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Kejriwal seeks full statehood for Delhi, condemns PM Modi’s media control gimmicks

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One needs not revisit the full story to know as to how a novice in Indian politics, Arvind Kejriwal, has created sleepless nights, deliberately or otherwise, for so many national politicians, especially from Congress and BJP by capturing power in the capital city through ballot box, ousting all big stalwarts from Delhi assembly and Delhi state.

People of Delhi elected Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) or AAP with overwhelming mandate to rule. All media gimmicks by Congress, BJP and their corporate lords to defeat AAP did fail as people know who these parties are and stood by the new party in their name and its leader Kejriwal.

PM Modi seems to be trying for constant media attention by his world tours along with fantasy rhetoric and Delhi CM Kejriwal accuses him of overusing, rather buying media attention. Many scholars in media say PM Modi is entertaining world public, though not many are interested in any kind of political shows.

In politics however, PM Modi is just like any other big leader trying to sell their ‘talent’ for high prices. Most of his top poll promises to the public made in 2014 are not fulfilled.

BJP and Congress meanwhile are keen to get the Delhi government of Kejriwal removed by hook or crook, forgetting that Delhiites have opted for the AAP as the only credible option.

Conspiracy over statehood

After victory, not only AAP is fulfilling all electoral promises he made during the historic poll campaign, but also tirelessly working for the welfare of the state. Obviously, there have been visible mutual concerns between the state and AAP.

One of the pledges the AAP has made to the Delhiites is to obtain full statehood for Delhi and he is determined to get full statehood for his Delhi state, ntowithstading the reluctance shown by the central government of Modi and main opposition Congress party. When they ruled Delhi state as alternative government they wanted its full statehood as India’s custodians but now both raise objections so that the issue could be raised in the next election as AAP failure.

Thus Delhi state is facing what could be called a statehood problem very similar to what the Palestinians seek from Israel or Kashmiris from India, China and Pakistan that jointly occupy alien nations on false pretexts. While Israel occupies Palestine territories, kills the people there and take away even the lands of those that are killed and use them for illegal colonies for criminal Jews, India, Pakistan and China occupy neighboring Jammu Kashmir according to their military, economic and diplo-triclomatic strength.        

Delhi is an Indian state and also is capital city of independent India. Like Palestine, Delhi state has limited autonomy and unless it is made a full-fledged state, the elected government of Delhi cannot pass laws and use police, which is now under central government control, for the state activities.

Indian Union government has played the usual mischief with the AAP governed Delhi state government by using the police to arrest the CM of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal to showcase its power as both the top national outfits BJP and Congress parties were drowned by the “insignificant and very small party“AAP in Yamuna River in the elections for the state assembly.  

It is not for taking credit that AAP is eager to get full statehood for the Delhi but for the proper functioning of Delhi government as a responsible dispensation supported by necessary infrastructure, like police and land that are now with the central government. As the debate on Delhi’s statehood status heats up, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has made a draft bill seeking full status. In the draft bill, Kejriwal seeks to bring police, land and bureaucracy under its control, a move that may set stage for another confrontation with the Centre. At a press conference, the AAP chief said that they have uploaded the draft bill on their website and urged Delhi residents to give their suggestions through ‘fullstatehood.delhi[at]gov.in’ and ‘full statehood. delhi[at]gmail.com’, which he said will remain activated till 30 June.

An all-party meeting will be held on the issue, Kejriwal said while urging rivals BJP and Congress to “rise above differences” shedding petty mindedness and he went on to quote from old manifestos of BJP wherein the party had promised full statehood.

The central government and the AAP dispensation have been at loggerheads over the transfer and postings of officers in the past. “The BJP has struggled the most on the issue as Delhi’s ruling party. They have consistently raised it. We are merely taking their resolve forward by inviting public opinion on this draft,” Kejriwal told a press conference here, when asked about the AAP’s action plan if the draft is rejected by the Centre. To buttress his point, Kejriwal quoted from BJP manifestos from 1993 till 2014 and statements made by its leaders including Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju.

