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Modi’s Policies are downgrading India’s Major-Power Ambition in the International System

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India’s aspiration toward achieving a ‘major power’ status will only be achieved with the possibility of building a strong economy not being a contested factor. A stable economy can support with adequate funds to the defense department, stand with the government’s aspiration to strengthen its military but not by ruling the elites’ flaw words. The best example would be the double-digit growth of China’s economy during the 1980s and 2000s, which supported Beijing to allot the required resources to eject millions from poverty, and build a strong military.

The BJP got a clear mandate from the people in the 2014 general elections with the expectations of delivering inclusive growth. During that campaign, Prime Ministerial Candidate Narandera Modi’s large part of the message to the voters was on development agenda based on the Gujarat model. Moreover, he has successfully sold out this story to the Indian voters without explaining what the Gujarat model is. Therefore, he came to power. People of this country have enthusiastically been waiting for the last three and a half years expecting to get benefits from Prime Minister Modi’s administration on the basis of the so called Gujarat model of development; instead they are roasting by imposing of demonetization and without proper preparations they implemented the GST. Now people of this country gradually postulate the Gujarat model and have realized that Gujarat model means continuous lies and giving long speeches without any action. The funny thing was that the voters were completely disappointed while Modi missed his last chance in explaining about the model during the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections. Modi had spoken in more meetings and rallies in Gujarat but dare to pronounce that in any of the meetings about the Gujarat model of development. It undoubtedly demonstrates that Gujarat model is nothing but Modi’s deceived politics. Even the former BJP’s government finance and external affairs minister, Yeswant Sinha, has been rising specific doubts and slammed the finance minister in handling the Indian economy. This mismanagement and the alliance between Modi and the finance minister Arun Jaitley, completely erase the hope of India’s rise.

In this article I am analyzing how the policies of Prime Minister Narandera Modi and his government are downgrading India’s Major Power Ambitions.

Economy

The recent economic survey of 2017-18 under the Modi administration shows disappointments and has devastated the people’s hopes. It gave us a cautious warning and forced to presume that the finance minister had not delivered up to the expected line. P. Chidambaram, the former finance minister of India, underlined the economic survey and said, “It is a depressing report and the future course of the economy is conditional on many ifs.” It indicates the economy is not under the control of this government. This government’s visionary path has no clear agenda. Since the next year will be the election year, therefore, the ruling elites are in waiting to throw away the responsibility on the external environment if the expected growth rate does not reach out in the next financial year. If you look into the report by applying your mind more closely, you will draw a finale that the BJP government’s complete failure on health, education, employment and agriculture. Moreover, they are continuously in preaching on shadow development with extraordinary lies. The recent by-elections in Rajasthan demonstrate that the people of this country are not in a position to completely take these flaw words any more from the BJP leaders.

The recent budget did not consider the important sectors of the country: healthcare and education. A lot of decorations are dancing on the budget without legs. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s magic did not even take off during these four years. He got a wonderful opportunity to prove that he is better than the Congress Party economic captains. But so far the BJP economic manager has failed to attain that title. The announcement of minimum support price to agriculture sector raises many questions. “While China and Pakistan spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, India spends it on the allocation of accounts for just 1.58 percent of the GDP, which is the lowest in 50 years in terms of percentage of GDP” (firstpost.com). Many policy announcements are left without allotments of fund. In the last four years the fall in the global oil price was not allowed to be shared with the poor people of this country whereas it was effectively settled with the corporate tycoons. Hence, the budget considerably fails in keeping the spirit of the people those who have voted for Modi hopefully. This budget especially carries the increase of lip service of optimism but not walk the talk of Modi.

The average growth rate achieved in the UPA government was around 7.5 percent although the world was experiencing the impact of the ‘Lehman Brothers’ melting down in the United States. The economic team in the UPA government did a wonderful job in maintaining the constituency of the growth of the Indian economy. It means the economy was under the control of the UPA economic team, led by the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. For this reason the economy was not distracted; while the external environment, especially the world banking sector, was completely on the down fall since 2008.

The expected growth rate of the last financial year was not achieved. Hence, there is no policy guarantee that the projected growth rate will be reached out in the next financial year. The policy of demonetization killed more than 100 innocent people and destroyed local businesses, which led millions to be kicked out from their jobs. It fails to serve its purpose but Modi has not yet apologized to the people of this country with regard to the imposition of demonetization. The large youth that once supported Modi’s development model are now pushed to sell ‘Pakodas’. Modi had promised to the youth of this country during the campaign that his government will produce two crores jobs annually. The Congress Party raised this question in the parliament but no direct answer was given from either Arun Jaitley or Modi. Instead, Modi unleashed a one-hour preaching session with wrong inputs from history. But the youth of this country are asking for jobs and not unwanted words. The civil war in Syria leads to 10 lakhs of its citizens to migrate to Europe as refugees. The poor administration of the BJP ruling states leads to internal migration, shoving the daily wage workers to get away from their home states for their livelihood, forced to work for lesser salaries and in a low quality of work atmosphere in other states.

