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Acid test for Modi and BJP: Demonetization hits Indian life

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]emonetization essentially means a state deprives people of privileges of using the currency notes as they are withdrawn from circulation. Indian BJP government of Narendra Modi abruptly withdrew currency notes of value Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000, causing an emergency situation of uncertainly in the country.

Indian Hindutva ruling party BJP and its leader PM Narendra Modi seems to be undertaking measures to make over the slide that has taken place in the popular acceptance of the party and its leader by resorting an issue that has caught the attention of Indian masses, namely corruption and black money.

On the evening of 8 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation, announced the demonetization of Rs 500, and Rs 1,000 notes, it gave a sense of hope that India finally would have a government which was taking decisive action against black money and corruption. A slew of steps were announced as well to ease the transition. The prime minister presented a passionate case: “To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the five hundred rupee and thousand rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016…This step will strengthen the hands of the common man in the fight against corruption, black money and fake currency.”

Within minutes, the Modi government’s sudden but big move was extolled, debated, dissected and analyzed; however, the good feeling soon ebbed away leading to panic and anxiety: How to get rid of the old defunct Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes?

In fact, PM Modi has adopted the “surgical strike” on people of Indian to upset the latest trend, first, to join in the media war to make Indian issue look important as US presidential poll, then to help the corporate and transnational lords to use Indian money locked in banks even as Indians are unable to use their money; and, to try for fortunes in the upcoming polls on anti-corruption plank.

However, people are not impressed now as this is the second time that PM Modi has promised extra and free money for the people in their bank accounts This multi-pronged technique has only made people stand in long queues for little money at least, while the rich and corporate lord have other “openings” to continue their money businesses

For politicians, tunnel vision is a deadly handicap. Politics is often the art of making most of the opportunities but exclusive focus on present can erode the possibilities of the future. There is a reason why Narendra Modi fashioned his ludicrously risky demonetization program as a moral fight against corruption. By turning a purely economic exercise into some sort of a political movement, he was hedging against popular backlash. Also, while exhorting citizens to join him in the “war against black money”, he was setting subtle moral traps for his detractors. And most of his rivals walked straight into it.

People are familiar with the notion that an idea is only as good as its implementation. Indian PM, in his zeal for initiating a radical change, seems to have underestimated India’s intrinsic logistical shortcomings. If his idea was a game changer, the implementation — allowing enough room for an operation on this scale and secrecy — has been shocking. Regulations were mended and amended along the way with a clear communication gap emerging between government’s frequent changing of rules and the banks’ ability to cope up with those.

Demonetization idea is made for an ugly spectacle as millions of marginalized and the poor were made to suffer loss of livelihood as they stood in endless queues.

As a useful escape route, the Prime Minister Modi asked for 50 days of hardship but economists say resuscitating the economy to normalcy will likely take several months. It would seem that a leader who has unleashed this amount of mayhem through one fiat, should get ready to pack his bags and take sanyas (retirement) from politics. And yet, despite these hardships, bone-crunching inconveniences whose effect may stretch well beyond 50 days, Modi may emerge as an even stronger leader and put more distance between him and the chasing pack. That is because this is no ordinary inconvenience.

Black money, rent, bribery, permitted mafia

Experts say a good part of Indian money is not genuine but what is dangerous is Indian regime never attempted to clean the money and system that ensures safe passage.

In India, the term “black money” comes with an entire set of cultural and moral connotations beyond the dry definition of “untaxed funds”. Alongside black money there is also dirt money, fake currency floating the system. Both exist and contaminate the system. It carries the baggage of a skewed social order where the rich and the well-connected, for decades, have sucked the poor dry. The licence-permit raj unleashed by the falsified socialist politics of Congress party created a whole bunch of entitled crony capitalists who ran an elaborate, rent-seeking parallel economy, boosting corruption. It leeched away the blood of the poor, but also affected the middle class.

Tired of coping up with a crony corrupt system that serves as an extortion racket every step of the way, the common people have trooped out of the country at first opportunity, robbing it of vital human capital. Maybe that is the state policy as well.

If the poor as well as the salaried now stand solidly behind Modi, it is because they think that the prime minister was “batting” for them, almost single handed, waging an audacious war against this decadal social injustice.