AAP push

Delhi CM narrated how the statehood process went on for years; “LK Advani had tabled the Delhi Statehood Bill in Parliament in 2003. It was referred to a Standing Committee chaired by Pranab Mukherjee which had backed the suggestions. But for some reason it got lapsed. Even Congress has spoken out for statehood in the past. Kiren Rijiju spoke in favour of statehood in 2006. VK Malhotra raised the issue in 2011. In its 2013 national executives, BJP reiterated its resolve in this regard. On 24 May 2014, Harsh Vardhan had said that the first issue he would raise with the new Prime Minister would be statehood,” Kejriwal said.

Kejriwal said that he has written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP President Amit Shah and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to garner support for the draft bill, which keeps the high-profile NDMC area, out of its jurisdiction. Arvind met the PM on the matter.

Kejriwal said after 30 June, the final version of the draft would be prepared and a resolution would be passed by the Delhi Assembly to this effect. “We will forward the resolution to the Centre which in turn will have to bring Constitutional Amendment,” he said. “The draft has been put on the Delhi government’s website. Through its passage, we seek to fulfill the dreams of Congress and BJP. We should rise above party lines. A special session of the Assembly may also be called for passing the resolution,” the CM said, flanked by his deputy Manish Sisodia. “The draft primarily says that NDMC area will be with the Centre and the rest should come under the elected government in Delhi. It has been prepared after taking into consideration the older ones,” he said.

In the draft bill, the AAP dispensation will ensure that institutions such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Delhi Police will be accountable to the elected government of the national capital. Granting full statehood to the national capital is one of the major electoral promises of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in the absence of which it has frequently clashed with the BJP-led Centre over matters of jurisdiction since assuming office. In its manifesto, AAP had declared that it will push for full statehood acting within the constitutional framework and using its moral and political authority.

The BJP now ruling India has had an ambivalent stance on the issue, although the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had introduced a bill in Parliament in 2003 to confer full statehood to Delhi, which was never passed.

Last year, AAP had planned to hold a referendum on the issue, which was later shelved after many constitutional experts, argued anything of that sort would be “unconstitutional”.

BJP has successfully use media as the most important and most powerful tool to control politics in India and to regulate propagation of Hindutva and Indian image aboard amid Indian brutal occupational genocides in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on May 28 said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is controlling a large chunk of media, while reacting to a tweet that said no mainstream media has covered Rana Ayyub’s book ” Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up “. “What does that tell us? “It tells us that Modi controls a large chunk of media, especially the owners,” Kejriwal wrote on Twitter.

Gujarat riots haunt Modi

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi became known in the country after the riots in Gujarat killing many Muslims fearlessly as he knew Indian government run by the Congress party would oppose the Hindutva strategy to target Muslims that would benefit Congress party in terms of Muslim vote banks. Even judiciary did not find him wrong in getting the defenseless Muslims murdered at will.

Indian media celebrated Modi brand of Hindutva and tried to link all development the state has made since independence –en before he even became a politician- to his own ability and added to his credit. That was a deliberate RSS strategy to make him a PM candidate in due course. RSS and corporate media succeeded in their joint endeavor to make Modi appear a large size leader just like they do in promoting fixed joint cricketism in India and abroad.  

Those Muslims who died have been forgotten by India, even as Modi moved upward to occupy PM chair in New Delhi to pursue the Congress policies. Congress party is too happy that they found a real replacement in BJP which, many Congressmen think, would make Muslims would be silenced to deny their ownership of Babri Mosque, pulled down by Congress-BJP communal duo in 1992 according their conspiracy.  

It is a known fact that those who commit crimes are very cautious and if they have got some power would use it to its full potential to cover up their crimes. No one is a god but everyone can be criminal in this world and government is capable of protecting you from punishment for your crimes. .

