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Review: Enlightening Asia: a new perspective on Enlightenment and Violence

Enlightenment and Violence. Modernity and Nation-Making / Tadd Fernée – New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 2014, pp. LXVII/386.

 Theoretical Ground

In the Fernée’s framework, the Enlightenment heritage has to be interpreted as a question in the history of ideas, an “interconnected web spanning debates on nationalism, revolution and post-structuralism”. Starting from some of Bipan Chandra’s comparative reflections between liberation movements and the British, French, Russian and Chinese modern revolutions, the author encompasses the Enlightenment heritage as a “multicentered practical-discursive formation”. Framing it in a world scale, Fernée sets the Enlightenment out of the classical limits of dychotomical, transcendent and teleological thought, and – borrowing from Dewey – defines the Enlightenment heritage as a “centerless environment of multiple histories”. Doing so, Fernée reshapes the nature of Enlightenment as non-Eurocentric, not linearly ontological nor epistemic, but inserted in a logic of “discursive practical regions of density”, claiming a discursive universality no more linked to a Hegel-Comtean linear construction, (i.e. Hegel’s view on the West in Philosophy of history or the Bernard Lewis’ conception of Islam) but rather to a

“Synthetic re-interpretation of radical pluralist innovators in Enlightenment interpretation such as John Dewey, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, Michael Polanyi, Mohammed Arkoun, Abdul An-Naim and Amartya Sen” (xvii).

Tadd Fernée’s point of view claims to demonstrate an “emerging ethics of reconciliation in nation-making”; to do so, he focuses on the close relationship intercurring between the Enlightenment viewed as a “multicentered practical-discursive formation” and the violence as a “discursive-practical limit”. In the words of the author, therefore,

“The central means-ends issue concerns – as far the nation-making prospects for a democratic modernity – the political construction of violence” (xiv).

Fernée studies these means within the framework of political violence upon the nation-making path that follows the paradigmatic moment of Revolution. Such notions converge in a point between the discursive and the practical moment in the articulation of nation-making, seen through the lens of the Enlightenment heritage. The author takes as an example

“[…] The English Civil War, the American, French and Industrial Revolutions, decolonization and the project of a new global juridical order following World War II. Each was an experience of traumatic violence, bringing into question the relation between rapidly changing existence and the traditions of value, requiring radical adjustments in institutional accretions, the authority of ideals, imagining and thought over choice and conduct”. (Xxxvii-xxxviii)

Fernéee, substantially, argues that those revolutions merge the discursive moment of Enlightenment with the practical, as they involve a relationship between a body of ideals, imaginings and thought and their practical-mundane dimension (adjustment of contingency according to the new system).

The interaction between institutions and lifeworlds is – as a matter of fact – the “integral dimension of modern violence” (xxxviii). As a consequence, the transformation of the traditional hierarchical institutions into a different social pattern, inspired by a democratic-egalitarian form of political interaction, becomes the core of Enlightenment from its beginnings in XVII century. Moreover, its link with violence as a vector of change assumes a central position in speculation, so that the French Revolutionary tradition is seen as a region of overwhelming discursive-practical density within the Enlightenment Heritage.

The book is articulated in seven chapters, connected by a thread aiming at demystifying the role of violence, and at drawing an alternative historical construction, articulated around the Enlightenment Heritage as a keystone in the nation-making process.

The First chapter interprets Akbar’s “Universal Peace” (Sulh-i Kul) as one of the expressions of Enlightenment, portraying the complex and multicultural texture of India in the XVI century. Akbar’s court is seen as a dialogic place, and Fernée underlines how the syncretic concept of fana, shared by every religion and mystic movement present in India, had been conveyed in a practical public policy of non violent resolution of conflict in the multiconfessional and heterogeneous texture of the Mughal Empire. By means of a parallel between Akbar and Philip II of Spain, both enthroned in 1556, Fernée denotes a deep demarcation between the enlightened perspective played by Akbar’s Universal Peace and Philip’s fiery and dogmatic manner of conceiving religion as the leading principle of the State, which brought to the exclusion of entire parts of the Spanish society in reason of their faith. Fernée concludes recalling Akbar’s rationalistic nature of thought, which pursues an epistemic idea of God, rather than an immediacy of religious experience, in a syncretism between aql (reason) and taqlid (blind faith).

The second chapter frames the European Enlightenment between Revenge and Reconciliation. The author focuses on the nature of Enlightenment in the XVII and XVIII centuries and depicts two distinct paths. According to the logic followed in the whole essay, he represents an opposition between two distinct natures of Enlightenment: the flexibility of lifeworld practice on the one hand, and the construction and the feeding of a coercitive “general will” idea on the other. The critical connection point is the Revolutionary moment. Fernée argues that in the French Revolutionary process, the necessities of transforming the society from above had to be pursued by a transcendent articulation of universal values, in order to comply with a teleological and linear thought, thus undermining democracy and the very precepts of Enlightenment.

The third chapter draws a history of the early Indian Nationalism. Fernée points out its discursive-practical formation, spotting the inherent contradiction in the complex relationship with the English language, with its limits and possibilities. At the same time, the author highlights the multiplicity of the discursive practical formation influencing the early Indian Nationalism, from the classic European legacy of Enlightenment to the domestic sources, such as Akbar or the original Indian institutions. The dialectics regarding the double nature of Enlightenment is embodied in the comparison drawn by Fernée between Rammohun Roy and Henry Derozio. The former is seen as an example of a centerless pluralism grounded upon a many-sided conception of truth; the latter as an exponent of Radical Enlightenment, directly inspired to the trascendent French Enlightenment dogmas of the XVIII century.

Chapters four and six are more connected, as they analyse a contiguous history sector: while the former underlines Gandhi’s role in enlarging the Ethics of Reconciliation to a Mass Movement, the latter focuses on the Nehruvian era, analysing the role of the Ethics of reconciliation in the Nation-Making process: both are case studies centred on the non-violence as a practice of Nation Making. The Gandhian experience is identified with Humanism, as he gathered the final sense of Nationalism out of the identitarian and dualistic thought by shifting from the trandescental to the immanent, thus overturning the dialectics between enemies.

Nehru is seen as an original thinker-statesman, and his position in the Enlightenment tradition is drawn through different moments of the post-independence period. The chapter particularly overcomes his policies about the language and the tribal issues, reading them as pluralistic and many-sided forms of politics.

Chapter five deals with the Ottoman-Turkish experience of Enlightenment. Fernée focuses on the “polarity change” in the same case study: from the dismantling of the heaven sent hierarchical order (Janissary-Sultan-Bureaucracy-Ulema) and the positioning of the people at the core of sovereignity (1826), to the return to a transcendental order, inspired by the ethnic homogeneity, the construction/imposition of a “general will” and a strong assimilationist tendency of the Young Turks.

Finally, chapter seven looks into Iranian Enlightenment as a struggle for Multi-Cultural Democracy, and its failure, tracing its historical experience under an Enlightenment perspective, from the Tobacco revolt of 1890-91, through the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11 to the National Front period under the leadership of Mohammed Mossadeq (1941-53).

The book offers a well articulated reading of the dynamics of Nation-Making from a perspective entwining the Enlightenment and the violence issues in a framework suitably grounded and skillfully organized. Through the comparative analysis of four case studies (Europe, India, Persia/Iran and the Ottoman-Turkish experience), Tadd Fernée propounds an interpretative key to design new non-violent patterns for the solution of the conflicts of the modern era, managing diversified materials and gathering them in a coherent vision. The perspective of “Enlightenment and Violence” is interesting and reliably founded. By re-defining the Enlightenment borders into a multipolar model, the author traces an original map of thought, consisting of non-contiguous (temporally and geographically) realities unified under the Enlightenment Heritage umbrella.


Recensione: Burocrazia della miseria: un’etnografia critica dell’incontro tra Stato e cittadino nell’India postcoloniale

Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence and Poverty in India/ Akhil  Gupta – Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 384 (ISBN: 9780822351108)

Red Tape, il nastro rosso che storicamente lega i documenti ufficiali e rimanda alle pratiche amministrative che li producono, è un importante punto d’arrivo nella bibliografia dell’antropologo Akhil Gupta. Accademico indiano, nato a Jaipur e naturalizzato americano, di formazione tecnico-scientifica (PhD in ingegneria a Stanford), l’autore è oggi una delle massime voci dell’antropologia politica, dello sviluppo e dello Stato in ottica postcoloniale, direttore del “Centre for India and South-Asia” all’Università della California.  Tra i suoi lavori più citati ricordiamo: il saggio Beyond Culture: Space, Identity and the Politics of Difference, 1992, composto con J. Ferguson e manifesto della nascente antropologia critica; l’antologia The Anthropology of the State, 2006, curata insieme ad A. Sharma; l’etnografia della cooperazione Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India, 1997. Nella sua ultima monografia, attingendo dalla ricerca già condotta negli anni Novanta nei block office di Mandi, centro rurale nell’Uttar Pradesh, l’autore esplora i meccanismi burocratici con cui si dispiega il welfare indiano, reo di riprodurre quelle stesse ineguaglianze che si proporrebbe di sradicare.

Denso e provocatorio, Red Tape muove dal quesito paradossale e paradigmatico dell’India contemporanea: “Come è possibile che, nonostante gli sforzi pubblici di inclusione sociale e presa in carico delle fasce deboli, gran parte della popolazione indiana ancora viva in condizioni di estrema povertà?” (p.3). Scardinando invece luoghi comuni e opinioni dominanti su politica, crescita e Stato postcoloniale, le argomentazioni con cui Gupta articola la sua replica interrogano la relazione tra burocrazia e miseria, basandosi su un minuzioso lavoro etnografico (svolto raccogliendo osservazioni e testimonianze tra uffici, funzionari, ispezioni, certificati) e su una lucida analisi delle implicazioni teoriche che ne derivano.

Al cuore della questione si staglia la “violenza strutturale” esercitata dallo Stato sui cittadini, in particolare sulle masse a cui si rivolgono le propagandistiche campagne anti-povertà. Come molti analisti dell’India postcoloniale, Gupta fa leva sull’ipertrofia e frammentazione dell’autorità statale (dove al necessario decentramento subentra il mancato coordinamento dei diversi livelli amministrativi) e sull’arbitrarietà del welfare, anche nella recente transizione da socialismo a neoliberismo. Confrontandosi criticamente con i concetti di “biopotere” e “nuda vita” di Foucault e Agamben, e dialogando con noti teorici contemporanei quali V. Das, M. Lock, D. Fassin e M. Herzfeld, Gupta interpreta i dati empirici indagando le disfunzioni dell’amministrazione statale nella gestione della popolazione, talora dipingendo vignette etnografiche di rara profondità. Tre sono i principali dispositivi burocratici individuati nella global governance indiana: corruption, inscription, governmentality, che danno il titolo ai capitoli centrali del volume.

Il dilagare della corruzione è da tempo riportato nei media come scandaloso emblema dello Stato indiano, che filtra nei discorsi pubblici e nelle chiacchiere quotidiane, alimentando una serie di aspettative collettive su politica, governo e civil servants che ne sono l’espressione. Gupta riferisce cronache di tangenti e mazzette come pratiche routinarie nell’interazione tra cittadini e burocrati, ma anche tra funzionari di diversa gerarchia e status, che mantengono in azione il sistema perverso dell’apparato statale indiano. Senza cedere all’idea sbrigativa di una rapace avidità dei singoli, l’evidenza etnografica narra piuttosto la funzione fàtica e performativa della corruzione spicciola (p.78): metodo per stabilire contatti vantaggiosi e garantirsi beni e servizi altrimenti fuori portata per molti, nonostante le ideologie politiche di sovvenzione e promozione dei bisognosi.

Esplorando il concetto di “iscrizione”, l’autore non si limita a indagare le pratiche di registrazione d’ufficio, ma sonda anche i molteplici usi e significati che la scrittura può assumere nei contesti studiati. In un Paese plurilingue che ancora insegue l’obiettivo di una massiccia alfabetizzazione della popolazione, non solo lo Stato agisce sui cittadini attraverso la parola scritta, talvolta incomprensibile e spesso coercitiva, ma l’abilità di servirsene da parte dei singoli non è condizione sufficiente perché la popolazione possa interagire efficacemente con il sistema ed esercitare forme di resistenza (più o meno legittime, da istanze conformi alla legge a tentativi di contraffazione). Particolarmente interessante è il “feticismo” riservato a documenti e attestati anzitutto educativi, come se in essi si celasse un potere di riscatto sociale raramente garantito (p.186). Ancora più allarmante è la pedante compilazione di report e censimenti, spesso basati su dati inattendibili riportati dagli ispettori, che generano un’ulteriore stereotipizzazione della popolazione e una fallita comprensione dei bisogni reali di chi vive nell’indigenza.

Con razionalità amministrativa o governa-mentalità, l’autore esamina due progetti locali di sviluppo rurale attuati in U.P., rivolti rispettivamente alla cura dell’infanzia (Integrated Child Development Services) e a un presunto empowerment femminile (Mahila Samakhya). Se l’implementazione dei programmi copre tempi storici contigui ma divisi dall’apertura dell’India all’economia di mercato nei primi anni ‘90, Gupta traccia più convergenze che differenze tra i due modelli di sviluppo, comunque mossi da “idee, tecnologie e mezzi transnazionali” (p.239). In entrambi i casi molte risorse sembrano andare sprecate, quando non intascate da funzionari che pure si dicono impegnati nell’alleviare la miseria dei concittadini. La mancanza di esiti sociali a lungo termine è imputata alla stessa messa in atto dei progetti, dove beneficiari e attori finiscono con il coincidere: nella gestione dell’anganwadi (centro-rifugio) sono le donne target delle attività a fungere da volontarie senza equa retribuzione. A prescindere dalla cornice ideologica, l’arbitrarietà dei microprocessi burocratici ostacola reali mutamenti sociali, sotto il velo illusorio di magnanimi interventi pubblici.

L’amara chiosa dell’autore rilancia infine un ulteriore paradosso: benché la normalizzazione della miseria sia denunciata come omicidio colposo di massa, nessuno è perseguibile, al contrario “nell’India post-Indipendenza lo Stato continua a fondare la sua legittimità sull’impegno a garantire la crescita degli ultimi [marginali, subalterni, outcast], puntualmente senza riuscire a mantenere quanto promesso” (p.292).

Empiricamente solido, politicamente urgente e teoricamente raffinato, le criticità del testo si possono rilevare nella ridondanza delle tesi centrali che in parte sacrificano coesione e concisione, e nell’insufficiente disaggregazione della categoria di poveri, da cui restano escluse le fasce marginali urbane che avrebbero reso più pregnante la critica sociale, rivelando contraddizioni di genere e casta/classe qui scarsamente considerate. Una certa reificazione della povertà si accompagna però al riconoscimento della sua immagine mutevole e storicamente determinata; cenni alla Mandal Commission (1989) e all’introduzione del “sistema quote” lasciano intravedere la consapevolezza di altre questioni socio-politiche volutamente lasciate sullo sfondo. Qualche perplessità pone invece la trattazione, sollevata in epilogo, del discorso su violenza armata e scontro tra Stato, maoisti e gruppi tribali, con un salto temporale non del tutto ragionato.

Per quanto manchi di comparazioni areali (l’esperienza in U.P. non può essere estesa all’intera Federazione) e di un aggiornamento storico più puntuale (tra campo e scrittura sono trascorsi quasi due decenni), il testo rimane una delle più ricche e convincenti indagini antropologiche sulla violenza strutturale perpetrata dallo Stato postcoloniale indiano a danno degli strati vulnerabili della nazione. Fonte di inesauribili dibattiti, il lavoro sarà di sicuro interesse per etnologi politici e asiatisti, ma anche per esperti di relazioni internazionali, cooperazione e sviluppo, che troveranno in queste pagine analisi bottom-up tali da incrinare idee consolidate su povertà, progresso e apparato statale nella più contestata e potente democrazia sud-asiatica.

Rimane da chiedersi se le intuizioni di Gupta possano sollecitare una revisione della macchina burocratica indiana e un ripensamento epistemico “dell’ordinaria sofferenza umana” (p.138) in un Paese abitato da oltre 1.2 miliardi di persone, dove i significati di sviluppo, globale e postmoderno sono mediati dall’eredità storica del Raj britannico. Pur con qualche scetticismo, resta da vedere se l’attenzione manifestata dal nuovo Primo Ministro Modi verso il Civil Service saprà intaccare la “maligna negligenza” (p.137) con cui la classe dirigente ostenta benevolo interesse per un’umanità di miserabili, traghettando lo stato sociale verso il neoliberismo nella prima era post-Congresso.


Recensione: Un viaggiatore italiano dell’800. Dal Borneo al Giappone

Paolo Puddinu (a cura di), Un viaggiatore italiano in Borneo nel 1873, Il Giornale Particolare di Giacomo Bove (Parte I), Regione Piemonte, Provincia di Asti, Astigrafica 2014.

Paolo Puddinu (a cura di), Un viaggiatore italiano in Giappone nel 1873, Il Giornale Particolare di Giacomo Bove (Parte II), Ieoka, Sassari, 1999.


Il libro curato da Paolo Puddinu, Un viaggiatore italiano in Borneo nel 1873, Il Giornale Particolare di Giacomo Bove (parte I), è lo studio della prima parte di un diario personale scritto dal cadetto della Marina Militare italiana, Giacomo Bove, durante una missione di esplorazione in Borneo. Il Giornale Particolare, il diario di bordo che, secondo una tradizione ancora in auge nella Marina Militare, tutti i componenti dell’equipaggio devono scrivere durante la navigazione, fu redatto a bordo della pirocorvetta a ruote della Regia Marina Italiana, “Governolo”.

L’opera di Puddinu va a completare un corpus composto di due parti. La prima parte del Giornale Particolare inizia con la narrazione dei giorni antecedenti la partenza della missione dal porto di La Spezia, il 13 dicembre 1872 e si interrompe l’8 maggio 1873, quando la “Governolo” si trovava in viaggio di trasferimento, dall’arcipelago delle isole Sulu al Giappone. La seconda parte del diario, pubblicata sempre da Paolo Puddinu nel 1999, riprende la narrazione del viaggio che portò la nave italiana fino al Giappone. Di qui, dopo una sosta di quasi quattro mesi, la pirocorvetta rientrò in Italia, nel porto di La Spezia, il 28 febbraio 1874.

In quel periodo il governo italiano aveva dato vita a numerose missioni internazionali per valutare la possibilità di inserirsi nell’alveo della politica imperialista europea e per conquistare territori oltre mare. In Asia Orientale erano state allacciate buone relazioni con il Giappone, la Cina, il Siam e la Birmania e, durante un viaggio di esplorazione nel Borneo della nave “Clotilde”, nel 1868, erano state individuate alcune zone nelle quali realizzare una colonia. Il proposito italiano, in quell’occasione, si era scontrato con l’opposizione della Gran Bretagna. Per questo motivo, la nuova missione della “Governolo”, a cui si accompagnava anche una nave più piccola, la “Vedetta”, doveva svolgersi nella massima segretezza.

La pubblicazione della prima parte del Giornale Particolare è legata al recente, quanto casuale, ritrovamento del manoscritto presso un antiquario italiano, manoscritto successivamente acquistato dalla Regione Piemonte e affidato a Paolo Puddinu per lo studio dei contenuti. Con questo volume si viene a colmare una lacuna nella grande produzione narrativa di Giacomo Bove. A distanza di pochi anni da quella missione, infatti, dopo altri viaggi di esplorazione intorno al mondo, dal Polo Nord alla Patagonia e al Congo, Giacomo Bove diventò uno dei più famosi esploratori italiani. La sua fama derivava, oltre che dalle sue intrepide imprese, dalla sua abilità nel raccontarle sia nei suoi libri, pubblicati in varie edizioni nell’Ottocento, sia nelle numerose conferenze da lui tenute in Italia e all’estero. Inoltre, non è da trascurare la cassa di risonanza che le opere del romanziere Emilio Salgari, ambientate nel Borneo, ispirate dai racconti di Bove, hanno avuto sulla celebrità dell’esploratore italiano.

Il libro di Puddinu riporta la versione integrale del giornale particolare di Bove, annotata dal curatore e preceduta da cinque capitoli introduttivi, sempre ad opera di Puddinu. Nel primo capitolo introduttivo, Puddinu descrive le vicende rocambolesche relative al ritrovamento del manoscritto, visto che gli sforzi profusi dalla comunità scientifica e dagli appassionati per ritrovarlo erano stati per lungo tempo vani. In merito alla vicenda della scomparsa del giornale di Bove, Puddinu propone nelle sue riflessioni anche alcune ipotesi, fondate sull’analisi di documenti provenienti da archivi privati e da quelli della Società Geografica Italiana. Secondo Puddinu, la probabile causa della scomparsa del volume originale è legata ai tentativi da parte dei discendenti di altri componenti della spedizione di nascondere il giornale di Bove, al fine di plagiarne i contenuti. Nel secondo capitolo, si espongono le caratteristiche generali del manoscritto che, pur essendo stato conservato in eccellente stato, manca di alcune pagine. Talvolta, per una maldestra opera di rifilatura del rilegatore, in alcune parti, sono state tagliate alcune righe. Tuttavia, il volume originale ha conservato intatta la grande parte del manoscritto, oltre a tutti i disegni, le mappe, gli schizzi e alcune fotografie originali, incollate nelle pagine dallo stesso Bove. Ciò ha facilitato la pur complessa opera “paleografica” del curatore del volume. L’edizione di Puddinu, infatti, ricostruisce fedelmente l’impaginazione di Bove, la disposizione dei testi, dei titoli, degli “a capo” e l’interpunzione, conservando nel contempo gli errori di ortografia, le imprecisioni e le ripetizioni dell’autore. Il medesimo criterio è stato impiegato per la riproduzione dei disegni, delle mappe, delle fotografie e delle didascalie, restituendo in questo modo al lettore un’opera il più possibile simile all’originale.

Nel terzo capitolo, Puddinu ha ricostruito la biografia di Giacomo Bove, grazie anche alle notizie che lo stesso Bove ha riportato nel suo diario, relative alla sua infanzia e al rapporto con la sua famiglia. Nel capitolo che segue, poi, è riportata un’esauriente bibliografia delle opere di e su Giacomo Bove pubblicate in Italia e all’estero.

I due capitoli conclusivi della parte introduttiva sono dedicati alle relazioni del giovane Regno d’Italia con le potenze europee e alle relazioni dei paesi europei con quelli asiatici. Nel primo di questi due capitoli, in particolare, è stato delineato da Puddinu un quadro storico generale della politica internazionale italiana nel periodo in cui iniziava la missione di esplorazione nel Borneo. Nel successivo capitolo, elaborato da chi scrive, sono state analizzate le relazioni internazionali incentrate sul Borneo alla fine dell’Ottocento.

Attraverso una ricostruzione accurata e minuziosa del processo decisionale ministeriale di condurre una missione esplorativa in Borneo, Puddinu analizza i primi passi della politica di espansione coloniale italiana dopo l’unità d’Italia. L’utilizzo di fonti tratte dagli archivi diplomatici del Ministero degli Affari Esteri e dell’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare Italiana, oltre che da carteggi privati, ha consentito al curatore del volume di restituire le ambizioni della classe politica italiana – anche se non sempre condivise dai ministri dello stesso governo – di fronte al tentativo di inaugurare una politica colonialista. I dubbi e le opposizioni di alcuni gruppi politici di fronte all’organizzazione di una missione densa di pericoli e di incognite, come quella nel Borneo, erano stati agilmente superati dai diplomatici italiani. La ricostruzione storica di Puddinu, in questo capitolo, dimostra, tuttavia, l’ingenuità e la poca esperienza nell’ambito internazionale di quegli stessi diplomatici. L’entusiasmo, seguìto all’allacciamento delle prime relazioni diplomatiche con i governi asiatici, infatti, aveva portato la classe politica italiana a sottovalutare l’opposizione che le grandi potenze imperialiste avrebbero sollevato di fronte ai tentativi italiani di realizzare una colonia nel Borneo. La ricostruzione storica dell’opposizione da parte degli Stati Uniti, dell’Olanda e, in particolare, della Gran Bretagna al progetto italiano, ben documentata da Puddinu, costituisce il nodo cruciale entro cui si svolge l’intera vicenda della missione in Borneo.

Da questo punto di vista, il diario di Bove costituisce una fonte diplomatica di grande importanza, poiché i racconti delle difficoltà diplomatiche, che il comando della spedizione incontrò in occasione delle soste a Point de Galles, a Penang e a Singapore, risultano, dalla lettura del diario, essere il riflesso puntuale della scarsa abilità e delle difficoltà interne del governo di Roma. Bove, grazie al suo rapporto di amicizia con il comandante della missione, Enrico Accinni, aveva partecipato a tutte le riunioni e a tutti gli incontri tra il comando italiano della missione e i rappresentanti diplomatici europei in Asia. Di conseguenza, nel diario sono da un lato ricostruite le trattative tra i rappresentanti diplomatici e, dall’altro, sono riportati i commenti che seguivano tra i responsabili italiani, una volta terminati tali incontri.

L’inquadramento degli eventi raccontati nel diario è facilitata dalle annotazioni del curatore, che costituiscono una vera e propria bussola per orientarsi sui luoghi visitati da Bove, spesso riportati nel diario in maniera errata (a causa della trascrizione non scientifica dei nomi locali) o con denominazioni che, per il lettore di oggi, sono oramai desuete. Inoltre, la puntuale ricostruzione da parte del curatore dei numerosi profili biografici dei personaggi che Bove incontrò durante il suo viaggio aiuta il lettore a capire meglio il contesto descritto dal viaggiatore. Altrettanto importante, infine, appare lo studio, da parte del curatore, dei racconti storici di Bove. In alcune parti del suo giornale, infatti, Bove riporta fatti accaduti prima del suo arrivo, come per esempio la rivolta dei cinesi di Bau a Kuching (la stessa rivolta che fa da sfondo alla conclusione de I pirati della Malesia  di Emilio Salgari). Tali resoconti storici sono frutto in parte di letture di libri inglesi, in parte di resoconti ascoltati da vari personaggi incontrati nel viaggio. I fatti descritti da Bove, in molti casi, sono stati analizzati e confrontati dal curatore con un’ampia letteratura di viaggio italiana e straniera, attraverso la quale Puddinu ha potuto verificare la veridicità o l’imprecisione degli episodi descritti.

Nel complesso, l’intero diario di Bove, cioè l’insieme della prima e della seconda parte, riveste un’importanza storiografica di alto livello. Innanzitutto consente una progressiva umanizzazione di un breve periodo della vicenda colonizzatrice italiana, dopo l’unificazione del regno. La “storia di vita”, intesa come rappresentazione dell’evento, si intreccia così con la storia degli eventi. In sostanza si tratta di una frammento di vita privata che diventa fonte storica importante nella ricostruzione sia delle relazioni diplomatiche italiane, durante la missione, sia delle condizioni socio-economiche dei paesi asiatici, visitati durante il viaggio. Le descrizioni minuziose dei quartieri delle grandi città, così come delle povere abitazioni dei villaggi sperduti ai piedi del Kinabalu, o i disegni delle residenze o dei costumi dei capi villaggio, non solo conservano la memoria di una realtà poco conosciuta, ma finiscono per diventare una pietra di paragone con le miserie e le difficoltà dell’Italia appena unita. Appare infatti evidente come per Bove, un giovane di appena vent’anni, il cui spirito di osservazione sorprende per la piena maturità, i valori del mondo malese non fossero né inferiori né superiori ai valori dell’Occidente o delle altre civiltà asiatiche, ma, semplicemente, diversi.

In definitiva, il Giornale Particolare di Giacomo Bove, offre agli studiosi un’ulteriore possibilità di superare la visione orientalista che, per lungo tempo, ha caratterizzato in Italia e in Europa gli studi delle civiltà extra-europee. Il diario di Bove, attraverso le informazioni che dà e le riflessioni che le accompagnano, rappresenta, infatti, una chiara dimostrazione della fallacia dell’essenzialismo, cioè dell’idea vetero-orientalista che esista un’“essenza” che caratterizza le civiltà asiatiche, sostanzialmente immutabile e fondamentalmente estranea e irriducibile rispetto alla “civiltà occidentale”.


Turkmenistan 2014: Security concerns and unfulfilled diversification of export energy routes

  1. Introduction

In 2014 Turkmenistan further enhanced its position in the regional political and economic chessboard, developing relations of cooperation with both Central Asian countries and non-regional countries, mainly interested in the Turkmen gas.

Ashgabat’s support to the realization of regional infrastructures of transport – such as the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway – represents the main contribution of the Turkmen government to the development of regional trade and interconnections, also allowing Turkmenistan to play the role of Central Asian trade hub, given its strategic geographic position.

In the security field, Turkmenistan has necessarily dealt with two potential threats which could trigger a condition of instability: the impact of the Russia–Ukraine confrontation on the domestic scenario and the growing Taliban threat in the eastern region, bordering with Afghanistan.

In the energy sector, President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow is aware of the existing unbalanced situation which could affect the national strategy of export’s diversification: on the one hand, the long-term energy partnership with China is granting Turkmenistan a huge market for its rising gas exports. However, on the other hand, this scenario prevents the achievement of a diversification strategy, hampering or delaying the concrete realization of alternative export routes.

The forthcoming creation of the Agrarian Party of Turkmenistan represents a relevant development in the domestic scenario. In fact, it must be interpreted as another relevant step undertaken by Berdimuhamedow on the long road to implement a multi-party political system.

  1. Turkmenistan and Russia: an awkward issue

The effects of the Russia–Ukraine crisis and the annexation of Crimea by Russia have seriously concerned the Turkmen authorities, which are worried about the perceived Russian aggressive attitude in post-Soviet space. Moscow’s aim to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in the post Soviet space is perceived as a potential threat for Turkmenistan as well as for the other four Central Asian states, which are home to sizeable communities of Russian-speaking populations. About 4% of Turkmenistan’s population (110,000 residents) hold dual citizenship. The measures of cultural and administrative discrimination adopted in Turkmenistan against Russians could offer a pretext to Moscow for intervention, also allowing Russia to set back Turkmen’s projects of energy diversification to European markets.[1] In fact, the potential participation of Turkmenistan in the Trans Caspian energy corridor represents a serious threat for Russia’s energy strategy, boosting an alternative route of energy imports for the EU.

At the Caspian summit[2] held on 29 September 2014 at Astrakhan the five littoral countries (Turkmenistan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) failed to reach an agreement on the Caspian Sea status, which brought to a halt the realization of the Trans Caspian pipeline, preventing the construction of the missing link between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. At the same summit, the five Caspian countries agreed to prevent any outside military presence in the region, substantially weakening all projects of security and naval cooperation which some littoral countries – Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan – seemed about to realize with either NATO or the United States.

Officially the Turkmen President welcomed this agreement, which reflects the main principles of good neighbourhood, cooperation, friendship and stability on which Turkmen foreign policy is based. However, Berdimuhamedow is also interested in hampering Russia’s attempts to create a Caspian Collective Security System (currently proposed only to Azerbaijan). Formally aimed to preserve this strategic region from outside influences, the Caspian Collective Security System would in fact bring the Caspian region inside the Russian orbit of power.[3]

Another area of friction in Turkmenistan–Russia relations is represented by Moscow’s project to involve the Central Asian countries in a security, economic and political framework of cooperation, by making use of different regional organizations. Turkmenistan refused to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) as well as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),[4] on the basis of the permanent neutrality, which continues to represent the main orientation of its national foreign policy.

According to the Turkmen Ambassador in Russia, Berdymurat Rejepov, Turkmenistan is not interested in joining the EEU, preferring to develop bilateral relations with Russia, considered as a strategic partner.[5] Ashgabat is profoundly wary of Russian integration projects, based on the geopolitical ambition to extend its influence in the region.

However, Russia disposes of some levers to pressure Turkmenistan, trying to obtain a more collaborative approach on the regional integration framework. First of all, given Moscow’s orientation to protect the Russian-speaking population in the post soviet space, Moscow could consider some of the cultural and administrative decisions adopted by the Turkmen government as discriminatory, intervening to defend the rights of the local Russian community. Moreover, the adoption of restrictions on Turkmen guest workers in Russia could be an even more effective tool: in fact their forced return to Turkmenistan would increase unemployment and decrease money remittances, triggering social instability.[6] In the economic field, Russian influence on Turkmenistan appears limited, considering that Moscow is only Ashgabat’s fourth trade partner, while China plays the lion’s share, with 43.3% of total trade.[7]

In the security field, following Nato’s disengagement from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan could need Russian support to address the growing Taliban threat on the Turkmen-Afghan border, a factor of dangerous instability which could also affect the whole regional security architecture. In 2014 there was a steady increase in fighting in the Jowzjan and Faryab provinces of Afghanistan, which border with Turkmenistan. In two different attacks in February and May 2014, six Turkmen border guards were killed along the southern border.[8] Incursions and provocations of supposed Taliban fighters as well as their clashes with Turkmenistan’s military have been reported, signalling the risk of cross-border incursions, bound to spread instability in Turkmenistan. The decision to adopt and preserve the country’s neutrality policy has led Turkmenistan to avoid, until now, cooperation with regional security organizations, such as the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In September 2014, Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Secretary General of the CSTO, expressed his hope that Turkmenistan (and Uzbekistan) ‘will cooperate in terms of overall efforts to ensure stability in the region’, in order to contain ‘undesirable tendencies’ in Central Asia such as the intensification of cross-bordering incursions and extremist activities.[9]

  1. A regional-oriented foreign policy

The visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkmenistan – his first visit to Central Asia after becoming President in 2014 – clearly highlights the strategic relevance of the Turkmenistan–Turkey cooperation in the economic and security field. An integral part of Ashgabat–Ankara cooperation is also the containment of Russia’s ambitions. Turkey is the second trade partner for Turkmenistan, with 600 Turkish firms and companies which currently operate in Turkmenistan. The bilateral trade turnover of this successful partnership amounted to US$ 4,75 billion in 2013, going over US $ 5 billion in 2014.[10] In addition to the agreement on energy cooperation, allowing Ashgabat to supply the TANAP gas pipeline project,[11] the two sides agreed to increase military cooperation. President Berdimuhamedow stressed the need to obtain modern military equipment and to improve training in order to address the dangerous challenges to national security and stability, represented by Taliban’s incursion across the Turkmen–Afghan border.[12]

Another increasingly influential Turkmen partner – and not only in the energy sector – is China. Following a visit from President Berdimuhamedow to Beijing in May 2014, Turkmenistan and China established a strategic partnership, by signing several memoranda of understanding aimed at increasing cooperation in the fields of infrastructure, telecommunications, agriculture, health care and technology.[13]

Ashgabat is also promoting the realization of two strategic infrastructures, aimed at promoting cooperation and improving trade integration of the regional non-Russian states. The aim is to allow Turkmenistan to play a significant role in the future regional security architecture.

The Iran–Turkmenistan–Kazakhstan railroad and the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Tajikistan rail line will make Turkmenistan a regional hub, in a promising trade network connecting Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. This same network would open alternative export routes for the Central Asian landlocked economies.[14] In April 2014, Turkmenistan’s president visited Tajikistan to discuss the railroad project. In doing this, Berdimuhamedow was trying to remedy Ashgabat’s exclusion from the Dushanbe and Kabul agreement – which had been announced in January 2014 – concerning the realization of the Tajik section of the railway.[15] Although excluded by the definition of the railroad, which had been done by Tajikistan and Afghanistan without consulting Turkmenistan, Berdimuhamedow promised to finance the Turkmen section of the railroad, also realizing a link to the northern Afghan town of Andkhoy. The project should be operational in 2015. However, even if Turkmenistan realizes its part, the uncertain definition of the Tajik part of the railroad and insufficient financial investments[16] may postpone its realization.[17]

On December 3 2014, the Turkmen President together with Kazakh President Nursultan Äbishuly Nazarbayev and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani participated at the inaugural ceremony of the new railroad linking Turkmenistan with Kazakhstan and Iran. The railway – whose construction began in 2009 – has a total length of 925 kilometres. Of which, 85 kilometres are in Iran, 700 in Turkmenistan and the remaining 140 in Kazakhstan.[18] This infrastructure – which is a part of the North-South international transport corridor – will allow Turkmenistan both to enhance trade, political and energy cooperation with two powerful neighbours such as Kazakhstan and Iran, and to reach new profitable markets for its cotton exports.

  1. Between growing dependence on gas exports to China and the need to diversify export routes

In the last five years, the availability of huge gas reserves and the strategic geographic position between West and East markets have allowed Turkmenistan to successfully develop a multi-vector energy strategy. That aim is gas export diversification, attracting foreign investments, technologies and know-how in order to realize the necessary infrastructures to develop gas fields and to increase national production. The launch of the Sino-Turkmen gas pipeline (China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline, CAGP) in 2009 has represented the main achievement of this strategy, ending the Russian monopoly on Turkmen gas exports.[19] Turkmenistan continues to hold the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, after Russia, Iran and Qatar. However, since 2012 the British Petroleum Statistical Review reduced its estimates on Turkmen gas reserves from 24 trillion cubic metres (tcm) (2011) to 17.5 tcm (2012).[20] In spite of this revision, the Turkmen government has expressed great expectations on the development of Galkynysh field, which British Auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates ranked as the world’s second largest (after North Dome, located in Qatar) with gas reserves of between 13.1 and 21.2 tcm.[21] According to Turkmen authorities, following the exploitation of Galkynysh field, Ashgabat will produce 250 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year by 2030 and export 200 bcm per year.[22] This means that, in the next 15 years, Turkmenistan national gas production should more than triple, because it is currently equal to 62.3 bcm per year.[23]

In January 2014, Turkmenistan’s President Berdimuhamedow announced that his government – in order to achieve this goal – would intensify its efforts to raise foreign investment in the energy sector.[24] However, the unaltered position of the Turkmen government – which refuses the involvement of major international companies in Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) to develop onshore gas fields – has hindered all attempts to attract financial investment and know how. At present, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the only foreign company to detain a Production Sharing Contract on onshore gas field (Bagtyarlyk) but several international companies – such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total, Eni, Malaysia’s Petronas, Gazprom, British Petroleum, Germany’s RWE – have showed interest in investing in the Turkmen energy sector, driven by geopolitical and economic aims. [25]

In 2014 some factors of vulnerability in the Turkmen energy strategy emerged, particularly the growing dependence on gas exports to China. At present Ashgabat’s gas exports are delivered to three markets: China, Russia and Iran. Beijing is the main energy partner for Ashgabat. In 2013 China imported 24.4 bcm of gas (half of Chinese gas imports) from Turkmenistan.[26] In May 2014, the Iranian Ministry of Energy announced the decision (reversed six months after) to stop Turkmen gas imports – in order to develop national production – while in September Gazprom announced it was no longer interested in purchasing Central Asian gas. Turkmen gas exports to Russia fell from 50 bcm in 2009 to 9.9 bcm in 2013.[27]

This situation clearly highlights Turkmenistan’s strategic need to open new energy corridors to achieve its diversification’s policy of energy export routes, balancing the predominant role now conquered by China.[28] Ashgabat and Beijing have also enhanced energy cooperation aimed to realize infrastructures and to exploit new fields in Turkmenistan. On 7 May 2014 president Berdimuhamedow attended the opening ceremony at the gas processing plant at the Bagtyarlyk field, located in the Lebap eastern region (near the Uzbek border), with a capacity of 9 bcm of gas per year. This plant was built by the CNPC, which invested US$ 4 billion for the development of this promising field with reserves estimated at tcm 1.3. Bagtyarlyk is the main source of gas which currently feeds CAGP: Turkmen gas exports to China are projected to reach 40 bcm by 2016, while the peak of 65 bcm of gas per year will be achieved in 2020, after the development of Galkynysh field and the realization of line D of CAGP.[29] During the visit of Xi Jinping in Turkmenistan in September 2013, Turkmenistan and China’s presidents announced the completion of the first phase of construction of the Galkynysh gas field and launched the construction of the second phase, while planning the realization of new additional gas pipeline (line D) to increase the transport capacity of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline network.[30]

  1. Eastern and western energy export routes: progresses and delays

In this scenario, the slow implementation of some alternative pipeline projects – notably the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Trans Caspian corridor – is hampering Ashgabat’s plans of export diversification.

The TAPI pipeline has been envisaged as the eastern corridor of exports, through which Turkmenistan will supply the lucrative South Asian markets of India and Pakistan, crossing Afghanistan. TAPI should deliver 33 bcm of Turkmen gas by 2017–2018. Originally the natural gas field of Dauletabad was indicated as the main source of supply for this project, but the stagnant/declining production of this mature gas field will make it necessary to commit Galkynysh production also.[31] The implementation of this pipeline may have a strategic relevance for Ashgabat because it will offer an additional export option, bypassing at the same time China and Russia and concretely realizing a diversification of export routes. On 29 October 2014, at the meeting of the Council of Elders, Berdimuhamedow affirmed that TAPI’s construction is planned to start in 2015.[32]

In November 2014, the four state gas companies of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India[33] established a company that will build, own and operate the planned TAPI Pipeline.[34]

In spite of much progress, there are serious security, economic and geopolitical concerns which affect the TAPI project, hindering its realization.

Afghanistan’s permanent condition of instability severely weakens the possibility to realize this energy route, considering that the planned TAPI route is supposed to cross Southern-Western Afghanistan (Herat, Helmand, Kandahar) as well as Pakistani Baluchistan. Given the unsettled situation of these areas, the TAPI security and its possibility to regularly supply energy remain an open question. If instability in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region has always been one of the main weakness of the TAPI project, the rising tensions along the Turkmen-Afghan border contributes to increase the uncertainty about TAPI implementation. In 2014, frequent incursions and clashes provoked by supposed Taliban fighters have caused Turkmen armed forces to intervene; but the security scenario will clearly worsen after the complete withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.[35]

In November 2013, in an attempt to speed up the implementation of the project and to assure its economic feasibility, the ADB was appointed in the role of transaction advisor for the TAPI gas pipeline project, with the task of helping the TAPI members to find the necessary financial support.[36] This is a task of crucial importance, as the estimated cost of the project has increased from the US$ 7.6 billion originally estimated by Penspen in 2008 to around US$ 9–12 billion.[37]However, as noted above, Turkmenistan’s persistent refusal to allow major international companies to develop the onshore gas fields, supposed to feed the TAPI pipeline, remains a major hurdle for the realization of the project.

The Trans Caspian pipeline (TCP) project appears to have been revitalized in 2014, following the cautious rapprochement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The two countries have discussed the prospect of energy cooperation, which, since 1991 has been made difficult by Ashgabat and Baku both claiming the ownership of Kyapaz/Serdar offshore oilfield in the Caspian Sea.

Rovnag Abdullayev, head of Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR, and Berdimuhamedow, met twice in 2014, discussing the implementation of a joint project and the possibility of building a trans-Caspian gas pipeline. During the international oil and gas exhibition, which was held in Ashgabat in November 2014, Abdullayev said that Baku ‘is ready to provide necessary infrastructure, a diversified system of oil and gas pipelines and other opportunities for implementation of projects in the oil and gas sector of Turkmenistan’.[38]

Furthermore, Turkmenistan has also enhanced its energy cooperation with Turkey, which will play the role of hub in the TCP project, delivering Azerbaijani – and potentially Turkmen gas – to EU markets. As a matter of fact, Turkmenistan and Turkey have further proceeded in implementing their 2013 agreement – according to which Turkmen gas will be delivered to Turkey – signing a framework agreement to deliver Turkmen gas to TANAP.[39]

Nevertheless, the unsolved legal status of the Caspian Sea obstructs the possibility to deliver Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan and then to Turkey through the TANAP pipeline. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan share a common position concerning the possibility of building an underwater Caspian pipeline with the consensus of the nations directly involved. However, Russia and Iran oppose this solution, privileging consensus among all five littoral states (Turkmenistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran) and also threatening to use their right to veto to prevent all Caspian pipeline energy projects. During the fourth Caspian summit held in Astrakhan in September 2014, the five littoral countries failed to achieve a final division on the Caspian’s offshore waters and seabed, postponing once again the solution to the next summit in 2016.[40]

On the Turkmen side, one of the big problems to solve is that the East–West pipeline – designed to supply the TCP or generally the western corridor – is still unfinished. This pipeline should deliver 30 bmc of gas per year from the Shatlyk gas field in the South-east of the country to the Caspian coast, reaching a total capacity of 40 bmc, thanks to additional gas extracted from Caspian deposits. No foreign companies or firms are involved in its realization, which has an estimated cost of US$ 2 billion.[41]

  1. Economic successes and constitutional changes

In the domestic scenario, Berdimuhamedow has undertaken a gradual process of democratization and reforms, aimed at creating a multi-party political system. As a matter of fact, the Agrarian Party of Turkmenistan, the latest to be created among the Turkmen parties, will be the third in the country, together with the existent Democratic Party and the Party of Industrialistand Entrepreneurs. The last one was founded in 2012, after a 21-year period of a one-party system.

The Agrarian Party organizing committee decided to hold the founding congress on 28 September 2014 and apply for registration to the Ministry of Justice, in accordance with national legislation.[42]

In the economic sphere, the Turkmen government has showed its clear will to further implement a diversification policy, in order to lessen the dependence on revenues deriving from the hydrocarbon exports. The development of the agricultural sector – through the modernization of agriculture industry infrastructures and the adoption of modern technologies – will increase the production of cotton, wheat, rice and other products which will be delivered to meet both internal needs and external demand.[43]

This decision also reflects the will of the Turkmen government to further implement the policy of economic diversification, in order to lessen their dependence on revenues linked to hydrocarbon exports: the development of the agricultural sector – through the modernization of agriculture industry infrastructures and the adoption of modern technologies – will increase the production of cotton, wheat, rice and other products which will be delivered to meet both internal needs and external demand.[44]

Turkmenistan is benefiting from the robust growth of its economy, mainly supported by gas exports to China and high public investments. In the period January–September 2014, Turkmenistan’s GDP grew by 10.3%. According to the recent Euromonitor International analytical report, in 2014 Turkmenistan was the leader in the list of the top 5 countries in the world for fastest growth in annual disposable income.[45] This economic success reinforces Turkmenistan’s role in the regional scenario, where Kazakhstan holds the fourth place. Since early 2014 the country’s foreign trade turnover has exceeded $21 billion, which shows their success in the development of non-hydrocarbons sectors, such as textiles, food industries, production of construction materials, chemicals, agriculture.[46]

Berdimuhamedow has also proposed to carry out constitutional reform, which reflects the political evolution and socio-political transformations that occurred in the country, mainly following the development of market economic relations and private entrepreneurship. In May 2014, the Turkmen President signed a decree ‘On establishment of the Constitutional Commission and its composition for improvement of the Constitution’. Two months later, during the first session of this Commission (on 6 August 2014), Berdimuhamedow reaffirmed his political will to amend the current Constitution. These changes will be in continuity with the Constitutional amendments adopted in 2008, which abolished the Khalk Maslahaty (people’s council) legislative body, transferring its powers to the president and the Mejlis (parliament).[47]

Nel corso del 2014, il Turkmenistan ha visto rafforzarsi le minacce alla stabilità e alla sicurezza nazionale, legate alle incursioni armate dei talibani lungo il confine afgano-turkmeno, situazione che è destinata ad aggravarsi dopo il ritiro delle truppe NATO dalla regione. Inoltre, le tensioni russo-ucraine e l’annessione della Crimea alla Russia hanno aumentato i timori del governo di Ashgabat sulle ambizioni russe nello spazio post-sovietico.