Since 8 November, the lines in front of banks and ATMs have only grown and so has the frustration and helplessness of citizens. While representatives of the government have repeatedly assured that the situation will normalise soon, people are not buying it anymore. Despite the prime minister various members of his Cabinet appealing to the country to focus on the big picture, life for the majority of Indians has been reduced to an endless queue.

Modi knew the power of that appeal and is eager to convert that sympathy into votes.

Promotion of corruption vs using corruption merely to win votes

Congress party, the oldest national party did not think of containing black money because it promoted corruption plus blackmoney and made several congressmen and supporters, among others, millions.

PM Modi’s political rivals have willingly boxed themselves into the wrong side of a ‘good vs evil’ binary. In their overwhelming focus on the immediate, most opposition parties have failed to understand the long game.

Modi refused to attend the parliament session as the cash crisis was to be discussed and he just could not face criticism and does not get to choose his opponents. If he is already winning the political battle, as the BJP claims, despite messy handling of a brilliant idea, he should send Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee a hand-written ‘thank you’ note each.

People are camping overnight outside ATMs and banks. The urban salaried class of India might have moved to a cashless way of life. Thanks to the cab aggregators, payment gateways and mobile apps, surviving without hard cash may not seem to be so daunting. With the persisting cash crunch, it is the good old jugaad that has come to the rescue of many Indians. Mobile recharges in exchange of vegetables, online transfers instead of cash payments are the new norm. But what about thousands others who have never heard of payment gateways and net banking? India is far away from being a cashless society, forget online banking, there are many who don’t have debit cards or even banks accounts. There are senior citizens, who prefer to keep emergency funds at home, instead of making multiple trips to the ATM. Did the government take the plight of these people into account before plunging into this scheme?

Modi government is try8ng to cut the stems without targeting the roots of black money, rent system, bribery, and mafia tentacles affecting economy and finances of common people. Mafias operate literally in every field and control translations.

Anti-black money slogan as poll strategy

During the parliament poll, Modi, the then PM candidate promised to bring all black money from foreign banks and distribute them among the needy Indians in lacs. Obviously, Indian government must have got a lot of black money form abroad but PM Modi has forgotten about this promise to Indians.

Now PM Modi is premising to deposit huge sums to every Indians when back money indoors is tracked. Again pure promises, an Indian promise that is never kept, never questioned. .

PM Modi has an eye on the forthcoming polls in some Indian states. By-elections being held in Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura and Tamil Nadu have assumed significance as the first major ground test for the ruling BJP after demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Voting is underway for by-polls in eight assembly and four Lok Sabha constituencies. According to officials, elaborate arrangements have been made for the smooth conduct of the polls

Tamil Nadu continues to be a strong pro-ruling party AIADMK base and the ongoing p by polls maybe not be different from the results of the recent assembly poll. Polls for Thanjavur and Aravakkurichi and bypoll in Thirupparankundram and in Nellithope constituencies on Saturday. In Aravakkurichi constituency, V Senthil Balaji (AIADMK) and KC Palanisamy (DMK) and in Thanjavur, Anjugham Boopathy (DMK) and M Rengasamy (AIADMK) are among the candidates. In Thirupparankundram, AIADMK has fielded A K Bose, while P Saravanan is the DMK nominee.

Besides, the AIADMK and DMK candidates, PMK, BJP and DMDK and independents are also contesting the polls. The four-party combine, People’s Welfare Front, comprising MDMK, CPI (M), CPI and VCK, has boycotted the polls. The ruling AIADMK is likely to win all seats.

In Puducherry Nellithope assembly constituency, it will be a crucial test for Congress nominee and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy, a non- member of the house, at bypoll when he crosses swords with AIADMK candidate Om Sakthi Segar. Narayanasamy has the support of DMK and VCK while AINRC, whose founder N Narayanasamy is the leader of the opposition, is backing Segar. The bypoll is being held to fill vacancy caused by the resignation of Congress legislator A John Kumar on September 15 to facilitate Narayanasamy, a non-member of the house, to contest the poll and get elected to the assembly to fulfill the constitutional obligation. Narayanasamy became Chief Minister on June 6 and formed a six member ministry under his leadership with the support of DMK (having two members) from outside. The strength of Congress in the 30 member assembly was 15 before John Kumar quit the post of MLA. Narayanasamy is likely to win the seat.

