Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Karnataka 2018 Elections - Likely Key Issues

Every election is a challenge in India. In a vibrant democracy, with lots of freedom allowed to express oneself, and with unique reservation, religion, language and other pertinent issues, you can expect every election to be colourful.

2018 Karnataka election is likely to happen in May 2018. Let's examine what are the potential issues on which this election would be decided. There are mainly two parties fighting 2018 election - Congress and BJP. But JDS has sufficient base in southern Karnataka, hoping to become a King Maker with 40 to 60 seats out of 224 in the assembly. As of the final week of 2017, things look quite murky with no clear winner capable of crossing the magical 113 mark. These are not in any order, as any issue can flare up as high-priority one on any given day!

1) Kannada Pride: Usually language is not a big issue in Karnataka elections. Mining, Corruption, inter-state issues, Caste etc. are the big ones. But expect a lot of language pride (Kannada aasmite) to show up in 2018.

Advantage? Congress and JDS.
Disadvantage? BJP.
Where would it mostly affect? Urban and Semi-urban areas. Maybe up to 15 MLA seats. 

Why? Congress has worked for a whole year mobilizing various groups on social media and on the streets to show that Kannada is not given preference in may areas. NEET exams, new state flag, Metro train Hindi boards, central government offices not helping in Kannada, banks missing Kannada, railways not helping in Kannada and a whole lot. "Hindi Imposition" which is a Tamil Nadu trademark, slowly inching into Karnataka politics this time. The funny part is that most of this "imposition" was done between 1969 (nationalization of 14 banks) and 2010 (by which most regional languages had disappeared in Railways) by various Congress governments. But now it is easy to blame everything on Narendra Modi. So the game is on!
BJP has not defended against this attack till now. The goal of JDS and Congress is to show that BJP is a Hindi imposing "North Indian party". And they are working very hard to paint that impression.

2) Interstate Water Sharing Issues: Kaveri is a permanent issue in Karnataka politics, but for a change, 2018 might not see any anti Tamil Nadu sentiment in campaigns. Because unlike 2016 which was a horrible year of drought, 2017 has seen excess rainfall. Also Jayalalithaa is no more, who was a permanent fixture in Supreme Court cases, dragging Karnataka into conflict year after year. Tamil Nadu is busy with internal broken party politics, and there is enough water in both states.  The much talked about Mekedatu dam on Kaveri did not even take off. No one is talking about that failure of Siddaramaiah. Krishna water sharing has been smooth from Karnataka's side. Bhima is not an issue now. So the attention would be with the tiny state of Goa, which is hardly the size of one of the neighbouring districts of Karnataka. Mahadayi, which originates in Karnataka, flows west into Goa becoming Mandovi. There is a long pending drinking water project near Hubballi city which needs about 5% of Mahadayi water in a year. But as usual with everything in India, unnecessary complication has come in. The issue is very hot now. Something that could have been sorted out on a table in 30 minutes, 30 years ago, has become a Tribunal, Court, Politics and Emotional issue.

Image: Deccan Herald
Advantage? JDS.
Disadvantage? BJP and Congress.
Where would it mostly affect? North West Karnataka. Up to 35 MLA seats.

Why? For nearly 4 years, Siddaramaiah government did nothing except writing letters, giving speeches, and some delegation meeting. Now close to election, Congress is putting pressure on Modi to solve the issue directly. Because courts and tribunals would take forever, and it is easy to put the ball in Modi's court. On BJP side, Yeddyurappa met with Parrikar and Shah, worked some consolation out, but quick acting Congress has thwarted the entire thing. The goal is to put BJP in the guilty position saying that both central government and Goa government are BJP's, and they are not helping Karnataka. The funny part here is that Congress in Goa is playing the exact opposite card, trying to unseat Parrikar by painting him as anti Goa! In fact, the whole issue became a big problem after Sonia Gandhi gave a divisive speech in Goa ten years ago. Maharashtra also has a small part to play here. JDS is trying hard to saying both "national" parties have failed and it should be given a chance, while it failed to solve it when in power 12 years ago. Also JDS is also a "national" party technically :)

While politicians are doing all politicking, farmers are very angry - they are neither getting drinking water, nor the long term irrigation water. Two years, ago the anger was against Siddaramaiah for the brutal lathi charge his government ordered in Naragunda area. But now, it seems like the villain would be Yeddyurappa if something concrete does not come up.

3) Farmer Suicide: 2014 through 2017 have been terrible years for Karnataka farmers. Suicides have occurred on three major river basins - Kaveri, Tungabhadra and Krishna.
Easily, more farmers have committed suicide during Siddaramaiah's Congress regime, than many prior governments combined.. maybe a few decades worth of governments combined.
Advantage? BJP and JDS.
Disadvantage? Congress.
Where would it mostly affect? Throughout rural Karnataka. Maybe 40 to 80 seats.

Why? 3515 farmer suicides is not a joke. And this number might not even be the total number, as many are talking of much higher number. Families have been destroyed. Farmers are very angry at Congress government for giving pittance as compensation. One farmer Vittal Arabhavi had consumed poison and committed suicide right across from Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi, when assembly was happening. All the ads that Siddaramaiah gives about how he has helped farmers, do not stand a chance if BJP and JDS inform voters that poor governance was one of the biggest reasons for such large scale farmer suicides. But for now, this is not a very hot issue, as other emotional issues have been raked up. It is up to BJP to delicately handle this issue and help farmers. Also, BJP has a long list of good schemes of central government like crop soil card, crop insurance, MUDRA loan etc, to inform the farming families. Loan waiver is an ever green topic. Siddaramaiah doing a small waiver on cooperative loans did not yield any dividend, and Congress will keep pressing for a bigger waiver from the central government on nationalized banks. Kumaraswamy of JDS has already played loan waiver card. Whoever wins farmers' vote in large pockets, will easily win 2018 election. But right now, the situation of Karnataka farmers is in pretty bad condition.

