Recent state assembly election in Tamil Nadu has explicitly showed that the two main Dravidian parties one led by J. Jayalalithaa, and other by M. Karunanidhi have come to stay as the sole political expressions of Tamilians and there seems to be no way any other party, either regional or national- can replace them as the dominant or ruling party of the state
DMK is one of the two dominant political parties in Tamil Nadu. The other dominant political party is its offshoot, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). As of this writing (2015), either DMK or AIADMK has ruled the state since 1967.
Not only national parties, except Congress which congested as a major coalition partner of DMK, even important regional parties which took birth in Tamil state also failed to impress the masses that preferred on the ruing AIADMK and opposition DMK to be their representatives in the assembly and parliament.
The assembly outcomes have explicitly put a fact on national notice that no other party can form a government in the state for years to come, unless they themselves decide the spoil the mileage they have won so far in polls. Further, the Dravidian parties have also proven that no national or regional party can form government at the centre without aligning with either of these two wings.
Nowhere in India have two parties continued to dominate the regional politics as both the AIADMK and DMK have been in TN. AIADMK supermo Jayalalithaa led her party to a historic second consecutive win almost single handedly.
CN Annadurai floated DMK a political party to fight assembly and parliamentary polls and won the polls and formed the first non-Congress government Madras State and which he later renamed it as Tamil Nadu. Popular actor M. G. Ramachandran the then treasurer of the DMK formed his splinter party Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972 after a personal feud with the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. His AIADMK, as another Dravidian party, would take charge of the government after winning state elections in 1977. Since then either AIADMK or DMK formed the governments in Tamil Nadu.
Brief Dravidian history
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its political rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have been the major players of the Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties include an array of regional political parties in the state of Tamil Nadu, India which trace their origins and ideologies either directly or indirectly to the Dravidian movement of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. The Dravidian parties have traditionally associated themselves with the Dravidian community and thus their primary goal was to achieve social equality and end the domination of North India on politics and economy of Tamil Nadu (a south Indian state).
Although most Dravidian parties are offshoots of Dravidar Kazhagam (DK),] there are a few other parties in Tamil Nadu that did not arise from DK directly. Nevertheless, both the former and the latter are considered as Dravidian parties because of the similarities of their ideals and goals.
Immediately after Indian independence, the Congress party was popular and thus was electorally very successful forming governments in most of the states including the Madras State. But the popularity of the Congress government in Madras started to decline with its head Rajagopalachari proposing Hereditary Education Policy, which the opposition parties saw as an attempt to perpetuate the social hierarchy of the caste system. Congress gained back some ground when K. Kamaraj who was seen as a “man of the soil” took over. But his resignation to assume presidency of the All-India Congress Committee was detrimental to the state Congress since Kamaraj was much respected by the people, and even by political opponents of Congress including Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. Resignation of Kamaraj itself was a cause of deeply declining popularity of Congress all over India and especially in Madras State. Kamaraj sensed that DMK was rapidly gaining popularity in the state and coupled with his fear of fall of Congress-governments in several other states of India as well as the center instigated many other Congress leaders to relinquish cabinet positions.
Complacency ruined Congress party, more than corruption, less production and weak supply networkings and price rises. New rulers made money as new ruler, though not the proportion of today’s level. There were food shortage in several parts of the country and especially the state of Bihar was close to a famine. After Kamaraj’s resignation, the next Chief Minister of Madras State, Bhakthavatchalam, wasn’t able to inherit the charm of his predecessor. Persistent charges of ministerial corruption tarnished the image of the Congress. The food scarcity in the state was seen as an artificial scarcity, the mixed product of administrative bungling and private hoarding. The then scenario in Madras State, as observed by political analysts, was “frustration without coherence or direction, a revolutionary situation without revolutionists”
At one point even India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru would volunteer to resign as per Kamaraj Plan to strengthen the party, but soon to be advised not to, given the sensitivity of the issue. After Nehru’s death the Indian National Congress had weakened nationally. More than half of the population by then were less than the age of 35 and represented the post-Gandhian era. Nevertheless, the reasons for the resentment found within the Indian mass were more to do to the everyday life rather than just the political turmoil.
DMK made use of the negative effects of anti-Hindi mood of Tamils, caste system, food shortage, corruption to build up the cadres. The differences between North and South India, both as in languages as well as in social structure were compounded in Tamil Nadu through the feeling that the nation was dominated by the North and that the South had been both neglected and exploited. The antipathy towards the north developed as the animosity against Sanskrit as well as Brahmin as a proponent of Sanskrit; Brahminism was seen as the instrument of this “tyranny”. Ritually and socially superior to the non-Brahmin masses, a Brahmin commanded a dominant political and economic position in Tamil Nadu. With the rise of Dravidar Kazhagam and birth of DMK, along with the ascent of Kamaraj in the Congress, the Brahmin dominance was already on the process of being displaced in the Madras State. the politicians of the North looking at English as a foreign language that has usurped the rightful place of indigenous languages, whereas the South feared that English to be replaced by Hindi which is equally foreign to its tongues.
The major driving force of the Anti-Hindi agitation was the of future of Tamils in extra Hindi dominated North, seeking to impose Hindi on non0-Hindi states. An Official Language Commission appointed under the terms of the Constitution in 1955 to review the situation supported Hindi as the sole official language, although members from Bengal and Madras dissented in favour of English. Number of people with knowledge on English language was fairly evenly spread and also that imposition of Hindi would give a major advantage in terms of job and educational possibilities to those who have Hindi as their mother tongue. In effect a Tamil who would desire to pursue into union civil service would have to learn three languages, Tamil, Hindi and English, which are members of three different language families and each written in a different script. Therefore, a three-language formula proposed was seen as a great educational burden imposed on non-Hindi-speaking states.
