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Indian caste politics: stage set for regional elections

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At the outset one crucial issue should be stressed right here. The caste factor among Hindu voters still plays key in Indian politics and this would play out fully in regional polls, more than the national parliamentary election. Indian elections are mind-bogglingly complex. Economic class, ethnicity, regional identity, religion – sometimes even politics – all play a role. But the key factor is still caste.

Each political party, national, regional and local, has over years built up vote banks to rely on for votes during the polls. Traditionally the Congress party holds the major chunks of vote banks, Hindu castes, Muslims, Christian, Sikh, and all other communities. Of late, projecting Hindutva as the only legitimate Indian ideology BJP has captured many vote banks of Congress and other parties at national and regional levels by misusing Hinduism as Hindutva. Earlier, Congress party promoted the Hindutva parties like BJP in order to contain and silence Indian Muslims and also corner their vote banks by using the Hindutva forces as serious threats. BJP made full use of Congress help and alter defeating it and replacing it in many states and winning majority in parliament it made Congress almost irrelevant in Indian politics.

Muslims who used to vote for Congress party enmasse have for the first time in Indian political history, like Hindus voted against both Congress and BJP in Delhi assembly poll which brought the new AAP of Arvind Kejriwal to power with a massive mandate.   While the then ruling Congress could not win even one seat in Delhi assembly, the former ruler BJP somehow managed scrap through in three constituencies.

The Modi government at the centre as well as BJP party in the country is not as comfortable as both did last year when the BJP swept the poll taking full advantage of anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal that targeted the hopelessly corrupt Congress led UPA government,.

The caste-based politicians have learnt that by ruthlessly targeting their message at the narrow slice of the population they represent they can win state elections. The BJP and its national rival the Congress party, meanwhile, have to water its message down to attempt to appeal from select castes to almost everyone.

In Bihar polls held last year, the Grand Alliance of Nitish-Lalu defeated BJP alliance. Lalu or Laloo as he is universally known in India is a very shrewd politician who ruled Bihar for 15 years thanks to the seemingly impregnable electoral alliance he forged between the state’s Muslims and the large, traditionally cow-herding, Yadav caste that delivered 30% of the vote at every election. But the appeal to caste identity tends to be linked to appeasement in India: politics becomes almost exclusively about what you can deliver – jobs, housing, subsidies – for your fellow caste members.

Nitish Kumar built his support in Bihar by cleverly picking off disaffected lower caste voters and Muslim voters from Congress vote bank. Like Laloo he styles himself a socialist, but unlike him, also a champion of law and order who would put development first. And Bihar did begin to improve under Kumar. He got rid of the caste-cronyism that marred Laloo’s rule and has made the state more law abiding and more prosperous. And, until very recently, Kumar was a strong supporter of the BJP. But he didn’t think Modi was fit to be prime minister and cut his ties with the party. Instead Kumar formed with his sworn enemy, Laloo. The idea is that together they can unite lower caste voters against Modi.

Modi has been widely criticised for waiting so long to speak out against the lynching of a Muslim man by a mob of his Hindu neighbours for allegedly slaughtering a cow, a supposed “sacred animal” to Hindutva forces. The issue was exactly what Modi needed to drive a wedge between the lower caste Hindus and the Muslims that are the electoral bedrock of third front like the Grand Alliance.

Now the BJP requires increasing its MPs tally in Upper House of parliament in order to pass all bills easily and state elections would give the main parties wining seats would gain MPs in the Hose. Indian states like Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry (Pondicherry) are getting ready for elections to elect assemblies and the Indian election commission has already notified the dates for these states. However, BJP may not gain much from the elections.

Around 17 crore voters will cast their vote in assembly elections in the five states. 824 constituencies will go on poll when Assembly Elections will be held in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. Election Commission declares model code of conduct in five states with immediate effects. Central police forces will be deployed in all the five states to ensure fair elections.