4) Karnataka government in massive debt as a result of freebie governance: This again is a result of copying Tamil Nadu politics by Congress. Everyone knows that from Amma canteen, to free rice to other freebie politics, was a trademark of TN politics.

This month news items showed massive debt numbers since Congress came to power in 2013.

News link: Debt: more and more...
2013: when Congress came into power- Rs.1.12 lakh crores
2013-14 end -Rs. 1.36 lakh crores
2014-15 end- Rs. 1.55 lakh crores
2015-16 end- Rs. 1.80 lakh crores
2016-17 end- Rs. 2.05 lakh crores
2017- 18 end (expected)- Rs. 2.42 lakh crores

We are looking at Rs.38,000 debt over every head in Karnataka by the time this government finishes five year period.

Advantage? BJP and JDS.
Disadvantage? Congress.
Where would it mostly affect? Urban Karnataka. Maybe 25 to 30 seats.

Why? This is a tricky topic. Though Siddaramaiah has made more debt than all other CMs since 1947 (then Mysore) combined, he is still within the magical 25% limit of GSDP. So he can always claim that there is nothing wrong as he is using it for tonnes of socialist freebie projects like Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Shadi Bhagya etc. Congress also keeps showing that they have managed better investment into Karnataka than even Gujarat, without going into details of how much of that is central government's investment. Also, it is not clear from the ads as to what percentage is actually finished implementation generating jobs.

BJP on the other hand, has to push hard to show how this has harmed the state's economy and in spite of so much loan, the state has not seen any major irrigation or infrastructure benefit. Bengaluru in particular can understand this, with 28 seats at stake here. But for now, BJP has not been successful in driving home this point, and most people are not talking about this major issue. Lack of visible job creation is an important matter, which BJP has not capitalized so far.

5) Bengaluru Issues: Since Bengaluru has over 10% of the seats in Karnataka assembly, it is vital for all the three contenders. Dismal state of Bengaluru in traffic, rain/flood/encroachment, lack of infrastructure, overflowing foam in lakes, has hurt the brand image of Bengaluru across the country and in many cities in the world. Garbage issue is still not solved. People literally got washed out in poorly finished drains. Traffic has been a joke across the city.

Advantage? BJP.
Disadvantage? Congress and JDS.
Where would it mostly affect? Bengaluru - Up to 20 seats.

Why? Bengaluru elected BJP as the single largest party in 2015 BBMP corporation election. But Congress managed to snatch the Mayor seat from BJP by allying with JDS and managing overall majority using MLAs, MPs and MLCs. So naturally people are not happy with the setup. Bengalureans voted for BJP to form the local government, not Congress. So it is a big advantage in favour of BJP now, if they play the cards properly. Large scale infrastructure issues have dissuaded more companies to come into Bengaluru off late, with stiff competition from Hyderabad, NCR and other areas in India. Encroachment removal drive affected lot of poor people, while the rich and movie stars were spared. There is a lot of simmering anger among the Bengaluru city dwellers, who totally account for well over 60% of Karnataka's state revenues. But in return for so much tool, tax and cost they pay, they are getting pittance in return. Nothing worth mentioning has happened to show the world that the last 4 years were great for Bengaluru.

Congress on the other hand keeps blaming earlier BJP local government for loans. Congress is betting that populist schemes like Indira canteen (copy of Amma canteen of TN) will fetch lower middle class votes. Siddaramaiah is also very prompt in putting ads for any good news about Bengaluru, anywhere in the world - like the most dynamic city title, without thinking for a minute as to what was his government's contribution!

JDS can't say much as it is an opportunistic party which allies with Congress in Bengaluru, and with BJP in Mysuru!

6) Youth belonging to Hindu organizations murdered across the state: This is a big election issue as of now. Till now, these political murders were usually limited to Kerala in news. But more than 20 RSS, BJP and Hindu org people have been murdered since Siddaramaiah came to power. That has angered a lot of people. This month, a book written by famous Kannada Editor Hariprakash Konemane came into news.

The title reads - "Man Slaughters - Already 20. How many more?"
Book cover: Samvada

Advantage? BJP.
Disadvantage? Congress and JDS.
Where would it mostly affect? Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Bengaluru and more. Up to 40 seats.

Why? Almost every year, there have been multiple murders since Siddaramaiah came to power. Political murders were there before also, but why BJP supporters are angry this time is - there is no visible action against the extremist ideologies that are targeting Hindu activists. To make things worse, Congress government had dropped 175+ cases against the notorious Muslim organization PFI when BJP was calling for PFI's ban. And since then, the deaths have been hot news every few months, with blames going squarely to Siddaramaiah's head. On the other hand Congress has been vociferous in blaming BJP and its leaders for provocation and disrupting "communal harmony". The usual targets are Pratap Simha, Anant Kumar Hegde and Shobha Karndlaje. JDS can't talk much on this, as it has also lost its cadre to murders, but since it needs to be in power in Bengaluru with Congress, has not made much noise. BJP squarely blames Ramanatha Rai, Siddaramaiah, Roshan Baig and other Congress leaders for provocations. Overall, there is a lot of fear factor among Hindu activists, which might affect a large section of voting depending upon how politicians use the fear. Siddaramaiah is seen as someone squarely siding away from Hindu organizations with his open calls to fight "communal forces" meaning RSS and BJP in his language. Cow slaughter is one of the most discussed issues since 2013 when Siddaramaiah repealed an earlier bill of BJP for stricter slaughter controls.

In fact, Karnataka being declared as the most communally sensitive state in 2017, is not going to help Rahul Gandhi when he campaigns here in 2018. Overall, law and order, women's safety, and related issues will pop up too.

