India's Third Republic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 16, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

India's Third Republic

India's Third Republic

THIS term 'Third Republic' in relation to India has been borrowed from a lecture by eminent Indian international relations scholar and geo-strategist Dr. C. Raja Mohan, organised by Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), which he delivered recently in Dhaka. The idea suggests a paradigm shift in Indian politics from weaker central power to a stronger one, unlike the past two decades which were the 'Second Republic' as per Dr. Mohan's lexicon. The first one, of course, is the period of initial stability and its mixed continuity until 1989 when the era of the second begins. Although such taxonomy isn't entirely representative of the multifaceted socio-political and political economic dynamics India has endured; nevertheless, it underlines the significance pragmatic Indian analysts like Dr. Mohan wish to attach to the prospective stark alteration in the nature of the new Indian government.
This group of pragmatic observers predicts, contrary to the skeptic and centre-left liberal views, that the decisive mandate rendered to Prime Minister Narendra Modi coupled with the art of leadership he is mastering, would herald economic growth in India and simultaneously more constructive and engaging relationship with its neighbours and beyond. In their opinion, it ought to be a stark contrast to the weak and indecisive UPA-2 government. This optimism is supported by the post-election diplomatic gesture by Mr. Modi on the occasion of his government's inauguration ceremony, which was a counter intuitive reverse posture considering his campaign time strong anti-neighbour rhetoric.
Bangladesh is going to be the first destination for the new Indian Minister for External Affairs Mrs. Shushma Swaraj. It implies the importance the Modi government puts to Bangladesh. It is to be seen whether they let the bygone rhetoric be bygone or let them come back once the euphoria of rising to power is over. The Modi government surely has a decisive majority and the political capital gained through the election to be able to help make substantive progress to take place regionally, transcending mere symbolism of invitation to the swearing-in.
The new government will be less vulnerable to provincial blackmail. Modi has shown a bit of it by ignoring Jayalalitha's threat not to invite Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa to his inauguration. Can he deal with ever impulsive Mamata, if the latter remains the same as before? Regardless of Dr. Mohan's optimism we have to wait and watch for something concrete. Non-advancement in solving bilateral issues with Bangladesh in recent times is incomprehensible. Bangladesh doesn't allow non-state actors to operate against India from within its boundary; rather it has, in recent years, addressed India's security concerns with regards to the hiding of north eastern separatists inside Bangladesh and their arms supply through the same.  The present government in Bangladesh has been ready to do a mutually beneficial tradeoff between Teesta river water plus land boundary agreement and Indian transit through Bangladesh to its north east; notwithstanding the fact that such a deal would actually be skewed towards India. Rightful share of common river water is a natural right of lower riparian country and land boundary agreement would end the misery of the inhabitants of both sets of enclaves owned by Bangladesh and India.
The electoral success alone will not ensure the success of India's 'Third Republic' in spite of the fact that for the first time a non-Congress party has ascended to federal power on its own. But there are caveats. BJP alone has mustered only 31% of popular vote and its alliance 39% in total. That's the classical paradox of 'First Past the Post' democracy.
However, it has been observed almost everywhere that unless something substantial is delivered in the early days of post-election popularity, the popularity keeps eroding and so does the political capital or the leverage to do difficult things. On the contrary, success in the early days prolongs political legitimacy for further actions. The creators of the 'Third Republic' are at its helm now in a period of honeymoon, they must know to hit the iron when it is hot, both domestically and regionally. Positive outcome would serve the common good and herald a lasting legacy, again, both domestically and regionally.
Mr. Modi had issues in terms of his acceptability. Electoral endorsement has removed part of it and most of the rest can also vanish if he reaches out to various quarters that are not traditionally comfortable with him. This fact holds true in the South Asian scenario as much as for his domestic liberal opponents. He had been talking tirelessly about development and inclusion. Post-election, he has started showing positive gestures to India's neighbours.
Constructive symbolism is perhaps a right step to start with, as put by Dr. Mohan. Let us be hopeful that the 'Third Republic' is actually able to transcend mere symbolism and steer the biggest nation of the region to the right direction and, perhaps, take the rest in the neighbourhood aboard -- as much as practically possible. That, ideally, should be the goal the perceived new republic ought to strive for.
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The writer is Head of Operations, iBRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, and also a member of the Regional Studies Research Cluster in the same institute.

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