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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essentially means a state deprives people of privileges of using the currency notes as they are withdrawn from circulation.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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India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present

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In the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the personal predilections of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his protégé VK Krishna Menon, both influenced by British socialism. Nehru himself handled the external affairs portfolio until his death in 1964.

The policy of ‘non-alignment’ which the duo initiated in India’s foreign policy gained world-wide attention since early 1950s, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (NAM) that consisted of developing and newly decolonised nations from different parts of the world, primarily from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But, the policy never meant isolationism or neutrality; rather it was conceived as a positive and constructive policy in the backdrop of the US-USSR Cold War, enabling freedom of action in foreign and security policies, even though many of the individual NAM member states had a tilt towards the Soviet Union, including India.

However, the lofty Nehruvian idealism of India’s foreign policy in its initial decades was not successful enough in integrating well into India’s security interests and needs, as it lost territories to both China and Pakistan during the period, spanning 1947 to 1964.

However, when Indira Gandhi assumed premiership, realism had strongly gained ground in India’s political, diplomatic and military circles, as evident in India’s successful intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Even at that point of time, India still sticked on to the policy of non-alignment until it was no longer feasible in a changed international system that took shape following the end of the Cold War, which is where the origins of a new orientation in India’s foreign policy decision-making termed as ‘multi-alignment’ lies.

Today, India skilfully manoeuvres between China-led or Russia-led groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with its involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad), in which Japan and Australia are also members.

Militarily though, India is still not part of any formal treaty alliance, and is simultaneously part of a diverse network of loose and issue-specific coalitions and regional groupings, led by adversarial powers, with varying founding objectives and strategic imperatives.

Today, non-alignment alone can no longer explain the fact that recently India took part in a US-chaired virtual summit meeting of the Quad in March 2021 and three months later attended a BRICS ministerial meet, where China and Russia were also present.

So, how did India progress from its yesteryear policy of remaining equidistant from both the US-led and Soviet-led military blocs (non-alignment) and how did it begin to align with multiple blocs or centres of power (multi-alignment)? Answer to this question stretches three decades back.

World order witness a change, India adapts to new realities

1992 was a watershed year for Indian diplomacy. A year back, the Soviet Union, a key source of economic and military support for India till then, disappeared in the pages of history, bringing the Cold War to its inevitable end.

This brought a huge vacuum for India’s strategic calculations. Combined with a global oil shock induced by the First Gulf War of 1990 triggered a balance of payment crisis in India, which eventually forced the Indian government to liberalise and open up its economy for foreign investments and face competition.

India elected a pragmatic new prime minister in 1991 – PV Narasimha Rao. The vision he had in mind for India’s standing in the world was quite different from his predecessors. Then finance minister and later PM, Dr Manmohan Singh announced in the Indian Parliament, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

This was during his 1991 budget speech and it marked the beginning of building a new India where excessive control of the state on economic and business affairs seemed no longer a viable option.

At a time when Japan’s economy was experiencing stagnation, China was ‘peacefully rising’, both economically and industrially. The United States remained as the most influential power and security provider in Asia with its far-reaching military alliance network.

As the unipolar world dawned proclaiming the supremacy of the United States, PM Rao steered Indian foreign policy through newer pastures, going beyond traditional friends and partners like Russia.

In another instance, 42 years after India recognised Israel as an independent nation in 1950, both countries established formal diplomatic ties in 1992. Indian diplomats accomplished a task long overdue without affecting the existing amicable ties with Palestine.

In the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it is worth noting that India took a more balanced stance at the United Nations, which was different from its previous stances that reflected an open and outright pro-Palestine narrative.

Today, India values its ties with Israel on a higher pedestal, even in areas beyond defence and counter-terrorism, such as agriculture, water conservation, IT and cyber security.

Breaking the ice with the giant across the Himalayas

China is a huge neighbour of India with which its shares a 3,488-km long un-demarcated border. Skirmishes and flare-ups resulting from difference in perception of the border and overlapping patrolling areas are a regular occurrence in this part of the world.

For the first time after the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a daunting defeat for India, diplomatic talks for confidence-building in the India-China border areas were initiated by the Rao government in 1993, resulting in the landmark Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the defacto border between India and China.

