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A peek into India’s 2019 elections: Past trends and portents

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A bird’s-eye view

Some 814 million voters speaking 1,652 languages will vote in 900,000 voting centers across the country over 35 days in 2019. India’s imminent (April 2019) elections will cost parties a flabbergasting Rs. 30,000 crore ($5 billion). That parallels cost of a U.S Presidential election. The difference is that most of the money spent in India will be in the form of untraceable cash. Much of it will have been brought back 

Into the country from tax havens, such as Switzerland, where industrialists and politicians stash their illicit fortunes. Money stashed illegally in Swiss banks comes back into the country through the hawala (unregistered) channels and havens such as Mauritius, Dubai and Caribbean.

Regular elections are raison deter of democracy in Western notion of democracy (Westminster model). The `equal citizens’ exercise their political right to choose representatives to rule them through their vote. India could be proud to hold elections regularly.  But, the way influential people contest or win elections through malpractices leaves nothing to rejoice. Elections are only a formal part of political representation, not its essence. Only the affluent and socially powerful sections of society can make it to the parliament. Is the Indian democracy in name only or in substance also?   

The social conditions in India rule out possibility of free and fair elections. The poor and the marginalised have a bleak chance to contest and win elections. India, the world’s largest democracy, stands divided into two worlds, the affluent and the poor.

India’s Constitution provides for equality of rights to all citizens, regardless of social differences. The golden words in the objectives resolution promise to secure to all the people social, economic and political justice, equal opportunity, and equality of status before the law.  Practically, justice to all has been a far cry. Let us explore some contours of India’s elections that shape India’s democracy.

Let us look at some contours of India’s democracy. India is a democracy only in ‘form’, not in substance. 

Influence of money power in elections

There is a relationship of direct proportionality between electoral win and wealth. Money plays an important part in determining poor voter’s electoral choice. Narendra Modi spent US$115 million to win the Indian election in 2014. In all, the BJP spent Rs714.28 crore ($115 million) on the 2014 general election campaign. Congress spent Rs200 crore ($32 million) less than the BJP’s expenditure during the 2014 polls.

The BJP spent over one third of all the money on one item: media advertising. The biggest individual recipients of this money were two firms, Madison World and chartered aviation provider, Saarthi Airways. Saarthi Airways is promoted by Delhi-based Gulab Singh Tanwar, reportedly a close friend of former BJP’s president and current home minister, Rajnath Singh. The party spent Rs77.83 crore ($12.57 million) on chartering aircrafts for its key campaigners, of which Rs60 crore ($9.7 million) was paid to Saarthi Airways alone.

No place for a pauper

 Political parties mainly nominate those candidates who can raise money for contesting elections.

Elections in India are expensive.  Candidates in the 2014 election spent a total of $5bn (US election in 2012 cost around $6bn). The longer a party stays out of power, the fewer the 

Opportunities to `raise’ money from a variety of sources including large donors, small donors and organizational donations.

The BJP is the richest party followed by Congress party. The Congress has ruled the country for 49 of its 71 years as an independent nation.  It appealed for the first time in its 133-year history for funds, perhaps as a catchy slogan. It had an income of $33m (£24.7m) in 2017! Ruling Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) is the richest with an income of $151.5million.The Congress income in 2017 decrease by $5.3m. The BJP’s income has doubled from what it earned in 2016.

No transparency

Although political parties are required to declare their income, their finances  are far from transparent. The penalties imposed by election commission are slaps on wrist.About 69per cent of parties’ income originates in  unknown sources,  “illicit money” or “black money”. The BJP and its allies are in power in 22 of India’s 29 states. The Congress is now in power in only two big states –  Karnataka and Punjab – and two smaller ones. Individuals and companies can buy electoral bondsto fund political parties anonymously. These bonds come in specified amounts and, at the end of 15 days, must be deposited in to the bank account of any political party that has earned 1% or more of the votes in the last election. Intra-party democracy has withered. Leading parties enjoy the  support of corporate business groups. Regional parties are invariably controlled by families.

Preposterous expenditure ceiling

Individual candidates can spend only Rs 70 lakh ($120,000) on his campaigns. This amount is too little to meet even poster printing costs in important contests. Key candidates spend between Rs 75 – 300 crore ($12-50 million).  Lesser stars spend between Rs 15-50 crore ($2.5-8.25 million) and marginal ones between Rs 1-10 crore ($600, 000K-1.8 million).

Mammoth rallies where half a million people cheer candidates cost upwards of Rs 3 crore ($500,000). Every major party holds at least one major rally or counter-rallies a day.

Add to it the  cost of sending thousands of workers out in cars, trains,  planes, rickshaws, bicycles, bullock carts, tractors, camels, horses and boats  to woo voters with speeches, street plays and songs.