In ambito energetico, il Turkmenistan – che possiede le quarte maggiori riserve di gas al mondo – ha ulteriormente approfondito la cooperazione con la Cina, nazione verso la quale viene convogliato oltre il 50% delle esportazioni di gas turkmeno: tuttavia, il sostanziale stallo che accomuna gli altri progetti di gasdotti (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India e il corridoio transcaspico) impediscono al governo di Ashgabat di realizzare compiutamente la strategia di diversificazione delle rotte energetiche d’esportazione.

Grazie alla centralità della propria posizione geografica, il Turkmenistan rappresenta un perno determinante per la realizzazione dei progetti di infrastrutture regionali di trasporto, legittimandosi nel ruolo di «hub» ferroviario, stradale e commerciale.


Kyrgyzstan 2014: The painful march towards the Eurasian Union as the lesser evil?

  1. Introduction

Since his victorious presidential campaign back in 2011, Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev had pledged that Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy would be markedly pro-Russian, heralding a break with the small Central Asian republic’s post-independence multi-vector foreign policy.

While this policy tous azimuts has eventually tired all foreign partners because of Bishkek’s unrelenting efforts at securing greater revenues in exchange for its support, the final closure of the Transit Center at Manas (as the US air base in the capital airport was formally called) in June 2014 and the concomitant negotiations for accession to the Russia-sponsored and led Customs Union (since 1 January 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union[1], or EEU) was none the less stunning, if – after all – expected.

The chapter explores the intertwined nature of foreign policy pressures and domestic political processes, paying special attention to the effects of Russian leverage on Kyrgyzstani politics. Together, external and domestic factors have given rise to an increasingly unstable and crisis-prone Central Asian state, one where, as Blank notes, ‘its long-standing domestic weaknesses are compounded by its external crises’[2]. The paper is structured around the year’s main story, namely that of Bishkek’s long and tortuous path towards accession to the Customs Union (CU), the organisation comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and, since 1 January 2015, Armenia. Corollary to this are two distinct but equally significant events that have also shaped the domestic political discourse in favour of closer ties with Russia. The first one is the crisis in Ukraine, which has had reverberations across the whole Central Asian region. The second is the fallout of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has – once again – raised the spectre of a revival of Islamic radicalism, be it in the forms of a revamped Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or greater vulnerability to the recruitment of young Kyrgyz by radical organisations. This, of course, relates to the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 whose successes – understood in terms of the unravelling of both Syria and Iraq and the parallel set up of a new state, or caliphate – has attracted a growing number of fighters from Central Asia, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan’s relations with Moscow have translated into a more repressive domestic environment, with the introduction of a law on ‘foreign agents’ and an increasingly anti-gay rhetoric (both policies reminiscent of Putin’s in Russia). Last, but not least, are the deteriorating relations with neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Border disputes and clashes are now routine. This bodes ill not only for the countries in question, but also for Russia which might find itself enmeshed in regional inter-state disputes[3]. Although Kyrgyzstan might have stepped back from the brink of state collapse, this has come at a worrying price: dependence and entrapment.

  1. The main narrative: accession to the Eurasian Union

On 1 January 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union emerged from a five-year incubation known as the Customs Union. Sponsored heavily by Russia, seen in some Western chancelleries as Moscow’s attempt to ‘re-Sovietise’ the neighbourhood, the organisation now counts four members: Armenia (who joined in 2015) and the three founding members, namely Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

President Atambayev first announced that the country would join the Russia-led Customs Union in 2011[4]. Delays have followed, partly caused by Kyrgyzstan’s initial refusal to agree on the roadmap to accession. This was followed by attempts to secure concessions and financial compensation to offset the expected costs of membership and the requirement to align local legislation to the CU regulations, adjusting tariffs accordingly. After much wrangling there has finally been a breakthrough in the negotiations in the summer, prompted by Bishkek’s awareness that it was running out of options. Moscow has also been keen on adding another (small yet symbolic) member to the much-trumpeted project of Eurasian economic integration. The path to actual membership, finally formalised in late December 2014[5], was far from a smooth journey[6].

One of the strong arguments put forward in favour of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union is the long-term economic benefits deriving from the integration of the small Central Asian economy in a 170m-strong market across Eurasia. In fact, securing membership in the Customs Union is no small matter for Kyrgyzstan. Exports to CU countries fell 18.6% in 2011, although rebounded to 9.2% and 10.1% in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In a country where most politicians are pro-Russian, many of the media are Russian-owned and the local population has traditionally felt close to Russia (partly also because of the fact that over a million Kyrgyz, out of a total population of five million, work in Russia as migrants[7]), it would have been reasonable to expect a rather uneventful process. Instead, after giving the impression ‒ for years ‒ of heading resolutely towards joining the Customs Union, Kyrgyzstan’s roadmap to accession has faced strong headwinds from Fall 2013 onwards, throughout the whole 2014[8]. In November 2013 Kyrgyzstan’s authorities rejected the roadmap for accession to the Customs Union proposed by the Eurasian Economic Commission on the grounds that it had not been consulted and it had not agreed to the terms of accession.

2.1. After muted years, doubts over membership arise (too late?)

There was never any doubt that should Kyrgyzstan eventually join the CU/EEU, this would be the result of a decision which would take into account the political advantages of such a step. Economically, in fact, there are quite a few costs attached to the CU/EEU membership. For a start this will significantly led to a spike in Bishkek’s tariffs as per CU regulations, raising the question of how it will manage to continue to meet its WTO obligations (which entail significantly lower customs tariffs). Raising the tariffs would risk jeopardising the current benefits as the main entry and re-export point for Chinese goods in Central Asia.

Membership would help diversify the small and weak Kyrgyz economy away from being the point of entry and export of Chinese goods towards production. In the short term, however, these positive future results are bound to be counterbalanced by loss in revenues, higher unemployment and, possibly, rising social tensions. Customs duties will have to be increased to be brought in line with those of the Customs Union. Before this even happens, in the year under review consumers behaviour was already responding to expected price hikes in 2015. Purchase of cars, for example, has increased in 2014 in the expectation that import tariffs would rise by 30% in 2015, over 250% (compared to current prices) in 2016 and a whopping 1000% by 2019.

Overall, what is unclear at present is how the country, should it become part of both WTO and CU, will handle the tariff differences. At present Bishkek’s politicians maintain that Kyrgyzstan will negotiate exemptions on an individual basis (per country, per product), which does not seem feasible, showing political naivety at best, bad faith or incompetence at worst. At the same time, Russia’s adhesion to the WTO in 2012 and Kazakhstan’s expected entry next year raise the same questions of harmonisation of tariffs. How to protect a Eurasian economic market while not defaulting on international obligations is now a challenge for Russia and Kazakhstan as well, not just Kyrgyzstan any longer. The local business community forecasts a difficult adjustment period[9]: revenues from re-exported goods generate about 15% of the country’s GDP; 85% of the goods on sale in Kyrgyzstan are later re-exported. Sale of goods officially ‘Made in Kyrgyzstan’ but actually ‘Made in China’, represents 7% of overall tax revenues. 15% of Bishkek’s one-million population is employed in the market. The concerns of the business community aside, outright opposition to joining the Customs Union in the country has traditionally been small, yet vocal: A lively internet-based movement called ‘Kyrgyzstan against the Customs Union’ has become especially vocal against official Bishkek’s position, attracting hundreds of supporters on its Facebook page. The small Reform party has also voiced discontent with the country’s official position. The Central Asian Institute of Free Market has published a rather critical report highlighting the risks stemming from joining the CU. Sporadic protests have erupted in the capital, where opposition to the CU is voiced.

2.2. Cushioning the costs: Bishkek’s attempt to strike a separate deal

President Atambayev has repeatedly stated that joining the CU/EEU is a necessary step for the country[10], while at the same time asking for concessionary loans and financial compensation to offset the cost of losing Kyrgyzstan’s competitive edge vis-à-vis Chinese goods. Failing to agree on the terms is what stalled the process so far. Bishkek asked for ways to cushion the fallout, including a grace period for the three main markets of Dordoi and Madina in Bishkek and Kara-suu in the southern part of the country, which would be granted free-zone status; the costs of re-profiling such markets thereafter; concessions over a range of 1,000 products, many of which are Chinese goods (especially textiles); the creation of a US$1bn Development Fund (US$200m over a period of five years) to smoothen the adjustment process and an additional US$215m to strengthen border infrastructure and bring it in line with Customs Union standards. One of the main opponents to such a separate deal has been Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who objected to the prospect of a ‘one-legged’ membership, explicitly opposing extending a special free-zone status to the main bazaars in the neighbouring republic. Kazakhstan’s position is far from inconsequential, since economic ties between Bishkek and Astana are close and profound. Between 2008 and 2013 bilateral trade has increased 72%; it was at US$1.5bn in 2012, up 41% from the previous year; turnover exceeded US$1bn in 2013. Moreover Kazakhstan’s is the largest source of FDI in the country, operating joint ventures in the construction, energy and banking sectors; 70% of the goods sold at the Dordoi and Madina markets in Bishkek are bought by Kazakh customers. The two countries have agreed on a number of concessions that allow either tariff-free or concessionary deals to Kyrgyz exports to Kazakhstan (and vice versa). In addition a new pipeline supplying Kazakhstani oil is currently under discussion and Kazakhstan has begun supplying 30,000 cubic meters of gas to Kyrgyzstan, reducing its dependence on neighbouring Uzbekistan. Finally, Kazakhstan remains the second destination for Kyrgyz labour migrants.

In short, Kyrgyzstan cannot afford losing ties with its wealthier and larger northern neighbour, especially since Bishkek’s exports to Uzbekistan, Russia and Ukraine have shrunk in the first half of 2014 by 33%, 20% and 50% respectively.

2.3. A breakthrough at last

Formally, the Eurasian Economic Union was established, with much fanfare, in Astana on 29 May[11], on the basis of the Customs Union. This was contingent on local legislation being brought in line with the regulations of the CU and the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s membership being agreed upon by both the members and the prospective country itself. The Customs Union’s international treaty framework currently consists of 110 international treaties. The 182-point Roadmap outlines the legislative changes that need to be enacted to align national legislation to the CU regulations and treaty framework. Over the summer Russia and Kyrgyzstan agreed that the former will establish a US$500m fund to ease Bishkek’s accession to the Customs Union. However, at present, the details of such a plan remain unspecified. On 26 September the Russian Duma ratified the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union. At the margins of the meeting in Moscow, Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev confirmed that the country will join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and the common economic space in January 2015. That was followed in November by the ratification by the Russian parliament of an agreement governing economic cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, paving the way for the country’s integration in the Eurasian Union[12]. Prior to that, in August, the Kyrgyz Cabinet of Ministers had approved a package of bills paving the way for accession by beginning to bring the local legislation into compliance with that of the Customs Union. Finally, on 23 December Kyrgyzstan signed an accession agreement to join the EEU[13]. The agreement came into effect on 1 January 2015. On that occasion President Atambayev announced that he hoped the country would become a full member by May[14]. The rush to make a formal statement by the end of the year, immediately followed by the announcement of a delay, left many observers perplexed.

  1. Russia’s leverage

It is difficult to underestimate the extent of Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Russia. Links (social, economic, cultural, military) are many-fold and profound. Leverage, understood in terms of Bishkek’s vulnerability to Moscow’s pressure, is also considerable. The Russia-Ukraine crisis of 2014[15] illustrates this well.

The diffusion of Russian media can easily construct a Russia-friendly narrative of events. Local media would not have the resource to withstand in an information war. Apart from having a significant military presence throughout Kyrgyzstan, the US$1bn deal to develop the country’s military signed in 2013 reinforced Bishkek’s security dependence on Moscow. In August 2012, Kyrgyzstan agreed to a 15-year extension of the lease to Russia of the base in Kant, a military air base east of Bishkek. The agreement will enter into force when the current deal expires in 2017. In an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, held in Bishkek on 28 May, Russia and the attending Central Asian partners discussed ways to strengthen the military component of the organisation, focussing on the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF). The charter of the organisation has been broadened to allow it to mediate conflicts between members or send units in cases of domestic upheavals[16]. Russian companies own or have large stakes in local companies. Important investment projects like the Kambarata-1 hydropower plant can come to completion only if Russian capital is retained.

3.1. The closure of the Manas Air Base and the decline of Western influence

The consolidation of Russian influence and presence comes at a time of steady US (and Western more broadly) decline in the region[17]. The waning of US presence was captured symbolically as well as practically by the closure of the US air base, vacated in June 2014. The Manas base opened in December 2001, and was home to approximately 1,000 US military personnel and various tanker planes at the time of its closure in mid-2014. In almost thirteen years over a million (US and/or NATO) troops passed through the hub on the way to or from Afghanistan. From the start, however, the base has been subject to the attempts by local officials to extract rents, political controversies and scandals[18]. The base has also become one of the main sources of revenues for Kyrgyzstan, contributing up to 3% of the national budget. Rents from the base have enriched the country’s leaders, their families and associates. Contracts for supplying the base, such as the fuel contracts, have been particularly lucrative, amounting to a billion US dollars over the past six years. The agreement of the use of the base at Manas has been subject to multiple renegotiations in recent years. The ousting of Kyrgyzstan’s former president Askar Akayev and the FBI investigation that followed exposed corruption surrounding Manas-related contracts. The lease of the base was re-negotiated a first time in 2006. In February 2009, then-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that the base would close shortly as Kyrgyzstani authorities handed Washington a 180 days’ notice. Around the same time, Kyrgyzstan signed a comprehensive deal with Russia. Many saw the two events as connected. In June 2009, a new contract raised rent payments from 17 million dollars to 60 million dollars a year, with an additional 117 million dollar one-off sum. In 2010, the agreement was extended for a year and, subsequently, for another three years until July 2014. Financial considerations aside, the need to secure a logistical hub in Central Asia has made the United States vulnerable to Kyrgyzstan’s domestic unrest and the local political shenanigan, tarnishing Washington’s image in the country[19].

  1. Worrying trends in global politics

The yet-to-be-understood implications of US withdrawal from Afghanistan aside[20], it was the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the rise of the Islamic State that captured the attention of Bishkek’s ruling circles during the year.

4.1. The Ukraine crisis

On 21 February Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after months of protests (known as the ‘Euro-Maidan’, or just ‘Maidan’[21]) sparked by Yanukovych’s sudden political turnaround in November 2013, when he walked out of the imminent closure of an Association Agreement with the European Union and moved instead towards closer economic ties with Russia, a move that could have possibly led to Kiev’s integration in the Customs Union.

The power vacuum at the centre, grievances in the eastern regions of the country, un-addressed issues of autonomy across the country and, not least, Russia’s wrath at what the Kremlin perceived as a western-orchestrated coup brought a sudden unravelling of the Ukrainian state. First, in a swift turn of events Crimea[22] first voted in a disputed referendum for secession on 16 March, proclaimed independence on 17 and was subsequently annexed by Russia on 18 March. Soon thereafter, in early April, the ‘war in the Donbass’ started between Russia-backed rebel groups in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and Kiev’s troops.

Ukraine is not a major economic partner for Kyrgyzstan; accordingly, the direct fallout – missed delivery of goods aside – was not considerable. At the same time two important lessons were drawn from a closely observing Bishkek. The good news for Bishkek was that a Ukraine-style scenario appeared unlikely: whereas in Ukraine foreign policy choices are open and, therefore, can become the subject of domestic (political and now military) confrontation, Kyrgyzstan has no real alternative to the Customs Union membership, nor has the country ever seriously contemplated exiting Russia’s orbit. In addition, neither the elites nor the public are as split as in Ukraine. Russia remains popular among the populace, but the lack of a transparent debate about the costs and the benefits of membership are causing disgruntlement. The second was that, if provoked, Russia has both the ability and the will to react strongly in no time. In light of the afore-mentioned links between Kyrgyzstan and Russia, Moscow could sanction Bishkek quickly and effectively.

Similarly to the other Central Asian republics[23], Kyrgyzstan’s initial reaction was muted, reflecting genuine concerns and dilemmas[24]. On the one hand the élites were uneasy with openly embracing a position that de facto would justify Russia’s intervention in the domestic affairs of a fellow post-Soviet republic, therefore setting a dangerous precedent. On the other hand, there was the need not to anger such an important political, security and economic partner. In the end Bishkek gave in and expressed support for Russia’s position[25].

The sanctions that the West imposed on Russia throughout 2014 did not affect the Russian economy only[26]. As Moscow’s economy headed towards recession and the Russian ruble plummeted in November and December, Central Asian migrants were confronted with the consequences. Apart from the loss of jobs, even the remittances that they sent home suffered because of the need to convert rubles into dollars; in fact, the devaluation of the Russian currency made the Central Asian Kyrgyz migrants’ earning almost worthless. In addition, Russia slowed down on the investment it had previously pledged to ease Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union.

4.2. The rise of Islamic State

The second event that found echoes in Kyrgyzstan was the rise of the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). In fact, the impact of the internationalisation of the Syrian war was also being felt in the country[27]. Following reports that the presence of young fighters from Kyrgyzstan had been reported in Syria in the territory ruled by the Islamic State earlier in the year, the Kyrgyz authorities unleashed a more hands-on, and heavy-handed, approach to the matter, with periodic arrests of suspects across the country.

The growing appeal of the Islamic State came at a terrible time for Kyrgyzstan. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, coupled with the closure of the Manas base, left Kyrgyzstan increasingly exposed to the threat posed by Islamic militants based in northern Afghanistan. In addition, the country’s own official Islamic institutions have been mired in scandals for years, leaving the authorities with no local source of authority or legitimacy to counter religious radicalism.

Although evidence of the widespread nature of radicalism in the Central Asian region is scant[28], the fear of such a scenario has been used by the local elites to justify repressive measures (see below) and for Russia to press for even closer security cooperation[29].

  1. A more repressive domestic environment

Politically the country remains fairly open in the region. At the same time, closer ties with Russia have led to a more repressive turn in local politics, with the introduction of two pieces of legislation that are closely reminiscent of similar bills adopted in Russia. The consolidation of an anti-gay discourse, matched by the introduction of an openly anti-gay bill[30] in October, well sits with an analogous Moscow-sponsored ‘fight against gay-propaganda’. The second is a law that requires NGOs receiving funding from abroad to register (re-register, that is) as ‘foreign agents’, a term which underlines their equivocal, ambiguous status in the country. In addition, the authorities have increased restrictions of protests and inspections at opposition media have also intensified[31].

Other issues also reveal worrisome trends in local politics. This is the case with regard to inter-ethnic relations and specifically the situation of the Uzbek minority in the country[32]. Four years have passed since the June 2010 clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of the country that caused over 400 deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees[33]. Although the wounds have begun to heal[34], the price for this has been the fading of the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural identity. Some sort of stability has returned to the south, but signs of Uzbek culture, until recently omnipresent, are more and more difficult to note. Uzbek-language schools are closing and those that are still open lose students to those where tuition is delivered in Kyrgyz[35]. Young Uzbeks tend to change their passport entry (the one referring to ethnic identity) to that of the dominant group (Kyrgyz) to ensure that they will not be penalised in their career paths[36].

  1. Tensions between neighbours

If domestic problems compounded by great power manoeuvring were not serious enough, the regional security environment also deteriorated in 2014. While the fact that relations with Tashkent are tense should no longer surprise anyone, what has changed over the past twelve months is that ties with Tajikistan have also worsened, marking a dramatic change for the worse, compared to the post-independence period when relations between Dushanbe and Bishkek (Central Asia’s two weakest states) were cooperative.

Over two decades relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been relatively smooth, despite micro-level conflicts over access to water and land in border regions in the early 1990s, and fears that waves of migrants from Tajikistan would be illegally taking over land in the southern province of Batken, adjacent to Tajikistan’s Sughd province. Relations with Uzbekistan have been traditionally poor, and have worsened in recent years[37]. Trouble has not stemmed from the presence of ethnic minorities on either side of the border, but from territorial disputes and accusations from Tashkent that Kyrgyzstan may be unable to curb the activities and incursions of Islamic militants in the Ferghana Valley. Disputes over gas supplies (from Uzbekistan) and water access (from Kyrgyzstan) have traditionally soured bilateral relations[38]. Shootings at the border have increased in number and intensity[39].

In the case of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border most disputes are local and are unlikely to be internationalised[40]. At the same time, their increasing frequency is causing significant disruption to local livelihood and economic exchange (trade and smuggling). What has thus far prevented an escalation of the conflicts (apart from their local character, as noted) is the fact that both countries can ill afford another tense border situation since both Bishkek and Dushanbe’s economies suffer from constant blockades from neighbouring Uzbekistan. However, shootings along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border have increased over the past year[41]. 46% of the border is still un-demarcated and the two states have been unable to set up mutually agreed border posts in disputed areas. Kyrgyzstan is also planning to build a road to bypass the Tajik enclave of Vorukh, which would leave the latter totally isolated from mainland Tajikistan and surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. At the same time Tajikistan’s relations with Moscow are also cozy and Dushanbe might also join the Customs Union in the coming year.

Kyrgyzstan’s ever growing closeness to Russia risks further poisoning relations with Tashkent and Dushanbe[42]. Promises of Russian investment in local infrastructure and hydropower projects are seen in Bishkek as a way to reduce energy dependence on an unreliable supplier, Uzbekistan. That may well be the case, but the move would come at a price, namely that of increasing Bishkek’s already considerable economic dependence on Moscow (complemented with an additional poisoning of relations with Tashkent). Even the attempt to secure gas supplies from Turkmenistan rests upon the good will of Tashkent, since Turkmen gas would need to be delivered – on Uzbek territory – via Uzbektransgaz, the state gas company of Uzbekistan, in charge to deliver gas supplies for domestic consumption and export. Although Tajikistan is also likely to join the Custom Union eventually, the stepping up of border controls and tariffs will surely hamper cross-border trade, upon which the livelihood of border communities so critically depends.

  1. Conclusion

Bishkek’s elites have evidently run out of options and made the final push towards the Eurasian Union. In a sign of less-than-overwhelming enthusiasm, the authorities, including President Almazbek Atambayev, have referred to the choice as ‘the lesser of two evils’ – namely ‘the rise in inflation and prices’ on one side and the ‘biggest social and economic problems’ on the other – in a situation in which there is ‘no other option’.[43] Admittedly, these declarations are not the most exciting way to welcome this important endeavour.

In reality Kyrgyzstan has no credible alternative to joining the Customs Union. While domestic crises of various natures continue to plague Kyrgyzstan’s politics and the economy, in a situation in which the EU is unable to provide security, the US is withdrawing from Manas and China appears unwilling to provide security, Russia remains the only reliable partner. Many in the country fear that the ever more extensive practice of debt-for-assets swaps and the integration into the Eurasian Union will slowly but inexorably result into greater dependence upon Russia, in the long term possibly resulting in a loss of sovereignty for Bishkek. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen. Margins of manoeuvre are narrowing further, though, and maintaining too close a relationship with a single power risks resulting in the country’s entrapment in such an alliance.

Fin dalla campagna elettorale del 2011, il Presidente Almazbek Atambayev aveva promesso che, nel caso di una sua elezione, la politica estera del Kirghizistan sarebbe stata più decisamente filo-russa. Ciò è puntualmente successo ed ha portato ad una cesura tra i due decenni precedenti di politica estera multi-vettoriale da parte di Bishkek e la fase attuale di cooperazione stretta con Mosca. Questo capitolo esamina il nesso tra pressioni esterne e processi politici interni, dedicando una attenzione particolare all’influenza russa sulla politica kirghisa.

Il contributo è focalizzato sul principale sviluppo del 2014, ossia la via tortuosa della repubblica centroasiatica verso l’Unione Economica Eurasiatica, che comprende Russia, Bielorussia, Kazakistan e Armenia. Vengono considerati anche due altri eventi che hanno avuto conseguenze per la regione centroasiatica: la guerra in Ucraina ed il ritiro degli Stati Uniti dall’Afghanistan. I rapporti più stretti tra Kirghizistan e Russia hanno portato ad un sistema politico più repressivo. I rapporti tra Bishkek ed i paesi confinanti (Uzbekistan e Tagikistan) sono peggiorati vistosamente.

Il Kirghizistan può anche aver compiuto passi indietro dal baratro del fallimento dello stato, in cui sembrava sul punto di precipitare nel 2010-2011, ma la sopravvivenza è stata mantenuta a caro prezzo: la dipendenza da un altro stato.


Afghanistan 2014: political transition without democracy?

  1. Introduction

In 2014 Afghanistan was dominated by the presidential election that led to the victory of Ashraf Ghani, after two successive terms in office by Hamid Karzai. Despite the ultimate success of the transition, the election has been marred by the same problems of fraud and ballot stuffing that characterised the previous polls. The declaration by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of the victory of Ashraf Ghani over the former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round, has sparked outrage from Abdullah’s supporters. The result was a political impasse, which has requested two «political rescue» missions by US Secretary of State John Kerry. After a prolonged negotiation, Ghani and Abdullah signed a deal which provides for the creation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) and the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to which Abdullah was appointed. Despite the difficulties, it would be wrong to underestimate the historical significance of the 2014 election. For the first time since «9/11», Kabul has been able to peacefully change its political leadership and therefore to take at least a first step towards political institutionalisation.[1] The formation of the new GNU obviously sparked a debate on whether or not the new political landscape will be able to tackle the immense problems left open by the previous administration. Issues including, among others, the reconciliation process, the corruption of the public administration, the need to revive the Afghan economy despite the inevitable reduction of the financial benefits coming from the international military force.

The other important event of the year was the end of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) on 28 December, which completed the planned withdrawal of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops from Afghanistan. This event did not mean, however, the end of the international military presence. Immediately after his appointment, President Ghani signed two pacts – the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO – this guarantees the continued military presence of the coalition under the new Resolute Support Mission (RSM). The agreements represent an important political signal of the US to maintain its support to the fragile Afghan State in the wake of the events in Iraq and Syria. In the meantime, a clear worsening of the situation has marked the war between the insurgency, the international coalition and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). In addition to the constant rise in the level of violence, the conflict has claimed fewer victims from the coalition forces, while those among the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) have reached a record high figure. Given the greater role of the ANSF, this is not surprising. However, most tragic has been the rise in the number of civilian casualties, which in 2014 reached its highest number since 2001. Two other important arguments discussed in this paper are the prospects of the dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban under Ghani’s leadership, and the situation of Kabul’s relations with Pakistan, which saw interesting developments. The essay will end with a short assessment of the state of the Afghan economy in 2014.

  1. Presidential election: Background and preparation

According to the complicated schedule dictated by the Constitution, in 2014 Afghanistan was due to elect the President and the provincial councils. Of the two polls, obviously it was the first that attracted most of the observers’ attention. The country faced the new presidential election with mixed feelings. From one point of view, the end of the Karzai era was seen by many independent analysts as a necessary step to tackle some of the most urgent problems left open by the previous administration. To this extent, the decision of the government to respect the Constitution and call for the election – despite the awareness of the many flaws in the electoral machinery – was welcomed by almost all parties, except for some hard-line Karzai supporters. In fact, some observers had suspected that the President could take the lack of security as a pretext for delaying elections, in order to get some guarantees about his own future from the main candidates.[2]During 2013, in the south-western «Pashtun belt», there were various meetings of tribal leaders and other interest groups who expressed their fear about a possible victory of Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, who was widely seen as the Tajiks’ candidate.[3] Not surprisingly, between 2013 and 2014, the US administration sent clear messages to Kabul that a failure in convening the election would mean the likely suspension of American military and financial aid.[4]On the other hand, the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF) of July 2013 reiterated the Afghan government’s commitment to «conduct credible, inclusive and transparent Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015», as a condition for the donor countries’ continued support.[5] These promises necessarily included a reform of the electoral mechanism. However, given the structural problems that have characterized almost all Afghan elections since 2001, this was not an easy task to accomplish. In particular, the 2009 presidential election that confirmed Karzai in his role had been largely marred by frauds.[6] These problems included the absence of a voter list, the surplus of voter cards as compared to the actual number of voters, the absence of electronic IDs, and the lack of truly independent bodies of electoral monitoring. It was therefore expected that the Afghan government would take serious action to solve these problems before the 2014 election.

A partial fulfilment of this commitment had appeared to be approved by the Parliament in July 2013 with a legal framework, which was generally welcomed by the Western partners.[7] On the basis of these new laws, the 2014 elections were to be the first to be held under a legal framework approved by a democratically elected body. However, the opposition, as well as some independent analysts, noted that the new electoral laws excluded the presence of international actors in the two main monitoring bodies, the IEC and the Independent Electoral Complaints’ Commission (IECC). Moreover, according to some Afghan political actors, the selection mechanism for both institutions gave too much power to the President.[8]

This said, obviously few observers expected the new legal framework to solve all the problems of the Afghan elections, given that some of these problems are linked to traditional social and political dynamics. It is widely recognised that, on the part of many actors, manipulation has become an integral part of the political process.[9] Moreover, given the absence of an efficient post-election invalidation process, the monitoring conducted by the IECC reflects more the ability of the candidates to negotiate the result rather than the reality of frauds.[10] These aspects are to be placed in a wider political context dominated by the fragmentation and weakness of the political parties, and by a presidential system, which emphasises the executive powers to the highest degree, leaving only a marginal role to the parliament.[11] Although this system was considered by many to be ill-suited to the characteristics of Afghan polity, the choice of a strong executive had been supported by the international coalition – especially the US – and by the majority of the Pashtun community, in the aftermath of the 2001-02 military intervention. Nowadays, most of the observers agree that a democratisation of Afghanistan would necessarily imply the dilution of the President’s power, the strengthening of the political parties, and the reform of the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system adopted for legislative elections.[12]

  1. Electoral strategies

Before the election started, many observers focused on Hamid Karzai’s strategy. The experience of the 2009 Presidential election taught analysts how great the government’s power of influence was. Most observers expected that Karzai would try to create obstacles to the election of Abdullah Abdullah – his main opponent in 2009 and the strongest candidate in 2014 – and would throw his weight behind one of the Pashtun candidates. It is true that the President had, many times, been repeating that he would remain neutral. The stance obviously had earned Karzai international praise. However, there is evidence to support the view that the President’s official «neutrality» concealed a more complex strategy. While the incumbent President did not openly support any candidate, his entourage has exerted much influence over the election process. This conclusion may be inferred by the many meetings that took place at the Presidential Palace, concerning the elections agenda, as well as the activism shown by Karzai’s supporters in the months before the election.

From the beginning of the electoral campaign until the end of 2013, Karzai did not endorse any single candidate, while distributing his favour between Zalmai Rassoul, Abdul Rassul Sayyaf, Ashraf Ghani and his own brother Qayyum. This game, according to many analysts, was aimed at creating a fragmented political scene where Karzai could act as a political broker and retain much of his influence. This appeared logical, given that Karzai, since 2003, had benefited from the fragmentation among the opposition forces.[13] However, this strategy appeared to change towards the end of 2013 and the early months of 2014. The reason being that the exit polls released in late December 2013 disclosed a scenario of a likely victory for Abdullah Abdullah. According to independent observers, the disclosure of the polls created «a panic» in the President’s entourage.[14] The President’s response was to concentrate all his resources on a single Pashtun candidate, which was identified by some observers as being the former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.[15] However, Karzai never officially endorsed him, and the following events suggest that until the last moment, there was considerable uncertainty in the Presidential circle as to who was the «right» candidate.

Perhaps the most interesting move was the unofficial Jirga (tribal assembly) convened in April 2014 by some important tribal heads and other leaders of Kandahar’s Pashtun – mainly Durrani – community, in order to find a united candidate for the Presidency. Although the Presidential entourage denied any involvement in convening the Jirga, it appeared that the President had played a major role in organizing it through his tribal and family connections. However, the fact that the Jirga ultimately failed in its objective was a clear indication not only of the decline of the ethnic factor in Afghan politics, but also of the President’s difficulties in trying to influence the vote. In fact, the Jirga ended with no less than two favoured candidates: Zalmai Rassoul and Qayyum Karzai.[16] The stalemate was resolved a few days later, when the pressure against the fragmentation of the pro-Karzai vote led to Qayyum’s withdrawal from the election and to his declaration of support to Rassoul. The fact that, in the same days, other Pashtun heavyweights offered their support to Rassoul led many independent observers to see the move as inspired – if not altogether directed – by Hamid Karzai. However, interestingly enough, Rassoul was considered the weakest among the potential candidates. According to three pre-election polls disclosed in December 2013, the struggle was one between Abdullah and Ghani.[17] This peculiar circumstance therefore, led some observers to suggest that the President had reverted to supporting a weak candidate in the hope of fragmenting the vote and playing the role of a political broker after the election.[18]

  1. The tone of the campaign and the first result

The start of the campaign, from February to April 2014, was characterized by a generally optimistic feeling. This was motivated by two basic elements: the fact that for the first time the incumbent President had to leave office seemed to make the election more open than usual to surprising results; second, the President’s reluctance to endorse any specific candidate contributed to giving the vote a fresher outlook. The impression was confirmed by the general tone of the campaign, which was unusually free from ethnically motivated rhetoric. The apparently low focus of the candidates on ethnic issues was quite surprising, considering that all the candidates had strategically chosen their supporters from the minority communities.[19] Despite considerable differences in the situation in Kabul and in the provinces, for observers, the competition left the impression of a true change of pace.

This was confirmed, at least until the very last days of the campaign, by the low level of violence. Although the Taliban had warned Afghan citizens not to participate in the polls, stating that they would attack the election centres, the campaign went on largely undisturbed.[20] In particular, the lack of attacks against the large public rallies, which were relatively easy targets, led many observers to wonder whether the Taliban had decided to allow the elections. However, the Taliban intensified violence in the days immediately preceding the election, launching large-scale attacks against offices of the IEC, the Ministry of Interior, NGOs and even a Hotel occupied by Afghan journalists and foreign observers.[21] Despite this late upsurge, however, the general view of the analysts was that the violence caused by the insurgents had been much lower than expected.[22]The EU representatives echoed in their comments, such optimism after 5 April, when they declared: «The Taliban [have] lost».[23]

The announcement of the preliminary results confirmed the pre-election polls, revealing that Abdullah had prevailed with 45% of the votes, with Ashraf Ghani following with 31.6% and Zalmai Rassoul with 11.4%.[24] Considering that none of the candidates won a majority of votes, the IEC announced a second round of elections on 14 June between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

  1. The second round

During the second round of elections, Abdullah’s side seemed to have acquired a comfortable margin, which encouraged the leading politicians to organize fewer rallies and focus instead on backroom negotiations. Some candidates and other influential figures close to Karzai – such as Zalmai Rassoul, Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Nangarhar, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – appeared ready to give their allegiance to Abdullah. This seemed to offer evidence that Karzai and his entourage had accepted the latter’s victory, and that Abdullah had concluded a deal for a smooth transition. However, after the second round of elections was complete, Abdullah’s entourage started claiming that large-scale frauds in favour of Ashraf Ghani had taken place. These claims were supported by the release of a series of audio recordings of phone conversations between some unidentified men – which Abdullah’s team claimed were the IEC secretary, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhel, and other officials – who spoke about the need to favour Ghani. The ensuing scandal involved Karzai and his entourage, given that Amarkhel was generally considered «Karzai’s man». Despite Amarkhel’s attempt to resist the scandal, his position became untenable after police found him travelling without authorization with blank election ballots. Despite denying any wrongdoing, he finally resigned.[25]

On 7 July 2014 the EIC announced the preliminary results of the second round of elections: Ghani had won 56.44%, while Abdullah received 43.56% of the votes.[26] The reaction of Abdullah’s team was one of shock and outrage against what they called the «triangle of fraud» – namely, Ghani, the IEC and Karzai. The day after the announcement, Abdullah met his supporters – some of which were carrying weapons – at the Loya Jirga tent of the Polytechnic University in Kabul, where he declared himself the winner of the elections; making a direct reference to the heavily disputed 2009 Presidential election, Abdullah stated that this time he would not give up his claims. In the tense atmosphere that followed, Afghanistan seemed to be once again on the brink of civil war: Muhammad Atta Noor, the governor of Balkh province and supporter of Abdullah, went as far as calling for the occupation of government palaces in Kabul and for the establishment of a «parallel government».[27] However, Abdullah showed great moderation, asking his supporters to remain patient, and instead calling for the US intervention.

  1. What happened?

There is no consensus among the observers on the scale and direction of frauds, apart from the fact that they happened. The general view is that frauds and ballot stuffing have favoured both Abdullah and Ghani, with a higher prevalence for the latter. According to most independent analyses, however, it is unlikely that the frauds could justify such a complete reversal of the result. Still it remains very difficult to form a clear idea about electoral frauds in a peculiar context such as Afghanistan, in the light of the structural problems already mentioned. According to most international experts, the absence of a voters list and the tendency by the IEC to issue cards in excess to the actual number of voters, makes the task of safeguarding the regularity of the process almost impossible. The fact that these problems were known for years and that, despite this, the international actors pressed Kabul to respect the electoral schedule, should lead to a serious discussion about the responsibility of the international community for what happened.

Obviously Ghani’s team defended the result. According to their view, the increase in the number of votes was due to the return to a more «traditional» style of campaigning: Ghani had established contacts with tribal leaders and religious scholars, who helped him in reaching out to voters. Moreover, Ghani’s entourage candidly admitted to having established contacts with at least two insurgency groups – Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin and Haqqani – in order to get protection from violence and carrying on the campaign in the areas controlled by them. The fact that, in the second round of elections, Ghani received the support of influential figures in the South, such as Qayyum Karzai, would also have contributed to spreading his message.[28]

It is difficult to value the weight of these explanations. However, it may be safely stated that the second round of elections was much more influenced by ethnic considerations than the first. The two camps increasingly began to be identified according to their prevalent ethnic affiliation: Tajiks and Hazaras for Abdullah, Pashtuns and Uzbeks for Ghani. This factor may have considerably influenced the result, although it is difficult to say to what extent. To add to the existing confusion, the data announced by the IEC were extremely unreliable: most observers have found it difficult to believe that the turnout of the run-off was higher than that of the first round, when all the available observations suggest the opposite. Moreover, the IEC announced that they invalidated less than 12,000 votes (about 0.15% of the total) which seemed to be a very low number compared to the past elections, when the rate tended to be around 20% (18.8% in the 2009 Presidential poll).[29]

  1. The US intervention

Since the beginning of the crisis, the US administration emphasised their neutrality and appealed to both candidates to maintain calm. On 7 July 2014 Abdullah announced that he had received a phone call from President Barack Obama and that the Secretary of State John Kerry would soon come to Kabul. On 12 July, Kerry, after at least two days of negotiations, together with the two candidates and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Jan Kubiš, announced an «internationally supervised» audit of the votes, to be held in Kabul with the assistance of ISAF. More importantly, Kerry stated that both candidates had agreed to «abide by the results of the audit and that the winner of the election [would] serve as president and [would] immediately form a government of national unity».[30] This result was not an easy one to obtain. From one point of view, Hamid Karzai’s opposition to international «interference» was well known. In fact, after meeting the two candidates, Kerry was said to have met Karzai separately. Moreover, considerable international pressure seems to have been exerted on the IEC and the IECC in order to have them accept the audit.[31]

However, new difficulties soon arose. First, the 12 July 2014 agreement had apparently left space for different interpretations, and in fact a conflict emerged between the two camps. Second, in early August, a new conflict exploded regarding the criteria of the audit, which – according to Abdullah’s team – were not rigorous enough to reveal the extent of the fraud. All this forced John Kerry to return to Kabul on 7 August in order to resolve the impasse. After meeting again with the two candidates and Karzai, the US Secretary of State conducted another press conference with Ghani and Abdullah in which they confirmed the July deal.[32] However, in order to resolve all remaining objections posed by Abdullah, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to personally endorse the result of the audit. In a message on 11 September 2014, he supported the regularity of the audit, defining it as «robust, comprehensive and consistent with international best practices».[33]

  1. The final outcome and the GNU

On 21 September 2014, after prolonged negotiations between the two parties and more than five months since the beginning of the process, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed an agreement aimed to form a new GNU. Interestingly enough, the deal was announced – and signed – before the disclosure to the public of the audit’s result by the IEC. Apparently, this choice was made on a specific request by Abdullah’s team, lest that the result could spark violence. In fact, a few hours later, the IEC chairman announced that the audit had been completed and that Ashraf Ghani was the new President. However, no figures were given, and the IEC stated that the results had been «submitted to both candidates…and [would] be published on the IEC website in the near future.[34]

The deal provided for the creation of no less than five new institutions: a CEO, with the powers of an «executive prime minister» – a position which was immediately occupied by Abdullah –, two deputies, a council of ministers and a leader of the opposition.[35] Despite the considerable time spent by the political actors in discussing details, the new arrangement seemed to be filled with contradictions. The ambiguity was especially evident with reference to the relationship between the President and the CEO. While one passage of the deal stated that the CEO would be «under the authority of the President»,[36] the remaining parts of the document seemed to present the two figures as holding equal power. In fact, it is easy to see that the GNU has emerged as an attempt to translate a power-sharing mechanism between two same-level partners into constitutional terms.[37] However, the remaining ambiguity in the deal might cause future contestations. It is also easy to see that the new arrangement considerably altered Afghanistan’s institutional structures, posing some de facto limits to the President’s powers and creating a sort of hybrid «half-presidential/half-parliamentary» system. In fact, the President himself has announced the convening of a Loya Jirga, with the task of amending the Constitution, which seems to indicate that Ghani intends to complete the modification of the institutional structure. After all, this would be in line with Ghani’s thought, given that he stated, before the elections, to be in favour of diluting the Presidential powers after Karzai’s long reign.[38] Moreover, according to some observers, the constitutional Loya Jirga could be the first step towards conceding to the minorities a major degree of decentralization; apparently, this is a request that Ghani received from his Uzbek ally Abdul Rashid Dostum.[39] Anyway, the balance of power between the President and the CEO will be measured soon by the new government appointments. This will be a very relevant and delicate passage, given that both Ghani and Abdullah have to distribute power among the various political figures that have provided their vote banks. These uncertainties, together with the failure of the two leaders to fully disclose the details of the political deal, have certainly contributed to a new pessimistic outlook on Afghanistan’s transition. While emphasizing its historical character, it is impossible to deny that backroom negotiations rather than voters have decided the final outcome, thus making the transition less «democratic» than expected.

  1. Election and Taliban strategy

In comparison to the 2009 Presidential election, when the Taliban policy was that of disrupting the vote, in 2014 the insurgency – or at least part of it – seemed to have adopted a much more pragmatic style.[40] This is in line with a gradual process of politicisation of the insurgency, which has been observed in the field. Over the past few years, the Taliban have basically conducted a two-fold strategy: the first was the military offensive against the foreign troops and the pro-government Afghan forces; the second was the attempt to offer an image of the movement as a reliable shadow-government, capable of providing a better administration than the Karzai regime.[41]

This is a crucial background to understand the sometimes-contradictory approach of the Taliban towards the elections in 2014. Despite the strong statements issued before the election, the actual level of violence deployed by the insurgents has been low.[42] Well-informed analysts have explained this peculiarity as a division inside the movement between a sector in favour of the disruption of the electoral process, and another that preferred to manipulate it in order to obtain a «favourable» President. According to various sources, before and during the first round of the election, some Taliban commanders had talks with local Pashtun tribal assemblies, regarding the possibility of supporting Ashraf Ghani. These talks became more frequent when it became clear that the strongest candidates were Ghani and Abdullah; many sectors among the Pashtuns thought that a victory of the Tajik leader would be detrimental to their interest. A further important factor has been the external pressure exercised by Saudi Arabia, which saw the election of Abdullah negatively. Saudi authorities apparently pressured the Taliban to allow the vote to go on, in the belief that an attempt to obstacle the election would have probably affected only the Pashtuns, therefore giving an advantage to Abdullah.[43]

All these different pressures made the division inside the insurgency more manifest than before. Therefore, during the first round of elections, the insurgency approached the political process with almost as many strategies as the number of existing shuras (Taliban councils). Some of the latter decided not to attack the voters, others did it but in a «soft» manner, and still others – particularly the Haqqani-led Miran Shah shura – carried on with the military offensive. This situation can explain the otherwise ambivalent strategy followed by the Taliban between February and April. However, much of this changed after the announcement of the preliminary result, with Abdullah apparently ahead. The possibility of a Tajik President was seen as a danger by many Taliban, and also intensified the external pressures on the insurgency to allow the vote. Therefore, although considerable differences remained, in the second round of elections, the general strategy was that of not disrupting the vote, particularly in the Pashtun belt, in order to advantage Ghani.

In short, the election emphasised the difficulties faced by the movement in its shift from a purely military-ideological movement to a political one, mainly due to the lack of a universally recognised hierarchy. This said, the election of Ghani may open new perspectives of dialogue with the insurgency. The statements by the new President, soon after his nomination, about the need to reopen the reconciliation process may give further strength to this path.[44]

  1. The end of Enduring Freedom and the start of Resolute Support

On 28 December 2014, with a ceremony in Kabul, NATO and ISAF troops officially ended their combat operations in Afghanistan after 13 years, leaving the task of continuing the war on the ANSF. As noted above, there is a close link between Afghanistan’s political transition and the end of the OEF. Without the successful completion of the presidential election it would have been impossible to sign the BSA with the US – a pact that former President Karzai had refused to sign in 2013. On the other hand, without the BSA, the US had declared their unwillingness to guarantee the continued support to Kabul that the Obama administration had promised.

