Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh*
In the twenty-year span, in the Maldives the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) changed the course of the island nations pathways to multi party democratic system . It is impossible to imagine how this happened when MDP was founded in November 2003. At that time making predictions about the democratic set up of Maldives was a complicated task. The democratic political environment of the Indian ocean island country includes a variety of actors from islands and atolls which may influence socio- economic policy outputs of the island nation. In this context Maldives, economic reforms have gone hand in hand with political restructuring. The MDP path has been very different where the MDP movement in the Maldives was characterised by grassroots activists seeking to influence policy and challenge powerful undemocratic forces led by Mohamed Nasheed, a youthful leader in mid 2004.
In early 2005, the pro-democracy groups were much more successful in building a strong support for the MDP. It is obvious that the expansion of the Maldivian Democratic Party membership from 42 people in 2003 to 29277 in 2018 altered the status of the political direction of the Indian ocean island country. Perhaps, the biggest road block to solving the representative democratic system was the lack of new constitution. For the first time, the idea of organizing along colour lines had emerged and taken roots in the island landscape of the Maldives. Never before had a politician from across the Maldivian islands had opted to contest from different parties. In that time, then government insisted that some of the corruption claims made in public by the opposition were misleading or false. On the other hand the Maldivian politicians were losing public trust.
The 2008 Maldivian presidential election had overturned a big assumption about Maldives democratization process. At that time, defeating these undemocratic foes may prove impossible. But the first steps to reversing pro democracy movement was to recognize fundamental similarities between the opposition parties. During the 2008 presidential election, candidate Mohamed Nasheed or commonly known as “Anni” appeared to have regarded his policies as essential tasks that the former Maldivian President’s perceived as modernising the nation . Surprisingly, President Maumoon Gayoom lost his re-election bid in the second round in the presidential election to the MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed. During Nasheed’s three-year rule, much of the popular support enjoyed by him previously may have declined. This did not seem to have diminished popular support for democratic principles.
One of the main factors that impacted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)rule was the privatisation of the Male’ International Airport where Indian GMR Infrastructural company had a significant share. This remained one of the most controversial element during MDP rule. In February 2012, Mohamed Nasheed stepped down from the presidency following the coup, to oust the president . Nothing like this has ever occurred before. His place was taken by Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan. After the fall of Mohamed Nasheed government in 2012, a slow but increasing tide of opposition party members joining the MDP began. The MDP street protest reflected the anxiety and anger for deposing the former President Nasheed. During the protest flanked by party supporters chanting ‘Nasheed Zindabad’ was usual occurrence in Male’. In the meantime, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom chose Abdulla Yameen as his party successor for the forthcoming presidential election. In the 2013 presidential election, the rejection of MDP presidential candidate by the voters was a shock for MDP supporters. According to pro MDP camp support base in Islands, there were many indications that majority of the people were in favour of MDP presidential candidate at that time. In the end, MDP lost its grip on power when Nasheed was defeated by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
In fact, President Yameen who succeeded Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in the presidency faced an even more difficult task in running the government after 2016. But Yameen’s era has taken an entirely unexpected direction during the past two years. During this difficult time, MDP enjoyed a considerable amount of support from India, Sri Lanka, Western nations and the Maldivian diaspora. In the last couple of months, a new wave of democratic uprising emerged from the capital Male’ to faraway islands in the Maldives. Hence the during the past two years, most members of the MDP experienced a degree of difficulty. Comparatively, the political situation was somewhat more volatile compared to 2008 presidential election . Suddenly the progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) tenure of governance was rocked by a series of events and the nation was in a critical juncture in the post-independence history of Maldives. There was widespread perception that corruption had taken place . Maldivians have also been losing faith in their politicians. As a result, Maldivian Prsident Yameen lost the 2018 presidential election to the MDP led coalition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Over the past quarter century, there is promising evidence to put beside this courageous findings of Maldivian political leaders like Maumoon Gayoom , Mohamed Nasheed and Qasim Ibrahim struggling to stabilise the Maldivian democratic process. In the Maldives where until 2014 women parliamentarians accounted for only 5.88% ( Inter-Parliamentary Union 2016) of the 85 elected members of the Peoples Majilis ( Maldivian Parliament ) . The first test saw seven female ministers out of 19 in the President Solih’s cabinet.. One could argue that what would Maldives democracy look like if there were no Maldivian Democratic party? Following the MDPs recent victory in a presidential election, former Maldivian President Nasheed may go into history as a political reformer. Yet, one could say that there is not a democratization problem in the Maldives, but rather a diversity in the political culture wanting transparent policies that suite different Atolls in the Maldives . The impact of the democratic transition in the island nation can be understood in terms of improving the representative democracy into the country. Looking through the lens of Maldivian democratic transition, MDP as a mainstream political party also put a very high value on the democratic transition process of Maldives.
*Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.
More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar
Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.
Why did you start Lokatantra?
I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.
I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.
I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.
Tell us more about Lokatantra.
Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.
