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

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modi airplane

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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How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?

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The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.  

Gunpoint diplomacy

A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.

The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.

During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.

A buffer zone

Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.

Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.

The treacherous annexation of Manipur

The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.

Colonisation of Nagaland

The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.

The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.

The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Mizoram

Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.

Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.

Tripura

In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.

A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.

Concluding remark

After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.

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The myth of “shared values”

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PM Narendra Modi and US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a press statement. (Photo: Twitter/@MEAIndia)

The Indian prime minister’s visit to the USA underlines a paradigm shift in the United States’ policy: a shift from Europe to Asia. The shift is dictated by India’s constant pressure on the US to do its part of the quid pro quo for India’s joining the Quad, a conglomerate to corner China. Like the USA, India also is embarrassed at the fall of Kabul. India wants that the Taliban would shut their eyes to the reign of terror in the occupied Kashmir. In its disappointment, the USA, like a rueful baby, is doing everything on India’s bidding to further isolate Pakistan.

Still the portents are that not everything is hunky-dory with Indo-US relations. The US wants India to cancel its deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US has given India a muffled message that unless the deal is cancelled India may face sanctions. India is hopeful of getting a waiver.After all, India became a member of the nuclear club without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has been a recipient of the US favours in the past also.  In July 2003 India turned down the US request to provide 17,000 troops to shore up America’s war in Iraq. Then, India under prime minister Manmohan Singh also refused to support any US attempts to isolate or topple the Iran government. Manmohan wished Russian diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme would succeed.The US companies have invested $ 200 billion in China. Yet, she is perceived as the number one competitor to the US. The reason is that China may surpass the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth in the near future.

US ennui
To Modi’s chagrin, the US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris underscored the importance of democratic values in their meetings. Biden quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance to allude to prevailing intolerance of BJP’s government, an avatar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Harris stressed the need for democratic countries to “defend democratic principles and institutions. Her remarks amounted to a diplomatic nudge to the Indian leadership amid concerns about “democratic backsliding” in India (Freedom house and the Economist downgraded India).
Before Biden and Modi joined their delegations for bilateral talks, the US President had made opening remarks: “Our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are…. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including four million Indian Americans who make the United States stronger every single day.”
Harris said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House: “As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home.
She had earlier openly differed on Twitter with Jaishanker when he refused to attend a meeting with the House foreign affairs committee because the US legislators had rejected his request to exclude Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had been critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had tweeted in December 2019.
Shared values
As for “tolerance”, the US invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan leave no doubt about how much the US believes in what it professes.

India’s democratic “tolerance”

Since British raj days, India’s north east had been a simmering cauldron of freedom movements. British colonists held sway over the North East at gun point. In footsteps of the British colonists India suppressed freedom movements in the volatile North East through a slew of draconian laws. The most atrocious law applied to the region was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It was later extended to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state also.

The AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.   AFSPA has been used in these regions to inflict thousands of deaths, custodial deaths and rape, torture, encirclement of the civilian population, combing operations, looting of private citizen’s property etc. Thousands of youth have simply disappeared.

Onus of proof on the accused

The AFSPA holds an accused guilty until proven innocent. This law violates legal maxim Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“innocent until proven guilty”).

A quasi-emergency

A governor of an Indian state could through a notification declare a state to be “disturbed” without consulting the state legislature. The law gives armed forces immunity from any accountability. The law is not “in aid of civil authority” but “in place of civil authority”.

Powers of officers

Section 4 gives the following special powers to any commissioned officer, warrant officer or non commissioned officer of the armed forces in a disturbed area: (a) If in his opinion, it is necessary for maintenance for public order to fire even to the extent of causing death or otherwise use force against a person who is acting in contravention of an order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapon. (b) If in his opinion, it is necessary to destroy any arms dump or fortified position, any shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, and any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed gangs or absconders. (c) Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and to use whatever force is necessary to affect the arrest. (d) To enter and search without warrant any premises to make an arrest or to recover any person wrongfully confined or to recover any arms, ammunition, explosive substance or suspected stolen property.

Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, ‘All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts’.

A war against own people

The act applies toacts that are ‘likely to be made’ or ‘about to be committed’. This presumption is characteristic of war zones. In a war situation, any officer whether he is a commissioned, junior commissioned or non-commissioned officer-leading his men in the field is the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments.

The AFSPA grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill. Thus it violates the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people. The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). India signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.

Concluding remark

India is often called “the world’s largest democracy” by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people.  In truth, Indian democracy is in name only, not in substance. The “shared values” are a ruse.  

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South Asia

Comparing textbooks: Even Afghanistan scores better than Pakistan

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Photo: UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

Societal struggles and reform often take unexpected turns in vast swaths of land stretching from the Middle East into Central Asia.

Take education for example.

The Taliban have yet to fulfil their promise to allow girls to return to school but primary and secondary Afghan textbooks appear to be a relative bright spot amid all the doom and gloom about the group’s rule.

It’s a bright spot that highlights the deep societal impact of decades of ultra-conservative Saudi influence in Pakistan at a time that an Israel-based NGO is reporting significant progress in the way the kingdom’s textbooks describe non-Muslims and discuss violence in the name of Islam.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear scientist and Pakistani human rights activist, concluded from a recent survey of Urdu-language Afghan textbooks that they were light years ahead of what Pakistani schools offer.