Unlike South and East, where people wanted to learn English as international language north outrightly opposed three language formula as they wanted only one language formula everywhere with Hindi dominating every domain of administration. Nehru promised to India that Hindu won’t come in the way of other regions where it is not spoken. And in 1959he said that the interests of the non-Hindi speakers will be safeguarded and so did next PM Lal Bahadur Shastri later, but those promises didn’t put the fears of non-Hindi speakers to rest.
In the early 1960s DMK became a champion of the anti-Hindi cause that became popular among masses, controlled corporations of all the major towns in the Madras State. As the time clocked down to 26 January 1965, the threshold for the end of use of English as official language, neither Nehru’s promise nor the constitutional amendments of 1963 could calm the Tamil population, as it was obvious for them that moves to publicize Hindi as a language for Civil service examinations were underway by the central government. With the surging fears haunting the people of Madras, Congress party of the state would do nothing bigger than a small demonstration and insist the people that there was no ground for alarm. In contrast, DMK held an Anti-Hindi Conference in Tiruchirappalli on 17 January 1965. The conference was supported by all major opposition parties and funded by major wealthy industrialists – the industrialists who themselves feared of losing into influence of the North if Hindi be made the official language. The conference decided to hold the 26 January (the fifteen anniversary of India’s republic day) as a Day of Mourning.
The Anti Hindi agitation and the popularity gained through it aided DMK to a great extent to win the 1967 general elections under a broad coalition of several likeminded parties, including Communist party and Muslim League. .
Growth of DMK
It can be noted that the DMK was one of the two parties (the other being the Muslim League) to win all the seats it contested in the national elections, winning 25 of 25 (the Muslim League won 3 of 3) and emerged as the third major opposition party in the Indian Parliament. Kamaraj, who was the President of the Congress party then, himself lost to a little known “student leader” in his home constituency. The DMK had garnered more than 6 million votes in the state assembly winning 138 out of 173 seats it contested. The electoral victory in 1967 is also attributed to an electoral fusion among the non-Congress parties to avoid a split in the Opposition votes. Rajagopalachari, a former senior leader of the Congress party, had by then left the Congress and launched the right-wing Swatantra Party. He played a vital role in bringing about the electoral fusion among the opposition parties to align themselves against the Congress.
Annadurai, who by now was trying hard to erase his party’s secessionist image, proclaimed that the official slogan of the agitation will be “Down with Hindi; Long live the Republic” – in Tamil – “Hindi Ozhiga; Kudiyarasu Vāzhga”. With the tensions tightening in the South, some Northern states, such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh organized anti-English riots involving, violence and lawlessness against government properties. Thus as the North-South divide further deepened, the stage was set for conflict between the Congress-led government and the opposition parties, but the scale and development of the conflict were expected by none
Dravidian parties rose to power and prominence in the political stage of Tamil Nadu, a state in India, in the 1960s. The rise in power and political support was gradual until Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a Dravidian party, formed the government in the state in 1967. Although after the 1970s the Dravidian parties met with many break-aways and have taken rival stances against each other, the seat of power in Tamil Nadu has been with one or other Dravidian party. The increase in popularity of the Dravidian parties in the 1960s is attributed to several factors including the fall of popularity of the Congress Government in the centre and the North-South disparity as claimed by the Dravidian politics. The series of events climaxed with an anti Hindi agitation which led to the downfall of popularity of the then Indian National Congress government in the state and eventual rise of Dravidian parties to power.
DMK championed the cause of independent Tamil Nadu (or, if possible, independent Dravida Nadu comprising the four southern states of India) starting from its inception in 1949. But this politics has changed over years as it defeated the Congress party and began ruling the state. Its parent party Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) from its inception in 1944. The first call for Tamil Nadu independence seems to have been made by the Tamil Nation Liberation Association (Tamil Desa Viduthalai Sangam) in August 1938. The DMK Central Committee (Maththiya Seyarkuzu) voted to drop the independence demand on November 3, 1963, after the Indian Parliament passed the Sixteenth Amendment to the Indian Constitution; the amendment prohibited those who advocate separatism from running for public offices (such as Indian parliament and state legislative assembly). It would seem that the abandonment of the independence platform was not from the heart but a tactical move, at least on the part of Karunanidhi who was a senior DMK leader at that time.
Until now, for us, the people of Tamil Nadu, elections have only meant two political outfits and their respective symbols, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (rising sun) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (two leaves). To be more precise, they have meant two parties and three personalities – say M Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa. These three have trapped and controlled the political imagination of the people. For an electorate that led the way in social reform, we have lost almost all our social awareness and reduced politics to hero-worship and sycophancy.
Jaya’s charisma and mass appeal
Whether we like it or not this distinction also plays a role in the voting pattern of the upper-castes vis-à-vis the others. But this is not crystal clear, since at times convergence takes place due to some complex reasons. Take for instance Jayalalithaa. Many forward castes prefer to vote for her and her party has a role to play in this choice, not to forget that she is not seen as anti-Brahminical as M Karunanidhi had been. But she also has a huge support base among other caste groups. Firstly she is MGR’s heir and therefore the strong Dravida connection is confirmed even if she is upper-caste. Here political identity takes precedence over the individual.. The connection between beauty, honesty, success, trust and whiteness affects all of us. Though she is under the shadow of a big corruption scandal, people like her as others are not seen as being better than Jayalalithaa. Added to this is the perception of motherhood making distrust almost impossible. Here, the “mother” culture is very strong in Tamil-land.
On the other hand, Karunanidhi and team challenge this perception and try their very best to further establish themselves as the real Dravidian representatives. In fact the worship of Jayalalithaa is played up subtly as an example for Dravidian subjugation. Whenever the DMK consolidation occurs the balance tilts in its favour. But it is obvious from the recent political statements of Karunanidhi’s son M Stalin, that there is a clear shift, even disowning of many of their core principles. The need to appear aspirationally upper caste/class has influenced their move towards embracing a more business-like and less atheistic approach. Muddled in this is once again the “white” that appears not just in skin but symbolically as upper class power.