In Assam, by polls in Lakhimpur Lok Sabha constituency and Baithalanso assembly constituency in Assam will decide the electoral fate of eight contestants. In Lakhimpur, the five candidates included Amiya Kumar Handique (CPI-M), Pradan Baruah (BJP), Dr Hema Hari Prasanna Pegu (Cong), Hem Kanta Miri (SUCI-Communist) and Dilip Moran (Independent). 15,11,110 voters are expected to exercise their franchise in 1954 polling stations spread across the Assembly constituencies of Majuli (ST), Naoboicha, Lakhimpur, Dhakuakhana (ST), Dhemaji (ST), Jonai (ST), Chabua, Doomdooma and Sadiya.

By-elections in West Bengal are underway in Cooch Behar and Tamluk Lok Sabha constituencies and in Monteswar Assembly constituency. Ruling Trinamool Congress, BJP, Left Front and Congress have fielded their candidates in all three seats. Although the Congress and CPI (M)-led Left Front had contested the Assembly polls held earlier this year, the two decided to part company in this round of by-elections.

Demonetization became a key issue in the last lap of campaign for the by-polls. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not campaign for the by-polls and left it to the other leaders of her party. TMC MLA and party candidate from Tamluk seat Dibyendu Adhikari told PTI, “Demonetization move has affected every citizen of this country. The common man is suffering.” Demonetization has also impacted our campaign as we are unable to pay the decorators, sound organizers. In Tamluk, most of the rural areas still don’t have proper banking facilities, what will the poor farmers do?” he asked.

According CPI (M) and Congress leaders, demonetization has all of a sudden come up as an issue for the polls as they are receiving feedback that people are inconvenienced due to the new decision. CPI (M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said demonetization became a prominent issue as the people faced huge problems and added that the situation was much worse in rural areas.

The BJP, on the other hand, said that by-elections would be a litmus test for political parties. “It’s not a question of black money or white money. All of a sudden if you scrap high value notes how will you meet various expenditures for the campaign,” Congress candidate from Monteswar Bulbul Ahmed Sheikh said.

By-election in Cooch Behar was necessitated by the death of TMC MP Renuka Sinha while the by-election in Tamluk in East Medinipur district was caused by the resignation of TMC MP Suvendu Adhikari who also won the Assembly poll and joined the state cabinet as transport minister. The bypoll to Monteswar Assembly seat in Burdwan district is due to death of TMC MLA Sajal Panja.

All these constituencies are likely to return the ruling TMC candidates.

By-elections in Madhya Pradesh are being held in Shahdol Lok Sabha constituency and Nepanagar assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh. Thirty companies (15 each) of armed police forces have been deployed in the two constituencies to provide security during the polling. “Over 4,000 EVMs will be used to seal the fate of the candidates. The EVMs also carry the photographs of the candidates to facilitate the voters,” the official said.

While Congress has fielded Himadri Singh, daughter of former union minister Dalbir Singh and ex-MP Rajesh Nandini Singh, from Shahdol Lok Sabha seat, the BJP has given ticket to tribal leader Gyan Singh, a senior minister in Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s cabinet from the reserved seat. The Shahdol bypoll was necessitated due to death of BJP MP Dalpat Singh Paraste. In Nepanagar, Congress has reposed faith in tribal leader Antar Singh Barde, while BJP has fielded Manju Dadu, daughter of late MLA Rajendra Shyamlal Dadu, whose death caused by an accident, necessitated the by-poll to cash in on the sympathy vote. Besides these prominent names, several other candidates have also filed their nominations for the by-polls.

Communist Party of India’s Parmeshwar Singh Porte, Lok Janshakti Party’s Krishna Pal Singh Pavel, Gondwana Gantantra Party’s Hirasingh Markm and Apna Dal’s Sajjan Singh Paraste, among others are in the fray for the Shahdol LS seat. The counting of votes will take place on November 22 and the entire poll process will be completed by November 24.

By-polls in Tripura in two Tripura Assembly seats – Barjala and Khowai – began on a peaceful note amidst tight security. For purposes of peaceful polling nine companies of central paramilitary forces, including Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed in the two constituencies and their adjoining areas. State forces, including Tripura State Rifles and state police have also been deployed. The Election Commission has appointed three central observes to oversee the polling in the two seats.

