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Paiqham-e-Pakistan Curbs Sectarian Narratives and Violence

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Muharram is the first month of Islamic calendar and the holiest in four sacred months, in which fighting is prohibited. The conflicts, conspiracies and crises created by sectarian and religious extremist outfits and the violence associated with this month have impeded peace in the Muslim world. The menace of sectarianism is widely attributed to be a result of regional rivalry among Muslim states, including proxies in Pakistan for influence and hostile countries sponsorship of terrorism. Reportedly, millions of dollars of funding to fundamentalist networks come from abroad and evil minded selfish people act abhorrently for their-vested interests and play with lives of many innocent Pakistanis.

Sporadic sectarian unrest in Pakistan is part of anti-Pakistan designs of inimical secret agencies like RAW and its international partners. These hostile elements manipulated sectarian differences between Riyadh and Tehran and exploited them for destabilizing Pakistan. Nevertheless, whoever is behind this, they are trying to destabilize Pakistan by dividing its people, in different groups, manipulating the mind of several with lavish offers and implanting prejudicial opinions about various religious and sectarian communities. Unfortunate is the fact that most of the sectarian violence/ hatred is carried out in the name of Islam.

Although terror-related sectarian incidents, have already minimized in Pakistan in the past few years, but the historic national consensus in the form of Paigham-e-Pakistan (PeP) has significantly eliminated the shadows of sectarian violence during Muharram. Pakistan’s government had launched PeP, the national narrative on extremism, sectarianism and terrorism on January 16, 2018, comprised of 22points Fatwa (religious decree). Heads of Itte had Tanzeem-ul-Madaris and leading Muftis from all sects had prepared the fatwa and issued a unanimous declaration in order to strengthen the ties among different sects and agreed on addressing the sectarian conflict and grievances. The historic Fatwa was endorsed by more than 6000, religious scholars of all schools of thought from across the country, including renowned international scholars like Imam-e-Kaaba, Grand Mufti of Egypt and Grand Mufti Thailand. The collective Fatwa clearly stated that “sectarian, hatred, armed sectarian conflict and imposing one’s ideology on others by force is clear violation of the injunctions of the Shariah and tended to create disorder on earth”.

A major boost to the efforts of inter-sect harmony came when leading scholars from all sects unified for PeP to show sectarian harmony which had been unseen in the past. This initiative is the best tool to deal with extremism, sectarianism and intolerance in the society and a way forward for the country to march on the path of peace and prosperity as it is a methodology to unite all religious institutions and scholars. PeP initiative is in fact a true representation of the Holy Quran, Sunnah and social principles of Islamic Shariah, which can guarantee a safe and peaceful future for our next generations by ridding the society out of hatred and prejudices. Promotion of this initiative is the national and religious obligation of the Ulema and every individual regardless of association to sects and religious groups. Being Muslims, it is our national and religious responsibility to strive for setting up a peaceful and exemplary society which is free of extremism, sectarianism and terrorism. Religious scholars and Ulema from all schools of thought should play active role to mark this holy month of Muharram peacefully and in a befitting manner for spreading the message of Ahl-e-Bait (RA) as this message promotes peace and harmony among humanity.

In term of religious belief and practice; there are more similarities than difference among all sects and this reality, rationally demands from the proponents of all sect to prefer commonalities by ignoring minute differences. Those who ignore this reality must know that sectarian sensitivities will not be allowed to create ferocity, unrest and disorder in the country. This entails application of stringent measures and full control over sectarian groups to avoid conflicts and spread of religious hatred. It is of particular attention that Islam stresses upon forgiveness, kindness and sanctity of human life above all. Muslims must .know about the conspiracies being hatched by their enemy to divide them into sects and they have to remain vigilant to foil these nefarious designs. The Muslim Ummah particularly Pakistanis must stand united and shun their sectarian differences for the glory of Islam curbing the menace of anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan conspiracies.

The holy month of Muharram teaches the whole humanity religious harmony and peace, so following the proverb “don’t quit your faith and don’t interfere in others faith”, we must mark this holy month peacefully, respectfully and with befitting manners. During Muharram-ul-Haram, every Muslim regardless of sect and creed regards and pays tribute to the martyrs of Karbala. Moreover, people also arrange eateries for the procession which truly depicts brotherhood that Islam preaches. Most importantly, afterthe launch of PeP, the religious leaders and members of peace committees are actively involved in promoting religious/ sectarian harmony and utilize all their capabilities for maintaining the environment of brotherhood, accommodation .and tolerance. Different projects are under way including training programs-to help eradicate the extremism and sectarian violence at national level. Determinant efforts have been made to familiarize the students studying at Universities and Madaris with the philosophy of PeP initiative by disseminating the message of peace and sectarian harmony. Awareness among people has been nurtured through Seminars and Conferences across country to create sense of social responsibility and encourage them to keep a watchful eye on sectarian and anti-social elements. We need to understand the conspiracy against our country and try our best to be united for making the country a haven of peace.

