Monthly Archives: November 2014

A case for SAARC reforms

By: Dr. Subramanian Swamy (Chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Strategic Affairs Committee)


The organisation of eight South Asian nations, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with observer nations, Myanmar, China, Iran, the European Union (EU) and the United States, to name a few, is known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It was established at the first summit in Dhaka on December 7-8, 1985. The last summit, the 17th, was held in Addu, in the Maldives, in November 2011. After a gap of three years, the 18th Summit Meeting is to be held in Nepal on November 26-27, 2014.

These eight nations of South Asia constitute 3 per cent of the world’s area, but house 21 per cent of the global population. India, significantly, constitutes 70 per cent or more of SAARC’s area and population.

Seven of them have common borders with India but not each other. All have a shared culture, ethnicity and experienced long interactive historical events including British imperialism and its consequences.

South Asian nations together also make an integrated “condominium” of common rivers, a mountain system, an ocean and a conjoint ecological system. The region’s endowment for economic production is also more or less the same.


Since India constitutes 70 per cent or more of SAARC’s area and population, and has political conflicts with all its neighbours, India has to redefine its role, from seeking reciprocity in bilateral relations, to being prepared to go the extra mile in meeting the aspirations of all other SAARC nations.

SAARC, regrettably, has yet to develop into a conflict-mediating or conflict-resolving institution both on multilateral and bilateral issues. It has succeeded however in evolving as a forum and a framework but which does not have the capacity to devise instruments and techniques for consultations on bilateral and multilateral political and security problems.

This is because the SAARC Charter mandates that decisions, at all levels in SAARC, are only of multilateral issues, and only those issues are for inclusion in the agenda in a SAARC summit meeting on the basis of unanimity. Article X(2) of the Charter, thus excludes “bilateral and contentious issues” from the ambit of SAARC deliberations.

A shortcoming in the current situation is that unlike Europe, SAARC is not an association of nearly equally sized countries. India, as stated earlier, is about 70 per cent of the size of South Asia, and the other SAARC member-nations have a common border bilaterally only with India, and not with each other. The economic and quality of life disparities among South Asian nations are also quite wide.

Sri Lankan policy

During the period of 10 years since May 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was pathetically hamstrung by the sectarian, former secessionist and pro-LTTE parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for its survival in Parliament and majority.

Hence, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka was driven both bilaterally and in U.N. organisations by the hyperbole of the parties of the Dravidian Movement, in speech and dramatics, and which was bolstered by the threat of these parties to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh government. These sectarian parties thus exercised a veto over the UPA government’s Sri Lanka policy.

As a consequence, China, which is not a member of SAARC, gained a strategic advantage in Sri Lanka by moving into the policy space vacated by India. Hambantota port is an example of how China filled the vacuum when India decided, based on the DMK’s threat, to decline Sri Lanka’s offer first to India to assist building the port.

SAARC thereby underwent rigor mortis and the summit failed to take place after 2011 for three years. Time is at hand now at the Kathmandu summit to rectify this.

Furthermore, with India having declined to help Sri Lanka build the Hambantota port (later built with China’s assistance), it is unproductive for SAARC’s effectiveness to unilaterally protest periodic visits by Chinese submarines to Hambantota port, which is on the shores of the international waters of the Indian Ocean.

Issues before SAARC

The destiny of South Asian nations today is to either swim together or risk sinking separately in the battle against poverty and unemployment as well as in meeting the challenges of the environment, national security, and globalisation.

Today, there are five crucial issues on SAARC:

First, SAARC is off and on in a limbo. Thus the first issue is this: how to grapple with SAARC’s uncertain future and how to put it back on the rails again, and not permit in the future, international political changes affecting the functioning of SAARC.

Second, SAARC has to resolve whether essential economic cooperation in an increasingly globalised world economy can be achieved despite continuing political conflicts.

The issue is whether political differences — beyond vital national interests issues — can be set aside by each member country while a more harmonious environment is created through healthy economic cooperation.

Third, is SAARC so fragile that it cannot survive if bilateral controversial political questions are raised in its deliberations without undermining its utility?

Fourth, given that India is 70 per cent of SAARC, geographically and economically, and that the other SAARC nations have borders only with India and not with each other, unlike in the EU, does India have the special responsibility to go the extra mile to make SAARC work?

Fifth, given the way World Trade Organization (WTO) disciplines are to be enforced, does SAARC need a “level playing field” regional agreement, modelled on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), with cross-retaliatory powers and a Regional Trade Organization (RTO) to enforce it?