The Barjala (SC reserved) seat fell vacant following the resignation of Congress MLA Jitendra Sarkar due to internal squabble in the party, while the death of veteran CPI-M leader Samir Deb necessitated the by-poll in Khowai seat. At Barjala constituency a multi-cornered electoral battle is on with five candidates of BJP, CPI-M, Trinamool Congress, Congress and Amra Bangali in the fray. Khowai seat too has contestants from the same parties in the ring. A total of 39,007 voters will exercise their franchise in 48 polling stations in Barjala assembly constituency, while in Khowai seat 39400 electorate will cast their votes in 52 polling stations.

Financial terrorism

A prescient politician is one who reads the game better than others. Post his Japan trip, Modi addressed three back-to-back rallies in different parts of the country and asked his cabinet colleagues and party workers not to worry about the political fallout of the move since “the people are with us”. The problem for the opposition was to find a way past the binary and ensure that BJP doesn’t run away with the credit for launching war against corruption. Except Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, the others badly failed in the job.

While Kumar and Patnaik carefully avoided the trap by welcoming the move and waited patiently for the government to trip up, the pack of Congress, Left, TMC, RJD, SP, BSP and AAP tore into Modi. In a high-pitched campaign filled with shrill rhetoric they alleged that the Prime Minister has leaked information selectively to his “friends”, insinuating that he is morally corrupted and called his currency ban program a “big scam”.

The Left taunted him as “Modi Antoinette”, Congress compared him to Muammar Gaddafi, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, compared the stress-related deaths due to demonetization program to Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks on Uri.

That is economic or financial terrorism.

Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee have taken a more confrontational stance, demanding that Modi roll back the move “within three days or else face revolt and unrest.”

Supreme Court criticizes the state move

The demonetization issue has affected lives of common people so much that even the Supreme Court, while refusing to stay the government’s notification demonetizing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, has asked it to spell out the steps taken to minimize public inconvenience. “We will not be granting any stay,” a bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and D Y Chandrachud said. The remarks were made after some advocates insisted on a stay. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the petitioners, however, said he was not asking for a stay on the notification but seeking answers from the government about the steps taken to remove public inconvenience. The bench asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to file an affidavit about the measures already undertaken by the government and the RBI to minimize public inconvenience and also the steps likely to be undertaken in future.

Without issuing any notice to the Centre or the RBI, the bench posted the matter for further hearing on November 25. During the hearing, the Chief Justice said the objective seems to be laudable “but there is some inconvenience also to the public at large.” The bench also said “You (Centre) can have surgical strike against black money but you cannot have surgical strike against people of the country.

The Centre which had filed a caveat in the matter, sought dismissal of the petitions challenging demonetization on several grounds including that they were “misconceived”. Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, outlined the idea behind demonetization and said large number of fake currency has been used to finance terrorism in various parts of the country including in Jammu and Kashmir and northeastern states. He, however, agreed with the bench that some inconvenience to common citizens occurs as this kind of “surgical strike” is bound to have “some kind of collateral damage”. He also said there were as many as 24 crore bank accounts including 22 crore opened under the ‘Jan Dhan Scheme’ and the Centre was hopeful to “ramp up” the outflow of the cash to banks, post offices and two lakh ATMs across the country. “Two lakh ATM machines could not have been deliberated in advance to be in tune with new notes as the cash would have been out of the banks,” Rohatgi said, adding that “secrecy is the key to such actions”.

There were approximately one lakh branches of various banks and two lakh ATMs besides the post offices across the country to dispense cash to common people and the restriction on withdrawal is there to ensure that the money be paid to maximum number of people. Supreme Court summed up the submission contending that there was no legal basis for opposing the Centre’s move to demonetize the higher denomination currency notes aimed at “catching big fish” which the previous governments failed to do in last 50 years. He said the Centre has complied with section 26(2) of the RBI Act and the present “surgical strike has to be seen in the context of safety and security of the nation, its border, and financial terrorism unleashed through fake currency.” “The attack is on those who have stashed huge amount of currency,” he said, adding that the surgical strike of this nature has to be carried out in complete secrecy and it was not possible to come out with Rs 10 lakh crore of currency in one go as there was a need for recalibration of ATM machines across the country.

The AG was assisted by a team of lawyers, including two Additional Solicitors General, and a senior official from the Finance Ministry. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the petitioners Adil Alvi, said the petition has also challenged the constitutional validity of the notification as the provision of the Reserve Bank of India Act has not been complied with. He referred to section 26(2) of the Act and said the government was not authorised to demonetize all series of currency notes of high denominations in one go.