7) Leadership Quality: Who is the strongest leader in Karnataka right now, is a big question. For Congress, Siddaramaiah is undoubtedly a tall mass leader now. With a weak High Command and Congress wiped out of most of India, Siddaramaiah's hands are stronger than ever. He also has not much competition from within Congress now as Mallikarjuna Kharge, DK Shiva Kumar, Janardhana Poojary, Parameshwara are not in a position to challenge him. He has projected himself as a mass leader for AHINDA (A = Minority, Hin = Backward Castes and Da = Dalit in Kannada) groups. Thought Yeddyurappa's KJP helped a lot in splitting BJP votes in 2013, a big credit is for Siddaramaiah's caste calculations. He is definitely a formidable force in Karnataka politics in 2018. Even though Congress has lost some stalwarts like SM Krishna, Srinivasa Prasad and Vishwanath, not much damage has happened on the ground for voter base. Even some serious charges against Siddaramaiah like expensive watch, de-notification, Lokayukta damage, ACB cases, nothing has dented his position as the top leader of Congress. Siddaramaiah also has a strong support among "Buddhi Jeevis" who have been cultivated with careful events and awards over the years.

Pic: OneIndia
Advantage? None have distinct lead in the CM's race.
Disadvantage? Not much choice for any party.
Where would it mostly affect? Everywhere. Hard to quantify. 

BS Yeddyurappa is a top leader for BJP now, though not as powerful as he was in 2008 elections. He is nearing 75 years, so there is a lot of question mark on whether he would complete a term if elected as CM. But undoubtedly he is the only BJP mass leader now who can draw crowds in all 30 districts of Karnataka. His strength includes tremendous connection with voters across castes. He can attract diverse caste groups and commands respect of rural voters in many districts. But his biggest disadvantage is his corruption cases from 2010 and 2011 period. Though he is not convicted in any court of law, his brief jailing (for failing to get bail) has dented his reputation. Siddaramaiah talks about this all the time, and BJP is defenceless here. Though BJP has a RSS man as governor now, he is nowhere as lethal as Bharadwaj was when UPA was in power at the center. There are lots of young and emerging leaders for BJP like CT Ravi, Shobha Karandlaje, Anant Kumar Hegde, Pratap Simha to name a few. But none are close to CM's chair at present like BSY.  He is BJP's biggest strength, yet the biggest weakness also now.

HD Kumaraswamy of JDS is a very clever leader. Deve Gowda has trained his son in political maneuvering very well. His strengths include mobilization of Gowda (Vokkaliga) votes in 4 to 5 districts of south Karnataka. That loyal voter base can easily get him 20% of the assembly seats. He is also clever to latch on to politically beneficial issues like CM's watch, Mahadayi, Minorities etc. But his weakness is the pan state reach. Also he is tainted due to previous mining and other cases against him. JDS is not having much base beyond old Mysuru region, and also his health is not in top shape as he underwent heart surgery recently. Overall a sure shot king maker, but a long shot king if JDS manages 70+ seats.

8) Caste Equations: Two major caste issues for 2018 elections would be Lingayat as separate religion, and inner-reservation within Scheduled Castes (SC).

For decades, the issue of Lingayats being separate dharma or religion outside of Hinduism had surfaced. But for 2018 elections, concrete plans have been put in place. Rallies have happened across the state and Congress party's ministers like MB Patil and Vinay Kulkarni have actively mobilized lakhs of people for separating Lingayats from Hinduism. 

Advantage? Congress.
Disadvantage? BJP.
Where would it mostly affect? Mostly in North Karnataka. Up to 50 MLA seats.  

For decades, there was a debate as to whether Lingayats were different from Veerashaivas. There was also a debate on whether one or both of them are separate from Hindu Dharma. But this time Congress has openly taken sides and trying its level best to get Lingayats a petition for minority status. This has created massive rift within Lingayat - Veerashaiva community with 100s of Jagad Gurus from each side in verbal battle with the other section. It has not been pleasant to watch! Moreover, Lingayat - Veerashaiva has been together the biggest voting bloc for BJP, helping in more than 60 MLA seats during 2008 elections. This time, BJP has played a wait and watch position, which only time will tell if it helps BJP or not. Congress has already started smiling that it has split the biggest voting bloc of BJP. JDS has not much to gain or lose when it comes to this community as it has not much votes here.

The second caste equation is that of Dalits or Scheduled Castes. In Karnataka, there are mainly three groups of Scheduled Castes - The Right Hand, The Left Hand and the Misc Dalits. You can read here about the 1960 Dalit organizations in Karnataka, and 100+ caste divisions within the SC group.

The potential big issue for 2018 election is the "Ola Meesalati" or Inner Reservation issue.

Advantage? BJP
Disadvantage? Congress
Where would it mostly affect? In nearly 50 reserved constituencies.   

Since conducting caste census a few years ago, Congress government has not released the data. But is has access, so it is carefully working to avoid the inner reservation issue from flaring up. Initially Dalit CM issue had popped up, but Siddaramaiah cleverly pushed that to inconsequence. But off late, the non-Right-hand Dalits have been vocal in securing fixed percentage of reservation within the SC quota, which would be a huge blow to Congress. In 2018 elections, the right hand SC might support Congress, while the left hand SC might go with BJP. If the reservation quotas within Dalit quota are altered, there would be huge implications on voting pattern. JDS is not a big factor in Dalit politics at present, but you can never rule out anything.

Muslim and Christian votes would be mostly be with Congress or JDS, depending upon who plays better card. BJP has been kept away with constant rhetoric from Congress side on this matter. Tippu Jayanti was one such massive project to consolidate Muslim votes into Congress for 2018. To counter this, BJP might get one or two saffron clad candidates too!