Continuous False promises and deception politics

Who said this government is free from corruption? Modi had promised that his government will be free from corruption. Mr.Yediurappa, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, is facing serious corruption charges however; the BJP has proposed him as the chief minister candidate for the upcoming 2018 assembly elections. The ill-advisedly implemented demonetization itself is an organized loot. Urging to implement unsustainable port projects is raising serious doubts on its economic feasibilities. How has Amit Shah’s son’s profit increased to 300% in these three and a half years? Modi had said all the black money from the Swiss Bank will be brought to India and 15 lakhs will be deposited in every poor Indians account. What happened to this promise? Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi and now Nirav Modi are allowed to loot India’s banks under this administration and show a smooth exit to escape from this country. The former Union minister, Kapil Sibal, says, “The banking system is drift, core baking had escaped the SWIFT and depositors are truly miffed.” Why the increase in Rafael deal has no answer from the Prime Minister? Scams after scams darken the face of this government. Therefore, they are declining to face the opposition’s questions with regard to corruptions.

The BJP government is run by bureaucrats and not by elected representatives. It is really funny that a minister who has failed to achieve to improve India’s exports is appointed as Defense Minister. You cannot simply say by appointing a woman, it means she’s equal to Indira Gandhi. It is true that the Congress President Shri. Rahul Gandhi said in his interview to the National Herold – the BJP led NDA’s ministers capacity cannot be compared with the Congress led UPA’s minister’s capabilities. Commonsense, rationality and wider consultations are missing and replaced by ill thoughts, arrogance and foolishness. ‘Gau Rakshaks’ are getting more respects than a investor in the BJP ruling states.

China Factor and Immediate Neighbors

Trade deficit with China is an issue but this government doesn’t have a solution since 2014. The way the Dokulam standoff was diffused indicating our vulnerability. Why do Indian troops withdraw first from the tri junction? We are still receiving information that the Chinese deployment in the tri junction was not completely windup. Modi’s recent visit to the state of Arunachal Pradesh was reacted by the Chinese mouthpiece but amicable response from New Delhi would not be a strategic response to the assertive China.

Last three and a half years ceasefire violations have been demonstrated by Pakistan and we lost more brave soldiers. I can strongly accuse this administration without any hesitations by saying Modi has allowed the cross border trade to be replaced by increase in cross border terrorism. The BJP’s highly politicized for political gains ‘surgical strike’ should have been demonstrated again. Why the government did not go for another ‘surgical strike’?  Does the prime minister have any policy to contain Pakistan? Under Modi’s leadership witnessed India’s relations with Pakistan completely down to an unprecedented new low.

Maldives crisis would be an opportunity for India to demonstrate to the world that we are serious to gain our scores in the international power system.  So far the Maldives issue is concerned that the Modi government’s approaches are not commendable, and gradually spares spaces for the Chinese to intrude in the East Indian Ocean, which is a big policy mistake. This is the Chinese provocative approach. Any part of the Indian Ocean is not part of the disputed South China Sea. This is our theater and it is our responsibility to uphold the law and order in and around this region.

In all these issues the world and the other major powers in the Asia region and in West are seriously watching and keeping their eyes on us about the way we demonstrate our responsibilities in maintaining the order in our region. If we fail to restore democracy in Male, this will send an unprecedented wrong wave that if anyone of these nations dethroned their democratic setup would be safe without any third party interference because New Delhi has no strategic trajectory to respond China.

Conclusion

Keeping the 2019 general elections in mind, Modi has started generating new lies. Now he has shifted his goal post from Gujarat Model to ‘New India.’ Again no one knows what he means. However, this new catchphrase has lost its sound due to the recent Gujarat state election results. The Prime Minister failed to understand a stable economy only support a country’s defense posture not by his blank narratives. His long sermons are now boring the youth of this country and all of his holiday visits abroad will not give any breakthrough in keeping India’s interest alive in the international power system. Inadequate funds to defense modernization, loss to the exchequer in the major defense deals, scientific loots, and incapable ministers in the Modi’s cabinet gradually expose its inability to face the challenges. Now the point is very clear – in these four years Modi’s government and his political managers proved they are the kings of verbal singers not suitable for policy articulations.

Finally, to sum up our discussion on the above analysis demonstrating that Modi’s deception politics will not stay longer: Soft speaking approaches with wise policy implementations are more trust worthy than deceptive loud speaking voices in the international system. The flaw policies of this government causes heavy damages to the economy, the assurance of corruption free governance is under scanner, continuous false promises like ‘Ache Din’ to ‘New India’ slogans, trust deficit created to security matters in maintaining tranquility and peace in our western borders, setbacks in articulating diplomacy in responds to China and the failures in keeping our immediate flocks closely with us have proved the ruling elites incompetence to run a government. Hence, under this government the projection of India’s ‘Major Power’ aspiration is really downward sloping.

Antony Clement is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He consults on academic development and he is currently working on two books - “Discover your Talents” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times” . His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia.

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South Asia

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

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Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy

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Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.

In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.

The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.

Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.

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South Asia

Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.

The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.

Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.

The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.

Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

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