One wonders as to wonder why no other outfit has been able to challenge the DMK and AIADMK. To the credit of both these parties, they have over the years established an electoral base that cuts across caste lines. Though their choice of candidates is still caste-influenced, the parties themselves have a support base that is wider. This cannot be said of most other parties like Pattali Makkal Katchi or Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. This has reduced their role to being second-class partners. The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are national parties have in their ranks very Tamil leaders, yet they will never be considered Dravidian. The strength of their party identity makes it very difficult for their leaders to convince voters that they are truly Tamilian. The Congress and BJP are, let us admit it, seen as parties of Hindi-speaking Northerners. Tamils do not much like them.
Cinema influences politics
The umbilical link between Tamil politics and cinema is so deep-rooted that even new voters have imbibed this tradition subliminally carrying it forward to the next generation of film stars.
DMK leaders were rooted in Tamil movies in several domains like script writers, comedians, actors, play back singers, etc. This led to a change in the caste-class participation in cinema influencing everything from acting to the music that captured the hearts of millions. It is here that CN Annadurai, M Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran created an identity for themselves.
Tamil Nadu is the first ever state n the world to produce a film star chief minister by electing an actor turned politician MGR as their CM. Late, American actor Ronald Reagan became the US president. Tamil Nadu has had chief ministers from the cine-world for the past 50 years. We have to understand this historically, without reducing this to “film-madness”.
Tamil cinema and literature were very important tools in influencing people and accelerating the Dravidian movement. The stories that were told via Tamil films were part of the Dravidian philosophy and consequently changed peoples thinking. The novels or short stories that were adapted, the screenplay, song-lyrics were drenched in the Dravida philosophy.
The direct connection between cinema and Tamil Nadu’s socio-politics continued right up to the 1980s. Even though it has moved away in the last few decades, in the psyche of the Tamilian this bond has not been broken. When a cinemagoer watches a film, he/she is unconsciously connecting the political and cultural, film personalities with the power of change.
DMK and AIADMK promoted the freebie culture in the state to woo the voters. Are people so naïve that they vote based on the gifts they receive from the establishment? This is , the system establishes a giver-taker power syndrome and the gift confirms benevolence as a virtue. On the other side of the scale, the receiver is thankful for the kindness shown by the rulers. The politicians distribute the gifts to voters as the frenzy surrounds the events.
One comprehends how political outfits cultivate an environment of competition among those who are beneficiaries, always keeping them in check and consciously positioning themselves as kings and queens. This is only an extension of the landowner-laborer syndrome in official terms.
The pre-election money distribution is unfortunately seen only as another gift. The AIADMK and the DMK are masters at this craft. But I am not going to straightjacket citizens that easily. Existing within this bamboozled environment, voters also figure a way to exercise some pressure and pit one gift against another. Yet, they remain within the established condition.
Tamil Nadu has been a dictatorial democracy for far too long. Is Tamil Nadu safe under these Dravidian giants? Recent killing of a girl Swathi at a railway station in Chennai raises the question of safety for women, children and even others in the state. Whether it is the DMK or the AIADMK in power, in matters of freedom and citizens rights, they are not very different. Both cannot control corruption.
Many citizens are mortally afraid of taking them on, scared that “licensed gondaas will physically harm us. The cadres of both these parties abuse their strength with great regularity and no police force will come to common man’s aid.
One gets the impression that mafias decide the course of the society in the state.
Will these elections change anything?
The recent poll was an unusual as for the first time Tamil Nadu had multi-cornered fight with a new alliance emerging under Vaiko in the shape of the Front created by the Left, Vaiko’s party, a couple of major Dalit formations, Vasan’s TMC, and one led by a cine star Vijayakanth -banding together. This alliance was expected, technically, to spoil AIADMK’s and DMK’s calculations and significantly democratize political power in the state.
But that did not happen as people preferred AIADMK and DMK to fill the assembly seats.
Tamil Nadu’s hero-worship, especially the display of unabashed mother-worship that Jayalalithaa receives from her followers, has made the country look at the state with surprise. Analysts related Tamil Nadu’s electoral behavior to caste-based politics, “freebie culture” and pre-election bribery that has become the norm in the state. They also implied that the Tamil people in general are gullible illiterates who have been taken for a ride by the Dravidian parties for a very long time. But the Tamil people gave a measured response in support of Dravidian leadership.
At the base of popular choices lies an essential cultural fact: linguistically and racially, Tamils, maybe South Indians, see themselves as different from the rest of the country. Tamil one of the oldest languages of India, is so different from most Indian languages that the people of Tamil Nadu do feel different, special – and isolated. Tamils don’t look like most people of India and the texture of their habits, rituals and celebrations are entirely Tamil.
How much ever historians and anthropologists may argue the validity of the Aryan-Dravidian divide, under the skin and in the mind of every Tamilian the division exists and attitude of Norte toward South and Tamils make division marked.
It is this socio-cultural reality that brought to the fore the Dravidian movement, and this is one of the reasons the Dravidian parties have taken over politics in Tamil Nadu. In spite of the emergence of so many other Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK even today own the Tamil card. Tamils trust them. May be it is their political lineage that gives them this strangle hold! But that is a fact
The AIADMK government needs to ensure that factions and divisive groups at police stations do not obstruct the dealings with cases and investigations in police stations, at all levels, thereby harming the very nature of police job.
The assembly poll 2016 led to the weakening of all non-Dravidian parties. Vaiko originally a Dravidian leader floated his own party and made a electoral coalition with other 5parties to float front but none of candidates of the coalition won a seat to the assembly.