Islam is the religion of peace as it teaches unity, harmony, brotherhood and tolerance in the society and tells its followers to respect the rights of not only Muslims but Non-Muslims as well. The right hour has come that religious clerics, political and religious parties including media persons and the intellectuals should play an effective role in creating religious tolerance and enlightenment amongst all religious factions particularly those of Sunnis and Shias, convincing them to live in harmony and peace adopting the principle of mutual co-existence. Every person of the society should come forward to play a pivotal role to save the country from the flames of sectarian violence by promoting religious and sectarian harmony. Ulema must, exercise tolerance and forge harmony by desisting from delivering controversial and provocative speeches to help maintain peace during Muharram-ul-Haram. The delicate-peace is crucial for the country and we should rise above all sorts of personal interests fulfilling our responsibilities towards our country and refrain from issuing ‘Fatwas’ on the basis of difference of opinion.

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South Asia

Dearth of Humanity

Sabah Aslam

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A significant portion of the world is recovering from Covid-19, however there is a place where people not only fears corona virus but also the brutal human right abuse. Its been more than 9 months and Kashmir’s future is still dawdling questioning the whole world that in times of global freedom why they don’t have any? The constitutional genocide which was done on 5th of the August of last year is still in force and there is no one either internally or any international community who can question the Indian authorities over Systematic and serious human rights violation which are taking place.

Moreover Covid-19 has been seen as an opportunity by Modi and his government in order to inflict more sever pain to the Kashmiri’s. For India Covid-19 has been seen as a weapon through which they can agonize the Kashmiri people while going unnoticed.

Even in time of such despair the gross human rights violation has been continued by the Indian forces. This ranges from mass killings, force disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. Human rights group Amnesty claim that thespecial powers under (AFSPA) gives the security force immunity from violations committed and condemn it. In other words Indian forces have carte blanche in Indian Occupied Kashmir and there is no oversight on it. There was journalists oversight but that also was barred after 5th August.

According to a September 6 report of the Indian government, nearly 4,000 people have been arrested in the disputed region. According to a September 6 report of the Indian government, nearly 4,000 people have been arrested in the disputed region. Among those arrested were more than 200politicians,including two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), along with more than 100 leaders and activists from All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Forced disappearances, rapes, killings are new norm in Occupied Kashmir as Indian law enforcement authorities rule with guilty pleasures.

While mainstream India becoming mouth piece of Delhi Government and sewed its lips to object and even mention Kashmir in their news, social platforms reveals the reality. With passage of every day new stories of heinous acts dusts the previous. Use of pallet guns inflicted eye injuries to more than 3000 people, BBC file reported. Disturbing videos and images often circulate on social platforms unveiling the lies of Delhi.

These lies are not restricted only Kashmir, but inside India situation is also murky. Conditions of Muslims inside India more or less emulates that of Kashmir. In 2013, a government survey found that the largest minority group which accounts for 14% of the total population lives on an average of 32.6 rupees ($ 0.43)per day. The government in Maharashtra—the state with the biggest concentration of corona virus cases—said Muslim-majority areas had a “paucity of health facility” in a 2013 report. It said the “threat of communal riots” forced Muslims to “live together in slums and ghettos” where social distancing is often impossible. The Covid-19 gave another reason to spew hate to Muslims and pursuit Islamophobia to new heights. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s human rights body has strongly condemned the “unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for spread ofCOVID-19.

A report published by Business Recorder in April 19, 2020 revealed that Delhi is exploiting Covid-19 to hump the subjugation of Muslims in a genocidal manner. The Muslim population is suffering not just from COVID-19, but from a crisis of hatred, from a crisis hunger. The situation of the minorities has been serious especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Covid-19 spiked in India, New York Times Reported that Indian authorities have blamed Muslim groups for spreading the virus. Despite the fact the Indian atrocities against Muslims are clearly visible international community is quite.

