes, 10 December 2020

Fauzan Alavi, “Just philanthropy, isn’t enough. Important to fight for social, economic justice”, The Indian Express, 8 December 2020

KTS Tulsi and Tanessa Puri, “The illegality of Uttar Pradesh’s crackdown on interfaith marriages”, hindustantimes, 8 December 2020

A Raghuramaraju, “The golden years”, The Telegraph, 7 December 2020


The Hindu, “Connecting more people: on PM WANI”, 12 December 2020

The Hindu, “The road taken: On Chennai-Salem greenfield highway”, 10 December 2020

The Indian Express, “Kerala’s local brew”, 9 December 2020 


Opinion Pieces

Sonu Shivdasani, “How to diversify the Maldives’ tourism-heavy economy”, The Edition, 8 December 2020

Aisha Hussain Rasheed, “On Hijab, with love”, The Edition, 6 December 2020


Opinion Pieces

The Irrawaddy, “Sex, Drugs, Guns and COVID-19: Amid Pandemic, Illicit Border Trades Flourish”, The Irrawaddy, 11 December 2020

Poonam Khetrapal Singh, “Govt. must act now to ensure equal distribution of vaccine”, The Myanmar Times, 11 December 2020

Ryan Huling, “Myanmar poised to become global supplier of plant-based meat ingredients”, The Myanmar Times, 9 December 2020


The Irrawaddy, “China’s Growing Influence in Myanmar Ethnic States Raises Alarm”, 8 December 2020


Opinion Pieces

Swarnim Wagle, “Strategic symbolism of Mt. Everest’s new height,” Republica, 11 December 2020

Amish Raj Mulmi, “Nepal’s view of the world,” The Kathmandu Post, 10 December 2020

Sarans Pandey, “What is pro-monarchy protest all about?Republica, 10 December 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “At the talks table,” 10 December 2020

The Himalayan Times, “Austerity measures,” 7 December 2020


Opinion Pieces

AshaarRehamn, “Resignation time”, Dawn,11 December 2020

Nikhat Sattar, “Dissent in Islam”, Dawn,11 December 2020

I A. Rehman, “Poverty-stricken politics”, Dawn, 10 December 2020

Durdana Najam, “Pak-US relations and the nuclear factor”, The Express Tribune,10 December 2020

Imran Jan, “USA to Pakistan — discrimination in the air”, The Express Tribune, 10 December 2020

Rehman Azhar, “Pakistan’s legal case at the UN against India, The Express Tribune, 10 December 2020


Dawn, “Indian disinformation’”, 11 December 2020

The Express Tribune, “India farmers’ protest”, 11 December 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Nihal de Alwis, “Long overdue police overhaul”, The Island, 13 December 2020

Dr Tilak Siymbalpitiya, “Wind power in Mannar, now a reality”, The Island, 8 December 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “From delay to denial”, Ceylon Today, 8 December 2020

Ranga Jayasuriya, “Facts and fiction about Chinese investments”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 December 2020

Jehan Perera, “President needs to rise above parochial considerations”, The Island, 8 December 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Speaking for the dead”, Colombo Gazette, 7 December 2020


Kelum Bandara, “High-level interaction and commitment, the way forward on path to recovery”, Daily Mirror, 8 December 2020


Daily Mirror Online, “The Mahara Prison riots”, 7 December 2020


Afghanistan: Ratnadeep Chakraborty

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan & Nepal: Sohini Nayak

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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