PMK, of Dr. Ramadoss lost its representatives in the new assembly as not even his son Anbumani could win his “safe” seat from his home constituency with his caste dominating politics.
The worst predicament was that of Hindutva forces with a big agenda to saffronize the nation and crate tensions across the nation. Worst sufferer in the poll is the Hindutva BJP which for years carved out a strong vote bank in the state by very cleverly using unconstitutional hatred for Muslims as the key campaign strategy. Later as the party was gaining acceptance in some towns, it bargained seats with DMK or AIADMK for seat agreements and it had and own seats in the Assembly and parliament. However, this time around BJP could not maneuver either with DMK or AIADMK- both outrightly rejected the BJP for electoral alliance. BJP always claimed it made the DMK and AIADMK win elections and without it both will fail miserably. BJP was defeated as it could not win even one seat in the assembly- the first time in years.
Now BJP has a parliamentary seat from Nagercoil (Kanyakumari) which it had won through an electoral alliance with the AIADMK and the MP is now a central minister in Modi cabinet. The problem is the party has lost all 6 assembly segments in the assembly polls and it is likely to lose the parliamentary seat as well when the national poll takes place. The party is now facing an existential threat in the state and so the Modi led BJP government wants to save the Nagercoil seat and has announced a sea port to be built in Colachal and concerned minister is to enthusiastic about the port project in some way. But Kerala government has objected to it as its own sea port in Vizhinjam near capital Thiruvanathapuram, about 40 KM from Colachal has already been sanctioned by the previous Congress-UPA government led by Manamohan Singh the Colachal port can cause losses to Vizhinjam port. Now Kerala is ruled by Left parties while the port project was of the then Congress led UDF government.
In spite of the rampant corruption, the state has moved forward albeit slowly. Crucially reservations have been largely a success story, providing opportunity to so many, though unemployment keeps growing. These have also kept voters at large, within the DMK/AIADMK ambit. Other parties have no such records to show to the state voters. Tamil Nadu has never really been at the nadir of economic development; in other words Tamil Nadu has not been a Bihar or UP. True, the statistics keeps changing.
While the DMK forged an alliance with Congress party, the ruling AIADMK did not try to make any alliance with any party (a couple minor parties she gave seats to contest) and won the assembly for the second consecutive time. Selvi Jaya proved that she was unnecessarily over confident about her party coming back to power. But she is right: people love her.
Tamils love the major Dravidian parties but more AIADMK than DMK.
Major Dravidian parties in Tamilnadu are as follows:
AIADMK – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (M. G. Ramachandran, Janaki Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa Jayaram) [Split from DMK]
DK – Dravidar Kazhagam (Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, Veeramani) [Original Dravidian party]
DMDK – Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (Vijayakanth) [Not born out of any other Dravidian party]
DMK – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (C. N. Annadurai, Muthuvel Karunanidhi) [Split from DK]
MDMK – Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (V. Gopalaswamy – Vaiko) [Split from DMK]
PDK – Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam [Split from DK]
PMK – Pattali Makkal Katchi (Ramadoss) [Not born out of any other Dravidian party]
India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present
In the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the personal predilections of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his protégé VK Krishna Menon, both influenced by British socialism. Nehru himself handled the external affairs portfolio until his death in 1964.
The policy of ‘non-alignment’ which the duo initiated in India’s foreign policy gained world-wide attention since early 1950s, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (NAM) that consisted of developing and newly decolonised nations from different parts of the world, primarily from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
But, the policy never meant isolationism or neutrality; rather it was conceived as a positive and constructive policy in the backdrop of the US-USSR Cold War, enabling freedom of action in foreign and security policies, even though many of the individual NAM member states had a tilt towards the Soviet Union, including India.
However, the lofty Nehruvian idealism of India’s foreign policy in its initial decades was not successful enough in integrating well into India’s security interests and needs, as it lost territories to both China and Pakistan during the period, spanning 1947 to 1964.
However, when Indira Gandhi assumed premiership, realism had strongly gained ground in India’s political, diplomatic and military circles, as evident in India’s successful intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Even at that point of time, India still sticked on to the policy of non-alignment until it was no longer feasible in a changed international system that took shape following the end of the Cold War, which is where the origins of a new orientation in India’s foreign policy decision-making termed as ‘multi-alignment’ lies.
Today, India skilfully manoeuvres between China-led or Russia-led groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with its involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad), in which Japan and Australia are also members.
Militarily though, India is still not part of any formal treaty alliance, and is simultaneously part of a diverse network of loose and issue-specific coalitions and regional groupings, led by adversarial powers, with varying founding objectives and strategic imperatives.
Today, non-alignment alone can no longer explain the fact that recently India took part in a US-chaired virtual summit meeting of the Quad in March 2021 and three months later attended a BRICS ministerial meet, where China and Russia were also present.
So, how did India progress from its yesteryear policy of remaining equidistant from both the US-led and Soviet-led military blocs (non-alignment) and how did it begin to align with multiple blocs or centres of power (multi-alignment)? Answer to this question stretches three decades back.
World order witness a change, India adapts to new realities
1992 was a watershed year for Indian diplomacy. A year back, the Soviet Union, a key source of economic and military support for India till then, disappeared in the pages of history, bringing the Cold War to its inevitable end.
This brought a huge vacuum for India’s strategic calculations. Combined with a global oil shock induced by the First Gulf War of 1990 triggered a balance of payment crisis in India, which eventually forced the Indian government to liberalise and open up its economy for foreign investments and face competition.
India elected a pragmatic new prime minister in 1991 – PV Narasimha Rao. The vision he had in mind for India’s standing in the world was quite different from his predecessors. Then finance minister and later PM, Dr Manmohan Singh announced in the Indian Parliament, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.