However, the 28 December ceremony has not, in fact, ended the foreign military presence in the country, as NATO and the US have inaugurated the new RS mission. According to NATO sources, the new mission will have only training and support aims and will involve more than 12,500 soldiers from 28 NATO member countries and 14 partner States. Media sources also suggest that, besides the RS mission, there will be a presence of 5,550 US troops involved in anti-terrorist activities against al Qa‘ida.[45]

Apart from the institutional changes, during the past twelve months, the main development was the transformation of the conflict from an international one to a civil war. This development is visible from the data on casualties, which reveal that the number of victims among foreign troops constantly decreased, reaching the lowest number in 2014 with 75 casualties. The reverse side of the coin has been the rise in the number of Afghan victims, both military and civilians. According to independent sources, in 2014 alone there have been approximately 5,000 casualties among the members of ANSF – 3,200 of which belonged to the National or Local Police, and the rest to the ANA.[46] The year 2014 also saw the highest number of casualties among the Afghan civilian population. It has been estimated by the UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) that the number reached 10,000 at the end of the year, with an increase of 19% since 2013.[47] Independent analysts and UN sources have explained the rise in civilian deaths with a change of strategy by the Taliban.[48] Due to the reduced protection provided by ISAF and NATO, the Taliban have been spreading their operations, attacking the ANSF in open battles in populated areas. In such circumstances, the possibility of civilians being involved in ground battles has sharply increased. The insurgents have also used targeted killings and suicide attacks in order to intimidate government servants, village elders and Peace Councils members.[49] On the other hand, the Taliban have made less use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), which were the Taliban’s favoured tactic between 2007 and 2011.[50] The withdrawal of foreign troops is also likely to have other consequences on the Taliban strategy. With the war becoming more and more an intra-Afghan conflict, it has become increasingly difficult for the Taliban to justify the war as a jihad, as it may be observed through the analysis of their statements.[51] Indeed, the change of the nature of the war from a struggle against foreign invaders to a civil conflict might become a problem for the insurgency, as it is bound to put in doubt its legitimacy in the Afghans’ eyes.

  1. The prospects for peace

Although what has been said does not seem to justify any optimism for the future, two factors suggest that the new political landscape in Kabul may offer a historical occasion for achieving peace. These elements are, first, the much improved cooperation between Pakistan, US and Afghanistan regarding the peace process and second, the fact that Ahsraf Ghani is better placed than Karzai to carry on the peace negotiations with the Taliban. From the first point of view, during 2014, Pakistan appeared to collaborate with the US in a manner that had not been seen for at least ten years.[52] In 2014, the US was, for the first time, targeting Pakistani Taliban who found refuge in Afghan territory, a move which seemed to be an exchange for Islamabad’s greater activism in arresting or killing al-Qa‘ida members in Pakistani territory. The change in Pakistani attitude seems to be related to a growing awareness that a stabilization of the Afghan political scene is a necessary step for putting an end to Pakistan troubles with its own militancy.[53]Moreover, the political transition in Kabul and the international withdrawal are likely to create a political space for which both India and Pakistan will compete. India’s economic activism in Afghanistan was confirmed early in 2014 by the announcement of a 2 billion dollars investment in Afghanistan.[54] In the wake of Indian economic initiatives, Islamabad is well aware of the crucial importance of enhancing the economic ties between the border Afghan-Pakistan regions, which in turn requires placing militancy under control.[55] Ashraf Ghani’s rise to power also offers some new opportunities to keep the peace process on going. As noted above, Ghani already established contacts with some sectors of the insurgency during the election. After his nomination, he sent signals to the Taliban that he intends to strengthen what he has termed «inter-Afghan dialogue».[56] While the Taliban have been repeating their intention to keep fighting as long as «a single foreigner remains in Afghanistan in a military uniform», there is evidence that at least some Taliban commanders in the field favour establishing a dialogue with Ghani.[57] The future, however, remains highly uncertain, given the great division of strategy that currently exists between the Taliban commanders. Moreover, it is yet to be seen what measure of political weight will be given in the power sharing deal in Kabul to Abdullah Abdullah, whose reservations about the peace talks with the Taliban are well known.

  1. Economic development

Political and security uncertainty dominated the Afghan economy in 2014. The basic economic indicators were, on the whole, stable compared to 2013. Still the economy confirmed the negative trend that emerged since 2011. The GDP growth in the fiscal year 2014 (which ended on December 21, 2014) is estimated to have reached 3.5%, which marks a slight increase compared to the 3.3% of 2013. However, the figure shows a negative trend that has affected the economy since the GDP exceptional rise of 2012. This volatility can be explained, first of all, with the large dependence on agriculture, which is linked to the variable weather conditions. After the peak of 2012, when an exceptionally good harvest pushed agricultural production to a 31.5% growth, the figure slipped to a very low 1.6% in 2013 and remained basically unchanged in 2014. The growth rate of per capita GDP reached 1.5%, with a 0.2% improvement from 2013.[58]

On the demand side, the reduction of the international military presence has had a negative effect; this is a structural change to which the Afghan economy needs to adjust. However, things have been made worse by the uncertainty about the approval of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US, which lasted until September 2014 when Ghani signed the document. Most analysts foresee that this development will pave the way for an improved 2015 performance. The year 2014 confirmed Afghanistan’s dependence on international assistance, which accounted for about 60% of its budget expenditure.[59] This factor causes the country’s economic balance to be precariously linked to the evolution of the international political climate, and to the state of Kabul’s relations to donor countries. As expected, among the other economic indicators, the inflation rate decreased from 7.4% (2013) to 6.8% at the end of 2014, in the wake of the lower level of private consumption. It is important to note that most observers foresee an improvement for 2015, on the basis of the apparently stabilized political situation. Much of this, of course, will need to be confirmed.

A clearly negative development concerns the situation of opium production. The relevance of this indicator lies not only in the fact that Afghanistan produces at least 90% of world’s opium, but also in the connection between production and security conditions in the provinces. The total area dedicated to poppy cultivation in 2014 marked a 7% increase since 2013. The spread of cultivation in the territory confirmed the close link between opium-production and the strength of the insurgency, given that the vast majority of the opium (89%) was produced in the nine provinces of the South and West where government control is weaker.[60] The Afghan government appears to have made considerable efforts to obstruct opium production. In addition to the physical eradication campaigns, in 2013, Kabul started a program called «Food Zone», which was aimed to reduce the farmers’ dependency on opium poppy and to support their shift to licit productions. However, in the areas where the program has been started – such as in Helmand, which alone produced 46% of all Afghan opium – the 2014 results were disappointing.[61] Poppy eradication activities have also marked a considerably negative trend, with a decrease of 63%. This worrying development is connected to the worsening security conditions in the southwestern provinces, and the governors’ consequent difficulty in implementing the eradication policy.[62]

L’Afghanistan nel 2014 è stato dominato da due eventi tra loro interconnessi: le elezioni presidenziali e la fine della missione di combattimento delle truppe ISAF e NATO. Le elezioni hanno condotto alla nomina di Ashraf Ghani, pur confermando i gravi problemi strutturali del meccanismo elettorale afgano. Abdullah Abdullah, già leader dell’opposizione a Karzai e giunto in seconda posizione al termine del ballottaggio, ha rifiutato il risultato elettorale. La conseguente crisi politica è stata risolta con la formazione di un governo di unità nazionale formato sotto l’egida degli Usa e dell’ONU. Le truppe internazionali hanno completato il loro ritiro dal paese, confermando al contempo una presenza militare tramite la nuova operazione Resolute Support. Quest’ultima dovrebbe, in teoria, avere solo compiti di supporto alle forze di sicurezza afgane, lasciando dunque a quest’ultime la responsabilità della guerra contro l’insorgenza.


Pakistan 2014: Gli attacchi al governo di Sharif e le tensioni con i militari

  1. Dal dialogo con i militanti alla campagna militare nel Waziristan del nord

I propositi di dialogo con il TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, alleanza di una dozzina di gruppi militanti operativi in Pakistan), con i quali il nuovo governo di Nawaz Sharif aveva iniziato il proprio mandato nel maggio del 2013, si erano scontrati con l’irrigidimento delle posizioni dei talibani pachistani, all’indomani della morte del loro comandante, Hakimullah Mehsud, ucciso da un drone americano[1]. Tuttavia, all’inizio del 2014, i lavori della commissione governativa incaricata di avviare le trattative con la controparte del TTP progredivano, nonostante le violenze.

Mentre l’unica richiesta concreta del governo era il raggiungimento del «cessate il fuoco», il TTP produceva una lista di rivendicazioni che includeva il ritiro delle forze militari dalle FATA (Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas), la liberazione di detenuti dalle carceri pachistane, il ritiro delle truppe militari statunitensi dall’Afghanistan e l’introduzione della legge islamica nel paese.

Gli attentati che si succedevano alla fine del gennaio del 2014 e nel febbraio successivo, inclusa l’esecuzione di 23 paramilitari prigionieri dei militanti dal 2010,inducevano il governo Sharif a lanciare un’azione militare nel Nord del Waziristan, che interrompeva temporaneamente le trattative in corso. A seguito dei bombardamenti, il TTP proclamava il «cessate il fuoco» per un mese a partire da marzo del 2014, aprendo alla possibilità della ripresa dei negoziati.

Tuttavia le violenze continuavano, anche se, in diverse occasioni, lo stesso TTP ne prendeva le distanze, a dimostrazione dell’assenza di compattezza tra le fila dei militanti, elemento, questo, che non facilitava i colloqui di pace.

Nell’aprile del 2014, il JUI-F (Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam Fazl), partito conservatore fondato su principi religiosi, decideva di ritirare il proprio sostegno all’amministrazione Sharif. Il portavoce del movimento politico dichiarava che la decisione seguiva l’assenza di consultazioni e di coordinamento interno alla coalizione di governo in merito all’adozione di decisioni concernenti il dialogo con il TTP, criticando in particolare l’adozione della Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO). La PPO è una normativa controversa, approvata nel 2013 dal presidente della Repubblica Islamica del Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, con un decreto che definisce nemico dello stato chiunque attenti alla pace del paese. In sostanza, essa ha introdotto una sorta di principio di «occhio per occhio» che autorizza l’uso della forza pubblica in maniera proporzionata alle violazioni commesse, consentendo alle forze di sicurezza di esercitare un potere di polizia discrezionale e l’uso di metodi di contro-terrorismo non convenzionali. La PPO era convalidata dall’assemblea nazionale il 7 aprile del 2014 ed approvata in via definitiva, sempre dal parlamento, nel luglio successivo, con il nome di Pakistan Protection Act. Questo nonostante la forte opposizione del PTI, del PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), della JI (Jamaat-e-Islami) e dell’MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), che lo definivano incostituzionale ed in aperta violazione dei diritti umani[2].

Il 23 maggio del 2014, pochi giorni prima della visita ufficiale di Sharif a Delhi, in occasione della cerimonia d’insediamento del nuovo premier indiano, il governo pachistano assecondava nuovamente le pressioni dei militari e autorizzava un secondo attacco contro alcuni campi di addestramento dei miliziani nei pressi di Miranshah, capoluogo del Waziristan del nord, nelle FATA.

  1. L’operazione Zarb-e-Azb

L’attacco ad uno dei terminal dell’aeroporto di Karachi, compiuto da un commando dei talibani pachistani il 9 giugno del 2014, nel quale morivano 38 persone, era il prodromo dell’avvio di una operazione militare lanciata alla metà del mese nel Waziristan settentrionale e condotta dall’aviazione e dalle truppe di terra con il sostegno dei droni americani.

Il Waziristan del nord è un distretto delle FATA (i distretti delle aree tribali del Pakistan prendono il nome di agencies) nel quale, dopo l’attacco terroristico a New York dell’11 settembre del 2001, si sono insediati molti dei talibani in fuga dal confinante Afghanistan. Negli anni a seguire, il Waziristan del nord è divenuto la roccaforte di molti gruppi armati, tra i quali il TTP, formatosi nel dicembre del 2007[3]. Dal 2002, le aree di frontiera con l’Afghanistan sono state teatro di diverse operazioni militari pachistane, che si sono succedute con fortune alterne nell’intento di sradicarvi la militanza islamista. Proprio nel 2002, per la prima volta dal raggiungimento dall’indipendenza del Pakistan, l’esercito intervenne nelle FATA lanciando l’operazione Al-Meezan[4], che vide lo spiegamento di truppe nella valle di Tirah, nella Khyber agency, e a Parachinar, nell’agency di Kurram, per contenere l’entrata di talibani in fuga dall’Afghanistan. Due anni dopo, nel marzo del 2004, l’operazione Kalusha fu condotta nel Waziristan meridionale[5]. Nel 2009 fu la volta dell’operazione Rah e Rast, che interessò la valle dello Swat[6]. I governi succedutisi ad Islamabad avevano evitato di intervenire in forze nel Waziristan settentrionale, resistendo alle continue pressioni esercitate dagli americani e dai propri militari, anche a costo di esacerbare le frizioni con gli alleati d’oltreoceano e le forze armate. Il pericolo più grave, infatti, era determinato dal timore che un intervento potesse innescare una rappresaglia da parte del TTP il quale, alla luce degli audaci attacchi degli ultimi anni, aveva dimostrato sorprendenti capacità organizzative[7].

Nell’agosto 2014, però, il governo di Nawaz Sharif doveva piegarsi alle pressioni dell’esercito, alimentate dalle violenze culminate con i gravi avvenimenti di Karachi, e ne autorizzava l’intervento nel Waziristan del nord. Infatti, oltre al tentativo di contenere gli estremismi nel paese, la campagna militare era anche mirata a mettere in sicurezza l’area di confine con l’Afghanistan prima del ritiro delle truppe della NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) entro la fine del 2014[8].

L’operazione, denominata Zarb-e-Azb, per la quale erano dispiegati oltre 30.000 militari, iniziava con i bombardamenti dell’aviazione pachistana, seguiti, dopo circa due settimane dall’inizio dell’offensiva, da interventi di terra concentrati nell’area di Miramshah. Le fonti ufficiali dell’esercito riferivano di una vittoria schiacciante sui miliziani, che, dopo alcune settimane, contavano circa un migliaio di caduti contro le ben più esigue, ma non meglio precisate, perdite tra i militari. Tra i primi caduti, a detta delle poche fonti alle quali era consentito seguire l’intervento, c’era lo stesso comandante uzbeco Abu Abdul Rehman al-Maani, l’ideatore del piano messo in atto la settimana precedente all’aeroporto di Karachi. Tuttavia, la chiusura dell’area alla stampa alimentava i dubbi sul reale impatto della campagna, che, progressivamente, si estendeva anche a zone adiacenti Miramshah e si protraeva per il resto del periodo in esame. In effetti, secondo alcune fonti, i miliziani sarebbero riusciti a lasciare il capoluogo del Waziristan del nord prima dell’inizio dei bombardamenti, confondendosi con i molti sfollati[9].

Effettivamente, il piano dell’operazione sembrava non aver considerato le conseguenze dell’inevitabile crisi umanitaria che sarebbe stata innescata dai combattimenti. Circa 800.000 profughi si spostavano dal Waziristan del nord verso Bannu, principale centro urbano situato nell’omonimo distretto della provincia del Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, dove, però, non trovavano strutture in grado di accoglierli. Le autorità non consentivano il libero movimento agli sfollati, e un ingente numero di questi, circa 70.000, preferiva raggiungere le vicine province afgane dove, a detta loro, ricevevano un’accoglienza migliore che nel proprio paese[10].

Secondo le stime di alcune analisi indipendenti, il numero degli attacchi dei militanti, così come quello delle vittime, si era ridotto di circa il 30% dall’inizio della campagna Zarb-e-Azb[11]. Tuttavia, anche ad operazione militare in corso, il TTP organizzava alcuni assalti di alto profilo, come quelli del settembre 2014 ad una base navale di Karachi e ad un convoglio di paramilitari a Peshawar.

I timori delle ritorsioni dei militanti per la campagna militare nel Waziristan del nord si dimostravano fondati quando, il 16 dicembre del 2014, un commando composto da 9 membri del TTP, con indosso le divise dei paramilitari dei Frontier Corps, si introduceva in una scuola di Peshawar, la Warsak Road, facente parte del sistema di strutture scolastiche gestite dall’esercito pakistano e nella quale studiano centinaia di figli di militari. Il gruppo di fuoco uccideva indiscriminatamente 149 persone, tra le quali 132 studenti di età compresa tra gli 8 ed i 18 anni, e solo l’intervento dei corpi scelti dell’esercito pachistano bloccava il massacro portando in salvo quasi mille persone. Rivendicando la responsabilità dell’efferato attacco, il portavoce del TTP spiegava che si era trattato di una rappresaglia innescata dall’operazione Zarb-e-Azb. Le istituzioni pachistane, la maggioranza dei governi esteri e molte delle organizzazioni internazionali multilaterali esprimevano unanimemente il proprio sdegno per l’accaduto. La società civile pachistana condannava l’evento e chiedeva una presa di posizione decisa contro i militanti da parte del governo. L’orrore suscitato dall’evento risultava nell’abolizione, da parte dell’amministrazione di Sharif, della moratoria sulla pena di morte per i reati di terrorismo, in vigore in Pakistan dal 2008, decisione che, a sua volta, sollevava molte critiche. In seguito al massacro di Peshawar erano intensificati i bombardamenti condotti tanto dagli aerei pachistani, quanto dai droni radiocomandati nelle aree di frontiera con l’Afghanistan, ed erano potenziate anche le operazioni militari di terra in atto nella Khyber Agency e nella valle di Tirah, in una specie di caccia all’uomo. Sharif, che fino a pochi mesi prima era stato un fautore del dialogo con i militanti, adesso prometteva cambiamenti sostanziali nella lotta al terrorismo. Il premier annunciava la formazione di una nuova forza paramilitare specificamente addestrata a contrastare questo genere di crimini. Per snellire i procedimenti giudiziari, Sharif rivelava anche l’intenzione di formare nuove corti militari che si occupassero specificamente dei casi di terrorismo. Infatti, secondo il sistema vigente, e tranne i casi di attacchi alle forze armate, i crimini di natura terroristica sono competenza del sistema giudiziario civile, caratterizzato da tempi lunghi e ritardi[12].

  1. Le accuse a Musharraf

In seguito alle vicissitudini giudiziarie che lo avevano interessato nel 2013, l’ex presidente della Repubblica Islamica del Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, rischiava la pena capitale o il carcere a vita, per alto tradimento, come sancito dall’articolo 6 della costituzione[13].

Dal momento della citazione in giudizio e dopo la revoca degli arresti domiciliari, l’ex generale aveva addotto motivi di salute e di sicurezza personale che gli avrebbero impedito di partecipare alle udienze, anche se le sue richieste di sottoporsi a cure mediche all’estero non erano accolte dai giudici giacché gli era negato l’espatrio[14].

Alla fine di marzo del 2014, una corte speciale dava lettura dei capi d’imputazione per i reati contestati a Pervez Musharraf in merito alla dichiarazione dello stato di emergenza del 3 novembre del 2007 ed al conseguente sovvertimento delle norme costituzionali.

Le accuse mosse a suo carico erano fondate, oltre che sulle norme del citato articolo 6 della costituzione, sull’High Treason (Punishment) Act del 1973. A Musharraf era contestato di aver emanato, sempre il 3 novembre del 2007, il Provisional Constitution Order No.1 in qualità di comandante in capo delle forze armate. Questa normativa aveva conferito al presidente della Repubblica Islamica del Pakistan l’autorità di emendare la costituzione e di sospendere i diritti fondamentali[15]. Lo stesso giorno, Musharraf aveva emesso l’Oath of Office (Judges) Order, 2007, che obbligava i magistrati a prestare giuramento di fedeltà alle disposizioni del Proclamation of Emergency Act e all’ordine costituzionale provvisorio in forza da quel momento. In seguito, il 20 novembre successivo, l’allora presidente del Pakistan aveva emesso il Constitution (Amendment) Order, 2007, seguito dal Constitution (Second Amendment) Order 6, 2007, anch’esso considerato illegale in quanto attribuiva alla corte suprema la possibilità di disporre il trasferimento di sede dei casi giudiziari, modificava le prerogative giurisdizionali dell’alta corte e riaffermava, convalidandola, la validità delle nuove disposizioni costituzionali. La corte specificava anche che si trattava di atti criminali riconducibili al solo presidente, giacché non erano stati convalidati dal parlamento.

Al dicembre del 2014, il processo a Pervez Musharraf non si era ancora concluso.

  1. Gli attriti tra governo e militari

La formalizzazione delle accuse a carico di Pervez Musharraf era forse l’esempio più tangibile delle tensioni esistenti tra il potere esecutivo ed i militari. Questi hanno governato il Pakistan per oltre la metà della storia del paese e, quando non al governo, hanno svolto un ruolo di primo piano nella definizione delle politiche delle amministrazioni elette. Negli ultimi anni gli equilibri sono mutati e, dal 2007, altre istituzioni – la magistratura, il governo, il parlamento – e, in misura inferiore, la società civile, in particolare la stampa, hanno progressivamente fatto valere la propria indipendenza sulle questioni di dominio pubblico[16]. Le forze armate, preoccupate che il processo all’ex generale rappresentasse un precedente in grado di affermare la supremazia della magistratura e del governo sullo stato maggiore militare, tentavano di assicurare a Musharraf – senza riuscirci – la possibilità di rifugiarsi all’estero[17].

Anche i negoziati in atto con i militanti del TTP erano un motivo di attrito tra i militari ed il governo, giacché i generali si lamentavano dell’arbitrarietà delle decisioni prese dall’amministrazione di Sharif[18]. Persino la visita di Nawaz Sharif a Delhi nel maggio del 2014, in occasione del giuramento del nuovo premier indiano Narendra Modi, era percepita dai media come una decisione audace del primo ministro pachistano e antitetica al volere dei militari.

Nel periodo in esame, i media in Pakistan subivano pesanti intimidazioni. In particolare, tre giornalisti dell’«Express Tribune» erano uccisi nel gennaio del 2014 dai militanti e, nell’aprile successivo, Hamid Mir, un noto giornalista e conduttore di Geo News, un canale televisivo di proprietà del gruppo Jang che trasmette un popolare notiziario, era ferito in un attentato a Karachi, dopo averne scampato un altro l’anno precedente.

Nell’ultimo decennio, Geo TV ha dominato l’informazione televisiva, proponendo programmi di approfondimento giornalistico che, in taluni casi, hanno provocato reazioni dell’establishment militare. Questo è avvenuto, per esempio, in occasione di servizi che denunciavano l’inefficienza delle forze armate nel caso della cattura di Osama bin Laden, o l’interferenza dell’ISI (Inter Service Intelligence, il più potente dei servizi segreti militari) negli affari politici della nazione[19]. «Geo News» era già stata oscurata tra il 2007 ed il 2008, all’indomani della proclamazione dello stato di emergenza da parte di Musharraf[20]. Trasferitasi a Dubai, aveva subìto la stessa sorte anche negli Emirati Arabi Uniti, su richiesta del governo pachistano. Spostatasi su diverse frequenze satellitari, era stata nuovamente oscurata nel 2009 dopo che si era apertamente schierata a favore della protesta degli avvocati contro il governo[21].

Recentemente, Hamid Mir si era occupato dei desaparecidos del Belucistan e delle torture inflitte loro, così come ai loro sostenitori – secondo il giornalista – dai membri dell’ISI. Inoltre, Mir aveva anche criticato la solidarietà che l’establishment militare aveva dimostrato a Pervez Musharraf in occasione delle sue vicissitudini giudiziarie.

In seguito alle accuse mosse da Hamid Mir contro l’ISI, i militari chiedevano alla PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority), l’autorità preposta al controllo delle telecomunicazioni, di oscurare l’emittente televisiva. A «Geo TV» era dunque sospesa la licenza per 15 giorni ed imposta una multa di 10 milioni di rupie (quasi 100.000 dollari) in seguito ad un reclamo formale del ministero della Difesa.

Il Committee to Protect Journalists, un’organizzazione indipendente no-profit fondata nel 1981 che promuove la libertà di stampa a livello globale, accusava l’establishment militare di condurre una campagna contro l’emittente televisiva, accusata dai generali di perseguire un’agenda contraria agli interessi del paese[22].

Amnesty International esprimeva la propria preoccupazione in merito ai fatti e a proposito della concreta possibilità che l’ISI fosse impegnato in una campagna d’intimidazione ai danni dei media. Sulla scia del caso di Mir, la stampa dava spazio a decine di altre storie analoghe di rapimenti e uccisioni, fra cui il caso di Saleem Shahzad, redattore capo della filiale pachistana dell’«Asia Times Online», ucciso nel maggio del 2011, e quello dei presunti abusi commessi dalle forze di sicurezza ai danni dei separatisti del Belucistan[23].

Il breve tentativo di oscurare Geo Tv si scontrava con la dichiarazione d’illegalità del provvedimento da parte della PEMRA, avvallata dal governo di Sharif. Tuttavia, il gruppo Jang querelava per diffamazione l’ISI e chiedeva un risarcimento di 500 milioni di dollari ai servizi segreti, al ministero della Difesa ed alla stessa PEMRA[24].

La visita di Nawaz Sharif al giornalista ferito e le voci che il governo prestava fede alle accuse che questi aveva mosso contro l’ISI spostavano l’attenzione, e con essa le frizioni, ai rapporti tra l’amministrazione civile del Pakistan ed i militari, già polarizzati dal processo contro Musharraf. Le ripercussioni politiche non si facevano attendere. Imran Khan, leader del PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), prendeva le difese dei militari e accusava Geo TV di aver favorito la vittoria elettorale di Sharif nel 2013[25]. Hafiz Saeed, il leader del gruppo Lashkar-e-Taiba, riprendeva le dichiarazioni di Khan, così come facevano alcuni leader di movimenti confessionali, i quali accusavano il canale di blasfemia.

  1. L’opposizione a Nawaz Sharif

La schiacciante maggioranza che Nawaz Sharif aveva ottenuto alle elezioni del 2013 aveva prodotto ottimismo e creato aspettative circa la possibilità di risollevare il paese, in modo particolare la sua disastrata economia e la situazione della sicurezza interna[26]. Tuttavia, da allora, il governo Sharif aveva dovuto far fronte alla vivace opposizione tanto del PTI di Imran Khan, quanto di quella di Tahir-ul-Qadri, un pachistano naturalizzato canadese e fondatore, nel 1989, del movimento politico PAT (Pakistan Awami Tehrik).

In occasione delle celebrazioni per l’indipendenza del Pakistan, il 14 agosto del 2014, Imran Khan organizzava una marcia pubblica (l’azadi march o «marcia delle libertà») da Lahore a Islamabad per protestare contro le presunte frodi avvenute alle elezioni del maggio del 2013, con l’obiettivo di rovesciare il governo di Sharif e di rendere inevitabili nuove elezioni.

Qadri, con il sostegno di numerosi attivisti del PAT e della sua organizzazione non governativa d’ispirazione religiosa, la Minhaj-ul-Quran, fondata nel 1981 a Lahore, auspicava una rivoluzione in grado di sradicare la corruzione dal sistema democratico nazionale e l’instaurazione di un nuovo governo. Come già avvenuto nel gennaio del 2013, nel giugno del 2014 Qadri tornava in Pakistan per organizzare, come Imran Khan, una marcia su Islamabad, che si svolgeva il 14 agosto 2014[27]. Il suo rientro dal Canada era caratterizzato da un evidente nervosismo del governo, il quale ne dirottava il volo a Lahore per evitare che il leader del PAT incontrasse i suoi sostenitori ad Islamabad.

Secondo la maggioranza dei commentatori, Khan e Qadri avevano ben poche possibilità di riuscire nei propri intenti, né le irregolarità della tornata elettorale del 2013, così come accertate dagli osservatori, giustificavano le accuse mosse ai danni di Sharif. Tuttavia, tanto la data scelta per le manifestazioni, che coincideva con le celebrazioni della ricorrenza dell’indipendenza del paese, quanto la loro concomitanza con l’operazione Zarb-i-Azb, che, come ricordato, era accompagnata da un alto numero di sfollati, costituivano un elemento di preoccupazione per il governo[28]. Come previsto dall’articolo 245 della costituzione della Repubblica Islamica del Pakistan, che regola le funzioni delle forze armate, era dunque deciso di dispiegare l’esercito a protezione di Islamabad e, in forza dell’articolo 144 del codice di procedura penale, erano anche vietati gli assembramenti nella capitale[29].

Prima delle marce erano arrestati oltre 30 sostenitori del PAT, ed era anche spiccato un mandato di arresto ai danni dello stesso Tahir ul-Qadri in seguito alla morte di un poliziotto avvenuta durante gli scontri che si erano verificati in occasione di una protesta organizzata dal suo raggruppamento politico. Una sorte analoga era riservata anche a molti attivisti del PTI[30].

Le due marce si svolgevano in maniera pacifica nel tragitto tra Lahore ed Islamabad e, anche quando i dimostranti, raggiunta la capitale, varcavano le recinzioni della «zona rossa», delineata a protezione degli edifici istituzionali, non si registravano interventi degni di nota da parte delle forze dell’ordine. Tuttavia, le manifestazioni non radunavano le folle che i due leader avevano inizialmente auspicato. Infatti, secondo alcune stime, i partecipanti erano circa 50.000, con una predominanza dei sostenitori di Qadri, e non le centinaia di migliaia inizialmente annunciate[31]. A parte questo, le iniziative di Khan e Qadri, seppur facendo presa su una parte della popolazione pachistana, stanca degli insuccessi del governo di Sharif, non riuscivano ad avere l’appoggio dell’intellighenzia nazionale. Quest’ultima, infatti, percepiva le marce come mere mosse politiche, fatte in assenza di programmi ben definiti, anziché come un tentativo di apportare miglioramenti degni di nota al sistema democratico vigente nel paese.

Qadri rivelava il suo programma, consistente in un’agenda di 10 punti, che reclamava le dimissioni e l’arresto del premier, del fratello Shahbaz Sharif, governatore del Punjab, e dei ministri del governo; chiedeva anche lo scioglimento del parlamento e delle assemblee provinciali, la formazione di un gabinetto composto da non meglio identificati tecnocrati, nominati e non eletti, che avrebbe dovuto adottare una serie di riforme economiche[32].

Il PTI invocava una campagna di disobbedienza civile e di resistenza fiscale ed intimava a Sharif di dimettersi, minacciando di ritirare i propri 34 parlamentari,in modo da mettere a repentaglio il normale prosieguo del processo democratico del paese.

Il 30 agosto 2014, dopo che Khan e Qadri avevano annunciato, con fermezza, che le proteste sarebbero continuate indeterminatamente, finché Sharif non si fosse dimesso, s’innescava una guerriglia urbana tra polizia e dimostranti, che, in occasione del tentativo di avvicinarsi alla residenza del premier a Islamabad, produceva vittime e centinaia di feriti.

La reazione dell’esercito non si faceva attendere. Il capo delle forze armate, il generale Rasheel Sharif, che pochi giorni prima dei disordini aveva auspicato una soluzione politica alla crisi, tentava una mediazione tra le parti e, con un comunicato, i militari si dichiaravano «pronti a svolgere la propria parte per garantire la sicurezza dello stato». Questa era una formulazione che, data la storia del Pakistan, diffondeva il timore di un imminente colpo di stato[33]. Tuttavia, ben presto l’esercito prendeva le distanze dalle vicissitudini politiche, né interveniva per interrompere le proteste. I militari coglievano così l’opportunità, offerta dalle marce, di mettere in risalto la vulnerabilità del governo di Sharif. Il premier, infatti, doveva riconoscere il ruolo svolto dall’esercito in difesa delle istituzioni democratiche e della stabilità del paese, alludendo implicitamente alla propria incapacità di ottenere lo stesso risultato, e confermava, sempre indirettamente, l’influenza dell’establishment militare sull’amministrazione civile.

Nell’ottobre del 2014 le manifestazioni si estendevano anche a Lahore e Karachi e, progressivamente, perdevano intensità seppur mantenendo presidi in zone vitali della protesta.

  1. Relazioni tra Pakistan e India

Nawaz Sharif accettava l’invito di Narendra Modi e partecipava alla cerimonia d’insediamento del neoeletto premier indiano organizzata il 26 Maggio del 2014 a Delhi. I brevi colloqui bilaterali che ne seguivano si limitavano ad espressioni di intenti in materia di sicurezza e di scambi commerciali e preannunciavano successivi incontri di natura tecnica. La visita di Sharif in India era la prima di un leader pachistano dagli attacchi terroristici di Mumbai del 2008 ed era percepita dalla stampa nazionale come un tentativo di ammorbidire le relazioni diplomatiche dei due paesi[34].

L’incontro tra i due premier, seppur benaugurante, non era seguito da una fattuale distensione dei rapporti bilaterali. Al contrario, nel periodo in esame si registravano violazioni del «cessate il fuoco» lungo la LoC (Linea di Controllo: il confine di fatto tra i due paesi), che si intensificavano nell’ottobre del 2014.

Contrariamente a quanto deciso in occasione della visita di Sharif in India, alla metà di agosto del 2014 il governo di Delhi sospendeva i dialoghi previsti con la controparte pachistana a causa dell’incontro formale avvenuto tra l’ambasciatore del Pakistan, Abdul Basit, ed una delegazione dei leader separatisti del Kashmir composta dal Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, da Syed Ali Shah Geelani, da Yasin Malik e da Shabir Shah. Sebbene la questione del Kashmir non fosse all’ordine del giorno nei dialoghi tra India e Pakistan, non si trattava di un incontro inusuale ma, al contrario, di consultazioni fino a quel momento tollerate dai governi di Delhi[35].

  1. Economia

Il 21 giugno del 2014, la camera bassa del parlamento pachistano approvava la legge finanziaria per l’anno fiscale luglio 2014 – giugno 2015.

Come quello dell’anno precedente, anche il nuovo bilancio mirava a stabilizzare l’economia nazionale, così come richiesto dalle condizioni imposte dall’FMI (Fondo Monetario Internazionale) all’esborso del prestito di oltre sei miliardi e mezzo di dollari concordato nel settembre del 2013[36]. Il nuovo schema finanziario si sovrapponeva a quello del 2008 per il quale, nel 2013, il Pakistan aveva già restituito 3,4 miliardi di dollari e ne avrebbe dovuto restituire altri due nel 2014-2015[37].

Come i precedenti bilanci, anche quello del 2014 allocava un’alta percentuale delle risorse disponibili, il 33%, al risarcimento dei debiti[38]. Gli stanziamenti per la difesa aumentavano di oltre l’11% rispetto all’anno precedente (6,8 miliardi di dollari), cifra che portava l’ammontare delle spese militari a circa il 20% del totale e a quasi il 3,5% del prodotto interno lordo.

Tra i tagli alla spesa introdotti dalla legge fiscale, quelli concernenti i sussidi al settore energetico e agricolo erano degni di nota perché, a causa della loro esiguità, dimostravano la difficoltà di apportare riduzioni significative all’intervento statale in settori chiave dell’economia del paese.

La scarsità energetica costituiva un problema concreto per Sharif, la cui promessa di soluzione era stata uno dei cavalli di battaglia della sua campagna elettorale nel 2013; ma l’incapacità di mantenere l’impegno preso era, adesso, sotto gli occhi di tutti. La costruzione di nuovi impianti di produzione energetica, inclusa quella solare, non sopperiva alla mancanza di un sistema razionalizzato dei costi al consumo dell’energia elettrica. Infatti, era noto che il suo prezzo, troppo basso, non bilanciava quelli di produzione e che questo era uno dei motivi principali dell’assenza di profitto settoriale e delle continue interruzioni dell’erogazione del servizio. Sharif decideva di non aumentare le tariffe, ignorando i consigli della NEPRA (National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, l’ente preposto alla regolamentazione dell’energia elettrica). L’assenza di progressi concreti nel settore energetico metteva a rischio il prestito dell’FMI: infatti, l’incremento delle tariffe e la diminuzione dei sussidi statali erano condizioni poste all’esborso delle varie tranchesdell’EFF (Extended Fund Facility), accordato nel settembre del 2013.

In 2014, tensions mounted between the government of Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment across multiple issues.

Pervez Musharraf, former general and president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, arrested in 2013 and facing charges of high treason, was indicted in the period under review. The army came to Musharraf’s rescue by trying to persuade the civil government to allow his exile out of Pakistan for health-related reasons. Yet, the government and the judges firmly resisted the pressure by the army.

Another element of tension between the government and the army was the former’s decision to try to negotiate with the Islamist militants of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Ceasefire initiatives were repeatedly sought by the civilian administration but violence failed to be halted. The army was determined – and ultimately succeeded in obtaining the green light from the government – to launch a major military operation against the militant’ hideouts in North Waziristan, a bordering area with Afghanistan, needing to be secured before NATO combat troops left the neighbouring country.

The assassination attempt in Karachi on Mr Hamid Mir, Pakistan’s leading television talk-show host, opened another field of confrontation between the military establishment and the civilian government. Mir’s accusations that the main military intelligence service, the ISI, was responsible for the attack triggered a national debate about the army’s attempts to suffocate dissenting voices. Once Prime Minister Sharif allegedly backed Mr Mir, the media-army tension turned rapidly into tension between the government and the army.

Also the in-country political tensions between the government and the opposition parties, in particular the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PTA) – plus the popular demonstrations organized by both the PTI and PTA against Sharif’s administration, turned into an opportunity for the armed forces to stress the Prime Minister’s difficulty in asserting his authority.

Tensions mounted between Pakistan and India. Exchanges of fire along the Line of Control, the de facto heavily guarded frontier between Pakistan and India, left more than 20 people dead, in the most serious violation since the 2003 cease-fire agreement.


Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 2014: la continuazione del regime autoritario e la crescente insoddisfazione popolare

  1. Introduzione

Lo Sri Lanka ha visto, durante il 2014, il perdurare delle dinamiche che hanno caratterizzato lo scenario politico e sociale del paese dalla fine al conflitto civile, nel 2009. In particolare, il supremo potere politico ha continuato ad essere esercitato dal presidente Mahinda Rajapaksa (il cui vero nome è Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa). Eletto presidente per una prima volta nel novembre 2005 e rieletto per la seconda volta consecutiva nel gennaio 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa ha continuato a guidare il governo della United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), dotato di un’ampissima maggioranza parlamentare. A sua volta, questa maggioranza parlamentare era espressione della popolazione sinhala, ovvero l’etnia di maggioranza nello Sri Lanka, grata al presidente per avere condotto il paese fuori dalla guerra civile, tramite l’annientamento delle Tigri Tamil (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE),

Tuttavia, nel corso di questi nove anni, si è assistito, da un lato, all’instaurazione di un clima politico repressivo e autoritario, dall’altro all’incapacità dell’amministrazione singalese di attuare politiche in grado di riconciliare i vari gruppi etnici presenti nell’isola. Il presidente Rajapaksa, infatti, è riuscito a concentrare vasti poteri su di sé e sulla propria cerchia famigliare, piegando alla sua volontà l’autorità giudiziaria ed modificando la costituzione tramite l’emanazione del 18° emendamento. Quest’ultimo, la cui legalità è stata duramente contestata, ha permesso a Rajapaksa di attribuire alla figura del presidente nuovi poteri e di abrogare il limite di due mandati, rendendo così possibile la sua rielezione. Nel corso del 2014, si è assistito, pertanto, all’attuazione di politiche volte ad accrescere il livello di militarizzazione dell’apparato statale e a soffocare le espressioni della società civile. Tale tendenza è stata inoltre legittimata in una certa misura dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil, paventata durante la prima metà dell’anno.

Nonostante che il presidente avesse in passato governato con pugno di ferro, durante il 2014, per la prima volta, sono emersi alcuni segnali di debolezza. Il primo è relativo alla decisa pressione che la comunità internazionale, principalmente tramite le risoluzioni emanate dall’UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council), ha esercitato nei confronti del presidente. Il secondo è il dato proveniente dalle elezioni provinciali di marzo e di settembre, caratterizzate da un’inedita erosione dei consensi per la coalizione dell’UPFA.

Nel primo caso, le sanzioni dell’UNHCR dimostravano l’insofferenza dei paesi occidentali nei confronti delle politiche del governo singalese sia sul fronte interno che su quello esterno. L’intensificazione delle relazioni economiche e diplomatiche tra Colombo e Pechino ha infatti suscitato non poche apprensioni in seno all’amministrazione statunitense, principale promotrice delle risoluzioni dell’UNHRC.

Nel secondo caso, sul versante domestico, il calo dei voti ha persuaso il presidente Rajapaksa a indire in anticipo le elezioni presidenziali, fissando la data del voto al gennaio 2015, nella speranza di ottenere un nuovo mandato, prima di perdere ulteriori consensi tra l’elettorato. La decisione di anticipare le elezioni è stata accompagnata dall’apertura di alcune crepe nella coalizione di governo, che hanno portato alla defezione di tre ministri. Particolarmente importante è stata la diserzione di Maithripala Sirisena, ministro della Salute, passato nei ranghi dell’opposizione per candidarsi come presidente alle elezioni del gennaio seguente. La sua candidatura, infatti, è stata in grado di compattare i partiti di opposizione in un fronte comune che, ipoteticamente, potrebbe essere in grado di impedire la rielezione di Rajapaksa.

Se l’aprirsi di un’opposizione interna all’UPFA e l’erosione dei consensi tra la popolazione non si sono risolti in una vera e propria crisi di governo, gli avvenimenti appena descritti hanno comunque fatto emergere alcune fragilità che, solamente l’anno precedente, sembravano lungi dal potere sfiorare la monolitica coalizione di governo. L’insoddisfazione verso l’amministrazione Rajapaksa, già diffusa tra i cittadini tamil e tra le classi medie urbane, esponenti della società civile singalese, pare si sia allargata alla popolazione rurale oltre che all’interno della stessa coalizione di governo. Solamente le elezioni del gennaio 2015 saranno però in grado di decretare se l’egemonia della famiglia Rajapaksa sulla nazione sia giunta al crepuscolo o se l’avere condotto il paese fuori dal conflitto civile possa garantire al presidente l’imperituro appoggio della popolazione sinhala.

  1. L’istituzione della commissione di inchiesta dell’UNHRC

Il 27 marzo 2014, a Ginevra, l’UNHRC ha decretato l’istituzione di una commissione di inchiesta internazionale deputata ad indagare sui presunti crimini di guerra e sulle violazioni dei diritti umani commessi dalle forze armate singalesi e dalle Tigri Tamil durante le ultime brutali fasi del conflitto civile che ha afflitto lo Sri Lanka per 26 anni, dal 1983 al 2009.[1] L’adozione di tale risoluzione è stato un evento simbolicamente molto significativo, sebbene il governo singalese, lungi dall’assecondare le istanze dell’organismo internazionale, abbia respinto con sdegno l’ipotesi di un intervento esterno.

A cinque anni dalla fine della guerra civile, conclusasi con l’annientamento delle LTTE e con la completa vittoria del governo centrale, lo Sri Lanka non è stato in grado di portare giustizia alle vittime del conflitto. Al contrario, esso ha assicurato la totale impunità ai responsabili degli abusi commessi, non riuscendo a mettere in pratica neppure i limitati suggerimenti della commissione di inchiesta filo-governativa, la Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), istituita nel 2010. La scarsa volontà dimostrata dalle autorità dello Sri Lanka nel perseguire la giustizia e nell’addivenire ad un serio processo di riconciliazione nazionale ha quindi spinto l’UNHRC ad emanare una serie di risoluzioni, nel 2009, nel 2012 e nel 2013, il cui scopo era quello di incoraggiare il governo singalese a impegnarsi in tal senso. Il contenuto delle precedenti risoluzioni concerneva però anche un’altra questione, ossia la preoccupante situazione della tutela dei diritti umani. La sistematica violazione dei diritti umani da parte delle autorità singalesi sotto l’amministrazione Rajapaksa, infatti, era tale da suscitare l’apprensione di ampi settori della comunità internazionale. Le sollecitazioni del Consiglio sono però state costantemente rigettate dal governo dell’isola, spingendo in tal modo l’UNHRC ad adottare la risoluzione del 27 marzo, proposta dagli Stati Uniti ed approvata grazie al voto favorevole di 23 paesi. Tra i 12 paesi contrari alla decisione si sono schierati, tra gli altri, la Cina, le cui relazioni con Colombo sono divenute negli ultimi anni estremamente amichevoli, e il Pakistan; tra gli stati che si sono astenuti dal voto, vale la pena di annoverare il Giappone e l’India. L’astensione di quest’ultima, che aveva invece votato a favore delle precedenti risoluzioni, era ufficialmente dettata dal fatto che l’UNHRC non avesse tenuto in debita considerazione i progressi fatti dal governo singalese in direzione di una riconciliazione nazionale e dal timore che l’istituzione di una commissione di inchiesta internazionale potesse ostacolare tali «ragguardevoli sviluppi».[2] Nel settembre 2013 infatti, per la prima volta nella storia dello Sri Lanka, erano state indette le elezioni per la formazione del Provincial Council della provincia Settentrionale, popolata prevalentemente dall’etnia tamil. Nonostante ciò, il risultato delle elezioni, che avevano visto la vittoria del partito d’opposizione, la Tamil National Alliance (TNA), era stato appannato da una serie di circostanze che attenuavano ampiamente la portata storica e politica di tale evento.[3] In realtà, pare più probabile che l’astensione dal voto dell’India riflettesse in larga misura il desiderio di Delhi di non danneggiare le relazioni con il governo singalese, evitando di spingerlo ad avvicinarsi ulteriormente all’orbita cinese. Di conseguenza, pur non negando la necessità di un’inchiesta indipendente e credibile sui crimini di guerra, l’India ha deciso di non sostenere «l’approccio controproduttivo e tale da minare la sovranità nazionale [dello Sri Lanka]», quale era considerato quello proposto dall’UNHRC.[4]

La reazione dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa di fronte alla decisione del Consiglio è stata ostile e indignata come, del resto, lo era stata in occasione delle precedenti e meno decisive risoluzioni. Il ministro degli Esteri, G. L Peiris, spiegando la contrarietà dello Sri Lanka riguardo alla risoluzione dell’UNHRC, ha infatti affermato che il governo singalese non avrebbe cooperato con le indagini. La legittimità dell’inchiesta internazionale veniva confutata dalle autorità singalesi, che la giudicavano come una violazione della sovranità nazionale del paese. Lo Sri Lanka non soltanto si è rifiutato di collaborare con la commissione investigativa, ma ha in seguito deciso di boicottarne l’opera, negando la concessione del visto di entrata ai membri della squadra investigativa internazionale.[5] Nella visione del presidente Rajapaksa, la pressione internazionale a cui il governo dell’isola è stato sottoposto era nociva, perché contribuiva a polarizzare le spaccature etniche del paese, e ingiustificata, dal momento che gli sforzi fatti in direzione della riconciliazione nazionale e della pace erano stati notevoli. Tale punto di vista si basava soprattutto sul fatto che il governo avesse effettuato massicci investimenti nell’area settentrionale dello Sri Lanka, i quali hanno in effetti permesso la ricostruzione delle infrastrutture e il ripristino dei trasporti, nonché l’espansione dei servizi bancari, portando ad una rapida crescita della depressa economia della provincia del Nord (cresciuta nel 2012 del 25%).[6] A dispetto di tali progressi, la provincia Settentrionale non solo ha continuato ad essere una delle più economicamente arretrate dello Sri Lanka, contribuendo soltanto al 4% del Prodotto Interno Lordo (PIL), ma, una volta cessate le ostilità, ha visto permanere sul proprio territorio un ingente dispiegamento delle forze armate, circostanza che ha ostacolato il consolidamento democratico e il rifiorire dell’economia all’interno dell’area.