Accordingly, assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry will be held in April and May, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi announced on Friday. While Assam will have a two-phase election on April 4 and 11, West Bengal will see balloting on seven dates despite a six-phase election: April 4, 11, 17, 21, 25 and 30 and May 5. In contrast, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will see election on a single day: May 16. Votes polled in all five states will be counted on May 19. Elections will be held in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

The results of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal and Puducherry Assembly elections will be declared on May 19. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Assembly Elections will take place in one phase. Kerala Assembly Elections will take place in one phase. The polling will be held on May 16. The West Bengal Assembly Elections will take place in six phases. Notification will be issued on March 11 for the first phase. Polling for the first phase will be on two dates that are 4 April and 11 April. The voting for the fourth phase of WB Assembly election will take place on April 25. Date of fifth phase polling is 30 April. The polling for the last phase will be held on May 5 in WB. The polling for the second phase of the West Bengal Assembly Election will be held on April 17. Date of third phase polling is 21 April. Assam Assembly Election will be held in two phases. First phase will include 65 constituencies. The notification will be issued on March 11. Last date of withdraw of candidature is March 21. First phase election will be held on 4 April. Second phase of the Assam Assembly Election will be held on April 11.

Electronic voting machine (EVM) will be used for polls. GPS system will be installed in flying squad to track their movement. The Election Commission will keep 5 central observers in each district. Special polling stations will be set up for disabled persons. 1.98 crore electorates will practice their voting right in Assam.

Dates for Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry were announced on Friday. The elections in Assam will be held in two phases. The dates of polling are April 4 and April 11. The elections in West Bengal will be held in six phases. In the first phase, voting will take place on two dates April 4 and April 11 as the seats fall under the Naxal affected areas. The elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will be held in one phase on May 16. Counting of votes for the elections will be on May 19

Tamil Nadu, where AIADMK is currently in power, has 234 assembly constituencies. 5.68 crore people will be eligible for voting in Tamil Nadu. CM Jayalalithaa is likely to face a tough fight in the state from Karnunanidhi-led DMK-Congress alliance if it joins hands with actor-turned-politician Vijaykanth-led DMDK. In 2011, with 28 seats Vijaykanth became the leader of opposition in the state assembly. AIADMK has got into an alliance with Congress rebel leader GK Vasan.

West Bengal has 294 assembly constituencies. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has maintained that she is confident of winning the elections despite CPI (M) joining hands with it arch foe the Congress in the state for the polls. TMC contested the last assembly elections in the state in alliance with the Congress and swept the state. However, Congress is forging an electoral-arrangement with the Left to challenge Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming polls. Left-Congress will not hold joint elections rallies but may not field candidates against one other to consolidate anti-TMC votes. BJP which somehow managed two LS seats in WB in 2014 is attempting to make inroads in the Left bastion.

In Kerala, CPI (M) is preparing to forge an alliance with “all democratic forces”, including possibly the ruling Congress but that, many communist leaders feel, could end the Communist rule in the state once for all. Kerala has 140 assembly constituencies. Traditionally, Kerala has seen straight contest between Congress-led UDF and CPM-led LDF. Congress led UDF had just scraped past the CPM led LDF by a slender margin in 2011 elections. The UDF government led by Ooman Chandy has been rocked by allegations of corruption including the solar panel scam. Left which is pushing for an understanding with the Congress in West Bengal faces cong led UDF as its main adversary in Kerala. BJP has been for years has tried and failed to make its presence in the state assembly but this time around it hopes to win a seat and has stitched an electoral alliance with the newly formed Bhartiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS). The BDJS is led by Eazhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogamt, though it denied that. BJP is trying to bring in some important persons and make alliance with small parties.

In Assam, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has tied up with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and as BJP has hopes. In fact, BJP has stitched together a larger alliance with AGP and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). The “foreigners” issue helps the BJP. They have claimed that the assembly election in the key north eastern state will be a contest between “all indigenous people” led by it on one side and Congress and the UDF on the other. Assam has 126 assembly constituencies. CM Tarun Gogoi fights 15 years of anti-incumbency. AGP which once ruled the state under PK Mahanta has agreed to play second fiddle to the BJP in Assam. BJP won 7 seats out of 14 in Assam in general elections 2014. All India United Democratic Front (AUDF) won 18 seats in the last elections has emerged as the main opposition party in the assembly.

Puducherry has 30 assembly constituencies.

Modi faces a crucial electoral test right now. Traditionally his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has drawn support from upper caste Hindus – not a big enough base for a national party.

