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India: Popular anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]oday Tamil Nadu, like in most of states, is undergoing serious crises. Communal flare-ups by the government and Hindutva parties is worst problem the nation is facing now.

Tamil Nadu is often in news for wrong reasons. Besides the rift within the ruling AIADMK sweeten the warring factions led by former CM and Jayalithaa’s Lieutenant O. Panneerselvam and jailed Sasikala represented by CM Palanisamy, there are other problems like the strong farmers’ movement for justice and the people’s movement to make the state from liquor by implementing the prohibition in total, among other strikes by state government employees with demands.

On the one hand, people of India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi who opposed liquor, seeks total prohibition and on the other the governments lift prohibition in order to get more revenues and help the rich and liquor traders make more profits to let them grow richer while the poor suffer from the ill-effects of liquor consumption against popular will and wishes.

That is violation of popular democracy.

Prohibition in India

Logically speaking entire India should be a non-liquor nation and a total prohibition should be put into practice sincerely. .

Anti-liquor campaign is not restricted to Tamil Nadu alone. Though Gujarat is popularly known as the ‘dry state of India’, Nagaland and Lakshadweep too have implemented total prohibition.

Bihar banned sale and consumption of liquor from April 1.Manipur, which was under total prohibition until 2014, lifted curbs in select areas. Kerala is in the process of phasing out liquor. It was the only other State, where a government-owned corporation sold liquor. Haryana tried its luck in bringing total prohibition in 1996. The move affected the government revenue to the tune of Rs. 1200 crore. The State suffered loss of over 20,000 jobs as breweries were closed down. The Haryana Vikas Party-led government introduced more taxes. As a result the party lost the 1998 parliamentary elections. The same year it lifted the liquor ban.

After the first general elections for free India in 1952, the Congress came to power in Tamil Nadu. The Prohibition Act was enforced throughout the State. Tamil Nadu continued to impose prohibition, while Andhra Pradesh and Mysore (later renamed as Karnataka), which were carved out of Madras Presidency, did not have any such restrictions on alcohol. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi lifted prohibition, despite stiff opposition from many quarters, including Rajaji, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the then chief minister against reintroduction of liquor.

Karunanidhi’s argument was that while he was always for prohibition, since it was not enforced across the nation, the State was only incurring loss of revenue and liquor was always available to the people from the neighbouring States. He brought back prohibition in 1974. Decades later, Karunanidhi has now vowed to bring back total prohibition, if voted to power.

The AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) who actively canvassed against liquor, lifted prohibition in 1981, only to close down all arrack and toddy shops early in 1987. In 1983, the MGR government established the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation for procurement and selling of alcohol in the State. Licenses to liquor-selling outlets and bars were granted through auctions. Incidentally, in 1981, the government created Tamil Nadu Spirit Corporation too and manufactured liquor until 1987, when the company was shut down.

Successive governments tweaked the policy on sale of arrack and toddy, but the policy by and large left Indian-Made Foreign Liquor untouched. Whenever prohibition was imposed, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack would peak, resulting in loss of several lives, and thus paving way for lifting the ban.

Another prominent reason given for lifting curbs on liquor sales was rampant increase consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under >O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor after over 100 people died the previous year due to methanol consumption. Low-cost liquor was, in fact, sold in the 1990s by the government.

Anti-liquor movement

People of Tamil Nadu spearhead the anti-liquor movement earnestly and continue to struggle to get all liquor outlets run by the state government. As common folk take steps to shut down the liquor vending shops, there exists a tensed situation all over the state. In many places people and police clash as they demolish the state liquor shops.

In August 2015, a dawn to dusk bandh called by some opposition parties in Tamil Nadu did not disrupt normal life even as the state witnessed a series of protests demanding total prohibition. The anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu appears to be growing stronger with the protestors demanding that all liquor stores be shut. Outside the Madras High Court, a group of law college students staged a protest demanding prohibition. The police were out in large numbers to prevent violence across the state after student protesters ransacked a state-run liquor store in Chennai. A protestor said, “The police is the one protecting the The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) . We are protesting against the government in peaceful manner.”