The agreement also provided a framework for ensuring security along the LAC between both sides until a final agreement on clear demarcation of the border is reached out. The 1993 agreement created an expert group consisting of diplomats and military personnel to advise the governments on the resolution of differences in perception and alignment of the LAC. The pact was signed in Beijing in September 1993, during PM Rao’s visit to China.

Former top diplomat of India Shivshankar Menon noted in one of his books that the 1993 agreement was “the first of any kind relating specifically to the border between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China … It formalized in an international treaty a bilateral commitment by India and China to maintain the status quo on the border. In effect, the two countries promised not to seek to impose or enforce their versions of the boundary except at the negotiating table.”

The 1993 pact was followed by another one in 1996, the Agreement on Military Confidence-Building Measures. The following two decades saw a number of agreements being signed and new working mechanisms being formalized, even though two major standoffs occurred in the Ladakh sector in 2013 and 2020 respectively and one in between in the Sikkim sector in 2017.

The agreements served as the basis upon which robust economic ties flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, before turning cold as a result of Chinese aggression of 2020 in Ladakh. However, the 1993 agreement still was a landmark deal as we consider the need for peace in today’s increasingly adversarial ties between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Integrates with Asia’s regional architecture

Before the early 1990s, India’s regional involvements to its east remained limited to its socio-cultural ties, even though the region falls under India’s extended neighbourhood, particularly Southeast Asia. But, since 1992, when the Look East Policy (LEP) was formulated under the Rao government, India has been venturing into the region to improve its abysmal record of economic and trade ties with countries the region.

New Delhi began reaching out to the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1992 and was made a Sectoral Partner of the association in the same year. Thus, India kicked-off the process of its integration into the broader Asian regional architecture.

In 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a key platform for talks on issues of security in the wider Indo-Pacific region. India became ASEAN’s summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012.

A free trade agreement (FTA) was agreed between ASEAN and India in 2010. And in 2014, the erstwhile LEP was upgraded into the Act East Policy (AEP). Today, the ASEAN region remains at the centre of India’s evolving Indo-Pacific policy.

Bonhomie with the superpower across the oceans, the United States

1998 was an important year, not just for India, but for the world. Until May that year, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council possessed nuclear capabilities. That year, ‘Buddha smiled again’ in the deserts of India’s Rajasthan state, as India under PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee successfully conducted a series of underground nuclear bomb tests, declaring itself a nuclear state, 24 years after its first nuclear test in 1974 code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’.

The move surprised even the US intelligence agencies, as India managed to go nuclear by bypassing keen US satellite eyes that were overlooking the testing site. Shortly after this, Pakistan also declared itself a nuclear state.

India’s nuclear tests invited severe international condemnation for New Delhi and badly affected its relationship with Washington, resulting in a recalling of its Ambassador to India and imposed economic sanctions, which was a big blow for India’s newly liberalised economy.

But, a bonhomie was reached between India and the US in a matter of two years and then US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, the first presidential visit since 1978. The Indo-US Science and technology Forum was established during this visit and all the sanctions were revoked by following year.

Bharat Karnad, a noted Indian strategic affairs expert, notes in one his books that, “Vajpayee’s regime conceived of ‘strategic autonomy’ to mask its cultivating the US, which resulted in the NSSP”.

The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the US and India was launched in January 2004 that covered wide ranging areas of cooperation such as nuclear energy, space, defence and trade. This newfound warmth in Indo-US relations was taken to newer heights with the conclusion of the landmark civil nuclear deal between 2005 and 2008.

Today, India is a key defence partner of the United States, having signed all the four key foundational pacts for military-to-military cooperation, the latest being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation, signed in October 2020. The two countries are key partners in the Quad grouping and share similar concerns about an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to cultivate this special relationship with the United States, reinforced by cooperation in the Quad grouping and also by constantly engaging a 4.8-million strong Indian diaspora in the United States.

The leaders of both countries, from Vajpayee to Modi and from Clinton to Trump have reciprocated bilateral visits to each other’s countries. And, India looks forward to the Biden-Harris administration for new areas of cooperation.

But, a recent military manoeuvre in April, this year, by a US Navy ship (which it calls a FONOP or Freedom of Navigation Operation) in India’s exclusive economic zone, off Lakshadweep coast, casted a shadow over this relations.

The US openly stated in social media that it entered the area without seeking India’s prior consent and asserted its navigational rights. This invited mixed reactions, as it was highly uncalled for. While some analysts consider it humiliating, others think that the incident occurred due to the difference of perceptions about international maritime law in both countries.