Unfortunately, in reality, most candidates spend much more than the prescribed limits, and the amount spent by major national and regional parties is anyone’s guess. For instance, in 2013, Gopinath Munde, a well-known parliamentarian and a former minister, admitted that he spent more than 32 times the limit in the last election. Many believe that even this sum is an understatement.

Electoral abuses

Elections are marred by anti-democratic features like violence, en bloc voting, voting along religious and caste lines, so on. Leading parties nurture a number of local toughs on their payrolls. In urban war zones, they often intimidate voters from even venturing out of their homes. In feudal rural areas, upper caste militias threaten lower caste voters. Electing a `wrong’ candidate could lead to punishment like manhandling molestation, and torture.

Often, these vigilantes wields words, shotguns and homemade bombs frighten  local election officials away from poll booths. If rival toughs show up, there are scuffles, fistfights, maybe even a few hand-made bombs hurled.

Even electoral voting machines were no good in stopping abuse of elections. Some voters demand that it should be done away with.  The familiar traditional abuses include buying away competitive candidates, hounding out or abducting candidates before they file a nomination paper. Use of a pre-poll hearty meal or booze, coupled with free air or road travel is un-noticed malpractices. Up to the 1990s, India’s elections results were generally decisive with wide majorities. But recent results have been close with winning coalitions getting wafer-thin majorities. Such narrow margins mean even minor incidents of vote tampering, booth capturing etc. can swing results in 25 percent of all parliamentary seats, ten times the  government’s own majority.

Deleting voters from lists

In remote villages, such problems often go entirely unreported. Both parties accuse one another of the vice.

Paid advertising shown as free reporting

India’s `free’ press, numerous newspapers and TV channels charge local-candidates coverage for a fee.

A plethora of parties

Existence of plethora of parties and candidates results in splitting of votes. Gandhi foresaw this problem.  He ‘wanted Congress to be disbanded after independence. Implementing his advice could have created two parties_ one led by Jawaharlal Nehru and the other by Sardar Patel’. (“Political Parties and Indian Democracy”. Raju Ramachandaran suggested a system of proportional representation to reflect popular will. (Raju Ramachandaran, “Myths of Parliamentary Democracy”, 266-267). Ramachandaran suggested ‘proportional representation’ to reflect popular will more accurately. Speakers at the National seminar on “Indian Democracy: Recent Trends and Issues” inter alia highlighted collapse of political institutions in India (Dr. K. S. Saxena and Anil Gupta (ed.), Indian Democracy: Recent Trends and Issues”, p. ix). Saxena was so pessimistic that he began his paper with an epitaph for India’s democracy _ ‘all hostile elements have conspired to put our democracy to death’. (Dr K. S. Saxena, “Plight of Indian Democracy”, p. 283, 285). Saxena claimed India’s democracy had failed to ensure ‘freedom, justice and social and economic equality’ to all.  Dissenters in India were dubbed as traitors and fascists’. A party securing 33 percent of the votes could occupy three-fourths of the legislatures.

 (Editorial, “Cost of Elections”, The Tribune (Chandigarh), December 1, 1984; cited in Ghani Jaffer (ed.), Elections in India 1984-85, Islamabad Institute of Regional Studies, 1987).

Financial Contributions to Parties and Candidates

Corporate contributions, upto five per cent of a company’s net profits to political parties are legal.  In reality, huge funds are collected from individuals and companies by extortion or as a consideration for past or future favours.

Political corruption has become integral to India’s governance process. The disclosure norms are very feeble and un-enforced. Most expenditure is illegitimate.  It is spent on buying votes, distributing liquor, transporting voters, bribing local power brokers, bribing polling agents, payoffs to police and polling personnel in several places and hiring hoodlums for rigging and booth capturing.

Most major parties no longer attract voluntary party workers motivated by principles and goals, and therefore hire them at great expense during elections. Large mobilisation of poor people for election meetings, spending enormous sums for lorries and bribes to the hired audiences, and ostentatious campaign in the form of large fleets of cars and jeeps, huge cut-outs, banners, posters, tents, loud speakers etc. account for other expenditures.

Caste-Influence and Communalism

Caste influence has always been predominant in secular India.  Khushwant Singh says, ‘Yet, strange enough, Gandhi obliquely supported the Hindu caste system’. Peter Myer points out ‘importance of caste in the election of candidates’ and ‘caste-based factionalism’ is a significant factor in campaigning (Peter Myers, “The year the vote-banks failed: the 1967 general elections and the beginning of the end of Congress Party dominance”, pp. 154-155; cited in Jim Masselos (ed.), India: Creating a Modern Nation (Bangalore, Sterling Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1990), 154, 165-167).