Mr. Hoodbhoy argued that the Taliban were unlikely to change the textbooks in use anytime soon. Afghanistan’s brain drain includes many teachers, writers and editors and the Taliban don’t have the wherewithal to produce a new generation of textbooks. The group, moreover, is unlikely to have fundamental problems with the books that sugar-coat its brutal rule before the 2001 US invasion.

The science books for classes 1-12 that cover mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science surveyed by Mr. Hoodbhoy were in his words “clear and pleasing with systematically organised graphs and coloured illustrations.”

He noted that “Pakistani textbooks are very different. For years my colleagues and I have begged our education authorities to drastically revise locally published textbooks. All are faulty in content, poor in pedagogy and badly presented.”

Already back in 2015, Mr. Hoodbhoy called for revised textbooks in Pakistan.

“Please keep our students away from the rotten science textbooks published by the Sindh Textbook Board (STB), an entity operating under the Sindh Ministry of Education. Else yet another generation will end up woefully ignorant of the subjects they study — physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Tragically they will see these magnificent human achievements as pointless, boring, and dry as dust,” he wrote in an op-ed titled ‘Burn these books, please!’

Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a physicist and education consultant, analysing the Pakistan government’s troubled effort to introduce a single national curriculum came to a similar conclusion. “Textbooks provided by the state are of abysmal quality, both in content as well as in presentation. Pakistani textbook boards have repeatedly proved unable to provide good-quality learning material,” Mr. Nayyar said.

Messrs. Hoodbhoy and Nayyar’s assertions are backed up by a decade of independent Annual Status of Education Report surveys that lament quality of learning in public, private, urban and rural secular and religious schools.

In contrast to Pakistani books, Afghan textbooks teach different schools of Muslim religious law separately. They also keep religion out of secular subjects. “The religious textbooks are comprehensive… Special books for use in madrassahs cover usual topics in math, science, English, and world history. But they are simpler and less detailed than those for ordinary schools,” Mr. Hoodbhoy said.

In Pakistani textbooks, particularly those developed as part of the government’s flagging effort to create a single national curriculum, Mr. Hoodbhoy argued that “religious topics permeate books teaching Urdu, English and general knowledge. Quite senselessly, madrassahs and ordinary schools are yoked together. While all students should know how the modern world works, 99 per cent of madrassah students will never use math or science professionally. So why use the same books and force students to take the same exams? This means the….government is shooting for a lowest common denominator, lower than even the existing one.”

In a similar vein, Mr. Nayyar charged that the policymakers behind the single curriculum “believe — contrary to all available evidence — that a greater dose of religious education will produce more honest and useful citizens of Pakistan.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan affirmed Messrs Hoodbhoy and Nayyar’s criticism when he earlier this year announced education reforms that would Islamicize syllabi across the board from primary schools to universities. Critics charged that religion would account for up to 30 per cent of the syllabus. Referring to the religious content in the first four years of primary school, Mr. Nayyar noted that “when compared against Islamiat taught in madrassahs at this level, it turns out that public and private schools will be teaching more religion than even the madrassahs.”

Defending the Islamization, Muhammad Bashir Khan, a member of parliament for Mr. Khan’s ruling party, insisted that “Pakistan is an ideological Islamic state and we need religious education. I feel that even now our syllabus is not completely Islamized, and we need to do more Islamization of the syllabus, teaching more religious content for the moral and ideological training of our citizens.”

Prime Minister Khan this week reinforced his vision by promising religious scholars to involve them alongside educational institutions in the creation of a character-building of society. Mr. Khan coupled that with a pledge to ensure that no laws would be adopted as long as he was in office, including ones intend to counter domestic violence and forced conversions to Islam, that are “in direct conflict with the teachings of Islam.”

Mr. Khan’s Pakistan is in good company. Turkey, increasingly a Pakistani ally, was once a model of secularism with an education system that taught evolution, cultural openness, and tolerance towards minorities that included Kurdish as a minority language.

Turkish curricula, however, have increasingly replaced those concepts with notions of jihad, martyrdom in battle and a neo-Ottoman and pan-Turkist ethnoreligious worldview, according to an analysis of 28 textbooks.

In South and Central Asia, the irony is that it is Pakistani rather than Afghan textbooks that appear more likely to promote the notion of an Islamic state if only because of the poor quality of textbooks for secular subjects and the problems with religious instruction in the world’s second-most populous Muslim-majority state. This is not to say that a deeper dive into Afghan texts would not produce multiple problematic concepts that promote Muslim supremacism.

The conclusion from this is that the international community would likely do well to pay as much attention to Pakistan and its education system as it does to Afghanistan given that the two countries are intertwined at multiple levels.

Another irony is that Saudi Arabia’s most recent textbooks could point Pakistan in the right direction. Current Pakistani textbooks are products of a world in which Saudi ultra-conservatism empowered by Saudi funding made deep inroads into an already deeply conservative Pakistani society.

That is, however, changing. Saudi schoolbooks are no longer what they were several years ago.

In a just-published study, IMPACT-se, a Ramat Gan-based research group that has been analysing Saudi textbooks since 2003, reported that as a result of reforms “twenty-eight lessons featuring demonization of the other and religious intolerance were (recently)removed or heavily modified” in Saudi textbooks. “An entire textbook unit on jihad was scrapped. While problematic material remains in Saudi textbooks, these represent profound changes in these categories.”

That is the kind of overhaul that is long overdue in Pakistan and no doubt would also be beneficial in Afghanistan.

If textbooks are indicators, Afghanistan may prove to be only one of South and Central Asia’s problem states. Long perceived as problematic, Pakistan could be the other.

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