Today, along with the US, India skilfully manages its ‘historical and time-tested’ ties with Russia, a strategic foe of the US, and moves forward to purchase Russian-made weapon systems, such as the S-400 missile defence system, even after a threat of sanctions. But, in the past several years, India has been trying to diversify its defence procurements from other countries such as France and Israel and has been also promoting indigenisation of defence production.

A BRICS formula for responsible multilateralism

India is a founding member of the BRICS grouping, formalised in 2006, now consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – the emerging economies of that time with a potential to drive global economic growth and act as an alternate centre of power along with other groupings of rich countries such as the G-7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

India always stood for a responsible global multilateral system and rules-based order. Indian leaders have attended all summit-level meetings of BRICS since 2009 unfailingly. Last year, the summit took place in the backdrop of India-China border standoff in Ladakh, under Russia’s chair, a common friend of both countries, where the leaders of India and China came face-to-face for the first time, although in virtual format.

The primary focus of BRICS remains economic in nature, but it also takes independent stances on events occurring in different parts of the world. The grouping also established a bank to offer financial assistance for development projects known as the New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, China, in 2014, with an Indian as its first elected president.

BRICS also became the first multilateral grouping in the world to endorse the much-needed TRIPS waiver proposal jointly put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid vaccine-making during the duration of the pandemic to provide developing countries that lack adequate technologies with means to battle the virus.

As India gears up to host this year’s upcoming BRICS summit, there is no doubt that being part of the grouping has served the country’s interests well.

Manoeuvring the SCO, along the shores of the Indo-Pacific

The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a regional organisation consisting of eight Eurasian powers, largest in the world both in terms of land area and population covered. It stands for promoting mutual cooperation and stability, where security issues can be freely discussed and conflicts are attempted to be resolved.

India is not a founding member of the SCO, which was created in 2001. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members in 2017. The grouping’s members also include Russia, China and four Central Asian countries, excluding Turkmenistan.

Sharing a common platform with Pakistan and China and the presence of a long-term friend, Russia, has helped India diplomatically in key occasions. Using the SCO platform, the existing differences between member states can be discussed and prevented from escalating into major conflicts.

This was evident most recently visible in 2020 when the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on a plan for the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops from the LAC, as a major step in the diffusion of tensions in Ladakh that had erupted since May that year.

But, Russia and China collectively oppose the usage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, something that surfaced into political discourse with the famous speech delivered by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 in the Parliament of India, calling for “the confluence of two seas” and hinting at a new maritime continuum of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

It is in this context that the grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States gained prominence. The four Quad countries came together to offer humanitarian assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ambit of the grouping’s co-operation ranges from maritime security to cooperation in Covid vaccine production and distribution.

After a decade since the first joint naval exercise of the four Quad countries took place in 2007, the ASEAN’s Manila summit in 2017 provided a platform for the four countries to connect with each other and enhance consultations to revive the four-nation grouping.

The Quad has been raised to the summit level now with the March 2021 virtual summit, and has also conducted two joint naval exercises so far, one in 2007 and the other in 2020. This loose coalition is widely perceived as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land border with China. At the same time, India is also the only country that is not a formal security ally of the United States, meaning if India quits, the Quad ceases to exist, while the other three countries can still remain as treaty allies. However, setting the US aside, cooperation among the other three Quad partners has also been witnessing a boom since the last year.

India and Japan have expanded co-operation in third countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region and offer an alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is perceived as having implications of a potential debt-trap aimed at fetching strategic gains.

Amid the pandemic, both the countries have joined hands with Australia to launch a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify key supply chains away from China.

However, India doesn’t perceive a free and open Indo-Pacific as an exclusionary strategy targeted at containing some country, rather as an inclusive geographic concept, where co-operation over conflict is possible. This was articulated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.

Various additions were made to this view in later stages, as the concept evolved into a coherent form, representing New Delhi’s expanding neighbourhood. This vision aligns well with related initiatives such the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), aimed at improving maritime security, trade, connectivity and management of shared resources.

The future

For India, this is an era of complex multi-alignment, different from the Cold War-era international system, where multiple centres of power exist. At different time periods in the past, India has adapted well to the changing circumstances and power dynamics in the international system.

India’s strategic posture today, despite being aspirational, is to have good relations with all its neighbours, regional players, and the major powers, to promote rules-based order, and in the due process to find its own deserving place in the world.