La pressione esercitata dall’UNHRC sullo Sri Lanka era interpretata dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa come parte di una cospirazione messa in atto dai paesi occidentali per destabilizzare il governo nazionale. Durante la campagna elettorale per le elezioni dei consigli provinciali, il presidente Rajapaksa ha infatti colto l’occasione per screditare l’opposizione interna, asserendo che la diaspora tamil stesse premendo sulla comunità internazionale al fine di rovesciare il governo, con l’appoggio dei partiti d’opposizione nazionali.[7] In una certa misura, tale tesi trovava effettivamente riscontro nella realtà. L’onnipotenza del presidente Rajapaksa e del suo gabinetto ha reso pressoché impossibile per i partiti d’opposizione competere per il potere o, quanto meno, influenzare le decisioni dei vertici politici. L’appoggio della comunità internazionale, di conseguenza, è risultato un utile mezzo nelle mani delle opposizioni per cercare di controbilanciare il potere di Rajapaksa.

Se l’efficacia della risoluzione adottata dall’UNHRC sul processo di riconciliazione nazionale dello Sri Lanka rimane incerta, ciò che invece appare chiaro è il fatto che il governo singalese non è disposto ad impegnarsi seriamente verso questo obiettivo. Il paese è infatti rimasto spaccato in due, dal punto di vista sia geografico che etnico. La conclusione del conflitto civile ha visto emergere il trionfalismo del gruppo di maggioranza sinhala, prevalente nell’area centro-meridionale dell’isola, mentre tra la popolazione tamil, residente principalmente nella zona nord-orientale, è prevalso un sentimento di sconfitta e di impotenza. Il risultato di questa spaccatura è stato il consolidamento di due visioni contrapposte e ostili della realtà politica dell’isola: la prima teme il ritorno di un nuovo imperialismo occidentale in Sri Lanka, tramite l’intervento dell’UNHRC; la seconda paventa invece una forma di neo-colonialismo sinhala a danno dell’etnia tamil.[8] Sta di fatto che il timore di ripercussioni economiche, quali un calo degli investimenti esteri e degli scambi commerciali, o addirittura l’imposizione di vere e proprie sanzioni finanziarie, potrebbe indurre il governo a cambiare le proprie posizioni sulla questione dei crimini commessi durante la guerra civile. Un primo segnale in tal senso è pervenuto il 19 agosto 2014, quando il presidente ha annunciato la nomina di due personalità internazionali a consiglieri della Presidential Commission Investigating Cases of Missing Persons, ossia la commissione istituita da Rajapaksa nell’agosto dell’anno precedente per indagare sui circa 20.000 casi di uomini e donne scomparsi durante la guerra. I due consiglieri, l’attivista indiano Avdhash Kaushal e il giurista pachistano Ahmer B. Soofi, si sono uniti ad altri tre esperti – due inglesi e un americano –, completando il comitato consultivo deputato ad assistere la commissione presidenziale. La mossa del presidente Rajapaksa, giunta a circa due mesi di distanza dalla designazione dei membri della commissione investigativa dell’UNHRC, è quindi parsa una reazione diretta alla pressione esercitata dalla comunità internazionale. Inoltre, nel luglio dello stesso anno, il mandato della commissione presidenziale è stato ampliato, venendo a comprendere anche la possibilità di indagare sui crimini compiuti durante la guerra civile.[9] Se questi sviluppi sono certamente apparsi incoraggianti, occorre comunque del tempo per appurarne l’effettiva portata. Il fatto che la commissione non abbia carattere indipendente, bensì faccia capo al presidente Rajapaksa, ha lascito molti dubbi sulla sua concreta efficacia, soprattutto se si tiene conto degli scarsi risultati ottenuti dalla precedente commissione filo-governativa deputata ad investigare sui crimini di guerra: la Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

  1. 3. L’allarme suscitato dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil

Nello stesso periodo in cui, presso l’UNHRC, si dibatteva il caso riguardante lo Sri Lanka, nell’isola asiatica si è assistito ad un crescente allarmismo, causato dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle LTTE. L’ipotesi secondo cui le Tigri Tamil stessero pianificando una ripresa delle attività sovversive ha preso forma il 13 marzo 2014, quando nel distretto di Kilinochchi si è verificata una sparatoria tra la polizia e un uomo identificato come l’ex guerrigliero tamil Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepa, alias Gobi. Il conflitto a fuoco si è concluso con il ferimento di un poliziotto appartenente alla Terrorism Investigation Division. L’avvenimento, che è parso confermare i precedenti timori delle forze dell’ordine riguardo ad un eventuale riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil, ha provocato una decisa reazione da parte delle autorità singalesi, le quali hanno mobilitato massicci contingenti militari e di polizia per catturare il sospetto.[10] La provincia Settentrionale, già fortemente militarizzata, ha così visto sul proprio territorio un ulteriore dispiegamento delle forze armate. Grazie ad un’operazione militare che pare abbia coinvolto centinaia di soldati, l’11 aprile l’esercito è riuscito a scovare il presunto terrorista. L’intervento delle forze armate si è concluso con l’uccisione di Gopi e di altri due uomini, identificati anch’essi come ex combattenti delle LTTE, ossia Sundaralingam Kajeepan, alias Thevihane, e Navaratnam Navaneethan, alias Appan. L’episodio ha rappresentato il primo conflitto a fuoco tra esercito e ribelli tamil dalla conclusione della guerra civile. Secondo il ministero della Difesa, Gopi sarebbe stato il promotore di un movimento, con base nell’area di Pallai, nella penisola di Jaffna, mirato a fare risorgere le LTTE con la complicità di alcuni gruppi della diaspora tamil. Il gruppo di sediziosi locali sarebbe infatti stato guidato da due leader delle LTTE basati in Europa.[11]

L’inasprimento delle misure di sicurezza messo in atto dal governo singalese ha condotto le forze dell’ordine ad effettuare una serie di arresti, invero abusando del draconiano Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Nel corso del 2014, infatti, sono stati oltre 80 gli arresti effettuati sotto la giurisdizione della legge anti terrorismo, a partire da quello di Balendra Jeyakumari e della figlia tredicenne Vidushika, accusate di avere dato riparo a Gobi.[12] L’arresto delle due donne non ha mancato di suscitare proteste, dal momento che Balendra e Vidushika Jeyakumari erano soprattutto note per il loro impegno civile, rivolto a fare luce sui casi di scomparsa avvenuti durante il conflitto. Pochi giorni dopo il fermo di Balendra Jeyakumari e della figlia, la polizia ha proceduto ad arrestare altri due sospetti, ossia un attivista per i diritti civili, Ruki Fernando, e il prete cattolico Padre Praveen. Questi ultimi però sono stati rilasciati in breve tempo, in seguito alla pressione esercitata dai gruppi internazionali di tutela dei diritti umani.[13] Le severe misure di sicurezza adottate dal regime Rajapaksa per sventare un’eventuale riorganizzazione delle LTTE hanno incluso anche la messa al bando di 16 organizzazioni e di 424 membri della diaspora tamil. Questi ultimi sono stati classificati come sostenitori del terrorismo dal governo singalese, il quale, di conseguenza, ha proceduto al congelamento dei loro beni. Tale provvedimento era d’altronde conforme alla risoluzione 1373 delle Nazioni Unite in materia di terrorismo internazionale, il cui contenuto impone ai governi nazionali di congelare i beni di «coloro che commettono o tentano di commettere atti terroristici».[14]

L’allarme scaturito dall’ipotetica rinascita delle Tigri Tamil è emerso con una tempistica quanto meno sospetta. La questione si è infatti presentata proprio a ridosso del dibattito dell’UNHRC sullo Sri Lanka, il quale si trovava sotto osservazione non solo a causa dei crimini di guerra rimasti impuniti, ma anche per il clima repressivo e la costante violazione dei diritti umani di cui si era responsabile il governo dell’isola. Il pericolo rappresentato da un’eventuale riorganizzazione delle LTTE contribuiva infatti, da un lato, a legittimare l’atteggiamento oppressivo dell’amministrazione singalese e, dall’altro, a fornire un valido pretesto per intensificare l’utilizzo di misure repressive. Nel primo caso, le esigenze di sicurezza nazionale hanno fornito al regime Rajapaksa una giustificazione non soltanto per posticipare ulteriormente l’attesa riduzione delle truppe stanziate nell’area nord-orientale dell’isola, ma persino per incrementare la presenza dell’esercito nella regione. Nel secondo caso, i provvedimenti adottati dalle autorità per fare fronte alla supposta minaccia derivante dalla ricostituzione delle Tigri Tamil hanno contribuito a compromettere maggiormente la già fragile situazione della democrazia singalese. A destare particolare allarme, oltre allo spregiudicato utilizzo del PTA, erano soprattutto le possibili conseguenze della messa al bando, come terroristi, dei sopra citati membri della diaspora tamil. Tra le organizzazioni classificate come «terroriste» si trovavano, tra le altre, il British Tamil Forum, il Canadian Tamil Congress, il Global Tamil Forum e l’Australian Tamil Congress, ossia gruppi che, nei rispettivi paesi di adozione, non solo erano legalmente registrati, ma godevano anche di fiducia e prestigio. Se fino al 2009 larga parte delle organizzazioni della diaspora tamil avevano effettivamente sostenuto in modo attivo le LTTE, dopo la conclusione del conflitto civile il loro impegno si era principalmente rivolto alle questioni concernenti i crimini di guerra e la violazione dei diritti umani nello Sri Lanka, tramite la raccolta di testimonianze e la segnalazione di abusi. Le misure repressive adottate dal governo Rajapaksa contro i membri di tali organizzazioni non apparivano giustificate da nessuna evidenza concreta. In effetti, esse parevano principalmente mirate da un lato a colpire e a isolare gli attivisti e i politici tamil locali che avevano legami internazionali e, dall’altro, a screditare la diaspora tamil internazionale, il cui ruolo nel promuovere l’intervento dell’UNHRC nello Sri Lanka non era stato marginale.[15] Più, quindi, che da motivi concernenti la sicurezza nazionale, il provvedimento a cui l’amministrazione singalese era ricorso è apparso soprattutto finalizzato a indebolire la componente tamil locale.

In definitiva, si può affermare che il potenziale rischio di una ripresa del terrorismo tamil è stato certamente sfruttato dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa per consolidare un regime in cui, al declino delle istituzioni democratiche, si accompagnava una crescente militarizzazione dell’apparato statale. La risposta del governo singalese è infatti parsa come il corollario di un percorso, in atto sino dalla conclusione della guerra civile, caratterizzato dal soffocamento del dissenso e dal trionfalismo sinhala. Tali considerazioni hanno portato alcuni osservatori persino a dubitare della veridicità delle informazioni riguardanti la riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil, la cui rinascita sarebbe giunta in modo talmente puntuale e opportuno, per il regime Rajapaksa, da risultare sospetta. Questa teoria, secondo cui sarebbe stato il governo stesso ad orchestrare l’intera vicenda, trarrebbe origine dal fatto che le autorità singalesi, ossia l’unica fonte di informazioni sulla presunta rinascita delle Tigri Tamil, non abbiano diffuso nessuna prova volta a dimostrare che gli uomini uccisi dall’esercito fossero effettivamente reduci delle LTTE, determinati a risvegliare il movimento ribelle.[16] Se una simile congettura appare invero azzardata, è però certo che il governo dello Sri Lanka abbia tratto vantaggio dalle circostanze per perseguire i propri obiettivi, avvalendosi di contro-misure sproporzionate rispetto al rischio reale. Infatti, la probabilità che un tentativo di ripristino della defunta organizzazione tamil possa avere successo è alquanto remota, considerato il ramificato controllo che le forze armate esercitano non solo nell’area nord-orientale, dove esso è maggiormente invasivo, ma anche in vasti comparti dell’amministrazione statale nazionale. Il regime Rajapaksa ha certamente strumentalizzato ed enfatizzato il rischio di un ritorno del terrorismo tamil per giustificare, agli occhi della comunità internazionale, la rampante militarizzazione dello stato singalese e la costante repressione del dissenso interno, fenomeni che sono andati acuendosi in seguito al configurarsi di tale minaccia alla sicurezza nazionale.

  1. La crescente militarizzazione dell’apparato statale e gli sfollamenti forzati della popolazione

Come precedentemente osservato, a partire dal 2009, nello Sri Lanka si è assistito ad un fenomeno che può essere definito come paradossale, ossia la costante militarizzazione delle istituzioni statali nella fase del dopo guerra. Sebbene tale fenomeno non risulti evidente, prendendo in considerazione i mutamenti annuali del principale indicatore del livello di militarizzazione di un paese, ossia la percentuale di spesa pubblica per la Difesa rispetto al PIL, che risulta lievemente diminuita rispetto al 2009, un’analisi più dettagliata è in grado di convalidare l’ipotesi sopra esposta. Infatti, se in termini relativi la spesa militare è passata dal 3,6% del PIL del 2009 al 2,6% del 2012, in termini assoluti essa è considerevolmente aumentata. Nel 2009 la somma destinata alla Difesa è infatti stata di 175 miliardi di rupie,[17] mentre nel 2013 questa è cresciuta a 253 miliardi, aumentando in questo caso anche in termini relativi rispetto all’anno precedente (dal 2,6% del PIL del 2012 al 2,7%).[18]

Il processo di militarizzazione dello Sri Lanka si è poi declinato attraverso forme che sarebbero difficilmente decifrabili tramite un’esclusiva analisi dei dati macro economici. Esso, infatti, è stato caratterizzato, in primo luogo, dalla logica dell’occupazione e dell’umiliazione della parte sconfitta, che ha trovato espressione attraverso il mantenimento del controllo, da parte dell’esercito, dell’area nord-orientale del paese.[19] Vale la pena di descrivere un episodio esemplare, proprio di tale dinamica, verificatosi durante il maggio 2014, quando nella città meridionale di Matara ha avuto luogo «la parata della Vittoria». La manifestazione, che aveva lo scopo di commemorare il quinto anniversario della vittoriosa conclusione del conflitto, ha inevitabilmente destato alcune controversie, dal momento che una simile celebrazione, lungi dal promuovere la riconciliazione nazionale, ribadiva il trionfo dell’etnia sinhala su quella tamil. Inoltre, se si considera che, contemporaneamente, la polizia e l’esercito hanno impedito lo svolgimento di una commemorazione ufficiale dei caduti tamil, che avrebbe dovuto svolgersi nella provincia Settentrionale, risulta chiaro come la narrazione prevalente tendesse non a superare ma a cristallizzare le divisioni proprie del periodo di guerra civile.[20]

La militarizzazione dell’apparato statale non è tuttavia rimasta circoscritta alle sole zone del nord-est. Nel corso del 2014 è infatti divenuto chiaro come tale fenomeno riguardasse in realtà l’intero paese, manifestandosi con prepotenza nella stessa capitale, Colombo, e nelle città meridionali dello Sri Lanka, dove è stato realizzato un programma di sviluppo urbano gestito dall’omonimo ministero. Quest’ultimo, assieme al Land Reclamation and Development Board (LRD), è stato posto, dopo la fine della guerra, sotto l’autorità del ministero della Difesa, capeggiato dallo stesso presidente, in qualità di ministro, che lo gestisce attraverso il fratello, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, che ha la carica di segretario del ministro.

A partire dal 2010, i progetti di sviluppo e di miglioramento di alcuni quartieri degradati di Colombo hanno condotto il ministero della Difesa e dello Sviluppo Urbano a dare il via ad una serie di sfollamenti coatti destinati a coinvolgere tra i 70.000 e i 135.000 nuclei famigliari. Gli abitanti di aree quali Slave Island, Narahenpita, Barnes, Borella, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Wanathamulla e Maligawatta sono quindi stati forzati ad abbandonare le loro proprietà affinché venissero demolite , per permettere l’edificazione di nuove infrastrutture. Il piano di sviluppo, la cui realizzazione si è intensificata durante il 2014, avrebbe dovuto portare alla demolizione delle aree fatiscenti della città e alla successiva costruzione di attività commerciali e abitazioni di lusso, trasformando in tal modo Colombo nel «fulcro commerciale dell’Asia meridionale».[21] Tuttavia, l’esecuzione del progetto è stata caratterizzata dallo scarso riguardo per le normative vigenti, dal momento che il Land Acquisition Act (LAA), che regola l’acquisizione di proprietà private da parte dello stato, prevede questa possibilità solamente nel caso si persegua uno scopo di pubblico interesse.[22] Nonostante l’ampia gamma di usi previsti da tale legge, il fatto che l’LAA sia stato impiegato per favorire il capitale privato, in particolare attraverso la realizzazione di hotel, di ristoranti e di campi da golf, ha naturalmente destato numerose proteste da parte di giuristi e attivisti singalesi.[23] Se infatti il piano di sviluppo urbano, sostenuto dalla Banca Mondiale, è certamente destinato ad attrarre gli investitori stranieri e a promuovere il turismo, creando nuove risorse economiche per il paese, gli enormi costi umani e sociali di tale operazione ne hanno però inevitabilmente offuscato il successo. A creare ulteriori perplessità circa i vantaggi di una simile operazione per la popolazione nel suo complesso, si è poi aggiunta la questione riguardante i vasti incentivi fiscali che sono stati concessi ad alcune delle compagnie decise a investire il proprio capitale nel progetto di sviluppo urbano promosso dai fratelli Rajapaksa.[24]

Inoltre, sebbene esistesse un piano di ricollocamento della popolazione evacuata, ovvero il National Involuntary Resettlement Policy, l’esecuzione degli sfollamenti è stata contrassegnata dallo scarso preavviso con cui le notifiche di sfratto sono state date e dalla vaghezza dei termini di compensazione. Soprattutto, però, il piano portato avanti dall’UDA, nonché dal ministero della Difesa, ha messo in luce l’elevato livello di militarizzazione e di centralizzazione raggiunto dell’amministrazione pubblica. L’intero processo di sfollamento della popolazione è stato affidato all’esercito, che ha svolto il proprio compito impiegando diffusamente intimidazioni e maltrattamenti. Neppure l’intervento della National Human Rights Commission, che nel marzo del 2014 aveva emesso un’ordinanza per bloccare gli sfratti dei residenti di Wanathamulla, è riuscito ad impedire il proseguimento delle operazioni da parte delle forze armate.[25] D’altronde, l’alto grado di impunità che è stato concesso dalle autorità singalesi ai membri dell’esercito e della polizia ha certamente avuto un ruolo decisivo nel processo di militarizzazione in atto nello Sri Lanka. É oltretutto risultato evidente che le operazioni di sfollamento attuate delle forze armate nella città di Colombo abbiano presentato dinamiche e dimensioni molto simili a quelle condotte negli ultimi due anni del conflitto civile nelle aree del settentrione e dell’oriente dell’isola, ovvero le zone che sono state il principale teatro degli scontri bellici.[26] L’intero processo di recupero delle aree urbane degradate è dopo tutto avanzato su un percorso assai differente da quello democratico, tanto che i cittadini e i rappresentanti politici dell’opposizione non hanno avuto alcuna voce in capitolo.

Il fenomeno degli sfollamenti da parte delle forze armate rappresenta in realtà soltanto un aspetto dell’ampio processo di militarizzazione che ha condotto i membri dell’esercito a ricoprire funzioni più estese di quelle che normalmente, in tempo di pace, competono loro. Non più confinati ad incarichi di sicurezza nazionale, i militari hanno assunto la funzione di veri e propri stake holders nella gestione della res publica, giungendo a ricoprire importanti incarichi all’interno dell’amministrazione statale e del corpo diplomatico. I membri delle forze armate hanno quindi assunto un ruolo sempre più rilevante sia tramite la gestione di attività economiche statali, sia avviando con successo iniziative imprenditoriali private nel settore del commercio e dei servizi.[27] La dimostrazione più lampante di questa tendenza è rappresentata dalla Rakna Arakshaka Lanka (RAL), ovvero una compagnia a carattere paramilitare di proprietà governativa. La RAL, che è sotto l’esclusivo controllo del ministero della Difesa, è un’impresa commerciale che fornisce ad enti sia pubblici che privati un’ampia gamma di servizi, che comprendono il settore della sicurezza militare (incluso il ramo dello spionaggio) e civile (ad esempio all’interno delle università), quello della formazione e del welfare e persino il comparto della ristorazione. La compagnia, il cui personale è costituito prevalentemente da ex personale dell’esercito, non risponde alle norme che generalmente regolano l’attività imprenditoriale pubblica o privata, godendo così di ampi privilegi.

L’infiltrazione degli spazi civili da parte dei militari è stata favorita da due circostanze: la prima è costituita dalla glorificazione dell’esercito, avvenuta in seguito alla conclusione della guerra. Tale meccanismo ha condotto i membri delle forze armate ad acquisire un vasto potere all’interno della società civile e, conseguentemente, a beneficiare di un ampio numero di programmi di benessere sociale a loro riservati, finanziati dalle donazioni di cittadini e di enti privati. Parallelamente, si è assistito all’introduzione della disciplina e dei valori militari nella vita civile, come, ad esempio, l’organizzazione di corsi di addestramento militare all’interno delle università. In secondo luogo, il processo di militarizzazione degli spazi civili è stato agevolato da istituzioni democraticamente elette, ovvero dal presidente e dal parlamento.

L’esercito, dal canto suo, ha avuto un ruolo funzionale rispetto al fenomeno di centralizzazione e di accrescimento dei poteri presidenziali, permettendo a Mahinda Rajapaksa, che è anche comandante in capo delle forze armate, nonché ai membri della sua famiglia, di dare vita ad un sistema di governo che appare sempre più simile ad un’oligarchia. Il regime Rajapaksa ha quindi favorito e sostenuto la militarizzazione dell’apparato statale, che ha a sua volta consentito l’instaurazione di un controllo assoluto sulla popolazione civile in periodo di pace.[28]  Tale controllo sulla società, che ha permesso al regime singalese di limitare fortemente la libertà di espressione dei cittadini, ha assunto col tempo connotati sempre più autoritari e opprimenti. Tra le numerose misure repressive adottate dal governo durante l’amministrazione Rajapaksa, si è distinta, nel corso del 2014, quella riguardante la regolamentazione delle Organizzazioni Non Governative (ONG). Tramite una circolare del 1° luglio 2014, il segretariato nazionale per le ONG, che opera anch’esso sotto la giurisdizione del ministero della Difesa, ha infatti stabilito alcune nuove regole finalizzate a proibire alle suddette organizzazioni una serie di attività, fra cui lo svolgimento di conferenze stampa, di workshop e seminari per giornalisti, nonché la divulgazione di comunicati stampa.[29] Questo provvedimento era ufficialmente motivato da cavilli giuridici, ovvero dal fatto che le attività sopra elencate non fossero previste dalla legge che regola il mandato delle ONG. Invero, nell’aderire meticolosamente alla legge ordinaria, il governo Rajapaksa stava agendo in spregio della stessa costituzione dello Sri Lanka, che garantisce a ogni cittadino i diritti fondamentali di espressione e di assemblea.[30] È infatti verosimile ipotizzare che le proibizioni imposte alle ONG mirassero principalmente a soffocare il dissenso e rappresentassero l’ennesimo passo intrapreso dal governo singalese sulla strada dell’autoritarismo, resa percorribile proprio grazie alla crescente militarizzazione delle istituzioni statali e sociali.

  1. Le elezioni provinciali

Il 29 marzo 2014, l’elettorato delle province dell’Ovest e del Sud, popolate prevalentemente dall’etnia sinhala, è stato chiamato al voto per il rinnovo dei rispettivi Provincial Councils. La decisione di indire tali elezioni avrebbe dovuto offrire al presidente l’occasione, da un lato, di verificare la robustezza della propria popolarità in quelle aree dove essa era maggiormente radicata, dall’altro, di lanciare un messaggio alla comunità internazionale circa la determinazione del popolo singalese a non «tollerare interferenze straniere», con riferimento all’inchiesta avviata dall’UNHRC.[31]

L’esito delle elezioni non è stato lusinghiero come probabilmente avevano auspicato Rajapaksa e la sua coalizione di governo, ovvero l’UPFA, che detiene il potere in otto delle nove province del paese.[32] Sebbene l’UPFA sia emersa come forza egemone, l’affluenza alle urne è stata scarsa e il risultato del voto ha evidenziato un calo di consensi per l’alleanza guidata dal presidente. Quest’ultima, infatti, ha conquistato 33 seggi su 55 nella provincia Meridionale, ossia cinque in meno rispetto alle elezioni del 2009, e 56 su 104 nella provincia Occidentale, perdendo così 12 seggi rispetto al 2009.[33] Il risultato più rappresentativo concerne però il distretto di Hambantota, luogo di origine del presidente Rajapaksa, nonché destinazione privilegiata degli investimenti governativi, dove l’UPFA ha visto decrescere la propria percentuale di voto dal 67% delle precedenti elezioni provinciali, al 57,4%.[34]

Tali risultati non potevano certamente essere interpretati come un drammatico mutamento del comportamento elettorale, avendo permesso all’UPFA di riaffermarsi come principale entità politica nelle due province in questione. D’altro canto, è stato comunque possibile riscontrare l’emergere di una nuova tendenza di voto, che ha visto l’alleanza partitica guidata dal presidente singalese perdere voti in favore, non tanto del principale partito d’opposizione, lo United National Party (UNP), quanto piuttosto di una terza formazione politica, ovvero il Democratic Party, guidato dall’ex generale delle forze armate Sarath Fonseka. Quest’ultimo ha avuto un ruolo decisivo nella vittoriosa conclusione della guerra civile, conducendo l’esercito singalese, prima del suo arrivo virtualmente allo sbando, alla schiacciante vittoria sulle Tigri Tamil. Una volta cessate le ostilità, Fonseka, lasciato l’esercito, aveva debuttato nell’arena politica, concorrendo alle elezioni presidenziali del 2010 come principale avversario di Rajapaksa. Sebbene Fonseka fosse stato sconfitto dal presidente in carica, il suo vasto potenziale elettorale era risultato evidente. La carriera politica dell’ex generale aveva però subito una repentina interruzione quando, l’8 febbraio 2010, era stato arrestato con la motivazione, invero pretestuosa, di avere architettato un colpo di stato militare ai danni del governo.[35] Sottoposto al giudizio di una corte marziale, Fonseka era stato riconosciuto colpevole e condannato a scontare tre anni di carcere. La sua detenzione, tuttavia, si era conclusa in anticipo, quando, il 21 maggio del 2012, era stato rilasciato in seguito alla concessione della grazia da parte del presidente. È probabile che tale iniziativa fosse stata provocata dalla reazione della comunità internazionale di fronte all’incarcerazione di Fonseka, interpretata come l’ennesimo abuso di potere messo in atto dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa. Il fatto che la grazia presidenziale fosse giunta il 18 maggio 2012, poche ore prima dell’incontro a Washington tra il ministro degli Esteri dello Sri Lanka, G. L. Peiris, e il segretario di stato statunitense, Hillary Clinton, non è quindi apparso come una coincidenza.[36] Quali che siano stati i motivi che hanno spinto il presidente a concedere la grazia, tale decisione ha permesso a Fonseka di presentarsi alle elezioni. Il risultato è stato che il suo partito, il Democratic Party, ha ottenuto l’8% dei voti nella Western Province, diventando la terza forza politica dell’area, mentre nella Southern Province ha guadagnato oltre il 6% dei consensi.[37]

Sebbene siano sorte delle controversie riguardo al diritto di voto attivo e passivo di Fonseka, avendo quest’ultimo subìto delle condanne penali che ne impedirebbero l’esercizio, la Commissione Elettorale singalese ha stabilito che, almeno fino a quando non venga presentata un’obiezione in tribunale, non intraprenderà nessuna azione per invalidare i diritti civili dell’ex generale. In realtà, benché la costituzione singalese neghi per sette anni il diritto di voto a coloro che hanno scontato un periodo detentivo di almeno sei mesi, in caso di ottenimento della grazia presidenziale tale limitazione verrebbe a decadere.[38] Il ritorno di Fonseka sulla scena politica ha di conseguenza fatto sorgere alcune aspettative circa la possibilità di una sua candidatura alle prossime elezioni presidenziali. Tuttavia, il risultato delle elezioni provinciali svoltesi in settembre nella provincia di Uva, nel sud dell’isola, ha ridimensionato le speranze del Democratic Party, il quale è riuscito a superare l’1% dei consensi solamente nel distretto elettorale di Wellawaya. Ciò che ha accomunato il voto di marzo e quello di settembre è stato invece la riconferma dell’UPFA come forza politica di maggioranza. Anche nel caso della provincia di Uva, però, l’alleanza partitica guidata da Rajapaksa ha registrato un significativo calo della propria percentuale di voto, passata dall’81% delle elezioni del 2009 al 51%. Il principale beneficiario del calo di popolarità dell’UPFA è stato, in questa circostanza, il maggiore partito d’opposizione singalese, l’UNP, il quale, grazie al 40% dei consensi, ha pressoché raddoppiato il proprio numero di seggi, passando ad occuparne 13, rispetto ai sette conquistati nel 2009.[39] Il merito di tale notevole risultato è da attribuire non tanto al leader storico dell’UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe, quanto piuttosto al giovane candidato Harin Fernando, il quale è riuscito a ottenere sorprendenti risultati, specialmente nel distretto elettorale di Badulla.

In definitiva, si può affermare che la frammentazione dei partiti di opposizione ha permesso all’UPFA di conservare il potere in tutte e tre le province in cui il voto ha avuto luogo. Inoltre, durante la campagna elettorale svoltasi nella provincia di Uva, la Commissione Elettorale e altri organismi di monitoraggio del voto hanno denunciato il perpetrarsi di numerosi abusi, quali intimidazioni ed atti di violenza, avvenuti nell’indifferenza delle forze dell’ordine.[40] Tali soprusi, compiuti principalmente a danno dei partiti di opposizione, erano il naturale riflesso di un apparato statale disfunzionale, le cui anomalie erano attribuibili alla graduale concentrazione di potere nelle mani del presidente.

  1. Estremismo buddista e violenza settaria

Il nazionalismo buddista sinhala è un movimento politico radicale che affonda le sue radici negli ultimi anni del XIX secolo, basando la propria ideologia sulla presunta supremazia culturale del gruppo etnico maggioritario dello Sri Lanka. Entrato sulla scena politica singalese in seguito all’ottenimento dell’indipendenza, nel 1948, il nazionalismo buddista si è consolidato, acquisendo un carattere marcatamente ostile alle minoranze etniche del paese. Non vi è poi dubbio che tale ideologia abbia avuto un ruolo sia nello scoppio della guerra civile, sia nel suo sanguinoso svolgimento nell’arco di 26 anni. Il governo Rajapaksa è però stato il primo a sposare l’ideologia buddista sinhala.[41] A partire dalla fine della guerra, l’estremismo buddista ha gradualmente assunto una connotazione specificatamente anti musulmana, e in parte anche anti cristiana, acquisendo una crescente legittimità sia a livello politico che sociale. Nello Sri Lanka contemporaneo, l’ascesa del buddismo radicale è stata principalmente favorita dal gruppo militante Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, letteralmente, brigata del potere buddista), che, dal momento della sua creazione nel 2012, ha messo in atto una strategia mirata a promuovere tra la popolazione l’ostilità contro le minoranze religiose dell’isola.[42]  Attraverso una retorica che ritrae i membri della comunità musulmana come una minaccia per l’etnia di maggioranza, il BBS è stato il principale responsabile di una serie di attacchi ai danni della minoranza musulmana, rimasti per lo più impuniti. L’ostilità anti islamica, che a partire dal 2102 si era manifestata attraverso numerosi episodi di violenza, durante il 2014 ha acquistato intensità e dimensioni allarmanti, principalmente grazie all’atteggiamento conciliante dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa nei confronti del nazionalismo buddista. Il 15 giugno, nella città meridionale di Aluthgama e in altre aree circostanti, è infatti scoppiato un vero e proprio tumulto settario, che ha portato all’uccisione di due musulmani e un tamil e al ferimento di circa ottanta persone.[43] L’episodio ha rappresentato per lo Sri Lanka uno degli episodi di violenza religiosa più cruenti degli ultimi decenni.

Apparentemente, la violenza anti musulmana ad Aluthgama è stata sprigionata da un litigio automobilistico, avvenuto il 12 giugno, tra alcuni giovani musulmani e un monaco buddista accompagnato dal proprio autista. In seguito alla lite, il BBS ha infatti organizzato una serie di manifestazioni pubbliche in difesa del monaco, incitando all’odio religioso e alla violenza anti islamica gli abitanti delle aree di Beruwala, Dharga Town e Aluthgama, dove sono avvenuti i maggiori disordini. I tumulti che sono seguiti alle manifestazioni del BBS hanno visto folle di fanatici buddisti attaccare, derubare e incendiare abitazioni, attività commerciali e altre proprietà, per lo più appartenenti a musulmani, incluse alcune moschee, una scuola materna e una clinica medica. Nonostante il coprifuoco imposto dalla polizia in seguito ai primi episodi di violenza, i tumulti si sono protratti fino alla notte del 17 giugno, provocando lo sfollamento di circa 10.000 persone, soprattutto musulmani.[44] Nei giorni seguenti, nonostante l’intervento dell’esercito, la violenza non è comunque completamente cessata, dato il perdurare di focolai di tensione.

La durata e l’intensità degli attacchi hanno penosamente messo in luce l’incapacità del governo e della polizia di mantenere l’ordine pubblico. Sono occorse 72 ore, infatti, affinché le autorità si risolvessero a bloccare le manifestazioni del BBS, ponendo così fine ai disordini. Inoltre, stando alle testimonianze delle vittime, pare che le forze dell’ordine si siano dimostrate complici degli stessi assalitori, assistendo impassibilmente agli attacchi ed evitando di intervenire per frenare le sommosse.[45] Il governo Rajapaksa, dal canto suo, ha sollecitato i media nazionali a non pubblicare notizie relative ai tumulti di Aluthgama, giustificando tale richiesta col pretesto di non fomentare la disarmonia etnica. Nonostante l’imposizione della censura, che ha incluso il blocco dei siti web di alcuni quotidiani, alcuni giornalisti hanno ugualmente tentato di documentare gli attacchi, divenendo a loro volta vittime degli assalitori.[46]

Sebbene l’esplosione di violenza fosse inizialmente apparsa come un avvenimento spontaneo, in risposta al presunto sopruso verbale subìto da un monaco buddista, alcune circostanze parrebbero convalidare l’ipotesi secondo cui gli attacchi sarebbero invece il frutto di un piano organizzato. Innanzitutto, l’arsenale con cui gli assalitori erano equipaggiati, che comprendeva armi da fuoco, bombe molotov e bombole di gas, lascia pensare ad un certo livello di preparazione logistica. Allo stesso modo, molte delle zone colpite dalla violenza hanno assistito ad un’interruzione della fornitura di energia elettrica e alla disattivazione delle linee telefoniche. Infine, secondo quanto dichiarato da alcuni testimoni di etnia sinhala, gli assalitori non sarebbero stati residenti dell’area, bensì forestieri provenienti da altre zone, condotti nell’area di Aluthgama e di Beruwela con uno scopo preciso, ovvero fomentare la violenza settaria.[47]

Se tali indizi inducono a ipotizzare l’esistenza di una pianificazione alla base dell’ondata di violenza verificatasi in giugno, ad avvalorare la teoria dell’attacco premeditato vi sarebbe anche un altro fattore. Mangala Samaraweera, membro del partito d’opposizione UNP, ha infatti apertamente accusato il governo di coprire, attraverso la secretazione di alcuni documenti, tre ufficiali dei servizi segreti singalesi che avrebbero spalleggiato il BBS durante l’offensiva anti musulmana. Senza contraddire tali accuse, il portavoce dell’esercito, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, durante una conferenza stampa, ha significativamente affermato: «[…] qualche politico, grazie ai suoi privilegi parlamentari, sta tentando di rivelare dettagli segreti sui membri dell’intelligence nazionale».[48]Quindi, Wanigasooriya, non negando il coinvolgimento degli ufficiali dei servizi segreti, ha di fatto diffidato i membri del parlamento dal diffondere informazioni riservate, rafforzando in tal modo la teoria secondo cui l’intelligence nazionale sarebbe stata implicata nello sprigionamento della violenza settaria. Il segretario alla Difesa ha invece negato ogni coinvolgimento da parte del suo dicastero, anche se pare ormai accertato che il BBS goda di un qualche patrocinio all’interno dell’apparato statale, tanto che proprio Gotabhaya Rajapaksa sembra esserne il principale fautore.[49] L’ambiente favorevole in cui il BBS è riuscito fino ad ora ad operare, godendo di un elevato livello di impunità e di un’ampia disponibilità di mezzi, difficilmente avrebbe potuto crearsi se non con l’appoggio diretto delle istituzioni statali. Ne è prova non soltanto il fatto che il leader del BBS, il monaco Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, abbia potuto condurre indisturbato la serie di manifestazioni pubbliche all’origine dell’ondata di violenza anti musulmana, ma anche che tra le 135 persone arrestate in seguito agli attacchi, Gnanasara non fosse tra queste. Inoltre, i 13 attivisti del BBS arrestati dalla polizia per avere istigato e fomentato gli attacchi sono stati prontamente rilasciati in seguito alla minaccia di Gnanasara di autoimmolarsi nel caso in cui i membri del suo gruppo fossero stati ulteriormente trattenuti.[50]

L’ipotesi, assai verosimile, secondo cui certe sezioni dell’amministrazione statale avrebbero favorito l’ascesa dell’estremismo buddista sul panorama nazionale, vede alla base di questa dinamica un interesse principalmente di tipo elettorale. Se infatti l’elettorato tende generalmente a scegliere i propri rappresentanti rispondendo all’evocazione dei simboli emotivamente più potenti, l’utilizzo di politiche identitarie, volte a mobilitare la popolazione su linee religiose, può risultare una tattica vincente da un punto di vista elettorale.[51] Il calo di popolarità subito dalla coalizione al potere in occasione delle elezioni provinciali avrebbe infatti potuto essere compensato dalla messa in atto di una strategia indirizzata alla creazione di un nuovo nemico interno. Tale tattica era infatti potenzialmente in grado di compattare la piattaforma elettorale sinhala su basi esclusivamente etniche, marginalizzando di conseguenza altri fattori generalmente influenti sulla scelta del voto.[52] Considerate le circostanze, che vedono, da un lato, il presidente Rajapaksa ansioso di mantenere solida la propria base elettorale, e, dall’altro, una popolazione sempre meno entusiasta della coalizione al potere, è quanto meno probabile che l’amministrazione singalese abbia dimostrato una certa tolleranza verso l’estremismo buddista nella speranza di potere raccogliere in blocco il voto della popolazione sinhala.

  1. 7. L’annuncio di elezioni anticipate e la comparsa di fratture nella coalizione di governo

La teoria sopraesposta appare tanto più verosimile se si considera come l’ansia del governo Rajapaksa, riguardo ad un possibile declino elettorale, fosse emersa in modo esplicito attraverso la decisione di anticipare di circa due anni la data delle elezioni presidenziali. Queste ultime, che avrebbero dovuto avere luogo alla fine del 2016, sono state spostate dal presidente al gennaio 2015, allo scopo dichiarato di potere ottenere un terzo mandato.[53] A causa di una vera e propria anomalia costituzionale, nello Sri Lanka è infatti possibile indire elezioni anticipate in presenza di un governo ancora in carica, come già accaduto in occasione delle ultime elezioni presidenziali.[54] Inoltre, grazie alla promulgazione del discusso 18° emendamento, avvenuta nel 2010, il limite di due mandati presidenziali è stato abolito, permettendo così a Rajapaksa di essere il primo presidente della storia dello Sri Lanka a ricandidarsi per la terza volta di fila. Se, date le circostanze, l’annuncio di elezioni anticipate pareva avere automaticamente determinato l’esito della futura competizione elettorale, a ovvio vantaggio del presidente, l’apertura di inaspettate crepe nella coalizione di governo ha letteralmente scompaginato le carte in gioco. Per la prima volta dal 2005, ovvero da quando Rajapaksa è in carica, la solidità del governo dell’UPFA è stata scossa da una serie di defezioni, che hanno aperto la strada a possibili nuovi scenari politici, prima inimmaginabili. Innanzitutto, il 18 novembre 2014, il partito Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), di orientamento nazionalista sinhala, è uscito dalla coalizione di governo; parallelamente, Patali Champika Ranawaka, membro del JHU, ha rassegnato le sue dimissioni da ministro della Tecnologia e della Ricerca. Tuttavia, la fuoriuscita del JHU dall’UPFA non è stata esclusivamente dettata da un aperto contrasto con il governo in carica, quanto da calcoli strategici finalizzati a mantenere aperte tutte le possibili alternative, in vista delle prossime elezioni presidenziali.[55] Se l’abbandono del JHU ha costituito un avvenimento rilevante, ma non in grado di minare la stabilità e le prospettive future del governo Rajapaksa, la defezione del ministro della Salute, Maithripala Sirisena, avvenuta il 21 novembre, è invece risultata un’azione gravida di conseguenze. L’ex ministro, passato all’UNP, era infatti uno dei membri di maggiore spicco del governo, nonché il segretario generale dello Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), ovvero il principale partito all’interno dell’UPFA, a cui apparteneva lo stesso Rajapaksa. La sua diserzione dall’SLFP era invero motivata dalla inaspettata decisione di presentarsi, come candidato comune dell’opposizione, alle imminenti elezioni presidenziali. Il passo compiuto da Sirisena ha immediatamente trovato un ampio e trasversale appoggio, che comprendeva quello, politicamente cruciale, dell’ex presidentessa dello Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, probabilmente la vera artefice dell’iniziativa. Kumaratunga, dopo la cessazione del suo mandato presidenziale nel 2005, aveva iniziato a collaborare con la statunitense Clinton Foundation, intrattenendo stretti rapporti con le diplomazie occidentali, per lo più maldisposte nei confronti dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa. Nelle settimane che hanno preceduto le dimissioni di Sirisena, l’ex presidentessa pare quindi essersi prodigata, in patria e all’estero, nel tentativo di creare un fronte comune, credibilmente sostenuto da Stati Uniti, Europa e India, in grado di sfidare Rajapaksa e il suo governo.[56] Sulla candidatura alla presidenza dell’ex ministro della Salute è poi confluito il favore sia del Democratic Front di Fonseka, sia del JHU. Le dimissioni di Sirisena hanno inoltre aperto un vero e proprio varco nell’SLFP, portando alla fuoriuscita di altri cinque parlamentari, tra cui il ministro della Pesca, Rajitha Senaratne, tutti confluiti nell’UNP.[57]

Le motivazioni che hanno spinto Sirisena ad abbandonare il gabinetto Rajapaksa e a candidarsi nei ranghi dell’opposizione sono da ricondurre ad una profonda insoddisfazione nei confronti della leadership autoritaria e nepotistica del presidente. L’ex ministro ha infatti dichiarato che: «Il paese è governato da una malcelata dittatura, in cui i membri di una sola famiglia gestiscono l’amministrazione e l’economia», prospettando quindi l’intenzione di abolire il 18° emendamento, nel caso fosse eletto presidente.[58] Inoltre, è ragionevole ritenere che il fronte politico formatosi a sostegno di Sirisena mirasse anche a ridefinire la politica estera del paese, riavvicinandolo agli Stati Uniti e all’Europa ed evitando così eventuali ripercussioni economiche derivanti da un deterioramento dei rapporti con i due grandi partner commerciali dell’isola.

Questi avvenimenti, tuttavia, non si sono risolti in un’immediata crisi di governo: l’UPFA ha infatti continuato a godere di una solida maggioranza, come ha dimostrato la votazione per l’approvazione della legge finanziaria 2015, avvenuta in parlamento il 24 novembre, con il favore di 152 deputati su 225. In quell’occasione, può avere giocato a favore del governo il fatto che Rajapaksa abbia più o meno velatamente minacciato i parlamentari recalcitranti dell’UPFA, avvisandoli di essere in possesso di documenti compromettenti sul loro conto.[59] Ciò nondimeno la defezione di Sirisena ha lanciato quella che si può definire come la prima seria sfida al governo dell’UPFA, da quando la coalizione amministra la nazione. Il presidente Rajapaksa si è infatti trovato di fronte ad una duplice minaccia: da un lato, l’erosione dei consensi registratasi alle urne, in occasione delle elezioni provinciali di marzo e di settembre; dall’altro l’emergere di un’opposizione interna al suo stesso partito e il prospettarsi di un duro confronto per il mantenimento della carica presidenziale. Sirisena potrebbe infatti essere l’unico candidato in grado di contendere a Rajapaksa i voti della popolazione rurale sinhala, che ha fino ad ora costituito il nocciolo duro della sua ampia base elettorale. Soprattutto, Sirisena ha saputo dare una soluzione ai problemi che, durante gli anni del governo Rajapaksa, avevano reso debole e frammentata l’opposizione. La candidatura di Sirisena è infatti riuscita a compattare i partiti d’opposizione attorno a una leadership solida e prestigiosa, rendendo verosimile l’eventualità di sottrarre a Rajapaksa l’opportunità di prolungare le sua presidenza per un terzo mandato.

