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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

The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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Source: Twitter

The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.

The dilemmas are as follows:

I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.

Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.

The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.

There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in.  It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.

II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.  

Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.

If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.

A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA.  Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will  stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.

But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.

In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out  only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893  do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)

[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.

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How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?

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The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.  

Gunpoint diplomacy

A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.

The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.

During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.

A buffer zone

Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.

Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.

The treacherous annexation of Manipur

The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.

Colonisation of Nagaland

The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.

The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.

The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Mizoram

Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.

Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.

Tripura

In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.

A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.

Concluding remark

After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.

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South Asia

The myth of “shared values”

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PM Narendra Modi and US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a press statement. (Photo: Twitter/@MEAIndia)

The Indian prime minister’s visit to the USA underlines a paradigm shift in the United States’ policy: a shift from Europe to Asia. The shift is dictated by India’s constant pressure on the US to do its part of the quid pro quo for India’s joining the Quad, a conglomerate to corner China. Like the USA, India also is embarrassed at the fall of Kabul. India wants that the Taliban would shut their eyes to the reign of terror in the occupied Kashmir. In its disappointment, the USA, like a rueful baby, is doing everything on India’s bidding to further isolate Pakistan.

Still the portents are that not everything is hunky-dory with Indo-US relations. The US wants India to cancel its deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US has given India a muffled message that unless the deal is cancelled India may face sanctions. India is hopeful of getting a waiver.After all, India became a member of the nuclear club without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has been a recipient of the US favours in the past also.  In July 2003 India turned down the US request to provide 17,000 troops to shore up America’s war in Iraq. Then, India under prime minister Manmohan Singh also refused to support any US attempts to isolate or topple the Iran government. Manmohan wished Russian diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme would succeed.The US companies have invested $ 200 billion in China. Yet, she is perceived as the number one competitor to the US. The reason is that China may surpass the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth in the near future.

US ennui
To Modi’s chagrin, the US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris underscored the importance of democratic values in their meetings. Biden quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance to allude to prevailing intolerance of BJP’s government, an avatar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Harris stressed the need for democratic countries to “defend democratic principles and institutions. Her remarks amounted to a diplomatic nudge to the Indian leadership amid concerns about “democratic backsliding” in India (Freedom house and the Economist downgraded India).
Before Biden and Modi joined their delegations for bilateral talks, the US President had made opening remarks: “Our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are…. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including four million Indian Americans who make the United States stronger every single day.”
Harris said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House: “As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home.
She had earlier openly differed on Twitter with Jaishanker when he refused to attend a meeting with the House foreign affairs committee because the US legislators had rejected his request to exclude Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had been critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had tweeted in December 2019.
Shared values
As for “tolerance”, the US invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan leave no doubt about how much the US believes in what it professes.

India’s democratic “tolerance”

Since British raj days, India’s north east had been a simmering cauldron of freedom movements. British colonists held sway over the North East at gun point. In footsteps of the British colonists India suppressed freedom movements in the volatile North East through a slew of draconian laws. The most atrocious law applied to the region was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It was later extended to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state also.

The AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.   AFSPA has been used in these regions to inflict thousands of deaths, custodial deaths and rape, torture, encirclement of the civilian population, combing operations, looting of private citizen’s property etc. Thousands of youth have simply disappeared.

Onus of proof on the accused

The AFSPA holds an accused guilty until proven innocent. This law violates legal maxim Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“innocent until proven guilty”).

A quasi-emergency

A governor of an Indian state could through a notification declare a state to be “disturbed” without consulting the state legislature. The law gives armed forces immunity from any accountability. The law is not “in aid of civil authority” but “in place of civil authority”.

Powers of officers

Section 4 gives the following special powers to any commissioned officer, warrant officer or non commissioned officer of the armed forces in a disturbed area: (a) If in his opinion, it is necessary for maintenance for public order to fire even to the extent of causing death or otherwise use force against a person who is acting in contravention of an order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapon. (b) If in his opinion, it is necessary to destroy any arms dump or fortified position, any shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, and any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed gangs or absconders. (c) Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and to use whatever force is necessary to affect the arrest. (d) To enter and search without warrant any premises to make an arrest or to recover any person wrongfully confined or to recover any arms, ammunition, explosive substance or suspected stolen property.

Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, ‘All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts’.

A war against own people

The act applies toacts that are ‘likely to be made’ or ‘about to be committed’. This presumption is characteristic of war zones. In a war situation, any officer whether he is a commissioned, junior commissioned or non-commissioned officer-leading his men in the field is the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments.

The AFSPA grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill. Thus it violates the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people. The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). India signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.

Concluding remark

India is often called “the world’s largest democracy” by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people.  In truth, Indian democracy is in name only, not in substance. The “shared values” are a ruse.  

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