Popular anti-liquor movement positively influenced the policies of major parties. It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. The move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition DMK, which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks.

In April 2016, while kicking off the AIADMK’s campaign seeking a second term, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had announced that her government will implement prohibition in a phased manner if her party is voted to power. A couple of months before the poll, minister for prohibition and excise Natham Viswanthan declared in the assembly that liquor prohibition was not on the state’s agenda – a move that was welcomed by employees in the liquor trade as well as the Tamil Nadu liquor consumers’ association.

It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. In fact, the move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks. Former deputy chief minister and party treasurer MK Stalin had dedicated his mass contact programme – Nammakku Naame – last year to affirming that the M Karunanidhi-led party would enforce prohibition in the state if voted to power. The DMK in its election manifesto released on Sunday promises total prohibition in the State. The P-word is likely to figure in the manifestos of all major political parties and alliances.

The AIADMK government’s eleventh-hour move – seemingly aimed at appeasing the state’s sizeable chunk of women voters – also exposed her to sharp attacks from opposition leaders. “What has she been doing for five years now?” chorused opposition leaders EVKS Elangovan of the Congress, Tamilisai Soudarrajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Anbumani Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Captain Vijayakanth of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) – alleging that her move was inspired by politics, not public welfare.

DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi promised total prohibition in the party manifesto released on Sunday, an assurance that Jayalalithaa criticised by saying that the DMK leader did not have the moral right to assure any such thing when it was he who had lifted the ban way back in 1971.

Tamilisai Soundarrajan, president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, claimed that neither the DMK nor the AIADMK were serious about enforcing prohibition. “Jayalalithaa’s promise of phased prohibition is as unbelievable as Karunanidhi’s declaration of total prohibition,” she told mediapersons on Monday, adding that the BJP stood for prohibition in the state because it cared for the plight of the poor.

While PMK chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss wondered why Jayalalithaa had suddenly remembered prohibition, he did not fail to notice the silver lining in the announcement. “Even so, it is a victory for us as we were the ones who first launched the campaign for total prohibition,” he said.

Prohibition law

Alcohol Prohibition in Tamil Nadu is governed by State Prohibition and Excise department as per Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937. TASMAC, state government owned company controls the wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the State. On 2016 may 24, After swearing-in J. Jayalalithaa has announced to close 500 liquor shops and reduce the business hours of State-run liquor shops across the State.[1] On 20 February 2017, The first office order signed by the Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami was the closure of 500 liquor outlets owned by the public sector TASMAC. This is in addition to the 500 liquor outlets closed down by late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in May 2016.

Madras Abkari Act, 1886 was imposed and set in place a strict regulation which banned the local manufacturing of alcohol and confined it to central distilleries where excise duty was paid prior to being sold.[2] This British tax policy favored the consumption of foreign liquors over more traditional drinks such as toddy and country liquors. One fifth of the Madras Presidency population consumed alcohol. Excise revenue from Madras Presidency accounted for as much as 38% of its total revenue. Though prohibition was relaxed on other states after independence including former Madras Presidency regions, Tamil Nadu continued to adopt total prohibition until 1971. In 1971 the DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi suspended it in 1971 and allowed the sale of arrack and toddy. But later, the same government stopped the sale of these in 1974.

In 1981, the AIADMK government headed by actor turned politician M.G. Ramachandran lifted prohibition and reintroduced the sale of arrack and toddy. Due to wide use of the methanol in industries and there were no restrictions in other States, In 1984 September methanol was removed from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act. In 1987, the sale of arrack and toddy was again banned. During 1975-76 and 1988–90, illicit liquor claimed many lives in Tamil Nadu. In 1990, the DMK government revived the sale of arrack and toddy. In 1991 July 16, again the sale of arrack and toddy was banned by new government led by J. Jayalalithaa. Methanol was substituted and consumed under the illegal liquor trade. In 2002, Methanol brought again under Prohibition act.