Pakistan has been supporting its Kashmiri brothers from very first day and had been voicing the Kashmiri case at every international fora. Recently Pakistan wrote a letter to United Nations Human Rights Council against Indian atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims. Former Prosecutor General Punjab, Senior Advocate Syed Ihtesham Qadir Shah along with other renowned lawyers and Social Activists wrote the letter to UNHCR. It highlighted every aspect of how India is waging gross violent acts against Muslims of India as well as Kashmir. The letter is supported by many local and international legal firms and organizations working for Human Rights as well. It also highlighted that India is not only abusing its own Human rights values but also violating basic values of International Human Rights values i.e. Article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

As the world moves there is a society which is static in its every aspect. It becomes more painful when that society sees the world watching in silence.

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South Asia

NOTA: A Step Forward Or Just A Toothless Tiger?

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Authors: Nakul Chadha and Abhay Raj Mishra*

 “ I went to vote once, but I got too scared. I couldn’t decide whom to vote for.”[1]Andy Warhol

The above-mentioned statement by an American artist to a certain extent defines the situation of almost every voter while casting his vote in a democracy. Every voter gets stuck in the dilemma that to whom he should vote so that it can be in a best interest for him as well as for the nation. Democracy is something which provides the citizens to participate and help in the formation of a good governance with their choice of change. It is essential that best of the men should be chosen for the survival of a democracy in a country.[2] Thus sometimes there comes a situation when voter has no confidence in the candidates that are standing in the fray, so he does not want to cast his vote to any of them.

Before NOTA, if a person wanted to abstain from voting to show his rage against the candidates, he has to go through a process that annihilated his secrecy. Hence, it pushed a need for a provision that allowed secrecy of every voter intacted even if he does not want to vote to any of the candidtes standing in the fray.

Hence, NOTA was introduced in the year 2013 keeping above points in mind by the Supreme Court through People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India[3] judgement. Although, It does not provide the Right to Reject and thus candidate who has got the maximum vote eventually wins the election irrespective of the number of  NOTA votes. Still, India became the 14th country to introduce a concept of negative voting.

The authors have critically analyzed the situation for which NOTA was required. The purpose of this article is to evaluate whether this reform in election process i.e. introduction of NOTA has contributed to strengthen the democracy or not. The authors have criticallly analysed the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of PUCL v. UOI, 2013 and it also takes into consideration the belief and opinion of ECI about NOTA. It reviews the role of NOTA in the election process.

The authors have taken into account the issues like flaws and loopholes that are present in the provision and thus analyzing it and suggesting some of the measures that can be taken to make it more helpful in conduction of free and fare election and thus strengthening the backbone of democracy.

Background – Need For The NOTA

India stands as a paragon in front of many arising democratic countries and is also designated as one of the spirited democracy across the globe. One of the principle virtues of a democratic state is its free and fare elections. It is the fundamental principle for every democratic state to have Right to Vote as a constitutional right for the citizens and conduction of election in free and fair form. Although we are proud of our democratic system but there are many area that has to be strenghtened or renewed and in such a large country it cannot be done in one go but through a gradual development until we realize the true potential of a well-operative democracy.[4]

The main objective of NOTA was to increase the number of voters in the election and for maintaining the secrecy of a voter in an election. As secrecy of voting is one of the pivotal factor that keeps up the purity of a election. Introduction of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and implementation of rule 49-0 of The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 raised the foremost concern for the Election Commission of India (ECI) as it made impossible to protect the privacy of voters who wanted to abstain from voting.

In order to fix the critical flaw regarding the secrecy of voters with respect to Right to Reject,

the Election Commission on 10.12.2001, addressed a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice. The letter declared subsequent opinions that the electoral right present under Section 79(d) also includes a right not to cast vote. It also suggested to provide a panel in the EVMs so that an elector may indicate that he does not wish to vote for any of the aforementioned candidate and at last gave the viewpoint that Such number of votes expressing dissatisfaction with all the candidates may be recorded in a result sheet. Although no actions were taken by the ministry in this regard.[5]

The fate of the Right to Privacy while voting was finally decided in the case of Peoples’s Union For Civil Liberties v. Union of India. In the afore-mentioned case, the Apex court stuck down Rules 41(2) and (3) and 49-O of the Election Rules as being ultra vires section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution to the extent they violated the secrecy of voting.[6]

Rule 49-O – Elector deciding not to vote – “If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”[7]

Citing section 128 and section 79(d) of RPA, court duly quoted that ‘secrecy of casting vote is duly recognised and is necessary for strengthening democracy’ to maintain the purity of elections.