PM Modi has been on world tour ever since he assumed power in 2014 as Indian premier, by visiting countries one by one and some countries more than just once and advanced countries like USA as many times as possible.

A recent book, “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up” brings to light the truth about how the BJP government under Modi organized the Gujarat riots. Bureaucrats and top officials in Gujarat who held key positions in the state between 2001 and 2010 and were involved in the Gujarat riots. The book investigates the alleged fake encounters that happened under Modi’s watch as then chief minister of Gujarat between 2001 and 2010.

Like in Israel, judiciary in India also is under pressure to shield the Hindu criminals and try to fix the Muslim victims. Today, a lot of greedy political Muslims prefer money to Babri Mosque- that is the level of Indian faith.

Hindutva media

Bulks of India media, both print and electronic, including TV channels, are essentially pro Hindutva because that helps them target Muslims in India and neighborhoods. This disease can be explained only as sadistic pleasure syndrome.

India media lords who serve MNCs use their portals to insult Islam and Muslims even while they want better ties with Arab world, particularly on “Islamic terrorism”. In fact when they insult and warn Pakistan, it only thinks in terms of Islam and Indian Muslims. So that Muslims serve the cause of state Hindutva; they want to keep Muslims under duress and tension. That is historic sadism that Indian Hindu rulers are so used to. .

While the BJP-RSS has been on rampage on Indians with its Hindutva instructions to follow as to what to eat and how to think etc, Indian PM Modi teaches Yoga in his world trip in order obviously to make Hindutva only a useful soft agenda.

BJP has a wide ranging world media networking to influence the opinion makers about Hindutva, rather than India, while Indian sources pay huge sum to media lords and editors with instructions not to publish anything that is no pro-Indian stuff and reject anything against Indian policies In fact Indians source keep a close watch on what is happening in world scene and detect anything appearing not supporting Indian causes and quick action follows by sending money to the editor and media lords n the form of advertisement fees and special contributions. So much so, some media deliberately publish and run stories against India so that India immediately sends money to them so as to end that scenario developing further. They know how make money.  

India has enormous success as many editors do refuse to publish anything which is not promoting India or propagating Hindutva. More than that, many newspapers abroad also churn-out pro-India stuff on special requests from Indian embassies functioning in the capitals.

The negative mindset of RSS-BJP and allies is evident in making Muslims Islam, Pakistan, Bangladeshi workers, and Babri mosque as their prime target to garner Hindu votes. Along with these, now the RSS-BJP has added the India’s prestigious higher educational institution JNU by calling it anti-national. What s shame? India media support the RSS claims though it has yet to showcase its own real patriotic activities. Anti-Islam or anti-Muslims or anti-JNU or anti-Pakistanis is not a really a patriotic premise. Positivism is important as much as tolerance of other languages religions and cultures.

RSS wants to control humans and their mental and physical activities in entirety so that every Indian behaves exactly how it envisaged for India and world. Ghar wapsi was the beginning of that mind conversion phenomenon. BJP also makes animals their gods and humans as their slaves; they want Indians to worship their favorite animals as neo-gods. However, unfortunately they are unable to apply ‘black magic’ – generally used for possible wins in cricket- to make every Indian a Hindutva person in mind and soul. The black magicians do the ‘magic” and use the network to make that happen so that they get the charges in plenty of money. Their government agencies use remote technology to make many things appear to be happening.

Observation

Why Arvind Kejriwal and AAP are rare phenomenon in Indian as well as global political and governmental scene? None needs a crash course on contemporary Indian politics here to show dirty Indian political scene has been for decades.

As it is well known, one cannot discuss Indian political scene without disclosing the shameful Hindutva communal politics targeting Muslims, harming their legitimate concerns, just for Hindu votes.