This was during his 1991 budget speech and it marked the beginning of building a new India where excessive control of the state on economic and business affairs seemed no longer a viable option.
At a time when Japan’s economy was experiencing stagnation, China was ‘peacefully rising’, both economically and industrially. The United States remained as the most influential power and security provider in Asia with its far-reaching military alliance network.
As the unipolar world dawned proclaiming the supremacy of the United States, PM Rao steered Indian foreign policy through newer pastures, going beyond traditional friends and partners like Russia.
In another instance, 42 years after India recognised Israel as an independent nation in 1950, both countries established formal diplomatic ties in 1992. Indian diplomats accomplished a task long overdue without affecting the existing amicable ties with Palestine.
In the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it is worth noting that India took a more balanced stance at the United Nations, which was different from its previous stances that reflected an open and outright pro-Palestine narrative.
Today, India values its ties with Israel on a higher pedestal, even in areas beyond defence and counter-terrorism, such as agriculture, water conservation, IT and cyber security.
Breaking the ice with the giant across the Himalayas
China is a huge neighbour of India with which its shares a 3,488-km long un-demarcated border. Skirmishes and flare-ups resulting from difference in perception of the border and overlapping patrolling areas are a regular occurrence in this part of the world.
For the first time after the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a daunting defeat for India, diplomatic talks for confidence-building in the India-China border areas were initiated by the Rao government in 1993, resulting in the landmark Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the defacto border between India and China.
The agreement also provided a framework for ensuring security along the LAC between both sides until a final agreement on clear demarcation of the border is reached out. The 1993 agreement created an expert group consisting of diplomats and military personnel to advise the governments on the resolution of differences in perception and alignment of the LAC. The pact was signed in Beijing in September 1993, during PM Rao’s visit to China.
Former top diplomat of India Shivshankar Menon noted in one of his books that the 1993 agreement was “the first of any kind relating specifically to the border between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China … It formalized in an international treaty a bilateral commitment by India and China to maintain the status quo on the border. In effect, the two countries promised not to seek to impose or enforce their versions of the boundary except at the negotiating table.”
The 1993 pact was followed by another one in 1996, the Agreement on Military Confidence-Building Measures. The following two decades saw a number of agreements being signed and new working mechanisms being formalized, even though two major standoffs occurred in the Ladakh sector in 2013 and 2020 respectively and one in between in the Sikkim sector in 2017.
The agreements served as the basis upon which robust economic ties flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, before turning cold as a result of Chinese aggression of 2020 in Ladakh. However, the 1993 agreement still was a landmark deal as we consider the need for peace in today’s increasingly adversarial ties between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.
Integrates with Asia’s regional architecture
Before the early 1990s, India’s regional involvements to its east remained limited to its socio-cultural ties, even though the region falls under India’s extended neighbourhood, particularly Southeast Asia. But, since 1992, when the Look East Policy (LEP) was formulated under the Rao government, India has been venturing into the region to improve its abysmal record of economic and trade ties with countries the region.
New Delhi began reaching out to the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1992 and was made a Sectoral Partner of the association in the same year. Thus, India kicked-off the process of its integration into the broader Asian regional architecture.
In 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a key platform for talks on issues of security in the wider Indo-Pacific region. India became ASEAN’s summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012.
A free trade agreement (FTA) was agreed between ASEAN and India in 2010. And in 2014, the erstwhile LEP was upgraded into the Act East Policy (AEP). Today, the ASEAN region remains at the centre of India’s evolving Indo-Pacific policy.
Bonhomie with the superpower across the oceans, the United States
1998 was an important year, not just for India, but for the world. Until May that year, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council possessed nuclear capabilities. That year, ‘Buddha smiled again’ in the deserts of India’s Rajasthan state, as India under PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee successfully conducted a series of underground nuclear bomb tests, declaring itself a nuclear state, 24 years after its first nuclear test in 1974 code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’.
The move surprised even the US intelligence agencies, as India managed to go nuclear by bypassing keen US satellite eyes that were overlooking the testing site. Shortly after this, Pakistan also declared itself a nuclear state.
India’s nuclear tests invited severe international condemnation for New Delhi and badly affected its relationship with Washington, resulting in a recalling of its Ambassador to India and imposed economic sanctions, which was a big blow for India’s newly liberalised economy.
But, a bonhomie was reached between India and the US in a matter of two years and then US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, the first presidential visit since 1978. The Indo-US Science and technology Forum was established during this visit and all the sanctions were revoked by following year.
Bharat Karnad, a noted Indian strategic affairs expert, notes in one his books that, “Vajpayee’s regime conceived of ‘strategic autonomy’ to mask its cultivating the US, which resulted in the NSSP”.
The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the US and India was launched in January 2004 that covered wide ranging areas of cooperation such as nuclear energy, space, defence and trade. This newfound warmth in Indo-US relations was taken to newer heights with the conclusion of the landmark civil nuclear deal between 2005 and 2008.
Today, India is a key defence partner of the United States, having signed all the four key foundational pacts for military-to-military cooperation, the latest being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation, signed in October 2020. The two countries are key partners in the Quad grouping and share similar concerns about an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to cultivate this special relationship with the United States, reinforced by cooperation in the Quad grouping and also by constantly engaging a 4.8-million strong Indian diaspora in the United States.
The leaders of both countries, from Vajpayee to Modi and from Clinton to Trump have reciprocated bilateral visits to each other’s countries. And, India looks forward to the Biden-Harris administration for new areas of cooperation.
But, a recent military manoeuvre in April, this year, by a US Navy ship (which it calls a FONOP or Freedom of Navigation Operation) in India’s exclusive economic zone, off Lakshadweep coast, casted a shadow over this relations.
The US openly stated in social media that it entered the area without seeking India’s prior consent and asserted its navigational rights. This invited mixed reactions, as it was highly uncalled for. While some analysts consider it humiliating, others think that the incident occurred due to the difference of perceptions about international maritime law in both countries.