There has to be legislation if the government wants to demonetize the entire series of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, Sibal said, adding that in 1978, a law was brought to demonetize the currency notes of particular denominations. Sibal then highlighted the inconvenience faced by the common people in getting their own money from banks and ATMs and said it was a “surgical strike against the common man.” The apex court, on November 10, had agreed to hear pleas against the November 8 decision of the Narendra Modi government that these notes are no longer a legal tender. Out of the four PILs on the demonetization issue, two were filed by Delhi-based lawyers Vivek Narayan Sharma and Sangam Lal Pandey, while two others were filed by individuals, S Muthukumar and Adil Alvi.

The petitioners had alleged that the sudden decision has created chaos and harassment to public at large and the notification of the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance be either quashed or deferred for some time. Sharma, in his plea, had termed the notification of DEA as “dictatorial”, claiming that it did not grant reasonable time to citizens for exchanging the specified bank notes to legitimate notes to avoid “large scale mayhem, life threatening difficulties”. The plea also sought either quashing of the notification or a direction to the Centre for grant of “reasonable time frame” to citizens to exchange the demonetized currency notes to avoid difficulties being faced by the people. The Prime Minister, in a televised address to the nation, had declared that high denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 will no longer be legal tender from November 8-9 midnight. He had said the Government has declared a “decisive war” against black money and corruption.

Severe cash crunch compels citizens to seek psychiatric help

Demonetization, besides causing lot of commotion, troubles, financial difficulties, also caused serious psychological problems for the people who suffer traumatic issues. Many young people have approached psychiatrists for treatment. In many cases, worried families are bringing their aggrieved members to psychiatrists for crisis intervention. A father whose daughter’s wedding is fixed in November came to meet Dr C Suresh, a psychiatrist at Yashoda Hospital, this week. He was undergoing acute stress due to his inability to access his own money kept in the bank. This was before the government relaxed the withdrawal limit to Rs 2.5 lakh for a wedding. “I counseled him that he will get his money back, told him that this is for nation building. In this case, I had to give him a tranquilizer to calm his mind because he was very nervous,” says Suresh. Another patient, who had applied for a US visa, got panic attacks because of the situation and was slipping into a depressed state of mind.

Psychiatrists say the feeling of happiness, contentment, and well-being is controlled by a chemical called serotonin. Its levels dip when the mind is under acute stress. They warn that a prolonged spell of disruption and worry could lead to impulse control disorder, which is an urge that could harm oneself or others.

Experts say this is a new experience for mainland India as it is not used to an unstable economy or a situation in which rationing of some kind takes place. News is being consumed far more than usual for the latest updates. The government’s decision to change the withdrawal limit thrice in the last ten days has +led to doubts if it knows the roadmap well.

Psychiatrists believe that the present crisis has also led to a trust deficit, with everyone suspecting the other of stashing unaccounted cash.

The fabric of trust is slowly broken, which is not good for society in the long run.’ Experts say it is important for this crisis to get over in a week or two. Already many are resorting to obsessive hoarding of Rs 100 notes, which is a disorder arising out of frustration. Tempers are running high and the Supreme Court has already cautioned the government, rightly, that there could be riots on the streets if the currency is not provided in the banks soon.

Observations: triclomacy won’t work for ever

The results of the recent by polls in states do not suggest any hopes for the BJP and Modi, except that they have retained their own seats but the BJP and Congress ruled states need a third alternative to save India and people.

Upon criticism by the Apex Court the Modi government released some Rs 100 and Rs 50 and Rs 20 notes to somewhat relax popular difficulties

Obviously, no proper home work has been done, even considering the seriousness of the government, for the proper implementation but only money is being gathered in banks to promote the corporate lords and transnational bosses globally as government and private sector jointly exploit the confusion among the masses.

Shortage of money is bad. Markets turned empty, small businesses were majorly hit while ATMs stayed out of service, cooperative banks fell silent, banks and post offices neared implosion as public appeared fast approaching the end of their mental tethers.

People are made to think inconveniences that seem insurmountable now will slowly ease over time. Small business enterprises that have come to a screeching halt will eventually move again. ATMs will have their queues shortened and banks will, at some point in near future, see lesser footfalls and more IPL type games adding more black money to the market.

