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How will demonetization strengthen hands of Indian poor?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] ndia is undergoing a serious and strange crisis where poor and common people continue to suffer because they were not taken into confidence by the government by providing them with source of sustenance. Indians do not trust the PM because he had already cheated on them by promising them huge money when the black money etc are recovered from abroad but he is silent about that and began a direct attack on the common people with igniting money cash crisis. Most ATM machines are not functioning and most ones have no money but the rich people have huge sums of money in new currency notes.

Apparently, Hindutva brands RSS and BJP sought to save Modi from any possible punishment in future owing murder of Muslims in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots to appease Hindus. Now the BJP, RSS, VHP and PM Modi are jointly working to save the Hindu criminals from any possible punishment for destroying in 1992 the historic Babri Mosque on 06 December , death anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, author of Indian Constitution. (The choice of death date of Dr. Ambedkar December 06 for destroying the historic Babri Mosque cannot be just coincidental, considering the importance of choice of dates for India even in cricket matches and joint cricket matches like IPL and ISL, etc).

Hindutva leader Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now at a crossroads as PM Modi’s demonetization drive has backed its fortunes in the polls in future. If only the rich or corporate lords alone vote to elect a government, BJP or any other party needs not worry about the common people but majority of voters belong to common class.

Corruption, black money and Modi

Indian corruption is a very complicated issue as many forces are at work but government fails to deal with it because it always helps and supports one section of “special” people and refuses to launch a multi-prolonged approach simultaneously to root out the menace. .

Entire system is rotten. But PM Mod ahs attacked the common people in order to ostensibly end corruption and black and fake money. And the government decision is final and even parliament cannot do anything about it. That is Indian democracy.

India’s pride lies in promoting corruption and financial lords in all fields and back and fake money is thriving even when a leading economist Manamohan Singh led the UPA government. . .

Corruption is closely linked with rise of black money and state support for the rich and corporate lords to mint money as much as they want. In fact the central and state governments promote corruption and black money through fake joint sports exercises like IPL, ISL etc (meant for well to do people and all destroying national teams) where blackmoney is being channelized and even made white. In fact, India, after honoring a cricketer Sachin, who made some 100s by official fixings for mutual help, was struggling at the crease for nearly 2 years for his last one hundred runs, with Bharatratna and allows him to make even football a fixed sport. His mafia works for the success of Kerala blastards team which he bought or his own Mumbai team and the teams that play against the Sachin teams help score goals and win. Delhi team helped Sachin team to even in first leg semifinal. With third rate players having been bought by him and other billionaires, India is making a mockery of football showing that not only cricket but football also can be fixed as per a plan.

These fake players are celebrities for Indian media and government.

That is the Indian mischief in the name of sports. But can anyone do anything about these bogus night games?

Indian PM Narendra Modi has been in the news and he and all Hindutva parties need it and love it. Modi said last week his decision to ban old Rs 500 and 1,000 notes was taken to strengthen the hands of the nation’s poor.

As CM of already relatively developed Gujarat state, Modi came to national scene on the eve of parliamentary poll with his own claims of “development of Gujarat”, to which he subsequently added the issue of corruption and blackmoney in the back ground of the famous Anna Hazare-Kejriwal led anti-corruption movement and he as PM candidate of BJP wooed the voters by telling them that they would get a few lacks of rupees every month once black money is recovered from foreign banks.

As his influence began waning, suddenly PM Modi turned anti-corruption crusader. Modi announced the demonetization drive as results of US president elections were coming out and Modi wanted to outsmart the winning Trump and USA in the media. A month into the demonetization drive, there cannot but be a sense of worry in government circles about the unchanging ground realities with no sign of the long queues before banks and ATMs shortening any time soon. There is no unanimity among opposition parties in their ranks about the course of action. A more effective opposition would have had a field day in pillorying Narendra Modi.

Addressing a farmers’ rally in his home state Gujarat in Deesa town of Banaskantha district, Modi said the honest people have been looted for 70 years and that he stands with the poor of the country. “We took the decision on currency notes to strengthen the hands of the poor of the nation,” said Modi without providing any hints about the scheme of making the poor rich. .

Terrorism, Pakistan and Islam were the key issues to political success of BJP and other Hindutva parties. Modi said that terrorism is promoted by black money and his fight was against terrorism and the menace gets power from fake currencies. “With our step on currency notes we have been successful in weakening the hands of terrorists and those in fake currency rackets,” he said.

Modi knows people of India are fed up with rampant corruption promoted by the ruling parties, especially the Congress but including his own BJP so far. But his demonetization drive doesn’t appear to promote the poor or common people, on the contrary they are facing deadly problems. Defending his decision of demonetization, Modi said: “Who is unhappy with corruption? Not those perpetrating corruption. it is the poor, the common citizens who are unhappy.” Modi said the “honest citizens of this country” have supported his move.