9) The Modi factor: This is a pan-India factor, which will certainly have effect in Karnataka. But to what extent is a big question mark.

In mid 2013, BJP had lost a state election and was in terrible shape due to KJP and BRSC splits. Morale was very low. At that time, it was Karnataka that gave massive hope to Narendra Modi in south India by volunteers forming Namo Brigade. It was so successful, that literally lakhs of youth poured into work for Modi as PM. And they succeeded in shaping the opinion in favour of Modi in no time. 

Namo Brigade rally in Mangaluru - Youtube

Advantage? BJP
Disadvantage? Congress, JDS
Where would it mostly affect? In nearly 50 constituencies.   

A state that gave the highest MPs for BJP from south India, the state which is considered as a gateway for south India for BJP, has lots of potential for Modi. But the key is.. will people vote in state election seeing Modi's promises, work and face?

BJP leaders think very positively. Because a lot happens with just Modi's name on the ground. Even after 3.5 years, Modi remains a very popular PM for Kannadigas. But Congress thinks otherwise. It is painting Modi and Shah combo as outsiders, and just talk without action guys. Siddaramaiah has been particularly harsh on Modi in his speeches. JDS is not that vocal, as clever Deve Gowda is not letting people know which side the wind is blowing. Overall, if BJP manages to rekindle the NaMo Brigade energy across the state, Modi factor alone can change the results in 25 to 50 seats. Devolution of taxes, MUDRA yojana, farmer policies, Explaining Digital India in India's silicon valley, GST, Bank Accounts and 100+ other schemes can be carefully explained by 17 Lok Sabha MPs and 4 Rajya Sabha MPs of BJP here. But can they beat the perception battle launched by Congress against Modi using demonetization, "15 lakhs" and tons of other local factors?

Can Rahul Gandhi be a factor? Doubtful considering the current scene. But after the sudden temple run in Gujarat, nothing can be ruled out.

10) Vote Division: This is a part of every election. Congress is trying hard to divide the Lingayat vote bank of BJP. BJP is trying hard to dip into Dalit vote bank of Congress. A number of small parties are coming into fray with Kannada film star Upendra's party being the notable one. If they manage to get even 10% votes in 20 constituencies, that would directly affect BJP as most supporters of Upendra's party would be urbanites. There were news reports of Congress getting tacit support from SDPI on Muslim side.

Advantage? Everyone
Disadvantage? Everyone
Where would it mostly affect? In nearly 100 constituencies. 

But BJP will be trying hard to use Triple Talaq to divide Congress party's trusted vote bank here. A couple of years ago, Hasana had a movement of Muslim ladies led by Banu Mushtaq, a Kannada writer, to enter a mosque for prayers. Both BJP and Congress are trying to dent into JDS' core vote bank of Vokkaligas/Gowdas. BJP has already tried to dent into Siddaramaiah's Kuruba vote base, using Rayanna Brigade. Congress is on a spree to give land to various caste groups to secure as much votes as possible. SC/ST would be the most crucial bloc along with Lingayat considering the various uncertainty right now.

But one thing is certain - Unlike Hardik Patel and others in Gujarat, there is not much of an unknown person's entry into election right now. All are time tested faces.

In fact, Development is not a key issue at all as of today! Unfortunately so. Caste will be a dominant issue. There might be more issues, but let me stop here for now.

Your comments, corrections and additional pointers are most welcome! Take this blog post as an attempt to get more people to talk of issues, and get a clear idea, rather than campaigning for any party or against a party. In short, take it easy :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Do You Want to Trek to DoodhSagar WaterFalls?

Doodhsagar, literally meaning an ocean of milk, is an inviting waterfall in Goa-Karnataka border. Mondovi (Konkani) or Mahadayi (Kannada) river falls from over 1000 feet here, going as wide as 100 feet in some places. There are multiple drops of the fall from the top, and most people enjoy the top half from a railway track, when they take a train that runs right past the falls.

How to get there? But we had other plans. We wanted to see the entire falls from the bottom. The entire 1000+ feet falls! It does take some effort as there are only jeeps, motor bikes or a 15+ KM walk as our only options. We chose to walk.

We took an overnight mini bus journey from Bengaluru to a place called Ramanagara in Uttara Kannada district. Reached Ramanagara (don't confuse with the more famous Rama nagara near Bengaluru) early morning and freshened up. Keep at least 8 hours to get to Ramanagara.

From Ramanagara, we crossed over to Goa state and reached a place called Colem (also Kolem).

From Colem or Kolem, during monsoon you can only walk or take a motor bike ride (one bike per visitor). We preferred to walk. Jeeps are available for parts of the journey, but not throughout as the path gets flooded beyond jeep's safe driving height.

Trekking:  Start before 11 AM from Colem. You must target to reach the water falls before 3 PM. Else your luck might run out if it rains heavy or fog comes over. Remember, you will have to cross the river and streams many times. Even 30 minutes of heavy rain will raise the water level by a feet or two! We experienced over 1 feet difference within 20 minutes at the top. Carry a good first-aid box.

This is the starting point. Everyone in full josh!

The first 3 KM would be below the railway track and thick Western Ghats jungle. Remember, even if you take a jeep for a part of your return, you will have to walk back the same 3 KM stretch in the evening, so plan on coming here before sunset. Don't forget rainproof clothing, specifically for your mobile phones, wallets etc. It rains heavily in this part of Western Ghats rain forest. Torches will come handy for evening.

The path is beautiful. If you start early, you can relax next to streams, enjoy the views.. and if you are very lucky, you might catch a Bison or two from a distance! We saw one bison that was 600+ KG from a safe distance.

The track changes from rough jeep track to beautiful jungle tracks. In some places you can get lush green lawns! That's the best part of hiking during monsoon. Lots of greenery and heavy water flow making your trip worthwhile.

