India’s New Political Paradigm in South Asia – Managing Electoral Realities
From supporting pro India parties and leaders to win elections, quickly adjusting to realities of choices made by local people in electing their leaders, a new political paradigm is being accepted by New Delhi. This should finally rid India of being alleged by losers of interventions by the external intelligence agency, Research Analyses Wing (RAW) by manipulating polls.
Importantly the paradigm is ideologically free, thus a conservative centre of right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is comfortable with the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) a left Maoist-Marxist group.
The most recent Presidential polls in Sri Lanka are an apt example of the shift.
Held on 16 November, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was elected in office with majority Sinhala voters opting for the former Defence Secretary and brother of two time President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Rajapaksa brothers have been credited with the success in putting down the Liberatilon of Tigers Tamil Ealam (LTTE) which had harangued the state for three decades in a long and bloody civil war. During this period the Rajapaksas tilted heavily towards China which provided arms and munitions during the civil war and followed up with massive aid in post war reconstruction.
Then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya was fondly known as Goti in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) circles indicating the pro China tilt
India acted fast on first learning of the success of Gotabaya Rajapaksa with an invitation extended by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s to visit India on 29th November.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar who arrived in Colombo for a short visit met with President Rajapaksa on 19 November to convey Prime Minister Modi’s message and an invitation to visit Delhi, indicating that despite the poor vibes of the past when elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa accused RAW of engineering his defeat in the 2015 Presidential elections a new chapter was now open.
The visit of Mr Rajapaksa manifested on 29 November.
Rewind to Nepal in 2014, when India insisted that Nepal should hold up promulgation of the Constitution and when Kathmandu did not relent there were allegations of blockade in the South with eventual replacement of the regime led by the present Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and installation of a coalition that was favourable to New Delhi.
Come 2017 and K P Sharma Oli led a communist coalition to a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections.
India was quick to acknowledge the mandate of the people and reached out the erstwhile bete noir. In some ways it may have been too late as Nepal under Oli smarting under the blockade of 2015 had tilted towards China.
Never the less New Delhi’s willingness to do business with a leader who was not favourable towards India was evident.
Bhutan which has a mutual interest treaty with India has seen a change of party in the government given the peculiar two stage elections to the parliament ever since electoral democracy was introduced in 2008.
While the verdict in 2018 elections may not have been completely in India’s interests, New Delhi was quick to adjust to the reality.
In elections held in 2018, – the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the previous incumbent Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the two new entrants, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Bhutan Kyuen-Nyam Party (BKP) contested. BKP emerged as the final winner and New Delhi has established the traditionally strong relations with the new party.
Presidential elections in Maldives was a test case for New Delhi’s influence, however the popular Maldives Democratic Party opted for Ibu Solih in the Presidential polls defeating China inclined Abdullah Yameen paving the way for betterment of relations with India which had fallen to a new low with Male calling for withdrawal of Indian helicopters which had been placed in the atolls for maritime surveillance.
In neighbouring Bangladesh New Delhi’s favourite Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League are in power and thus there are no challenges in the immediate sphere.
Whereas in Pakistan India favoured traditional parties and leaders such as Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari have been undermined.
With Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan and supported by the Army India has yet to find a new normal even as relations post Balakot and repealing of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir having fallen to an all-time low.
In Afghanistan, New Delhi has been traditionally supporting the leaders of erstwhile Northern Alliance mainly Tajiks of the Jamaat E Islami such as Dr Abdullah Abdullah but of late seems to be favouring the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani in elections that were held in September 2019 and results have been delayed due to a number of controversies
Finally, in Myanmar – India has adopted a policy of balancing between the present government under National League of Democracy and the powerful Myanmar Army.
All in all, New Delhi seems to be content now to do business with political leaders and parties who are not favourably inclined towards it in the first place.