A time will come when the disorder will dissipate, but the opposition will find that in the “war against corruption”, they tried to create hurdles in Modi’s path. That would make for a gripping political narrative.

Normalcy is still some distance away and the lines are not shortening anytime soon but even at the height of discontent when cash was short and tempers were high, people never wavered from backing the drive. They were hit on the chin and bleeding but they wiped the blood and carried on, imposing full faith in the Prime Minister.

Polls conducted among 10,000 citizens from across 200 citizens of India since the demonetization reveal public support for the Prime Minister’s drive remains high.

Strange as it may seem to many, a report by news agency ANI finds that support for the government’s demonetization program has increased during the last week as people want to see a corruption free and black money free India. . According to the report, a portion of the citizens who were unsure and the ones who did not support the note ban are now coming out in support. The survey by LocalCircles found that in the week after Modi’s announcement, 78 per cent citizens backed the demonetization.

That was upwardly revised to 79 per cent in a follow-up poll after a week on 15 November, indicating that even as hardships increased, more and more people kept backing the PM. A survey was also done separately online in 13 states. More than 80 percent citizens in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Telangana offered unconditional support whereas over 25 per cent citizens in states like Uttarakhand, Goa and Odisha said that that they are supportive of the program despite pain and inconvenience.

Whether or not PM Modi and his BJP-RSS partners are trying to burn their fingers is not clear as yet but if they fail to achieve the stated objectives, their future status would be very, very bleak.

Already, the image of BJP as a purely patriotic outfit and PM Modi as a deliverer of justice and money has been declining over time and it is in the negative as people indeed do not trust them as well. .

While Indians seriously doubt sincerity of PM Modi and his BJP-RSS, they also do not want to return to Congress fold even by mistake.

The political outfits with Hindutva agenda are at a crossroads. Whether or not they would give up fanaticism and gimmicks in favor of realpolitik remains to be seen.

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South Asia

October 27th: The Tyranny Continues in Kashmir

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October 27 marks the beginning of Indian Occupation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is forever scarred in the collective minds of the Kashmiri people as the day they became occupied.

The Kashmir conflict began in 1846 with the illegal, immoral and inhumane sale of the historic state of Jammu and Kashmir to a non-Kashmiri Dogra family for services rendered to the British Raj. From that point, onwards, Kashmiri’s have long for self-determination. Yet, tragically, their legitimate aspirations were crushed with the grotesque, irregular and illegal ascension, by the brutal foreign ruler Maharaja Hari Singh who did not have the consent of the people.  With the arrival of Indian soldiers – the historic Black Day of Occupation begins its most recent and insidious manifestation.

The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir obtained independence on August 15, 1947, when British paramountcy lapsed.  At that moment, under international law as understood by Indian National Congress, The Muslim League and Great Britain, sovereignty in Kashmir devolved on its peoples, not its autocratic Maharaja.  Indeed, Kashmir was beset by wholesale domestic revolt against the Maharaja when independence arrived, and widened in the initial months thereafter. To save his despotism from collapse, the Maharaja requested the assistance of the Indian military on October 27, 1947, after ostensibly signing an Instrument of Accession to that nation. British Scholar, Alistair Lamb has convincingly demonstrated that the Instrument of Accession was as bogus as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the Donation of Constantine.  An original has never been found, and there is no plausible explanation for a disappearance if an original had ever existed. 

The people of Kashmir are constantly reminded of the resolution # 47, adopted on April 21, 1948 that states that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the territory. This resolution was agreed upon by both India & Pakistan, negotiated by the United Nations and accepted by the Security Council.

Ambassador Warren Austin of the United States said it the best in the Security Council on January 24, 1948, “…When India accepted the accession of Kashmir, it made its act stand for a great principle by stating as a part of the acceptance, that it was conditional on fair plebiscite being held to determine the will of the people of Kashmir with respect to accession. I think an example was made in history at that point.”

India, however, was soon undeceived of its delusions over Kashmir’s political yearning. Recognizing that its people would never freely vote accession to India, it contrived excuse after excuse to frustrate a plebiscite. When the United Nations proposed arbitration, a reference to the World Court, or any other method of resolving minor demilitarization quarrels, India nixed them all. After a few years, it dropped all pretense of acceding to a referendum by unilaterally proclaiming its annexation of Kashmir. India’s proclamation has never been accepted by the United Nations, which continues to list Kashmir as a disputed territory who future status is yet to be determined by its people.

