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South India: Dravidian parties outmaneuver other parties in Tamil Nadu

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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.[8] 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.

Anti-Hindi agitation

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.

Economic gains

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?

Poll message

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.

Observation

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]

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South Asia

Status of Minorities in Pakistan

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In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression. 

Forced Conversions: A chronic problem 

On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities. 

Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free. 

Blasphemy Laws 

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge. 

These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed. 

Subpar Standard of Living

While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today. 

While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas. 

Missed Opportunity 

Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various

International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities. 

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South Asia

Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute

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Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West  Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly  95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of  Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth  longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.

In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of  9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of  Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for  their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under  cultivation in Bangladesh.

This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s  when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river.  Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River  Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.

The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led  to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the  hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.

Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an  equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same  have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.

The Dispute

A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and  September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves  way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water  could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta  Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact  the water-flow available in the state.

The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since  water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas  Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).

Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh  makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them.  Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created  siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.

However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried  up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue  which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.

In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed  to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent.  The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint  Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint  Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with  a solution.

In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the  needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will  have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter  expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.

In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India,  Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister  of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of  the river’s water to Bangladesh.

Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but  they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been  continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!

Main Problem

Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of  the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower  generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian  country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even  Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and  irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the  availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just  Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability  of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and  local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing  scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the  mountainous regions of Sikkim.

Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held  responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the  environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river,  which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed,  including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation,  increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.

Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted  by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due  to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5  per cent of the river’s running water.

Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube  wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also,  reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused  widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding. 

The Perspective Of Institutional Economics

The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just  about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India  consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about  the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up  the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower  projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the  environmental concerns altogether.

Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about  using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own  that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot  allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore,  none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state  to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’  signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other  state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.

This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of  property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility  others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of  economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks  about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says  that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come  and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions  have different ecosystems.

Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’  and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local  communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly  effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses  of political ecology.

Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute

Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes  this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is  characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we  live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings  themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.

Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political  processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It  also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw  this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social  processes.

David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon  of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations  between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers  are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of  the industrial development.

Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand,  while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the  hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand,  local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social,  cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development  and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!

Conclusion

The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and  industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities  concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through  the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it  continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local  communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are  losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the  major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose  course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are  dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is  the politics!

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South Asia

As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad

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The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.

Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.

The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.

India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.

India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.

Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.

New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.

Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.

The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.

The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.

With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.

The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.

Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.

The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.

All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.

The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.

With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.

Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.

The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.

Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.

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