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Article 370 and 35-A: Rigmarole to becloud UN charter and resolutions

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India has scrapped articles 370 and 35-A of its constitution. The article 370 withdraws `special status’ for disputed Kashmir. According to India, this status was quid pro quo for fire-brand Kashmir leader Sheikh Abdulah and so-called `Kashmir constituent assembly’ for `acceding to India’. Article 35-A protects hereditary rights granted by Kashmir’s prince to its subjects.

To divert world’s attention from disputed nature of the state, India beclouds the bitter truth that Kashmir is a disputed state, not an `integral part’ of India. `Accession to India’ is ultra vires under United Nations’ resolutions and Simla Accord. Future of Kashmir remains to be self-determined by Kashmiris themselves.

Historian Alastair Lamb, in his works has lambasted India’s view that Kashmir prince, maharajha Hari Singh acceded to India by signing an `instrument of accession’ on October 26, 1947.Avtar Singh Bhasin, through lens of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s documents, shows that Nehru had a perfidious mind. He remained committed to plebiscite and never cared a fig for `accession’ resolution or `instrument’. Curious readers may refer to Lamb’s Incomplete Partition,  Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990, and Birth of a Tragedy. Avtar Singh Bhasin, have tried to sift truth about `Pakistan’s aggression’ and the myth of `accession instrument’. Curious readers may refer to Lamb’s Incomplete Partition,  Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990, and Birth of a Tragedy; besides, Bhasin’s India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds ( Bloomsbury, New Delhi, 2018),  10-volume documentary study of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007. It contains 3649 official documents, accessed from archives of India’s external-affairs ministry. Also, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (SWJ), Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Department of Culture, Government of India.

Let’s have a bird’s-eye view of documented facts.

UN outlaws `accession’ and supports plebiscite: Accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’ is void. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions, Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957,  to forestall the `foreseeable accession’.

It is eerie to note that `Instrument of Accession’ is not registered with United Nations India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes on Jammu and Kashmir state, not under Chapter VII dubbing Pakistan as `aggressor’. India knew at heart that she herself was an aggressor.

India’s `father of constitution’ Ambedkar advocates a plebiscite: After revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi told the nation that the government has fulfilled Ambedkar and other tall leaders’ dream. His view was orchestrated by a coterie that included Union Minister Arjun Meghwal, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, and  BSP President Mayawati.  There are no documents to corroborate the view that Ambedkar opposed article 370. Ambedkar was misquoted by Hindu extremist leader  Balraj Madhok in RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, published on November 14,  2004

Ambedkar’s well-documented speeches, writings and parliamentary debates  are available on the Ministry of External Affairs’ website. Ambedkar sought a quick solution for the Kashmir issue and advocated a plebiscite. Ambedkar even said that the Partition was the right solution for Kashmir!

In a speech Ambedkar rendered in the Parliament on 10 October 1951, while resigning from Nehru’s cabinet, he said, “Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan, as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like.” (BR Ambedkar,  in 1951). He suggested a zonal plebiscite saying, “… If you like, divide it into three parts: the Cease-fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladhak Region, and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face the same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.” Obviously, Ambedkar did not want to cling to Valley against wishes of the Muslim majority there. In another speech in 1953, during a parliamentary debate on India’s

foreign policy, Ambedkar said, “The key note of our foreign policy is to solve the problems of the other countries, and not to solve the problems of our own. We have here the problem of Kashmir. We have never succeeded in solving it. Everybody seems to have forgotten that it is a problem. But I suppose, someday, we may wake up and find that the ghost is there.”(BR Ambedkar, in 1953).

