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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

India’s Continuing Arrogance in Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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On October 31, 2019, India formally split up the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal (union) territories. By doing so India violated the UNSC resolutions on the matter and officially issued a new political map indicating Ladakh and Jammu as Indian Union Territories. According to this formal split,both the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories will be administered by two lieutenant governors, Girish Chandra Murmu and Radha Krishna Mathur respectively. They are supposed to report to the Indian home secretary based in New Delhi. This clearly defines the motives of the Hindu nationalist government of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which revoked Article 370 on August 5.Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by the BJP, which has led India’s arrogance to determine the fate of the disputed region.

In the same vein, right before the formal enforcement of the constitutional split, a local body electoral exercise was carried out in the region. The maiden Block Development Council (BDC) Election was held on October 24 under much hype due to the evolved dynamics of the region. However, the region’s main parties such as the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Peoples Conference and other small parties had boycotted the local elections terming them as an ‘undemocratic’ exercise. These parties which have remained the major stakeholders in the politics of the region had turned out against the abrogation of Article 370 that granted the region special rights. It was also observed that the political parties had perceived this election as instead a “forced election” primarily because the region was still then under severe restrictions. Contrary to this general perception, the Indian government still carried out the post-revocation electoral exercise. This arrogant policy adopted by the Indian government seems to forcefully instill this notion of ‘our plan our vision’ by the BJP to decide the fate of the Kashmir region.

In addition to this notion, the Hindu-supremacist government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been shamelessly flaunting the narrative that Kashmir has been ‘put in its place’. This means that contrary to the previous position of the Kashmir region as an autonomous entity under the Indian Union, it has been demoted to now being a ‘union territory’ like other union territories under the federal (Union) government of India. By doing so it seems that India is following a dangerous trajectory of dealing with Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan and the international community. In pursuit of its fascist vision inspired by its RSS ideology, the BJP led Indian state has blatantly ignored the global implications which its moves could have regarding the disputed region. Moreover, the ongoing crisis also provides an insight into Kashmir being a victim of the so-called rules based international order that has repeatedly failed to shield the Kashmiri people from the human rights violations of the Indian forces and protect their sovereign will.

It is worth mentioning here that Kashmir is one of the oldest issues pending at the UNSC table. The international community acknowledges Pakistan’s significance as the most important stakeholder vis-à-vis any development on the Kashmir issue. Contrary to Indian moves and suppression of Kashmiris, Pakistan has always insisted on the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute under the UN mandate. Moreover, Pakistan has always encouraged international mediation offers from influential countries especially by the U.S. This was evident during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, when President Trump had offered to mediate  between India and Pakistan. The offer was greatly appreciated by Pakistan as it was aimed at some prospect of seeking a settlement given the evolved security dynamics of the South Asian region for the last few months. Whereas, India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and as a potential superpower that can do whatever it pleases with a complete disregard for basic human rights. Under this notion, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Modi and inspired by Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of India via its brutal political and military actions. The most considerable aspect of such belligerence is that India wrongfully perceives that Pakistan is unlikely to or perhaps unwilling respond to any Indian move based on certain political, economic and strategic restraints vis-à-vis India. This however is once again a grave underestimation of Pakistan’s resolve and the sensitivity with which such moves are being taken by the Pakistani leadership.

Hence at the present, the rash and irresponsible actions of the BJP led Indian government has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire South Asian region, bringing it once again to the brink of conflict. Despite all the criticism worldwide, with its politico-military offensive in Kashmir, it seems that India has already decided to determine the fate of the disputed region through sheer arrogance and brutality. India is mistakenly perceiving that such moves would likely tighten its grip over the restive region that is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir a part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve as a dangerous precedent. This poses a serious detriment towards the long-desired peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute and even with more disastrous consequences for the whole region.

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South Asia

Remapping Indian Occupied Kashmir: A Multipronged Travesty

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The second Presidential Order on the Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir by India in 2019 is yet another outlandish decision to challenge the objectives of a peaceful coexistence. It is a call for altering an International Order more conversant to breach the democratic political norms, history and fundamental rights. Kashmiris are once again rebuffed of their demand for self-determination while being locked in an unprecedented brutal curfew entering into more than one hundred days. The desecration is obviously offensive.

Including the areas of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947, a part from the remaining areas of Leh and Ladakh districts of 1947 into the Indian Union is a violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions passed decades ago. The Kargil District was already carved out.

Historically, there were 14 Districts of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of partition, which included Kathua. Jammu. Udhanpur, Reasi,  Anantnag, Baramullah, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gigit, GilgitWazarat, Chilas and Tribal Territory. The new districts included were Kupwara, Bandipur, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Shupian, Kulgam, Rajori, Ramban, Doda, Kishtiwar, Samba and Kargil. The illustrative declaration of Muzaffarabad and MirpurKhas areas of Azad Kashmir which are under the administrative rule of Pakistan is an untenable denial of the history of the region.

To refresh their memories India needs to remember that at the time when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the controversial Instrument of Accession with India in October 1947, Gilgit was already inflamed with the passions of rebellion against Hindus and Sikhs living in Gilgit. While representing the will of his people, Muzzaffar, the raja orderly in Chilas said:

“The whole of Gilgit Agency is pro-Pakistan … we could never swear allegiance to Hindustan. Apart from religion, the Gilgit Agency is really a part of the NWFP and is therefore a part of Pakistan. If Kashmir remains independent, well and good … .But if the Maharaja through pig headedness and bad advice, political pressure or attractive remunerations accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here!”