The importance of caste politics has also been highlighted in Selig Harrison’s India: The Most Dangerous Decades. Rasheedudin Khan points out “India’s State structure is democratic but not all aspects of the political system’.  The social structure and equipoise of the traditional polity legitimised ‘the power and control of land-based jatis over a disaggregated and alienated mass of the landless, the bonded labourers, low castes and sudras’ (Rasheedudin Khan, “Impediments to democratic change in India”, 384, ibid).

Ever since independence, the politicians made no serious effort to reduce influence of caste on elections.  They continued to hoodwink masses with buzzword-subsumed themes of ‘removal of poverty, illiteracy and disease by bridging the gulf between the rich and the poor, between the urban and rural, through industrialization, spread of education and building of an egalitarian-cum welfare state’.  The slogans brought no change in condition of scheduled tribes (girijans), scheduled castes (harijans), castes (jatis), religious communities (dharmic sampratya) and language communities (bhashai sampratya).

Noble laureate Amartya Sen,  delivered a lecture on “Democracy and its Critics”, organised by the United Nations Foundation in New Delhi on December 16, 2005.  While discussing success and failure of Indian democracy, he said, “The rise of casteist politics was a failure”. 

Atul Kohli is disgusted at erosion of democratic institutions owing to politicisation of bureaucracy and bypassing of constitution.  He has serious doubts about future of India’s democracy.  He says that ‘personal rule has come to replace party rule’.  Economic development within an elite-dominated framework has thrown up social groups which are demanding share in society’s power and wealth (Atul Kohlie (ed.), Interpreting India’s Democracy: An Analysis of Changing State-Society Relations (Hyderabad, Orient Longman Ltd., 1991), xv, xvi, 1-11).

Corruption

Corruption galore (Bofors, Rafale, etc) in India has become a serious socio-political malady. The society is generally passive and resigned to its fate. Corruption cases filed in courts drag on for years without any results. To quote a few cases: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors gun case (Rs 64 crore) though the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S. K.Bhatnagar, W. N. Chaddha, Octavio, Ardbo and S. K. Bhatnagar. The key players in the scam died during proceedings (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of armed forces.

There is popular pressure to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s ombudsman Bill), draft anti-corruption bill, drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a jan lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year.  And envisages trial in the in the next one year. The Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and present lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal , envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated. It also seeks power to the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission.

In December 2005, by voice vote, Indian parliament expelled 11 parliamentarians. Ten of them belonged to the House of People (lok sabha) and one to the Council of States (rajya sabha).The peoples’ representatives were sacked as they were involved in demanding cash to ask questions of “donors’” interests. Secret cameras caught the MPs while negotiating or taking bribes.  To avoid such ‘stings’ in future, the MPs have now begun to keep detective gadgets.

The un-sacked parliamentarians remained unruffled by expulsion of their colleagues.  This is obvious from the fact that the MPs supported the Rs 8,000 crore development fund to be spent at the discretion of the MPs _ each MP to get Rs two crore. The Statesman, New Delhi, December 24, 2005, observed _ ‘The [cash for queries] sting ‘testifies to the extent of criminality that has permeated the ranks of the elected representatives. Seven MPs were shown accepting or demanding bribes for sanctioning funds ostensibly for local development.

(“Good riddance: Even expulsion is insufficient” (editorial), The Tribune (Chandigarh), December 24, 2005.

Parliamentarians use pocket-sized radio frequency detectors and jammers in the shape of room fresheners or computer to avoid being caught by spy cameras.  It is widely known how warring industrial houses have set up MPs to ask embarrassing questions in the past to embarrass the opponent or deny the rival company a license or a benefit. It has not been uncommon for some ministers to collude with corporates. Some feel that with the end of the licence-quota raj, the problem has become less grave. “In the license-quota raj, some industrialists had to permanently camp in Delhi, and there was a time 50 per cent of the people flying between Delhi and Mumbai were doing so for liaison work.”

observed, ‘Even expulsion is insufficient. In fact, this is the minimum punishment they deserved.The Indian Express commented, ‘Our politicians are brazen in their defence of illegal land use. They are scared of losing money, not votes’.

Another slap in the face of democracy after ‘ Operation duryodhan’ (expose’ of 11 Members of Parliament taking bribes in exchange for raising questions in Parliament), a new sting operation by Star News has MPs asking for commission  for sanctioning funds under the MP Local Area  Development Scheme (MPLADS) scheme. This time, elected representatives of Parliament are caught on camera asking for cuts ranging from 5 per cent to 45 per cent for sanctioning funds under the MPLADS, a kitty of Rs 8,000 crore, to be spent at the discretion of members of both Houses.