On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.
The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.
What do you think can make journalism more neutral?
More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.
Why is equal representation in politics important?
Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.
How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?
Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.
We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.
Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.
As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?
I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.
A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.
What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?
The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.
It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.
India: Metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
When European Disinfo Lab exposed India’s disinformation network, India apologized. But, the portents are that India continued spreading disinformation, nay stark lies against Pakistan. India’s usual modus operandi was to employ dubious thinktanks and journalists of doubtful credentials to tarnish Pakistan’s image. For instance, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a registered Canadian charity, published a Pakistan-bashing report ‘Khalistan—A project of Pakistan’ which found mention in almost all leading Indian newspapers. Now, Indian government has told its Supreme Court that farmers’ protest in India are being pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan elements. The SC has called upon Indian government to submit an affidavit about its allegation along with corroborative evidence.
Another pro-India “thinktank”, spouting venom against Pakistan is the “International Terrorism Observatory”. It is chaired by Roland Jacquard. Prestigious French newspaper Le Monde (The World) pointed out in 2015; he is the only member “without publications, without a website, without postal address and without any legal existence”. He runs a bookstore stacked with books on “networks of Islamist terrorism’. According to journalists Didier Bigo, Laurent Bonelli and Thomas Deltombe, Roland Jacquard’s claim of being a media expert is questionable.
India-sponsored think tank International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies run by Srivastava Group of India shot into limelight when it paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on October 30, 2013. The trip was arranged by Indian intelligence surrogate, Madi Sharma, who posed as a self-styled “international business broker”.
India’s metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
It appears India has now realized that its disinformation is losing clout. So, instead of banking on dubious journalists and think tanks, it has begun to churn out lies against Pakistan through its own agencies, including the prestigious India Today.
Almost all media outlets and TV channels disseminated the false report that an ex diplomat has admitted that India did actually kills 300 men in Balakot air strike on February 26, 2019. Some channels have retracted the false rreport while others are staying mum.
What did the news agency ANI say?
The statement falsely attributed to diplomat Agha Hilaly was carried by several news organisation, including India Today, and was based on an input by news agency ANI. The News agency ANI quoted Pakistani diplomat Agha Hilaly as saying, “India crossed the international border and did an act of war in which at least 300 were reported dead. Our target was different from theirs. We targeted their high command. That was our legitimate target because they are men of the military. We subconsciously accepted that a surgical strike — a limited action — did not result in any casualty. Now we have subconsciously told them that, whatever they will do, we’ll do only that much and won’t escalate.”
The video was misattributed and the quote was actually a snippet of a larger quote made by former diplomat Zafar Hilaly in a television debate.The full quote by Zafar Hilaly is as follows:: What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people. Coincidentally, they [Pakistani people] did not die and India bombed a football field. “Hilaly has also said that the viral video is edited and does not represent his full quote. He also shared the full video on his Twitter account. A fact-check by “Alt News” found that the comments were misreported and the ex-diplomat who made the comments was “Zafar Hilaly”.In the debate posted on YouTube by HUM news as part of a program called “Agenda Pakistan”, Hilaly had said, “What you did, India, was an act of war. India ne jo kiya, international boundary ko cross karke ek act of war. Jisme kam se kam 300 logo ko unhone marna tha. (What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people).”Zafar Hilaly also tweeted a video saying his statement was spliced and edited. Alt News said a version of the video posted on Twitter had an abrupt cut “around 0:7-0:9 seconds” and the word “marna (to kill)” sounds as if Hilaly said “mara (killed)”. The news has since been removed by websites.
A basic principle of disinformation is ‘never lose sight of truth’. A half-truth or even .005 per cent to 5% untruth, a twisted truth, or sometimes a truth concealed may appeal more to readers or viewers than a stark lie. Goebels is not alive to tell that he never said ‘the bigger the lie the more it will be believed’. Pathological lying is not the art of disinformation. Psychologists would tell that, even under stress, a mature person would suppress truth rather than tell a lie.
Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).
He gives several example of disinformation including sublimininal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’. (Ibid. p. 9).
Role of India’s foremost intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in conducting disinformation campaigns has, by and large, remained hidden from the media watch. It is now being exposed. RAW is burning midnight oils to exploit USA’s sensitivity about certain ticklish subjects like Hawala transactions for funneling funds to “terrorists’, nuclear proliferation, use of missiles to hit aircraft, and development of chemical biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
The RAW’s disinformation campaign, often bordering on lying, is well reflected by innocuous-looking news (unsupported by reference to information sources) that appear, from time to time, in Indian media. Hilaly debacle is a case in point.