  1. Politica estera

In seguito alla conclusione del conflitto civile, lo Sri Lanka è gradualmente entrato nell’orbita cinese, consolidando le proprie relazioni con Pechino dal punto di vista sia economico che politico. L’amministrazione Rajapaksa ha infatti dimostrato il proprio sostegno alla Cina, appoggiando pienamente la strategia perseguita da Pechino di promozione della cosiddetta «nuova via marittima della seta», mirata a consolidare la presenza del gigante asiatico sull’Oceano Indiano. Grazie ai notevoli investimenti cinesi nell’economia dell’isola, lo Sri Lanka ha a sua volta potuto beneficiare dell’amicizia con Pechino per rafforzare la propria posizione di fondamentale snodo marittimo e finanziario dell’Oceano Indiano. La Cina è infatti divenuta il principale investitore diretto, nonché il maggiore paese donatore, dello Sri Lanka, finanziando la realizzazione di imponenti progetti. Tra questi spiccano il porto e l’aeroporto internazionale di  Hambantota, la centrale energetica a carbone di Norochcholai, un nuovo terminal portuale a Colombo e la prima autostrada singalese a quattro corsie. Dal 2009, Pechino ha inoltre concesso allo Sri Lanka una serie di prestiti a lungo termine che, sebbene non siano vincolati ad alcuna regolamentazione, a differenza di quelli erogati dalle agenzie internazionali, vedono un tasso di interesse sul debito decisamente elevato rispetto a quello praticato da istituti di credito quali la Banca Mondiale o l’Asian Development Bank.[60]

Se l’economia dell’isola ha comunque beneficiato della prodigalità cinese, l’attiva collaborazione creatasi tra i due paesi è stata d’altro canto il riflesso di un’affinità tra le rispettive aspirazioni politiche. L’instaurazione di relazioni strategiche, attraverso la costruzione di infrastrutture marittime sulle coste dei paesi litorali dell’Oceano Indiano, ha infatti rappresentato per Pechino uno strumento per affermare i propri interessi commerciali e militari sull’area, entrando in tal modo in competizione con le aspirazioni indiane. L’alleanza stretta con lo Sri Lanka rientrava quindi all’interno di un più ampio disegno, noto come la strategia del «filo di perle», mirata ad imporre l’influenza cinese sulle acque che dalla Cina portano al Golfo Persico e al Mar Rosso.

L’amicizia tra Pechino e Colombo, notevolmente rafforzatasi nel corso del 2013 in seguito alla firma di un Accordo di Cooperazione Strategica (Strategic Cooperative Partnership), è stata sottolineata nel settembre dell’anno seguente dalla visita del presidente cinese Xi Jinping nello Sri Lanka. Questo viaggio ha rappresentato un evento molto significativo, essendo la prima volta, negli ultimi 28 anni, in cui un presidente cinese si è recato in visita nell’isola. L’incontro tra Xi Jinping e Mahinda Rajapaksa è stato di notevole importanza anche in virtù della firma di 27 accordi, i quali prevedevano una serie di ingenti investimenti cinesi in vari settori e l’attuazione di un piano di cooperazione strategica e militare.[61] Tra gli accordi economici più rilevanti, spiccava l’imponente progetto per la costruzione di un’isola artificiale di fronte a Colombo, che grazie ad un prestito cinese di 1,4 miliardi di dollari, potrà ospitare la costruzione di un nuovo porto destinato, sulla carta, a divenire uno degli scali più importanti della «nuova via marittima della seta». Durante la visita del presidente cinese, i due paesi hanno quindi deciso di avviare i negoziati che porteranno, entro il 2015, alla firma dell’Accordo di Libero Scambio (Free Trade Agreement). Quest’ultimo è destinato ad incrementare il volume di scambi commerciali tra i due stati, che già notevolmente cresciuto a partire dal 2005, ha permesso alla Cina di sostituirsi agli Stati Uniti come il secondo partner commerciale dello Sri Lanka, dopo l’India.

L’alleanza tra Pechino e Colombo si è inoltre articolata su un vettore anti statunitense, dal momento che Washington si è resa promotrice delle risoluzioni dell’UNHRC concernenti i crimini di guerra. È d’altro canto verosimile ipotizzare che la pressione esercitata dagli Stati Uniti in seno all’UNHRC rappresentasse per Washington uno strumento destinato ad allontanare Colombo dall’orbita cinese.

Gli Stati Uniti non sono però l’unica nazione a cui l’amicizia tra i due paesi asiatici è risultata invisa. La vicinanza geografica e culturale rendeva infatti lo Sri Lanka un paese tradizionalmente legato all’India. Il rafforzarsi dei legami fra Colombo e Pechino si è pertanto sviluppato in concorrenza con le ambizioni indiane di mantenere lo Sri Lanka nella propria orbita politica ed ecomica. In effetti il rinserrarsi dei rapporti fra Cina e Sri Lanka è stata vista a Delhi come parte di una strategia cinese di «accerchiamento» del Subcontinente; cioè una vera e propria minaccia per gli interessi nazionali dell’India. Il voto sfavorevole dell’India, in merito ad un intervento diretto dell’UNHRC nello Sri Lanka, ha quindi credibilmente costituito uno sforzo, da parte di Delhi, di venire incontro alle esigenze del proprio vicino, evitando di spingerlo ulteriormente nelle braccia dell’antagonista cinese. L’India, che in passato è stata condizionata nelle sue relazioni con lo Sri Lanka dalla influente componente tamil nazionale, decisamente ostile alle politiche del governo Rajapaksa, è quindi parsa, nel corso del 2014, mutare posizione, adottando una condotta fondata soprattutto su considerazioni di realpolitik.

Dopo la votazione avvenuta a marzo presso l’UNHRC, che già aveva sancito un mutamento nell’atteggiamento indiano sulla questione, l’insediamento a Delhi di un nuovo governo ha aperto la strada a scenari inediti riguardo ai rapporti con lo Sri Lanka. La grande vittoria ottenuta dal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in occasione delle elezioni nazionali indiane del maggio 2014, ha infatti permesso al governo guidato da Narendra Modi di prescindere, nel proprio atteggiamento verso lo Sri Lanka, dalle istanze esercitate dai partiti tamil. L’amplissima maggioranza detenuta dal nuovo governo indiano è infatti risultata tale da permettergli una libertà di manovra di cui i precedenti governi della United Progressive Alliance (UPA) non avevano mai goduto. L’amministrazione Modi non si è comunque dimostrata insensibile alle rivendicazioni della popolazione tamil dello Sri Lanka, continuando a sollecitare insistentemente il governo Rajapaksa affinché questo trovasse «una soluzione politica in grado di andare incontro alle aspirazioni di equità, dignità e giustizia della comunità tamil».[62]

In seguito all’instaurazione del governo del BJP in India, i rapporti tra Delhi e Colombo sono quindi parsi migliorare, subendo un’evoluzione positiva anche in merito all’annosa questione dei pescatori tamil indiani arrestati, e talvolta uccisi, dalla marina militare dello Sri Lanka. I pescatori del Tamil Nadu, tradizionalmente, tendono infatti a spingersi sino all’isolotto singalese di Katchatheevu, dove di frequente vengono intercettati e trattenuti dalle autorità dello Sri Lanka.[63]L’argomento è stato spesso causa di frizioni tra i due paesi, soprattutto per via della posizione intransigente adottata dai leader politici del Tamil Nadu, desiderosi che il governo centrale indiano adottasse un approccio maggiormente aggressivo nei confronti dello Sri Lanka. La questione dei pescatori tamil sembra che abbia ricevuto una soluzione proprio in seguito all’insediamento di Narendra Modi a Delhi, salutato dal rilascio di 74 pescatori, il 14 agosto 2014, da parte dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa, in segno di buona volontà. Il gesto ha così riaperto la strada al dialogo bilaterale sul problema, sebbene i negoziati tra i due paesi non siano riusciti a giungere ad una soluzione condivisa.[64]

Se nella prima parte del 2014 le relazioni tra lo Sri Lanka e il vicino indiano hanno assistito ad un sviluppo piuttosto positivo, a partire dal mese di novembre, si è verificato un improvviso mutamento di tendenza. L’ormeggiamento temporaneo, nel porto di Colombo, di un sottomarino a propulsione nucleare e di una nave da guerra cinesi ha infatti provocato la reazione indignata di Delhi. Sia le autorità cinesi che quelle singalesi hanno tentato di mitigare la portata dell’avvenimento, descrivendolo come il risultato di una «normale pratica internazionale», mirata al semplice rifornimento di carburante. A dispetto di queste rassicurazioni, l’episodio non poteva che destare l’enorme preoccupazione dell’amministrazione indiana, che ha individuato nell’atteggiamento del governo singalese un inaccettabile gesto di ostilità. L’ormeggiamento delle due imbarcazioni da guerra cinesi avveniva inoltre in violazione dell’accordo tra India e Sri Lanka del luglio 1987, che vietava l’utilizzo a scopo militare dei porti singalesi da parte di altri stati e imponeva ai due firmatari che i rispettivi territori non fossero impiegati per «attività compromettenti l’unità, l’integrità e la sicurezza dei due paesi».[65] L’episodio, oltre ad allarmare l’India, spingendola a riconsiderare le proprie relazioni con lo Sri Lanka, è stato giudicato minaccioso anche dal governo statunitense. Il percorso del sottomarino da guerra, giunto sino al Golfo Persico, ha infatti rappresentato il primo viaggio conosciuto di un’imbarcazione cinese di questo tipo attraverso l’Oceano Indiano. L’espansione e l’incremento dell’attività della flotta sottomarina nucleare cinese ha rappresentato per gli Stati Uniti la sfida più significativa emersa nell’area dell’Oceano Indiano. «L’accrescimento della capacità cinese di concretizzare le proprie rivendicazioni territoriali» ha di conseguenza avuto un ruolo determinante nel ridisegnare le relazioni diplomatiche e strategiche all’interno della regione, influendo di conseguenza sui rapporti tra l’India e lo Sri Lanka.[66] Il fatto che l’amministrazione Rajapaksa abbia ignorato le reiterate proteste dell’India, che aveva messo in guardia lo Sri Lanka circa le conseguenze derivanti dall’ospitare nei propri porti imbarcazioni belliche cinesi, ha di certo generato una profonda diffidenza da parte di Delhi nei confronti del governo dell’isola. Secondo Brahma Chellaney, esperto indiano di relazioni internazionali, è assai probabile che l’episodio possa portare con sé degli strascichi, influendo a lungo termine sulle relazioni indo-singalesi.[67]

  1. Politica economica

La crescita economica registrata dallo Sri Lanka durante il 2014 è stata elevata, attestandosi al 7,5% del PIL. Il dato ha d’altronde confermato una tendenza che, nell’ultimo decennio, ha visto il paese crescere economicamente ad un tasso medio annuo del 6,4%.[68] Tale crescita è stata il risultato degli ingenti investimenti pubblici nella costruzione di infrastrutture e, soprattutto, della costante espansione del settore privato, in particolare quello industriale e quello dei servizi, che durante l’anno in esame hanno visto una crescita rispettivamente del 12,4% e del 6,1%.[69]Sebbene il turismo sia stato un settore che ha ampiamente beneficiato degli investimenti pubblici e privati, impennandosi del 33% durante il 2014, esso ha contribuito ancora in modo marginale alla crescita economica dello Sri Lanka, attestandosi a circa il 2% del PIL.[70] A dispetto di questi aspetti positivi, il 2014 ha rappresentato nello Sri Lanka un anno disastroso per quanto concerne il settore agricolo, la cui crescita, già precedentemente in rallentamento, è precipitata allo 0,2%.[71]Questo dato era da ricondurre alla drammatica siccità che ha afflitto il paese tra la fine del 2013 e l’inizio del 2014, la quale ha influenzato in modo estremamente negativo l’andamento della produzione agricola, comparto nel quale è impiegato circa il 31% della popolazione.[72] Il cattivo corso dei monsoni, che ha vessato lo Sri Lanka per tre anni consecutivi, ha chiaramente avuto gravi conseguenze per gli agricoltori, che hanno visto il proprio reddito declinare costantemente a causa della mancanza di acqua per l’irrigazione, della scarsità di sementi di qualità e degli insostenibili livelli di indebitamento. La prolungata assenza di precipitazioni ha avuto un drastico impatto specialmente sulla produzione di riso, decresciuta di tre milioni e mezzo di tonnellate rispetto all’anno precedente, ponendo così una grave minaccia alla sicurezza alimentare dell’intero paese. La diminuzione nella produzione di riso è stata compensata tramite il ricorso alle importazioni, che, in ottobre, ne hanno fatto aumentare il prezzo del 36% rispetto al 2013.[73] Le condizioni climatiche avverse hanno danneggiato in modo particolare l’area nord-orientale, dove è stata rovinata quasi metà delle coltivazioni.[74] La provincia Settentrionale e quella Orientale, le aree più arretrate dell’isola da un punto di vista economico, pesantemente colpite dal cattivo andamento dei monsoni, risultavano in una situazione disastrosa.[75] La siccità del 2014 ha colpito circa 1,8 milioni di singalesi, danneggiando in modo gravissimo soprattutto i piccoli coltivatori, ovvero la maggioranza degli agricoltori nelle aree vessate dall’aridità del clima.[76]L’arrivo del monsone nella regione meridionale, in giugno, non ha oltretutto portato il sollievo sperato, presentando precipitazioni talmente copiose e concentrate in un breve lasso di tempo da causare danni devastanti al territorio e alla popolazione, colpita da frane, alluvioni e uragani.

Nell’ultimo decennio, nello Sri Lanka, le catastrofi naturali legate alla violenza delle precipitazioni monsoniche pare abbiano causato una perdita economica quantificabile in un miliardo di dollari, senza considerare gli enormi costi umani che esse hanno presentato.[77] I cambiamenti climatici, e le conseguenti calamità meteorologiche, hanno posto in essere un serio rischio per lo sviluppo economico e sociale dello Sri Lanka; si prevede infatti che l’instabilità del clima nell’area aumenterà, a detrimento dell’agricoltura, delle risorse idriche, dell’ambiente, del settore energetico e della pesca.

Per quanto concerne gli altri aspetti economici, è da rilevare come il tasso di inflazione, che nel febbraio 2013 aveva raggiunto un picco del 9,9% a causa della politica di svalutazione della rupia, durante il 2014 sia costantemente diminuito, passando dal 4,4% di inizio anno, al 3,5% registrato ad agosto.[78] Sebbene la diminuzione dell’inflazione non abbia coinvolto i prezzi dei beni alimentari, generalmente aumentati a causa del cattivo andamento del monsone, essa è stata accompagnata da un abbassamento dei tassi di interesse sui prestiti bancari, la cui esosità era stata motivo di una contrazione del credito al settore privato.[79]

L’economia continuava poi ad essere caratterizzata da alcune debolezze strutturali, la prima delle quali può essere individuata nel costante deficit della bilancia commerciale, circostanza all’origine delle forti svalutazioni della rupia avvenute negli anni precedenti. Ciò nondimeno, durante il primo semestre del 2014, l’aumento del 16,8% delle importazioni, accompagnato da una lieve diminuzione delle importazioni dell’1,2%, pareva configurare un discreto miglioramento della situazione, portando il debito singalese dai 4,44 miliardi di dollari del 2013 a 3,55 miliardi.[80] Su una base cumulativa, il deficit della bilancia commerciale era quindi diminuito, nel giugno 2014, di circa il 20% rispetto all’anno precedente, principalmente grazie alla tenue ripresa economica dei mercati europei e statunitensi, ossia i maggiori importatori di prodotti provenienti dallo Sri Lanka. Hanno inoltre contribuito a ridurre il deficit commerciale singalese l’incremento degli investimenti esteri diretti, pressoché duplicati, l’aumento delle rimesse degli emigrati, cresciute di oltre il 10%, e la notevole espansione del turismo.[81] Nel mese di agosto, l’improvviso e consistente aumento delle importazioni, prevalentemente di petrolio, non è riuscito ad invertire la tendenza positiva sopra illustrata; tuttavia, tale circostanza ha messo in luce la precarietà dei risultati raggiunti e le fragilità caratterizzanti la composizione e la struttura del commercio singalese verso i mercati esteri, scarsamente differenziato e basato prevalentemente sulle esportazioni di tè e prodotti tessili.[82]

Un ulteriore punto debole dell’economia singalese era rappresentato dal consistente deficit fiscale, che, nel corso del 2013, era risultato del 5,8% in rapporto al PIL ed era aggravato dalla pessima situazione finanziaria in cui versavano molte imprese governative.[83]

Nonostante il consistente aumento del reddito pro capite registratosi negli ultimi due decenni, il gettito fiscale del paese ha subito una costante erosione, giungendo a rappresentare, nel 2012, circa l’11% del PIL. Tale problema era imputabile sia ad un sistema difettoso ed iniquo di tassazione, in cui le imposte indirette coprivano l’80% circa delle entrate, sia ad un’elevata evasione fiscale. A dispetto delle misure adottate negli scorsi anni al fine di giungere ad un consolidamento fiscale, mediante un ampliamento della base impositiva indiretta anche al settore finanziario, nel 2013 le entrate nelle casse dello stato sono comunque risultate piuttosto deludenti. Esse si sono attestate al 13,6% del PIL, mancando l’obiettivo di ridurre il deficit fiscale al 5,2%, nel corso del 2014. Alla fine del mese di aprile, infatti, il gettito fiscale singalese era risultato inferiore di oltre il 15% rispetto alle aspettative, portando il deficit a 347 miliardi di rupie già nell’arco del primo quadrimestre e facendo allontanare il traguardo prestabilito.[84]

Per quanto concerne la legge finanziaria per l’anno 2015, essa è stata notevolmente influenzata dalla decisione di anticipare le elezioni presidenziali al gennaio appunto del 2015 e dal conseguente obiettivo di modellarla in modo da aumentare le possibilità per Rajapaksa di essere rieletto. Di qui una serie di misure che avrebbero comportato un aumento significativo della spesa pubblica, incrementata del 15% rispetto all’anno precedente; tra questi provvedimenti di natura espansiva sono da segnalare: l’incremento delle pensioni e dei salari minimi degli impiegati sia pubblici che privati; una riduzione dei prezzi del carburante e delle tariffe dell’elettricità e dell’acqua; un aumento dei sussidi agli agricoltori, duramente colpiti dalla siccità; una diminuzione dell’1% dell’imposta sul valore aggiunto e un abbassamento del limite massimo di tassazione sul reddito al 16%; lo stanziamento di incentivi politici ed economici alle piccole e medie imprese; un incremento delle risorse finanziarie destinate alla salute e all’istruzione, che avrebbero visto salire le somme a loro disposizione, rispettivamente, da 117,6 miliardi di rupie a 139,5 e da 75,9 miliardi di rupie a 96,5.[85] Una considerevole parte della spesa pubblica sarebbe poi stata destinata, in linea con la politica economica degli ultimi anni, allo sviluppo delle infrastrutture e dei trasporti. La legge finanziaria per il 2015 ha inoltre previsto un consistente incremento, di circa il 12%, dell’importo destinato al settore della Difesa, assecondando una tendenza che, dalla fine della guerra civile, ha paradossalmente visto aumentare in modo costante la spesa pubblica per questo comparto. Gli stanziamenti economici per la Difesa sarebbero risultati nel 2015 di 285 miliardi di rupie, ovvero il 16% della spesa totale; inoltre, secondo fonti ufficiose, tale somma potrebbe ulteriormente aumentare, per giungere a 370 miliardi entro il 2017.[86] Vale poi la pena notare che il presidente Rajapaksa, ricoprendo contemporaneamente la carica di ministro della Difesa, ministro della Finanza e ministro dei Trasporti, avrebbe da solo avuto il controllo su circa il 40% dei fondi stanziati dalla legge finanziaria.[87] L’unico settore che pare non avere tratto beneficio dal carattere espansivo della legge finanziaria è stato quello della Tecnologia e della Ricerca, sul quale è convogliato solamente lo 0,23% della spesa totale.

Nonostante le misure destinate ad aumentare la spesa pubblica, e a mantenere i consensi tra la popolazione, la legge finanziaria cercava di mantenere gli obiettivi di consolidamento fiscale e di riduzione del debito pubblico, ammontante al 75% del PIL.[88] Secondo i disegni del governo, l’espansione dello schema per il pagamento delle tasse arretrate avrebbe avuto un ruolo decisivo nell’assicurare nuove entrate nelle casse dello stato; tramite l’erogazione di prestiti agevolati, gli evasori fiscali avrebbero ottenuto un finanziamento, da restituire entro cinque anni, per ripagare il loro debito ad un tasso di interesse del 6%.[89] Il proposito di portare il deficit fiscale al 4,6% del PIL risultava però poco realistico e in deciso contrasto con la linea espansiva perseguita dalla legge di bilancio per il 2015. Se si aggiunge il fatto che la manovra finanziaria prevedeva anche un aumento del limite massimo di indebitamento da parte del governo, innalzato di 440 miliardi di rupie, l’incoerenza della politica economica perseguita dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa appare evidente.[90]

Per concludere, la legge finanziaria per il 2015 conteneva in sé gli elementi per soddisfare pressoché ogni settore sociale, mantenendo contemporaneamente, almeno sulla carta, l’obbiettivo del rigore fiscale. Tuttavia, l’incoerenza di fondo della legge non era il suo difetto principale. Questo era piuttosto rappresentato dalla mancanza di un piano strutturale a lungo termine, in grado di rendere autopropulsivo lo sviluppo economico del paese. Una critica che rimane valida anche se si considera che, rispetto agli anni precedenti, la legge finanziaria per il 2015 ha posto una maggiore attenzione alla valorizzazione del capitale umano.

Two main political trends characterized Sri Lanka in 2014. The first was the persistence of those political features which had been taking shape since the establishment of the Rajapaksa administration in 2005. Indeed, since his election, President Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa has benefited from both a large parliamentary majority and mass support. The latter was strengthened by the victorious conclusion, in 2009, of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers. Accordingly, in 2010, President Rajapaksa was able to change the Constitution, enacting the 18th Amendment, which brought about both an expansion of the presidential powers and the possibility for a President to be elected for a third consecutive term (Rajapaksa was in his second term). During the years of Rajapaksa’s government, the country has witnessed both the implementation of repressive policies and either the inability or the lack of political will in bringing about a reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities, after the long civil war. Such a political climate worsened in 2014, because of the consolidation of Rajapaksa’s authoritarian regime, resulting in the rampant and conspicuous militarization of both state institutions and civil society. Furthermore, in the first months of the year, the apprehension caused by the supposed resurgence of the Tamil Tigers contributed to legitimate the increased presence of the army in the North-Eastern area of the country (namely in that part of the island were the Tamils are the majority). At the same time, the government extensively involved the military personnel in its urban development policy, which resulted in further erosion of the democratic space. Last but not least, the year under review saw the further sectarian polarization of society, this time to the detriment of the Muslim community. Such a polarization was fostered by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist movements, particularly the radical organization Bodu Bala Sena («Buddhist Power Force», BBS), which, in June 2014, promoted anti-Muslims violence in Beruwala, Dharga Town and Aluthgama, resulting in one of the worst religious riots in recent times.

Nevertheless, alongside with those developments, the first signs of vulnerability on part of the Rajapaksa government started to become visible. First, the regime was put under pressure by a United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution, which accused the Sri Lanka government of war crimes and human rights violations. Second, in occasion of the provincial elections, held in March and September 2014, the ruling coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), faced an unprecedented decline in the popular vote. Such a decline persuaded President Rajapaksa to anticipate the presidential election to 8 January 2015, with the aim to be re-elected for a third mandate before losing further popular support. The decision to anticipate the presidential election was followed by the emergence of rifts within the ruling coalition, made visible by the resignation of three UPFA ministers. Crucially important was the resignation of Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who went over to the opposition, was able to unite it, and became the opposition common presidential candidate, emerging as an existential challenge to President Rajapaksa’s hitherto undisputed position of power. 


Nepal 2013-14: breaking the political impasse

  1. Introduction

In 2014, Nepal was headed towards a resolution of the problems that caused the political and constitutional impasse of 2012 and 2013. The first Constituent Assembly resolved on May 28, 2012, before drafting the new Constitution, to replace the interim Constitution of 2007. This brought the country to a political deadlock. In March 2013, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai stepped down to facilitate the election process of the second Constituent Assembly. Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was appointed to serve as de facto prime minister and to form a new government. The results of the election – which was held in November 2013 – saw the emergence of the Nepali Congress as the leading party, closely followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), and this brought the country to another period of political deadlock. In February 2014, a new coalition government was formed under the new Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, who replaced Regmi, ending the political impasse. Koirala established, as his main task, the drafting of the Constitution. On November 27, at a press briefing at the end of the SAARC summit, he said that the Nepali parties were trying to find a consensus in order to promulgate the Constitution by January 22, 2015. Other key goals of the Koirala government were economic development and completing the peace process through the investigation and persecution of human rights abusers during the civil war (1996-2006). During the first half of 2014, following the election of the second Constituent Assembly, Nepal’s economy stabilised. New input for development also resulted from improved relations with India. In his two visits to the country in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed important economic agreements to develop Nepal’s hydropower potential and to buy electricity to help tackle India’s energy shortages, and also provided Nepal with a $1 billion line of credit for various development purposes.

  1. An Ongoing Political Impasse

The political deadlock which paralysed the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal due to the lack of a Constitution and ongoing quarrels between the parties continued during the first months of 2013.[1] As has been rightly noted, Nepal’s political parties «have been unable to agree even on a regular annual budget».[2]

The 1st Nepalese Constituent Assembly, which was elected in May 2008, had the task of writing a new Constitution and acting as the interim legislature. However, the Parliament did not succeed in its mission to draft a new Constitution, and eventually, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the Constituent Assembly on May 28, 2012. The major points of disagreement were whether the government should be central or federal, and the division of regions. The Maoists parties and those that represent the Madhesi people (who inhabit the Terai region) demanded a federation of single-ethnicity states, while the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) demanded a smaller number of states based on multiple ethnicities.

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), one of the key players in the Maoist insurgency and the 35th Prime Minister, serving from August 2011 to March 2013, had scheduled the 2nd Nepalese Constituent Assembly elections for November 22, 2012, but the vote was put off by the Election Commission. Once again, the country was without a functional government and without a Constitution. The two mainstream political parties, namely, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and the Nepali Congress, had long quarrelled about conducting an election under the authority of Bhattarai. The dispute between the parties twice led to a postponement of the elections. Nepal was and is still ruled under an Interim Constitution.[3]

In March 2013, Bhattarai agreed to step down to ease the election process, and all of the major parties agreed to form an interim government led by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, and a council of ministers chosen by him, although the interim Constitution does not allow for a provisional government led by a Chief Justice. The appointment raised many doubts in the country. First, the parties were criticised for not working together to build democracy and to draft the Constitution, but instead being driven by their obsession with power. Doubts were raised about bringing a judicial figure into the political domain. Moreover, Regmi’s appointment was proposed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, the Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), an ex-leader of the guerrilla war against the royal government, who served as Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. Because the idea to appoint the Chief Justice to the role of interim Prime Minister came from Prachanda, this raised some suspicion that the move was part of a Maoist conspiracy to co-opt the judiciary. According to an editorial published in the Nepali Times, «[i]t was a proposal by one party that wanted to remove the last remaining hurdle in its quest for absolute power. After dissolving the assembly, buying into media, coopting the police, appeasing the army, infiltrating the bureaucracy, only the Supreme Court was standing in the way».[4] Voices were raised to comment that the Chief Justice should not have accepted the proposal, as it was «ethically wrong».[5]

After a mechanism was proposed to oversee his government until the day of the election of the new Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament, Regmi, too, expressed reservations about heading the interim government unless he could have a free hand in choosing his ministers. It was also proposed that, if the interim government failed to hold the election by the first week of June, it would be dissolved. Regmi’s fear was that he would only be used as a proxy to endorse the decisions made by the main parties. Every political force and the civil society agreed on the need for fresh elections for a new Constituent Assembly to finally draft the Constitution, but this time, on some solid basis of agreement, which could lead to a result shared by the majority of the parties that had emerged in the first election. The three main parties were the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – which originated out of the fusion, in 2009, of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre-Masal) – followed in the second position by the Nepali Congress, and in the third position, by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Elections for the sake of elections that were to be held on June 21, 2013 would not solve the matter, and it would be better to give the new Chairman of the Interim Election Council, namely, PM Khil Raj Regmi, enough time to organise free and fair voting, even if it occurred later in the year.

  1. New Interim Government: Chief Judge Khil Raj Regmi’s Appointment as Chairman

The quarrels between the parties and the impossibility of drafting the new Constitution caused widespread disillusionment among the Nepali people against the main political parties and their leaders. According to a Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll 2013 which was carried out over a period of one week in mid-February in 38 districts for a total of 3,508 respondents, reflecting the proportionality of Nepal’s ethnicities, geography, gender, age, and literacy, 61,1% of the respondents thought that democracy was under threat, and 39,4% of the respondents thought that the major reason was the wrangling among political parties. Of the disputes among the parties, 15% of the respondents assigned responsibility to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and 9,1% indicated foreign interference (85,3% indicating meddling from India). More than half of the respondents did not trust the party leaders, and 10,19% wanted to have an independent candidate.[6] It was time for the political leadership to take action.

Despite the criticism of the Nepal Bar Association and the protests of a dozen fringe political parties, which on June 14 called a general strike in the Kathmandu Valley to protest against the formation of the government under a chief justice, the major parties finally agreed on the name of the chairman of the Interim Election Council. This agreement was part of an 11-point deal reached by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the United Democratic Madhesi Front. The last group mentioned was a coalition composed of three Madhesh-based political parties, the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum, Nepal (also called the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, Nepal), and two minor parties: the Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party and the Sadbhavana Party. The parties also agreed to hold the election on June 21, or to postpone the date until November in case of a lack of agreement.

On March 14, 2013, Chief Judge of the Supreme Court Khil Raj Regmi was sworn in by President Ram Baran Yadav, the 1st President of Nepal (serving from July 2008 and still incumbent). Regmi’s service as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was unanimously considered beyond reproach; however, his capacity as a leader was doubted because of his failure to appoint judges in the Supreme Court during his 22 months as head of the Judicial Council, and his legal reconciliatory approach was considered a weak point.[7] Regmi was charged with leading a new interim government and supervising the elections, to be held in three months, by June 21, 2013, and he became de facto prime minister. This brought the impasse between the four main political parties to an end.[8]

Foreign countries, including the UK, India, China, Switzerland, and the USA, welcomed the agreement among the four major political parties. As stressed by the US Embassy’s statement congratulating the Nepalese people, the agreement on a Chief Justice-led government was «a complex and challenging process and we commend the parties for their willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve this important political milestone».[9]

Besides the appointment of Regmi, the top leaders of the four major political parties who signed the 11-point deal also agreed on two other key issues: forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide transitional justice and updating the voters’ list before the polls. Regmi’s main political task was to hold the elections, and in his first speech, he urged all parties and the civil society to cooperate in the process. Despite being criticised as a weak leader, his nonpartisan status actually helped the country to head towards elections.

Immediately after being appointed, Regmi included two former bureaucrats in the Cabinet, and five days after his election, he included eight more ministers and allotted them portfolios, after the High-Level Political Committee Coordinator agreed on their names. A few days after his appointment, in fact, Regmi had set up a High-level Political Committee to help the Interim Election Council. The eight-member committee has two each from the four major political parties, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and United Democratic Madhesi Front. It was presided over by the Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal. There was a major effort to overcome the difficulties that had brought the country to a political and constitutional crisis.[10] The first Cabinet chaired by Regmi pledged to hold free, fair and inclusive elections in June in order to reflect the will of the Nepalese people. The Cabinet requested the political parties who had opposed Regmi’s election to get engaged in the Constituent Assembly elections, and it appealed to civil society and the media to create a favourable environment for the elections.

  1. The Second Constituent Assembly and the New Government

On June 13, 2013, the Interim Election Government formed in March and headed by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi announced that the election of the new Constituent Assembly, a unicameral body tasked with drafting a new Constitution and serving as the country’s Parliament, would occur on November 19, 2013. The lack of a political consensus had forced a deadline extension from the planned June 2013 election.

Out of the 139 political parties registered in May at the Nepal Election Commission, 76 were new ones, a sure signal that the democratic debate was florid. They did not exist during the first Constituent Election of May 28, 2008. However, despite the support of the four major political parties, there was still no consensus on the November elections. The new Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a new party formed in 2012 from a split from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and holding the same name as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), merged into the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), did not register in the Election Commission, saying that the election was not possible under the current political situation. An alliance of 33 smaller political parties led by Mohan Baidya, the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), issued a statement declaring that «the Government was unconstitutional as it was formed through an unconstitutional Presidential decree and holding an election on the basis of such a decree is akin to pushing the country towards further crisis».[11] They wanted a party-led government and wanted to postpone the elections.

The Terai groups advocating Terai separatism and Madhesi self-determination declared their agenda, endorsing an eight-point course of action aimed at disrupting the Constituent Assembly polls. The problem of the inclusion of the marginalised Terai groups in the constitutional process and the number of ethnicity-based regions have been present in Nepal since the beginning of the democratic debate regarding drafting a new Constitution to replace the interim Constitution of 2007.[12]

In August, the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal announced the launch of a nationwide signature campaign in October to demand the return of the monarchy. There were strikes and violent protests by the opposition parties in the months before the elections, and all of the electoral constituencies along the 1,700 Km border with India were kept under special surveillance in view of the elections.[13]

Some 12,21 million people from 102 castes and ethnic groups, speaking 92 languages, voted in the second Constituent Assembly. The Assembly was enlarged to 601 seats to ensure the highest degree of participation of the parties by instituting a 60/40 ratio for proportional and first-past-the-post representations. A total of 30 parties and 2 independents were represented. The Nepali Congress, which had been the second party in the first elections, emerged as the largest party, winning 105 of the 240 seats of the first-past-the-post seats and 91 proportional seats, for a total of 196 seats. It was closely followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), which won a total of 175 seats. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had a total of 80 seats, and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal received 24 seats. In November, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), demanded that the vote counting be stopped, claiming elections fraud, and asked for an independent investigation, refusing to participate in the Constituent Assembly if his demands were not met. The Election Commission, however, ruled out a revote or recount.[14]

The election manifesto released by the Nepali Congress in October stated that a new Constitution was to be drafted within a year of the election and that it would establish multiparty competition, periodic elections, separation of powers, press freedom, a transparent and inclusive governing system, a federal structure, including two provinces in the southern plains or Terai, and a focus on the economic development of the country.

The elections brought the country to another period of political deadlock because no party had won a clear majority, although, in December, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) agreed to join the Constituent Assembly and to participate in writing the final chapters of the Constitution.

The results of the elections showed that the forces that have been fighting for an identity-based federalism, namely, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Madhesi parties, had been defeated, although they had been confirmed as significant forces. The Terai, or Madhesh, region begins at the Indian border and includes the southernmost part of the intensively farmed Gangetic Plain. The region is the breadbasket of the country and is the main link between Nepal and its biggest trading partner, India. The Madhesi parties wanted a single and separate province spanning the southern third of the country from east to west. However, in the elections, the Nepali Congress emerged as the strongest force in the Madesh, although the party had always opposed ethnicity-based federalism, warning that it could lead to conflicts between the various ethnic groups.

On February 10, the Chairman of the Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala, a member of the party since 1955, was elected Prime Minister by the Constituent Assembly, ending months of political crisis. He secured 405 votes, although 148 representatives of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal and some small parties in the Maoist-led alliance voted against him. Regmi resigned as interim prime minister and as chief justice, because the Nepal Bar Association said that he could no longer serve as chief justice.

Koirala was known as a «clean politician» with a reputation for having an austere lifestyle, and there was a large echo in the country when he said that he could list just three mobile phones as his assets, as he did not possess land, houses, financial investments or even a bank account. His main task was to bring the country to stability. He pledged to give the nation a new federal democratic Constitution and to use all of its resources for economic development. After long negotiations with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the second largest party in the Constituent Assembly, to ensure the strongest possible support to draft the Constitution, at the end of February, Koirala formed a new coalition government of 21 ministers from the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The new government was criticised because, despite electoral promises to include women, and ethnic and linguistic minorities, only two ministers were women, both from Terai, and none were from the far west, the poorest area of the country. The major tasks of the new government, besides drafting the new Constitution, were holding local body elections to vote for local people’s representatives, which had been delayed for 16 years, and completing the peace process, including the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on the Disappeared to provide transitional justice.[15] In March, a 145-point common minimum programme of the coalition government, a 13-point ethical code of conduct for the ministers – including the prime minister – to ensure austerity and good governance, and a 10-point method for running the administration in a transparent way, were announced. The programme was a commitment of the ruling parties to complete the political process and to improve the economy. In August, the Chief Election Commissioner, Neel Kantha Uprety, said that the Election Commission was ready to conduct the local body elections within the next three months, only after the political parties arrived at a consensus, adding that the system of local body elections was more complicated than that of the Constituent Assembly elections.[16]

  1. New Hopes for the Economy

The Nepali economy stabilised during the first half of 2014, following the election of the new Constituent Assembly, which reduced the political uncertainty. Economic growth, however, was slow, although it was projected to recover to 4¾ percent in 2013/14, from below 4% the year before, supported by agriculture, increased fiscal spending, and continued strong remittance inflows.[17]

Great expectations for economic growth resulted from the first and second visits of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Nepal. Kathmandu hosted, on November 26-27, the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) «Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity». The hope was that India, the biggest state and the largest economy among the eight member states, would take special responsibility, not only to make the summit a success, but «to invest more in its own bordering areas of Uttar Pradesh, North Bihar, North Bengal, Tripura, and Assam so that the local populations of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh don’t view India as a country of the fourth world» in terms of infrastructure, especially roads, railways, health services, and education.[18] The first priority of SAARC was, in fact, economic integration, although the outcome was considered disappointing.[19] The Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic, and the SAARC Regional Agreement on Railways, which would improve trade, regional tourism and interaction between the eight state members, were stalled for three months because Pakistan held back.[20] The SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity) was signed. According to the independent newspaper, Kathmandu Post, one of the largest in the country, the role played by Koirala to facilitate the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, which brought Modi and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, to agree to sign the Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation and to commit to signing the two other pacts within three months, was a big diplomatic success.[21] More importantly, the day before the beginning of the summit, Nepal and India signed a deal to build a $1-billion hydropower plant. The deal allows India’s state-owned company, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, to construct a 900-megawatt hydropower project on Nepal’s Arun river, with electricity expected to be generated starting in 2021. Both Nepal and India suffer from electricity shortages and blackouts. Nepal will receive about 22% of the power generated for free, while the remainder will be exported to India.

This was the second deal on hydropower projects. During the first visit of PM Narendra Modi to Nepal at the beginning of August, Nepal and India had agreed to sign an agreement that would allow the exchange of electricity generated from hydroelectric projects in Nepal. A big project that would be beneficial for both countries was signed by India and Nepal in September: the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project. Slated for completion in 2021, it will be the largest hydroelectric power station in Nepal, using the water from the Karnali River to generate electricity to export to India.

On October 21, a historic Power Trade Agreement (PTA) was signed to increase cooperation in the field of transmission interconnection, grid connectivity and power trade, paving the way for the free trade of power between the two countries, to encourage and facilitate investments in the power sector, to explore new areas of cooperation and to monitor the progress in those areas by establishing two joint working groups.[22]

During his visit in August, Modi announced $1 billion NRs as a concessional line of credit to Nepal for various development purposes and an «HIT» (meaning highways, I-ways and transways) formula for the development of the country.[23] He also pledged to expedite the long delayed project to build a 41-km Amlekhgunj (Nepal)-Raxaul (Bihar) petroleum pipeline, which would later be extended to Kathmandu. The formal talks began at the end of August, but in November, they could not be finalised due to disagreements on the technical and financial implementation.

Before the SAARC summit 2005, activists called the «People’s SAARC» issued a 24-point declaration stressing that the SAARC leaders should also include the rights of migrants and the creation of support mechanisms for stranded migrants and migrants in need in the agenda.[24] Migrant workers from Nepal bring back 30% of Nepal’s GDP at a high human cost due to dubious recruitment agencies, which in some cases, are backed by transnational organised crime. Standard contracts and minimum wages in South Asian countries would reduce the influence of trafficking organisations.

In a press briefing at the end of the SAARC summit, Prime Minister Koirala clarified that Modi, who, two days before had said that the preliminary Constitution should be drafted in agreement, was not pushing Nepali leaders to reach an understanding in order to promulgate a new Constitution in consensus, because the process was up to Nepal. He underlined, however, that the parties were indeed trying to find a consensus to promulgate the Constitution by the January 22 deadline.

  1. Completing the Peace Process: The Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014

Nepal’s success in writing a new Constitution also depends on how it handles the issue of providing justice for victims of the civil war. Since the end of the conflict, the investigation and prosecution of abusers of human rights during the war has been a key point of discussion in the country. The 11-point deal among the four major parties, which led to the appointment of Regmi, included forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations, such as torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity, which took place during the conflict, to provide transitional justice, and to give one Colonel and two Lt Colonel posts to the Maoist combatants who had been integrated into the Nepali Army. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was already planned by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006. One of the main problems the country faced in 2006, after the end of the 10-year-long civil war, was the integration of the ex-Maoist combatants of the People’s Liberation Army, Nepal, the armed wing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (who later served as Prime Minister from August 2008 to May 2009), into the national Nepal Army or into civil society.[25]

In 2013, the government had issued a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ordinance (TRC) with the duty to prohibit potential amnesties for serious crimes as a political deal, without meeting the minimum international standards required. The discourse on the TRC bill had been focused on either the prosecution or amnesty for war time crimes, and the political infighting focused on the question of impunity. The arrest in the United Kingdom of Col. Kumar Lama in January 2013 on allegations of torture during the Nepali civil war was an embarrassing incident for Nepal, while foreign peacekeeping missions denied positions to prominent Nepalese generals.[26]

In January 2, 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the ordinance introduced by then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai in 2013, following pressure from the Nepal Army and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), granting a de facto amnesty, even to those involved in serious human rights violations. The Supreme Court passed the directive to restructure the Commission under pressure from the international community to ensure that the transitional justice mechanisms meet established international standards. However, in March, the 110th session of the Human Rights Committee pointed out the slow progress of the country in its reforms, in ensuring justice to the victims of various forms of human rights violations, in ensuring the distribution of citizenship certificates without any legal hassles, and in curbing the corporal punishment and killing of women in the name of witchcraft. The ill-treatment of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal was also mentioned in the meeting.[27]

On the occasion of the International Right to Truth Day of March 25, the National Victims Alliance (NVA) pressed the government to unveil the truth regarding the disappeared persons, forming an all-powerful and impartial Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission on Disappeared, to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations and to implement the Supreme Court’s order on transitional justice. Making the status of disappeared citizens public to ensure the right to truth, providing medical treatment to injured and physically impaired persons, and distributing identity cards to victims of the war were among the series of demands.[28]

In 2012, according to the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, Relief and Reconstruction Unit, Ganesh Prasad Upadhyay, some 17,800 people died during the civil war. In 2014, some 850 cases of enforced disappearance were registered and were under investigation by the Nepal Human Rights Commission, and over 3,000 cases of severe human rights abuse were registered.[29]During the 10-year conflict, civilians were targeted for extrajudicial killings and torture by both state security services and rebels. Women were caught in the violence between police and the Royal Nepalese Army, and in the violence and forced recruitment by Maoists. Rape became a gendered weapon and an instrument of retaliation and political repression.[30]

The fear shared by the international humanitarian organisations, NGOs and the relatives of victims was that abusers, especially those in political positions after the war, would enjoy impunity. According to the 2013 report by Amnesty International, in the previous four years, successive governments had withdrawn hundreds of criminal cases against individuals accused of serious offences, including murder, citing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement concluded between the Government of Nepal and The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), dated November 21, 2006, which called for the withdrawal of cases brought against individuals «due to political reasons».[31]

The ruling of the Supreme Court of Nepal on January 2014 overturned the 2013 Ordinance on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Commission by forming a separate Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Disappearance Commission to ensure their effective implementation, making suspects of gross human rights violations ineligible and reducing the discretionary power of the Attorney General to decide on prosecution. However, the ruling was considerably criticised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and national and international NGOs for its failure to comply with international legal standards.[32]The ordinance was partially changed by the Supreme Court by establishing the two commissions, enacting new laws excluding the possibility of amnesty for serious human rights violations, and criminalising serious human rights violations as specific offences within domestic law. Under the recommendation of the Supreme Court, an Expert Task Force was formed that included Government officials, human rights lawyers, victims and conflict experts, to assist with the drafting of a new law. However, the Expert Task Force only had some two weeks to meet, deliberate and draft its recommendations before the Bill was passed.

The Bill was passed by Nepal’s Parliament on 25 April 2014 as the Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014. It was promulgated into law on May 21, despite the previous political opposition of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who dissented on a comprehensive investigation of war crimes on the grounds that all war-era cases were political in nature and that punishing the perpetrators would not help to maintain peace in society and would not allow a new Constitution to be drafted if the questions of truth and reconciliation remained unsettled.

The Bill, based on a consensus between the major three parties, the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), was supported by all of the parties, excluding smaller parties, such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, whose Chairman Kamal Thapa remarked that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as it was envisioned, would pardon the perpetrators involved in serious crimes committed during the war era.[33] With the Bill, «there has been some effort to implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court, with the creation of two separate commissions, the inclusion of safeguards to enable the participation of vulnerable witnesses, the incorporation of a system for institutional reform and, importantly, a commitment to establish a Special Court to adjudicate conflict era abuses».[34] Nevertheless, the Bill presented flawed provisions, allowing amnesty for crimes committed under international law and gross violations of human rights. It was also criticised for failing to define key terms, such as «serious violation of human rights», «act of disappearing a person» and «reparation» in accordance with international law, and for the power of the Commission to reconcile victims and perpetrators without the consent of the parties involved. The Bill did not comply with international law and standards on transitional justice, and the International Commission of Jurists made a series of recommendations to the government of Nepal to amend the problematic points, while Human Rights Watch asked the government to act immediately to fix crucial flaws.[35] Nevertheless, despite the problematic points, the Bill is a big step towards providing justice to victims of the civil war and towards settling one of the main remaining questions that has constituted an obstacle to the reconstruction process of the country.

