India Insight

India needs a tough hostage policy

The abductions of two Italians and two government officials by Maoist guerrillas in just over a month must have left Indian authorities with a sense of déjà vu as they search for ways to end the cycle of negotiations and eventual accession to demands made by the rebels.

For the Maoists, who say they are fighting for people left out of India’s economic boom, the tactic of taking hostages instead of engaging soldiers brings huge dividends — obtaining freedom for jailed comrades and suspension of military ‘combing’ operations in areas controlled by them.

The method is not new, with government records showing hundreds of kidnappings since 2008 by Maoists, who have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India including many resource-rich regions. Authorities stumble along on a case-by-case basis because there is no set procedure on how to handle such situations.

But the recent pattern of high-profile abductions which have grabbed national headlines have worried the central government enough to consider drafting a long overdue policy on dealing with hostage situations.

Countries like the U.S., with its “no negotiation” policy and Israel’s deadly responses to militant attacks have all been contrasted to India’s handling of hostage crises, which most agree is not tough enough to stop or discourage future cases.

What does Nobel for Obama mean for India?

Obama has won the Nobel Peace prize.The citation commends him for calling for a nuclear-weapon free world, emphasising the role of international institutions and preferring dialogue.Less than a year into his presidency he has yet to implement much of his programme.”For the time being Obama’s just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action,” said Poland’s Lech Walesa, a Nobel Peace Laureate.What does it mean for India to have the most powerful man in the world honoured for his policies?The policies of the Obama administration are different from those of the George W. Bush era when multilateralism was seen as a liability.Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. was John R. Bolton whose scepticism towards multilateralism was well known.Yet Bush helped India get a crucial waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and was described as the friendliest U.S. President India has had.Obama on the other hand has called for strengthening nuclear non-proliferation, prompting India to seek clarifications.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, argues in a recent column that Indians find it more difficult to deal with those who they think of as American liberals than the conservatives.Will we now see a more forceful and active Obama on issues like non-proliferation that India is wary of ?

Is India downplaying Chinese border intrusions?

In response to recent reports that two Chinese helicopters intruded into Indian territory in Leh in Jammu and Kashmir, Army Chief Deepak Kapoor said he did get reports of Chinese intrusion but “this is not a new thing.”

“I want to tell you that the press sometimes hypes this but the numbers of intrusions which have taken place this year are on the same level as last year,” Kapoor said.

Soon after that the Indian media reported that Chinese soldiers had crossed the border in Ladakh last week and painted some rocks red.

Peddling reforms for street vendors?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a step towards unshackling the poorest of entrepreneurs — the street vendors.

In a letter to chief ministers, this week, Singh called for a “new deal” for urban street vendors and implementation of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009 — which would enable vendors to ply their trade without harassment.

These include hawkers, sidewalk traders or even the people selling clothes or utensils at the weekly market.

First, Second or Third (Front) – What’s the difference!

Much has been written about the imminent arrival in New Delhi of the Third Front, the joker in the Indian political pack that has talked itself up as a serious alternative to the two national parties in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The difference they tout is of being more inclusive, bringing into the public fold social groups neglected or oppressed by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Whether this claim, that some take rather very seriously, is sustainable is the moot question. The answer may be no, if the history of this rag-tag group that has emerged with near-decadal precision since 1967 is any guide.

Army vs police: who should maintain law-and-order?

The peacetime activities of an armed force have a bearing on its wartime capabilities and its relations with the civil society.

Although it has been the stated government policy for at least a decade to use the defence forces as sparingly as possible the Indian army has been continually engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.

“Excessive and continuous involvement of the Army for internal security is not good, neither for the Army nor for the nation,” former army chief Ved Prakash Malik said four years ago.

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 – Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 – The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

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