In July, last year, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India ‘will never be part of an alliance system’, even though a tilt towards the US is increasingly getting visible, taking the China factor into account. Jaishankar also stated that global power shifts are opening up spaces for middle powers like India.

As the world tries to avoid another Cold War, this time between the United States and China, the competing geopolitics of the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime region is poised to add up to New Delhi’s many dilemmas in the coming years.

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South Asia

The unrecognized demographic situation of West Bengal and consequences yet to occur

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World’s second large demographic nation India’s state West Bengal is now apparently residence of over 91 million population. At the same time, West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the fourteenth-large state by area in India. It is also the seventh-most populous country subdivision of the world. To get an insight into the present situation of West Bengal anyone has to look back in 1947 and later consequences. As being a prominent ethnocultural region of India, West Bengal faced political partition in the year 1947 in the wake of the transformation of British India into two separate independent nations India and Pakistan.  Under the process of partition, the then Bengal province was bifurcated into two segments. The predominately Hindu living area named West Bengal, a state of India, and the predominately-Muslim living area turned as East Bengal and after becoming a province of Pakistan that renamed as East Pakistan and later in 1971, the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh.

In 1971 at the time of partition, the Muslim population of West Bengal counted 12% and the Hindu population of East Bengal remained 30%. While at present, with continuous Muslim immigration, Hindu persecution, conversions, and less production of offspring, West Bengal’s Muslim population has increased to 30% (up to 63% in some districts). While as per the counting report of 2011 Bangladesh’s Hindu population has decreased to 8%. When at the present situation for Hindus in Bangladesh is certainly dire, then life has become increasingly difficult for Hindus in West Bengal, having a Muslim-appeasing government. The governance of the elected government led to the demographic and cultural shifts in West Bengal. Prevailing of the same governance after the 2021 Bidhansabha election leads to the destruction of Hindu’s belonging everywhere in Bengal. The situation stood worse in the outskirts where media coverage is poor, compelling Hindu families to flee in adjacent states or to hide. A sizable number of Bengali Hindu families already preferred to shift to Assam.

Looking back as per a striking report of July 2014 by Times of India fewer children were born in Bengal and the prediction was there will be even fewer in the next generation. The 2011 Census shows a decadal growth of 13.84% in West Bengal, which was significantly below the national growth average of 17.7%, and the decadal growth was lowest ever and beaten only by the aftermath of the infamous Famine of  Bengal,1942.

While the retrospective study of the demography of West Bengal shows that the culturally dominant Hindu population in West Bengal during the first census of 1951 was around 19,462,706 and in the 2011 census it had increased to 64,385,546. While the percentage of the Hindu population in the state decreased from 78.45% in 1951 to 70.54% in the 2011 Census. The data sharply indicates fewer children birth within families of Hindus only while the population of Muslim counterparts tends to grow over time. Once considered a symbol of Indian culture, what has happened in Bengal for the last few decades is the indicator of West Bengal’s demographic future.

Starting from the diminishing of the Hindu culture, communal riots against the Hindus have started happening for quite some time and the situation has been that the banning of celebrating the festivals of Hindus has started in the last few years. Added to those the recent genocide of Hindus depicting a recent trend of population.

Back in 2015 the famous American journalist Janet Levy has written an article on Bengal and the revelations that have been made in it state that Bengal will soon become a separate Islamic country. Janet Levy claims in her article that civil war is going to start soon in Bengal after Kashmir. Which almost begun in recent times in the wake of the Bidhansabha Election of West Bengal.   

Ushering the prediction of Janet Levy mass Hindus will be massacred and demanded a separate country.

She cited the facts for his claim back in 2015 that the Chief Minister of West Bengal has recognized more than 10,000 madrassas who were privileged to receive funds from Saudi Arabia and made their degree eligible for a government job, money comes from Saudi and in those madrassas, Wahhabi bigotry is taught.

In the recent past Chief Minister started several Islamic city projects where Islamic people are taught also started a project to establish an Islamic city in West Bengal. It’s evident that Chief Minister has also declared various types of stipends for the Imams of mosques but no such stipends were declared for Hindus primarily. Janet Levy has given many examples around the world where terrorism, religious fanaticism, and crime cases started increasing as the Muslim population increased. With increasing population, a separate Sharia law is demanded at such places, and then finally it reaches the demand of a separate country.

