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Indian regional polls 2017: Anti-incumbency, Congress-SP and media management cause big win for BJP

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] Y [/yt_dropcap]ear 2017appears to be an eventful one, for, India as there will be important for Indian politics. Besides facing the crucial Presidential elections, five states such as Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have gone to polls in February-March, Gujarat (PM Modi’s home state) and Himachal Pradesh will go to polls in 2018.

While Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand and Punjab have given clear mandate to BJP and Congress party respectively, Goa and Manipur refused to give a clear mandate either Congress or BJP, but the federal ruling party BJP has got the upper hand as its governors supported BJP to form the government in these states, though the party did not get either a majority or at least maximum seats, though it has got less seats than Congress in both instances.

The BJP is the clear winner in this round of Assembly elections in five states. With an apparently decisive mandate in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and its impressive showing in close races in Manipur and Goa the party is giving all credit to the Modi wave which has apparently succeeded in combating people’s perceptions about demonetisation. For Congress, the only saving grace was Punjab.

The extremely right wing political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with military support under a highly “sophisticated” and very energetically dynamic leader Narendra Modi has had an easy win in the by-poll held last month in 2 of 5 states in a polarized India’s corrupt polity. At the outset, the election, conducted as a referendum for his demonetization drive to check and end black money flow and stop financing of terrorism operations in the country and around, was out and out PM Modi’s “historic” win. However, many factors like anti-incumbency, indirect support of Congress and Samajwadi Party in UP, absence of any credible honest leader or genuinely people’s party at national or regional level etc, contributed greatly to Modi’s fortunes.

Today after the regional polls, Narendra Modi has become the most important leader of India, above Hazare and Kejriwal who caught the imagination of entire nation with their anti-corruption movement against the Congress-BJP governments. BJP and PM Modi do deserve well wish for the electoral victory for working for equality in the nation. In a democracy, seats in state and federal assemblies decide government formation. However, seats could be won by politicians through cheap and undemocratic means.

The outcomes of the by elections have revealed anger and disappointments of voters towards the ruling dispensations including Congress, BJP, SP, etc and opted for the opposition parties, almost everywhere. Political parties cannot take the voters for granted in polls, at least. People have displayed a great sense of responsibility in punishing the ruling class for being dishonest.

Goa

BJP has sage managed the show in Goa state even without a majority by horse trading the independent MLAs. Congress secured more seats than the incumbent BJP but it did not stake its claim to form a government while BP did exactly that and now ruling the state and now Congress has approached the court, maybe as a mere formality to fool the world. ..

Close races in Goa and Manipur but with bargaining and deflections, BJP staked claim There were four major contenders for the 40 seats in the Goa Assembly – Congress, BJP, Aam Admi Party and the smaller Maharashtrawadi Gomanthak party and the Goa Foward. While the present Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has lost his seat, Congress’s Digambar Vasant Kamat who is also former Chief Minister, has won in his constituency, Margao. During his door-to-door campaign, Digambar Kamat repeated one mantra frequently. “Call me any time, 24×7. You need no agent to come to me. Although the Congress had 17 seats, just one lesser than BJP the latter has staked claim to form government.

Congress, as usual, played mischief and let BJP become the ruling party but when BJP became the winner, it called it a foul play by the governor who just obey he federal government’s orders. . Even as counting as underway it was expected that neither party would be close to the magic figure of 21 seats. The Indian Express reported that the MNP and smaller parties may play the king maker and that is exactly what happened.

The night long negotiations finally sealed the deal for BJP as both the MNP and Goa Forward Party agreed to support the BJP after they were promised ministerial berths by Nitin Gadkari. The Congress leaders, including party general secretary Digvijaya Singh and top state politicians, camped at the iconic Mandovi hotel in Panaji, where for five hours they wrangled over the choice of CLP leader, apart from waiting for Sardesai and other Independents. The Governor invited the BJP to form the government and current Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar will be sworn in as Chief Minister.