History proved the British Prime Minister Clement Richard Atlee wrong when he said on November 7, 1947, “…he (Pandit Nehru) undertook that the will of the people should be ascertained, and he proposed that this should be done under the authority and supervision of the United Nations…I can’t believe that Mr. Nehru’s pledges have the sinister implications.”

India’s creepy design was also confirmed by Bertrand Russell who said in 1964 “ The high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaks down completely when confronted with the question of Kashmir.”

So, a false narrative was concocted by India, out of nothing more than thin air, in a vain attempt to intellectually subjugate a people. This challenge is most serious, since it resonates, even today with more vigour. How often do we hear outlandish statements like, ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’? These statements do not exist in a vacuum. They are loaded and violent. This form of violence is more insidious, more difficult to confront, for it is attempting to indoctrinate Kashmiris about their past, their present and direct them to a future that does not belong to them.  They had become the objects of history rather than the masters of it.

Another serious challenge that people of Kashmir face, when attempts are made to confine the Kashmir dispute to a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan as if Kashmiris were inconsequential. This charade of sorts represents an outrageous attempt to restrict discussions of Kashmir, to India and Pakistan to the exclusion of the most important party to the conflict – the people of Kashmir.  Today, this strikingly ignorant political strategy has collapsed after the Abrogation of Article 370 & 35 A on August 5, 2019 and no longer is considered an honest initiative for resolving the Kashmir dispute. It has not achieved any of its desired objectives of bettering relations or resolving Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination. It is evident that this policy has proven a colossal failure. If, in more than 73 years, the ‘bilateral masquerade’ has produced nothing more than cheap photo opportunities, then it is better to once and for all, put this show to an end.

The world powers and the saner elements in both India and Pakistan need to realize that the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan have always remained barren. And trilateral dialogue between Governments of India, Pakistan and the leadership of Kashmir — without any precondition from any side — is the only way to resolve the issue of Kashmir once for all. Participation of Kashmiri leadership in the dialogue process is the sine qua non that will help to achieve the lasting peace and tranquility in the region of South Asia.

In fact, a ‘Kashmir Quartet’ should be established that includes Kashmir, Pakistan, China, and India. Moreover, outside intervention and mediation should include the United Nations. The chairmanship of the Kashmir Quartet mediation should be undertaken by a person of international stature, such as Kjell Bondevik former prime minister of Norway or President Mary Robinson of Ireland.

Today, the challenge before us is that a new generation in Kashmir has been raised with blood and tears for which death no longer poses a threat for what can death do that life has not done before: their suffering is freeing them from fear. Kashmiris’ fearlessness has led to the powerful protests and the largest demonstrations in recent years. The presence of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Srinagar, marching towards the office of the UNMOGIP, is a proof that the freedom struggle is not a terroristic movement but a movement that is indigenous, spontaneous, peaceful and popular. 

Now, is the time that Mr. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations brings the situation in Kashmir to the attention of the Security Council under the provision of the Article 99 of the United Nations Charter. It is here in the region of South Asia that not two but three nuclear powers have been eyeball to eyeball for the last one-year? The Article 99 authorizes the Secretary General to ‘bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’.  If not now, then when can Article 99 be invoked to bring peace and stability to the region of South Asia.

The UN Secretary General should listen to Mr. Gross, US Ambassador to the UN who said in the Security Council on December 5, 1952, we feel that it is the role of the Security Council to assist the parties in seeking to reach agreement.

So, now is no time for complacency or temporizing.  And the chilling suffering and misery of the Kashmiri people continues every day a peaceful resolution is deferred.

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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South Asia

Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

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The continuous geopolitical blame game between India and China hasn’t witnessed any positive development with respect to either sides pulling back their respective troops, dragging the recent skirmish even further till winter.

In 45 years, India for the first time has witnessed a conflict-like situation vis-a vis China which witnessed the martyrdom of 20 troops on June 15thand rounds of shot firing in the LAC where the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed about the PLA first initiating the firing ,after which the two sides have constantly held each other responsible for increased tensions whereas India has tremendously shown goodwill, hopefulness and looking at many factors to keep the ties stable. The year 2020 was supposed to be the 70th Anniversary of Sino-India Cultural ties where unfortunately, the celebrations were overshadowed with this recent border mishap.