Author and activist Taslima Nasreen once became reason to test the ground reality for West Bengal.

In 1993, Taslima Nasreen wrote a book ‘Lajja’ on the issue of atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh and forcibly making them Muslims.

After writing the book, she had to leave Bangladesh facing the threat of bigotry. The author settled in Kolkata considering that she will be safe there as India is a secular country and the constitution also provided the freedom of expression. Eventually experienced the nightmare that Taslima Nasreen had to face a riot-like situation against her in 2007 in Kolkata. Even in a secular country like India, Muslims banned Taslima Nasreen with hatred. Fatwas issued to cut her throat on the secular land of India.

Upholding the threat the author was also attacked several times in different cities of the country.

But the secular Leftists never supported Taslima, not even the Trinamool government of West Bengal because the Muslims would get angry and the vote bank would face shaking.

That time first attempt was made in which Muslim organizations in West Bengal demanded the Islamic blasphemy (Blasfamie) law. Raising questions on India’s secularism and action of secular parties.

Janet Levy further wrote that for the first time in 2013 some fundamentalist Maulanas of Bengal started demanding a separate ‘Mughalistan’. In the same year riots in Bengal, houses and shops of hundreds of Hindus were looted and many temples were also destroyed by rioters under the safe shelter of government and police.

After the Bidhansava Election 2021 the Hindus of West Bengal facing the same or even worse situation.

Are Hindus boycotted?

Victorious party supremo of West Bengal was afraid that if the Muslims were stopped they would get angry and would not vote and after getting freshly elected her government falls into that vicious circle again.

It is evident from the aftermath of the election result in West Bengal that not only riots but to drive away Hindus, in districts where there are more Muslims, boycotting Hindu businessman. In the Muslim majority districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur, Muslims do not even buy goods from Hindu shops. This is the reason why a large number of Hindus have started migrating from West Bengal like Kashmiri Pandits, here Hindus leaving their homes and businesses and moving to other places. These are the districts where Hindus have become a minority.

Invoking such incidents Janet, stated that the demand for partition of Bengal from India will soon begin from the land of West Bengal. No demographic theorist interpreted the present demographic situation of West Bengal sabotaging Malthusian theory.

In accord with Janet’s analysis, a few recent sources also indicated the number of the Muslim population, in reality, is much higher than the number on record given to the hiding of numbers of children by Muslim parents when a survey takes place. Implementing CAA, NRC could have been way out for West Bengal to check the proper demographic status and to prevent further population explosion to sustain Bengali Hindus. Perceiving the appeasement politics of government for the last 10 years it’s seeming to be unlikely to get any sharp solution. 

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South Asia

Covid-19 has made Feminist Foreign Policy all the more Relevant to India

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Photo: Amit Ranjan/Unsplash

As the impact of the year long COVID19 pandemic continues to be felt across different parts of India—where patriarchy is entrenched in the social code and inequalities against women are being intuitively practised—the repercussions of the health crisis along with the ever deepening gender gaps are being disproportionately and severely borne by women. Yet, most of the discussions revolving around the pandemic have either been gender-blind or gender-neutral, often resulting in the systemic subjugation or marginalisation of women.

In light of these challenges, the thematic debate on gender equality can no longer continue just on papers, it in fact, needs to be converted into actions by the Indian government in order to deal with the short term consequences of the pandemic as well as to develop long-term sustainable peace. The adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework is the best way to achieve this dual goal. A FFP could offer a concrete opportunity for India to build a more inclusive policy making set-up; breakaway from the predominant patriarchal notions; and, address pandemic relief strategies—from the viewpoint of women and other vulnerable or under-represented sections of society.

Gendered Impact of COVID19 in India

Within India’s socio-cultural and economic realms—that have historically been marred by inequalities and rigid stereotypes—the gendered effects of the COVID19 pandemic have been both, intersectional and complex.

To begin with, owing to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients, health-care workers in India, particularly the nurses of whom approximately 88.9 per cent are women remain much more vulnerable to contracting the deadly virus. The existing problem of shortage of basic equipment for these healthcare workers further aggravates these concerns.

Second, the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on an already shrinking Indian economy resulting in financial cut downs and rising unemployment. Women—either due to the deeply embedded patriarchal attitudes or due to the subconscious bias that arises out of such attitudes—have stood at the forefront of being temporarily or permanently laid-off from their jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, with the commencement of the nationwide lockdown, the rate of unemployment reached 23.5 per cent in March to April 2020 with higher shares of unemployed women. The unemployment rate for women further reached 12.39 per cent as of February 2021.