(“Criminality spread, MPLAD scheme should be scrapped”,

Who would take action against India’s corrupt? ).

The media continues, ad infinitum, to point out legislators’ corruption. About one-fourth of the over 540 people elected to Indian Parliament face criminal charges ranging from murder to extortion and even rape. India’s election laws allow politicians facing criminal charges to run for public office, disqualifying them only in case of convictions, which are rare in India’s corrupt judicial system. It is understandable why no Indian parliament has ever passed anti-corruption legislation aimed to bring top public offices within the ambit of accountability.

More than half the members of the Lower House of Parliament have assets of over five million rupees ($109,400), in a country where a quarter of the billion-plus population lives on less than a dollar a day.   The rich legislators enriched themselves further by a salary hike to 12,000 rupees, besides allowances. They enjoy heavily subsidised housing, free air and rail tickets, electricity and water.  Nearly half of all MPs have not repaid loans to public financial institutions. (“Cash-for-query: Netas, babus take sting off spy cameras “Times of India, December 14, 2005),

Non-Representative Parliament

Honest men like even Acharya Narendra (the doyen of Indian socialism) and Acharya Kirplani got rejected at the hustings (G. P. Srivastava, “Curbing booth capturing and election rigging in India”, p.193; cited in Grover and Arora, Indian Government and Politics at the Cross Roads).

The people have now realised that repeated elections are no real test of a democracy. India’s democracy accepts right of cheats and bullies to rule (Satish Saberwal, “Reconstituting Society”; cited in Grover and Arora, The Tribune, Chandigarh, December 24, 2005, in its editorial, “Good riddance”).

Unity in Diversity?

RSS_BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine influences elections. India is no longer an epitome of unity in diversity.  It is now a cauldron of ‘religious, communal or caste conflicts in every nook and corner of the country’. The net result of separatist movements by ethnic, religious or ethno-religious minorities is a demand for sovereignty which threatens India’s territorial integrity.  Social unrest is due to the dissonance between the rulers and the ruled.

Breach of public trust

S. G. Sardesai is of the view that voters are disgusted with ‘unprincipled squabbling and mud-slinging between various political parties.  They are losing faith in the democratic elective process itself.  In our given conditions, candidate, the best candidate for playing that role is the RSS-BJP- VHP-Bajrang Dal combine.

(Verinder Grover and Ranjana Arora (ed.), Indian Government and Politics at Crossroads. New Delhi, Deep and Deep Publications, 1995, ix).

Inferences

Being the richest party, the BJP is well placed to form at least a cozy coalition. Electoral abuses caricature shiny face of India’s democracy. There are too many loopholes in the laws.  Authorised ceiling of the election expenses does not take into account ‘expenditure incurred by the political parties, friends and well-wishers in furtherance of the poll prospects of a candidate’. Donations by companies, including public-sector companies, are not subject to audit.  Unless the electoral system is radically revamped, the rituals of elections would continue to throw up unrepresentative governments in India.

“Elections (in India) are being increasingly seen by people as devious means, employed by the rulers to periodically renew their licence to rule_more often to misrule.( S. G. Sardesai, “Election Results: Writing on the Wall”, cited in Grover and Arora (ed.), “India’s democracy accepts right of cheats and bullies to rule”.

Democracies can succeed only if their institutional foundations are strong. The masses who are victims of the caste system lose confidence in democracy. Regrettably, at all levels of government, the upper castes are holding the positions of decision-making.

Persecution of religious minorities and the so-called untouchables (who prefer to call themselves dalits) is endemic to the social and cultural systems that circumscribe the Indian polity — in class terms, abject poverty permeates huge sections of Indian society. A four-year-old girl, named Surjo, was boiled in a tub and then beheaded to please gods as part of a religious sacrifice.  The police said, “In a country where sons are sold for paisa 25 and women are thrown into fire to please sati, goddess of chastity, such events cannot be foreseen or forestalled”. 38.Manoj Joshi, “Indian girl boiled alive and beheaded as a religious custom” (Manoj Joshi, “Indian girl boiled alive and beheaded as a religious custom”, Times of India, August 13, 2000).  

Crimes against women are generally ignored. It is given name of eve teasing as escapism. The cases of rape have grown by 700 per cent since 1953. Last year 20,000 rapes were reported in the country. And India’s rape capital New Delhi has seen average of 10 cases in a month. And these are just the cases that have been reported. The number of unreported cases is far higher. India ranked fourth primarily due to female foeticide, infanticide and human trafficking. (“Dubious record: Four rapes in UP in 24 hours”, Times News Network, July 16, 2011, 03.49am IST. Also see “Shame: Rape is India’s fastest growing crime”, Jatin Gandhi, Hindustan Times (New Delhi), January 14, 2008). 