It is not surprising that the BJP is making a complete mockery of democracy by such nuisance.

Confidence or fear?

PM Modi has refused to attend the parliamentary session fearing criticism of his cash crisis project. If he is sure of what exactly he is doing now he could have attended the parliament and explained the government position by revealing the facts and his ideas for promoting the poor in the country. PM Modi is duty bound to tell the people what has been achieved so far and how exactly he wants to proceed further. He must also explain how the BJP has so much of money and why di d it withdraw money from banks on the eve of his night announcement about the demonetization. BJP leaders explain PM Modi doing all these to make India a developed nation – but how? Prices of essential commodities are going up and there is no hope that they will come down.

BJP government has said they are ready to debate but PM Modi avoids parliament and once as he came fearing loud noise, he walked out. In the past BJP had stormed parliament for years, walked out as a routine policy.

Modi said, “I am not being allowed to speak in Lok Sabha so I am speaking in the Jan Sabha Had asked for 50 days. You will see how things will change. This is a major step to rid the nation from corruption. Demonetization, Modi argues, has been done to help the poor. For how long can poor of India be told to pay for houses in cash? He talks about modernization. For how long will poor be asked- you want Pacca bill or Kaccha bill. Today your banks and wallets are in your mobile. This is how things have changed. I want to assure the people of the country that no one will be spared. Merely talking about the poor is different from working for the poor, something that the NDA government is always doing. Happenings in Parliament anguished our President, who has tremendous political experience We are not a selfish nation. We think about future generations.

Modi is fully aware of the fact the he and his party have lost the spot in the public domain as they do not trust them. He now knows for sure that he and his party won the parliamentary poll not because of his popularity but mainly because of popular anger and anguish among people over the corrupt Congress government. Anti-corruption movement created the necessary

Black money and fake notes are as catchy slogans as corruption and crimes. Modi is trying to use as many such slogans as they are appealing to people. Development, corruption, black money, flake currency, etc are Modi’s preferences while for RSS and other BJP leaders use Ghar wapsi, beef ban, mosque destruction, etc but all of them use these only for Hindu votes.

State elections due in a few more state assemblies and BJP wants to win as many seats as possible so that it could increase the seats in and get a majority in Rajya Sabha.

Fortunately for PM Modi, the ruling BJP, which had suffered hugely as a national party until it discovered Modi as the PM candidate, has no alternative to Modi and will have to obey him and help him execute his vote capturing agendas. It is moral boosting for Modi in the m name of a “great India” to resort even harder drives in future to target the common people of India.

While Mamata Banerjee wants a complete roll-back, others favour a Joint Parliamentary Committee to examine the crisis. Even if there is no certainty about how long the hardship of the ordinary people will continue, or whether their patience is inexhaustible, the nomination of Modi as Time magazine’s Person of the Year in an online poll was expected to be a morale-booster for the BJP but unfortunately, US president elect Donald Trump emerged the winner defeating Hillary Clinton even in that online poll.

Perhaps there are not many people who have retained their faith in him and expect him to ride out the present storm.

Waning Modi’s popularity

The central point of this transformation is the economic development which is Modi’s trump card. Although there is not much to write home at present about the growth trajectory — Manmohan Singh’s government did better in the early years of his tenure — what makes Modi stand out is his commitment to the cause. While his predecessor faltered in the last few years of his stint Modi focused on the market-oriented capitalist path. The demonetization has caused concern about a fall in the growth rate — the latest figure is 7.1, down from 7.6. Earlier governments were unwilling either to follow the capitalist path to help IMF and World bank with anti-poor policy or to crack down on black money because of the banking secrecy regulations and the fear of causing a flutter in the dovecotes of tainted politicians and bureaucrats, among others. The political consensus of parties not to disturb the status quo of allowing corruption as state policy. .

Seeking political mileage for BJP in the polls and improve ailing prestige, PM Modi, in contrast, has confronted the scourge of a parallel economy head-on notwithstanding the “monumental mismanagement” of the economy of which he has been accused by Manmohan Singh and Sen.

Notorious Reddy gang that steals natural resources in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh/Telengana as their right, are also caught by the authorities b for hiding huge cash and gold reserves but the issue would die down soon as these national frauds would be free, forgotten even in media as Indian military and intelligence divert attention to some cross border issue. Media can easily insult and defame Pakistan but cannot question Indian government about its false promises, especially on demonetization drive. Judiciary considering itself a part of government cannot question the government.

