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A Case for Simultaneous Centre-State Polls in India

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The Republic of India is the world’s largest democracy. More than 800 million voters are eligible to exercise their right to elect a government. Democratic decentralization has ensured that every voter has a chance to elect a representative of his choice at a national, state and local level.

The Indian democracy, in spite of large size, is highly stable and there has always been a peaceful transition of power between governments. Aside from Indira Gandhi’s brief flirtation with emergency, the democratic institutions of India have, are and will remain strong. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is an independent institution charged with conducting free and fair elections. One of the most famous Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.N. Seshan is credited with making the ECI free, ruthless and a highly competent body. During elections to the national or a state level, a mode code of conduct (MCC) is enforced in the region. During the MCC, all officers are under the jurisdiction of the ECI and the current dispensation cannot make any declarations or promises to sway the electorate. MCC ensures, a level playing field for all, taking the throne away from the king and forcing him to slug in the mud with his competitors. But on the flipside, during MCC, the entire government machinery is geared towards the successful completion of the elections, at the cost of their core responsibilities i.e. administration and execution of government schemes. Also, constant elections (1 National, 29 State and 2 UTs) ensure that the country is perpetually in a state of election mania and no party, ruling or otherwise can risk to take a stand contradictory to the voting patterns of the state about to go to voting. This has prompted a few leaders and thinkers to propose the need for simultaneous elections in the entire country.

The year 2014 heralded a new chapter in the Indian Politics. An ambitious leader, Narendra Modi supported by able and energetic supporters took the entire country by storm and won the first simple majority in the Indian lower house in over 30 years. It was no mean feat and considering the odds stacked against Narendra Modi, nothing less than a miracle. However, the leader (or more aptly the General) never halted his cavalries after this victory. His army fought battles after battles, for them every battle was a battle of survival. With his guns never stopped blazing, his horses ever on a gallop, his men ever on the move, the General found or had very little time to consolidate his victories. Consequently, very less time was actually devoted to administration and most of the time and energies spent on discussing the battle plans for the next fray. Three years on, with elections due every 6 months, Modi’s army is showing signs of fatigue. His army has bloated in numbers but is fast losing its edge and thus, needs new weapons and some much needed rest. Modi needs to put together newer weapons (programs & schemes for development and implement them on the ground) before his forces are led to another major battle. It thus comes as no surprise that one of the strongest proponents of the simultaneous polls is the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.    

It would be interesting if the polls for the India’s lower house of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Indian State Assemblies are help together. The ECI has claimed that it is well equipped to handle simultaneous polls. However, there are a few challenges that need to be solved before such a change can be implemented nationwide. The primary motive of this article is to explore the possible shortcomings of the idea and explore suitable solutions to it.

One of the primary shortcoming of such a system proposed by the detractors of the proposal is the lack of political consensus needed for such an arrangement. Yes, this is true. Barring a few parties, not many parties are keen on this idea. While political consensus on such an issue will be difficult to establish for the proponents of the proposal, the detractors seem to forget that the strongest political party in India, the BJP and its undisputed leader, Narendra Modi is firmly behind the proposal. The deft maneuvering of Narendra Modi and the political compromises made by his team to ensure a speedy passage of the Goods & Service Tax is not only laudable but also a template for how Modi & his team can ensure the passage of any sensitive matter or bill of importance.

Also, if we are to have simultaneous polls for the Centre & the State the terms of the various state assemblies will likely to be shortened or extended in order to accommodate such an arrangement. Possible candidates for start year of such an implementation are either 2019 or 2022. While it is too soon to comment on 2019 (Modi government lacks the critical numbers it needs to push forth various bills in the Indian Upper House), 2022-2023 appears to be a logical choice. Modi government can provide extension to all state assemblies going to polls in 2021 to the year of the poll and shorten the duration of election of the states that went to polls in 2019 or 2020. Also, there would be a need to shorten the duration of the National Lower House by a year or two if we go for this arrangement. While there are constitutional precedents for these type of arrangements, it would be interesting to see how this can be implemented nation-wide. Modi must need to win a simple majority in all the elections upto 2019 to see his dream pass else he would lose the numbers needed to pass for the constitutional amendments. Also, the term of the J&K assembly will have to reduce from 6 years to 5 years to bring it to the same length with the rest of the country.