Nel 2014 il Nepal si è avviato alla soluzione del problemi che avevano causato l’impasse politica e costituzionale dei due anni precedenti. La prima Assemblea Costituente si è sciolta il 28 maggio 2012, prima di redigere la nuova Costituzione che avrebbe sostituita quella ad interim del 2007. Questo ha portato il paese a uno stallo, sbloccato solo dalle dimissioni del primo ministro Baburam Bhattarai, a cui è succeduto il presidente della Corte Suprema, Khil Raj Regmi. Le elezioni della seconda Assemblea Costituente, che si sono tenute a novembre 2013, hanno visto emergere come primo partito il Nepali Congress, seguito con uno scarto di pochi voti dal Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Questo ha portato a un altro periodo di impasse politica, risolto nel febbraio 2014 con la formazione di un nuovo governo di coalizione guidato da Sushil Koirala. Il principale obbiettivo di Koirala è stato quello di redigere la Costituzione. Il 27 novembre, alla conferenza stampa in chiusura dei lavori del summit dei leader della SAARC, Koirala ha dichiarato che i partiti nepalesi stavano cercando di arrivare ad un accordo generale per promulgare la Costituzione entro il 22 gennaio 2015. Altri due obiettivi chiave del governo Koirala sono stati lo sviluppo dell’economia e la conclusione del processo di pace seguito alla guerra civile del 1996-2006 attraverso il definitivo accertamento delle responsabilità dei crimini di guerra la messa sotto processo dei responsabili.

Durante la prima metà del 2014, a seguito dell’elezione della seconda Assemblea Costituente, l’economia del Nepal si è stabilizzata. Un ruolo chiave nel miglioramento della situazione economica è stato rivestito dall’India. Nelle sue due visite al paese, il nuovo primo ministro indiano, Narendra Modi, ha firmato due importanti accordi per sviluppare l’enorme potenziale idroelettrico del Nepal, comprando l’elettricità per far parzialmente fronte alla carenza energetica dell’India. Modi ha anche aperto una linea di credito al Nepal di un miliardo di dollari, destinati a finanziare vari altri progetti di sviluppo. 


India 2014: the annihilation of the congress party and the beginning of the Modi era

  1. Introduction

In India, the dominant event in the year 2014 was the 16th general election and its results, namely the resounding victory of the Narendra Modi-led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the catastrophic defeat of the Indian National Congress (hereafter, the Congress). The Congress, which headed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), in power during the previous two legislatures, crashed to the worst electoral defeat in its whole history, tumbling from 206 seats to 44; on its part, the BJP was able to conquer the absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats. This happened exactly 30 years since any Indian party had been able to do the same.

Although the BJP victory and the Congress defeat did not arrive unexpectedly, what was unforeseen and surprising was the magnitude of both the BJP victory and the Congress defeat. The dominant party system – which historians, political scientists, politicians and analysts had considered gone for good – appeared to be back with a vengeance. Although Narendra Modi put together a coalition government, the BJP, thanks to its absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, was in a position of absolute strength vis-à-vis both its allies and the parliamentary opposition. The latter appeared weak and divided. In fact, the number of seats of the main opposition party, the Congress, at 44, was so low as to prevent it from being acknowledged as leader of the Opposition. Equally, or maybe more, remarkable was the loss of power of the regional parties, which, since the mid 1990s, had wielded increasing power at the all-India level by playing the role of indispensable allies to whichever party was in power at the centre. Although maintaining practically the same amount of popular vote and Lok Sabha seats as in the previous general election, the local parties were consigned to a situation of virtual irrelevance as the BJP, having conquered the absolute majority of the Lok Sabha’s seats, was now in a position to dispense with their help.

This being the situation, the present article is mainly focussed on the general election, the causes of its (largely unexpected) results and its consequences, namely the coming into power of the Narendra Modi-headed new government and its policies. However, as a necessary preamble to the treatment of the main theme, the short-lived government of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi will be examined. In fact, at the end of the year preceding the 2014 general election, the AAP’s unexpected positive result in the local Delhi elections, held in December 2013, and the successive formation of an AAP minority government (with the outside support of the Congress) had appeared to many as a potential turning point in Indian politics. Indeed, the Delhi events seemed to have opened the possibility that the AAP could become a key contestant in the approaching general election, turning it into a triangular contest between the BJP, Congress and AAP, and, at the end of the day, being a potential danger less for the Congress than for the BJP. [2]

In fact, although the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP had been born from the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement – namely a movement which had mainly been aimed against the Congress – and although the AAP had kept all the anti-Congress thrust of its parent movement, it is a fact that its potential rise as a key contestant at the all-India level could attract those numerous voters who, although disillusioned with the Congress, would have some qualms in voting for a rightist and anti-secular party like the BJP. This did not happen for several reasons; but possibly the most important among them was the AAP’s record when in government and, even more, its abrupt decision to resign.

  1. The short-lived Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi

At the end of 2013, the elections in the Delhi Union Territory had seen unexpected good results for the recently launched Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which, pushing aside the Congress Party, came second, just behind the BJP. In fact, in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) the BJP had 32 seats; the AAP 28, and the Congress, formerly the party in power, just eight.

These results determined a stalemate, as neither of the two major parties was in the position to form a government by itself. After much debate within the Congress – whose eight seats could still play a strategic role in the Delhi Assembly – and after considerable hesitation on the part of the AAP, on 23 December 2013 the latter eventually accepted the Congress’ support in order to form a government. As a consequence, the AAP government – headed by Arvind Kejriwal, and with the outside support of Congress – was sworn in on 28 December 2013.[3]

In accepting the government of Delhi, the AAP in general and their leader in particular were consciously running a political risk which was at the same time very high, but, in a way, unavoidable. Not accepting the challenge to form the government in Delhi would indeed be tantamount to admitting the AAP’s inability to translate its message of integrity, transparency and accountability into an effective policy aimed at solving those ills – corruption and bad administration – which Kejriwal’s party had so successfully denounced. On the other hand, for the AAP the act of governing was beset with difficulties; these were partly related to the AAP’s short history, partly to the complex composition of its social following, and, partly, to the fact that the Delhi government, being a Union Territory government, had much less power and autonomy than a state government.

Having been launched as recently as 26 November 2012, the AAP had not yet had the time to think out any comprehensive policy to tackle and try to solve the many problems besetting the country in general and Delhi in particular. The lack of a well-defined comprehensive policy, however, was not only the result of the AAP’s recent creation, but also depended on the inter-class and inter-caste nature of its social basis. In fact, an inter-class and inter-caste alliance against the common enemy represented by the existent corrupt political system was a feat comparatively easy to accomplish; on the contrary, it was noticeably more difficult to mediate among different class and caste interests, devising a set of effective policies which could satisfy either all or most of the social segments backing the AAP. Last but not least, as noted above, the Delhi government, being a Union Territory government, had less power than the state governments. By itself, in a situation in which the Union government and the Delhi government were ruled by different political combines, the Delhi government’s ability to act and implement its policies had an effective limit in the Union government’s political will.

All these handicaps contribute to explain the dismal performance, the short life (just 49 days) and final failure of a party not devoid of intellectual resources[4] and a leader who, before entering grass-root politics, had a solid educational background as an engineer and past experience as a civil servant. In fact, the AAP government started to operate energetically, and, during its first weeks in office, kept a part of its electoral promises by slashing power and water prices. Moreover, the AAP encouraged the residents of Delhi to use their mobile phones to record government workers demanding bribes, and report them through a hotline. This policy resulted in hundreds of officials, who were suspected of corruption, being moved out of key jobs, and – according to some reports – a conspicuous decline of corrupt practices in Delhi.[5]

However, as soon as the party had to confront different and more complex issues, difficulties started to arise. A detailed analysis of the AAP government activities would be too long to perform here; it suffices to notice that some of the AAP government’s decisions did disappoint one or another of the social sectors supporting the party, whereas other decisions were plainly wrong, possibly the result of lack of experience.[6] The situation was made more difficult by the fact that the Delhi government, being a Union Territory government, did not have any control over the Delhi police force, which was subject to the Union Home Ministry. The result was that tensions soon developed between the chief minister and the head of the Delhi police. As Kejriwal was to remember: «The first move I made when I was Chief Minister was to summon the Police Commissioner and told him firmly that I would hold the police accountable for incidents of rape. When three such incidents took place, I went on a protest.»[7]

Of course, the spectacle of a chief minister demonstrating in the streets was something unusual and shocking. Although some kind of modus vivendi between the chief minister and the Delhi police commissioner was later found, to many, Arvind Kejriwal turned from being Delhi’s Chief Minister to being Delhi’s Chief Protestor.[8]

These difficulties may explain Kejriwal’s decision to up the ante, by pushing for the approval in the Delhi Assembly of two bills in line with the AAP’s basic philosophy. These two laws were a Jan Lokpal Bill, namely an anti-corruption law which was stricter than the one approved the previous December by the Union parliament, and a Swaraj Bill, which radically decentralized the government of Delhi, by conferring wide powers on the 2,720 mohallas (regions) in which the Union Territory was organized.[9] Both bills, however, were opposed not only by the BJP but also by the Congress. The Swaraj Bill was criticized as too complex a piece of legislation, implying extensive changes in the existing laws, to be tabled in the Vidhan Sabha without a previous in-depth examination by the different parties. The Jan Lokpal bill, on the other hand, was opposed on technical grounds: according to a 2002 Executive Order, any piece of legislation implying financial expenditures had to be cleared in advance by the central government. Kejriwal, however, argued that the Executive Order was unconstitutional and he pressed for the discussion of the Jan Lokpal bill without any previous consent by the Union government. Moreover, on 9 February, Kejriwal made it clear in a NDTV television interview that, if the two laws were not passed, his government would resign.[10] As if that was not enough, on 11 February, Kejriwal ordered the Delhi anti-corruption bureau to start an investigation against Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industry Ltd and generally considered the richest businessman in India. Ambani was accused of having conspired with the incumbent Union oil and gas minister, M. Veerappa Moily, and former minister, Murli Deora, both eminent Congress politicians, to push up the price of the Reliance extracted Krishna-Godavari basin gas, by creating an artificial shortage.[11]

All this caused the complete breakdown of the already difficult cooperation between the AAP and the Congress. The result was that, on 14 February, while the Vidhan Sabha «descended into uproar», the motion to introduce a vote on the Jan Lokpal bill was roundly defeated.[12] True to his word, Kejriwal immediately resigned, putting an end to the AAP government in Delhi.

According to many commentators, the AAP government’s resignation had been a goal consciously pursued by Kejriwal. Unable to tackle Delhi’s manifold problems and carry out effective policies to address them, he had preferred to go down fighting in favour of the anti-corruption bill. In doing this, Kejriwal’s actual goal was to assume the high moral ground, presenting himself as a «martyr», the victim of an unholy and unprecedented Congress–BJP alliance, come together to defend Mukesh Ambani.[13]

In resigning, Kejriwal asked the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi for immediate new elections, which, no doubt, he expected to be held at the same time as the imminent general elections and which he was confident to win by gaining at least 50 of the 70 Delhi Vidhan Sabha seats. However, that did not happen, and, although the Vidhan Sabha was dissolved, the Delhi territory came under presidential rule, namely under the direct control of the Union government; unexpectedly for the AAP leadership, this was a situation bound to last up to the end of the year under review, and beyond. Meanwhile, many political initiatives taken by the AAP government were left unaccomplished, while others were overturned. At the end of the day, Kejriwal’s decision backfired, discrediting the AAP.

As noted above, at the end of 2013, Kejriwal’s party appeared positioned to play a key role in the coming general election, competing with the two all-India parties (the Congress and the BJP) and ready to play the spoiler particularly vis-à-vis the BJP. After the AAP resignation, that possibility rapidly waned. It is true that, according to some opinion polls, those hopes were already overblown at the end of January,[14] mainly because of the AAP’s lack of financial and organizational resources. However, while the AAP was in government and Kejriwal appeared active in the attempt to solve the Capital Territory’s manifold problems, the possibility for the AAP to repeat the Delhi miracle of December 2013 at least in some of the main Indian cities was not to be discarded. But any hope of that came to an abrupt end with Kejriwal’s resignation. Months later, AAP party leaders and Kejriwal himself conceded on several occasions that the AAP resignation had been a major political blunder.[15]

  1. The general election

The period up to mid May of 2014 was dominated first by the electoral campaign and then by the voting. As has become customary, the voting itself was articulated in several phases in the different parts of India: the first was held on 7 April; the ninth and final one was held on 12 May; finally, the results were declared on 16 May.

As usual, the Indian general election established a set of new records: the largest electorate ever in the history of the world (814.5 million people); the maximum number of voters who actually voted (540.7 million people); the highest percentage of voters who actually voted in the history of India (66.38%), the longest period of time during which the votes were cast (36 days); the maximum number of parties (484), the maximum number of candidates (8,251).

The electoral struggle saw the participation of two major political alliances and a number of other parties, among which the AAP, which went to the polls alone or, like the Communist parties, were part of a political alliance, the Left Front. The two major alliances were gathered around the only two parties which could be considered all-India parties, namely the centre-of-left Congress and the rightist BJP. The Congress headed the UPA (United Progressive Alliance), which had been in power during the two previous legislatures, and had as its campaign leader Rahul Gandhi. The BJP headed the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), and was led by Narendra Modi. Finally there were the parties which did not join any alliance; among those, on the eve of the elections, particularly strong looked the SP (Samajwadi Party), the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) – both rooted in the northern giant state of Uttar Pradesh –, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) of Tamil Nadu, and the CPI-M (Communist Party of India – Marxist), the strongest of the Left Front parties, rooted in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Already during the electoral campaign and increasingly during the voting it had become clear that the BJP would emerge as the victor. However nobody was prepared for the dimension of the BJP’s victory; significantly, still at the closing of the voting marathon and immediately before the results were made public, most polls indicated that the Narendra Modi-headed alliance would fall short of winning 272 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.[16] On the contrary, the BJP alone conquered 282 Lok Sabha seats, namely the absolute majority, whereas the whole NDA had 332 seats. On the other hand the Congress and its allies went down in a much more devastating defeat than anticipated: the Congress itself, suffering the worst defeat in its whole history – worse still than the historical debacle of 1977, at the end of the Emergency period – gained only 44 seats and its allies only 15 more, for a total of 59 seats.[17]

Details of the results are given in Tables 1 to 3. However, some of them must be stressed here. The BJP shot up from 116 seats to 282 and from 18.8% of the popular vote to 31%; on the other hand, the Congress crashed down from 208 seats to 44, and from 28.55% of the popular vote to 19.31%. This means that the distorting effect of the first-past-the-post electoral system, which is always strong in a plural and heterogeneous society like India, greatly favoured the BJP which, with 31% of the popular vote got a 51.93% share of the Lok Sabha elected seats,[18] and as greatly hindered the Congress, which, with 19.31% of the popular vote obtained 8.10% of the share of the Lok Sabha elected seats. In fact, the Congress’ share in the Lok Sabha seats was so limited that the «Grand Old Party» of India emerged from the 2014 general election without the constitutional requisites to be officially acknowledged as leader of the Opposition. Once this is said, the fact remains that the BJP’s victory was as clear-cut and convincing as the Congress’ defeat.

Parties Number of seats Plus/minus compared with 2009 Popular vote Plus/minus compared with 2009
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) 282 +166 31% +12.20%
Shiv Sena [Maharashtra] 18 +7 1.85% +0.30
TSP (Telugu Desam Party)[Andhra Pradesh & Telangana] 16 +10 2.55% +0.04
Lok Janshakti Party [Bihar] 6 +6 0.41% -0.04
Rashtriya Lok Samata Party [Bihar] 3 not present in 2009 0.19% not present in 2009
Apna Dal [Uttar Pradeh] 2 +2 0.15% +0.03
PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi)  [Tamil Nadu] 1 +1 0.33% -0.14
Swabhimani Paksha  [Maharashtra] 1   0 0.20% +0.08
Naga People’s Front [Nagaland] 1   0 0.18% -0.02
National People’s Party[Meghalaya] 1 not present in 2009 0.10% not present in 2009
All India N.R. Congress  [Puducherry] 1 not present in 2009 0.05% not present in 2009
Other NDA parties (5) 0 0.89%
Total 332
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 1. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: NDA parties

Table 2. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: UPA parties

Parties Number of seats Plus/minus compared with 2009 Popular vote Plus/minus compared with 2009
Congress (Indian National Congress) 44 -162 19.31% -9.24
Nationalist Congress Party [Maharashtra]  6  -3 1.56% -0.58
Rashtriya Janata Dal [Bihar]  4    0 1.34% +0.74
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha  2    0 0.30% -0.10
Indian Union Muslim League  [Kerala]  2    0 0.20% -0.01
Kerala Congress  1    0 0.08% -0.02
Other UPA parties (4)  0 0,32%
Total 59 23.83%
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 3. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: non-NDA/non-UPA parties which gained at least one seat

Parties Number of seats Plus/minus compared with 2009 Popular vote Plus/minus compared with 2009
AIADMK (All India Munnetra Kazhagam) [Tamil Nadu] 37 +28 3.27% +1.60
Trinamool Congress [West Bengal] 34 +15 3.84% +0.34
Biju Janata Dal [Odisha] 20 +6 1.7% +0.12
CPI-M (Communist Party of India – Marxist) 9 +-7 3.25% -2.08
YSR Congress Party (Yuvajana, Shramika, Rythu Congress Party) [Andhra Pradesh and Telangana] 9 not present in 2009 2.5% not present in 2009
Samajwadi Party [Uttar Pradesh] 5 -18 3,37% -0.05
AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) [Punjab] 4 not present in 2009 2.05% not present in 2009
IUDF (All India United Democratic Front) [Assam] 3 +2 0.42% -0.10
J&KPDP (Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party) 3 0 0,13% +0.01
JD(U) (Janata Dal – United) [Bihar] 2 -18 1.1% -0.44
JD(S)  (Janata Dal – Secular) [Karnataka and Kerala]) 2 -1 0.67% -0.15
Source: Election Commission of India (

Another aspect worthy of highlight is the drastic decline in the political strength of the regional parties, namely those parties which are politically significant in only one of the Indian states.[19]These parties became increasingly influential in the 1990s and 2000s, as the two all-India parties – the Congress and the BJP – could cobble together a majority at the centre only thanks to the support of a more or less wide number of regional parties. In 2014, in spite of the debacle of some of the major regional parties of the North – the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar – the regional parties obtained the same number of seats (212) and practically the same share of the popular vote (46.7% in 2009 and 46.6% in 2014) as in 2009.[20] However, the fact that the BJP succeeded in conquering the absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats completely changed the terms of the political equation. Quite simply, the regional parties went from indispensable to superfluous in the survival of the Union government.

Finally, the results of the AAP must be taken into account. Kejriwal’s party won only four seats, all of them in the Punjab, and a paltry 2.05% of the popular vote. At least for the time being, these results transformed the AAP into a (second-rate) regional party. It was a very disappointing outcome, particularly when compared with the rosy expectations of its leaders and many political analysts[21] only a few months before.

3.1. The electoral battle

After the AAP government’s resignation in Delhi, which suddenly deflated the hopes of Kejriwal’s party and its supporters of playing a major role at the all-India level, the 2014 general election can be seen, although in a very simplified way, as a kind of duel to the finish, less between the NDA and the UPA than between the BJP and the Congress. As already noticed, it was a duel which ended up in a total victory of the former over the latter. However, an additional element must be stressed: the BJP won even in those states where it confronted other, and apparently quite strong, political adversaries, as was the case in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar; on the other hand, the Congress lost resoundingly even where it was not confronted by the BJP, as was the case, most notably, in Andhra Pradesh. Accordingly, the all-India BJP–Congress battle will be examined first, to be followed by the examination of the battles which were fought in UP and Bihar, where the BJP vanquished some of the strongest regional parties, and in Andhra Pradesh, where, although not confronted by the BJP, nevertheless the «Grand Old Party» bit the dust.

3.2. The political battlefield

In order to understand how the battle royal between the BJP and the Congress was fought and before describing the battle itself, three background elements must be examined: the first is how the political battlefield was delimited; the second is the nature of the opposing armies; the third is the strengths and weaknesses of the two opposing leaders.

The political battlefield can be seen as potentially delimited by the results, in the 2004-14 legislatures, of the UPA governments led by the Congress, and the results of the Modi-led BJP governments in Gujarat in 2001-14. Here, the term «potentially» is not employed by chance: during the electoral campaign, whereas the results of the Modi governments in Gujarat became a kind of reference paradigm, any discussion on the UPA governments’ results was limited to the admittedly gross scandals which had become of public domain in the second half of the second UPA government and to the slowing down of the rate of growth and the persistence of a high price inflation, particularly of food prices, during the same period. In other words, the Congress party was unable to lay claim to the UPA governments’ achievements since 2004, which were far from being insignificant, both at the economic level and from the standpoint of social justice.

In ten years of power, the UPA governments had pushed a policy of neoliberal reforms, counterbalanced by social policies aimed at protecting the weaker social strata and enlarging the space of democracy. The neoliberal reforms had translated into the steady growth of the GNP, even if, during the last two years that growth had slowed down.[22] On the other hand, the UPA governments had implemented laws such as the 2005 National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (giving the right to 100 days of work to any rural family); the 2005 Right to Information Act (opening the work of the government to the scrutiny of both individual citizens and grass root organizations); the 2006 Forest Rights Acts, granting land and forest rights to India’s adivasis(tribals); the 2013 Food Security Act, granting a certain quantity of food on a monthly basis at very reduced prices to some 80% of the population; and the 2013 Land Acquisition Act (which provides a fair compensation to those whose land is expropriated in order to favour economic development).

These policies – both the prosecution of the liberal reforms and the launching of a set of anti-poverty and/or anti-discrimination laws – could and have been roundly criticized both because they were not rightist enough or, vice versa, because they were not leftist enough. This is a fact that, by itself, could be taken as an indication that such policies did represent a balanced approach to the problems that they were supposed to solve. This was exactly what was claimed by Jairam Ramesh, one of the Congress leaders, after the defeat. «There are some people who would say we were not Left enough – said Ramesh –; some would say we were not Right enough. These are simplistic binary options which I reject. Let us say we were on the right track. We were stressing growth with empowerment. Without growth, empowerment is hollow; without empowerment, growth is meaningless.»[23] However, it is a fact that, during the electoral campaign, the Congress appeared unable to highlight the economic and the social achievements of the UPA governments. Indeed, the Congress campaign was a «listless and confused campaign»,[24] which was ultimately fought on the battleground chosen by Narendra Modi.

On his part, Modi was able to project the Gujarat economic record during his tenures as chief minister as the model of economic development, a model supposedly invented and implemented by Modi and ready to be applied to the whole of India. In doing so, Modi was able to push to the background a set of potentially embarrassing elements: that the Gujarat development was not unique; that other Indian states had been growing faster than Gujarat; that the Gujarat model was far from being inclusive; that, historically, Gujarat had always been one of the wealthiest areas of India; that, in fact, the beginning of the Gujarati economic boom predated Modi’s arrival as chief minister.

3.3. The two opposing armies

The political army deployed behind Narendra Modi was made up by the BJP, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, namely an extremely powerful and well organized non-parliamentary organization), and the parties allied with the BJP, gathered in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). Moreover, among Modi’s supporters there were two powerful social groups: one was what the Indian press likes to call India Inc., and the other the Indian middle class.

The BJP, like the other Indian parties, is far from being a democratic organization. However, even because, after 2004, the central leadership had been weak, a number of influential leaders had conquered a position of eminence and a solid following in their respective states. Narendra Modi was one among these influential state leaders; but Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh were hardly less successful, powerful and popular in their own states. This means that the BJP had in-depth political roots in a number of important states.

Beside the party, there was the RSS, historically the most important non-parliamentary Hindu organization. The RSS is a secretive, extremely well-knit, semi-military body, which controls, more or less closely, or at least influences most other political or social Hindu organizations, including the BJP. In an electoral battle, its strength rests on its well-organized and numerous body of volunteers. The allied parties were much less influential and well organized than either the BJP or the RSS. But, at least the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) in Andhra Pradesh were political forces to be reckoned with.

Much more important support was given to Narendra Modi’s camp by the two powerful social groups named above: India Inc. and the middle class.

The first social group was made up by that limited number of extremely wealthy families which dominate the private economy in India. Historically, the political strategy of its members has been that of hedging their bets by supporting all the main parties in the political battlefield, even if not necessarily with the same amount of financial resources. But already before the 2009 general election some key members of this group started to abandon their traditional position of equidistance.[25] The Ambanis and the Birlas in particular came out with open support not so much for the BJP as for Narendra Modi. This happened at a time when the BJP’s official candidate for the prime ministership was not Modi, but Lal K. Advani.[26] After the BJP’s defeat in the 2009 elections, big business support for Modi consolidated. Significantly, the CEO confidence survey, carried out by the Economic Times in January 2013, revealed that 74 of the 100 top businesspeople polled preferred Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, whereas only seven chose Rahul Gandhi.[27] This pro-Modi preference eventually resulted in the strategic choice by most of the top Indian corporations to massively bankroll the BJP and the BJP alone (with very few exceptions, particularly the Tatas, who kept the traditional policy of funding the two main parties on a more or less equal footing).[28] Quite important also was the support given to Modi by India Inc. through its control of the massive majority of the press and the totality of private television networks. Press and television on one side projected Modi as a dynamic, strong-willed, intelligent leader, a kind of knight sans peur et sans reproche (fearless and blemishless), while, at the same time, highlighting and magnifying out of proportion Rahul Gandhi’s weaknesses and gaffes.

The support of the middle class – a minority, but an influential one – was hardly less decisive. Some of its members, grouped in the «Citizens for Accountable Governance» – mostly young professionals and corporate executives who worked on a voluntary or semi-voluntary basis – played a key role as an extremely effective consulting and campaign solutions team.[29] Other members of the middle class either ran a widespread social media campaign in support of Modi or offered their technical know-how to realize startlingly innovative electoral methods. Among these methods, there was the utilization of holograms representing Modi and carrying out his message in those corners, particularly in rural India, where Modi could not be present in person.[30]

The situation of the opposing army was starkly different. The Congress appeared to be at the fag end of a long-term organizational decline. It was a decline that Rahul Gandhi had time and again declared he had decided to reverse. However, nothing concrete had ever been done. In fact the Congress on the eve of the 2014 elections was characterized by an all powerful central leadership presiding over a party organization which, in most Indian states, appeared to be in shambles. This all powerful central leadership had consciously precluded the emergence of any strong and popular party leader at the state level.

In this situation of weakness, the Congress could not hope for any decisive help coming from its allied parties, which, by and large, were lightweights. The only relatively strong allies, the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra and the DMK in Tamil Nadu, had been badly tainted by the scandals emerged in the second half of the 2009–14 legislature.

What appeared really striking, however, was the social isolation of the Congress. Of course, the middle class had never supported the «Grand Old Party»; but the new positioning of India Inc. squarely behind Modi was a new and much unwelcome development. Moreover, even the connections with social groups which, traditionally, in most of India, had been on the Congress side – such as the dalits, the tribals, and the Muslims – appeared weak and in a state of flux.

Finally there was the problem of the younger and especially first-time voters. This was a statistical class which was bound to be highly significant in the 2014 general elections, when the number of first-time electors would equal some 120.53 million people out of an electorate of about 833.06 million, namely 14.47% of the total electorate. [31] This means that on average, in each constituency, first time voters would be around 43,000. This was a highly relevant proportion, because well above what had been the winning margin in 226 of the 553 constituencies in the 2009 general election. [32] Differently put, first-time voters could swing the result of the vote in 41% of the electoral constituencies. Although at least some Congress leaders appeared to be aware of the relevance of this group,[33] the party seemed totally unable to connect with it and no specific strategy aimed at mobilizing it behind the party had been either devised or implemented.

3.4. The leaders of the two opposing armies

No doubt a main element in explaining the 2014 general election was the massive diversity in ability between the leaders of the two opposing armies: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

A brief analysis of the two leaders is in order here. Rahul Gandhi is the heir to a political dynasty which has ruled India for most of its history as an independent nation. He has been pushed into the political arena by his mother, Sonia, who, since the late 1990s, has been the leader of the Congress party and the real power behind the throne in the UPA governments. The problem is that Rahul has always appeared to be both an extremely reluctant political player, and a person devoid of any political skills and personal charisma.

On the eve of the 2014 elections, the selection of a new Congress campaign leader and a new candidate for the position of prime minister had been made necessary by Manmohan Singh’s declining prestige and Sonia Gandhi’s health problems. Particularly important appears to have been the latter’s inability to lead the Congress electoral campaign, due to her lack of physical strength. Sonia Gandhi had been an impressive campaigner in the 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections; in particular in the 1998 campaign, although unable to lead the Congress to victory, Sonia Gandhi had kept together a party that seemed headed for disintegration, whereas, in the 2004 campaign, she almost single-handedly led the party to an unexpected and resounding victory. However, all that changed in the summer of 2011, when she underwent a mysterious surgical intervention in the USA, possibly cancer-related, which left her with much less physical energy than before.[34]

In the Congress there were still some politicians who could have faced the challenge mounted by Modi on a level approaching parity; but the problem was that, had one of these leaders been chosen and emerged victorious, the Nehru-Gandhi family’s grip on the party would have been broken. Sonia Gandhi’s control of the party was based on her ability to deploy a conspicuous electoral following; that ability gone, the sceptre would pass to the victorious leader at the polls. Therefore, for Sonia Gandhi, the only way to keep control over the party was to choose as leader of the electoral campaign – and as candidate to the prime ministership – a member of her family.

The choice of Rahul was made by Sonia without arousing any opposition inside the party. In fact, many in the party had been clamouring for Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as the new leader, and none had openly been opposing it. Paradoxically, all the difficulties came from Rahul himself, who appeared as reluctant as ever at the prospect of actively and seriously playing the role of leader. At the time of his choice as Congress Vice President and de facto party campaign leader (19 January 2013), Rahul Gandhi had already been in politics for some ten years, although fitfully. In fact, during the 2009 general elections, the Gandhi scion had played a very active role and led the party to a good positioning in the crucial state of UP. But that effort had been a flash in the pan: no sustained and continuous work to reorganize the party had followed it.

Equally important and as negative was Rahul Gandhi’s difficulty in connecting with Indian youth. Although a very young politician by Indian standards (in 2014 Rahul Gandhi was 43 years of age, while Narendra Modi was 62), and although he had spent an important part of his political career as leader of the Youth Congress and its student wing, young Gandhi had been unable «to throw up a big idea that would make him particularly attractive to teenage India».[35] In a way more significant was the fact that he had been virtually absent in two causes that had been particularly important for young Indians: the Anna Hazare-led agitation against corruption, which had been the dominant political development in 2011, and the mass protest demonstrations which had shaken Delhi following the horrific Nirbhaya case of gang rape in on 26 December 2012.[36] All this was compounded by Rahul Gandhi’s inability «to reach out to a highly interactive generation which thrives on constant communication», an inability which was epitomised by his reluctance to address press conferences, to participate in high-profile college fests, and, last but certainly not least, by the fact that he was not present in the social media space, not even having a Twitter or a Facebook account.[37]

To anybody but the Congress rank and file – and, maybe even in his own eyes, judging from some of his own declarations – young Rahul Gandhi appeared as a person without qualities, who had been projected to his position as Congress leader only because he was the son, grandson and the great-grandson of three former prime ministers.

On his part, Narendra Modi appeared as Rahul Gandhi’s exact opposite, being a self-made man and a social media skilled user. We shall dwell on the latter point in the next section. Here the former point will be tackled.

Modi is a man of humble origins, hailing from «a caste of lowly oil-pressers» and the «third of six children of a poor tea-seller at Vadnagar Railway Station, in Gujarat»,[38] who rose through the RSS and BJP rank and file. Inducted into the BJP national executive in 1991, Modi became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, and remained in power winning a total of three consecutive state elections.

Far from having an easy path to being chosen as the leader of the BJP electoral campaign and its prime minister designate, Modi had to fight all along the way and overcome considerable hurdles. He had been confronted both by the opposition of a strong group of BJP leaders, among whom the most powerful one was his former mentor, Lal K. Advani, and by the open hostility of Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar and the leader of the Janata Dal (United), namely one of the key components of the NDA. On the top of all that, for quite some time the RSS leadership had appeared far from enthusiastic at the idea of having Modi as the BJP’s prime minister designate.[39]

In a long struggle, which began in 2012, Modi gradually pushed aside the internal opposition, and compacted the party behind himself. While the struggle was still on, at the beginning of 2013, the RSS leadership changed their attitude vis-à-vis Modi, and started to actively support him. From then on Modi’s march became unstoppable: on June 2013 he was officially put in charge of the electoral campaign, and on 13 September he was designated as the party candidate to the prime ministership. All this happened in spite of the opposition from Advani and others, thanks to the open support of the RSS leadership, and at the cost of an open break with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).[40]

3.5. Narendra Modi’s electoral campaign

The electoral campaign was started by Narendra Modi in September 2013, well in advance of the Congress campaign. From the beginning, Modi presented himself as the politician responsible for the extremely successful «Gujarat model» of development, which, if elected to the prime ministership, he would replicate at the all-India level. This dominant leitmotif was supplemented by other, maybe less insisted upon, themes, but hardly less important in conquering crucial swathes of the electorate. One was the fact that – different from what had been the rule in the BJP leadership (and in the leadership of most Indian parties, barring the caste-based ones) – Modi himself belonged to a low caste. This was complemented by the attention that Modi gave to the dalits, exemplified by his remark on 3 March 2014, at a rally in Muzaffarpur (Bihar), that «The next decade will belong to the dalits and the backwards».[41] This was a trump card particularly in states such as UP and Bihar, where the low castes (or so-called Other Backward Classes) and the dalits are numerous and politically powerful.

Another theme, utilized with devastating results, was the contrast with Rahul Gandhi. Modi continuously highlighted the fact that, whereas he was a self-made man who, starting from the lowest rungs of the social ladder, had climbed to the top on the strength of his willpower and abilities, his adversary was the pampered scion of an illustrious family, without any particular personal merit, whom Modi derisively dismissed as the Shahzada, the «princeling».  On the same wave length was the chai wallah (tea vendor) affair: a mocking remark by the well-known congressman and former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, hinting at Modi’s past as a boy serving tea in his father’s outfit, was readily capitalized on in order to claim that those who thrived on dynasty politics could not accept being challenged by somebody «whose mother used to wash dishes».[42]Moreover, the adroit handling of the affair by the Citizens for Accountable Government (on which more later), made of the ubiquitous chai wallahs of India as many pro-Modi activists.

Finally, Modi was well aware of the importance of targeting the young and the relevance to that end of the new forms of communication, from mobile phones and text messages to the massive use of the social media, including Twitter and Facebook. Already during the summer of 2013, namely before the official launch of his electoral campaign, Modi had taken a position on the rising cost of education at various institutions (something that Rahul Gandhi never did) and, in August, in a meeting of the BJP central leadership in New Delhi, had asked his party’s state units to focus their attention on young and first-time voters.[43] One can surmise that, in doing so, Modi was spurred by several considerations. The first was that, for an age group whose components were around six to ten years old in 2002, the months-long anti-Muslim pogroms which had convulsed Gujarat in that year – and which remained the most conspicuous blot in Narendra Modi’s political career – were bound to be unimportant.[44] Another consideration behind Modi’s attention to Indian youth must have been his conviction that, by projecting his developmental ideology through the new media – which supplied most young people with information and moulded their Weltanschauung – he could fully mobilize a population category, which, historically, had had a low level of participation in the electoral process.[45]

There is no doubt that, from the beginning of the BJP electoral campaign, a great deal of attention was given to young and first-time voters, including those in the rural areas. Modi personally reached out to young voters through social media like Google Hangout and Twitter while, at the same time, putting in charge of the campaign to mobilize the same group not only the Yuva Morcha (the BJP youth wing), headed by Anurag Thakur, but a newly created special committee. This committee was headed by the «relatively youthful» BJP general secretary, Muralidhar Rao (sometimes spelled Murlidhar Rao), who had emerged through the BJP rank and file among other reasons because of his remarkable skills as a student organizer.[46]

In carrying out his multi-pronged attack, Modi, as a rule, dwelled on divisive religious/communal themes only exceptionally, and mainly in the last legs of his long-drawn-out campaign. But, in a way, the religious subtext to his developmental and meritocratic rhetoric was made clear not only by Modi’s stray remarks on the matter, but by those of other leaders of the Hindu Right and his own closer help, Amit Shah. Apart from that, there is no doubt that the massive campaign led on the ground by the RSS volunteers fleshed out Modi’s technocratic and meritocratic rhetoric with the assertion and reiteration of the traditional religious/communal tenets proper of the Hindu Right in general and the RSS in particular.

While on the campaign trail, Narendra Modi showed himself to be an extremely active campaigner, an extraordinarily effective speaker and a master of the minutiae of the single constituencies where he campaigned. [47] Both the overreaching developmental ideology propounded by Modi and the command of the minutiae in any given constituency were the result of previous work by Modi and his helpers.

What made the developmental ideology compelling, particularly for the middle class, was not only – and, maybe, not so much – Modi’s economic record, but the capability that he had shown in opposing, and expelling from Gujarat, those organizations of the Hindu Right which, still in the time of Vajpayee’s governments (1998-2004), had fiercely opposed the neoliberal economic agenda, harking back to swadeshi, namely the autarchic economic policy of nationalist lore.[48]On the other hand, Modi’s mastery of the minutiae of the different constituencies was the by-product of the in-depth research work carried out by the Citizens for Accountable Governance.

In fact, the Citizens for Accountable Governance played a crucial role in organizing the whole campaign, in producing talking points for Modi and in putting together and distributing Moditva, a book collecting Modi’s speeches. As noted above, it was again this group which translated Mani Shankar Aiyar’s chai wallah remark into a propaganda weapon.[49] The group was headed by Prashant Kishor, namely a political operative very close to Modi. However, as already recalled, the group was chiefly made up of non-politicians, mainly young middle class professionals and corporation executives. Rather unexpectedly, the group showed an uncanny ability at working harmoniously with both the BJP and RSS personnel. This became visible and brought huge electoral rewards particularly in UP.[50]

Last but not least, thanks to the decisive role played by his alter ego, Amit Shah, Modi was able to develop a very effective relationship with the RSS volunteers, deploying them as an extremely efficient ground army.[51]

3.6. Rahul Gandhi’s electoral campaign

On the eve of the campaign, Sonia Gandhi set up a committee under her chairmanship, including most of the party’s senior leaders, which should have directed the ensuing electoral battle. However, after meeting only once, the campaign committee de facto stopped functioning, Sonia Gandhi became inactive, and the proposals made at the committee’s initial meeting were forgotten. The organization of the campaign then passed into the hands of Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka and a group of non-political, mostly foreign-educated advisers.[52]

Superficially, «Team Rahul» looked much like the pro-Modi Citizens for Accountable Governance. But there were two key differences: Team Rahul was less efficient, and its members were «people with no electoral experience […] no stature, standing, respect and credibility in the party».[53]Perhaps more important, Team Rahul’s coming to the foreground as the electoral campaign organizer brought about a situation in which Rahul and his team «did not listen» either to the party cadres or to the Congress legislators and senior leaders and did not communicate with them. The consequence «was a rift between grassroots workers and party leaders» and the fact that the party became «unresponsive» to the directives from the top.[54]

In this situation of isolation, Rahul and his team fell back on an electoral strategy that was not proactive but reactive; reactive, that is, to the storm of accusations which had scourged the party in the second half of the 2009–14 legislature. They were of three different kinds: the first was that the Congress was a party beset with corruption; the second was that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, during the second UPA legislature had become apathetic and a silent accomplice to the widespread corruption in his own government; the third was that the social content laws enacted by the party had been a waste of public money and a source of corruption (or, as Modi liked to claim, the UPA economic policies were not development policies, but dole policies). In an astonishing – and astonishingly inept – surrender to these accusations, the party apex put on the back burner attempts to lay claim to the UPA’s political and economic achievements. Rather, it was decided to project Rahul Gandhi as a «new man», a kind of Indian Heracles who would clean those stables of Augeas which had become the Congress. Hence Rahul Gandhi had to be separated from the old Congress ruling class and constructed as the demiurge who would mould a new kind of party – younger, cleaner, more democratic and more efficient. The result of this choice was the decision to project Rahul Gandhi as the sole face of the Congress during the electoral campaign; significantly, both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh did not feature on the most recurring election posters, «leaving Mr. Gandhi’s youthful features, often trendily unshaven, beaming alone».[55] This could not but be a self-defeating choice, as Rahul Gandhi was not credible as the external saviour: after all, he had been in and out of politics for ten years, always very near to the Congress real centre of power, namely his own mother.[56]

On top of it all, the Congress strategists appeared unable to decide how Rahul Gandhi should counter Modi’s onslaught. In fact, they vacillated between two lines: the first highlighting Modi’s communal past and warning the electorate of the dangers of the communal agenda which was possibly hidden behind his developmental rhetoric; the second attacking the developmental rhetoric itself, showing the social shortcomings and economic limitations of the «Gujarat model».

As they had done more than once when confronting Modi on his home turf (namely in the Gujarat state elections), and with similar disappointing results, the Congress strategists decided that raking-up memories of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat «would prove counter-productive, resulting in a Hindu consolidation».[57] However, the Congress’ attempts «to punch holes in Modi’s claims on [the] development front found few takers particularly since the Congress party’s own credibility had hit an all-time low».[58] Eventually, as the campaign progressed, the Congress «changed tack and started attacking Modi for his divisive agenda and communal leanings». At that point, however, Modi had already succeeded in projecting himself «as a strong and decisive leader», the only one with the ability to take charge of India’s many problems and put them right. [59]

Apart from the confused and vacillating strategies implemented by the Congress, what made its whole campaign ineffective was Rahul Gandhi himself. A handsome, photogenic and likeable person, Rahul did show an energy, when on the campaign trail, which has been unfairly appraised by the Indian media.[60] But the fact remains that, if Modi, although «a master in exaggeration», was a great communicator; Rahul Gandhi, on his part, was a very poor communicator, and «a master of misplaced metaphors».[61] Rahul’s speeches came through as rich in generic (and hardly questionable) promises of reform of both his party and the social and political system, but totally devoid of any concrete plans to implement such promises. Possibly the lowest point in Rahul Gandhi’s whole campaign – and the undeniable demonstration of his lack of communication skills – was the television interview with Time Now editor in chief Arnab Goswami, on 27 January 2014. In it, young Gandhi came through as an immature leader, prone to give «clownish non-answers».[62]

3.7. The BJP’s breakthrough in the Hindi heartland

So far the 2014 electoral battle has been described as mainly a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. However, the BJP victory would not have been so massive, had the party not conquered the two key northern states of UP and Bihar, namely the core of the Hindi belt. Between them, UP and Bihar send 120 members to the Lok Sabha (80 the former, 40 the latter), namely 22% of the elected members. If, in 2014, in those two states the BJP had conquered the same amount of seats as in 2009, its overall majority would have been equal to 211, instead of 282.[63] In other words, the BJP would still have a majority, but much less than the absolute majority, which would have considerably limited its political options and power. Significantly, most of the pre-election analyses set the margin of the BJP victory around 200–210 seats, which possibly means that Modi’s party was not expected to win so massively in UP and Bihar.

What makes these two states such interesting case studies is that the Congress was a minor player in both, as the political landscape was dominated by a number of powerful regional parties: the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in UP; the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. Accordingly the BJP won – and won massively – by defeating the local regional parties.

3.7.1. The BJP’s breakthrough in UP

The political situation in UP in the previous decade was characterized by the fact that the BSP and the Samajwadi Party appeared to have successfully marginalized the two all-India parties: the Congress and the BJP. In turn, this had left the political arena free for a long-drawn-out duel between the two regional parties. The Samajwadi Party’s main constituency was made up by the alliance between the Yadavs, namely the most powerful of the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), and the Muslims. On the other hand, the BSP’s core constituency was made up by the dalits. The two parties had been able to gain the absolute majority of the UP Assembly seats – the BSP in 2007, the SP in 2012 – by extending their social basis to include all the OBCs, in the case of the Samajwadi Party, or the bulk of the upper castes in the case of the BSP.[64]

On the eve of the 2014 election campaign, the public mood in UP appeared characterized by a general disillusionment with both the BSP and the Samajwadi Party. In fact, their abysmal record when in power had led to a «deep sense of alienation», particularly among the non-Yadav OBC supporters of the Samajwadi Party and the non Chamar/Jatav Dalit[65] followers of the BSP. [66]

Against this background, communal tension, which after 1992–93 had been on the wane, resurfaced in August–September 2013, when, in the northern UP district of Muzaffarnagar, a violent confrontation pitted the Jats (the locally dominant Hindu caste) against the Muslims. This resulted in the murder several scores of persons, the bulk of whom were Muslims, and the displacement of the whole local Muslim community.[67] The reasons and the unfolding of the riots need not to detain us here; what is important is an examination of its political consequences. The Muslims felt betrayed by the SP government, which had failed to protect them and had been laggard in succouring them. On the other hand, the BJP, which, led by Amit Shah, had been reorganizing itself in UP already for many months, was in the position to make capital of the riot. It projected the Jat–Muslim clash as «a broader battle between Hindus and Muslims», persuading «the Jats, as also other non-Muslim social groups, that they had been discriminated against not because they were Jats, but because they were Hindus».[68] At that point, a video was posted online showing what was alleged to be the brutal beating by a Muslim mob of two persons, supposedly two Hindus. The video – which had been filmed in Pakistan, and had no connection with the Muzaffarnagar clash – played a role in making the situation even tenser. At that point, the BJP, in the successful effort to portray itself as the only party willing to fight the pretended injustices suffered by the Hindus, organized a ceremony in Agra to felicitate the Jats who had been implicated in the riots.[69]

In UP as in the remainder of India, the BJP’s electoral campaign worked like a Swiss timepiece, making use of both the most advanced IT techniques and the time-tested and capillary ground propaganda carried out by the RSS. During the campaign, the developmental theme came to be integrated with two others: the first was Narendra Modi’s low caste origin, aimed at seducing the OBCs; the second, which became prominent particularly in the closing days of the electoral campaign, was the raking up of some of the traditional topics of the Hindu Right: the ban on beef exports and the building of the Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid, the mosque razed to the ground by Hindu activists in 1992. Thanks to the situation of communal tension caused by the Muzaffarnagar riots and their inept handling by the UP government, the strategy paid handsomely. As pithily summed up by Ajaz Ashraf of «It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the politics of religion and caste comprised the cake, while development was the cherry on top.»[70]

3.7.2. The BJP’s breakthrough in Bihar

In a way, the case of Bihar is more difficult to explain than that of UP. For quite a long time, Bihar had been considered, and rightly so, one of the most backward states in India, marked by the spread of crime and corruption. Then, following the 2005 state elections, a new government, based on the alliance between the BJP and the Janata Dal (United), a local regional party, took power. The new government, led by Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) leader, started to turn things around spectacularly: the rampant criminality and widespread corruption which had beset the state was effectively rolled back, and, even as a consequence of the new and more favourable law and order situation, the economy started to grow rapidly. In the 2010 state elections, the BJP-JD(U) combine was returned to power, even if the relative position of strength between the two parties was reversed in favour of the JD(U). By that year, Bihar had already become the second fastest growing state in India, averaging an annual growth rate of 11% in the five years from 2004/05 to 2008/09 (which put Bihar «just a shade behind Gujarat’s well-publicized growth of 11.05%»)[71]. During the second BJP-JD(U) government, Bihar’s growth rate further and conspicuously accelerated, making of it the fastest growing state in India. In 2012–13, Bihar’s rate of growth reached the stellar 15.05%, which put it well ahead of Gujarat (which, with a 7.96% rate of growth, was only sixth).[72]Differently from what was the case in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar, while actively promoting an economic growth which was spearheaded by infrastructure building and the rapid increase of the tertiary sector, advocated «caution on land acquisition for urbanization or industrialization and would not have the state intervene on behalf of big money».[73] Again differently from what was the case in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar, particularly since 2009, put a great deal of effort into promoting a socially inclusive growth, by empowering the weakest sections of society, particularly the EBCs (Extremely Backward Classes), the Mahadalit (namely the most backward among the scheduled castes), and women.