The independent candidates are handicapped.  They cannot pass off their excess buck to any political party.  India’s Supreme Court ordered that expenditure incurred by a sponsoring political party or candidate’s friends and supporters also should be included in a candidate’s election expense sheet. But, the then Congress government nullified the Supreme Court’s decision through legislation.

India is a democracy only in ‘form’, not in substance.  Hindutva supporters want to convert it into a centralised state for the brahmans only. Poverty and hunger continue to afflict large sections of Indian society. Also, there is a tangible threat that India could become a majoritarian tyranny or even a cultural fascist state. The rise of the BJP from a marginal Hindu nationalist party of the 1980s to the majority party in parliament in 1999 vindicates ascendancy of Hindutva trend.

If the Allahabad High Court had not unseated Indira Gandhi in June 1975 and held her election victory as an MP in 1971 as invalid, the Indians today would well have no fundamental rights.

A democracy subsumes equal political, economic and cultural rights. So is not the case with India. The political class is drawn from the affluent, educated and socially powerful sections of society. The society has been religionalised and religion commodified.  India’s cosmetic progress is most visible in use of cars, aviation, mobile telephony, cable television, outsourcing, and automobiles. Such progress is meaningless when less than 5 per cent of Indians can fly, or own a car.

The then Congress-led UPA government has accepted the late Indrajit Gupta Committee report on the state funding of elections. The state funding for elections required setting aside Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 7,000 in a five-year cycle. The government realises that ‘criminal activity can generate such large sums of money’ easily.  But, the government will have to raise, ‘on an average Rs 1,200 crore to Rs 1,500 crore’ ‘which the state might find it extremely difficult to raise’.

The Indrajit Gupta Committee finalised its report on December 30, 1998. But, it kept lying in cold storage.  Earlier, the Tarkunde Committee had observed 31 years ago that ‘state funding of elections was impracticable under the conditions prevailing in the country’. The Dinesh Goswami Committee (May 1990) also made wide-ranging recommendations. (“Elections and Role of Money Power in India). The state financing of elections was one of the recommendations, made by N. S. Gehlot. (D. L. Seth, Crisis of Representation, p. 179).

The central and state governments in India do not necessarily represent rule by a majority.  Through coalition politics a party with less than fifty per cent votes can form government at the centre or in states. There are several ways to determine majority in an electoral system. In India’s system, whoever gets the largest number of votes is elected.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Growing insecurity in Rohingya Refugee Camps: A Threat to South Asian Security?

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

5 years have passed since the Rohingya refugee influx in August, 2017.  Bangladesh is currently hosting 1.2 million Rohingya refugees in 34 camps in its southern district of Cox’s Bazar. The increasing rate of trans-border crime in those bordering camps is not only making the Rohingya refugees vulnerable and prone to crimes but also threatening South Asian security as a whole. The Rohingya community leader’s speech of “We don’t want to stay in the camps. It’s hell.” in the ‘Go Home’ campaign in 20th June, 2022, made us rethink about the security situation in the camps and how the safety and security of Rohingya refugees is linked to South Asian Security.

Security Situation inside the Rohingya Camps

More than 1,200,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in the camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. While Bangladesh has the ninth-highest population density in the world, around 40,000 to 70,000 refugees are living in per square kilometre in the Rohingya camps, which is 40 times higher than the average population density in Bangladesh. With no sign of repatriation combined with the lack of economic alternatives for Rohingyas and the difficulty in maintaining law and order in overcrowded camps, frustrated Rohingyas are increasingly becoming involved in criminal activities or being targeted by criminal groups.

Currently, around 14 armed criminal gangs are operating in the camps, in which seven gangs known as Hakim Bahini, Hasan Bahini, Sadeq Bahini, Nurul Alam Bahini, Nur Mohammad Bahini and Hamid Bahini are in Teknaf and seven gangs named Munna Bahini, Asad Bahini, Jamal Bahini, Manu Bahini, Rahim Bahini, Kamal Bahini, and Giyas Bahini are active in Ukhiya camps.

According to law enforcement agencies at least 10 groups among these are engaged in 12 types of crimes including murder, rape, kidnapping, drug smuggling and human trafficking. The fighting over controlling the camps among the armed gangs is also deteriorating the security situation inside the camps. A Rohingya refugee in the camps said in an interview, “Everything seems calm in daytime. After sunset, the situation becomes fully different.” As there is no police or army surveillance from 4 pm to 8 am, camps come under the control of gangs at night. They are equipped with weapons like lead meat choppers, knives and other made weapons.