Elections are a biggest celebrations of the human freedom and it is imperative that adequate security be put in place that all voters be at a peace of mind when the voting takes place. There needs to enough companies of paramilitary forces deployed so that voting can take place smoothly and free of violence. While it is true that Indian Paramilitary comprised of several different forces is stretched thin and has its hands full, with proper management and conducting the elections in multiple phases, the Indian Paramilitary forces are sufficient to conduct the elections smoothly. Also, since polling for both state and national assembly would be carried out in the same go, a single deployment of troops can ensure the protection without any hassles. This will also reduce the manpower requirement for the conduct of elections.

Now, a major question which arises is that what if any state assembly or worse, the national parliament are unable to reach a consensus on a new government or an elected government falls midway. In this case, by-polls for the region in question can be conducted and the newly elected government can hold charge for the remainder of the total duration, just like a constituency bypoll, only on a larger scale.

Hence, while it is true that simultaneous polls are a radical idea and its implementation, an uphill task but it nothing other the ordinary and the present dispensation can easily ensure its acceptance. However, if Narendra Modi loses in 2019, this idea will die a silent and quick death.

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South Asia

Questioning the Novelty of India’s New Normal

Haris Bilal Malik

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In recent years Indian notions of Pre-emption and so-called surgical strikes have been referred to as the ‘new normal’ by many in India. These have contributed to further affecting the security, stability and strategic equilibrium in the South Asian region. This is evident in how the top-brass within the Indian military has repeatedly asserted that India reserves the right to punish Pakistan with such notions of preemptive strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) under its limited war doctrines, which themselves belie a desire to wage a low-intensity conflict across the border. At the doctrinal level, India has been planning for this for quite some time as evident from its 2004 Cold Start Doctrine (CSD)as well as its more recently released doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD). These doctrines are all based upon proactive strategies and indirect threats of preemptive strikes against Pakistan. Based on the current patterns of Indian aggression these ideas hold immense significance when considering the latest rounds of tensions over the disputed territory of Kashmir as witnessed in the short-lived military engagement between the two countries in February 2019

Inspired by such notions and in typical fashion, the new Army Chief of India Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane wasted little time in blaming Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in India. The same day he took charge of his new appointment he claimed that India reserves the right to respond in the same way it had previously done through its so-called ‘surgical strikes.’ Moreover, he openly asserted to physically taking control of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) if his government ordered him to do so.

However, such assertions from the Indian political and military leadership are simply repetitions of the same statements that have been made by Prime Minister Modi, Mr. Rajnath Singh, and former Army Chief Gen. (R) Bipin Rawat in the recent past. Representing the same aggressive and jingoistic posturing, there is not much novelty in these statements. In fact, even in this so-called ‘new normal’ which these leaders have repeatedly described over the last few years, there is nothing new at all.

Even the oft-quoted notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ is not new for Pakistan as it had already formed a key part of the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community since the years 2016-2017. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan was found to be deploying nuclear weapons, as a contingency, India would likely resort to such a splendid first strike which it has always hinted as being a nuclear strike. As such all this does is prove Pakistan’s pre-existing doubts over India’s long-debated ‘No First Use’ (NFU) Policy. Yet, what’s worth noting here is that this overt shift towards declaring a more offensive doctrinal posture from India represents a more focused attempt at undermining the deterrent value of Pakistan’s own nuclear posture, thus ultimately destabilizing the South Asian region.

Instead, the only thing new to come out from all these assertions from Indian leaders is the prevailing fascist mindset within India that is being fueled by a false sense of racial superiority and hatred against Muslims. This was clearly stated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his tweet when he attributed the cause of such provocations to the RSS’s extremist ideology. Hence, Pakistan perceives the recent statements from India’s top military brass as also being wholly politically inspired and as a routine attempt to divert attention away from the rampant domestic socio-economic issues currently plaguing India. The fact remains that Pakistan’s response to this Indian self-proclaimed ‘new normal’ which was on full display during the Balakot crisis itself set a clear example of its full spectrum deterrence. Contrary to the notion that a conventional asymmetry of sorts exists between the two countries, Pakistan had responded conventionally and more befittingly while holding its own toe to toe. In other words, Pakistan proved that it can also restore deterrence via conventional means despite the quantitative edge of India’s conventional forces and military hardware.

It is also worth noting that while India is spending billions of dollars on its military modernization program both in terms of its conventional and unconventional acquisitions; allocating billions for defence spending does not necessarily guarantee military supremacy. Especially if the adversary is determined to thwart any such attempts right from the outset. India’s actual capabilities still differentiate widely from what its political and military leadership inspires and projects itself to be. In fact, there is a huge gap between the Indian leadership’s expectations and what its military can actually deliver. As apparent not only in the absurdity of Gen. Naravane’s statement but also in Prime Minister Modi’s and others, the credibility of such threats already remains highly questionable.