Goa and Manipur experiments of letting the Hindutva party control government show that there is a consensus between Congress and BJP that the latter should rule India and its states to solve many issues (like Muslims, Pakistan, China, security, etc)

Manipur

In Manipur also, BJP stage managed and formed the ministry and Congress party that ruled it for many years has quietly gave in, almost signaling that its time is over as ruling party and BJP could take its place and communal pride. With the BJP and its alliance of regional parties together got 30 seats. By using ‘security issues” and using Sharmila as a serious threat to India as she wants all extra military laws withdrawn to let people live without fear, the BJP made a stunning debut in Manipur, winning 19 seats and leading in two of the 60 assembly seats in the states. The party’s concerted efforts to make inroads into the conflict state paid rich dividends. Ram Madhav of the BJP said that the performance of the BJP has been satisfactory given that the state unit was weak. Manipur too saw a record turnout of almost 86% in the second phase of polling as BJP intensified its security campaign.

The Congress has been ruling the North-eastern state Manipur for almost a decade and a half and faced a tough challenge from the BJP which, supported by the military establishment, as usual, made security issues to win poll. Since Manipur does not have any Muslim population it needs not to target anti-Muslim sentiments for Hindu votes but Sharmila gave the stuff for the BJP to talk at length about the security issues threatening India.

With communal agenda on cards, the BJP has very cleverly exploited anti-military feelings in Manipur state being represented by Irom Sharmila to expand its vote share in the Northeastern state.

On 11 March, as the results for Manipur Elections started coming in, Thoubal constituency was among the first few seats from where the results started coming in. This valley seat from where Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh was contesting the elections, had another key player who for 16 years was on fast for Manipur’s rights. Social activist Irom Sharmila Chanu aka ‘Iron Lady’ was the icon of Manipur who with her decade-and-a-half long fast against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (Afspa) garnered a lot of national attention sympathy and support. Upon ending fasting, Sharmila soon formed the PRJA which garnered support and attention from national parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Left and Democratic Front (LDF), etc. The party with its clear intention to revoke the draconic military law Afspa and redraft Inner Line Permit system set about campaigning through the state and gathering political funds.

In a state which is rife with violence, corruption, administrative struggles, and development deficits, her fight seemed watered down. While the BJP gathered votes by making promises about removing the economic blockade, creation jobs, removing corruption, ensuring rights to the Nagas, etc. Sharmila kept mum on all these issues.

Military played important role in the defeat of Sharmila and she lost so badly in her maiden election contest that she became panicky and vowed to quit politics altogether. Sharmila was mostly treated as a laughing stock by both Congress and BJP and its chief minister, because victory for Sharmila can be disastrous for both parties. When they all joint tempered with m voting machines remains to be investigated.

But the story in this 60-Assembly seat state is very different as there seems to be anti-democratic operations during poll day. Sharmila’s party Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) failed to secure a single seat in the state and its leader lost the fight against Manipur’s three-time chief minister Ibobi who won with 18,649 votes, Sharmila didn’t get more than 90 votes, giving rise to genuine suspicion of voting machine tampering during the poll by the Modi regime.

Many in the national media hailed this as a tragedy that an internationally renowned human rights activist couldn’t manage to secure even a 100 votes. However, the local populace has a different picture to share. When the 44-year-old decided to quit her 16-year-old fast in 2016 and join politics, it was welcomed by both national media and political parties. She soon formed the PRJA which garnered support and attention from national parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Left and Democratic Front (LDF), etc. The party with its clear intention to revoke Afspa (through legislative means) and redraft Inner Line Permit system set about campaigning through the state and gathering political funds.

In a state that has some 1,500 cases of extra-judicial killings, she was the face of the revolt against Afspa. When she ended her fast, people perceived it as the end of the movement. This angered a lot of people. Her popularity also tanked after she revealed her plans to get married to Goa-born British national Desmond Coutinho, whom her supporters have always accused of diverting her attention from the fight against Afspa. She had plans to tie the nuptial knot after the 2017 polls but Desmond recently said the marriage would not take place before 2019. While the party has allied with the Nagaland People’s Front of the neighbouring state, it chose to not announce an alliance with the regional party in Manipur. The reason, a senior party leader said, is a clause in the NPF’s manifesto that talks of Naga integration. “That made the party a bit uncomfortable,” the party leader said. A post-poll alliance, however, is not ruled out, the leader added.