According to Prothom Alo report citing the police, in the last two and half years, more than 50 Rohingyas have been killed in clashes between Rohingya armed gangs over establishing supremacy in the camp area, drugs and gold smuggling, money laundering and extortion.  Recently, the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) has recovered M16 assault rifles with 491 bullets from a camp in Ukhiya which indicates the worsening security situation in the camps. At night Rohingya women are also taken from their houses & are return in the morning. At least 59 women have been raped in the Rohingya camp. As crimes often go unpunished, no one in the camps has the courage to speak against the criminals. Sometimes, for ensuring own security, Rohingyas themselves, including children become engaged with smuggling, narcotics trafficking and other crimes.

As of May 2022,a total of 12,97 cases have been filed against 3,023 Rohingyas. Among them, 73 cases are in charge of murder, 762 are narcotics cases, 28 cases are filed on the allegation of human trafficking, 87 for illegal weapons, 65 are rape charges, 35 for kidnapping and ransom, 10 for robberies, and 89 are other cases related to crime and violence.

Besides, it is believed that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group are also active in Rohingya camps and made contract with a Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). ARSA is not only relying on arms like AK-47s, M-22s, M-21s and M-16 rifles but also gaining support through other means. More than 500 madrassas in the Rohingya camps are  said to be controlled by an ARSA affiliates which will help ARSA to gain sympathy, spread propaganda and extend their network.

A Threat to South Asian Security

Since Cox’s Bazar provides a strategic route for smuggling and a shelter to Rohingyas refugees who have lack of economic alternatives, the bordering Rohingyas camps are turning into a breeding place for criminalities and the insecurity in the camps can threaten the security of the whole region.

Cox’s Bazar is used as a direct route from eastern India to Nepal for arms smugglers to reach Indian and Nepali buyer. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), an insurgent group seeking independence from India, also buys arms from China and smuggles them using Bangladeshi ports and overland to India.

The Naaf river, the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is also the busiest drug route in the region. Almost 80% of Yaba enter in Bangladesh through Naikhyangchhari and 70% of them are stored in Rohingya camps before distributing them and Rohingyas are increasingly getting involved in peddling yaba for their survival.

Besides, drug trafficking, Rohingyas are also taking part in trans-border crimes, including human trafficking, extremism, arms fighting and the camps can be a potential base for extremist activities and the insecurity in the camps and border could transcend to Bangladesh anytime and create insecurity for the whole region of South Asia. As there is a growing concern over the recruitment of refugees by the extremist networks like Hizb-ut Tahrir and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), as well as by radical Islamist groups like HeI. It is also reported that the influence of HeI is growing among the traumatized and frustrated Rohingyas which could fuel militancy not only in Bangladesh but also across the South Asian region. Along with this, the Rohingya militant groups bordering Myanmar i.e.  Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Rohingya National Alliance (RNA), the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), and Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) could also recruit from Rohingyas and threaten regional security.

From security perspective, ensuring the security of Rohingyas is directly linked to the security of the region Though Bangladesh has taken several measures to ensure the security of these displaced people, it is tough to maintain law and order in the densely populated camps near the border. Therefore, safe, sustainable and dignified return of these displaced people is the only solution. Since Rohingya refugees have also expressed their desire to go home through the “Go Home” campaign, in which thousands of Rohingyas in Ukhiya & Teknaf camps staged demonstration on World Refugee Day demanding their repatriation back to Myanmar. Bangladesh as well as the international community should act together to facilitate Rohingya repatriation to ensure the security of Rohingyas as well as the South Asian region before its too late.

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Rohingya repatriation between Myanmar-Bangladesh

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Rohingya refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar (file photo). IOM/Mohammed

Refugees find themselves in a situation of limbo because of the prolonged refugee scenario. They are neither eligible for repatriation nor do they qualify as citizens of the host nation or a third country. However, they must deal with the harsh reality of the nature of vicious politics because of the complexity of state systems and the institutional weaknesses of international institutions.

Prolonged refugees, according to UNHCR (2004), are trapped in an impenetrable and protracted condition of limbo. Despite not being in danger or facing threats, they significantly lack access to basic rights, financial aid, and support for their psychological and social needs. As they are pushed toward outside help, they feel unable to escape the core of forced dependence.

Are Rohingya refugees in some way contributing to an ongoing, serious refugee crisis? In relation to the Rohingya crisis, statistics from UNHCR shows that more than 0.7 million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017. There are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the prime minister of Bangladesh stated in 2018 during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.

For this South Asian emerging nation in 2017, the flow of this deluge was nothing new. These migrants have been entering Bangladesh since the 1970s after being forcibly uprooted by the military dictatorship.

According to a survey, there were around 0.25 million refugees in Bangladesh throughout the 1990s. Nearly 0.02 million people were returned after the 2000s, but the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) and the Bangladeshi government’s inability to settle their differences has made this process difficult to complete.