Hence at the present, it seems that India is more keen on simply projecting military supremacy vis-à-vis Pakistan as opposed to actually attaining it, as reflected in the statements of its political and military top brass. Its favored notions of preemption at the doctrinal and strategic levels are evidence of such aspirations. As such the increasingly provocative posturing against Pakistan in the form of this so-called ‘new normal’ seems to represent simply a jingoistic approach to manipulate Indian public sentiment in the ruling government’s favor. However, the fact remains that Pakistan has already nullified such notions of preemption in the recent past and has proved it time and again. As such India’s aggressive posturing seems to be collapsing on itself with its self-proclaimed ‘new normal’ unlikely to pose any serious challenges to Pakistan’s strategic posture at least for the time being.

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From Scapegoat Back to Key Ally: Pakistan and the Perils of US Maximalism

M Waqas Jan

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In the two years since President Trump accused Pakistan of giving nothing but deceit and lies, relations between both countries seem to have undergone a dramatic turnaround. This is evident not only in the official narrative being put forth by both countries with respect to one another, but also in how this growing sense of cordiality has culminated into a series of high-level visits and meetings between key representatives. For instance, the icy indifference with which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was greeted with in Islamabad back in September 2018 now stands in stark contrast to the frank more amicable meetings that have been held between Prime Minister Khan and President Trump thrice since then. Not to mention the back to back visits from Alice Wells, the current US government’s focal representative for South Asia, that have further accompanied a steady yet gradual thawing of tensions.

Signs of this turnaround are further evident in how last month’s resumption of military education and training programs for Pakistani Officers marks one of the first steps towards renewed strategic cooperation. This represents an important milestone since President Trump had announced the cancellation of all forms of US military aid to Pakistan in early 2018. Similarly, acknowledgments of the progress made as per the requirements of the FATF review, as well as the ‘concern’ expressed over India’s recent actions in Kashmir are all signs aimed at placating some of Pakistan’s most pressing interests. Thus, hinting at what more cordial relations with the US could look like for Pakistan, while just stopping short of making any concrete commitments.

Yet, to say that Pak-US ties have begun to ‘normalize’ or ‘revert’ towards a mutually beneficial status quo would be ignoring the age-old complexity that has characterized relations between both countries. Especially for a relationship that has been long described as blowing hot and cold, on and off, as a rollercoaster ride, or simply a love-hate one. History has borne witness to the fact that US foreign policy towards Pakistan has more than often been based on a ruthless pragmatism and maximalism. This all or nothing approach has brought immense amounts of aid and funds for Pakistan which have been always cut off just as abruptly as they were initiated. Often without any long-term assessment or appreciation of what such actions are likely to lead to beyond the US’s more immediate goals.

None of this has been more evident than in US expectations from Pakistan regarding Afghanistan and the Taliban. It’s no secret that the very inception of the Taliban came from US funds and training during the waning stages of the Cold War for which Pakistan played the role of an indispensable intermediary. Yet following the 9/11 attacks, US policy towards the Taliban changed overnight when the US in lumping the Taliban together with Al-Qaeda brought down its military might on the entire Afghan State. What’s more it forced Pakistan to join its War on Terror almost at gunpoint. The infamous statement attributed to then US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage where he allegedly threated ‘to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age’ stands as a stark reminder of how even labeling this relationship as ‘complex’ is simply an understatement.

This aspect is further reinforced in the damning revelations of the Afghanistan Papers that were released just last month. Representing a cache of candid interviews of key officials responsible for formulating and implementing the US’s Afghanistan policy, these interviews have been used to piece together crucial mistakes at the strategic and policy levels made by successive US governments over the last two decades.  One of these mistakes has been highlighted as ‘trusting Pakistan as a friend’ where Pakistan has been repeatedly accused of providing sanctuary and support to certain militant groups. Hence, accusations of Pakistan playing a double game, as well as the confusing distinctions between good and bad Taliban all contributed to a narrative that Pakistan was doing more to upend US progress than support it. This had caused much of the resentment and mutual distrust specifically during the Obama years which starting from calls to ‘do more’ resulted in the US unilaterally and covertly taking out Osama Bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory. As ties worsened, the advent of the Trump presidency brought with them an overt sense of finality in the form of his new year tweet that was referred to in the beginning of this article.