For those afraid of leech bites, you can carry thin plastic covers and tightly wrap around your shoe, socks and lower part of pants (see the left most person in a pic below).
If you go in a big team, you can have lot of fun. Just don't fall behind each much. Also do take a guide. Our guide was excellent. Click 100s of pictures. We had scores of good photographers!

If you don't want to walk, throughout the year you can avail motor bike facility. It would be almost the same price per person as trekking, minus all the fun of jungle trek.

The walking path is very beautiful. There would always be a small worry of a bison or leopard, but the guides will take you through safer ways. If you are nature lover, you can observe plenty of camouflaging insects, different types of birds, small reptiles and much more. 

If you give yourself enough time to hike, you can relax and take lots of pictures next to streams and river along the way. It is totally worth it, particularly during intermittent rains. If our youngest champion could trek all along, you can feel assured that this trek can be done by most people, who can walk 15 to 20KM in one day.
Our guide spotted some wild mushrooms on the way. He quickly grabbed a few and gave it on the way to a house where our food was being prepared. We had the same mushroom curry, on the way back from falls! As fresh as it gets...

 As we get closer to the falls, beyond the watch tower, the current gets tougher, and crossing becomes difficult. In one or two places, you might have to literally form human chains, or grab onto ropes put by volunteers. Be very careful with footing. One slip, and you might get washed down half a KM over rocks and boulders hurting seriously. Don't try any stunts here. If you feel unsafe, don't attempt any further. Go back to the watch tower and view from a safe distance. Water level here changes by hour.

And the view after all this effort? Priceless!
Many of our team members wished we reached an hour earlier to spend more time here. By the time we got here, it was time to pack up due to the risk of flash floods and more heavy rain. But even the 15-20 minutes we spent here were totally worth it!

This is the actual viewing tower, if you don't want to take a risk during the final stretch. It is safe to view from here in any weather.


And we did something we hadn't done before, after eating sumptuous lunch served by the guide's friend's family.
16 people in one jeep!! Because our second jeep to return was parked 3 to 4 KM down the road, and no one wanted to walk that much. So we had lot of fun with 16 people in one jeep :)

We decided not to travel back 600+ KM overnight as you will be damp, tired and really need a good shower and sleep. We headed to the nearest big city, Belagavi on the Karnataka side. It took us about 2.5 hours to get here from Colem. We stopped at Khanapur for a nice paav bhaji, Dosa and other dinner items.

Rest well and then the next day would be a lot of fun.

Military Mahadev temple, Belagavi. There is a beautiful park with miniatures of all of Shivaji Maharaj's forts here to see.

Belagavi's Durga temple, fort and lake opposite to the fort.

Suvarna Soudha about 15 minutes south of Belagavi. Massive structure for assembly building and you can get a great view of Belagavi from top of this hill. 
Then the historic Kittur fort and museum. You can spend hours listening to the guides explaining how India's first female freedom fighter fought the British army from here.

Overall.. Doodhsagar is in the middle of awesome attractions. Either you can head west after the falls to see the beautiful beaches of Goa, or head east to Karnataka for what all we saw, or head south again to Karnataka to more wilderness in the Western Ghats. Everything is within 2 hours of drive.

Go out there and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

CPEC: Does It Make Economic Sense For Pakistan?


The hottest topic during the past weekend was BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) or OBOR (One Belt, One Road). Basically China's mega project of Belt and Road Initiative, connecting dozens of countries and building infrastructure with a "win-win" proposal.

One important part of OBOR has relevance to the Indian subcontinent. That is CPEC - China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

There are five parts to this writeup. Feel free to jump to any section that suits your interest as the writeup is quite long. If you have time, go through every section, including the videos and reading material links provided. You will need at least 5 hours to fully absorb the extensive research provided here, if you want to read and watch all the material provided.

Five parts in this writeup:
  1. General views from involved countries.
  2. Legality of a disputed area through which CPEC goes through.
  3. Misconceptions about CPEC in Pakistan.
  4. Strategic reasons for CPEC that would mostly benefit China only.
  5. Why both Pakistan and China are going ahead with CPEC? 

Part 1: There are three general views about CPEC, from three concerned countries.

  1. If you are a Pakistani, you will be talking about the bright future for Pakistan in CPEC and how Dollars will grow from trees in a generation! Of course, you will say Indians are jealous of Pakistan's upcoming massive development, and hence they are not joining OBOR or CPEC. By the way, CPEC is the largest investment promised to Pakistan since its formation in 1947!
  2. If you are an Indian, you will focus on Gilgit Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir state, that is legally a part of India, but illegally occupied by Pakistani. You will also focus on Shaksgam valley and Aksai Chin as related areas of Jammu and Kashmir, illegally occupied by China. And, CPEC will eventually touch these Pakistan and China occupied territories that are legally a part of India due to 1947 J&K accession document. For India, this is a clear violation of its territorial sovereignty.
  3. If you are a Chinese, you will talk about economic cooperation with all neighbouring countries, specifically linking Indian ocean with Pacific ocean with the great CPEC project and OBOR mega scheme. As a Chinese, you would say, keep politics out of economic project.
But let's examine CPEC part of OBOR in detail. I am liberally using an excellent research posted on Twitter by an Anonymous poster {@handle_anonymus}. Special thanks to that man or woman, who has enlightened us all, while keeping anonymous. I also did some in depth reading and watching videos over the days to understand more on this. So this blog will have a combination of info, but presented in a way that will give you a bigger picture.

It does not matter if you support or oppose CPEC and OBOR. Just read to understand the ground realities and projections. Then give your opinion in comments, and specifically any corrections to the facts presented here.

Part 2: Why do you say that a part of CPEC route is illegal as per international laws?

