MonitorsPublished on Jan 12, 2021
News and analyses from South Asia this week.
South Asia Weekly | XIV; 2

Bhutan: Regional grouping a must for economic revival

Sohini Nayak 

The economy of the small and landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is predominantly based on agriculture, accounting for 60 percent of employment, along with cottage industries, tourism, hydroelectricity and local manufacturing. However, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy has more or less crumbled with a 3.5 percent contraction in real GDP (2020). While the World Bank suggests an annual GDP growth rate of 1.8 percent in 2021, the various ways of achieving the figure still remains unclea, with the structural framework for execution too remaining rudimentary.

The structural weaknesses in the nation’s economic institutions are now a part of this developmental emergency, requiring some serious rebooting of the financial system. Even though economic stimulus package and recovery plans from the current pandemic-induced economic crisis have been rolled out by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the creation of an international community that can come forward for help has become the need of the hour.

Three important pointers put forth by the UNDP specifically for the developing countries include resources to help stop the spread of the virus, support to respond during the outbreak itself and resources to prevent the economic collapse of developing countries. The pandemic will require the creation of partner networks that can build a system and work across the system. This is all the more relevant to the marginalised and vulnerable groups, minimizing the long-term impact, responding to the challenges.

Can India help?

India is undoubtedly Bhutan’s largest trading partner, accounting for around 80 per cent of exports and 84 percent of imports. While India too is going through a strenuous economic recovery, the recent statements by Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, are reassuring. It was clearly mentioned that the lockdown has opened yet another opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two countries with the seamless movement of essential as well as non-essential commodities. Additionally, re-prioritisation of schemes under the 12th Five Year Plan for Bhutan to accentuate the economic targets too has occurred with an Economic Stimulus Plan of Nu 30 billion.

Allocation of resources for health is a part of this plan and requires special mention. Issues like hygiene, sanitation to the availability of proper health management systems and waste management systems have been mentioned as crucial pillars of the third criteria specified in the official document. India, in this situation, can be a major aid partner.

One of the foremost necessities of Bhutan is the procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine from India. Bhutan's Ambassador to India Vetsop Namgyel has stated that "Vaccines in India are the ones which will be easiest to administer and transport. Most countries will benefit from it. India is known to produce in bulk quantities, once approved it can be rolled out quickly.”

However, this idea has its own set of challenges as the most important border-points between India and Bhutan at Jaigaon and Phuensholing respectively are yet again under a serious threat of the virus. A new lockdown for two weeks has been imposed as reports of people not going through the seven days of quarantine are coming through.

Such circumstances have supposedly given rise to new Covid cases in the capital of Thimpu and Paro, with the country’s first-ever Covid-19 death reported now. The government could not hold on to the closed borders for a very long time as India is also a very important destination for Bhutanese labour market as well. It is close and easily accessible through varied ways of connectivity like roadways, railways and airways.

Reliable relationships

Bhutan must create reliable relationships with other countries that can offer the framework of an international community. One such community can be the South Asian network. The entire region has had a total regional economic output contraction of 6.7 percent. Nonetheless, the World Bank has predicted the region to grow by 3.3 percent in 2021 and 3.8 percent in 2022, thereby giving an opportunity for landlocked countries like Bhutan to move forward along with the rest.

The country can invest in its primary highlights like tourism and hydroelectricity to bolster economic strength once again as a part of the joint cooperation mechanism, to get not only the region back on track but also helping itself out of the situation.

India: Understanding the structural drivers for political defections

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

India, structural drivers, political defections iStock/Getty

Political defections are one of the most ubiquitous phenomena of democratic politics in India. There have been recent instances of defections in the poll-bound State of West Bengal from the State’s ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has made steady political inroads in West Bengal, and also defections by JD (U) legislators to BJP in Arunachal Pradesh.

These notable defections have once again brought the issue of political defections to the forefront. Political defections, which denotes a change of political loyalty of a party legislator or group of legislators who switches over to another party in the inter-election years, have formidable bearing on the nature of party system and electoral representation in a democracy.

Setting the context

The anathema of defections has been a prominent feature of Indian political discourse, like in many other democracies, since the commencement of Indian democratic politics. Rampant instances of defections across parties became a modus operandi of Indian politics resulting in incessant dislodging of democratically elected governments by rival parties through orchestrated defection, especially at the state level in India.