Congress and BJP one and same!

BJP could easily target both Congress and Sharmila to victory. In a state hit badly by anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress government, the neglect that the various hill tribes suffered under Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s government helped the BJP make inroads in the hill areas. Of the 60 assembly seats, only 20 seats are set aside for the hill areas, while the Valley has 40 seats. While the hill areas account for 85% of the state’s geographical territory, the Valley accounts for 15% of the total area.

BJP didn’t just have a national appeal, it also went door-to-door to campaign about the party. They had swayamsevaks (volunteers) who regularly held meetings to discuss local issues, way before the elections were announced. The people in the hills (Naga districts like Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong) saw an alternative to Congress, which with the creation of the seven new districts in December 2016, had lost the vote of the Naga tribes.

Sharmila, who has won several international human rights awards, said in her interview with HuffPost India that both the leading national parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress — were practically “the same”. However, this did not stop either of the two national parties — Congress or BJP — from using the funds in their deep pockets, to campaign extensively in the state. The state which rarely received any national attention was suddenly getting visited by senior leaders of the BJP like Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi, Prakash Javadekar, etc. Their rallies gathered thousands of Manipuris, whereas Sharmila’s PRJA went house to house to campaign for their party.

Sharmila decided to compete from a Meitei populated seat against a Meitei favourite Okram Ibobi and expected victory. In the interviews before the polling began, she reiterated that she hopes to win against the three-time chief minister. However, she forgot that the highly seasoned Congress politician had managed to snag the Thoubal constituency in two consecutive Assembly elections and that too with high margins. This time too he secured the seat with a margin of 11,470 votes against BJP leader Leitanthem Basanta Singh. Even the BJP didn’t put up a strong candidate for that seat. Sharmila’s misguided political judgment cost her MLA seat.

While the core media lords we are being harsh on the celebrated human rights activists, it is a matter of concern that the state which has a million female voters failed to support their female icon. An abysmal 90 votes are what the ‘iron lady’ got for her 16-year penance.

People’s mandate does not matter in Goa and Manipur; dictatorship or democracy?

In both Goa and Manipur BJP regime has played well to deny the party that got maximum seats to form government but let BJP form the government. In doing so, PM Modi has made the BJP ideology of”BJP only” crystal clear. The message is simple: If any other party is unable to get a clear majority BJP alone can form the government by purchasing MLLAs and MPs.

In Goa and Manipur, the BJP was in a minority. It won 13 seats out of 40 in Goa, with the Congress winning 17. In Manipur, its performance was just as poor, winning 21 out of 60, to the Congress’ 28. However, the party which rules at the centre has manipulated legal provisions to ensure that a state does not remain headless to claw its way to power against the will of the people. In Goa, it put together a coalition after negotiations with a party that had projected itself as secular – the greatest sin of the virulent anti-national, in the lexicon of most supporters of the BJP.

The narrative of the BJP (even Congress) has been that the minorities have been given too much leeway, and the trolls its leaders – including a Sikh Prime Minister – follow feel the minorities should acknowledge that they don’t deserve to be treated as more than second-class citizens. The minorities they attack include Muslims, Christians, and those unfortunates with intellect. The one democratic procedure in which the minority has no right is what follows the outcome of an election.

In a country that is becoming increasingly more bigoted and hostile to minorities, people must ask themselves what strategy makes leaders out of people who have, on the surface, no qualifications to run a country. The most powerful man in the world is Trump, a businessman with no political, diplomatic, or policy-making qualifications. The most powerful man in India is a healthy orator Modi who stays silent on the most burning issues of the day, asks others to react, recently deputing his Home Minister to handle the Kashmir crisis.