Nehru disowns `accession’ and supports plebiscite: In  Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation (pages 51-64), Bhasin Nehru discarded maharajah’s and Kashmir assembly’s `accession’. In a letter dated October 31, 1947, addressed to the disputed state’s prime minister, he `after consideration of the problem, we are inclined to think that it [plebiscite] should be held under United Nations’ auspices (p. 28 ibid.). He reiterated in New Delhi on November3, 1951 that `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’(SWJ: Volume 4: page 292, Bhasin p.228). Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked `if the proposed constituent assembly of Kashmir “decides in favour of acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?”’ he reiterated,  `We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question , and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimate flow from the Security Council proceedings’ (SWJ: Volume 15:, Part II, page 394. Bhasin page 56). He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi On November 3, 1951. He said `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar as] we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council or the United Nations’. Bhasin points out (page 57 op. cit.), `at press conference on 24 July, 1952 when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got

[accession by]

the Constituent Assembly, he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them an assurance and we stand by it (SWJ: Volume 19, pp. 240-241. Bhasin).

Was India the `aggressor’ in Kashmir in 1947: The factual position is that India marched its troops into Kashmir without Maharajah’s permission _ an act of aggression. Historian Alastair Lamb, in his book Incomplete Partition (Chapter VI: The Accession Crisis, pp.  149-151) points out that Mountbatten wanted India not to intervene militarily without first getting `instrument of accession’ from maharajah [prince] Hari Singh.  Not doing so would amount to `intervening in the internal affairs of what was to all intents and purposes an independent State in the throes of civil conflict’.  But, India did not heed his advice. Lamb says `timing of the alleged Instrument of Accession undoubtedly affected its legitimacy'(p.172, ibid). He adds `If in fact it took place after the Indian intervention, then it could well be argued that it was either done under Indian duress or to regularise an Indian fait accompli’.

Lamb concludes (p. 191, ibid):`According to Wolpert, V. P. Menon returned to Delhi from Srinagar on the morning of 26 October with no signed Instrument of Accession.  Only after the Indian troops had started landing at Srinagar airfield on the morning of 27 October did V. P.   Menon and M. C. Mahajan set out from Delhi from Jammu. The Instrument of Accession, according to Wolpert, was only signed by Maharajah Sir Hari Singh [if signed at all] after Indian troops had assumed control of the Jammu and Kashmir State’s summer capital, Srinagar.

Lamb regards the so-called Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990). He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947. Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. Lamb points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place.

He questions: “Would the Maharajah have signed the Instrument of Accession, had the Indian troops not been on Kashmiri soil?” Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. The instrument remains null and void, even if the maharajah had actually signed it. In his later work, Birth of a Tragedy, Lamb claimed that Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir never signed the Instrument of Accession at all.

No allegiance to Indian constitution in `instrument’: The ‘Instrument’ expresses ‘intention to set up an interim government and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities’ with maharajah’s prime minister. By Balkanising the disputed state, India tore the Instrument of Accession, even otherwise doubtful, to shreds. Para 7 of the Instrument of Accession,  `signed’ by Maharaja Hari Singh ostensibly on October  26, 1947 stated, “nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future Constitution of India or to fetter accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’. Bhasin, p. 57).

Pakistan never labeled `aggressor’ at UN: Nehru told parliament on March 1, 1954 `that …United States have thus far not condemned it [aggression] and we are asked not to press this point in the interest of peace (Bhasin,  pp. 55-56, ibid.).

Nehru himself invokes UN’s intervention: Bhasin points out Nehru made `tactical error’. One `of committing himself to the UN’ (p. 28. op. cit., SWJ: Volume 8: pages335-340). Accession documents are un-registered with the UN.

Post-Nehru equivocal rhetoric: The Kashmir Question is intact on General Assembly’s agenda, with United Nations’ Military Observers’ Military Group on duty.

Inference: It is eerie that the whole architecture of India’s `integral part’ stand on Kashmir is erected on the mythical `instrument of accession’ and its endorsement by the disputed state’s assembly. Legal rigmarole at India’s Supreme Court about special status being temporary or permanent is immaterial. UN charter and right to self- determination override ultra vires `accession’ antics. 

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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The Persecution of Individuals from Hazara Community in Balochistan

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The drastic situation was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being slaughtered by the terrorists of Islamic State of Iraq & Levant’s Khurasan chapter that continued the legacy of sectarian and ethnic violence that used to be conducted by the extremists and terrorists of Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) in the region. The community of Hazara is quite vulnerable and the violence against them has no doubt the capability of potential fault line for the state of Pakistan being exploited by foreign players the war anti-state elements give fuel to the violent sectarian and ethnonationalists of Balochistan province of Pakistan. In this mean study, the very focus will be made towards the possibilities of foreign intervention in case of Hazara persecution in the region which provenly had involvements of Indian agencies via the territory of war-affected Afghanistan.

The persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts which makes them as the easy target of being killed, tortured or slaughtered by the extremist Wahabi tendencies or racist tendencies among Pashtuns and Balochis. In the current era specially after the events of 9/11 and further strengthening of Wahabi extremist doctrine in the region had paved ways for the spreading of sectarian violence against the Shia Hazara Muslims inside Balochistan province of Pakistan. The major persecution events that keeps a lot importance in the unfortunate violence being committed against the people of Hazaras were the massacre on the day of Ashura at Quetta in 2004, the killings of Hazara people in Mastung Massacre, the playground massacre in Quetta, slaughter of Hazara pilgrims coming back from Islamic Republic of Iran, the two major bombings against Shia Hazaras in the year of 2013, the massacre in Akhtarabad, the 2003 bombing on Hazara Imam Bargah and most importantly the recent slaughter of Hazara peoples in Mach District of Balochistan province of Pakistan. Even in the target killings, some major political figures, social workers and sportsmen also remained aim of target killings inside the extremist and sectarian violence.

No doubt, such massacres and large scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW)’s major agent Kulbushan Jadhav confessed in the very statement after he was arrested by Pakistani authorities in espionage operation that India had been involved in the fueling of ethnonationalist and sectarian violence in the region. The government of Pakistan had also shown quite many concerns regarding the matter that the hands of Indian state agencies and government can possibly be involved in the backing of outfits like ISIL (Khurasan) which operates from Afghanistan while conducting of violence in the province of Pakistani Balochistan. The dots are being matched by different Pakistani officials and think tanks that the involvement of Indian government with confirmed sources towards the secessionist tendencies in the province in shape of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) that the possibility can be there in also of backing the extremist militants and terrorists of ISIL (Khurasan) while fueling the violence in the region on sectarian basis. Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi said in his statement that the hands of India are there in the recent activities of sectarian violence that was happened in the region of district of Mach of Balochistan. The possibilities of Indian government and state agencies backing the militant factions against the state of Pakistan had been also proved by the state intelligence agencies of Pakistani state including Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Directorate General of Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). Even it is confirmed through the sources in form of statements of leading Indian think tanks, journalists and retired military officials that the fault lines inside Pakistan are to target the Shia communities for paving ways for the violence and to make platform for the conduct of violence on sectarian basis by creating a lot of chaos among the different Muslim sects inside the state of Pakistan. These are the major possible factors which had proven the point that the sectarian violence specially the one which was conducted against the coal miners belonging from the Shia community of Hazara has proven the very point that the factors of possibility is quite much there of the involvement of Indian government as actor of fueling violence.

In the very crux of the study, it is added with the point that the persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts. The radical condition was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being massacred by extremist tendencies. The possibility of the terrorist wings being supported by Indian government in this regard because of the past confirmed terror activities in which the position of India was quite much cleared. such massacres and large-scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency of R&AW.

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Is India fearful of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute?

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At the time of Partition, India knew that its policies with regard to the Princely states were inconsistent. So, it feared internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute. Vallabhai Patel, presented Kashmir to Liaquat Ali Khan in a platter, so to say, in exchange for Junagadh and Hyderabad. Liaquat Ali Khan did not accept the offer. Saifuddin Soz, former Congress minister and a prominent Kashmiri politician, told The Print Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk show  that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad.

Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, took Patel’s offer to Pakistan on the exact day the Indian Army landed in Srinagar to push back intruders from Pakistan in October 1947. “From the very first day Sardar Patel was adamant that Kashmir should go to Pakistan. In the partition council, he tried his level best to convince Liaquat Ali to take Kashmir and leave Hyderabad-Deccan,” Soz said.