Indeed, Modi’s genius – or good fortune – has been that he has managed to lift himself and the party he leads above the narrow appeal of caste. Modi won a landslide a year and a half ago by hugely widening the party’s appeal, persuading hundreds of millions of Indians that only he could make India shine and knock the economy into shape and deliver growth and prosperity to the nation. However, after assuming power, Modi began his world tour. In fact Modi is fond of spending more time abroad than in India.

The problem is Modi’s “reform agenda” has been blocked in the upper house of parliament. He needs to win every state election from now to the next general election to get anywhere near the majority he needs. That’s why he invested so much in the election in Bihar, India’s poorest and third most populous state. He appeared at so many rallies but his magic did not work there as “Grand Alliance” by Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav still had upper hand in Bihar. BJP depended exclusively on Modi to win Bihar as he was even accused of “carpet bombing” the state and because the party hasn’t named a candidate for chief minister – the top job in the state – he’s the only figurehead. And on balance they have the edge over the BJP.

The state polls now are massively raising the stakes for Modi. Another loss now will be a huge blow to his reputation of “winner” and will embolden opposition parties across India.

The polls say the ballot is too close to call and Mr Modi is up against two of the most seasoned – and successful – players of caste politics in all India.

This being India even state elections are democratic contests on a truly staggering scale.

Perhaps, it is too early to forecast eh poll results of the 5 states going to polls in May. However, as it stands today, the ruling AIADMK has the advantage over other parties, including DMK-Congress combination. Tamils appear to be unhappy to replace corrupt AIADMK with corrupt DMK. BJP is obviously nervous that it might lose the seats it has in the assembly now. Yes, not only BJP but even parties of Vijayakanth and Sarath Kumar are deeply worried about retaining their seats. BJP having declared to come to power in Tamil Nadu this time not having found either DMK or AIADMK to support it, now tries to win as many seat as possible with alliance and thus it woos both Sarath and Vijayakanth to come for alliance with it. Parties of Dr. Ramadoss and Vaiko, having got considerable vote banks, are individually on the lookout now for more partners and their success depends on the alliances they make. Both want to be CM after the poll and do not seek proper understanding as the basis for realpolitics.

Political parties with their narrow-minded line of thinking, and do not allow credible alternatives for the people of India to choose from for better governance. That goes against principles of democracy.

In Kerala, where the Congress led UDF rules, the left parties are trying to catch up with it but an emerging congress-communist alliance in West Bengal against the ruling TMC of Mamata Banerjee confuses Kerala voters. Not being able to identify their allies and real opponents and not knowing what to do next, the Communists today are the most confused politicians India can boast of. While Communists and Congress leaders do not expect people to think, voters themselves are not impressed by their own alliance against logic of Indian politics.

Yes, not only Keralites, Indian voters at large stand confused at the possible Congress-communist alliance, mainly because it would lead to even an illogical Congress-BJP alliance in the near future.

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South Asia

Will Pakistan go to IMF finally?

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) was created just after World War II (WWII) in 1945. It was the time of re-organization of the world order after massive destruction of WWII. UN and its organizations were establishing and whole world was passing through reforms. The IMF is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

The beneficiary of WWII was US, and emerged as leader of World. IMF and World Bank like other UN and International organizations were depending on US funding to some extend and US has been utilizing in expand its economic, political and military influence around the world, frequently. US was involved in appointing head of such organizations directly or indirectly.  I leave it to my readers to judge that if IMF and other organizations have achieved its objectives or not?

Pakistan have been knocking doors of IMF since 1958, and it has been 21 agreement with IMF. Generally, IMF provides loans at very low interest rates, and provides programmes of better governance and monitoring too. But for last 6 decades, Pakistan has suffered a lot, in term of good governance. Especially last 2 decades, corruption, nepotism, poor planning, bribery, weakening of institution, de-moralization of society, etc were witnessed. We may not blame IMF for all such evils, but must complain that IMF failed to deliver, what was expected. Of course, it is our country, we are responsible for all evils, and wrong doings happened to us. We have to act smartly and should have made right decision and on right times.

In fact, beneficiary of corruption, is west, and in some of the cases, west has inspired or protected the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the developing nation and Pakistan is no exception to it. At least, IMF failed to monitor the utilization of funds provided.

IMF also dictates its terms and condition or programmes like: devaluation of local currencies, which causes inflation and hike in prices, cut or draw-back of subsidies on basic utilities like fuel, gas, electricity etc, which causes cost of life rather higher for local people, cut on development expenditures like education, health, infrastructure, and social development etc, which pushes the country backward.