The erstwhile Madras Presidency had implemented prohibition in Salem district as early as 1937 and gradually expanded it to several other areas. In order to compensate the loss incurred, sales tax was introduced by the Congress government headed by C. Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji. The government would grant ‘permits’ to individuals, who wish to consume liquor.

On October 30, 2015, police arrested Kovan alias Sivadas, a folk singer and a member of extreme Left group Makkal Kalai Iyakkam, who was criticising government’s way of earning revenue by selling liquor. He was slapped with sedition charges claiming that his songs were anti-state and criticised Ms. Jayalalithaa. Most of the opposition parties rallied behind Kovan and sought his immediate release. Kovan is now out on bail.

Liquor policy

Prohibition was first introduced at Salem in 1937, and then implemented in other parts of the state in phases. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M Karunanidhi withdrew prohibition in view of the state’s “bleak economic situation”.

Even at the height of the anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu last October, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government slapped sedition charges against folk singer S Kovan for criticising chief minister J Jayalalithaa over her reluctance to ban liquor trade in the state.

Calls for prohibition in Tamil Nadu have grown louder after activist Sasi Perumal died while demanding the closure of a liquor store in Kanyakumari on Friday. Following his death, opposition parties like the MDMK and the VCK called for a state-wide dawn to dusk bandh. But normal life remained largely unaffected with shops remaining open and buses plying across the state. Leading the protest, former MP and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan said, “We are protesting not to get votes, but for people’s welfare. Today the Tamil Nadu government has reached a point where they protect the TASMAC shop rather than the people of its state.”

The ruling AIADMK has however dismissed the anti-liquor protests and the bandh as a political stunt by its rivals in the run up to the 2016 Assembly elections. Considered the cash-cow for the government state-run liquor stores brought in over Rs 26,000 crore last year. CR Saraswathi, Spokesperson of the AIADMK on the eve of poll sharply reacted to the protests describing them as a mere election gimmick. She said “all these opposition party people whether MDMK or otherwise – just for election they are creating a problem. It’s not for the welfare of the people. Even Vaiko was with AIADMK and DMK alliances. They can’t face Amma on political ground. They want to create a law and order problem. People will never support them”.

But with AIADMK’s arch-rival the DMK also planning to hold protests demanding total prohibition in the days to come the question then was: will the state-wide agitation force the Jayalalithaa government to re-think its liquor policy?

TASMAC

The TASMAC is governed by a board of five IAS officers, including a Managing Director, and the State Minister for Excise and Prohibition. The company earns revenue not only from liquor sales but also by granting annual licences to run bars near its retail outlets. According to its website, the TASMAC has 41 depots in five regions and runs over 6,800 retail outlets across the State. It procures beer locally from three manufacturers and hard liquor from six manufacturers. Certain alcohol products are imported from other States.

The annual revenue of TASMAC stood at Rs. 26,188 crores in FY 2014-15.>According to government data, more than 70 lakh people consume liquor every day through TASMAC outlets. In January 2016, the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.

There was a time when alcohol consumption was linked to antagonists and Tamil cinema ‘heroes’ would avoid drinking on-screen. MGR the chief minister might have had a different stand on prohibition, but MGR the actor never drank on-screen.

In the Tamil movie Neenga nalla irukkanum, which deals with alcohol addiction, the then chief minister Jayalalithaa played herself. Her government would help a woman rehabilitate her alcoholic husband.

TASMAC has replaced ‘wine shops’, the slang to denote retail IMFL outlets. These days, Tamil protagonists and female leads do not shy away from drinking on-screen. It is common to have words such as ‘party’, ‘drinking’, ‘open the bottle,’ ‘ thanni’, ‘kudi’ and ‘TASMAC’ in Tamil film songs. There is even a Tamil cinema named Madhubaanakadai.

When Ms. Jayalalithaa came back to power in 2002, she not only cancelled her predecessor Panneerselvam’s order on cheap liquor, but also brought the retail sales of alcohol under government control. This move gave TASMAC monopoly over liquor sales in Tamil Nadu.