This is about the entry point of CPEC into Pakistan from China. The first 300 or so KM of CPEC passes through Jammu and Kashmir state, which is a legal part of India. You can refer to my earlier blog to learn about Gilgit Baltistan area - Jammu and Kashmir, a Reality Check. I have provided maps and much more details about the overall regions and the "dispute" part.
"The multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being touted as nothing more than a 'black hole' as far as people of Gilgit Baltistan (shown in green in the map below) are concerned. Junaid Qureshi, a Kashmiri writer raises voice against the CPEC project, which passes through Gilgit Baltistan, a disputed territory controlled by Pakistan."

In short, neither China, nor Pakistan can ever claim that they OWN this Gilgit Baltistan area, which Pakistan also called as Northern Areas. If this area goes to international court, neither China, nor Pakistan can ever produce Accession document, which is with India for the entire Jammu and Kashmir state, of which Gilgit and Baltistan are part of.

Why so much emphasis on Gilgit Baltistan, a part of Jammu and Kashmir state in India?

For those who have not studied or watched Gilgit and Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir state,
there are some links here. It is a fabulously beautiful place on the earth!

Watch the first 7 minutes and the last five minutes. You will see how CPEC is building infrastructure in Indian territory occupied by Pakistan. In India this is called as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or PoK for short.

Gilgit Baltistan is a  paradise of Jammu and Kashmir lost by India. Illegally occupied by Pakistan and China (Shaksgam valley).

"China occupies more than 20,000 square kilometer of Gilgit-Baltistan (part of Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir) covering Shaksgam, Raskam, Shimshal and Aghil valleys" - Senge Sering, President of Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies.

As part of the Sino-Pakistan Frontier Agreement from 1960s, the Chinese authorities guaranteed India that it accepted  Gilgit-Baltistan as a disputed territory and that the agreement was only  provisional in nature and would be renegotiated once the dispute of  Jammu & Kashmir was resolved.
This is the main reason India is saying CPEC is violating its territorial sovereignty.

This is how the Karakoram map highway was built between 1960s and 1980s first, and then being widened and strengthened during 2010s. India has objected to this many times in the past.

K2, the world's second highest peak is legally inside India per accession documents, but illegally occupied by Pakistan. See how beautiful it is.

In short, Gilgit Baltistan is a paradise, a tough terrain and strategically very important for India, but under Pakistan and China's joint occupation now, as described above. This is the core issue for dispute and there is no way it would end anytime soon.

It's always a possibility that India can block international loans to CPEC tomorrow, citing legality of the territory. It's quite possible and a big risk Pakistan is taking knowing well the reality of Gilgit Baltistan's accession to India history.

Part 3: Is CPEC really helpful for Pakistan? Let's examine Five big misconceptions.

For a minute let's say.. who cares about Indian opposition? Both China and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and there is no practical way India can wrestle Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan and China by force. India can play other tricks like water sharing cut off. But "we" can deal with them when they happen. "We" are going ahead with CPEC no matter what...

In that case, ask again. Is CPEC really helpful for Pakistan? This is the core question for this blog. CPEC is certainly helpful for China as it is planning it.
  1. But for Pakistan? Is it worth the time, money, effort, international conflicts and much more?
  2. Beyond politics, loans, technology etc... the big question is.. is this CPEC making economic sense to Pakistan, where most of the things are being built?
Now I will use the information from Twitter, referred here. I am going to present almost line by line that research from here onward.

There have been many rationals provided for CPEC. Pakistanis think that it would upend sea route and CPEC would become primary supply route for Chinese goods and thus when it is completed then Dollars will flow through canals! First I demolish five misconceptions that people may have about CPEC, and then ponder on why it is being built, and its ramifications.

First misconception about CPEC: Cost of Transportation will become less

The first misconception is that it would become a supply route to China by upending sea route for goods supplied to and from mid-east. It is not so and I would try to prove it using approximations with data available from open sources.

Distance between Shanghai and Kashi (Kashgar) = 5121 KM.
Distance between Kashgar and Gwadar = 2747 KM.

Average Trucking cost per Ton per KM in China = 5 cents.
Average Trucking cost per Ton per KM in Pakistan = 1.8 cents.

These cost are from a decade ago, and would have become 6 cents for China and 3 cents for Pakistan, just by taking inflation into account.This is the most conservative calculation as I am not taking into account Hazard premium that nature of Terrain imposes on Pakistan (Karakoram Highway is rated world's fourth most dangerous highway) and the Hazard premium that China has to pay for transporting good through Takla Makan Desert, Kulun Shan mountains range and Altai Shan mountain range.

But still let us calculate cost of transporting a Ton of good from Shanghai to Gwadar.

Cost incurred in Chinese territory = 0.06 X 5121 = $307
Cost incurred in Pakistani territory = 0.03 X 2747 = $82.41
So total cost from Shanghai to Gwadar for a Ton of goods = $389.41

Now let destination port be Dubai.

Cost of Transporting Dubai to Shanghai = $820 per TEU.
Since standard 1 TEU = 21,600 KG, the Cost of Transporting 1 Ton via sea from Dubai to Shanghai = $38.

Cost from Karachi to Dubai for 1 TEU = $125 (rate for Gwadar are not available as port is not operational).
So the cost of transporting 1 Ton from Karachi to Dubai = $5.787.
Total cost of Shipping a Ton from Shanghai to Dubai via Gwadar = $395.

Total cost of Shipping directly from Dubai to Shanghai = $38 which is 10.4 times less than that of Transporting via Gwadar !!

And this is not all. CPEC passes through Khunjareb Pass which remain open only from May 1st till December 31st of each year.  So CPEC can't be the main route to anywhere.