Modi and BJP presume that the ordinary people have been willing to undergo the severe inconvenience of standing in long queues because they believe that instead of mere promises as in the past, a firm step against black money is at last being taken. Nor is there an acceptance of the charge about the futility of the step considering that only six per cent of the black money is kept in cash.

The reason is the belief that the latest measure will tell the hoarders of hidden wealth that Modi seems serious about bringing them to book. Modi, therefore, can said to be in the process of passing the most arduous test of all by expecting the people to ignore their present difficulties because of their faith in him.

There is little doubt that demonetization has been a risky gamble for BJP and Modi where he has taken on a section of the opposition in the hope that his popularity will save him when the votes are counted.

Some people who somehow wants to see India a super power as early as possible to overtake China and challenge and Russia do support Modi who wants to be a hero of the media.

Observations

The chief outcome of the demonetization drive launched by Modi is that people spend very less and save a lot that could be used by the Modi government to put the money in global market to help the multinational corporations make more money. In the process, common people suffer while the rich face no problems as they get money as much as they require. Now black money is available in new 2000 currency notes.

There is no evidence to show that common people will benefit from the current cash crisis perpetrated by the government, making common people a beggar class standing in long queues to get their own money for their daily requirements while the rich and corporate lords get their required big cash- how? Corporate lords will certainly benefit. And BJP can eventually blame Pakistan and terrorism for failure of his cashless drive and media would support them. How come black money promotes terrorism when states are funding terror operations against other countries? Does state have black money?

Corruption and black money are being pampered at many levels and by many sources that share the booty. Poor and common people suffer.

Has Modi done anything for the poor in Gujarat where was the CM for many years?

When the Modi government has not yet begun targeting the mafias operating in every domain of the society with state backing and when the cricket match fixings have remained a state honor for the mafias, there is nothing that would make people believe what PM Modi says.

Ever since he assumed power by dethrone the Congress party’s Manmohan Singh’s government, PM Modi has been making strenuous efforts to be in the news and capture the attention of global media and governments and obviously he has achieved some success in that respect but he has put the nation and people in danger by his latest cashless monetary move, forcing the people to throng the banks and post offices like beggars. .

PM Modi’s usual rhetoric of promoting poor and common men has remained a fake stunt. Common people suffer more than ever before while the rich and corporate lords who fund the poll campaigns of both national parties continue to thrive, though a couple of them have been caught concealing illegal money. But how would this help the poor Is not clear though corruption harms the people at large.

Common people, the chief beneficiary of the demonetization attack by the Modi government’s decision to withdraw important currency notes without any prior caution, cannot be expected to buy the false promise of PM to make them strong by his demonetization gimmick.

PM Modi should now reveal his whole logic behind all this and how the poor and common would benefit direct from the drive.

Already the image of Modi as an elected leader has been waning as people do not see him s the tall leader he and his supporters claim to be worth trusting any more without seeing the results.

Modi must ask every political party to declare their assents, both movable and d immovable and state the sources from which they got the money. He must immediately ask his BJP to declare the assets and the funds it has along with the sources. Once party funds are accounted properly and made known to public, the level of corruption can be contained. People are fed up with piecemeal approach in containing and ending corruption by catching a few individuals and let them escape in due course by funding the ruling party.

Since the BJP is dreaming of making India super power, naturally poor will have to perish and only rich and corporate lords should shine. Developed nations just crush the common people and poor disappear.

Recovering all black money from the defaulters will not automatically make poor and common people rich or self reliance-only governmental action to upgrade them with money can.

Educated people could be fascinated by the slogans like removal of black money and corruption

Removal of black and fake money is a must. But will that alone make the poor happy?

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South Asia

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovative, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist has gone from driving innovative research in Reliance Industries to chairing and leading the then newly founded National Innovation Foundation in 1999.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that innovation outbreak in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Associate at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

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Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy

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Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.

In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.

The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.

Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.

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South Asia

Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.

The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.

Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.

The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.

Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

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EU Parliament backs ambitious recycling targets, under legislation on waste and the circular economy, adopted on Wednesday. Improving waste management...

Middle East13 hours ago

How the Guardian newspaper fulfills George Orwell’s prediction of ‘Newspeak’

On Sunday April 15th, Britain’s Guardian bannered “OPCW inspectors set to investigate site of Douma chemical attack” and pretended that...

Diplomacy14 hours ago

The evolution of the concept of diplomacy

Transformation in diplomacy, like the transformation of other international scenes of international relations, has not stopped at a specific point,...

South Asia15 hours ago

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak* Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr....

Economy15 hours ago

Greece can turn its education system into a source of inclusive and sustainable growth

With a qualified and well-engaged teacher workforce, motivated 15-year-old students with a strong sense of school belonging, and one of...

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