The world’s most persecuted minority, who is clearly stateless and has strong proof of persecution and genocide on account of race, ethnicity, and religion, is currently being cared for by Bangladesh. The responses of international organizations like the UN and its branches like the ICJ and IOM are not positive enough for Bangladesh in this regard to produce a permanent solution.

West African nation Gambia filed a 35-page application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November 2019 against Myanmar. The ICJ’s extraordinary victory in the Gambia v. Myanmar case regarding the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya people is the first of its kind. This was founded on an “erga omnes” premise, which periodically reports on the situation of the Rohingya.

However, Bangladesh continues to push for international organizations to take humanitarian action through the UN. Though this worry might attract their attention and drive them to consider ensuring human rights for these forcibly displaced persons, it has instead placed a heavy load on Bangladesh.

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, issued a warning to the international bodies regarding the Rohingya crisis just a few days ago during his visit to Bangladesh in December 2021. Bangladesh “cannot and should not bear this duty alone,” he said, urging foreign groups to express grave concern. He went on to say that Myanmar, not Bangladesh, was the origin of the conflict and where it will ultimately be resolved.

Bangladesh, a developing nation with a population of 160 million, is being horribly impacted by the Rohingya people in terms of social, economic, and political spheres. Rohingyas have been in a condition of limbo since at least 2017, which is now more than five years ago.

They have been relocated, assisted, and given security by Bangladesh and several international organizations, but they still yearn for a long-lasting solution.

Bangladesh has been taking every action imaginable to bring the Rohingya refugees’ home. Since the 2017 refugee inflow, the Bangladeshi government has worked with various international groups to promote peaceful voluntary repatriation; however, the Myanmar military junta has consistently resisted these efforts. Refugees from the Rohingya minority are currently suffering greatly as a result of the political unrest in Myanmar.

As Cox’s Bazar’s refugee camps are already overflowing with 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, the Bangladesh is moving them to Bhasan Char in order to provide for them improved living conditions.

International organizations had doubts regarding the safety and security of the Island; however, Bangladesh eventually persuaded them to cooperate. Bangladesh was left with no choice but to relocate some Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char. Bangladesh now faces a security danger from overcrowded camps. The Rohingya camps in Bangladesh are home to numerous terrorist and armed rebel organizations. One of them is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Despite the issues, Bangladesh has continued to push for bilateral discussions while also applying international pressure to the junta.

Myanmar, on the other hand, is a lawless state that disobeys international law and order. The arrangements established for the peaceful return of Rohingya refugees were broken.

In Myanmar, the regime has been increasingly hostile since the military takeover. Myanmar is utterly unwilling to help the Rohingya refugees develop a strong sense of desire for return. There is no “supranational” authority in anarchy, which is advantageous for Myanmar. It is now time for the international community to recognize that the Rohingya refugee crisis has grown into a regional security issue.

Myanmar-related news indicates a new genocide. the country’s rebel and protest groups are being repressed by the military junta with violence.

The Myanmar military is still buying new weapons from China and Russia, including the SU-30SME multi-role heavy fighter, the YAK-130 light attack advanced jet trainer, the K-8W advanced trainer, and Ming class attack submarine, among others, despite an arms embargo. The world community is concerned that these weapons could accidentally attack defenseless populations. A peaceful voluntary return will face further obstacles as a result of internal unrest in Myanmar.

The Rohingya catastrophe, which forced 1.1 million individuals to leave their country of birth due to state-sponsored persecution, was of a size that is easy to comprehend. When the state commits the crime, the environment becomes more hostile. The main duty of the state is to uphold the rights and interests of its citizens.

Refugees are currently skeptical of the military junta in Myanmar. They have a long and painful history of persecuting people. Therefore, persuading the refugees to return home voluntarily won’t be simple. Myanmar must extend their hands in mutually beneficial ways. More discussions between international parties, including the Rohingya, will build confidence and facilitate a peaceful voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees. Humanity and peace should ultimately triumph over all other factors.

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South Asia

Why the implementation of the CHT peace agreement is still elusive?

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When the “Top boxer” of Bangladesh, for the past eight years, Sura Krishna Chakma raised the national flag of Bangladesh in the first-ever professional boxing tournament held in last month, it reminds the contribution of the UK Ching Marma and other minority people who fought valiantly in the Liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

Bangladesh began its independence journey with a population that is ethnically homogeneous, with less than 1% of the population being ethnically diverse. However, Bangladesh had struggled to deal with Chittagong Hill Tracts’ (CHT) tribal people as they have been waging an insurgency movement for autonomy. Later, Peace Accord was signed aiming to end the conflict in 1997. But, after 25 years of its signature, the treaty is still failing to instil trust among national political parties and factional groups. Currently, the situation in the CHT area is a complex mix of conflicts and negotiations. The area is also beset by ethnic tensions between indigenous communities and groups, interferences from neighbouring states, widespread poverty, resource scarcity, and low literacy rates.