A road map for reforms

To address these five issues and overcome the current impasse in SAARC and to make it work, two preconditions have to be obtained:

(1) India has to go the extra mile to make SAARC work because India is 70 per cent of South Asia, and has common borders with seven SAARC nations.

(2) South Asian countries have to work on the common values and shared historical perceptions of the peoples of the region, consciously addressing essential political differences.

Transparency in action in bilateral dealings is key to achieving these two preconditions. No country of the region should either act the big brother or be a dog in the manger.

Hence, mindful of the uphill task of promoting South Asian regional integration, I suggest the following reforms:

(a) No SAARC nation should internationalise any bilateral issue beyond the SAARC forum.

(b) SAARC will do all it can to facilitate the creation of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) immediately, if possible by the end of 2014. Thereafter, SAARC resolves to make Sri Lanka’s coast the gateway to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by developing the hard infrastructure and freight movement facilitation.

(c) SAARC should strive to enhance investment activity between its member states, and not merely trade. South Asian joint venture promotion schemes should also be promoted on a priority.

(d) The energy sector should be linked together through a unified South Asian electric power grid system and countries could pool their technical and financial resources in collaborative projects.

(e) In only the fields of science and technology, universities in SAARC countries should pool their faculties and teach across borders or engage in online education using the Internet.

(f) Broader popular support at the grass-root level must be vastly improved by encouraging freer legal movement of people for economic and cultural tourism reasons by minimising immigration procedures.

(g) Effective steps must be undertaken to jointly deter cross-border, illegal migration, terror attacks and block the narcotics trade and drug trafficking.

It should be remembered that the EU was made possible only due to the conclusion drawn by the people of Europe, after the experience of two terrible world wars, that a third world war would destroy Europe totally. Hence, despite a violent history of warfare, European nations sank their differences and formed the EU. Furthermore, there were a few leaders like Adenauer, de Gaulle, Schuman and de Gasperi who had a vision of a peaceful development of the continent and dared to embark towards this goal.

But as the popular saying goes, it takes two to tango. With two of the eight SAARC nations in possession of deliverable nuclear weapons, it is imperative for the peaceful existence of SAARC nations that they effectively bind together and develop harmoniously.

(Dr. Subramanian Swamy is chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Strategic Affairs Committee. The article forms the text of his speech at the Lalith Atulathmudali Memorial Lecture in Colombo on November 26.)

saarclogo  saarcm



Happy 125th Birthday Chacha Nehru


Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s 1st Prime Minister and a prominent face of India’s Independence Movement. He was especially revered by children. His birthday is celebrated as “Children’s Day” in India. His popularity had to be seen to be believed. When he visited the Soviet Union, crowds of children were present all along the route from the airport to greet him. He was not only one of the best Prime Ministers of India but also a statesman of international standing. He was the architect of the modern Indian state responsible for infusing all the modern values into the nation that he loved so much – humanism, secularism, democracy, sovereignty, socialism, republicanism. In his lifetime, Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed an iconic status in India and was widely admired across the world for his idealism and statesmanship.

Some of his accomplishments are:-

  • Carefully nurtured all the institutions of an infant democracy.
  • Nehru propelled India towards modern age of technological advancements and innovations. Furthermore, Nehru greatly professed democratic value and equality for all, irrespective of caste, color or creed.
  • As India’s first Prime minister and external affairs minister, Jawaharlal Nehru played a major role in shaping modern India’s government and political culture along with sound foreign policy.
  • A passionate advocate of education, Nehru believed that educating the young India was imperative for the country’s future growth. For the same, he established numerous institutions of higher learning, including All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs). He even included free and compulsory primary education to all children in his five-year plan.
  • He viewed progress of the nation by technology. He considered dams to be the “temples of India”.
  • Though Nehru wasn’t exactly convinced with the functioning of the Indian National Congress, which was dominated by the English-knowing upper class elite, yet he participated in the civil rights campaign initiated by Gandhi.
  • With his radical political views, Nehru condemned the Indian Civil Service (ICS) for its support of British policies. The slow pace of the nationalist movement further irked Nehru who joined hands with the aggressive nationalist leaders, demanding Home Rule for Indians.
  • Nehru not only contributed greatly to the national movement in India but also gave the freedom struggle an international outlook in 1927, when he attended the congress of oppressed nationalities in Brussels in Belgium.
  • He was instrumental in making the struggle of common people in the princely states, a part of the nationalist movement.
  • Nehru appealed for complete national independence which was initially objected to by Gandhi who proposed a dominion status for India in a time frame of two years. Following the rejection of Gandhi’s plea and Nehru’s presidency over the Lahore session of Congress in 1928, Nehru demanded for complete independence. This resolution made him one of the most significant leaders of the independence movement.
  • Nehru, during his term as the Prime Minister, brought forward radical changes in domestic, international, economic, agricultural and social policies.
  • Nehru initiated the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) professing neutrality. The NAM was aimed at being neutral and not joining any of the two power blocks – the US and the USSR. Through this single master-stroke of foreign policy, he saved India from being embroiled in yet another phase of violence and enmity. Also, India’s standing at the international stage grew because of the India’s founding leadership position at NAM.
  • It was during his tenure that the Portuguese left Goa and the region became a part of India.
  • He has authored various books, including ‘The Discovery of India’, ‘Glimpses of World History’, and his autobiography, ‘Toward Freedom’. With these he attempted to inform the Indian masses about World History and current happenings at the international level.
  • Nehru successfully fused cultural Indian spiritual values with modern values.
  • He was immensely proud of the rich Indian spiritual heritage and has written about it in his books, contradictory to what current extremist groups say.
  • He was responsible for the reform of the ancient Hindu civil code that finally enabled Hindu widows to enjoy equality with men in matters of inheritance and property.
  • Nehru’s stance as an unfailing nationalist led him to also implement policies which stressed commonality among Indians while still appreciating regional diversities. This proved particularly important as post-Independence differences surfaced since British withdrawal from the subcontinent prompted regional leaders to no longer relate to one another as allies against a common adversary. While differences of culture and, especially, language threatened the unity of the new nation, Nehru established programs such as the National Book Trust and the National Literary Academy which promoted the translation of regional literatures between languages and also organised the transfer of materials between regions. In pursuit of a single, unified India, Nehru warned, “Integrate or perish.”