Second misconception about CPEC: China needs an energy Pipeline

The second misconception is that China is constructing a pipeline from Gwadar to Nawabshah. It has lead to Pakistanis speculating that Gwadar is on path of becoming an energy. Their TV shows even pulled in Iran and Russia into the gas equation of CPEC.

But it is not - reasons are here.

If one look at this map properly, China borders Gas and Oil rich Central Asia and has three mega pipelines running from Central Asia to China, including the world's longest pipeline
This version of map does not show Indian borders accurately
Of anything that China needs, the least thing that China needs in East Turkestan is Energy. It could get ample amount of it just from across the border, some 100's of KM away. Note that East Turkestan is referred by China as its Xinjiang province, but there is a lot of controversy around that involving the native inhabitants Muslim Uyghurs. This CPEC runs through Xinjiang province on the Chinese part.

Third misconception about CPEC: It saves time 

The third misconception about CPEC is that it could save time. This again is false. Let’s assume the best possible conditions for a truck. A Truck would not stop anywhere (No rest for drivers, no checkpoints, no fuel or repair break) and assume that a Truck runs 24 Hours at 30KMph, and I am neglecting time it would be needed to transfer goods in Gwadar.

Time required for Travel = 262 Hours = 11 Days.

Via sea, the time required for transport of a container from Dubai to Karachi = 5 days.
So the total time required for overland transport when drivers and port handlers are supermen = 16 days.

Time required to transport a container from Dubai to Shanghai via sea = 15 Days.

This was an outlier calculation. Let's be realistic. Assume that a driver drives for 12 hour per day, it would take and on average take a day extra to go through customs and refueling stop. It would take him 91.57 hours to reach Kashgar, which would be equal to 7.7 days or 8.7 days taking pit stops into account. That Truck would take 170 Hours to reach Shanghai from Kashgar. That is 14 days of driving and assuming two days for pit stops, 16 days. We assume that Gwadar is as efficient as that of Karachi, it would take 6 days to clear import formalities.

Thus the total time it would need to transport goods from Dubai to Shanghai via Gwadar would be 36 days, compared to 15 days it would take to reach Dubai from Shanghai via Malacca!!

Fourth misconception about CPEC: It could serve Western China

There are two follies to this argument.
The first being that western China is sparsely populated and the second being that other seaports are closer to those provinces.

Following provinces are close to CPEC
1. East Turkestan (Xinjiang): Area 1664900 Sq KM; Pop 22.09 million.
2. Qinghai: Area 720,000 Sq KM; Pop 5.58 million.
3. Gansu : Area 425,800 Sq KM; Pop 25.64 million.
4. Inner Mongolia: Area 1183,000 Sq KM; Pop 24.82 million.
5. Tibet: Area 1228400 Sq KM; Pop 3.145 million.

Total area of these provinces = 5,222,100 Sq KM.
This is 54% of Total area of China, and an area 6.6 times that of Pakistan; while its population is just 81 million which is 6% of Chines population and less than half (0.44 times) of Pakistani population.

This is the extent of how sparsely populated Western part of China is.
Chinese version of map does not show Indian borders accurately

  Pakistan shares border with Takla Makan desert of China.
Chinese version of map does not show Indian borders accurately
A Highway & Economic corridors brings prosperity when Economic depression of a region is due to that region being cut off from rest of the country. In this case, underdevelopment is due to geographical factors, not due to infrastructure factors. See this map closely for climatic regions of Asian eastern half. Clearly a large portion of CPEC's intended area within today's China is BWk (Desert) or ET (Alpine) areas with very minimal human population. 

Deserts, cold arid Plateaus, and mountains reduce your Economic potential (unless you harness them for tourism like Switzerland).

Now we come to aspect of distance between West Chinese cities and nearest seaports.

CPEC is not airdropping in Western Qinghai so that it would have same effect on all of Western China. It is joining China in North-West corner of China, that is the western corner of East Turkestan. The only provinces that it could affect are East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and its neighbours Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu in Western China, and Inner Mongolia in Northern China.

Source: Wiki

Many people would find it difficult to fathom that some provinces (mostly in West China) are many times larger than even Pakistan itself. East Turkestan is 2.1 times larger, Tibet is 1.54 times larger, Inner Mongolia 1.48 times larger Qinghai equal to Pakistan, and Gansu is half of Pakistan.

Eastern part of Western China is further away from Pakistan than even Europe. For example capital of Shaanxi (Taiyuan) is as far away from Islamabad by air (3559 KM) as Ankara (3600 KM).
CPEC could not be used by people separated by 2 provinces from Pakistan. It is a non starter.

But let’s present facts still.
Take Shaanxi - Capital Taiyuan; Distance of capital from Islamabad = 4904.3 KM.
Distance of capital from nearest Chinese seaport (Tianjin) = 943 KM.
Distance of capital from Gwadar = 6644 KM.

Take Ningxia - Capital Yinchuan; Distance of capital from Islamabad = 4337 KM.
Distance of capital from nearest Chinese seaport (Tianjin) = 1200 KM.
Distance of capital from Gwadar = 6077 KM.

Take Chongquing (No capital); Distance of Chongquing  from Islamabad = 5069 KM.
Distance of Chongquing from nearest Chinese seaport = 0 KM. This is considering the construction of Three Gorges Dam. Barring the largest cargo ships, ocean going ships could sail upto Chongquing. But still distance between Chongquing and Shanghai is 1689 KM.
Distance of Chongquing from Gwadar = 6843 KM.

Take Guzihou - capital Gulyang; Distance of capital from Islamabad = 5459 KM.
Distance of capital from nearest Chinese seaport (Beihai) = 796 KM.
Distance of capital from Gwadar = 7199 KM.