Third, women in India are now being confronted with a shadow pandemic where forced proximity, isolation, increased substance abuse, lack of access to justice etc. during the on-going health crisis has resulted in an increasing threat of domestic or gender-based violence.  As per a set of data released by the National Commission of Women in April 2020, there was an almost 100 per cent increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.

Nonetheless, these are only some of the immediate effects of the pandemic on women in India. There are other sequential consequences that will emerge in time including, the problems of depletion in savings and assets, pandemic-related widowhood, etc., which would collaboratively make recovery extremely difficult for women.

Evidently, in India, the pandemic is exploiting pre-existing economic and social inequalities along with social norms that give men embedded advantages, and has been posing a real threat to closing gender gaps. In fact, according to the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, India has already slipped down 28 spots to rank 140th among 156 countries in comparison to its 112th position among 153 countries for the year 2019-2020.

But despite bearing a differential impact, women in India have not been included either directly or indirectly in the development of response strategies to deal with COVID19. As such, they remain absent from decision-making tables that involve the shaping of the future of our societies. However, research indicates that the inclusion of women along with other diverse voices makes for better options in policy making and in bringing about comprehensive outcomes that accommodate the needs and concerns of all groupings.

How can a FFP help?

These unfortunate states of affairs demand an adjustment in India’s thinking and strategy, bring about a paradigmatic shift in its traditional policymaking and allow for diverse representation to effectively deal with COVID19 pandemic. The present crisis is therefore, precisely the time to be talking about a FFP in India and for its representatives to make a stronger commitment to mainstream gender at the policy level.

By critically reflecting on the existing international power structures, a FFP framework focuses on protecting the needs of marginalised and female groups and places issues of human security and human rights at the heart of discussions. In doing so, it provides a fundamental shift from the conventional understanding of security to include other arena of foreign policy such as economics, finance, environment, health, trade etc.

With this new perception of health risks and crisis management as a security threat, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, India can potentially explore broadening the humanitarian trade options under its international arrangements to address shortages of medicine and lack of access to personal protective equipment for health workers within its territory— a vast majority of which continue to be women.

The adoption of a FFP could also pave the way for an increased regional cooperation, facilitate regional discussions on myriad issues and enable the development of targeted recovery program designed specifically for the empowerment of women. Such a program would account for the fact that the economic repercussions of crises disproportionately affect women and therefore, help India in securing assistance from its neighbour to address the gendered economic and social effects of the COVID19 pandemic.

Besides, FFP does not only mean considering power structures and managing relations at the global level alone but also evaluating outcomes within the country’s own domestic landscape. In this sense, a FFP could provide India with an important starting point for bringing about an internal shift by focusing more on gender issues, especially in terms of the strictly defined patriarchal gender roles and eliminate barriers that continue to restrict women’s participation in decision-making processes.

An emphasis on women’s participation in India’s leadership positions would in turn catalyse the application a gender lens to the process of domestic policymaking, thereby, achieving comprehensive outcomes that are inclusive of diverse perspectives. Such policies will promote women’s concerns as humanitarian issues, prioritize and safeguard the continuum of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and continue to facilitate the provision of information and education, thus making women better equipped to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.


Adding on to these factors, given that the FFP is an all-inclusive approach, its application could also potentially strengthen cooperation between the Indian government and civil society organisations or women’s network at home as well as abroad to manage the pandemic and its deleterious effect on people, especially women. At a time when the government resources are overwhelmed in their fight against the pandemic, greater involvement of civil society organisations can in fact, play a critical role in advocating social justice, women’s rights, social equity, and provide medical and food support, distribution of hygiene kits, spreading awareness about the virus, etc. These efforts could bring about a considerable improvement in women’s vulnerable position under the current Covid19 crisis in India.

Conclusion

As such, the FFP approach offers huge potential to address some the major institutional and organisational injustices against women in India, and the COVID19 pandemic represents a critical juncture in this regards. A FFP is important not only to ensure that the gendered imbalances inflicted by COVID19 do not become permanent but also for the long term economic and social development of the country, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and the advancement of national security as well as peace. But whether India will adopt or even consider moving towards a FFP in the near future remains to be seen.

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