Pakistan was no exception to it in the history of our relations with IMF. Last couple of decades, we could not develop our infrastructure, as a result we are back ward and could not take off economically, could not built Dams and suffering from Power shortage and water crisis, Education, health and social sector was ignored and pushed us rather backward.

In past, whenever we approached IMF, US administration was favoring us, but this time, it was witnessed that US may create hurdles or resistance in the form of additional conditions etc.

Based on experience of 6 decades, Government of Pakistan (GoP) have to make decision, weather to go to IMF or not? It is very serious issue and very sensitive decision. GoP is very serious and in close consultations with various experts from within the government and out side the government. There is a group in Pakistan, lobbying for IMF, as it is cheapest and more structured. Pro-IMF lobbies are more close to PM Imran Khan. While, there are experts who are against IMF and feels in past, if IMF was not helpful for Pakistan, then why to go again for the same tested organization. It is worth mentioning that, Pakistan is a diversified nation, and freedom of expression is ensured by constitution of Pakistan, so many controversial opinions are expected – we enjoy the highest degree of freedom. .

In past, politicians were rather easy to coerce and IMF was successful in their missions. But, today, Pakistan is in safe hands and current leadership is honest, loyal and sincere with Pakistan. The PM Imran Khan is a strong man and will take decision based on principles in the best interest of nation.  Sources close to him, feels that till date he is not convince yet, but will take a firm decision soon. His decision will be based on expert advice, national interest and purely merit-based.

However, all other option may be explored and taped, like friendly nations have already extended a hand of financial assistance. Like Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and China. Which has lessen the need of going to IMF to a great extent. It will provide an edge to Pakistan, while negotiating with IMF.

Whatever will be his decision, people of Pakistan trust him and will stand behind him. His decision will be considered the decision of 220 million of Pakistan. Pakistan has a history of “No Default” in last 7 decades to any one of our international obligation or agreement. Pakistan is a civilized, disciplined and matured & resilient nation. We have passed many harsh tests, in last 4 decades and learnt many lessons.

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Pakistan Securing Its Maritime Interest and CPEC

Qura tul ain Hafeez

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The IOR is a major sea route that unites the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and America. The excessive economic growth of littoral states of Indian Ocean obliges them to protect their energy needs and interests in order to endure their purchasing power. This has great security implications for the sea line of communication of the littoral states of IOR like Pakistan.

Continuing to Pakistan’s interests in IOR the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has great potential to transmute Pakistan into a central trade platform, which would undeniably gushed the enemies, particularly India, to halt it. The development of Gwadar sea-ports as part of BRI in general  and that of CPEC in particular has amplified India’s concerns’ and aimed for more sophisticated and advanced naval build-up. Furthermore, India perceives the Gawadar port (that is considered as crown jewel of CPEC) as a hazard to its contesting interests in Central Asia countries.  The reason being, India can access Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics (CARs) only through Cahabahar by passing Pakistan and Gawadar  a deep water sea port that is easily accessible to these land locked states then Chahabahr. A couple of days back on 24th December 2018 India has formally over taken the operational control of Iran’s Cahabahar port – only (0 Km away from Gawadar port. India’s aspirations to become blue water navy in the IOR raise serious concerns among Pakistan’s maritime security. CPEC would lead toward increased maritime politics and contestations not only between Pakistan and India but would also involve China and US.

In such turbulent circumstances Pakistan is required to prepare its sea based defense to secure its sea lines.   Islamabad needs to carefully evaluate its options and develop its strategic response accordingly, involving but not limited to continuous development of its naval capability and an even closer maritime cooperation with China. In view of the prevailing power dynamics in Indian Ocean Pakistan Navyin order to secure its interest in IOR inked a contract with China’s State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC)in June 2018 for two, Type 054AP frigates. The agreement is an extension of a previously signed agreement in 2017. Recently on December 19, 2018 steel-cutting ceremony for the second Type 054A frigate for the Pakistan Navy was held at the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai. The type 054 AP warship frigates will be equipped with modern detection-state of art sensor and Guided Missiles weapon systems; capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defense operations. According to the report of China Daily report added that the “Type 054A is the best frigate in service with the PLAN”.