The proliferation of such practices resulted in the enactment of the anti-defection law in India in 1985. Thereafter, the subsequent unfolding of political developments revealed that the anti-defection legislation has largely failed to stall the menace of defections and it continues to take place unabated even today. With the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party as the dominant political force in Indian politics since 2014,a plethora of defections from the politically weaker Congress party and other regional parties who joined the BJP at various points of times in the last six years, have continued the trend.

Ethical paradox

The idea of political defections has always involved a paradoxical ethical question in the practice of democratic politics. The act of sudden abandonment of the party to which the defector belonged and switching to another party (often rival parties) after winning the election under the banner of the earlier party, is largely perceived as an act of political impropriety and opportunism.

However, it is difficult and empirically untenable to make a clear distinction between defections that are done solely for immediate political gains and ones that takes places due to ideational or ideological grounds as many a times both the factors can be inextricably enmeshed with each other. However, the very act of defection can not only be a product of unethical politics.

Rather, defections might also be perceived as instruments for upholding democratic principles of equality, accommodation and justice. As pointed out by political scientist Gopal Guru, “It is often claimed that the decision to defect is driven by the urgency to defend one’s political autonomy and stand by the principles of democracy and justice. Thus, in defection, such defectors may choose to find a “noble” cause.

From the defector’s point of view, defection may be treated as a moral protest is aimed at restoring democracy, both within the party in question and in promoting democratic spirit in the polity. Such defectors, in their feat of self-righteousness, may also locate the value of justice in the act of crossing over to other parties. Put differently, such moves of defection are seen as desirable as though they were driven by larger concerns for justice; justice that anticipates the party bosses to treat their leaders with fairness and dignity.” This creates an intractable ethical dilemma in electoral democracies with regard to the act of defection.

Anti-defection law 

However, as the process of defection has continued to foment political instability despite the anti-defection law, the focus of discussion has largely been on attempts to revamp the anti-defection legislation for making it more effective and stringent. As discussed by political analysist Chakshu Roy, ‘a legalistic approach’ has been taken “to address the problem of defection, but political issues require political solutions”.

Roy further explained that the approach of bringing in the law to resolve the problem of shifting political loyalties of the legislators is replete with challenges. Roy particularly points out that the legal framework focuses solely on imposing punitive measures on the defectors for changing parties, but leaves aside the political parties who should be made responsible for defection as they are the main drivers of engineering defections and destabilising elected governments ruled by their opponents.

Apart from this, the nature of party organisation and the level of inner party democracy also plays a pivotal role in impacting the nature of defections in political parties in India. Scholars Pradeep Chhibber, Francesca Refsum Jensenius and Pavithra Suryanarayan in their important paper, “Party organisation and party proliferation in India” argues that parties with stronger organisational discipline where there are clearly established and transparent rules of political mobility, decision-making, election ticket distribution, witnesses lesser instances of political defection.

This is because, in such organised and more democratic parties, the members feel more confident of having a sure career advancement within the party if they can diligently serve the party. On the contrary, the parties which have weaker organisation and are largely personality-centric are more susceptible to defections as decision are mostly taken based on the supreme leader’s whims with nepotistic considerations.

As, transparent decision-making and political mobility rules are absent, the members feel insecure about their political career within the party and hence resort to defections to other parties or float new political outfits. Hence, the paper emphasises that the higher degree of inner party democracy and organisational coherence disincentives the party members from defecting as they feel secured about their political career in a more democratic and organised party structure. On the other hand, parties which are run on the sole arbitrary diktats of the highest leader, factionalism and personality clashes within the lower rungs of leadership might more likely trigger defection for considerations of better political career of the disgruntled leaders. 

Towards a cohesive approach

So, it is undeniably true that the process of defection has posed challenges of political instability and electoral volatility in established democracies like India. But, sole emphasis of electoral and anti-defections law is less likely to address the problem.

A deeper analysis of the working of the party structures and leadership style is necessary to unravel the fundamental factors that create the breeding grounds for defection apart from the immediate palpable concerns. Only a coherent approach towards ushering in positive reforms for improving the functioning of parties, can ensure long-term solutions to such inevitable challenges in a democracy.