AAP made fundamental departure from the usual Hindutva politics by refusing to take shelter under the so-called ‘Muslim threat’ (the theme has been fully exploited since the Sept-11 hoax) or targeting Hindu or Muslim vote banks. AAP brand politics is very simple: it did not pamper the Muslims like the Congress and other so-called secular parties do just for fun nor did it woo Hindus for votes as BJP led Hindutva outfits do deliberately. Instead, Kejriwal’s team focused on real politics and forwarded to the public the real problems the Delhiites face. AAP clearly showcased that in order to get Hindu votes a party needs not to target Muslims, insulting or injuring or killing Muslims as this happens in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

In order to loot the nation’s resources and promote bribery-dowry system, Indian politicians have done away with what is very dear to a nation: honesty and truth. That is the crux of negative predicaments of Indian nation. A parliament of rich and agents of corporate lords cannot be honest. The rich lawyers, who become judges by immoral means and after playing all sorts of mischief with the common people that approach them with genuine problems for help, cannot honestly decide the fate of Indian nation, either.

How can a corrupt and dishonest lawyer become a honest and lawful after becoming a judge or justice? No wonder corruption has become a part of Indian justice delivery system and jurisprudence

When dishonest lawyers become judges they continue to mint money and this explains as to why many judges are being caught across the globe in bribery scandals.

Won’t there be murder of judgments in courts? Why politicians and top bureaucrats boldly take bribes and make illegal wealth so openly?

When corrupt and greedy lawyers are the judges in courts, people cannot expect real and honest judgments

Can thieves and criminals become police and judges? But that perhaps is happening. The judiciary and jurisprudence has fallen a mute victim (Your lord!).

Politicians and government functionaries take undue advantage of this disastrous lacuna, detrimental to the honest upbringing of a society. .

Of course, no suggestion is made here that Indian system would be fair and honest if judges are trained right from the beginning after their excellent degrees in law (unlike the shameful practice of undergoing a law course just for obtaining degrees without proper attendance, at times on payment basis to practice law) especially as future hopes of Indian honest and fair judiciary judges. Much more is required to make the system work honestly.

That is cause of all problems Indians suffer for too long – created partly by politicians, partly by the governments and elected representatives of people, partly by the parliament and state assemblies, partly by the media lords, partly by mafias, partly by illogical police, partly by the judiciary and partly by the helpless people of India.

Judiciary can do a lot for the benefits of people and nation of India.

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South Asia

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovative, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist has gone from driving innovative research in Reliance Industries to chairing and leading the then newly founded National Innovation Foundation in 1999.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that innovation outbreak in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Associate at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

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Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy

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Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.

In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.

The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.

Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.

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Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.

The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.

Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.

The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.

Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

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Energy2 hours ago

Economic value of energy efficiency can drive reductions in global CO2 emissions

Ambitious energy efficiency policies can keep global energy demand and energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO₂) emissions steady until 2050, according to a...

Newsdesk4 hours ago

UN launches global plan to strengthen protection of internally displaced persons

With multiple crises forcing millions of people away from their homes, United Nations agencies, Governments and partners have launched a...

Economy13 hours ago

Circular economy: More recycling of household waste, less landfilling

EU Parliament backs ambitious recycling targets, under legislation on waste and the circular economy, adopted on Wednesday. Improving waste management...

Middle East14 hours ago

How the Guardian newspaper fulfills George Orwell’s prediction of ‘Newspeak’

On Sunday April 15th, Britain’s Guardian bannered “OPCW inspectors set to investigate site of Douma chemical attack” and pretended that...

Diplomacy15 hours ago

The evolution of the concept of diplomacy

Transformation in diplomacy, like the transformation of other international scenes of international relations, has not stopped at a specific point,...

South Asia15 hours ago

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak* Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr....

Economy16 hours ago

Greece can turn its education system into a source of inclusive and sustainable growth

With a qualified and well-engaged teacher workforce, motivated 15-year-old students with a strong sense of school belonging, and one of...

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