Yet, even now as both countries come full circle with the US asking for help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, one fears that the US may still not have learnt anything from its adventurist debacles. As the Afghanistan Papers themselves testify, Pakistani officials have remained quite  candid in their desire to hedge their bets against the US by maintaining limited ties with the Taliban. This was made clear to Ambassador Ryan Crocker who had served as the US ambassador in Islamabad from 2004-2007. In one of his interviews in the Afghanistan Papers, the former ambassador directly quotes a conversation he had with Gen Ashfaq Kayani who was then the DG ISI.As Mr. Crocker himself recounts, the general had quite explicitly made clear his reservations against an abrupt US withdrawal that would force Pakistan to once again pick up the pieces while having made the Taliban a mortal enemy. Hence justifying the reasons behind Pakistan’s so-called duplicity.

But considering how it is in fact the US now that is pressing Pakistan to use those same ties to help extricate itself out of the Afghan quagmire, Pakistan’s strategy against the Taliban seems to have stood wholly vindicated. In fact, it appears downright visionary considering how in hindsight, Pakistan had repeatedly called on the US to consider negotiating with the Taliban – especially when the US had the upper hand following its initial successes back in the early 2000s.However,the US after squandering its own reputation and credibility and already having missed multiple chances to engage with the Taliban are now ironically banking on Pakistan to help secure an exit. A kind of exit that not only allows the US to perhaps save face at the international level, but also offer something palatable to the American people during an election year. Thus, once again reeking of the reactionary maximalism that has so often brought into question the US’s reliability and trustworthiness as an ally. Not to mention President Trump’s own ‘America First’ policy, which already risks squandering whatever little credibility the US has been left with in the first place.

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South Asia

India’s Modi: Messiah or Menace

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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When the Hindu sages developed their way of life, they divided people into four castes:  Brahmins, the thinkers, scholars and priests at the top for they were the guides; Kshatriyas, the soldiers including the king second for they protected and governed society; Vaishyas the merchants third with their commerce facilitating daily living; and Shudras who were the laborers and service workers at the bottom.

Well, the world has changed as it should but perhaps they had a point as there is a Vaish — not one at the top of the class but a tea-seller from a shop that would be at the other end of the spectrum from those charming English tea shops in Devon — now running the country.  Of dubious education that has been challenged and a beginning in the ultra-nationalist RSS (once outlawed by India’s founding prime minister and known also for producing Gandhi’s assassin) Narendra Modi is at India’s helm.  His BJP party’s rise is linked to stoking up tensions between Hindus and minority Muslims, whose suffering has been well documented.  Police powers have been increased and Muslim Kashmir is now under direct rule from Delhi, while new laws are disqualifying Muslims from citizenship.  So reports The Economist in its special issue, The State of the World in 2020 (p. 53).

Better known is the pogrom of Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat when he headed the provincial government there, and his party’s role in the destruction of a 500-year old mosque built by Babur so that the fictitious birthplace of Ram would be holy to both religions.  Having overthrown the Muslim Lodi dynasty and with a tenuous hold, Babur was seeking friends among Hindu Rajas who generally owed fealty to the Delhi sultans.  The Mughal Emperors also started the custom of marrying Hindu royalty to cement relationships and ensure loyalty.  And this Mughal openness to other religions reached its apex under Emperor Akbar who founded a new religion, Din-i-Ilahi, attempting to incorporate the best from all faiths but which, lacking roots, died with him.

After the Indian rebellion against British rule, the British saw advantage in fostering division among communities in the infamous divide-and-rule maxim, now changed by Modi into suppress-and-rule, as the left-over Muslim community is poor and weak after the emigration of many to Pakistan following partition and independence in 1947.

Gandhi and founding prime minister Nehru’s vision of a secular India is enshrined in its constitution, which Modi and the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda subverts.  Its Hindutva, a Nazi-like ideology holding Hinduism supreme, wants India to be an exclusively Hindu nation noting that Hindu and Muslim cultures are different, without regard to the similarities.  As a video demonstrating the new ideology in practice points out, it is safer to be a cow than a Muslim in Modi’s India.

It is what one can expect when an ill-educated, charismatic tea-seller takes over the world’s largest democracy offering cultural superiority and its false pride, hare brained schemes like a deadline  declaring old high denomination banknotes illegal causing chaos at banks.  Poorly managed plans like toilets and gas cookers for the poor are touted as successes.  But the toilets are not used because the plans did not include maintenance, and gas cooker distribution is riddled with corruption.  Meanwhile, the economy suffers and the country ranks 102 out 117 on the Global Hunger Index (between Sierra Leone and Niger) and far behind Bangladesh.  So much for the hype.

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