Standing in long queues in extreme weather is seen in the context of soldiers dying in battle for their country. How are the two comparable? A soldier dies in the uniform he volunteered to wear, for a country that he is defending of his volition against an enemy. When a pensioner has a heat stroke or a cardiac arrest while waiting through the day to exchange notes that he was saving for an emergency, where is his volition, whom is he defending, and who is the enemy?

Indian protests generally are just a show and never intent on real changes or reforms or at least further development. BJP’s one of the main agendas is to somehow acquire majority in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of parliament) to pass all bills and enact new bills as per RSS designs. But the move that upset the RSS agenda and brought the nation literally to a standstill was demonetisation. For weeks, even months, people struggled to pay each other. People literally died from standing in queues. Yet, despite all the chaos, there was no public protest – unlike the outrage in Venezuela, whose government attempted to follow India’s move. In that country, the people will saw the government withdraw the demonetisation move. In India, though, months after the dramatic decision was announced, when the memories of standing in queues for hours only for the ATM to run out of money before one’s turn came and notes being rationed out on a war footing are still vivid, the BJP has made a clean sweep of two Northern states. BJP has enough money to get votes.

Punjab

Punjab, ruled by BJP led coalition until the poll, has now opted for Congress party – of the 117 seats, the Congress was leading on 64 seats – and brought the AAP to focus by giving it a historic status with 28 seats. Two years ago, AAP had scored a sensational victory in Delhi, decimating rivals BJP and Congress. It also debuted in parliament by winning four seats in Punjab in 2014 – the equivalent of 33 seats.

While the entire country was full of energy during the counting of votes, the social networking websites were as silent as a grave with the AAP leaders going silent on the election results. The Twitter account of most of the AAP leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did not show any activity since the results started pouring in.

In the initial phase of counting, it became quite evident that the AAP party scored zero in Goa while it backed 2nd position in Punjab. The exit polls had predicted that either Congress or AAP would win. Whereas Shriomani Akali Dal (SAD)- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance which was written off by all political pundits and journalists before the elections, has sprung a surprise by becoming the second largest party in the state. While the leaders were quite excited in the morning and tweeted motivational messages on Twitter before the results, their account became dull after the initial trend. AAP leader Ashutosh tweeted in the morning saying the result will set the tone for the future politics in India. “It’s a historic day,” he tweeted. Kumar Vishwas was among the few AAP leaders who came out in open and spoke about the elections. The leader congratulated BJP and the Congress on their win. Accepting the defeat in his style, he also tweeted a poem. The AAP, which fought its first assembly elections in Punjab, was at third place with 22 seats.

BJP is increasing its national presence step by step, indirectly supported by Congress, SP and other essentially anti-Muslim outfits.

Congress party with largest black money owners’ does not oppose BJP. What is even more shocking than that is that the BJP has ensured that it will form the government in two states where another party had garnered more votes than it had.

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Curfewed Night- Book Review

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Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, Vintage by Random House India, 2009

Kashmir – A Paradise Lost?

In ‘Curfewed Night’, Basharat Peer, launches his core narrative, with the remark, that it was from a very early age that he had a “sense of the alienation and resentment that most Kashmiri Muslims felt and had against Indian rule” (p.11). It is from this vantage point that the reader is catapulted in to an evocative account of a Kashmir he knows (so intimately), in a style which seamlessly switches between nostalgic reminiscing and straightforward reportage. As he tells us, it was the absence of “books about the Kashmiri experience” (p.95) which invoked in him the desire to “write about the people and places that had haunted him for years” (p.96). Basharat spent his formative years under the watchful eyes of his grandfather enjoying the company of books introduced to him by his father. It was January 1990, when he was 13 years of age that his war of adolescence began and events were set in motion which were to change Kashmir forever.  

