November 11, 2017 was a significant day diplomatically and geopolitically for Iran, India, and Afghanistan. A trilateral cooperation between the three countries saw Afghanistan receive its first shipment of wheat from India which was set in motion by India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj on October 29 along with her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. The shipment was the first among a series as part of India’s commitment to supply 1.1 million tons of wheat to the people of the country suffering from decades of war and instability. At the center of this achievement lies Iran’s Chabahar port and the trilateral International Transport and Transit Corridor Agreement between the three countries.
The Iranian port in Chabahar: why it is so important
The Iranian port is located in the country’s southernmost city of Chabahar, and has periodically found itself making headlines especially as the Asian powerhouses in India and China compete for influence in the seas to establish trade relationships across Asia, Europe, and Africa. As China pumps more and more investment into its mammoth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a modern take on the Silk Route to connect 60 countries across the three continents through land and sea routes, the port of Chabahar has over a period of time found its suitors in prime opponents of the BRI such as India and Japan with the former already investing around USD 500 million in the port. While the idea for the port’s development was first proposed in 1979, it is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018.
It would be rather unrealistic to assume that the Chabahar port will challenge China’s BRI as a whole to a direct geopolitical contest. However, once fully operational, the port is expected to connect the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean with St. Petersburg in Russia and further ahead with Europe through the International North South Transport Corridor or the INSTC. India, Afghanistan, and Iran stand to gain in different ways both collectively and individually through this development in trade routes.
A win-win-win situation
The development of the Chabahar port presents the key for India to reforge an oil based relationship with Iran and to forge trade relations beyond Afghanistan with countries in Central Asia. Once the port is fully developed, it is expected to also carry a larger variety of cargo, including heavy engineering goods and electronics. With a much shorter route to Europe, the time taken to transport goods from ports in India to countries in Europe is expected to be reduced by more than half from the 45 days it currently takes for the cargo to reach its destination. It is also estimated the cost of the deliveries will be reduced by about 30-40%. Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that India will be a part of the Chinese proposed BRI, given that an integral component of the initiative is the China Pakistan Economic Corrdior (CPEC) that runs through the Kashmir region whose ownership is hotly contested by both India and Pakistan. In that regard, the Chabahar port offers India the opportunity to challenge China at least in some capacity in their ever expanding contest for trade and influence across the globe, by connecting it to rail networks of different countries in Central Asia.
For a landlocked Afghanistan which has no direct access to the seas, the development of the Chabahar port and its agreement with India and Iran coming to fruition holds great significance. The port opens up the country to the world, and provides it with better access to trade, vastly reducing its dependency on its neighbour Pakistan and enabling it to forge even closer ties with India. Pakistan has in the past disallowed India to access the land route to Afghanistan for the provision of aid to the country. Now an alternate route through Chabahar allows for the same to reach the country first from the port to Zaranj, which is adjacent to Afghanistan’s border with Iran, and then further 218 km ahead into the country via the Zarang-Delaram highway.
For Iran, a fully functional seaport in Chabahar appears to be strategically important since it is located away from the historically contested waters of the Arabian Gulf. Recovering now from easing sanctions, Iran looks to climb the geopolitical ladder and reestablish itself in the coming decades. Amid worsening ties with the United States, it has caught the attention of China, Russia, and other countries in Europe and also looks to gain from its relation with India. The Chabahar port may just be the key to put an end to its economic isolation. Even with the United States and India recognising each other as allies, Iran has not yet found any opposition from the US against India’s cooperation with Iran on the port, and that is because the US recognises the benefit that Afghanistan is able to attain from India’s efforts through the Chabahar port.
India, Iran, and Afghanistan share historical civilisational ties and similarities and the same was referenced by Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. “This shows the convergence between the ancient civilisations of India, Afghanistan and Iran to spur unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region,” said Swaraj as she flagged off the first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan on October 29.
A Historical exploration of Khajuraho
The UNESCO world heritage temples of Khajuraho are situated in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Built by the kings of Chandela dynasty during 950 to 1050 AD, these exquisite temples were lost to the world from 13AD onwards till they were discovered by the British in 1838 under the cover of dense date palm trees.
This collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples are Khajuraho temples are famous for art on stone. Variously described as living temples, Temple of Love and consisting of unique erotic sculptures the Khajuraho group of temples are considered by many to be the pinnacle of India’s temple art. The temple complex creates an eclectic mix of spirituality, eastern philosophy, architecture and cultural heritage.
Khajuraho is best visited during winter on account of its extreme climate. Summer months can be very hot. The famous Khajuraho Dance Festival is held in March and attracts visitors from across the world.
Khajuraho is well connected to major cities by train and by air. The airport is 5km from the city centre and links to Delhi, Agra and Mumbai. It is best recommended to use a trusted cab service provider like Savaari, where you can make an online booking by downloading the Savaari App.