Section 79(d) defines electoral right of a person to vote or refrain from  voting at an election whereas section 128 of the Act obliges any person performing any duty in connection with the recording or counting of votes at an election to maintain secrecy and penalizing in failure.

If the international provisions would be taken in consideration then Article 21(3) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 25(B) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides for secret vote for ballot for guaranteeing the unbound expresssion of the will of the electors.

Court said that no distinction can be drawn between the voter for the right of secrecy, regardless of the fact voter decides to cast vote or or to not cast vote in the fray.[8]

With this it was fully ensured that voter’s may or may not cast vote with maintenance of  their secrecy and purity but without the fear of being victimized if his vote is disclosed.

NOTA – As A Provision

NOTA is basically an option which gives voters a right to reject all the candidates. It is present at the bottom of the Electronic voting machines (EVMs) after all the contesting candidates and the voter can cast his NOTA vote by pressing it. Provided that democracy is all about choices and furthermore it is a essence of democracy, NOTA made it easier for voters to have a choice without being victimized.

Earlier, if the voter wants to cast a negative vote then he had to inform the presiding officer which surely was infringment of the Right to secrecy of the voter thus making him stand in a position of being victimized but this does not requires any involvement with any officer on duty and one has to give no information even if he do not want to vote to any of the candidate  contesting in the fray.

‘NOTA’ or None of the above came into existence in September, 2013 when the Supreme Court, in the case of PUCL v. Union Of India upheld the right of the voter to reject all candidates contesting elections saying it would help in cleansing the political system of India as it would lead to political parties contesting clean participants in election. So, Supreme Court in its judgement said “We direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy”[9]

The NOTA option was first introduced in 2013 assembly election in four states Chhattisgarh , Mizoram , Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and one Union Territory, i.e., Delhi.

Positive Aspects Of NOTA

Addition of NOTA option on EVMs has helped in several ways in the election process such as by giving voters their freedom of expression, preserving their Right to Secrecy and with all this making a systematic change in elections.

NOTA as a tool for protest:

NOTA preserves freedom of Expression by allowing voters to express dissent or their right to reject all the contesting candidates. This would lead to potentially improve the voter turnout by providing an option to disapprove all the candidates, by this it can encourage more participation in the democratic process i.e. Elections. It also prevents bogus voting as a result of higher voter turnout.

Someone would go for NOTA option only if the ruling party has not done enough work in their previous election term and the opposition party is very weak. For e.g. we can take Gujarat legislative assembly election 2017, there seemed to be an incumbency on the part of Bharata Janata Party(BJP) rule in the state due to several factors and people wanted to change the ruling party but the opposition was Indian National Congress (INC) which has lost its significance in Gujratover the years due to Modi government .

So, it would have been a different scenario if voters chose NOTA option, there was a possibility that BJP would not have won the election in the first place or won it with a very little margin, helping them realise that the party has not done enough and thus encouraging them to work hard for the next election.

NOTA as a tool to protect secrecy:

NOTA also preserves voters Right to secrecy because before NOTA if a voter wants to reject all the candidates i.e. give a blank vote then according to rule 49-O of Conduct of Election Laws, 1961, voter had to sign a form with their name on it which would lead to violation of their right to secrecy and the blank voters could be traced and punished for their choice but with this there was no disclosure of any names to anyone helping voter to have his secrecy.

NOTA as a tool for change in politics :

After, NOTA there is a possibility that most of the candidates selected are honest because after NOTA the contestants representing the parties are also with good and clear public image as the political parties have fear that voters can give votes to the NOTA option.

By utilizing this power, electorates can send a clear signal to the political parties that some people are not happy regarding the candidates that are contesting in the election and thus creating extreme pressure on the parties to only field those candidates who are more acceptable to the electorates. This empowerment of the voters may also result to more systematic change in the election process.[10]

Negative Aspects:

Although NOTA to a certain extent has fulfilled its major cause, that is, to protect the voters of the country from being victimized by safeguarding their Right to secrecy but no rule or provision comes without flaws.

  • No significant increase in participation:

NOTA seems to fail in increasing the participation of voters in the elections, which signifies the strength of democracy as the court implied that turning up to booths and voting on NOTA is far better that not voting at all.

  • Not equal to Right to Reject:

The observation behind it was to give the voters a feeling of empowerment. But the meaning of the order has not been taken correctly. It in no way provides a Right to Reject. The Supreme Court just assserted that as people have right to show the liking for a candidate to be elected, in the same way they should have a choice for the Negative voting.