Ever since the TASMAC’s outlet was opened in 2012 near a school and a church, the residents of Unnaamalaikkadai in Kanyakumari district have been demanding its closure. Fifty nine year old Gandhian and anti-liquor activist Sasi Perumal joined their protest, which went to 1000th day on June 30, 2015. During the protest on July 31, Perumal climbed up a mobile phone tower and began losing his consciousness in the high altitude and was rescued and rushed to a government hospital, where he breathed his last. Following his death, protests erupted across the state targeting TASMAC outlets.

Liquor politics

Prohibition has taken centre stage in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, after a series of protests in 2015. Parties such as the PMK and the MDMK have consistently demanded total prohibition in the State. Former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the CM candidate of the PMK, in his ‘blueprint for development’ not only mentions closure of government-run liquor shops, but also claims to have alternative revenue sources to offset revenue loss from prohibition.

Tamil Nadu was probably the first State to have a blanket ban on liquor. Today, several of the State’s welfare measures, including freebies, are funded by the revenue earned through liquor sale.

Government had to give police protection to these shops. The outlet in Unnaamalaikkadai was shut down immediately after Perumal’s death, but only to be reopened few days later.

Targeting the upmarket segment, the company opened its first premium outlet, TASMAC Elite, inside a shopping mall in Chennai in 2013. There are plans to open over 450 Elite outlets in urban and semi-urban areas in every district.

While political parties such as the PMK and the MDMK were consistent in demanding a total prohibition, they often protested against setting up new TASMAC outlets and the recent TASMAC Elite. Gandhian movements, women’s groups and civil society have voiced against more individuals, especially youths, being lured into alcohol consumption. But three recent agitations are worth mentioning in the anti-alcohol fight. In August 2015, residents of Kalingapatti, a village in Tirunelveli district, tried to lock down a TASMAC outlet functioning there. The village is the hometown on MDMK chief and coordinator of the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) Vaiko. The protest was lead by his nonagenarian mother Mariammal. When protestors tried to ransack the outlet, police resorted to lathi-charge and fired tear gas. The Kalingapatti Panchayat, earlier passed a resolution demanding closure of the liquor shop. Workers of the VCK, an ally of MDMK, too joined in later.

Liquor trade thrived whether the liquor is allowed or banned by the state as most of the liquor lobbyists and traders belong to DMK or AIADMK. . Whenever government imposed prohibition, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack along with consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent resulting in loss of several lives, Which paving way for lifting the ban.[6] In 2001, prohibition was lifted again and TASMAC became the wholesale monopoly for alcohol. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor through TASMAC. In 2014-15, the annual revenue of TASMAC was Rs. 26,188 crores and the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.

However, nobody seems to be talking about how the revenue loss of up to Rs 27,000 crore per annum made through the government-monopolised liquor trade will be compensated. The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), which controls the liquor trade in the state, has grown steadily over the years – from Rs 139.41 crore in 1983-84 to Rs 7,335 crore in 2005-06 and now to over Rs 27,000 crore. There are about 6,800 liquor outlets in the state.

Observation

Tamil Nadu government must, in view of strong anti-liquor movement at all levels, impose total prohibition at least for full year and then v review the situation later to make remedial steps to help the poor.

The continued mass movement against liquor evils makes their life difficult as they are unable to go for daily work to earn money, make their livelihood complicated and perplexed. This in the long run would affect economy of the state. Implications are disastrous for the people and state, though the rich and liquor lobbyist continue to mint huge money.

When a government denies the rights of people and does exactly what the people do not ask for the government commits serious crimes, unless people are ultra fanatic like Hindutva minded Indians. Tamils are not demanding anything fanatically communal but only genuine needs without harming the interests of any section of the society. Tamil Nadu is committed to welfare of people and they must read and the writing on the wall and listen to their own conscience.

Instead of piling up problems, the government would do better by trying to honestly solving the people’s problems one by one. That is perhaps democracy.

India should strive for total prohibition. The Modi government should make law to declare India a liquor free nation.

Liquor should be avoided even at high parties by the government.

That is the way a government should show for the people emulate. Empty words of principles do not any sense.

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South Asia

India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present

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rouhani-iran

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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