Today, along with the US, India skilfully manages its ‘historical and time-tested’ ties with Russia, a strategic foe of the US, and moves forward to purchase Russian-made weapon systems, such as the S-400 missile defence system, even after a threat of sanctions. But, in the past several years, India has been trying to diversify its defence procurements from other countries such as France and Israel and has been also promoting indigenisation of defence production.
A BRICS formula for responsible multilateralism
India is a founding member of the BRICS grouping, formalised in 2006, now consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – the emerging economies of that time with a potential to drive global economic growth and act as an alternate centre of power along with other groupings of rich countries such as the G-7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
India always stood for a responsible global multilateral system and rules-based order. Indian leaders have attended all summit-level meetings of BRICS since 2009 unfailingly. Last year, the summit took place in the backdrop of India-China border standoff in Ladakh, under Russia’s chair, a common friend of both countries, where the leaders of India and China came face-to-face for the first time, although in virtual format.
The primary focus of BRICS remains economic in nature, but it also takes independent stances on events occurring in different parts of the world. The grouping also established a bank to offer financial assistance for development projects known as the New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, China, in 2014, with an Indian as its first elected president.
BRICS also became the first multilateral grouping in the world to endorse the much-needed TRIPS waiver proposal jointly put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid vaccine-making during the duration of the pandemic to provide developing countries that lack adequate technologies with means to battle the virus.
As India gears up to host this year’s upcoming BRICS summit, there is no doubt that being part of the grouping has served the country’s interests well.
Manoeuvring the SCO, along the shores of the Indo-Pacific
The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a regional organisation consisting of eight Eurasian powers, largest in the world both in terms of land area and population covered. It stands for promoting mutual cooperation and stability, where security issues can be freely discussed and conflicts are attempted to be resolved.
India is not a founding member of the SCO, which was created in 2001. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members in 2017. The grouping’s members also include Russia, China and four Central Asian countries, excluding Turkmenistan.
Sharing a common platform with Pakistan and China and the presence of a long-term friend, Russia, has helped India diplomatically in key occasions. Using the SCO platform, the existing differences between member states can be discussed and prevented from escalating into major conflicts.
This was evident most recently visible in 2020 when the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on a plan for the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops from the LAC, as a major step in the diffusion of tensions in Ladakh that had erupted since May that year.
But, Russia and China collectively oppose the usage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, something that surfaced into political discourse with the famous speech delivered by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 in the Parliament of India, calling for “the confluence of two seas” and hinting at a new maritime continuum of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
It is in this context that the grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States gained prominence. The four Quad countries came together to offer humanitarian assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ambit of the grouping’s co-operation ranges from maritime security to cooperation in Covid vaccine production and distribution.
After a decade since the first joint naval exercise of the four Quad countries took place in 2007, the ASEAN’s Manila summit in 2017 provided a platform for the four countries to connect with each other and enhance consultations to revive the four-nation grouping.
The Quad has been raised to the summit level now with the March 2021 virtual summit, and has also conducted two joint naval exercises so far, one in 2007 and the other in 2020. This loose coalition is widely perceived as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.
India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land border with China. At the same time, India is also the only country that is not a formal security ally of the United States, meaning if India quits, the Quad ceases to exist, while the other three countries can still remain as treaty allies. However, setting the US aside, cooperation among the other three Quad partners has also been witnessing a boom since the last year.
India and Japan have expanded co-operation in third countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region and offer an alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is perceived as having implications of a potential debt-trap aimed at fetching strategic gains.
Amid the pandemic, both the countries have joined hands with Australia to launch a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify key supply chains away from China.
However, India doesn’t perceive a free and open Indo-Pacific as an exclusionary strategy targeted at containing some country, rather as an inclusive geographic concept, where co-operation over conflict is possible. This was articulated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.
Various additions were made to this view in later stages, as the concept evolved into a coherent form, representing New Delhi’s expanding neighbourhood. This vision aligns well with related initiatives such the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), aimed at improving maritime security, trade, connectivity and management of shared resources.
For India, this is an era of complex multi-alignment, different from the Cold War-era international system, where multiple centres of power exist. At different time periods in the past, India has adapted well to the changing circumstances and power dynamics in the international system.
India’s strategic posture today, despite being aspirational, is to have good relations with all its neighbours, regional players, and the major powers, to promote rules-based order, and in the due process to find its own deserving place in the world.
In July, last year, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India ‘will never be part of an alliance system’, even though a tilt towards the US is increasingly getting visible, taking the China factor into account. Jaishankar also stated that global power shifts are opening up spaces for middle powers like India.
As the world tries to avoid another Cold War, this time between the United States and China, the competing geopolitics of the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime region is poised to add up to New Delhi’s many dilemmas in the coming years.
The unrecognized demographic situation of West Bengal and consequences yet to occur
World’s second large demographic nation India’s state West Bengal is now apparently residence of over 91 million population. At the same time, West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the fourteenth-large state by area in India. It is also the seventh-most populous country subdivision of the world. To get an insight into the present situation of West Bengal anyone has to look back in 1947 and later consequences. As being a prominent ethnocultural region of India, West Bengal faced political partition in the year 1947 in the wake of the transformation of British India into two separate independent nations India and Pakistan. Under the process of partition, the then Bengal province was bifurcated into two segments. The predominately Hindu living area named West Bengal, a state of India, and the predominately-Muslim living area turned as East Bengal and after becoming a province of Pakistan that renamed as East Pakistan and later in 1971, the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh.