Western Group of temples.
The Western group of temples have the largest of the temples and are richly decorated and form the main area of attraction
- Lakshmana Temple – The temple dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is the oldest of the Khajuraho temples and has some the finest sculptures that can be seen in India.
- Kandariya Mahadeo Temple – This Shiva temple is covered with beautiful carvings, sculptures and frescos that are known for their beauty, grandeur and finesse.
- Devi Jagdamba Temple – This relatively dainty temple dedicated to Goddess Jagadamba has three bands of sculptures and the uppermost layer has some of the most erotic sculptures that Khajuraho is also famous for.
- Chitragupta Temple – One of the rare temples of the Sun God in the country.
- Vishwanath Temple – The temple is unique for its colossal bull statue dedicated to Nandi, the favourite companion of Lord Shiva.
Eastern Group of Temples
- Parsvanath Temple – The Jain temple shows an eclectic mixture of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim influences in its three roof architecture.
- Ghantai Temple – This Digambar Jain temple has a beautiful frieze inscribed on stone depicting the 16 dreams as seen by the Mother of Lord Mahavira. The temple though gets its name from the remarkable pillars, carved with chains and bells.
- Brahma Temple – Among the oldest temples in Khajuraho, the temple is built entirely using granite and sandstone and dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Southern Group of Temples
- Chattarbhuj Temple – Situated 3 km from the main city, the temple is the only one in Khajuraho without any erotic sculpture and faces west. Best visited during the sunset, the temple is known for the intricate and beautifully detailed four-armed idol of Lord Vishnu.
Do remember to attend the Light and Sound Show conducted in the Western group of temples that describes the horary past of these beautiful monuments.
Khajuraho is surrounded by other places of interest, such as the Panna National Park and the Ranneh Falls. Do plan your visit and hire outstation or local cabs from the airport to visit these temple complexes.
Explore the royal city of Mysore
Call it the Heritage City or the City of Palaces, the city of Mysore still emanates a feeling of au royale even in a 21st century India. A place of heritage for royal families, sultans, and legendary names in history, every corner of Mysore is steeped in stories of victory, power, and grandeur. A tour of this majestic city is only justified when you explore the royal heritage of the City of Palaces.
Conveniently located on the southern edge of the Karnataka State, Mysore is easily accessible from major cities. It takes about three hours to travel the 152 KM distance from Bangalore to Mysore.
History and Heritage
The city of Mysore served as the capital for the Kingdom of Mysore between the 1300s until 1956. These six centuries saw the kingdom change hands of rulers and kings, from the Wadiyar Dynasty, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But the common element of all the rulers was their penchant for art and culture. Under their patronage, they contributed to the city’s visual and cultural glory which earned Mysore the fame of Karnataka’s cultural capital.
A royal tour
If you want to experience the regal side of Mysore, you cannot but miss these structures of historical and architectural significance. You can join a heritage walking tour to explore the city on foot, or head from Bangalore to Mysore by car and stop by at monuments, palaces, and museums and learn about the legends that made Mysore. You can start your walk from the Town Hall, built in 1884, as a tribute to the first Dewan of the city.
Mysore Palace- The official residence of the royal family of Wadiyars, the palace itself is a work of marvel. An overwhelming blend of Indo-Saracenic, neoclassical, Indo-Islamic and Gothic architectural works, the Mysore Palace is a breathtaking sight. Built in 1912, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts delicate works of mirrors, stained glass, mosaic and more. On any given day, you will find more tourists here than even at the Taj Mahal. Every Sunday, the palace comes alive with 97000 light bulbs bedazzling its façade and the premises.
Lalitha Palace– Yet another heritage building, the two-storied Lalitha Mahal sits on a ridge at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, which makes for a great vantage point. The palace was transformed into a hotel and offers a royal stay. If you truly want a feeling of royalty, then a stay here would be an experience.
Jaganmohan Palace– One of the seven prominent palaces of Mysore city, is a stunning work of ancient Indian architecture with intricate interiors and exteriors. The palace, transformed into a royal art gallery since 1915, houses paintings of the royal family, art by Raja Ravi Varma and an array of rare and antique musical instruments.
Museums- Stop by the Rail Museum to explore the archaic steam engines, the Maharani’s saloon, and other railway souvenirs. There’s also the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion showcasing more than 6500 folk artifacts from all parts of Karnataka. The Folk Art Museum, one of the most visited in the city, is also known for its collection of toys, models, and figurines.
Crawford Hall- Built in 1947, this is a must visit historic structure in Mysore. The royal palace is now known as the Mysore University but still renders a rich heritage to its ambiance.
Small, medium or large-scale, every historical building and monument of Mysore has a majestic touch to it. And such architecture speaks of its glorious past, which has left traces for the modern civilization to explore.
India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo
For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?
The International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.
UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers
On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.
There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye
The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.
For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.
The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.
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