Country Reports


Peace talks resume in Doha

The negotiating team of the Afghanistan government began the second round of the Intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban on January 5 at Doha, after discussing the latest developments and guidelines with the leadership committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation. US Special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said that he was returning to Doha with the expectations that both parties who are working in the best interest of the Afghan people will make ‘tangible progress’ in the second rounds of the talks. The UNAMA also welcomed the return of the negotiators. The increasing violence on ground and the Afghan constitution will be some of the key points in the agenda. Taliban’s spokesperson, Mohammad Naeem mentioned that they are firmly committed to the peace agreement and expect the Government side to demonstrate the same as working groups from both sides commenced further negotiations on 9 January.

Taliban denies involvement

The Taliban has denied any sort of involvement in the series of targeted killings that has taken the lives of many journalists, government officials, security forces and civil society activists in the last few months. In a statement, the Taliban condemned the killings and called it ‘detrimental’ to the country. The Afghan government on the other hand blamed the Taliban for the killings. Mohammad Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president mentioned that the enemies of Afghanistan are attacking the country’s gain to create ‘fear and chaos’, to ‘provoke’ people, to gain advantage in the peace talks and create a situation of a ‘stalemate’.

Pak condemns attack

Pakistan has called upon the Afghanistan Government act against terrorist groups, after a Pakistani soldier was killed in a cross-border attack that targeted a military post in the Northwest Frontier. The spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri condemned the attack in the Mohmand district and the use of Afghanistan’s soil to carry out such attacks. He called upon the Afghan government to take actions against the terrorists and terrorist groups targeting Pakistani forces. No one has owned up responsibility for the attack but such attacks have been carried out by the Pakistan Taliban in the past.

Police official killed

Naqibullah Sultanzai, the police chief of the Ghorian district, with three other security force members were killed in an attack by a dozen Taliban fighters in the Herat Province. The attack took place on the district governor’s building and the police headquarters of the Ghorian district. The Herat security officials have not commented anything on the attack.


Govt ‘short-sighted’

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has charged that the Awami League (AL) Government of Prime Minister Hasina was ‘short-sighted’ as it was seeking to obtain Covid vaccine through a third party without doing so directly from the manufacturers. This will cost the nation more, the BNP said adding that there was also the added uncertainty of the nation being able to procure the vaccine in the first place.

Film on ‘Bangabandhu’

Indian film-maker Shyam Benegal will be directing a feature film on ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a joint venture between the two countries, as part of his birth centenary celebrations. Arifin Shuvoo is playing the role of the ‘Father of the Nation’ and first Prime Minister of Bangladesh. A workshop on the film’s making is being held in Mumbai, India, to be followed by shooting for the film. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hosted the film’s cast at her residence, and Shuvoo said that it was as the ‘daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and not as the incumbent PM’.


First Covid death

The new Covid-19 cases in Thimpu and Paro have led to the first related death in the country. The victim had acute liver related ailments prior to being affected by the virus. The country has also procured special body bags from Copenhagen to wrap the dead body, in order to avoid any further complication.

‘No quarantine’ nightmare

Despite repeated efforts by the government to adhere to the seven days quarantine policy, especially from the Red zones, it has been observed that rules are being broken. This has been most noted in Phuentsholing, sharing the border with India’s Jaigaon. This trend is also responsible for the growing cases in Thimpu and Paro. Given the fragile economy of the country with people losing on their jobs, this scenario has become all the more rampant, as they want to cross over to India, to their respective work places or vice versa.


PM to meet CMs on vaccination drive

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet the chief ministers of the states this week in order to discuss the COVID19 situation and the ongoing planning of rolling out of the COVID19 vaccines in the coming months. India’s drug regulators have recently approved Oxford Vaccine Covid Shield and Covaxin which are being manufactured by the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech for emergency use.

Farmers’ stir continues

The protracted protests by the farmers against the three farm laws passed by the Centre continues in Delhi. The eighth round of talks between the government and the farmer groups have ended in a deadlock last week. The farmers have continued to uphold their demand of repealing the farm laws and the Central government continues to maintain its stand of negotiating the disputed aspects of the laws with the farmers to work out a solution. The next meeting is likely to be held on 15 January.


Local polls in April?

Nation-wide elections for the local councils and women development councils are likely to be held on 3 April, Elections Commission’s Chairman Ahmed Shareef has tweeted since. Due in April 2020, the polls were postponed after national health emergency in the face of Covid-19 pandemic, and its repeated extensions. To facilitate the elections, Parliament is meeting in a special session on 13 January, to pass amendments to the Special Provisions Act on Local Council Elections, for holding the elections during the currency of health emergency, and also to empower the EC to fix a poll date during the emergency. Originally, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of President Ibrahim Solih had toyed with the idea of extending the term of the local councils to five years, pre-Covid, owing to apprehensions about possible losses.