Take Yunnan - capital (Kuming); Distance of capital from Islamabad = 5859 KM.
Distance of capital from nearest Chinese seaport (Beihai) = 1024 KM.
Distance of capital from Gwadar = 7635 KM.

Take Sichuan - capital (Chengdu); Distance of capital from Islamabad = 4976 KM.
Distance of capital from nearest Chinese seaport (Chongquing) = 326 KM and (Shanghai) = 1968 KM.
Distance of capital from Gwadar = 6716 KM.

All these Western provinces that Pakistanis dream Gwadar would serve are farther away from Gwadar than Western Europe is from Pakistan by Road. Distance between Islamabad and Berlin by road is 6353 KM, and of Paris is 7300 KM; nearly of the order of distance of Gwadar from any of Eastern provinces of Western China.

Anyway China does not even intend to use Gwadar for these provinces. It already has a corridor via Myanmar to Yunnan province for redundancy in 2013 itself.

Fifth misconception about CPEC: It would develop East Turkestan (Xinjiang)

Now we come to final dream of CPEC - that it would develop far west of China that is East Turkestan. This is pure day dreaming.

The reason that East Turkmenistan is not developed is because most of it is covered with Takla Makan desert. near Pakistan border and Tien Shan mountain range in the north.

Inner Mongolia region is not developed because most of it is covered with Gobi desert.

Quinghai is not developed because most of its is mountainous with Kulun, Altun and Bayan Har shan mountain ranges.

Gansu is not developed because its area is covered with Gobi desert and Quilian Shan mountain range.

Tibet is not developed because it is a barren cold plateau.
Chinese version of map does not show Indian borders accurately
These places have a low population density because of geographical limitations. Desert and Mountains never support high population, and this is a basic economic rule that low population areas never have high growth potential (because of less number of producers and consumers). Barring discovery of oil, desert remains civilization backwater, irrespective of how many road you build since their population supporting capacity is limited by some very basic factors, FOOD and WATER. Even if you transport food at great cost in this area, you would still have no water to support a large settlement.

Part 4: Then WHY is China financing such a massive CPEC project?
Now that we have put some misconceptions regarding CPEC out of way, we ponder on reasons why China is financing CPEC? There are four key reasons.

First reason for China building CPEC: Backup Trade route 

The first reason is that China is building an alternative trade route in case Malacca and Sunda straits are blocked by US Navy or Indian Navy during a war. You need to go through either Malacca, Sunda, or Lombok straits, if you want to travel from Pacific to Indian oceans and does not want to swing around Papua New Guinea or Australia.

Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits of south east Asia

CPEC will provide China with alternative route, in case its sea trade is shut down by navies dominating the Indian Ocean.

Second reason for China building CPEC: Excess Built-up Capacity  

The second reason for CPEC/OBOR is that China has excess capacity in Cement and Steel which it could not dump in market as most countries have started imposing countervailing duties on Chinese dumping. China is dumping its excess Steel and Cement capacity in OBOR, which the recipient countries have to pay. European investment into China has decreased recently. In 2016 it dropped 23% - lowest in 10 years. Chinese market access issues causing it. So China looking elsewhere to make profits.

Third reason for China building CPEC: Get Asian countries into Chinese debt 

The third is strategic reason. China is trying to bind Asian countries to itself by investing in their infrastructure, investment that carry a steep rate of return, thus indebting them to China. This is not limited to Pakistanis as even Sri Lanka has $50Bn debt due to politically motivated Chinese investment in Hambantota done during Rajpaksa’s time, which it is finding difficult to discharge. Tajikistan is also facing a similar issue with big loans from Chinese.

CPEC plan made public: Nawaz Sharif's march towards turning Pakistan into Chinese province begins

Nothing much to gain for Pakistan. (A Pakistani TV debate): 104 Coal plants closed in China, but pollution would escalate in Pakistan. Then there is always the loan issue.

Fourth reason for China building CPEC: Sweet deal in Pakistan

The fourth reason is that China is getting a very sweet deal from Pakistanis for CPEC. See a number of news and analysis links here provided from Pakistani newspapers.

Chinese banks provide loans for CPEC, which is constructed using Chinese cement, steel, and manpower thus effectively returning that money back to Chinese economy.

Pakistan pays 2-5% interest rate above Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate), has taken sovereign guarantee for 18% RoR.

Pakistan would be paying China $90 billion on a loan of $50 billion!!! .. and that too when it has limited avenues to make money from CPEC,while dumping of Chinese goods would kill Pakistan industry. Pakistan also has to pay for ancillary expenditure like security from its pocket.

Part 5: Finally, then WHY are China and Pakistan going ahead with CPEC?

From Chinese perspective, it is simple. It knows that Pakistan would not be able to pay its loan
and eventually China would come to own infrastructure and/or land inside Pakistan. It is classical neo-colonialism. Make a country so indebted to you that it could not help but sell itself to you. Pakistan would become a puppet of China completely :(

To this effect, China is also making Pakistan drive out any alternative creditors like ADB so that it does not have a competition in colonizing Pakistan.

Pakistan, on its part, is desperate for any investment, on whichever term it comes with. Pakistan's Military is getting a share, its people have a hope that CPEC would bring prosperity, and it also believe that if China own majority of assets in Pakistan, it would interfere in any future Indo-Pak war to save its assets.

If you have analyzed the analysis so far, you would be shaking your head stating - "It is hard to understand the mentality of Pakistanis.... also love the meticulous planning Chinese have done to reap a windfall in CPEC!"

Do you agree with the analysis? Tell me your feedback openly and in a civil way, by leaving a comment.


Bonus Material:
Some ancient Sanskrit names of some cities of East Turkestan or Xinjiang province of China; 

Karasahr - Agnidesh 
Khotan - Kustana 
Aksu - Bharuka 
Kucha - Kuchina 
Kashgar - Sailadesha.