The Himalayan Chess- Game

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s scepticism on the territorial claims and debate on Aksai Chin are not new, which has its roots to the abrogation of article 370, the recently changed rule declaring Ladakh as an integral portion of the Indian Union was unfavourable to the Chinese side, reiterating about India getting into a strategic misadventure by violating their own territorial sovereignty and national interest and the former justifying on those and trying to flex its muscles in the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, Kongka La, Depsang.

Border infrastructure is becoming a new method for these two aspiring Asian powers to assert their economic cum political interests with respect to further claiming of territories leading to the road towards being victorious, where the Indian side has further increased its focus viewing the strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood .by providing 8 bridge infrastructure projects each  in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh , which India requires to ensure easy connectivity in harsher terrains, promote tourism, distance reduction in order to reduce time for movement of goods to ensure welfare and safety for troops and natives residing in high terrains which again China suspiciously looked at in its counter statement, blatantly opposing any infrastructure in disputed boundary.

Notable defence experts, Victor Gao and Prem Shankhar Jha, opined that China is aiming at a strategic bargain and believe that this move of the Indian side developing infrastructure in Ladakh could be a counter to the Chinese G219 highway , covering a distance of 179 km connecting Xinjiang and Tibet which is in close proximity with Daulat Beg Oldi, where a 450 metre bridge over the Shlyok river was constructed last year which was only accessible by air before the construction of this project .

Amidst this prolonged crisis, 7 rounds of the India China Military Commander Meetings were held on a frequent basis at the Line Of Actual Control, in order to maintain tranquillity, peace, further enhancement of mutual understandings and deterrence to reduce the chances of an armed conflict, nevertheless there has been no proper agreement and the troops aren’t stepping out from their current positions either side.

Also, even the recent Moscow visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister, Mr. S Jaishankar in September for meeting their respective counterparts, haven’t been completely fruitful where they have also held discussions on showing respect towards each other on territorial claims and not cause these ties to deteriorate towards an upper trend which means that no country wants to compromise on its territorial claims and any change in status quo, which has led to unprecedented uncertainty in the relations as of now.

CCP Apprehensions of an Alliance

Chinese scholar, Fu Xiaoqiang , in his article, stated about India creating unnecessary tensions in the border leading to further straining of relations which are motivated by selfish political agendas. He also felt that India is being persuaded by the US to join an alliance like structure such as the Quadrilateral Initiative and set preferences with respect to choosing friendships with countries such as Japan and Australia, which have a common perception likewise India, regarding China as a potential competitor in the region.

Currently, China is fearing any conflict or alliance like structure with respect to its role in spreading the pandemic for which it was hiding its strategy, due to which these justifications are being used by Xi Jinping to protect his own image in the masses so that no crisis or dissent arises which could put the Communist Party’s survival and reputation at stake at a time where he is being questioned about the corruption and internal party pressure. There is a reason behind why China is involved in scapegoating on this conflict to show an innocent and a positive image by blaming Indian politicians using nationalism to mobilise the public, narrating their growth story, ideology, rich historical as well as cultural heritage, where the same goes for the dragon’s promotion of their nationalism  as well.

Alliances are important for India but they will take time to come in support if any mishap takes place in the neighbourhood, keeping India under uncertainty with regards to its strategic autonomy, it was following for many decades.  These alliances can be useful only to deter an enemy organising territorial strikes and put the latter on check creating some amount of fear and introspection.

Recently, steps have been undertaken by the Indian government to ban Chinese products and apps due to surveillance plus information threats in security. It is looking towards making itself self-reliant (aatmanirbhar) to reduce any more dependence on countries which have their own interests which could change anytime, if it doesn’t suit them which could be seen through India’s past experiences, where the same mistakes can’t be repeated again like 1962 or 1975, at a time when the multipolar world is moving towards Asian multi-polarity where China is currently at an edge.

Concluding Points

The Chinese feel that the ball is in India’s game to choose between the have’s or have not’s while looking at the opportunity costs involved .The dragon is basically assessing the elephant’s capability and coping strategies in the winter, leading the standoff to be extended even further for which it is crucial for India to enhance its capacity in order to build up on its equipment, give support to the troops and further focus towards economic development in the borders.

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