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The Kings who have lost their Kingdom

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As the fiercely fought and the keenly watched Gujarat Elections draw to a close today, another discourse is set to dominate the Indian National Media. No doubt the recent polls in Gujarat have been a battle worth watching with personal attacks, violent barbs and extravagant one-man showmanship that put the entire nation to shame but the results are expected to just as unsettling to the mood of the nation.

In this battle for Gujarat, no quarter was asked and none was given.  The results are expected to come next week and whatever, they may be, they will determine the course of my great nation.

Beneath all this cacophony of the Gujarat Elections, shrill voices of protest and reason (according to the speakers themselves and their supporters) gained volume. These voices called for the scrapping of the polls being held using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and a return to the era of ballot paper elections. The reason for this is that they believe, the EVMs are being tampered with and results being manipulated in favor of the ruling party. This claim has found much traction in the national media and it is rare to find any newsroom debate where the viability of the EVMs is not being questioned and sad as it may seem, the national Innovation which has made the Indian democracy hassle free & tamper-proof, become a subject of ridicule.

Before going into any nuances of the accusations being made against the EVM, let us first examine the Indian Electoral Process and the role of EVMs in it. India is the world’s largest democracy. Every adult citizen of India has the right to vote and elect a leader. The entire geographical spread of the nation is divided into small units, known as constituencies. Democracy in India is deep rooted and elections are held for the local bodies, the state assembly and the national assembly. This democratic decentralization has ensured that more and more people become the part of the system meant to govern them. Every voter in India is listed in a register prepared by the Election Commission of India (ECI), whose sole job is to ensure a free and fair election. The ECI takes charge of the entire official apparatus in a bid to ensure that every voter is able to go out and vote without any fear. During the Election period, the entire region is under a model code of conduct and the administration keeps a keen eye on those with the potential to violate the sacred sanctity of the electoral process. The Indian Democracy, while the largest in the world since its inception, had never been fool proof. Booth capturing, ballot-stuffing and cash-for-votes were some common problems that dominated the early elections. The ECI gradually managed to weed out most of the peculiarities of the electoral process over time. The introduction of the EVM allowed the ECI to reduce organizational & logistical hassles dramatically. The EVM is a standalone machine with no connection to any wireless or network devices. It is powered by a battery and has no need to rely on local power. The EVM comprises of two pieces, a ballot unit and a control unit. Each EVM has a chip and access to EVM internal circuitry to a select few. More so, the polls and counting are carried out in the presence of ECI observers, neutral observers, party delegates and in the security of Central Armed Police Forces. EVMs completely negated the ballot stuffing and the massive booth-capturing that was part and parcel of elections in the Hindi Heartland.

While allegations of EVM tampering were made ever since their introduction, these allegations gained much traction after the massive scale of BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh (India’s most populous and political bellwether). BJP and its allies won over 80% seats in a state which is the world’s most populous sub-division. It won’t be a hyperbole if I call UP the world’s fourth largest democracy. BJP and its allies won a little near 40% votes which translated into a humongous 80% majority in a three-cornered fight. While the sheer scale of victory was unprecedented, it was not entirely unexpected. Moreover, Data from the past election i.e. the 2014 General Elections showed that BJP lost votes and seats. But the Opposition could not comprehend this. For them, it was difficult to recognize that they had woken a sleeping giant and they were babies trying to take it on headlong. The opposition grappled with the possibility of looking weak and acknowledging that they had been out-maneuvered by the BJP and its massive election machinery. They could just very well say the same.But, saying so would have undermined their leader’s standing. A king never blames himself for the loss of his kingdom. He always has a fall guy.Hence, the Opposition looked for a fall guy.  EVMs were a convenient fall guy. EVM tampering, they said. How else can BJP win in a state like UP?

A closer look at the polling data shows that what happened in UP was entirely predictable. The principle opposition parties of BJP in UP, the SP, BSP and the Congress all targeted a similar vote-bank- the Dalits& Muslims for the BSP and the Yadavs& Muslims for the SP-Congress combine. While formidable on paper, these 3 communities comprise only of 40% of the total electorate and this left the silent 60% open for BJP’s wooing. It is said that to win a war, you should consolidate your army and split that of your opponent and this is what happened in UP. It should not take a PhD in Psephology to realize where the BJP succeeded and where the opposition failed. On closer observation of the crowd making the most noise about EVM tampering, throws up a very interesting insight. The loudest voices against the EVMs are those who were considered to be king-makers and vote banks. Politicians lined up to woo them and doled out massive largess to ensure their support. In the media, those questioning the EVMs have always been anti-BJP and have a history of crying foul over the most trivial of issues (the Rafale “scandal” is their latest talk of the town).

Coming to Gujarat, the BJP’s stronghold and the home state of the current Prime Minister, the ruling party’s campaign appeared to have taken multiple hits (GST, Demonetization, the anti-incumbency of 22 years and the reservation protests) and was fast losing steam. Congress appears to have taken a lesson or two from its past blunders and had modified its campaign accordingly.A community which was aggressively wooed by all “secular” political parties is suffering from political irrelevance in Gujarat and Rahul Gandhi, the recently appointed party president is going on a literal temple run in Gujarat and is busy flaunting his upper caste credentials in a bid to woo the Hindu vote. The situation in Gujarat seems poised to be polarizing against BJP.But why do we forget a basic tenet of science, for every action there is equal and opposite reaction. For every instance of polarization, there is a counter polarization. Congress may have tried to polarize the Patidars on reservation but deep while, it split the OBCs with its reservation talks and there is a severe threat of counter-polarization. Who wins Gujarat remains to be seen but for now, BJP is clearly in the leading seat.

I know that the day when the results come and if they come in the favor of BJP, a shrill cry of EVMs being hacked to ensure the BJP’s victory will start to gain volume. Look closely at them, for you will find will, be none other than those who sit in TV New rooms and flaunt their secular credentials, all the while ignoring the fallacies of their own arguments. In the street, you may find a youth or two crying EVM fraud, blaming the Government for their joblessness while not acknowledging their own shortcoming of education and competency. Religious leaders with hushed voices who will say that they knew this would happen and the EVMs were hacked as no one could save the BJP, not acknowledging their role in mobilizing votes via sermons had come to a cropper and the electorate has become smarter. You will find opposition leaders rumbling and venting out their frustrations on the Election commission, not acknowledging their own shortcomings and weaknesses. Then there will be that odd guy on social media, who has no clue about how the electoral system works but always starts and ends his rants with EVM tampered. Look no further for these are the kings who have lost their kingdom.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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South Asia

India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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