In this intensely personal account of Kashmir, Basharat, goes on to describe the transformation of Kashmir from a land of immense natural beauty, into one where “armoured cars and soldiers” (p.229) were now casting an ominous shadow on the once idyllic landscape. According to him, the night of January 20,1990 marked a watershed in the Kashmiri demand for freedom, from an oppressive central government. On that night the paramilitary  had come down heavily to crush what was seen to be an “incipient rebellion” (p.14) and the infamous Gawkadal Bridge massacre was to follow just a day later(Haq, 2019).  Starting with the consequent spurt in growth of home grown militancy under the aegis of the pro-independence JKLF, he in the course of the book then traces the changing complexion and complexity of militancy as it moved to one which endorsed a pro-Pakistan stand as advocated by Hizbul Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. As a concomitant we are exposed to his references to the growing presence of the Indian Armed Forces and the consequent, at times unspeakable atrocities.    

While still in school, Basharat Peer, could have said to have been lucky when he heeds the words of his grandfather, who tells him that “you don’t live long, in a war son”(p.28). This takes place when he aspires to join the militants in a moment of boyish hero worship, only to be thwarted in his attempt through active intervention by his family. The irony lies in the fact that in the same time frame, Tariq, his cousin meets a violent end after having embraced militancy. This inevitability of a violent end, in case of militancy, is later underlined by Basharat when he mentions that, “even Yusuf had not gotten out alive” (p.221). Yusuf was his childhood acquaintance who had various dalliances with the law, militancy and politics before being gunned down. It is indeed thought provoking and sad to find that the graves of those killed in the conflict were mostly those of the young, really young.

With this early brush with militancy, it is not long before, Basharat is sent away to study at the Aligarh Muslim University followed by enrolment at a university in Delhi. This leads him to a job as a reporter and a mellowing phase in his personal development when he discovers, the “various Indias that existed” (p. 69). All along visiting and keeping in touch with the valley it is a militant attack on his parents which unnerves him and prompts his return to the valley after having resigned from his job as a reporter. Wanting to write an intimate account of Kashmir, he now spends his time tracking down events and people with “militants and soldiers” becoming “ghost like presences”(p.206). This marks an extremely traumatic, tumultuous phase of intensely felt emotions, just as we are witness to the paralytic pain that engulfs him in his failed attempt to visit Kunanposhpora where twenty women were raped by armed forces.  

There is also a sense of the tragic especially in the latter half of the narrative, when Basharat poignantly reminds us (repeatedly)of the tremendous human cost brought upon his beloved valley which gradually became a conflict zone before his very own eyes. Whether it is the reference to the ‘Association of the Parents of the Disappeared’ (p.132) or his schoolmate Mubashir’s falling victim to a grenade attack as an innocent bystander, the pain is searing. Even his own grandfather’s brother Nabi suffers from “fear and paranoia” (p.77) after his brush with militants and is resigned to taking anti-depressants in order to cope with the trauma. This psychological distress does not take sides and even an army officer is quoted to say, “I was a different man before I joined the force and came to Kashmir” (p.232). It is no wonder that Basharat writes sub consciously or otherwise about the “violence of a shoe brush” and his aeroplane is seen to execute a “violent sprint on the runway” (p. 235).  

All said and done, whatever one’s political orientation, ‘Curfewed Night’, is undeniably a rich tapestry of reportage, personal experiences, reminiscences while at the same time it works as a social commentary on the Kashmir of our times. Basharat Peer does not always shy away from the unpleasant, though his narrative does shy away from digging deeper in to some uncomfortable truths like the forced migration of 100,000 or more Kashmiri Pandits following the events of the night of January 19,1990 (India Today , 2016). Also brushed aside is the role played by Pakistan when it meddles in matters of the sovereign state of India through its active and complicit involvement in an ongoing state sponsored proxy war(Towle, 1981).

To end on a more positive note, looking to “return, leave, return, leave, and return again” (p.234), an emotional Basharat looks for erasure of the “lines of control” (p.239) and a return to a world where individuals are not just suspects or military targets. He does indeed sum it up so well with his heart rending expression of the hope that the war in his valley “would disappear like footsteps on winter snow”! (p.223)

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Proxy War and the Line of Control in Kashmir

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Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.Thomas Moore

The Backdrop

Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).

The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle. 

With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.

Proxy War and Kashmir

Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).

 As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.

In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).

Line of Control and Kashmir

In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.