Yet, as former CEC, S.Y. Qureshi, points out by giving a example that even if 99 votes out of 100 total votes goes to NOTA still the candidate who has got that 1 vote will be treated as a winner, as he has got the highest number of valid votes. The rest of votes given to the NOTA are considered to be invalid or as no vote.[11]

  • Only a moral obligation to parties:

It only bounds the political parties to nominate a better and more ethical and moral valued candidate as larger number of votes going to NOTA shows a kind of disafffection towards the candidates that are present in the fray. But in general, it only puts a moral pressure on the parties rather forcing them by rules and regulations which in some ways is a bit more optimistic and thus political parties refuse to stop the candidates from contesting in the election making NOTA a tool of participation for voters and nothing more than that.

S.Y. Qureshi along with Mr. Rajeev Dhawan and Subhash Kashyap, Former Secretery General of Lok Sabha also believed that Supreme Court is in some way too optimistic in thinking that NOTA will by-product in a cleaner politics. While K.K. Venugopal and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) forced to elongate it a Right To reject.[12]

NOTA by far can be said said as toothless tiger as it does not result in re-election or disqualification of the candidates that once have got less vote than NOTA itself and thus, in no way it influences the result of elections. It is not a direct substitute to a bad governance but only is a motivation to change and improvement. Candidates also began to campaign against NOTA and said it be a wastage of vote and thus influencing the voters against it who may not have a full knowledge about the provisions.[13]

Conclusion And Suggestions:

With this, a conlusion can be drawn that a country like India having vibrant democracy, adding NOTA button in the EVM will certainly increase the political participation but only if, it is provided with more power and is implemented in better way. In order to further strengthen the NOTA, there are several suggestions.

There should be addition of rules that votes casted to NOTA should also be counted and if in an election where NOTA has got the most number of votes, none of the contestants should be elected and all the candidate contesting in that particular election would be barred from contesting again as they have already been opposed by voters.

Other than that, political parties should also think about the fact that they should only field such contestants in the election who have a certain qualification, experience in public service rather that by seeing his ability to spend money or to which caste or religion he belongs.

Also door to door campaigning should be stopped as it can help in manipulation of voters and mal-practice and corruption. Above all there is dire need of awareness programs to make voters more cognizant of the concepts of NOTA as one can only take a decision about certain things when he is fully aware of its repercussions and keeping in mind the fact voters are backbone of a democracy in a country.

*Raj Mishra, Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur


[1] Edward D. Powers, “Third-Party Politics: Andy Warhole’s ‘Vote McGovern’, 1972, Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte, vol.75, no. 3, pp. 391–416, 2012< www.jstor.org/stable/41642670 >Accessed May 3, 2020

[2] Ms. Mamta D. Awariwar, ‘Supreme Court Guidelines on Right to Reject and its Implication : A Study’, University Grants Commission, Pune, July 2017

<http://bvpnlcpune.org/Results%20PDF/Executive%20summary.pdf>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[3] AIR 2003, SC 2363

[4] Sanjeev Kumar Chaswal ‘A Paradox of Right to Recall and Reject- A boon or a bane’ The Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies  

<https://www.academia.edu/8249541/_A_Paradox_of_Right_to_Recall_and_Reject_-_A_boon_or_bane_> Accessed April 29, 2020

[5] Report No. 255 , Electoral Reforms, ‘Nota and the Right To Reject’, ch.1, pp.190, March 2015,

<http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/Report255.pdf>

Accessed April 29, 2020

[6] People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, AIR 2003, SC 2363

[7] The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, Rule 49-O

[8] Pooja pandey, ‘ The NOTA Judgement in India: A Bigger Narrative’

 <https://www.academia.edu/35272294/NOTA_Judgement_in_India_Bigger_Narratives.pdf

 Accessed April 30, 2020

[9]                  PUCL v. Union Of India, 2003, SC 2363

[10] Arindam Mandal, Biswajit Mandal, Prasoon Bhatthacharjee, ‘Does NOTA Affect Voter Turnout? Evidence From State Legislative Elections in India’, Asian Journal of Economic Modelling, Vol. 5, No. 3, August 17, 2017<https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318008834_Does_Nota_Affect_Voter_Turnout_Evidence_from_State_Legislative_Elections_in_India>