In 1971 at the time of partition, the Muslim population of West Bengal counted 12% and the Hindu population of East Bengal remained 30%. While at present, with continuous Muslim immigration, Hindu persecution, conversions, and less production of offspring, West Bengal’s Muslim population has increased to 30% (up to 63% in some districts). While as per the counting report of 2011 Bangladesh’s Hindu population has decreased to 8%. When at the present situation for Hindus in Bangladesh is certainly dire, then life has become increasingly difficult for Hindus in West Bengal, having a Muslim-appeasing government. The governance of the elected government led to the demographic and cultural shifts in West Bengal. Prevailing of the same governance after the 2021 Bidhansabha election leads to the destruction of Hindu’s belonging everywhere in Bengal. The situation stood worse in the outskirts where media coverage is poor, compelling Hindu families to flee in adjacent states or to hide. A sizable number of Bengali Hindu families already preferred to shift to Assam.
Looking back as per a striking report of July 2014 by Times of India fewer children were born in Bengal and the prediction was there will be even fewer in the next generation. The 2011 Census shows a decadal growth of 13.84% in West Bengal, which was significantly below the national growth average of 17.7%, and the decadal growth was lowest ever and beaten only by the aftermath of the infamous Famine of Bengal,1942.
While the retrospective study of the demography of West Bengal shows that the culturally dominant Hindu population in West Bengal during the first census of 1951 was around 19,462,706 and in the 2011 census it had increased to 64,385,546. While the percentage of the Hindu population in the state decreased from 78.45% in 1951 to 70.54% in the 2011 Census. The data sharply indicates fewer children birth within families of Hindus only while the population of Muslim counterparts tends to grow over time. Once considered a symbol of Indian culture, what has happened in Bengal for the last few decades is the indicator of West Bengal’s demographic future.
Starting from the diminishing of the Hindu culture, communal riots against the Hindus have started happening for quite some time and the situation has been that the banning of celebrating the festivals of Hindus has started in the last few years. Added to those the recent genocide of Hindus depicting a recent trend of population.
Back in 2015 the famous American journalist Janet Levy has written an article on Bengal and the revelations that have been made in it state that Bengal will soon become a separate Islamic country. Janet Levy claims in her article that civil war is going to start soon in Bengal after Kashmir. Which almost begun in recent times in the wake of the Bidhansabha Election of West Bengal.
Ushering the prediction of Janet Levy mass Hindus will be massacred and demanded a separate country.
She cited the facts for his claim back in 2015 that the Chief Minister of West Bengal has recognized more than 10,000 madrassas who were privileged to receive funds from Saudi Arabia and made their degree eligible for a government job, money comes from Saudi and in those madrassas, Wahhabi bigotry is taught.
In the recent past Chief Minister started several Islamic city projects where Islamic people are taught also started a project to establish an Islamic city in West Bengal. It’s evident that Chief Minister has also declared various types of stipends for the Imams of mosques but no such stipends were declared for Hindus primarily. Janet Levy has given many examples around the world where terrorism, religious fanaticism, and crime cases started increasing as the Muslim population increased. With increasing population, a separate Sharia law is demanded at such places, and then finally it reaches the demand of a separate country.
Author and activist Taslima Nasreen once became reason to test the ground reality for West Bengal.
In 1993, Taslima Nasreen wrote a book ‘Lajja’ on the issue of atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh and forcibly making them Muslims.
After writing the book, she had to leave Bangladesh facing the threat of bigotry. The author settled in Kolkata considering that she will be safe there as India is a secular country and the constitution also provided the freedom of expression. Eventually experienced the nightmare that Taslima Nasreen had to face a riot-like situation against her in 2007 in Kolkata. Even in a secular country like India, Muslims banned Taslima Nasreen with hatred. Fatwas issued to cut her throat on the secular land of India.
Upholding the threat the author was also attacked several times in different cities of the country.
But the secular Leftists never supported Taslima, not even the Trinamool government of West Bengal because the Muslims would get angry and the vote bank would face shaking.
That time first attempt was made in which Muslim organizations in West Bengal demanded the Islamic blasphemy (Blasfamie) law. Raising questions on India’s secularism and action of secular parties.
Janet Levy further wrote that for the first time in 2013 some fundamentalist Maulanas of Bengal started demanding a separate ‘Mughalistan’. In the same year riots in Bengal, houses and shops of hundreds of Hindus were looted and many temples were also destroyed by rioters under the safe shelter of government and police.
After the Bidhansava Election 2021 the Hindus of West Bengal facing the same or even worse situation.
Are Hindus boycotted?
Victorious party supremo of West Bengal was afraid that if the Muslims were stopped they would get angry and would not vote and after getting freshly elected her government falls into that vicious circle again.
It is evident from the aftermath of the election result in West Bengal that not only riots but to drive away Hindus, in districts where there are more Muslims, boycotting Hindu businessman. In the Muslim majority districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur, Muslims do not even buy goods from Hindu shops. This is the reason why a large number of Hindus have started migrating from West Bengal like Kashmiri Pandits, here Hindus leaving their homes and businesses and moving to other places. These are the districts where Hindus have become a minority.
Invoking such incidents Janet, stated that the demand for partition of Bengal from India will soon begin from the land of West Bengal. No demographic theorist interpreted the present demographic situation of West Bengal sabotaging Malthusian theory.
In accord with Janet’s analysis, a few recent sources also indicated the number of the Muslim population, in reality, is much higher than the number on record given to the hiding of numbers of children by Muslim parents when a survey takes place. Implementing CAA, NRC could have been way out for West Bengal to check the proper demographic status and to prevent further population explosion to sustain Bengali Hindus. Perceiving the appeasement politics of government for the last 10 years it’s seeming to be unlikely to get any sharp solution.