This was sensed by the British Administrator William Brown as well and decided to overthrow the then Governor Ghansara Singh in a bloodless coup d’etat in November 1947 and a provisional government was established by the locals of Gilgit. Raja Shah Rais was appointed as the president and Mirza Hassan Khan as the Commander-in-Chief. Pakistani political agent took over the region, once Khan Abdul Qayyum received a telegraph from Brown on November 16, 1947.

By May1948, the Gilgit Scouts had already taken over Baltistan, Ladakh and Skardu as well. Indian reinforcements were blocked at Dras and Kargil which helped them cut off Indian communications to Leh in Ladakh. However, Kargil was recaptured by them in autumn 1948 but Baltistan remained in control of Pakistan, after which India itself took the issue to the UN.

The current remapping of the region of Jammu & Kashmir is nonetheless not only a snubof facts but also adding into already destabilising factors in the region.The Pakistani parts of Kashmir to the north and west of the cease-fire line established at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, or the Line of Control as it later came to be called, were divided into the Northern Areas in the north and the Pakistani state of Azad Kashmir in the south. The name “Northern Areas” was first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. Pakistan has declared that “no step by India could change the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognised by the United Nations”, and has pledged time and again that it will continue to support the just struggle of the Kashmiris.

In an attempt to rewind the India of antiquity or revitalize the Indian Civilization lost in the international order of nation-states in the post WWI era, Narendra Modi’s arrogant Hindutva regime is non-realistic. The current attempt is a follow up of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (GIRB) passed by the Indian ministry of Home Affairs on May4, 2016, during his earlier tenure of rule on India. The Bill was meant to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India. It restricted the addition or creation of any information related to geospatial imagery, data acquisition through space or aerial platforms such as satellites, aircrafts, airships, balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles without the permission of the government of India. The Bill also made its violation indictable in contravention of the section 4 with a fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to 100 crores or imprisonment for a period of up to seven years. The draft resolution had also decided to set up an Apex Committee, A Security Vetting Authority and an Enforcement and Appellant authority to only allow the distribution of maps considered right by the Indian government. It was deceptively declared to ensure the security, sovereignty and integrity of the state of India with impact on all who may or may not agree with the Bill defining the geographical boundaries of India. The spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup once reiterated that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an “integral part of India” and the GIRB was an “entirely internal legislative matter of India.”

Assaulting the international political system, human dignity, basic liberties and perpetual boundary disputes by the Indian offensive posture have added to the stressed political environment of the region. In case of the failure of the domestic proceedings to address human concerns, it becomes mandatory for the world community to ensure the respect of the world peace. History records that after the WWII, there had been 14 out of 21 major inter-state wars on territorial conflicts. Global history of cartography has always been closely linked. Situating the “geobody,” along with altering the archival documents by the nationalist regime of Modi largely emboldened by the Western powers for their own strategic and economic preferences, is a teasing question on the UN partiality. The history of border violations or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict and nonbinding management.

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South Asia

Kartarpur Corridor: A message of Peace and Prosperity

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Kartarpur corridor was opened on 9 November 2019 (Saturday). It paved the way for the Sikh community to visit one of the most important religious shrines without a visa. There are approximately 150 million Sikhs around the world, out of which around 120 million are living in India. The other countries having the Sikh community are Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK, Canada, and USA.  However, the origin of the Sikh religion in Punjab, which was divided into Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab in 1947 at the time of independence of the sub-continent from British rule. The partition of Punjab has divided many Sikh families between Pakistan and India.  Due to political rivalry, among Pakistan and India, has adversely affected the Sikh Community. Some of the family members have never met in the last 72 years and few of them have already expired already.

While Sikh, Muslims and other religions lived together for centuries, especially in Punjab, and enjoyed complete harmony as the language and cultures are identical. But after partition, in 1947, the rivalry between Pakistan and India kept them separated for 72 years. With the opening of this Corridor, the Sikhs community in India becomes the most beneficiary and they are grateful for the gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects between Pakistan and India, the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and GurdwaraDarbar Sahib (in Punjab, Pakistan). The corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa.

The Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy. On 26 November 2018, the foundation stone was laid down on the Indian side and after two days, on 28 November 2018, the foundation stone on the Pakistani side was laid down by Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. The corridor along with all its allied services and amenities was completed in a record time frame. The corridor was completed for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on 12 November 2019. As a special to mark the 550th birth anniversary, the Government of Pakistan has waved the fee amounting to US Dollars 20 for three days. It has created a huge good-will.

The corridor has not only connected the Sikh community on both sides of the border but also opened a new chapter of religious tourism in Pakistan. There are many other religious sites in Pakistan, which belongs to Hindus or Sikhs religion and may attract devotees and visitors in thousands of thousands in number. Kartarpur corridor is just a beginning, if it goes smoothly, many new sites will be open to Hindus and Sikhs as well.

This will also generate an opportunity for economic activities and enhance people to people contact. Promote harmony and understanding between the two hostile nations. In fact, Kartarpur Corridor is a message of Peace and Prosperity.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a very responsible state. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is well matured, visionary leader. He said on this occasion “Pakistan believes that the road to the prosperity of the region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, adding that “Pakistan is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community”. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, compared the decision to go ahead with the corridor by the two countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that the project may help in easing tensions between the two countries.

Previously, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is 125 km journey although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see GurdwaraDarbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated observation platform had also been constructed on the Indian side, where people use binoculars to get a good view.

Indian Prime Minister Modi has thanked PM Imran Khan for his good-will gesture. It is hoped that India will reciprocate in the same manner and provide an opportunity to the People of Pakistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to thanks Indian Prime Minister Modi.

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