Yameen case verdict soon

The High Court is expected to pronounce its verdict on jailed former President Abdulla Yameen’s appeal, challenging his conviction and five-year jail term in a money-laundering case while he was in office (2013-18). The verdict will impact on the upcoming nation-wide local council polls, and also over the long term, leading up to the 2024 presidential elections. Both sides have a right to appeal to the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter. The High Court hearing had dragged on owing to Covid lockdown, and Yameen’s defence had also charged the higher judiciary with delay in the matter.


Trafficking victims detained

Nearly 100 Rohingyas smuggled from Myanmar's conflict-scarred Rakhine state were arrested in a raid in Yangon on 7 January, with authorities saying they had been headed to Malaysia as part of a trafficking network. Myanmar reported a total of 111 human-trafficking cases in its states and regions last year. During the whole of 2020, 167 people including 39 young girls were victimized while 339 traffickers were charged in connection with the cases. Regionally, Shan state registered with 37 cases, followed by Yangon region with 30 cases as well as Mandalay region and Kachin state with 10 cases each, among others.

Polls before February

Myanmar’s military, backing a demand of the Arakan Army (AA) amid a fragile ceasefire extended till the end of 31 January has called on 7 January for elections to be held by 1 February in parts of Rakhine and Shan states. Voting had been cancelled in these respective areas before the 8 November general elections for security reasons. The elections need to be held before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in for the second Union parliament controlled in the beginning of February. It will be interesting to watch whether such an election is held and if held whether it makes any difference in the earlier results.


Nation-wide protest

The main opposition of the country- the Nepali Congress has demonstrated a widescale mass protest against the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR). This event was also in line with the agenda for the midterm elections that have been finalized for April 30 and May 10. They are determined to come back to power once again.

FM to visit Delhi

Amidst a lot of speculation, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali’s visit to New Delhi has been finalised for January 14. The occasion is the joint commission meeting – the highest bilateral framework between the two countries. This will be the first official visit from Kathmandu after the political map and boundary fiasco, although several visits from the neighbor to the Himalayan nation has already been witnessed in the recent past.


Lakhvi imprisoned

The mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, leader of proscribed organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was sentenced five years imprisonment by Lahore Anti-Terrorism (ATC) in terror financing case. Lakhvi was also fined 300,000 Pakistani rupees and the court also asked law enforcement agencies to arrest the co-accused Abu Anas Mohsin. In the statement the ATC said that Lakhvi was running a medical dispensary for collection and disbursement of the terror related funds. It is pertinent to mention that these arrests are made to dodge the blacklisting by FATF in upcoming next session. Pakistan is already under Grey List and has passed many FATF related laws to save Islamabad from Blacklist.

Mourners call off Quetta sit-in

The Hazara mourners agreed to call off their protests and bury the slain after assurances from Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief. Both army chief and PM will visit the families of slain in Quetta today according to the demand of the Hazara protesters. The government negotiators managed to persuade the protesters late Friday to call off their protest. According to a member of Hazara Shuhada Committee, “All of our demands have been accepted,” including the compensation for the killed. The protests started on 03 January, when eleven colliers, from the Hazara community were killed by Islamic State terrorists. It is pertinent to mention here that Hazara community mostly Shias face problems on behalf of state as well and even Imran Khan said that these mourners are trying to blackmail him.

Sri Lanka

Jaishankar meets President, PM

In what is considered the first full-fledged visit by India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over in November 2019, the visitor met with a host of political leaders, including the top two in the Government hierarchy. Jaishankar met with President Gotabaya, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda, from the Government side, and also the SJB Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa, former UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe apart from leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and some Upcountry Tamil groups. The discussions with Government leaders centred on bilateral relations, also with particular reference to Colombo resolving the long-standing ethnic issue through a political solution under 13-A, which has also since been stressed by the Tamil parties. The visit assumes added significance in the face of the UNHRC debate and vote on High Commissioner Michele Bachelet’s report, due in March.