Accessed April 30, 2020

[11] S.Y. Qureshi, Pressure of a Button, The Indian Express, October 3, 2013

 <https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/pressure-of-a-button/>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[12] Katju Manjari, ‘The None of the Above Option’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 48, no. 42, October 19,    2013 <https://www.epw.in/journal/2013/42/commentary/none-above-option.html>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[13] Dr. Vijaya Laxshmi Mohanty, Ms. Ramneet Kaur, NOTA- A  Powerful Opponent or a Toothless Tiger?- In Perspective of General Election 2014, Institute of Public Policy Studies and Research, Odisha, December 14 2014<https://www.academia.edu/9787108/NOTA-A_powerful_opponent_or_a_toothless_tiger_-in_perspective_of_General_elections_2014>

Accessed April 30 2020

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South Asia

Populism: Effects on Global Politics and Pakistan

Maham S. Gillani

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Populism is a concept in political science that postulates that the society is divided into two groups that are at odds with each other. According to Cas Mudde who is the author of Populism: A Very Short Introduction, these two groups consist of:  ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’. The term ‘populism’ is often used as a kind of a political insult. For instance, Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party in Britain has often been accused of invoking populism over his party slogan ‘for the many not the few’, but it’s not actually the same thing. According to Benjamin Moffitt, author of The Global Rise of Populism, the word “is generally misused, especially in a European context.” A populist leader in the true sense of the word claims to represent the uniform will of the people, stands in opposition to the enemy – that is often embodied by the current system which is aimed at either ‘draining the swamp’ or ‘tackling the liberal elite’. Dr. Moffitt continues, “It generally attaches itself to the right in a European context… but that’s not an iron rule.”

In the contemporary world, Populism is everywhere in the political spectrum: there are politicians like Marine Le Pen in France, Donald Trump in the US, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Narendra Modi in India. Political scientists believe that populism is not a new phenomenon but in the past decade it has certainly accelerated, and has taken many forms in the 2010s – which were often overlapping. In some countries a socioeconomic version was observed, where the working class pitted against big businesses and cosmopolitan elites who were believed to be benefitting from the capitalist system, such as, in countries like France and the US. While others saw an overwhelming focus on the cultural form thrive with emphasis on issues like immigration, national identity and race, for instance, in countries like Germany and India. However, the most common type of populism was the anti-establishment populism that pits the common masses against the political elites and the mainstream political parties represented by them. These forms of populism are likely to also continue into the next decade, although the main focus may probably shift from immigration to climate change.

Associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Reading in England, Daphne Halikiopoulou opines, “If the 2010s were the years in which predominantly far-right, populist parties permeated the political mainstream, then the 2020s will be when voters are going to see the consequences of that.” Although in some ways the results are already beginning to manifest in some states, a case in point being the 2016 vote in Britain to exit the European Union – Brexit – and the consequent political fallout that led to the resounding victory of the populist Prime Minister, Boris Johnson in the general election. Moreover, in other countries also the populist parties are beginning to make their impact in various ways – if not through directly passing legislation then by exerting pressure in the opposition.

In the near future i.e. the 2020s, many populist political figures are expected to rise to power and prominence. For example, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, who is the leader of the far-right and nativist League party has sworn to return to government as the prime minister, and if successful he is likely to forge alliances with his fellow populist leaders, inter alia, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Such alliances could herald a reinvigorated wave of populism in the world. On the other side of the globe, Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, has also signaled to continue his quest of deepening his Hindu-nationalist agenda. It is in this context that his government enacted a controversial Citizenship Amendment Act – which grants citizenship to refugees belonging to every major South Asian religion except Muslims – leading to weeks of protests and unrest across the country, in addition to continuing his policy of political repression and harsh lockdown in Kashmir.

Pakistan is, of course, not immune to the global move towards populism. Imran Khan is viewed by many political science experts as a populist prime minister. Ever since coming to power he has pursued divisive politics by sometimes silencing and at other times discrediting dissenters. The arrest and imprisonment – often on groundless allegations – of many opposition leaders can be viewed in this context. Moreover, on more than one occasion certain quarters of the media have been targeted and demonized in a bid to kill the messenger if you can’t kill criticism. These policies of the incumbent government led by Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to stifle opposition negate principles of pluralism and democratic tolerance. Pakistan is indeed on a slippery slope vis-à-vis the rise of populism in politics.

Populism is likely to persist as a fixture of politics for the foreseeable future. How countries choose to respond to it may become the defining feature of the remaining part of the twenty-first century. Propagation of values of democracy such as international cooperation, religious tolerance, pluralism and diversity seem to offer the only ray of hope in this, otherwise, dark tunnel of populism.

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