For some eight years, beginning in 2005, Kumar ran one of the most «trouble free» coalition governments in India,[74] having a good working relation with the local BJP. However, already during the 2009 general election and the 2010 Bihar state election, it became clear that Nitish Kumar’s relationship with the BJP rising star at the national level, Narendra Modi, was bad, as shown by the fact that Kumar prevented Modi from campaigning in Bihar.[75] In June 2012, Nitish Kumar made it clear that he would not accept the Gujarat chief minister as the NDA leader. When, in spite of his warnings, Modi was chosen by his party as the campaign leader, on 16 June 2013 Nitish Kumar left the NDA and broke his alliance with the BJP in Bihar (where he was able to remain in power thanks to the support of some independent Members of the Legislative Assembly).

The break had not arrived unexpected, and the BJP was ready for it. In the following propaganda battle, the BJP claimed that credit for Bihar’s phenomenal growth went less to Nitish Kumar than to both the BJP state ministers and the economic support from the central government. But the BJP’s real trump card was another, namely that Modi belonged to an «extremely backward caste». The BJP strategists anticipated that, by itself, this was bound to attract at least a part of those EBCs which had hitherto made up one of the key social blocks supporting Nitish Kumar. Consequently, BJP strategists actively began to build an electoral front which, beside the high castes, traditionally represented by the BJP, included both EBCs and dalits.[76]

The ensuing electoral campaign rapidly demonstrated two things: the first was that, at least in Bihar, eight years of unprecedented and uninterrupted economic growth coupled with social peace and a constant effort at making growth as inclusive as possible hardly had any impact at the electoral level; the second was that, at least in Bihar, what really counted was caste arithmetic. In turn, caste arithmetic implied the distribution of (promised) rewards to the several castes, but, firstly and most importantly, to their leaders. It was through the promise of rewards to such caste leaders that social support was consolidated behind the BJP and party alliances were put in place.

Two things made the BJP promises alluring: the first was that, at the all-India level, the BJP was clearly on the roll, while the Congress was as clearly in a state of difficulty. The second was, as rightly guessed by the BJP state strategists, Modi’s caste origin, plus his newly found attention for dalits. Joining Modi meant to jump on the bandwagon of the very probable victor at the all-India level; staying with Nitish Kumar meant to join a leader who, even if victorious at the state level, could hardly hope to have any decisive political leverage at the national level and, consequently, could not offer the same rewards as Modi. Not surprisingly, the Bihar BJP soon proved itself to have an almost irresistible gravitational force: some politicians who had hitherto belonged to the JD(U) now entered the BJP or formed their own party in order to arrive at an alliance with it; others, who, the situation having been different, could have allied with the JD(U), now sought an alliance with the BJP. An example of the former case is that of Upendra Kushwaha, a low caste leader, who, after leaving the JD(U) to create his own party, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, eventually joined hands with the BJP (February 2014); exemplary of the latter case was the alliance with the BJP of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, representing the Bihari dalits.[77]

In a situation in which caste arithmetic was crucial and party alliances indispensable, Nitish Kumar showed himself incapable of building a strong anti-BJP party coalition. He had to face the competition of that same old enemy he had ousted from power in 2005: the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Led by Laloo Prasad Yadav, the RJD had as its potential electoral base the Yadavs, namely the most numerous and powerful among the Bihari OBCs, and the Muslims. In the period leading up to the general election, Nitish Kumar worked towards reaching an alliance with the Congress, but eventually failed; likewise he failed in the attempt to gain the support of the majority of the Muslim community. The latter decided that Laloo Prasad’s RJD remained a more effective weapon against Modi, possibly because Laloo Prasad was eventually able to stitch an alliance with both the Congress and the Indian Nationalist Congress (a member of the UPA).

Already some weeks before the elections, it became clear that, in most of Bihar, the real struggle was between the BJP-led alliance and the RJD-led alliance, whereas the JD(U) was isolated and, in the intentions of vote, well behind either combine.[78] In fact, at the polls the BJP gained the absolute majority (22 seats out of 40), while its two allies, the LJP and the RLSP, won respectively six and three seats. On its part, the JD(U) crashed down from 20 to two seats, ending behind the RJD (which gained four seats, while its allies, the Congress and the NCP won two and one seats respectively).

3.8. The Congress debacle in Andhra Pradesh

The general election was held in Andhra Pradesh concurrently with the state election, which was the last one in the undivided state. In fact, on 2 June 2014, Andhra Pradesh was officially divided into Andhra Pradesh proper and Telangana, bringing the number of the Indian states from 28 to 29. When the elections were held, the state was still formally united, but its impending division was the dominant factor in the political landscape and, as explained below, was crucial in determining the results both for the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha (which, soon after the elections, was divided in the Andhra Pradesh Vidhan Sabha and the Telangana Vidhan Sabha).

Whereas, in 2009, the Congress party had secured 38.95% of the votes in the state and had conquered 33 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats (which made AP the single largest contributor to the Congress’ victory), in 2014 – after the bifurcation of the state – the party won two Lok Sabha seats (both in Telangana) and just 11.5% of the votes. Moreover, the performance of the Congress at the elections for the states’ legislative assemblies was equally (if not more) disastrous: the party failed to conquer a single seat in AP proper (often called Seemandhra) and won just 21 (out of 119) seats in Telangana. Overall, the party lost as many as 135 assembly seats.[79] Victory was shared between the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP (Telugu Desam Party), an ally of the BJP, which triumphed in the electoral districts bound to remain in Andhra Pradesh, and the K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which won in the districts bound to become the new state of Telangana.

These results are mainly explained by the way in which, during the previous years, the UPA government at the centre, but most particularly the Congress, had managed the process of bifurcation.

3.8.1. How the demand for the creation of Telangana was finally granted

The demand for a separate Telangana state preceded the formation of the state of Andhra in 1953.[80] In fact, the State Reorganization Commission established by the Indian government in December 1953 had advised against the immediate merger of Telangana and Andhra into a unified state.[81] However, the government decided otherwise. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brokered a «gentlemen’s agreement» between political leaders from the two regions that should have ensured political and economic safeguards for Telangana.

However, as noted by a government-appointed commission in 2010, most of the terms of the deal were not respected in the subsequent decades[82]. In the late 1960s, major protests erupted in Telangana. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi managed to reach an agreement with the local political leaders that resulted in the 32nd Amendment of the Constitution. However, protests did not stop and erupted once again in the mid 1980s and then again in the mid 2000s.

There are several reasons why the supporters of the Telangana state advocated the bifurcation of the state. Most of these reasons ultimately stem from the backwardness of the region. The 2009 Backward Region Grant Fund identified 13 of the districts in AP as particularly backward; nine of them were in Telangana (i.e. all the Telangana districts except Hyderabad).[83] Telangana supporters have argued ever since that the backwardness of the region was mainly due to an unfavourable share of the waters of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, to under-spending in education, and to the under representation of Telangana within the state’s civil service. The Srikrishna Committee (appointed in 2010) found that most of these claims were fairly substantiated, although it also noted that Rayalaseema, namely one of the two sub-regions of Seemandhra (or Andhra Pradesh proper), was at least as backward as Telangana, if not more so.[84]

Telangana supporters attributed this lack of attention to their region’s needs to the fact that the politics of AP had been dominated by politicians from Seemandhra. The Srikrishna Committee found this claim to be substantiated too. In just 10.6 years of the 54 years between 1956 and 2010, for example, was the chief minister of the state from Telangana.[85] Similarly, the crucial finance ministry was allocated to politicians from Telangana for just 9.5 years.[86] Since 1983, the chief minister came from Telangana only once (Dr Marri Channa Reddy, between December 1989 and December 1990).

In 2001, a significant development brought the bifurcation issue to the forefront of national politics. A member of the TDP, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (popularly known as KCR) formed a new political party, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The party had a single-point agenda: the formation of a separate Telangana state.

Despite the fact that both the BJP, then ruling at the centre, and the Congress had declared on several occasions that, in principle, they did not oppose to the creation of the new state, nothing concrete happened during the NDA governments (1998-2004). This was mainly due to the opposition of the TDP (which was part of the NDA)[87] and of the great majority of AP’s political class. At the centre an additional element in preventing the creation of Telangana might have been fears that accommodating the demand for Telangana would spark off similar requests in other parts of the country, particularly in West Bengal and Maharashtra. It is however a fact that the NDA government adopted a very different policy with regard to other comparable situations; so much so that, in 2000, it created three new states: Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal.[88]

Obviously resentful at the BJP’s attitude, the TRS then decided to make an alliance with the Congress in view of the 2004 general elections. As a result, after the elections, the newly formed UPA government committed itself to «consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana state»[89] in the Common Minimum Programme, which fixed the political agenda of both the UPA and the Left Front (which granted external support to the first UPA government).

By the end of the 2004-2009 legislature, however, nothing concrete had come out of the promised «consideration» of the Telangana demand. In fact, just before the 2009 general election the Congress-led AP government,[90] the Congress party at the national level and the BJP[91] all declared to be in favour of the formation of Telangana. Not surprisingly, after the elections, and soon after the convincing victory of the Congress at its allies, KCR decided to force the hand of the new UPA government. On 29 November 2009, the TRS leader went on an indefinite fast. The law and order situation in Hyderabad (and KCR’s physical condition) degenerated rapidly. On 9 December 2009 – Sonia Gandhi’s birthday – the government capitulated. Home Affairs Minister P. Chidambaram announced that the government had decided to proceed with the creation of the new state.[92]

3.8.2. Endgame in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana … and the end of Congress

The announcement was obviously celebrated in Telangana. However, it also led to massive protests by Seemandhra’s legislators belonging to all parties, many of whom resigned en masse.[93]

There were three main reasons why the prospect of bifurcating AP worried legislators from Seemandhra. First, since Hyderabad is in Telangana, Seemandhra politicians were concerned for the financial situation of the residual state. The city, a high-tech and pharmaceutical hub, generates a large share of the state’s revenue. There has been a great deal of confusion regarding how big this share actually is. Seemandhra’s politicians, in particular, were keen to demonstrate that, without Hyderabad, the residual state was condemned to bankruptcy. The figures that they provided ranged from nearly half to as much as three-quarters of the state’s total revenues. However, the actual figure is around 17%.[94]

The second reason concerned the economic interests that businessmen from Seemandhra have in Hyderabad and Telangana. This is a particularly sensitive issue, as a very large proportion of Andhra Pradesh’s political class has important economic interests in Telangana.[95] Officially, businesspeople-cum-politicians feared that the new Telangana government would seize their properties. This was based on rather shaky grounds, as every Indian citizen can legitimately have business interests and properties anywhere in the country. However, and this was probably their real concern, the virtual totality of their business activity depended upon the owners’ influence over the state government. This influence would obviously be lost in the new state with unpredictable consequences for pending contracts, land allocation, and future contracts (often stipulated under very dubious circumstances).                Finally, Seemandhra politicians feared that their influence over national politics would be severely reduced.[96]

This being the situation, on 23 December 2009, just two weeks after the announcement of the process of bifurcation of the state, the Congress-led central government backed off. The Ministry of Home Affairs declared that no step would be taken until a broad consensus was reached.[97]The announcement provoked a strong reaction by Telangana’s legislators and ministers (both at the state and at the national levels), who presented their resignations en masse;[98] at the same time, Seemandhra MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) decided to withdraw theirs.[99] At this point the Congress party had succeeded in the rather difficult endeavour of representing in Seemandhra the party that wanted to create Telangana, and in Telangana the party that did not want to bifurcate the state.

In February 2010, the central government decided to buy some time through the appointment of the above-quoted Srikrishna Committee. The committee found the reasons behind the demand for a separate Telangana «not entirely unjustified».[100] However, it recommended keeping the state united, provided that some constitutional safeguards for Telangana were introduced. In other words, the committee suggested replicating the model that had failed in the decades before. The committee, however, recommended also, as the «second best option»,[101] creating Telangana with Hyderabad as its capital. Of course, the report disappointed everyone, and left the hot potato in the hands of the central government.

To add confusion to an increasingly confusing situation, the Union government decided not to publish the eighth chapter of the Srikrishna Report, dealing with the consequences of the creation of the state in terms of law and order. The AP High Court, however, ordered the government to make the entire report public. The court, moreover, claimed that the information included in the secret chapter demonstrated that the committee was «against the creation of Telangana».[102]

The central government, however, filed an appeal in the AP High Court, against the ruling, claiming that disclosing the report would endanger the integrity of the country.[103] This argument was accepted by the court, and the secret chapter remained secret.[104] However, the «secret chapter saga» certainly did not contribute to bring the Telangana and the Seemandhra partisans nearer, which was what the government claimed to be pursuing. In 2011 and 2012, a regular pattern emerged. The Union government would make a statement, that led to protests and to resignations, that in turn led to a counter-statement by the Union government, that led to counter-protests and to counter-resignations and so on.

This situation ended up in the virtual paralysis of the administrative activity in Andhra Pradesh. The state bureaucracy split in two parts, along regional lines, each refusing to cooperate with the other.[105] In October 2013 a strike of the power sector employees in Seemandhra led to severe shortages of power, petrol and water, which in turn led to difficulties in withdrawing cash from ATM machines, made inoperative intensive care units, and brought about the virtual paralysis of the public and private transportation systems.[106]

In the meanwhile the political situation became more and more confusing. Since 2012 it had become clear that the electoral prospects of the Congress, particularly in Seemandhra, were bleak. The Congress lost a high number of seats in the by-poll elections in both regions.[107] The AP Congress party started to fall apart, as an increasing number of legislators defected to other parties.[108]

In July 2013 the Congress party had come to the conclusion that the decision on Telangana could not be deferred further. Two political considerations convinced the party’s high command. First, with the national elections looming, the party did not want to concede an easy electoral issue to the BJP, which had repeatedly proclaimed itself to be in favour of the creation of Telangana. Second, the party had reached the conclusion that, irrespective of the final decision on Telangana, the electoral prospects in Seemandhra were disastrous.[109] Hence, the only thing the Congress could do was to concede statehood to Telangana, hoping to reap the political benefits. The latter consideration was based on the assumption that the TRS would merge or at least make an alliance with the Congress, as KCR had stated on several occasions.[110] However, on the eve of the elections, KCR realized that his party was stronger than expected and decided – wisely – to contest the elections on his own.[111] This was a fatal blow for the Telangana Congress party.

In July 2013, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) issued a resolution endorsing the bifurcation of the state and suggesting that Hyderabad would be the common capital for ten years before becoming the exclusive capital of new state.[112] The cabinet cleared the Telangana bill on the lines of the CWC resolution in October 2013.

In the following months Seemandhra legislators (both at the state and national levels) reached a new low in terms of disrespect for parliamentary procedures. The AP Legislative Assembly (where MLAs from Seemandhra were in a majority) rejected the Telangana bill (which constitutional provisions required to be submitted to the assembly for consideration) among major disruption. The «vote» on the bill lasted less than 30 seconds.[113] In the Lok Sabha, a Seemandhra MP even resorted to pepper spray against his colleagues in an attempt to stop the discussion of the bill.[114] The Lok Sabha eventually approved the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act on 18 February 2014. However, Indian citizens could not see the approval of the bill on television: all nine television cameras inside the Lok Sabha chamber «mysteriously» stopped working minutes before the vote.[115]

Summing up, the astonishingly inept tackling of the whole Telangana issue by the Congress destroyed the party in the whole of the undivided Andhra Pradesh. The haemorrhage of party members, which, as noted above, had started in 2012, continued (and intensified) up to the 2014 elections.[116] By then, the party existed more in name than in deed, especially in Seemandhra.[117] The result was the virtual destruction of the Congress state party, which crashed down from 33 to two Lok Sabha seats.


.9. What triggered the «Modi wave»?

Once all the above has been said on the 2014 electoral battle, and even at the risk of somewhat oversimplifying a very complex issue, it is perhaps necessary to try to sort out what factors, among the many singled out above, played the key role in Narendra Modi’s smashing victory.

The real mainspring of Modi’s victory – the triggering element in determining the «Modi wave» – seems to have been the ability to build what one can term the «Modi legend». It has been noted that, during the electoral campaign and before, Modi was projected as a dynamic, strong-willed, intelligent leader, a kind of fearless and blemishless knight, a statesman of superior abilities, responsible for making Gujarat bloom, who would do the same for the whole of India. This is largely a legend, in the true meaning the word: although based on some elements of reality, it is a tale of fantasy. Once this is said, it is a fact that Modi’s legend has been accepted as reality by the majority of Indians, quite independently of their class, caste, and even regional belonging.

How was this legend crafted and, more importantly, how it was accepted? Certainly, to think that it was born spontaneously would be dangerously naive. In fact, Modi’s legend started to be built before the 2009 elections, when, as noted above, some key members of India Inc. decided to support the choice of the then Gujarat chief minister as the new BJP candidate to the national prime ministership. From that time onward, considerable economic and intellectual resources were employed in exalting Modi’s supposedly exceptional qualities,[118] and in concealing his many blemishes. In this the traditional media – private television stations and major newspapers and magazines owned by India Inc. – played a crucial role.

This strategy had an increasing impact on the political vision of the Indian middle class, which, in turn, spread it far and wide by making use of the non-traditional media and, during the electoral campaign, supplied its own energies and skills in supporting Modi. Finally, Modi and his number two, Amit Shah, showed the ability to build a working political alliance between the middle class activists and the traditional grass root organizations of political Hinduism. In turn, middle class activists and the traditional Hindu grass root organizations were able to spread Modi’s legend among the masses. Crucial in making possible the success of their efforts was the adroit and massive use of new and not so new technologies: holograms and mobile phones – the latter utilized for both text messages and direct calls – spread Modi’s message well beyond the middle class and urban India to even the most backward social strata in the most inaccessible corners of the country. As noted above, holograms were made use of particularly in the far away rural areas, which Modi could not reach in person; on the other hand, the penetration of television and mobile phones allowed the BJP campaign to reach around 74% of the population.[119]

At the end of the day, all this was made possible by India Inc.’s initial strategic decision to support Modi. Accordingly, it was India Inc. that played the decisive role in Modi’s victory. However, Modi’s victory was so complete as to give him all the strength that he needed to be – if he so desired – his own man.

  1. Narendra Modi’s government

On 26 May 2014 Modi’s government was sworn in. Consistent with Modi’s promise to ensure «minimum government, maximum governance», the cabinet was one of the smallest in recent times: 23 cabinet ministers and 22 ministers of state. However, political compulsions led Modi to expand the Council of Ministers in November, when the size of the cabinet reached 65 members (Manmohan Singh’s included 77 members).

The composition of the cabinet reflected the magnitude of the BJP’s victory: out of 23 cabinet ministers sworn in May, as many as 19 belonged to the BJP, leaving little space for other members of the NDA, who had to content themselves with less important positions. The most important posts went to senior BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley (Finance and Defence),[120] Rajnath Singh (Home) and Sushma Swaraj (External Affairs).

The  composition of the cabinet also reflected the usual attempt to give representation to most communities and regions. However, there was a clear effort to reward the castes and regions that had contributed the most to Modi’s victory. Out of 45 cabinet members, over 20 were from the RSS’s Brahmin–Vyshya–Rajput core constituency. Only three Dalits found a place in the Cabinet along with a single Muslim (Dr Najma Akbarali Heptulla, a former Congressman).[121] The states of UP, Bihar and Maharashtra (which gave a decisive contribution in terms of number of MPs) got the highest number of Cabinet members. Strangely, Rajasthan (where the BJP won all 25 seats) was not represented.[122] The expansion in November did not significantly change the social and political composition of the cabinet. Among the 21 new faces, only one did not belong to the BJP (Y.S. Chowdary, TDP).

It appears that two main political considerations drove the Cabinet expansion. First, a few MPs who had recently joined the BJP after defecting from other parties had to be rewarded. Especially important were the defections of Birender Singh (a prominent Jat leader from Haryana, who had been a member of the Congress party for 42 years), and of Suresh Prabhu (a Maharashtra MP formerly with the Shiv Sena). The former became Minister for Rural Development (a rather important job for a politician belonging to a farming caste), while the latter was appointed as Railways Minister (another very important ministry that controls huge budgetary allocations). Second, the acquisition of prominent leaders from the opposition parties and their induction into the government was also a way to strengthen the party’s prospects for a series of state elections that were due shortly after the cabinet expansion (in particular in Haryana and Maharashtra).

  1. The politics of Modi’s government

The first six months of Narendra Modi’s government have been characterized by two interconnected political processes. First, there has been a marked concentration of powers in the prime minister’s hands. Second, there has been a similarly marked attempt to implement a cultural agenda tailored on the RSS view of the world.

The two processes are intertwined. First, Modi has been operating at various levels to centralize political power in his own hands. However, this centralization process – part of which has been the tightening of Modi’s control on the BJP – has left out the RSS, which, in the period under review, remains the strongest alternative power centre to the one represented by the prime minister. In fact, during the first six months of Modi’s government a tacit understanding between the two power centres seems to have been put in place: the prime minister is leaving a free hand to the RSS in the cultural sphere, as long as the RSS does not interfere too much with government affairs.

The concentration of powers in Modi’s hands has been particularly evident in two spheres. First, the prime minister has been able to sideline internal enemies within the BJP and to take full control of the party. Second, as a direct consequence of the absolute majority enjoyed by the BJP in the Lok Sabha and the control that Modi exercises on his party, power has been concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Both aspects make Modi’s government remarkably different from the coalition governments that have ruled India since 1989, and much more similar to those headed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and 1980s.[123] Another similarity is with the Modi government in Gujarat (2001–2014), where he was able to effectively crush alternative sources of power – including the RSS and the BJP – and establish a somewhat authoritarian one-man rule.[124]

Modi’s conquest of the BJP started before the general elections, when he was able to make the party appoint him as the prime ministerial candidate, despite the resistance of the «old guard» (especially some influential politicians like Lal Kishan Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj)[125], the scant enthusiasm of the RSS,[126] and the open opposition of an important political ally, Nitish Kumar (chief minister of Bihar).[127]

Modi was thus able to fill the list of BJP candidates with a number of «Hindu incendiaries, tweedy ex-civil servants, sundry swamis, and so on [that] share[d] one common characteristic: staunch devotion to the leader.»[128] He was then able (9 July 2014) to install Amit Shah (a highly controversial figure, facing prosecution for murder) as party president.[129]

The extraordinary electoral result of the BJP obviously reinforced Modi’s position within the party. In fact, both the media and the party attributed the results to Modi’s leadership and popularity (an argument that was partially confirmed by post-poll surveys).[130]

As a consequence, Modi was able to sideline internal enemies relatively easily. Vajpayee (whose health had precluded him from political activity for about a decade), Advani and Joshi have all been kept out of the two highest decision-making bodies of the party, the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee.[131] The only two representatives of the old structure of power who managed to keep a (formally) important position were Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj. The former, despite past acrimony, played a key role in the nomination of Modi as prime ministerial candidate and was thus rewarded with the Home Ministry.[132] Sushma Swaraj was given the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, their power was more cosmetic than substantial. Singh’s position has been compromised by some leakages (originating from the PMO) concerning his son Pankaj allegedly accepting bribes for fixing a bureaucratic post.[133] Furthermore, the actual limitation of Rajnath Singh’s real power became evident when he was substantially excluded from the selection of candidates both for the Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent round of by-polls in his home state (UP). Swaraj, on the other hand, has been systematically excluded from all important foreign policy decisions, as these are handled directly by Modi.[134]Summing up, the fact that the names of elected members of the BJP have been either chosen or approved by Modi and his most trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, and the fact that Amit Shah was handpicked by Modi as the new president of the BJP are proof of the supremacy of the prime minister over the party. Although a few BJP leaders have expressed their unhappiness at this situation, [135] there are few doubts that, in the period under review, Modi’s grip over the party has become virtually unshakable.

The control of the party was important for Modi as a defence against any threat to his leadership coming from his own political camp. However, as it became clear during the first months of his government, the real centre of power was not the party but the government or, rather, a government which was immediately brought under the iron control of the prime minister and his PMO. In fact, just a few days after taking office, Modi scrapped the Groups of Ministers (GOM and eGOM) that had functioned as a collective (although rather inefficient) decision-making mechanism within the cabinet during the UPA governments.[136] He, then, summoned all chief secretaries – not a single minister was present at the meeting – and told them that they could approach him directly, without keeping their ministers in the loop.[137] Ministers were also denied the right to choose their own top bureaucrats and even personal secretaries, as all bureaucratic appointments came to be decided by the PMO.[138] Ministers were even told not to talk with the media,[139] with the exception of Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, one of Modi’s most trusted allies, and arguably the only minister who retained some clout over governmental affairs.[140]

Decision-making was thus completely centralized within the PMO, which not only was put in charge of what Modi considers his policy priorities – foreign relations, national security, infrastructure projects, etc. – but even routine matters like the composition of the Indian delegation for the Asian Games.[141] This, paradoxically, could not but cause delays in policy-making, which is the opposite of what, in Modi’s professed intentions, the centrality of the PMO in decision-making should achieve.[142]

There are some indications that the concentration of powers in Modi’s hands goes beyond the institutional field. The press reported rumours that a few ministers were being kept under surveillance. For example, Nitin Gadkari, a former BJP president and incumbent Minister of Transport, has allegedly complained to the RSS chief that his residence (along with that of other BJP leaders) had been bugged.[143] According to an article that appeared in Outlook (1stSeptember 2014), Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, was on his way to Delhi airport to attend a conference in Kenya when he received a call from the PMO requesting him to dress appropriately. «What bothered Javadekar was the thought that somebody was keeping a tab on his movements and giving minute-by-minute information to the PMO.»[144]These rumours tend to be more credible since similar allegations regularly emerged when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat.[145]

The concentration of power in Modi’s hands, however, might have some political advantages for the BJP. Liberal opinion-makers and the urban middle classes were extremely annoyed by the two power centres (Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh) that characterized the UPA’s regime, [146]which, according to them, caused a virtual policy paralysis.[147]

The second process that marked the first six months of Narendra Modi’s government was the implementation of a cultural agenda dictated by the RSS, with the adoption of the Hindutva[148]ideology as its guiding star.

It should be noted, however, that Modi, at least for the time being, has not undertaken what we could call «the high road» to Hindutva. This would entail action in three core areas, which are prominent in the RSS agenda: the implementation of a uniform civil code; the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status; and the construction of a temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Dealing with any of these issues would have major domestic and international consequences; in particular the implementation of the above mentioned three key Hindutva goals would badly shake the social contract that binds the 150 million-strong Muslim community to the Indian state. It is very unlikely that Modi – who has always appeared to be less a Hindu extremist than an extremely pragmatic politician[149] – will want to pursue the high road to Hindutva, at least as long as his popularity remains high.

Nevertheless, once all the above has been said, there is no doubt that, in the period under review, the BJP was undertaking the «low road» to Hindutva. This replicated Modi’s strategy during the electoral campaign, during which – as noted above – he presented himself as the «development man» and left the dirty job of polarizing the electorate to others, in particular Amit Shah, especially in sensitive regions like UP. To put it in slightly different terms, Modi promotes two parallel discourses: development at the national level, and Hindutva at the local level.

It seems that Modi is either unable or, more probably, unwilling to control what the BJP and the RSS do at the local level and to draw a clear line about what the BJP/RSS members can or cannot say or do.[150] Perhaps the most extreme example of Modi’s inability/unwillingness to control the Hindutva extremists is the appointment of a five-time MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, as the lead campaigner for the round of by-poll elections held in September 2014. Adityanath has a long history as a troublemaker.[151] He is also one of the main proponents of the «Love Jihad» conspiracy theory, according to which there is a secret plan, elaborated by the Muslim community, aimed at seducing and marrying Hindu women, in order to alter the demographic equilibrium between the two religious communities. Adityanath has a more «colourful» definition of «Love Jihad» that is worth reproducing in its entirety: it is «a system where a girl surrounded with fragrance is enticed into a stinking world; where the girl leaves her civilised parents for parents who might have been siblings in the past; where purity is replaced with ugliness; where relationships have no meaning; where a woman is supposed to give birth every nine months; where the girl is not free to practise her religion; and if the girl realises her mistakes and wants to be freed, she is sold off».[152]

The «Love Jihad» theme dominated the campaign for the by-poll elections in UP and in other states. Adityanath even urged Hindus to marry 100 Muslim women for every Hindu woman who had married a Muslim man.[153] All this happened without Modi and the BJP leadership taking any action against Adityanath, not even openly distancing themselves from Adityanath’s open effort at disseminating hatred between the different religious communities.

Several other BJP politicians were rewarded for similarly promoting hatred between communities. Giriraj Singh, for example, raised a storm when, during the general election campaign, he suggested that opponents of Modi should migrate to Pakistan.[154] This has not prevented him from becoming Union Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Likewise, Sanjeev Baliyan, who has been accused of having fomented the riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, has been chosen as Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Processing.[155] Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister of State for Food Processing Industries, when opening the election campaign for Delhi on 2 December 2014, asked voters at an election rally in Delhi to «chose between ‘Ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) and ‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born)», [156] highlighting through this vivid phrase that only the Hindus («those born of Ram») are legitimate Indians, whereas all others are illegitimate. These are far from being isolated examples.[157]

The behaviour of BJP ministers and MPs has had two consequences. First, opposition parties are finding an unexpected common platform against the communalization of the political discourse. The winter session of the parliament has been disrupted several times because of the protests of the opposition, thus impeding the government to move bills into parliament.[158]

The second, and more worrisome, consequence is that Hindu extremists across the country are increasingly feeling free to target minorities and to undertake provocative initiatives, as they know that they will not face any serious repercussions. There are many examples of provocative initiatives taken by RSS-affiliated organizations. In October 2014, communal violence broke out in East Delhi as a result of the months-long marches and demonstrations organized by the Hindu Jagran Manch in front of the local mosque.[159] In July, some MPs belonging to the Shiv Sena (the Maharashtrian Hindu right-wing party which, at the time was an ally of the BJP) tried to force-feed a fasting Muslim.[160] In December, a church was burned down in Delhi «not by accident», according to local residents.[161] A week after that, the RSS organized a mass-conversion ceremony in Agra (200 Muslim families were offered money to «go back» to Hinduism), and announced that 5,000 more families would be converted on Christmas day in Aligarh.[162]

To be fair, these episodes are hardly a novelty. However, what is unprecedented is, on the one hand, the scale of the initiatives and, on the other hand, the location of the conversion ceremonies in cities historically associated with Muslim culture. This is probably a sign that Hindu extremists are becoming increasingly confident, as they feel that the state is behind them. It is significant that Modi has remained silent on all communal controversies and has not taken any action against those who explicitly played the communal card for political purposes.[163]

Overall, all this is resulting in increasing levels of communal violence, especially on the eve of elections. In UP alone, in the ten weeks that followed Modi’s appointment (i.e. in the period up to the by-polls), 605 communal incidents took place,[164] a number that is almost equal to the total number of communal riots which occurred in the entire country during the whole of 2012 (668). The situation is becoming so worrisome that even Tavleen Singh – a well known journalist and one of Modi’s staunchest supporters – wondered: «Why is the Prime Minister allowing the RSS to steal his mandate?».[165]

There is a second area in which the promotion of Hindutva has been particularly apparent. This is the «saffronization» of the state’s institutions, particularly educational institutions. Controlling educational institutions has always been a priority for the Sangh Parivar, namely the galaxy of Hindu organizations headed by the RSS. The RSS has always been keen on reducing the influence of Marxist (and supposedly pro-Congress) historians on the formulation of educational curricula. This had been attempted by Morarji Desai in the late 1970s[166] and, more recently, by the Vajpayee’s governments (1998–2004).[167]

Modi is following in the footsteps of Desai and Vajpayee. The Minister for Human Resource Development (which handles education policy), Smriti Irani, in spite of her Parsi-sounding (acquired) family name, is a long-time RSS worker coming from a family of long-time RSS workers. It is now a rather well established fact that she meets the RSS leadership on a regular basis to discuss educational policy.[168]

Irani also appointed numerous RSS-friendly persons to important educational institutions. In July 2014, she appointed an unknown historian, Yellapragada Sudharshan Rao, as the chairperson of the Indian Council for Historical Research.[169] In fact, Professor Rao’s articles, mainly on the historicity of Indian epics, have never been published in any peer-reviewed journal.[170] He has also vowed to prove the authenticity of the Mahabharata and of the Ramayana during his term.[171] In November Mrs Irani appointed Vishram Jamdar – a self-professed «RSS man»[172] – as the chairman of the Nagpur Institute of Technology. During the Cabinet expansion in November, Ram Shankar Katheria (a former RSS pracharak) joined Mrs Irani’s Ministry.

The long-term harmful influence of the RSS on the government’s cultural agenda is also evident from the work of the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a Delhi-based think tank that was set up by the Vivekananda Kendra, one of the RSS affiliated organizations, and very close to Narendra Modi. The VIF has been preparing an 11-volume history of India.[173] According to a fellow of the VIF, the objective of this multi-volume work is to present «the correct cultural, traditional and spiritual aspects of India» and to challenge the dominant view of India’s history, whose supposed objective is to «make us feel inferior and destroy our fundamental Indian values».[174] It remains to be seen how influential the VIF’s version of the history of India will be. However, there are reasons to believe that it will be important, at least as a propaganda instrument.

The VIF has provided a good number of senior officials to Narendra Modi’s government. For instance, Ajit Doval, founding director of the VIF, was chosen as National Security Advisor; Nripendra Misra, a member of the VIF’s executive council, became Modi’s principal secretary; P.K. Misra, former senior fellow of the VIF and Modi’s principal secretary at the time of the Gujarat riots in 2002, has been appointed additional principal secretary to the prime minister.[175] This obviously does not mean that all VIF affiliates are Hindu extremists – far from it – but it is certainly true that the Foundation has a clear ideological orientation that is not very dissimilar from the RSS.

Other state institutions were equally involved in the promotion of an RSS-inspired cultural agenda. Doordarshan Television is apparently subject to significant pressures from the government. In October 2014, the station broadcast the entire speech of the RSS sarsanghchalak (supreme leader), Mohan Bhagwat. This was a sign, according to senior officials, of the growing influence of the RSS on state-owned television. Another official claimed that the Information and Broadcasting Minister, a former member of the RSS student wing, meets the station’s Director General every morning. The official stated that he had not seen such an attempt to control Doordarshan since the times of the authoritarian Indira Gandhi-imposed emergency regime (1975–77).[176]

  1. The economy

6.1. The situation in the first five months of the year

After two difficult years, at the beginning of the period under review, the Indian economy started to turn around. At the beginning of February 2014, both the National Council of Allied Research (NCAER), India’s oldest and largest independent think tank, and, one month later, India Ratings & Research, a credit rating and research agency belonging to the Fitch Group, estimated India’s economic growth in 2014–15 as likely to grow from less than 5% in the preceding year to 5.6%.[177]

On the same positive note was the assessment made on 17 February 2014 by the UPA Union Minister of Finance, P. Chidambaram, in his presentation speech of the Interim Budget 2014-15.[178] According to Chidambaram, the slowdown of the Indian economy, which had begun in 2011–12, had started to reverse in the second quarter (Q2) of 2013–14. According to Chidambaram: «In nine quarters, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] growth rate declined from 7.5 percent in Q1 (the first quarter) of 2011-12 to 4.4% in Q1 of 2013-14».[179] Then, thanks to the measures taken by the UPA government and the RBI (Reserve Bank of India),[180] growth in Q2 of 2013–14 was «placed at 4.8 percent» and growth for the whole year was estimated at 4.9%, which, according to the Minister of Finance, meant that: «growth in Q3 and Q4 of 2013-14 will be at least 5.2 percent».[181]

Still according to Chidambaram, by the end of the fiscal year 2013–14, the deficit would be contained at 4.6%, «well below the red line» drawn in the previous budget (4.8%), while the Current Account Deficit (CAD), which «threatened to exceed» USD 88 billion, would be brought down to 45 billion. The foreign currency reserves – which in the previous two years had become dangerously thin – would be up to USD 15 billion. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI), which at the time of the presentation of the previous budget stood at 7.3%, at the end of January 2014 was down at 5.05%. Food inflation – namely the main component in pushing up the WPI – although «still a main worry», had «declined sharply from a high of 13.6 percent to 6.2 percent».[182]Moreover, the rate of growth of agriculture was spectacularly on the rise,[183] whereas saving rates and investments had declined, but only marginally. The steps taken by the Union government to speed up the implementation of projects already approved through the creation at the end of 2013 of a Cabinet Committee on Investment and a Project Monitoring Group had been effective. In the Minister’s words, «by the end of January, 2014, the way [has been] cleared for completing 296 projects with an estimated project cost of Rs. 660,000 crore [6600 billion].»[184]The rate of exchange of the rupee, heavily under pressure during the previous financial year, had been stabilized.[185] Exports had «recovered sharply», in spite of the fact that the growth of global trade had declined from 6.1% in 2011 to 2.7% in 2013. Infrastructures had received «a big push»; so much so that: «In the 2012-13 and in the nine months of the current financial year [2013–14]», India had added «29,350 megawatts of power capacity, 3,928 kilometres of national highways, 39,144 kilometres of rural roads under PMGSY,[186] 3,343 kilometres of new railway track, and 217.5 million tonnes of capacity per annum in our ports.» Besides, according to Chidambaram, «19 oil and gas blocks were given out for exploration and 7 new airports are under construction.»[187]

At the end of the day, the only really negative note, «the Achilles’ heel of the Indian economy» in Chidambaram’s words, remained manufacturing.[188] In spite of this, the Minister of Finance could «confidently assert» that the economy was «more stable today than what it was two years ago». This was happening because: «The fiscal deficit is declining, the current account deficit has been contained, inflation has moderated, the quarterly growth rate is on the rise, the exchange rate is stable, exports have increased, and hundreds of projects have been unblocked.»[189]

Much of what was claimed by Chidambaram in his 17 February speech was substantiated, soon after the elections, by the 2014 Economic Survey [ES], tabled in parliament by the new NDA Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, on 9 July 2014. The ES, although stressing that the inflation was «still above comfort levels», confirmed the decline of the WPI inflation (to 6% in 2013–14, compared with 8.9% in 2011–12 and 7.4% in 2012–13); it pointed out that, at the financial year end, the CAD was down to 1.7% of the GDP as against 4.7% in 2012–13. On its part, the rupee, «after plummeting to Rs. 68.36 to a US dollar on 28 August 2013» had «gradually strengthened» reaching in March 2014 an exchange rate of Rs. 61 per US dollar. Moreover, foreign exchange reserves had increased in a substantial way, although less than projected by Chidambaram in his 17 February speech. In fact, they had gone up by nearly USD 40 billion, climbing up from USD 275 billion in early September 2013 to USD 314.9 billion on 20 June 2014. Finally, the fiscal deficit had declined even more markedly than projected by Chidambaram, «from 5.7 per cent of GDP in 2011-12 to 4.9 per cent in 2012-13 and 4.5 per cent in 2013-14» (against the 4.6% estimated by the UPA Minister of Finance). As pointed out by the ES, this result had been achieved «by reduction in expenditure rather than from increased revenue».[190]

Only concerning the GDP growth rate were the ES data somewhat less favourable than what had been estimated by Chidambaram. «After reaching a low of 4.4 per cent during the last two quarters (Q3 and Q4) of 2012-13 growth inched up to 4.7 per cent in Q1 of 2013-14 and further to 5.2 per cent in Q2 of 2013-14, only to decline to 4.6 per cent in the next two quarters» [191][namely the period September 2013 to February 2014], against the 5.2% estimated by Chidambaram. However, the ES, taking into consideration the improvement of both the CAD deficit and the fiscal deficit, was optimistic that, «no doubt [they would] feed into a higher growth in 2014-15».[192]

Summing up, the economic legacy left by the UPA to the NDA was far from being catastrophic, as shown by the fact that the previous six quarters had seen a marked improvement on several fronts, amounting to an upturn of the general economic trend. Most of this improvement was the end product of the economic policies implemented by the UPA government.

6.2. Waiting for Modinomics

After Modi’s victorious election campaign, with such a heavy emphasis on a renaissance of the Indian economy thanks to the implementation at the all-India level of the famed «Gujarat model» or what the Indian and international media were starting to dub «Modinomics», expectations and fears – depending upon one’s political perspective – for the Modi government’s first budget were high indeed. On the right, there were expectations of reforms aimed at dismantling India’s labour laws; privatizing public enterprises, including the profit-making ones; reforming higher education by ending the government’s «bureaucratic stranglehold on the university system», namely privatizing it; replacing or outright dismantling such allegedly wasteful and corrupt social programmes as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Food Security Act, namely the most progressive laws implemented by the UPA governments; introducing the Thatcher-inspired voucher system to siphon off public money in favour of private schooling and health care.[193] Of course, what were the expectations of the right were the fears of the left, according to which the Modi government intended: «to gut any and all labor, environmental and social legislation that impedes corporate profit making, while lavishing subsides, tax cuts and other largess on big business».[194] Some of Modi’s and Arun Jaitley’s first public utterances after the formation of the new government,[195] the hike in rail fares on 20 June[196] and the decision of the BJP-led Rajasthan government to emend three labour laws in order to favour the corporate sector[197] were all seen as pointers to the Modi government’s will to implement a new, pro-business economic policy. However, the real litmus test of the Modi government’s intentions could not but be the presentation of its first budget.

6.3. The first Modinomics budget

The presentation of the first budget of the Modi era was made by the Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, on 10 July 2014. The budget itself appeared to be structurally of the same kind as most budgets since the beginning of the neoliberal reforms. In other words, its aim was to push down both the deficit and taxation, by falling back on non-tax revenues and cuts in social spending. In pursuing this policy, the new budget showed a strong continuity with the latest UPA budgets, particularly with the interim budget. This continuity was admitted and justified by Jaitley himself in his speech of presentation of the budget, by saying that the steps announced in it were «only the beginning of a journey towards sustained growth» and that «it would not be wise to expect everything that can be done or must be done to be in the first Budget presented within forty five days of the formation of this Government».[198]

The most immediately visible element of continuity with the interim budget was the acceptance, on the part of the new NDA Minister of Finance, of the «very difficult task» set up by his predecessor «of reducing [the] fiscal deficit to 4.1 per cent of the GDP in the current year».[199]

The same continuity was perceptible on the side of taxation. Its structure, as in the previous UPA budgets, was characterized by low imposition on corporate profits and personal income, coupled by heavy indirect taxation. In fact, in Jaitley’s budget, the amount of taxation on both corporate profits and personal income did not significantly differ from the interim budget, even if the Jaitley budget introduced some new tax concessions for big business and minor cuts in income tax (paid by the more affluent part of the population). On the other hand, the budget, although raising indirect taxation, from which most tax revenues originated, increased it only marginally.[200]

Of course, static tax revenues made it necessary to find non-tax resources in order to bring down the fiscal deficit to 4.1%. These non-tax resources were to be found through the implementation of a two pronged policy of disinvestment and reduction in real terms of social expenditures. Capital receipts other than borrowing, namely, by and large, revenues accruing from disinvestment, were estimated in the order of Rs. 739.52 billion. A key element in this policy was the rise of foreign participation in the defence and insurance sectors. In both sectors, the composite cap of foreign exchange was raised to 49% from the pre-existing level of 26%.[201] On the other hand, expenditures related to social programmes – such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – were decreased in real terms. However, the avowed policy of containing expenditures had at least a conspicuous exception. As pointed out by Arun Jaitley in his speech: «There can be no compromise with the defence of our country. I therefore propose to allocate an amount of Rs. 2,29,000 crore [2,290 billion] for the current financial year for Defence.»[202] In other words, the allocation for defence was being raised 12% compared with the previous financial year (in the interim budget the rise had been of 10%).[203]

In his speech, the Minister of Finance complemented the concrete decisions taken in the budget and aimed to reducing «wasteful expenditure» with a number of promises pointing the way towards the path leading to «a sustained growth of 7-8 per cent or above within the next 3-4 years along with macro-economic stabilization».[204] The most significant of these promises were the creation of an Expenditure Management Commission, «to review the allocative and operational efficiencies of Government expenditure» and the engagement «to overhaul the subsidy regime, including food and petroleum subsidies, and make it more targeted».[205] Again, on the side of promises there was that – already made time and again by both the NDA and UPA governments – of introducing a Goods and Services Tax (GST). [206] The GST would take away the taxation jurisdiction from the states, putting it in the hands of the central government, rationalizing the taxation system.