Row over demolition

Tense situation prevailed in the Tamil-majority North following the overnight removal of a memorial for war victims erected by students on the Jaffna University campus, and without notice. While students protested the removal, and all Tamil parties in the Opposition have called for a day-long protest, the University Grants Commission (UGC) in Colombo has distanced the Government leadership from the decision, placing the sole responsibility on Prof Sriskandarajah, the Vice-Chancellor. Coming as it does in the footsteps of the Colombo visit of India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, questions are being asked about the sincerity of the nation’s political masters to work with India on a multitude of issues impacting Sri Lanka and also bilateral relations with India.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, ’Why Repeated Controversies Over National Budget?’, The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 5 January 2021

Siddhant Kishore, ‘Rallying old friends: Adapting to an evolving Afghan theatre’, Observer Research Foundation, 7 January 2021

Jyoti Malhotra, ‘Is ISI behind rising Afghan violence? Here’s why Doha talks are key’, The Print, 5 January 2021


The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Taliban’s Ambivalence about Declaration of Ceasefire’, 6 January 2021

Afghanistan Times, ‘Afghans scrambling with extreme cold winter’, 6 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Brig-Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, “Bangladesh-India border relations, fifty years on”, Daily Star, 7 January 2021

Mushfique Wadud, “What does it mean to love your country”, Dhaka Tribune, 7 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Tshering, “Consistency and adherence to the rule of law,” Kuensel, 9 January 2021


Kuensel, “Sharing the burden,” 6 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Vikas Dilawari, “Make a case for heritage conservation in India”, The Telegraph, 8 January 2021

Kunal Sharma, “ASHA workers: Forgotten Covid invisibles”, Deccan Herald, 8 January 2021

Vijay Inder Singla and Aadil Singh Boparai, “Understanding the rationale of farm protests”, hindustantimes, 6 January 2021

Gautam Bhatia, “Eliminate State and social interference in matters of conscience”, hindustantimes, 5 January 2021


The Hindu, “Building by accord: On Central Vista”, 7 January 2021

The Hindu,Maximum Governor: On Governor's role”, 5 January 2021

The Indian Express, “Starting from bottom”, 4 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Jayanta Kalita, “India-Myanmar Military Ties Pay Dividends as Naga Rebels Return to Mainstream”, The Irrawaddy, 7 January 2021


The Irrawaddy, “Pro-Myanmar Policies Must Guide Govt’s Handling of China’s BRI Projects”, 7 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Jiva Nath Lamsal, “Dictators, beware,” Republica, 9 January 2020

Amish Raj Mulmi, “No permanent friends, only permanent interests,” The Kathmandu Post, 7 January 2020

Mahesh K. Maskey, “Sorrows of democracy,” Republica, 6 January 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Winter of despair,” 5 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

A.G. Noorani, “Right to protest”, Dawn, 9 January 2021

Fahd Hussian, “Who dare blackmail?”, Dawn, 9 January 2021

Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, “Towards a polio-free Pakistan in 2021”, The Express Tribune, 9 January 2021

K S Venkatachalam, “India’s China conundrum”, The Express Tribune, 7 January 2021

Umer Khan, “Extending CPEC”, Dawn, 06 January 2021


Dawn, “Truly heartless': PM Imran draws ire for suggesting 'blackmail' by Hazaras”, 9 January 2021

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Dr Sarala Fernando, “Selling the family silver and India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations”, The Island, 10 January 2021

D B S Jeyaraj, “Army’s LRRP ambush of LTTE’s military intelligence chief”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 January 2021

Kelum Bandara, “SJBers panic over Champika’s 43rd brigade”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 January 2021

Sumanasiri Liyanage, “The ECT deal”, Ceylon Today, 8 January 2021

Malinda Seneviiratne, “Subramanyam Jaishankar and pounds of flesh”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 January 2021

Luxman Siriwardena, “Options for foreign debt management for Sri Lanka”, The Island, 6 January 2021

Justice Chandradasa Nanayakara, “In a democracy, presidential immunity should be clearly defined and limited”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 January 2021

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Wanted: A credible ally for the West”, Ceylon Today, 5 January 2021

Jehan Perera, “Need for more accommodationist policies in the New Year”, The Island, 5 January 2021

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Why Provincial Councils”, Colombo Gazette, 4 January 2021


Daily Mirror Online, “Burial, cremation dilemma needs a re-think”, 8 January 2021

Daily Mirror Online, “Covid-19: Stop adding insult to injury”, 7 January 2021


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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