Why peace in the CHT is still elusive?

In recent years, remote areas of CHT have become more prone to violence due to the involvement of various active groups in the area. The four ethnic political groups – PCJSS, Jana Samhati Samiti (Reformist-MN Larma), United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) and UPDF (Ganatantrik) – in the region appear to be at odds with one another. They have no ideological disagreements but are involved in inter-conflict for narrow self-interest rather than protecting the minority rights. All factions have specific armed wings with advanced weapons such as rocket launchers, automatic sniper rifles, and heavy machine guns, according to law enforcement. They extort wood trade, cooking markets, livestock markets, transportation, and a variety of other services, each on their own turf. Ransom for the abduction of ethnic groups and Bangalis are also a major source of income. Contractors also have to pay at the rate of 10 percent of the original budget. To stay safe, locals were forced to maintain good relationships with all parties. They are compelled to pay monthly tributes to remain in their homes. There are even reports of indigenous women being abducted and raped by rival groups. They are so vulnerable and frightened that they do not even move after the sunset. The inter-group conflicts have claimed more than 1100 lives since the signing of the peace accord. Although according to the terms of the accord, the guerrillas were to surrender and surrender their weapons but many haven’t surrendered arms yet.

What’s to blame for the present unrest?

The agreement’s lethargic implementation has reignited separatist tendencies among the Paharis. Recently, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), an insurgent organization of small ethnic group, demanded a separate state in CHT with full autonomy and threatened strict armed movement. Prior to this, The UPDF, a breakaway group, continues to oppose the treaty and seeks full regional autonomy.

The most pressing concern in CHT, however, is extensive Christianization among the tribal population. ‘Evangelization’ is generally carried out by the missionaries through a number of NGOs operating under the umbrella of “development partner.” Christian missionaries use money and other worldly trappings to entice poor tribal people to become Christians. So far, 4344 families in CHT became Christian in the last two decades and the number of churches increased dramatically from 274 in 1998 to 644 in 2022. It’s worth noting that more than a third of the Bandarban district’s tribal population is now Christian.

Impact of the Peace Accord on the Situation of ethnic People

Certainly, the Peace Accord made room and rendered opportunities for the CHT’s development. In these 25 years, comprehensive and systematic development efforts have contributed to the socio-economic development of the Pahari people, which immensely contributed in reducing the gap between the Pahari and Bengalis. Many tribes are well-integrated into mainstream middle-class Bangladeshi society, with officers and ambassadors serving in Bangladesh’s military and diplomatic corps.

With its contrasting topography of hilly terrains, immense lakes, wide-open spaces, as well as rich ethnic and cultural diversity, tourism industry flourished in the CHT. Tourism boosted due to the infrastructural projects connecting the remote and mystic parts with the main areas of the country and security ensured by the law enforcement agencies from the precarious hilly terrain to the remote bordering area. The treaty also integrated the CHT people into the mainstream economy, while permitting them to retain their specific ethnic and cultural identities.

The ‘Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Organisation Act 2010’ was passed in order to safeguard and foster the cultural expressions of Bangladesh’s small ethnic groups. Small ethnic groups’ rights are now more recognized by the government in Bangladesh than before. The development allocation per capita in the CHT districts is significantly higher than in the rest other districts. The government has amended some laws to allow for the implementation of the peace accord mainly the formation of the ‘CHT Regional Council’ and the ‘Ministry of CHT Affairs’, establishing the ‘Land commission’ to deal with conflicts over land and natural resource rights. The government is also gradually reducing military camps. The number decreased from 546 to 206. Another feature of post-agreement development in the hills has been the influx of development partners and the extension of NGOs and INGOs in the CHT area.

Way Forward

The first and foremost, the Bangladesh Government must take into cognizance the factors behind the failure of establishing peace in CHT areas to ensure peace in the hilly region. Secondly, the implementation of the remaining articles should also need to be prioritized. So far, out of 78 provisions, 48 provisions of the Accord have been implemented. Hill people strongly believe that the implementation of the Accord is the key to solving problems in the CHT. Thirdly, it is crucial to control the armed factions to evict violence and restore peace to CHT on an urgent basis. Fourthly, both the Hill and the Bengali people emphasize that land disputes need to be resolved immediately. And finally, there is a need for consolidating the progress achieved so far.

Nevertheless, an established misconception is prevailing among the hilly people that their voices are not heard and they are treated differently from the rest of the Bengalis. To eradicate this misconception and build trust and harmony, more initiatives should be undertaken by the government.

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