Maybe the most positive aspect of the budget – which, however, was once again in line with the interim budget provisos – was the high allocation for infrastructure. This was raised by Rs. 1000 billion over the actual 2013-14 expenditure.

At the end of the day, the main problem with the budget was the fact that it did not provide any significant stimulus to aggregate demand. In fact, the total proposed expenditure was only nominally higher than in the previous fiscal year, namely, taking inflation into account, de facto a decrease in real terms.

6.4. Modinomics at work

Because of the substantial continuity with the previous budget and because such continuity was expected, the reception of both India Inc. and the international capital to the 2014-15 budget, although somewhat lukewarm, was not negative.[207] The other side of the coin was that both India Inc. and the international capital expected the Modi government to move quickly to implement pro-growth and pro-big business policies. This and the many electoral promises made by Modi put his government in a position to do exactly that or, at least, to appear to do that. For the remainder of the year the government economic policies were characterized by a set of high profile announcements, some concrete decisions, and promises or news that the government was at work in preparing new reforms. What was indeed done did not amount to much and boiled down to two policies: the first was the progressive dismantling or cutting down to size of those protections enjoyed by labour in the formal sector of the economy; the second was putting equity in Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) on the market.

As far as the former policy is concerned, it can be noticed that it aimed at enlarging the informal sector – namely that sector of the Indian economy with no protection for labour, which on the eve of Modi’s electoral triumph included above 70% of the work force.[208] Here the main decision was taken at the end of July, when the cabinet cleared 51 amendments to the Factories Act, 1948, the Apprenticeship Act, 1961, and the Labour Laws Act, 1988. These amendments resulted in making women eligible for night-shift work, increasing the ceiling for overtime hours from 50 hours per quarter to 100, and repealing the liability to imprisonment for those who violated the Apprenticeship Act.[209]

As far as state disinvestment in the PSUs is concerned, on 6 August 2014, the cabinet formally approved what had already been promised by Arun Jaitley when presenting the budget. In other words the cabinet officially raised the maximum amount of foreign ownership allowed in military-equipment making firms from 26% to 49% and allowed up to 100% non-Indian ownership in railway construction companies.[210] On 10 September 2014, furthermore, Modi’s government decided to bring down its stake in three PSUs: Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Coal India Ltd (CIL) and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). The government planned to sell 10% of CIL (of which it owned 89.65%), 5% of ONGC (of which it owned 68.94%) and 13.3% of NHPC (of which it owned 85.96%), realizing a total exceeding Rs. 450 billion.[211]

The above listed pro-business policies were supplemented by some further decisions heading in the same direction. On 2 July 2014, the Indian government decided to extend the period of validity of industrial licences from two to three years, extensible by a further two years.[212] On 20 October 2014, the Modi government took another major economic decision, namely the introduction, through an ordinance, of a new electronic bidding system for coal mining. India is rich in coal deposits – and short in energy – but exploitation of the domestic coal resources has historically been so defective as to force India to import much of the coal needed to produce energy.[213] On top of that, the way in which coal blocks meant for exploitation had been allocated by the UPA governments, mainly to private companies, without auction, had been denounced by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in August 2012, causing a major scandal. According to the CAG, the arbitrary allocation system employed by the Government of India had caused a Rs 1860 billion loss to the exchequer. This had brought about the involvement of the CIB (Central Bureau of Investigation) and the courts. Finally, on 24 September 2014, the Supreme Court, which had previously declared illegal the allocations made between 1993 and 2010, cancelled 214 block allocations, directing CIL to take them over.

To remedy the adverse effect on domestic and, even more, international capital,[214] caused by the Supreme Court’s decision, the Modi government, while announcing that a thorough reform law on commercial mining was planned, introduced an ordinance putting up for e-auction 42 mines de-allocated by the Supreme Court, plus another 32 mines in different stages of production. As made public by the Minister of Finance, the proceeds of these auctions were to go to the governments of the states in which the mines were located. Accordingly, the major beneficiaries of the e-auctions were going to be the mineral-rich states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.[215] The e-commerce ordinance, introduced by the Modi government on the 20 October, was signed by the President of India the following day, thus becoming operative.[216]The ordinance, apart from breaking the logjam created by the Supreme Court’s decision, had the additional advantage (from the viewpoint of the major Indian corporations) of putting in the game once again those firms which had been unduly favoured by the UPA governments. In fact, the ordinance excluded from the auction only those firms whose representatives had been convicted of an offence relating to coal block allocation and sentenced to imprisonment for more than three years.[217]

On 30 October 2014, the Finance Ministry ordered a mandatory 10% cut in the centre’s non-plan expenditure for 2014–15.

From the cut were exempted interest payment, repayment of debt, defence capital, salaries, pensions and Finance Commission grants to states. The cuts implied some measures which were not particularly significant from an economic standpoint, such as the prohibition of state officers from travelling first class and making use of five-star hotels for official meetings (apart from those with top foreign officials), plus a freeze on new appointments in the bureaucracy. However, the bulk of the cuts was to take the form of reduction of state subsidies on food, fertilisers and petroleum. These measures were «virtually the same» as the initiatives taken yearly by the UPA governments since 2004 and «even copied the wording of earlier directives».[218] Excluding from its purview interest payment, repayment of debt, defence capital, salaries, pensions and Finance Commission grants to states, exactly as had happened with the analogous measures taken by the UPA governments, could not but have a limited effect. Indeed, according to Nomura Securities, the well-known Japanese brokerage firm, the NDA mandatory cut brought about savings amounting to roughly 0.3% of the GDP.[219]

Apart from the above listed decisions, the Modi government, but most particularly the prime minister, were careful in conveying an impression of dynamism though the continuous announcements of future reforms. Although these announcements did not translate into any concrete policy – at least in the year under review – some of them must be reported.

In July, the government started to discuss the possibility of radically emending the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (a name which, in daily use, is usually shortened to «Land Acquisition Act»). Indeed the Land Acquisition bill had met «with incessant criticism from industrial circles»[220] since it had been introduced to the Lok Sabha. So much so that, according to a well-known pro-Congress intellectual, it was that particular act which had been a main reason behind India Inc.’s decision to take sides against the Congress party.[221] The act, which had become operative at the beginning of 2014, had been the UPA government’s answer to the active popular discontent against land grabbing by Indian and international corporations. Accordingly, the act stipulated substantial compensations for both landowners and landless farmers and introduced a mandatory consent clause demanding approval from 70–80% of affected residents for land acquisition.[222] Before the enactment of the law, local governments could transform agricultural land into industrial land, forcing owners to sell it for a pittance and expelling landless labour from it; after the enactment, all this had become impossible, pushing up the cost of buying land by two to four times. This had made it difficult to develop industrial parks, which explains the hostility towards the act of both the private corporations and many state governments. However, although the reform of the Land Acquisition Act remained in the headlines during the second half of the year, at the end of the period under review, no final decision had yet been arrived on it.

Another neoliberal reform under consideration but far from being enacted at the end of the period under review was the Factories (Amendment) bill. The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7 August 2014, with the aim to remove smaller companies from the purview of various labour laws, such as the Industrial Disputes Act, the Factories Act, the Employee State Insurance Act and the Maternity Benefits Act.

On 10 September 2014, two members of the government, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher, signalled the government’s intention to reverse the taxation policy on special economic zones (SEZs) introduced by the second UPA government in 2011, by reintroducing a series of conspicuous tax breaks.[223] However, at the end of the year under review, no decision had been taken.

Finally, the prime minister, during his public speech on Independence Day (15 August), personally made two high profile promises. The first was the vow «to strengthen manufacturing sector» by asking «all the people world over, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, «Come, make in India», «Come, manufacture in India». «Sell in any country of the world but manufacture here». The second was the promise to «replace the planning commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country».[224]

The first promise was followed by the official launch, on 25 September 2014, of a «Make in India» campaign, aimed at simplifying or eliminating those bureaucratic barriers and labour and environmental regulations which made of India one of the most difficult locations in the world to start a business venture.[225] The campaign aimed at involving 25 economic sectors and the ministries presiding over them in a «holistic integration of perspective on manufacturing».[226]Putting it in simpler words, Modi’s aim was an overhaul of state regulations and labour laws in such a way as to lure foreign entrepreneurs and companies to increase radically their investments in a country which had hitherto been considered one of the least «business friendly» in the world.[227] In doing this, Modi was trying to exploit the potential advantage for India because local wages had become «significantly lower than in China, where – in response to growing worker militancy, including a wave of strikes – companies […] had to grant modest, but significant wage increases».[228] In spite of the emphasis given to the «Make in India» campaign, at the end of the year under review little of substantial had been accomplished.

Likewise, at the end of the period under review, the promise to disband the Planning Commission and to substitute it with a different organ, more responsible to the wishes of the states, had not been fulfilled. While giving rise to an intense debate in the national media on the past record of the Planning Commission and, even more, on what should substitute it, still at the end of 2014 Modi’s decision had not translated even into a clear-cut hypothesis on the structure and aims of the new organism was supposed to have. In fact, not even a new name for it had been indicated.[229]


6.5. Results of Modinomics

At the end of August 2014, official government estimates related to the three months ending in June indicated that the Indian economy had grown 5.7% from the same period in the previous year.[230] Although the Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, claimed that this was the result of the first 100 days of the Modi government[231] – a claim promptly accepted by an Indian press which continued to be massively pro-Modi[232] – it is really difficult to attribute this result to Modinomics. After all, the Modi government had been sworn in on 26 May 2014 and its first significant economic decisions had been taken in the budget presented on 10 July 2014.

The official results for the following quarter (Q2 2014–15: July–August–September), released at the end of November, although an improvement when compared with the same quarter in the previous fiscal year, registered a decline when compared with the previous quarter, the GDP rate of growth going down from 5.7% to 5.3%. This decline was to be put down to the slow growth of the manufacturing sector (only 0.1%, compared with 3.5%) and the difficulties for the agricultural sector, brought about by a bad monsoon.[233] However, although the GDP growth in the second quarter was lower than in the first, it nevertheless was higher than expected by most economists.[234] Anyway, the rate of growth during the first two quarters of 2014-15 represented a conspicuous improvement when compared with the first two quarters of 2013-14.

During the second half of 2014, the positive news on the GDP growth front was complemented by even more positive news on inflation. The inflation rate based upon the consumer price index (CPI) declined from an average of 11.5% in the first ten months of 2013 to 6.65% in the first ten months of 2014. Moreover, the general trend in the first ten months of 2014 was downward, going from 7.24% in January to 5.5% in October. [235] Particularly relevant and particularly positive was the decline of food price inflation, which in the previous years had been the main inflationary trigger: in October it was 5.6%, only marginally higher than the general CPI inflation.[236] This result was all the more remarkable as it came in a year that, in spite of the positive upturn in its concluding months, on average had been characterized by an adverse monsoon season. Here, the merit for this positive development went to the Modi government, for its «deft food management», which «included open market sale of wheat and rice from its buffer stock» and «putting a lid on procurement prices».[237]

Not surprisingly, at the close of the year under review: «Almost all forecasters, including the Reserve Bank of India, expected GDP growth during this year [2014-15] to be at least 5.5 per cent in a range between 5 and 6 per cent».[238] On its part, the think tank FocusEconomics expected the Indian GDP to grow 5.3% in the fiscal year 2014-15 and 6.1% in the year 2015-16.[239]Citigroup expected India’s GDP rate of growth to be around 5.6% in 2014-15 and around 6.5% in 2015-16, claiming at the same time that India had «really surprised» in 2014 and might do so again in 2015.[240] Finally, the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2015 estimated India’s GDP rate of growth at 5.4% in 2014, 5.9% in 2015 and 6.3% in 2016.[241]

No doubt, all the above amounted to positive results. How much Modinomics were really responsible for them remains, however, a moot point. In the previous section it was stressed that, in Modinomics, the politics of brave announcements and promises was at least as important as the policy of concrete decisions.[242] It is doubtful that, by itself, the concrete steps taken by Modi and his government could cause the upturn experienced by the Indian economy in the period under review. Indeed, as shown above, there is reason to think that this positive upturn had started before Modi’s victory. Apart from that, it is only fair to stress that, in such a complex socio-political and socio-economic setting as India, no significant reform can be implemented quickly. This, no doubt, was a fact of which Modi was well aware. Hence his politics of brave announcements and promises, which, while masking Modi’s difficulties and slowness in implementing his pro-business promises, did have a beneficial placebo effect on the economy. But, possibly, the most decisive help in making Modinomics a success of sorts was the crushing down of the international cost of crude oil (see Figure 1). In a country so heavily dependent on energy imports, this fortuitous development could not but have powerful positive cascading effects on the whole economy, giving much of the substance behind Modi’s politics of brave promises and announcements. Which, of course, is far from meaning that Modi did not intend to proceed at full speed, compatibly with the political and social hurdles he had to overcome, in implementing a set of neoliberal policies any inch of which was as invasive and non-inclusive as those he had implemented in his home state.

Table 4. Brent Crude and WTI (West Texas Intermediate) oil prices in US$ January 2014–January 2015

Source: Mike Bird, ‘How the price of oil could fall to just $20 a barrel’, Business Insider Australia, 7 January 2015 (
  1. State elections

During 2014 there were several state elections. The states involved were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh,[243] Odisha (formerly Orissa), Sikkim,[244] Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and Jharkhand. The tables below give an overview of the results in the largest states. (The party of the new chief minister is indicate in bold; in the case of undivided Andhra Pradesh are set in bold the parties of the new chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh/Seemandhra and Telangana).

Table 5. Andhra Pradesh – Incumbent government: Congress

Seat won Vote share % Seat change
Congress 21 11.6 -135
BJP 9 8.5 +7
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) 120 29.1 +28
YSR Congress 68 28.9 NA
Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) 61 14 +51
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 6. Odisha – Incumbent government: BJD

Seat won Vote share % Seat change
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) 115 43.4 +12
Congress 16 25.7 -11
BJP 11 18 +5
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 7. Maharashtra – Incumbent government: NCP–Congress

Seat won Vote share % Seat change
BJP 122 27.8 +76
Shiv Sena 63 19.3 +19
Congress 42 18 -40
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 41 17.2 -21
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 8. Haryana – Incumbent government: Congress

Seat won 2014 Vote share 2014 Seat change
BJP 47 33.2 +43
Congress 15 20.6 -25
Lok Dal 19 24.1 -12
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 9. Jammu and Kashmir – Incumbent government: National Conference

Seat won Vote share % Seat change
People’s Democratic Party 28 22.7 +7
BJP 25 23 +14
National Conference 15 20.8 -13
Congress 12 18 -5
Others 6
Source: Election Commission of India (

Table 10. Jharkhand – Incumbent government: Jharkhand Mukti Morcha

Seat won Vote share % Seat change
BJP 37 31.26 +19
JMM 19 20.43 +1
JVM 8 9,99 -3
Congress 6 10,46 -7
AJSU 5 3,68 -1
Others 6
Source: Election Commission of India (

A brief look at Tables 5-10 reveals that, with the exception of Odisha, the story of the state elections is the story of the victory of the BJP and the defeat of the Congress. The Congress lost ground in Odisha too; however, the popularity of the incumbent chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), coupled with the negligible organizational strength of the BJP in the state, secured the fourth victory in a row for Patnaik’s party. It is also very significant that, for the first time in India’s history, the BJP obtained the relative majority of the votes in Jammu and Kashmir (India’s only Muslim majority state) and formed a coalition government with the People’s Democratic Party.

The results of the state elections were important for Modi and the BJP in ways that go beyond the mere conquest of some important states. First, they showed that Modi’s popularity was still intact. This is extremely important as Modi’s «winnability» galvanizes «vote mobilizers» that in turn multiply the BJP’s chances of winning in subsequent elections.[245] Moreover, Modi’s ability to win elections strengthens his position against his (still rather numerous) internal enemies within the BJP and in the RSS.

Second, the BJP and its allies now control the most economically dynamic areas of the country and as much as 37% of India’s GDP.[246] This is obviously important per se. But it is also important for the implementation of Modi’s national agenda on infrastructure. The BJP now controls, for example, all the states in the Delhi–Mumbai industrial corridor.

Finally, the BJP, although enjoying a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, does not control the Upper House. Hence, controlling the states is crucial for gaining the control of the Rajya Sabha, since its members are elected by the state assemblies.

  1. Foreign policy

During its last two years in power, the attention of the UPA government was focussed on the difficult internal situation, without much time and energy to spare for foreign affairs. During that period, no major changes were visible in India’s foreign policy. However, there is no gainsaying that a certain level of unease had crept into two of India’s main foreign connections: the one with the US and the one with Russia.

The reorientation towards the US had become the pole star of India’s foreign policy since the fall of the USSR; in the most recent period, the key turning point in US-India relations had been the civilian nuclear agreement, realized between 2005 and 2008, which put an end to the international nuclear embargo on India.[247] Paradoxically, however, the US, which had taken the initiative in this difficult démarche, had not reaped all the anticipated economic rewards, because of the passing of the Nuclear Liability Act by the Indian Parliament in 2010. Although much criticized by the opposition, as it capped the amount of liability in case of each nuclear accident at Rs. 5 billion, the Act, by allowing both the victims of a nuclear disaster and the operators themselves of a nuclear plant involved in a disaster to sue the suppliers «for tortuous and criminal liability»,[248]effectively deterred the US nuclear companies from entering the Indian market. This was left open for French and Russian operators, which, unlike the US firms, in case of a nuclear accident could fall back on the economic help of their respective states. The situation had been made worse by the dissatisfaction of the Obama administration regarding what the US President himself considered the inability of the Indian government to push through a second generation, «big bang» neoliberal reforms, such as to open more space in the Indian market for international capital.[249]

Although, on the whole, the connection with the US remained a mainstay in India’s foreign relations, the relationship between the two countries had become cold enough to make possible, in December 2013, the Devyani Khobragade incident, and the following acrimonious spat between the two governments.[250]

Russia – traditionally a close friend of India – had recovered much of its importance as India’s partner and its main provider of weapons since Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power in 2000. However, the US–India civil nuclear agreement, if it did not open the lucrative field of building nuclear power plants to US private capital, had made possible the steep rise in importance of the US as an arms supplier to India. Although Russia still remained the biggest arms exporter to India in term of overall numbers (75% of the weapons imported to India came from Russia), value-wise the US had taken first position since 2013. [251] In fact, the value of the weapons and weapon systems bought by India from the US had grown to such an extent that, in 2013, the South Asian country had elbowed Saudi Arabia out as the main buyer of American arms. [252] Also, India had further diversified the sources of its military imports, particularly by turning to France in purchasing French Rafale fighters, and to Israel, among other reasons, to procure spare parts for Russia-supplied weapon systems.[253] All this had irritated Russia, but, to a certain extent, its loss to the US, France and Israel of an increasing share of India’s arms market had been counterbalanced by India’s support for Russia’s «legitimate interests» in Crimea and Ukraine.[254] Accordingly, as in the case of the India–US relationship, the India–Russia alliance – although less warm than in the past – had remained in place as a mainstay in India’s foreign policy.

Only in two fields had India’s foreign policy continued to show considerable dynamism even in the second half of the second UPA government: the first was the relationship with Japan, which continued to grow increasingly close and cordial; the second was Delhi’s spirited fight inside the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the safeguarding of India’s national interests.[255]

During the first half of 2014 and up to the formation of the Modi government, on one hand, no new developments occurred in the field of India’s foreign policy, and, on the other hand, foreign policy – as is generally the rule in Indian electoral politics – was conspicuous by its absence as a topic of debate in the electoral campaign.[256] This suddenly changed at the moment itself of the swearing in of the new Modi government. In fact, the heads of state of the other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, the prime minister of Mauritius and the head of the Tibetan government in exile were invited to the ceremony (26-27 May 2014).[257]

This move – widely seen as aimed at starting friendlier and closer relations with the neighbouring countries – was only the opening one in a kind of international campaign with two main goals: projecting India as a major world power and getting international support and cooperation in promoting and accelerating India’s economic development. This international campaign – it is worth stressing – was primarily led by the new prime minister in person, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, was relegated to managing the daily bureaucratic routine of her ministry and carrying out some of the foreign visits of less import.

In the period up to the end of the year under review, the new prime minister took part in no less than 10 state visits and/or major international conferences, and hosted no less than eight visits of prime ministers or heads of state of foreign powers (see Table 11), which made of him the most active Indian premier in foreign policy since Rajiv Gandhi’s time.

This intense diplomatic activity can be described as mainly – even if not exclusively – organized around two principal axes: the US–WTO–Russia axis and the China engagement/China containment axis. Its two main goals, as noted above, were: the acceptance of India at the international level as a major world power; and the acquisition, from the other major world countries, of direct investments, technological know-how and, more generally, any economic means necessary to speed up the growth of India’s economy. However, before focussing our attention on the pursuit of these objectives, it is necessary to return very briefly to the Modi government’s oath-taking ceremony and the meaning of the above quoted invitations to heads of states and heads of government.

As mentioned above, that ceremony was widely seen as aimed at starting friendlier and closer relations with the neighbouring countries. However, on closer examination, the rationale beyond that move seems to be different. Indeed, the hypothesis can be made that, according to RSS ideology, those invitations were aimed at stressing India’s hegemonic relationship with the other SAARC countries plus the Maldives. Namely, at stressing India’s position as paramount power in the geo-political space that, according to Hindu nationalist ideology, has historically been, and should be, part of India.

In fact, what Modi had in mind appears to have been the establishment of a set of bilateral relations based less on the principle of good neighbourhood than on the acceptance of India’s hegemony. This soon became visible in the evolution of the relationship with Pakistan. After the invitation of Pakistan’s President Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony, the icy relations between the twin South Asian enemy countries had appeared to be heading towards a thaw. Modi had expressed words of sympathy for the victims of the recent floods in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, while Sharif had reciprocated by sending mangoes as a gift to Modi. However, this bonhomie suddenly evaporated when, on 18 August 2014, the Indian government cancelled the already planned foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. The reason for this move was the decision by Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, to meet Hurriyat leaders,[258] according to a practice that had been tolerated by the previous Indian governments.[259] By then the Hurriyat – which had suffered a series of internal splits – enjoyed a limited political relevance. In spite of this, and in spite of the just noticed fact that the previous Indian governments, although objecting to these meetings, had never imposed any anti-Pakistan sanction, New Delhi’s decision was to put a stop to the recently renewed dialogue with Islamabad. This was as clear cut an indication as any that New Delhi, rather than negotiating with Islamabad on a position of parity, was interested in showing Pakistan – namely the only other South Asian state which, although far from having the same political weight as India, was not a lightweight – who was the dominant power in South Asia.

Table 11. A non-exhaustive list of Modi’s state visits abroad and of foreign dignitaries’ state visits to India in 2014

Dates Modi’s visits abroad Visits from foreign dignitaries
8–9 June China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits India
16–17 June Modi visits Bhutan
13–16 July Modi visits Brazil and takes part in the BRICS conference at Fortaleza
30 July–1 August US State Secretary John Kerry visits India
3–4 August Modi visits Kathmandu (Nepal)
7–9 August United States Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel visits India
30 August–3 September Modi visits  Kyoto and Tokyo (Japan)
4–5 September Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, visits India
11–12 September Modi takes part in the SCO meeting at Dushanbe (Tajikistan)
17–19 September Chinese President Xi Jinping visits India
26–30 September Modi visits the USA and takes part in the UN general assembly
27–28 October Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Vietnam, visits India
4 November Daniel Kablan Duncan, Irish Prime Minister, visits India
11–13 November Modi visits Naypyidaw (Myanmar) and takes part in the East Asia Summit
14–18 November Modi visits Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney (Australia) and takes part in the G20 summit
19 November Modi visits Suva (Fiji)
25–27 November Modi visits Kathmandu (Nepal) for the SAARC summit
10–11 December Russian President Vladimir Putin visits India
Sources: Indian and international press; Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

8.1. The US-WTO-Russia axis

For quite some time after the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom, Narendra Modi had been kept at arm’s length by the Western countries. However, parallel with the rise of Modi’s political star in India, the anti-Modi wall in the West had started crumbling.[260] The US – which had cancelled Modi’s visa in 2005 – had been the last important nation to move away from its former anti-Modi position; eventually, in February 2014, namely before the conclusion of the Indian general election campaign, US Ambassador Nancy Powell had visited Modi, ending a nine-year boycott.[261]

Immediately after Modi’s victory, before the oath-taking ceremony, US President Barack Obama had congratulated the new Indian prime minister on the phone, inviting him to visit the United States in September.[262] This had been followed by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on 20 May 2014, publicly congratulating Modi and pointing out that the US stood «ready to work closely» with the new Indian premier «to promote shared prosperity», namely economic cooperation, and «strengthen our security», namely bringing India more firmly into the arc of containment which the US was building around China.[263] This had been followed by the official announcement (28 July 2014) that Kerry would visit New Delhi for the 5th US-India Strategic Dialogue and meet the new Indian prime minister, heading an important delegation, which included US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.[264]

Nevertheless, already before the official announcement of Kerry’s visit to New Delhi, the new Indian government took a momentous decision bound to irritate the US. At the WTO ministerial conference held in Bali in December 2013, a consensus had been reached on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), namely a trade facilitation agreement aimed at reducing and standardizing customs and simplifying related bureaucratic rules. Once implemented by all the WTO countries, the agreement would reduce the total costs of trade between 13 and 15% for developing countries, and more than 10% for developed countries, creating an estimated number of 21 million new jobs and adding approximately USD one trillion to the global economy.[265]

Already at Bali, reaching the agreement – the first in the 19-year  existence of the WTO – had been made difficult by India’s insistence on a parallel pact. This pact would allow developing countries to subsidize and stockpile foodgrains for food security reasons, in amounts potentially bigger than that sanctioned by WTO rules. According to these rules, the value of subsidies aimed at maintaining public stockholding of foodgrains could grow only up to 10% of the value of agricultural production, calculated with reference to 1986–88 prices. Breaking through that ceiling would invite heavy financial sanctions.

This was an impending risk for India, particularly after the enactment, on 12 September 2013, of the Food Security Act, which was bound to raise food subsidies. [266] Hence, in December 2013, at Bali, Anand Sharma, then India’s Industry and Commerce Minister, heading the so-called G-33 group,[267] had fought a spirited battle to gain a «peace clause», namely an agreement that, while standing, would suspend any legal challenge to the food subsidy policy of any WTO country.

Eventually, a four-year «peace clause» had been agreed, a clear victory for India, but only a tactical one. In fact, in 2017, the whole question was to be examined once again, without any assurance that India could win the war, namely to be exempted from the ceiling on food stockholding and food subsidies.[268]

This being the situation, Narendra Modi, in one of his first decisions as premier, rather than waiting for 2017, decided immediately to rejoin battle on the issue. Clearly, he had come to the conclusion that it was better to confront a challenge which, anyway, he was bound to face in 2017, while enjoying all the political strength given to him by his recent and conspicuous electoral victory.

On 21 July 2014 – some days in advance of Kerry’s arrival in New Delhi, and 10 days before the deadline set for the final ratification of the Bali agreement by the WTO nations – the news started to circulate that, unless a more satisfactory solution was found for the problem of allowing developing countries to maintain their food-security-related public stockholding of foodgrains, India would not ratify the FTA.[269] As ratification by all the 153 WTO countries was imperative for the FTA becoming part of the WTO rules, this meant that India was ready to kill the agreement (and, as a result, possibly the WTO itself), unless it got its way.

In challenging the WTO consensus, Modi was possibly betting on the fact that his decision, although bound to trigger the ire of the US, was of less import to the Obama administration than the need to «reboot» the US–India connection. If that was Modi’s wager, it undoubtedly paid off. The decision not to sign the Bali agreement unless the agricultural subsidies question was satisfactorily resolved did trigger the ire of most WTO member states. In fact, the situation became so tense that rumours started to circulate that the consensus principle on which the WTO operated could be given up in favour of a policy of partial agreements, which would «leave behind those that don’t want to come along».[270] Kerry himself, at the end of his visit in Delhi, let the US displeasure be known, through the statement of a US State Department official.[271] However, India did not budge in spite of «tremendous pressure from other WTO members».[272]

Certainly, it is a fact that, notwithstanding Kerry’s warning, India’s stand at the WTO did not seem to affect the ongoing blossoming of the Washington–New Delhi relationship. The same US State Department official who had conveyed Kerry’s warning about India’s decision not to ratify the FTA nevertheless stressed that the Kerry–Modi meeting had been «strong and positive».[273] In fact, Kerry’s visit was closely followed by that of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (7–9 August 2014), which highlighted the growing importance of the huge US arms sales to India and signalled the possible injection of US investments in the burgeoning India defence sector.[274] This was followed, in September, by the sending of a team of the Indian Defence Ministry to Washington, «reportedly with the aim of finalizing details for Indo-US joint production of the third generation Javelin anti-tank missile».[275]

All these diplomatic exchanges, although significant, were only the prelude to the crucially important official visit by Narendra Modi. A politician who, only one year before, was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US, now went to a five-day long official visit in that same country, receiving red carpet treatment from the US authorities and a rousing reception from the bulk of the influential, 2.8 million strong Indian-American community.[276]

During his visit Modi had two main objectives: attracting US private investment to India and renewing and expanding defence cooperation between the two countries. Modi pursued the former objective by meeting the CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of several leading organizations both in New York and Washington. During these meetings, Modi successfully strived to convince the representatives of «America Inc.» that, in India, times had changed, «archaic» labour laws and bureaucratic impediments to the full deployment of international capital were on the way out, and, on top of it all, India was now ready to discuss modifications to its nuclear liability act.[277]

The objective of renewing and expanding defence cooperation was arrived at through the renewal of the 2005 cooperation agreement for an additional 10-year period and the decision by the US to make available advanced military technology to the Indian navy.[278] Moreover, in the joint declaration that concluded Modi’s visit, it was stated that the US and India would «treat each other at the same level as their closer partners» on questions such as «defense technology, trade, research, co-production and co-development».[279] Finally, the two countries, in a statement clearly aimed at China, stressed their support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.[280]

Modi’s triumphal visit was capped by his «wonderful» meeting with Barack Obama on 29 September 2014,[281] followed the next day by the quite unprecedented publication in The Washington Post of a joint editorial by the US president and the Indian premier.[282]

While Modi was visiting the US, the WTO question had resurfaced as a matter of preoccupation for US entrepreneurs.[283] However, Modi had reiterated India’s stand in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, saying that, while India was not against a trade facilitation agreement, it could not but take into account the welfare of its poor people. This, in turn, made it imperative for India that the agreements on trade facilitation and food security be secured together.[284]

In spite of the persistence of the WTO hurdle, some of the most perceptive India-watchers were convinced that, behind the scenes, India and the US were working together on brokering a compromise on the FTA.[285] That, indeed, some kind of behind-the-scenes negotiation had been going on became clear on 13 November 2014, when India and the US announced that they had reached an agreement on the WTO question. More than a compromise, however, the India-US agreement was an unqualified acceptance of India’s position. In fact, in exchange for India’s ratification of the FTA and waiting for a final solution of the food stockpiling subsidies, the «peace clause» would now have an indefinite timeframe.[286]

Clearly, Modi’s bet had paid off: economic and strategic cooperation with India was more important for the US than keeping faith with the neoliberal orthodoxy prohibiting food subsidies to agriculture. Of course, the bilateral US–India agreement had to be accepted by the WTO; but, given the US’s clout in the organization, the end result was not in doubt. In fact, on 27 November 2014, the WTO’s General Council «unequivocally» agreed to the indefinite «peace clause»; the fact that on the same occasion 31 December 2015 was set as the deadline to find a permanent solution for public stockholding for food security purposes was only a convenient fig leaf to cover the WTO’s complete surrender to India.[287]

Of course, this agreement represented a major political victory for India, but most particularly for Narendra Modi, who had decided to challenge the majority of the WTO member states and had been successful. Indeed it was such a complete victory as to make some observers wonder how it could have been reached without any concession in return.[288]

In reality, a potentially conspicuous cost – although an indirect one – brought about by the WTO victory and the increasingly close relationship with the US could be the deterioration of India’s relationship with Russia, historically India’s oldest and most faithful ally. In fact, Russia had followed with growing unease both the upgrading of the New Delhi–Washington relationship and the US cornering an increasingly huge share of the Indian weapons market.[289] Moreover, Russia – hemmed in by Europe and subjected to the US and EU sanctions because of its Ukraine policy – was clearly afraid that India’s support could ebb away, leaving an increasingly isolated Russia over-dependent on Chinese support.[290]

These preoccupations were however put to rest by the short but extremely successful visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10–11 December 2014, when 20 agreements «worth billions of dollars» were signed.[291] The contract between the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and Russia’s Rosatom – aimed at building 12 nuclear reactors, beyond the two already under construction at Kudankulam, by 2035 – was among the most noteworthy among these agreements. Also worth noticing was the agreement between India’s Essar and Russia’s Rosneft, engaging the latter to supply 10 million tons of crude oil annually at a discount price. Moreover, Indian companies signed a 2.1 billion US dollar pact to source rough diamonds directly from Russia’s mining giant Alrosa (one of the main diamond producers in the world) to Indian polishing and cutting firms, without going through the main diamond hubs, such as Antwerp and Dubai. Finally, Russia showed itself to be open to the Modi-sponsored «Make in India» campaign, agreeing to produce in India and export from there 400 Mi-17 medium lift and Ka-226 light utility helicopters to the tune of 400 helicopters a year, and make in India the nuclear components for the 12 new Russian-built reactors. [292] Finally, another topic very much present in the Modi–Putin interaction was the necessity to address the problem of either supplying or manufacturing in India spare parts for Indian weapons of Russian origin. That was a crucial problem because India still maintained 60–70% of its defence inventory from Russia hardware.[293]

This being the situation it does not come as a surprise to find Narendra Modi’s declaration (11 December 2014) that Russia was to remain India’s «top defence supplier» and that the importance of the India–Russia relationship and «its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change».[294] Also Modi reassured Putin that India would continue to oppose Western sanctions against Russia.[295] Both the multi-million-dollar agreements and Modi’s political assurances to Putin were the clear cut demonstration that India’s increasingly close entente with the US would not come at Russia’s expense.[296]


8.2. The China-engagement/China-containment axis

The other main axis around which Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been organized is the relationship with the People’s Republic of China. This was a relationship which had two different aspects: engagement and containment. During the period under review, it became clear that, if, on one hand, Modi was interested in strengthening and rebalancing the economic connection with India’s giant neighbour in the North, on the other hand he perceived China as a military and political threat, which had to be put under control.

All this became evident in due course. At the moment of Modi’s electoral victory, however, the way in which he would deal with China was anybody’s guess. On one side there was the fact that, while the major Western countries had banned Modi, China had welcomed him with open arms. In fact Modi, who had already been to China once before becoming Gujarat chief minister, in that capacity officially visited it three times (in 2006, 2007 and 2011), always being received with the highest honours. Indeed, in the years of Modi’s chief ministership, economic relations between China and Gujarat flourished. It is true that, during the electoral campaign, while in Arunachal Pradesh (the Indian state that China reclaims as «South Tibet»), Modi decried China’s expansionist mindset. However that had been explained away by Chinese authorities as electoral campaign rhetoric. In fact, Modi’s election had been greeted with considerable satisfaction by China, and one Chinese commentator had gone so far to hypothesize that the newly elected Indian prime minister was «likely to become India’s Nixon».[297] On the other hand, those same Indian big businessmen which had so powerfully and decisively supported Modi in his elevation to the prime ministership were clearly in favour of the rebooting of India–US ties and the continuation of India–Japan ties.[298] In other words, they were in favour of a policy which could not but alarm Beijing. To this it must be added that the RSS leadership was traditionally hostile to China and that, by and large, Indian public opinion had consistently been against China at least since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang, within three days of Modi’s victory, was the first head of government to phone him. This was followed by a two-day visit in New Delhi (8–9 June 2014) of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, aimed at preparing for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.[299]

However, even before Wang set foot in India, Modi had signalled that any China engagement policy on his part would come accompanied by a series of conditionalities. The first signal had been the induction in the new government of former General V.K. Singh as Minister of State of External Affairs and Minister of State (independent charge) for the North East Region, and the choice of former master spy Ajit Doval as National Security Advisor. V.K. Singh, who was in charge of that same Arunachal Pradesh reclaimed by China as «South Tibet», was a well-known hawk on security issues, who had never concealed his aversion to China; on his part, Doval was known for his proximity to the Tibetan cause.[300] A second even more evident signal had been the above quoted invitation to the new Indian government swearing-in ceremony, along with the heads of state of the SAARC countries, the prime minister of the Maldives, and Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile from 27 April 2011.

Xi Jinping’s visit to India was planned for mid-September, rather later than desired by China.[301]Meanwhile, before Xi’s journey to India, Modi made three visits abroad, which were relevant in understanding – and making observers understand – where the new Indian prime minister really stood on the China question. Modi visited Bhutan on 16–17 June, and Nepal on 3–4 August. Significantly, both Bhutan and Nepal are Himalayan countries which share their borders only with China and India. In both cases it was clear Modi’s intention to bring those countries more firmly inside the Indian orbit, in competition with China. More relevant, however, was the third visit, which took Modi to Japan from 30 August to 3 September 2014, namely to a country whose relationship with China had been steadily and conspicuously worsening in recent years.

As remarked above, India–Japan ties had been flourishing under the UPA government, including its terminal period. Moreover, as in the case of China, Modi was no foreigner to Japan, which he had visited twice as Gujarat chief minister. Moreover, it seems, the new Indian prime minister enjoyed a close personal connection with Japan’s prime minister Abe Shinzō.[302] This being the situation, Modi’s visit to Japan was an almost total success. Japan promised to invest USD 35 billion in India over the next five years and double its FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) during the same period. Energy cooperation and military ties were upgraded. A «two-plus-two» security arrangement, namely regular meetings between foreign and defence ministers, was decided. Also an agreement was signed, concerning the joint production of rare earths, a group of 17 chemically similar elements crucial to the manufacturing of many hi-tech products, including mobile phones, hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles. In nature, rare earths are indeed less rare that one might assume from their name; but their extraction is difficult and polluting, and, to a large extent, monopolized by China, from where Japan used to supply its needs. However, the worsening of the Japan–China relationship had brought about a diminution of China rare earth exports to Japan and Japan’s effort to diversify its sources.[303] Accordingly, the help of India, which owns 2.2% of the world’s known reserves, was welcomed. The agreement signed between Indian Rare Earths, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy, and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation was aimed at producing between 2000 and 2300 tons of rare earths in India, to be preferentially exported to Japan, thus fulfilling around 15% of the Japanese demand.[304]

The only visible snag in the successful outcome of Modi’s visit was his inability to finalize a nuclear energy agreement with Japan. At least for the time being, that was prevented by the Japanese public opinion’s sensitivity in relation to the fact that India was an atomic-weapons state which had neither signed nor intended to sign the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) and other nuclear weapons controlling agreements.[305]

Undoubtedly, Modi’s visit strengthened the Japan–India entente; and this was an entente which could be read as aiming, among other things, at containing China. The impression that, while waiting for Xi Jinping’s visit, Modi had actively been promoting an India-sponsored arc of containment around China was further reinforced by the official visit to India of Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbot, who landed in Delhi the day after Modi’s return from Japan. During his two-day visit, Abbot signed an agreement (5 September 2014), engaging Australia to export uranium ore to India. This agreement was accompanied by the announcement of plans to increase security cooperation between India and Australia.[306]

It was in this rather inauspicious context that Xi Jinping’s «landmark visit to India» took place. It started with Xi’s arrival not in New Delhi, but, in a highly symbolical move, in the capital of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, on 17 September 2014, namely Narendra Modi’s 64th birthday.[307] Xi’s arrival was followed by the signing of a host of economic agreements between the two countries and China’s engagement to invest USD 20 billion for a fast train corridor and a new strategic road in the next five years. Although a sum decidedly inferior to that promised by Japan only a couple of weeks before – and much lower than «over 100 billion dollars» hinted at by the  Chinese consulate in Mumbai only days earlier – it represented a dramatic improvement over the USD 400 million invested by China in India during the previous ten years. On top of that, China agreed to spend a further USD 6.8 billion on the construction of two industrial parks, one in Gujarat and one in Maharashtra. Finally 24 Chinese companies engaged to buy pharmaceuticals, farming and other India-made products, for an additional USD 3.6 billion.[308]

These agreements signalled the existence of the reciprocal desire by Modi and Xi to strengthen and upgrade the economic ties between the two giant neighbours. Also, they seemed to open the path to a more cordial relationship between the two countries. However, in the late afternoon of 18 September 2014, the news became known that some 1000 Chinese soldiers had intruded beyond the LAC («Line of Actual Control», namely the provisional India–China border) in southern Ladakh. Modi, while dispatching troops on the spot, asked Xi – who, by the way, is the supreme commander of the People’s Liberation Army– to withdraw Chinese troops.

In spite of Xi’s assent to Modi’s request, the following day – the one concluding Xi’s Indian visit – Chinese troops were still on the Indian side the LAC.[309] It comes as no surprise that the cordial atmosphere between the two leaders suddenly turned icy, and, in a «rather strong way to express to the world their lack of agreement», the visit ended with two separate communiqués.[310]

It is possible that – as argued by Forbes’s Eric Meyer – the whole incident was engineered by Xi’s internal enemies.[311] But it had been the exact replica of a similar incident that had taken place one year before, during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Delhi. This could not but encourage China’s many enemies in India to vent their anger against the neighbour of the North and caution India’s public opinion against the danger of any appeasement with it.[312]

At the end of the day, the Chinese incursion in Ladakh could not but give legitimacy to Modi’s decision to carry on with the containment side of his China policy. In the period under review, the last significant act of this policy was the tightening of India’s relationship with Vietnam, namely a state whose adversarial relationship with China has been likened to the adversarial relationship existing between India and Pakistan.[313]

The relationship between India and Vietnam – two countries which shared the preoccupation vis-à-vis a China, which was perceived as harbouring hegemonic ambitions and with which both India and Vietnam had fought a war and had an unsolved problem of undefined borders – has started to become increasingly close since 2000. In 2006, ONGC Videsh Limited (India’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company) obtained rights from Vietnam for block 127 and 128, namely for Vietnamese maritime territory which, however, was claimed as its own by China. Moreover, in 2007, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited New Delhi, signing a strategic partnership agreement.[314]

No doubt, Modi intended not only to maintain the already robust India–Vietnam connection, but to upgrade it. Already two days before Xi Jinping’s arrival in India, on 15 September 2014, seven important agreements had been signed between India and Vietnam at the presence of India’s President Pranab Mukherjee, then visiting Vietnam. These agreements strengthened the bilateral cooperation between the two countries on the basis of a «strategic partnership» focused on political, defence and security cooperation.[315]

On 27 and 28 November 2014, Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam was reciprocated by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to New Delhi, where the Vietnamese premier arrived accompanied by a large business delegation. Dung’s visit had a dual objective: one was diversifying and expanding economic relations; the other was promoting and expanding military and strategic cooperation.         The latter aim had an anti-Chinese bent that was clear to everybody. Certainly Modi, in his interaction with Dung, gave pride of place to the military cooperation with Vietnam, which Modi defined as among India’s «most important ones».[316] In doing so, the Indian premier stressed India’s commitment to modernize Vietnam’s defence forces; an aim that India would reach by making operational at the earliest the USD 100 million line of credit opened during President Mukherjee’s visit to Hanoi. [317] While the two premiers were discussing India–Vietnam military ties, ONGC Videsh Ltd and PetroVietnam signed a «Heads of Agreement» document «for mutual cooperation for exploration in PetroVietnam Blocks 102/10 and 106/10 in the South China Sea».[318] Although, unlike the blocks previously given for exploration by Vietnam to India, Blocks 102/10 and 106/10 were not reclaimed by China, the agreement could not but be viewed with distaste in Beijing, as China considers the South China Sea as part of its own sphere of influence. Finally, the joint statement concluding Dung’s visit had a distinctive anti-Chinese ring, asserting that the two premiers «agreed that freedom of navigation and overflight in the East [China] Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded».[319] This was a clear indication that New Delhi and Hanoi jointly disapproved of China’s attempt to expand its influence in the East China and South China seas, where such an attempt was resisted in particular by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, supported by the US.

Il presente capitolo analizza gli sviluppi politici ed economici in India nel corso del 2014. L’anno in questione è stato caratterizzato dalle elezioni generali, tenute per la 16ª volta dal raggiungimento dell’indipendenza. Tali elezioni hanno visto la catastrofica sconfitta del partito del Congresso, al potere nel corso delle due precedenti legislature, e la brillante vittoria del BJP, guidato da Narendra Modi. Le ragioni e le conseguenze di questo esito elettorale sono analizzate in dettaglio, non solo attraverso la trattazione dello scontro elettorale a livello panindiano, ma mediante lo studio di tre studi di caso, rappresentati dalle elezioni nell’Uttar Pradesh e nel Bihar (dove il BJP ha vinto non contro il Congresso, ma contro potenti partiti regionali a base castale) e nell’Andhra Pradesh (dove il Congresso ha perso non contro il BJP – che in quello stato è una forza politica irrilevante – ma contro i partiti locali). Il saggio si sofferma poi sul funzionamento del nuovo governo guidato da Narendra Modi, mettendo in luce il processo di accentramento dei poteri nelle mani del nuovo primo ministro e del PMO (Prime Minister Office) che lo caratterizza. Viene inoltre messo in luce come l’azione del governo Modi sia stata caratterizzata dall’attuazione dell’agenda «culturale» del fondamentalismo/nazionalismo indù. Anche se realizzata seguendo strategie di basso profilo, tale politica ha già avuto il risultato di portare ad un peggioramento nei rapporti fra le diverse comunità religiose.

Il capitolo passa poi ad analizzare l’andamento dell’economia, dimostrando come la ripresa economica fosse iniziata prima della conquista del potere da parte di Modi e come molti dei positivi sviluppi della seconda metà dell’anno siano stati frutto anche del crollo del prezzo del petrolio a livello internazionale. Infine, il capitolo analizza la politica estera indiana, sottolineando il nuovo dinamismo ad essa impresso da Modi e analizzandola come incentrata intorno a due assi:

quello volto a realizzare un avvicinamento con gli USA, senza per altro rinunciare a difendere gli interessi dell’India nell’ambito della World Trade Organization e senza mettere in pericolo il tradizionale legame con la Russia, e l’asse volto a costruire un arco di contenimento intorno alla Cina, evitando per altro uno scontro frontale con Pechino.


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