Casteism inside RSS, and its’ abhorrence
Dr Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, believed that ‘RSS is a dangerous association’. The latest to join this belief is Bhanwar Maghwanshi, a former RSS worker and also the author of the book ‘I could not be Hindu’ (2020)
At the age of 13, Bhanwar Maghwanshi joined RSS. Instead of playing, learning and exploring, he opted to do something ‘bigger’ in his life. But, unfortunately, he was shocked to learn how RSS practices casteism without using the term ‘Dalit’ in its shakhas. He was active with RSS, as a sevak, during the so-called Janmbhoomi movement of Ayodhya in late 1980s. In his panchayat in Rajasthan, he never listened to azan or interacted with any Muslim – in person, but developed strong abhorrence for the Muslims when he was learning ‘skills’ in RSS. His dad was a Congress activist and discouraged him to join RSS (because, for him, RSS would never want ‘brahmin’ sevaks to sacrifice their lives) but BhanwarMeghwanshi – on positive note – entered RSS.
RSS is a hydra of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Rashtra. BJP is its outcome. Since 2014, India is witnessing a systemic degradation of free speech, social equity, human development, economy, environment and women safety. The Modi government came to power in 2014 chanting ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ slogan but unfortunately it transformed India into ‘new’ India with the maxims of ‘minimum governance, maximum statism’. One of the oldest, yet contemporary, [social] statism is casteism. It’s 21st century and the elements of caste as a whole continues to haunt the democratic features of India. A recent NCRB data suggests that India is unsafe for Dalit and Adivasi girls. There’s an increase of 300% in hate crimes. The architect of India’s constitution Dr Ambedkar was ‘untouchable’ and had come to conclusions that Hinduism can’t be reformed. He chose Buddhism in October 1956 and found emancipation through the teachings of Buddha. The same is the case with BhanwarMeghwanshi who is an Ambedkarite today, learned a different version of Ambedkar in his RSS years. Even God knows that RSS has appropriated Dr Ambedkar conveniently, for its own political agenda.
Bhanwar’s ethnographic encounter in his book “I could not be Hindi – the story of a Dalit in the RSS” is essential to refute the pseudo-science of RSS or Hindutva trollers on the subjects of Islam, untouchability and other narratives. The book sheds a detailed light on what RSS is, casteism in the RSS, and how RSS makes its ground in the society. Navayana Publishing House mustered the courage to publish the book, unlike other ‘popular’ publishing houses, according to Bhanwar. He dreamt of becoming a ‘pracharak’ but was stopped to become a ‘vistarak’ because of his ‘caste’ and this is where he learned that he is a lesser Hindu than other Hindus in RSS. He left RSS after a very bitter experience. He writes, “We had organised an event of Sangh in my hometown, I was heading the event as I was the most active and passionate worker in my area. I had planned to make food at my home only for the senior guests and the priests who would join the event. My father strongly opposed and said that they would never eat food cooked by us. I did not listen to him. I cooked good Rajasthani food with pure ghee and invited them. They did not come home but said that ‘you just pack the food we will eat it in the next village, as we are running out of time’. I packed the food for them, I later learned that they did not have my food but threw it in a naala (gutter). As the district chief, I got angry with them and asked the reason, but did not get satisfactory answers. I was reminded of my father’s words that ‘people like us did not own any place in the Sangh’, it solely belongs to the upper castes.”
The book smashes the rosy picture of RSS and explains that the Dalits’ role in RSS is mere foot soldiers for the communal polarisation and Hindutva activities. In an interview to Caravan magazine (14th March 2020), Bhanwar Meghwanshi made it clear that “In the eyes of the Sangh, the Hindu Rashtra is a Brahmin nation with the varna system, the four vedas and the Manusmriti. The Sangh wants to run the nation on this very base. I feel that in the Sangh’s Hindu Rashtra, shudras or untouchables will be slaves, and Muslims, heretics or foreigners, will be given a second-class status.”
In this memoir, Bhanwar also writes that in his village, low caste people joined the RSS in large numbers: “Of the fifty or so children who attended the shakha in my village, most were OBCs—Kumhar, Jat, Gurjar, Mali and so on.” They joined because of the Sanskritization processes and because of the games they played in the shakha, but they resided for ideological reasons too as, slowly, they learnt that “hindukhatre main hai” (Hindus are in danger) because of Muslims and Christians. He also recalls that, while in the Sangh, he “heard a lot about weapons being stored in the basements of mosques” and that getting rid of the Babri Masjid was like “a second battle for independence”.
Bhanwar is not new in this race. A sarcastic letter authored by a Dalit activist P.D. Shelare, on 13/1/1934, published in ‘Janata’ divulged about casteism or caste segregation practices in some shakhas of RSS. Shelareratiocinated that RSS was aware of the practices but it did not react. It’s obvious to learn that Hinduism is incomplete without casteism. The caste practices made me leave Hinduism too, on 30th December 2018. I adopted Buddhism, on par with Dr Ambedkar’s teachings. While reading the book, I could resonate my experiences too. In the current landscape, interactions and social relations have changed a lot. Caste dynamics too. To add to the woes, love jihad law will further strengthen more endogamy and discourage intercaste marriages. Dining with Dalits alone would not bring about social changes. The ‘safe space’ for the dissents and Dalits is diminishing, whereas love for hatred is openly normalised.
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