It is indeed sad that many political parties in India are using the founding fathers of India to divide the masses. Our nation’s founding fathers don’t belong to a single political party irrespective of what one might say, they belong to the whole nation, be it Chacha Nehru, Sardar Patel, Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose or Mahatma Gandhi. All of these brave men fought side by side for one entity only:- “India” and neither for Congress nor BJP. So I request the current politicians who debate on this nonsense issue to just shut up and stop using their legacies/names for political gains. As a citizen of India, this saddens me. And to the now famous question sprung up by politicians :- “What would have happened if Sardar Patel was the first PM of India instead of Nehruji?”, I have two answers:- Firstly, Sardar Patel died in 1950, 3 years after India’s independence, so logically the next senior Congress leader would have become the PM in 1950 which was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And secondly, asking this baseless, senseless and foolish question is akin to asking:-

  • “What would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi was the first President of India instead of Rajendra Prasad?”
  • OR “What would have happened if Adolf Hitler was born in USA instead of Germany?”
  • OR “What if Rahul Gandhi had won the elections instead of PM Modi? He seems so much more secular and feminist. Eh?”
  • OR “What if Arvind Kejriwal had not resigned as CM of Delhi in 49 days and instead had ruled for the full term? Would he had made a Shanghai out of Delhi?”

Hope I make my point clear. This baseless speculation will not lead to anything. There can be an infinite number of “What-If” questions to be asked if one has that much amount of time to kill !! Will it lead to anything? Instead of wasting time on this, why not our politicians invest their time in thinking about solutions to current problems being faced by India like the poison called communalism, female foeticide, women empowerment, rapes, murders, killings, extortions, booth capturing, political vendetta, violence, riots, misuse of AFSPA in some cases, etc. I think the list is long enough before we can ask the irrelevant question of the consequences of different people being the first Indian Prime Minister instead of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Corrupt politicians try to divert public attention from current burning issues and we see hours of senseless debates being played out on News channels about this. Please, let the souls of these great men rest in peace, they have suffered enough for our country and now it our responsibility to carry their legacies forward, learn lessons from their mistakes and propel the ntion to even greater heights. All of them were human just like us and made their share of mistakes, but for one or two mistakes, I refuse to forget their great contribution towards the building of the modern superpower nation that I live in today!! Also, instead of relying on Facebook pages of extremist groups, please rely on credible sources of information to learn about national leaders. The right-wing shall always condemn the left-wing and vice-versa. Hope and love is the way to go forward, not hatred and malice!

Let us make a pledge that we will do something more substantial for our country each day than the previous so that by Panditji’s 150th anniversary, we can build the India of his dreams…

Here are some links if you want to learn more about Nehruji:-

Jai Hind. Vande Mataram. Bharat Mata ki Jai.

-Ribhu V.

“Ignorance is always afraid of change.”

“The only alternative to co-existence is co-destruction.”

“Without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes.”

“Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.”

-Jawaharlal Nehru

“Heaven of Freedom” by Rabindranath Tagore

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

– Rabindranath Tagore