It is pertinent to mention here that maritime security is linked with the Economic security and vice versa. Gawader port is one of the most important projects of the CPEC where Pakistan and China are very hopeful that in future this shipping port will generate the revenue for Pakistan’s economy.  There is a big chunk of fishery industry through which Pakistan can earn a lot. It will stimulate business and trade activities at state level and across the region.  The 054 AP frigates ““Will be one of the largest and most technologically advanced platforms of the Pakistani Navy and strengthen the country’s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region” a report on 2nd January 2019 released by  Chinese state owned media said.

In some, to deal with all these existing defies Pakistan Navy (PN) has espoused to a multi divided line of action for safeguarding the port in more effective manners. It conducts security patrolling h and coastal exercises from time to time. Furthermore, previously in 2013 it has inaugurated its Joint Maritime Information Coordination Center (JMICC) in Karachi to provide with an effective mechanism of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).  After receiving these 054 AP frigates warship Pakistan will definitely in far more better position to counter India’s vested interests in Indian Ocean region. It will also help secure the Gwadar port which is the chief component of Pakistan maritime trade activities. China has always been an al weather strategic partner of Pakistan. Although India always tries to propagate that CPEC is military agreement instead of an economic one however, securing the economic interests with an advanced mechanism does not mean at all that it’s planning something militarily. Pakistan has always adopted a defensive policy and it is the right of every sovereign state to secure its interests even if they are economic as there is no morality in international politics, still CPEC is an economic project which welcomes every state of the region for economic cooperation  even if it is India as well.

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2018 was the deadliest year in the history of Kashmir

Irfan Khan

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Kashmir is natural paradise and gorgeous valley located between Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China and with a small strip of 27 miles with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. But it is still a disputed region since partition of United India into India and Pakistan (also Bangladesh in 1971) in 1947.

The history of the freedom of Kashmir dates to 1931 when the people, both Hindus and Muslims, initiated a freedom movement against the then Maharaja (ruler) to have their own indigenous rule. The resentment of the people led to the ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign against the Maharaja in 1946. Faced with the insurgency of his people, the Maharaja fled the capital, Srinagar, on October 25, 1947 and arranged that India send its army to help him crush the rebellion. India, coveting the territory, set the condition that Maharaja must sign an ‘Instrument of Accession’ to India. At the same time, India had to attach another condition that accession was made subject to ‘reference to the people.’ On India’s showing, therefore, the accession has a provisional character.

Then India brought the dispute to the United Nations where the Security Council discussed the question exhaustively from January to April 1948. Then both India and Pakistan and approved by the international community that the dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir can be settled only in accordance with the will of the people which can be ascertained through the democratic method of a free and impartial Kashmiri citizens vote.

The people of Kashmir, despite of being injured since long could not lost their hope. They believe in United Nation(UN), assuming it will advocate choice of freedom for them. During the July-August 2018, people from entire Srinagar and other towns, were protesting government of India’s violation of Article 35-A of Indian’s constitution. 35-A, assure special rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Whenever, there is peaceful demonstration from them, then they must suffer basic human rights violation, fear and state of starvation as response of Indian government. In 2018, 111 civilians are killed which is double to the previous year recorded 40 killing by the Indian forces. India has some 500,000 troops deployed in Kashmir. Popular unrest has been rising since 2016 when a charismatic young Kashmiri leader, Burhan Wani, was shot dead by Indian forces.

Pakistan always has been bolstering the way of peaceful talk with India over the issue. Last year, in October, Prime Minister Imran Khan, repeated Pakistan’s stance that the solution to the region’s dispute laid in dialogue. He said,”It is time India realised that it must move to resolve the Kashmir dispute through dialogue in accordance with the UN SC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people”.

Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in response to PM Khan said we welcomed “Pakistan’s concern” but called for Pakistan to “do much more” to “put an end to the appalling grind of repression and human rights abuse that Kashmiris are suffering at the hands of Indian state.

Happily, UN has issued human right report on Kashmir in June 2018. The report of 49 pages strongly emphasis on human right violation and abuses and delivering justice for all Kashmiris. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein remarked “The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering. Therefore, any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties and provide redress for victims”.

2018 was the deadliest year in the history of Kashmir. Hope so, Pakistan and India sandwiched by UN would resolve the issue based on Kashmir people’s choice of freedom so that human violation could be ceased.

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