Proxy War and Line of Control

 In Juxtaposition

Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.

In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.   

 In Search of a Settlement

Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.

Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been  unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.

Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018).  Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.

Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.

Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.

 India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.

Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being  used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan,   India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil.  Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.

In Conclusion

Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”

Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir  is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).

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South Asia

Increasing Need for Global Cooperation and Solidarity- Interview with Dr. Tandi Dorji

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Covid-19 has invoked challenges worldwide that require us to formulate innovative solutions. Dr.Tandi Dorji , the foreign minister of Bhutan talks about the need to foster and increase transnational cooperation during these trying times.

Dr. Tandi Dorji has played a significant role in fostering Indo-Bhutan relations, and in the interview, he discussed future areas of collaboration, cultural understanding, and international engagement among the youth of the two countries. Having been a public health researcher before, Dr. Dorji reflects that the pandemic has rendered the population of Bhutan really vulnerable, and thinks that a challenge of such nature and scale can be surmounted only with global solidarity, cooperation and diligent efforts.

Some nations have a lot of financial, technical and human resources to tackle the pandemic, but others with weak public health systems and constrained by lack of resources cannot be sustained by sole efforts. There is a need to recognize this disparity and acknowledge that a weak link could jeopardize efforts aimed at global collaboration. Governments, health organizations, private sectors, scientists and researchers need to work with a common aim.

Countries that have research and financial capabilities need to come forward and support organizations like WHO that are responding to the current crisis through vaccine research. The collaborations in vaccine research need to be speeded up, and in order to make them more accessible and affordable for all countries, there needs to be a proper regulatory framework put in place.

This calls for a renewal in diplomatic efforts and increased funding programs by nations that already possess resources to tackle the crisis.

As someone who studied and lived in India for more than 15 years of his life, Dr. Dorji really appreciates the cultural richness and diversity present across states in India. He says that cultural understanding can play a very vital part in creating empathy within a population for the other side’s paradigm and mindsets. Being informed of a person’s or a culture’s peculiarities enables us to comprehend them better.

Cultural differences, according to him, have not prevented people from working together. Rather, the fact that different countries in the past have come together under the purview of common international frameworks has provided opportunities to different cultures to reach out to one another, and to understand as well as accept the differences among them.

Dr. Dorji also believes that the principles and values that construct out society play a crucial role in informing our education system, so the need of the hour is to collectively create an environment that would make the youth feel more involved and develop the ability in them to engage in constructive discussion and exercise other forms of proactive citizenship, including in the areas of foreign affairs and international relations.

From politics to economics to health, the world has become a lot more interconnected than before, and to succeed in this global age it is very important to instil in students the ability to think globally, communicate across cultures, and act on issues of global significance; and while school education could play a role by incorporating foreign affairs and international relations in the curriculum, to foster greater awareness and intercultural empathy among nations we would also need to enable young minds to understand how the foreign policy objectives constructed by a nation affects their daily lives and the society at large.

More exchange programs between the schools and colleges of India and Bhutan in the fields of sports, culture and science and more youth-focused programs is one way to enhance the probability of intercultural understanding.

Dr. Dorji also says that India being one of the largest economies of the world, and predicted to become the second largest by 2050, there is much scope for collaboration between India and Bhutan within sectors such as Science, technology, tourism, Information technology, space and satellites, and pharmaceuticals. Indian investments in such sectors could be explored in the near future.

His Majesty the King of Bhutan (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk) has particularly stressed the importance of STEM in harnessing technological advances, which can only happen by investing in these subjects. Economies are progressing and the world is gradually becoming more digital, so the national labour market is also going to require skills with an added emphasis on technical abilities, and it is highly important that our children are prepared to participate in discoveries and technologies that would unfold in future. One of them is space, and although Bhutan lacks resources and is a small country, it is important for more Bhutanese young people to realise the value of, and take up space studies.

The government, as per Dr. Dorji, shall be ready to encourage and promote the same.

Dr. Tandi Dorji concluded by saying that he appreciates the strong cultural heritage of India and how the country has managed to preserve and promote it.

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