Covid-19 has made Feminist Foreign Policy all the more Relevant to India
As the impact of the year long COVID19 pandemic continues to be felt across different parts of India—where patriarchy is entrenched in the social code and inequalities against women are being intuitively practised—the repercussions of the health crisis along with the ever deepening gender gaps are being disproportionately and severely borne by women. Yet, most of the discussions revolving around the pandemic have either been gender-blind or gender-neutral, often resulting in the systemic subjugation or marginalisation of women.
In light of these challenges, the thematic debate on gender equality can no longer continue just on papers, it in fact, needs to be converted into actions by the Indian government in order to deal with the short term consequences of the pandemic as well as to develop long-term sustainable peace. The adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework is the best way to achieve this dual goal. A FFP could offer a concrete opportunity for India to build a more inclusive policy making set-up; breakaway from the predominant patriarchal notions; and, address pandemic relief strategies—from the viewpoint of women and other vulnerable or under-represented sections of society.
Gendered Impact of COVID19 in India
Within India’s socio-cultural and economic realms—that have historically been marred by inequalities and rigid stereotypes—the gendered effects of the COVID19 pandemic have been both, intersectional and complex.
To begin with, owing to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients, health-care workers in India, particularly the nurses of whom approximately 88.9 per cent are women remain much more vulnerable to contracting the deadly virus. The existing problem of shortage of basic equipment for these healthcare workers further aggravates these concerns.
Second, the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on an already shrinking Indian economy resulting in financial cut downs and rising unemployment. Women—either due to the deeply embedded patriarchal attitudes or due to the subconscious bias that arises out of such attitudes—have stood at the forefront of being temporarily or permanently laid-off from their jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, with the commencement of the nationwide lockdown, the rate of unemployment reached 23.5 per cent in March to April 2020 with higher shares of unemployed women. The unemployment rate for women further reached 12.39 per cent as of February 2021.
Third, women in India are now being confronted with a shadow pandemic where forced proximity, isolation, increased substance abuse, lack of access to justice etc. during the on-going health crisis has resulted in an increasing threat of domestic or gender-based violence. As per a set of data released by the National Commission of Women in April 2020, there was an almost 100 per cent increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
Nonetheless, these are only some of the immediate effects of the pandemic on women in India. There are other sequential consequences that will emerge in time including, the problems of depletion in savings and assets, pandemic-related widowhood, etc., which would collaboratively make recovery extremely difficult for women.
Evidently, in India, the pandemic is exploiting pre-existing economic and social inequalities along with social norms that give men embedded advantages, and has been posing a real threat to closing gender gaps. In fact, according to the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, India has already slipped down 28 spots to rank 140th among 156 countries in comparison to its 112th position among 153 countries for the year 2019-2020.
But despite bearing a differential impact, women in India have not been included either directly or indirectly in the development of response strategies to deal with COVID19. As such, they remain absent from decision-making tables that involve the shaping of the future of our societies. However, research indicates that the inclusion of women along with other diverse voices makes for better options in policy making and in bringing about comprehensive outcomes that accommodate the needs and concerns of all groupings.
How can a FFP help?
These unfortunate states of affairs demand an adjustment in India’s thinking and strategy, bring about a paradigmatic shift in its traditional policymaking and allow for diverse representation to effectively deal with COVID19 pandemic. The present crisis is therefore, precisely the time to be talking about a FFP in India and for its representatives to make a stronger commitment to mainstream gender at the policy level.
By critically reflecting on the existing international power structures, a FFP framework focuses on protecting the needs of marginalised and female groups and places issues of human security and human rights at the heart of discussions. In doing so, it provides a fundamental shift from the conventional understanding of security to include other arena of foreign policy such as economics, finance, environment, health, trade etc.
With this new perception of health risks and crisis management as a security threat, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, India can potentially explore broadening the humanitarian trade options under its international arrangements to address shortages of medicine and lack of access to personal protective equipment for health workers within its territory— a vast majority of which continue to be women.
The adoption of a FFP could also pave the way for an increased regional cooperation, facilitate regional discussions on myriad issues and enable the development of targeted recovery program designed specifically for the empowerment of women. Such a program would account for the fact that the economic repercussions of crises disproportionately affect women and therefore, help India in securing assistance from its neighbour to address the gendered economic and social effects of the COVID19 pandemic.
Besides, FFP does not only mean considering power structures and managing relations at the global level alone but also evaluating outcomes within the country’s own domestic landscape. In this sense, a FFP could provide India with an important starting point for bringing about an internal shift by focusing more on gender issues, especially in terms of the strictly defined patriarchal gender roles and eliminate barriers that continue to restrict women’s participation in decision-making processes.
An emphasis on women’s participation in India’s leadership positions would in turn catalyse the application a gender lens to the process of domestic policymaking, thereby, achieving comprehensive outcomes that are inclusive of diverse perspectives. Such policies will promote women’s concerns as humanitarian issues, prioritize and safeguard the continuum of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and continue to facilitate the provision of information and education, thus making women better equipped to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
Adding on to these factors, given that the FFP is an all-inclusive approach, its application could also potentially strengthen cooperation between the Indian government and civil society organisations or women’s network at home as well as abroad to manage the pandemic and its deleterious effect on people, especially women. At a time when the government resources are overwhelmed in their fight against the pandemic, greater involvement of civil society organisations can in fact, play a critical role in advocating social justice, women’s rights, social equity, and provide medical and food support, distribution of hygiene kits, spreading awareness about the virus, etc. These efforts could bring about a considerable improvement in women’s vulnerable position under the current Covid19 crisis in India.
As such, the FFP approach offers huge potential to address some the major institutional and organisational injustices against women in India, and the COVID19 pandemic represents a critical juncture in this regards. A FFP is important not only to ensure that the gendered imbalances inflicted by COVID19 do not become permanent but also for the long term economic and social development of the country, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and the advancement of national security as well as peace. But whether India will adopt or even consider moving towards a FFP in the near future remains to be seen.
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