“But as Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan writes in his book,” Soz said, “Liaquat Ali neither understood history, nor geography. So, he did not accept the offer..”(Sardar Patel was adamant, give Kashmir to Pakistan, take Hyderabad. Nehru saved it: Soz,  The Print June 25, 2018).

Till the 1990s, internationalisation remained India’s nightmare. Former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented a formula which offered many concessions to Pakistan in exchange for a promise not to agitate the  Kashmir dispute on international forums and keep it on backburner for ten years. He presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor Verghese also gave similar proposals). Mehta had also proposed (a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”

(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalization, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat. (g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached.

Mehta’s quasi-solution, re-coined as  Musharraf/Qasuri solution, was advocated by the United States’ Institute of Peace also. . Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).

UK MPs concern on Kashmir

To India’s chagrin, a day after debating  persecution of minorities in India,  the members of the British House of Commons turned to human-rights violations in the occupied Kashmir and “called for  the European Union and the United nations to be given access to the disputed state and for Boris Johnson to raise the issue with Prime minister Narendra Modi and for the UK  government to `use its influence with India and Pakistan’ and send its own delegation to assess the human rights situation (UK MPs call for Britain to `use its influence  for human rights in Kashmir’, Times of India January 15, 2021). MP Naz Shah asked, `Without the UN rapporteurs allowed into the region and with every report in the region censored how can anyone assure this house that genocide in Kashmir is not taking place. The MPs expressed concern  about the continuing lockdown and Internet restrictions in J&K as well as allegations of rapes, detentions without trial, unexplained and uninvestigated deaths disappearance, curfews, communication blackouts and mass arrests’.

The Indian High Commission in London shrugged off the allegation of “genocide, rampant violence and torture” as “unsubstantiated”.

Ten MPs, drawn equally from Labour and the Conservatives, took part in the debate on “Political situation in Kashmir” . India labeled them as “backbenchers”.

Conservative MP James Daly  called  for the UK government , “working with our European  partners with President – elect Biden in America” to came up with an international programme through the UN that will give hope  to those poor people in Kashmir”. Mp Sarah Own  highlighted plight of  Kashmiri under constant lockdown, “enforced by half a million soldiers” for ten months. She said, ‘I have heard[that there are] women in Kashmir that are terrified of being assaulted by the thousands of soldiers on their doorstep. Women fear for their lives and do not feel safe”. She urged the UK government to take position against Kashmir’s illegal annexation”.

Kashmir: An international issue

Earlier  in June 2020, also, British MP Andrew Gwynne, Chairman of Labour Friends of Kashmiris, along with several other UK MPs had, in online conference, termed  Kashmir “an international issue, requiring “ international intervention to resolve the dispute taking into consideration aspiration Kashmiris’ (UK MPS: Kashmir is an international issue’: `Reorganization of Indian-administered Kashmir  in contravention of Geneva convention, UN resolutions, says lawmaker, Andalou Agency June 4, 2020).

With no cogent answer India indulges in malicious allegations

Instead of answering questions raised about human rights violations India alleged that “ImranKhan government in Pakistan reportedly spent Rs. 30 lakh on member of British parliamentary group visit to the country [Pakistan] and Pakistan occupied Kashmir [Azad Kashmir] (Pakistan paid Rs. 30 lac to British MPs to visit Pakistan, spread false narrative on Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, Zee News, July 19, 2020).

Questions India parried

India is still to answer why it disallowed opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi to visit occupied Kashmir while according VVIP reception to anti-Muslim group of EU MPS? Why it disallowed UK MP Debbie Abrahams to visit occupied Kashmir?

Debbie alleged she was denied as she had been critical of India’s decision to abolish special status of the disputed state. She tweeted, `Why did the Indian Government revoke my visa after it was granted? Why didn’t they let me get a visa on arrival? Is it because I have been critical of the Indian government on #Kashmir human rights issues?”

Madi Sharma, a self-styled `international business broker’ arranged anti-Muslim EU MPs all-expense-prepaid visit to occupied Kashmir. Why India did not publicise the expenditure incurred.

Madi Sharma: A Raw surrogate

EU DisinfoLab and India’s own NDTV exposed fake identity of NGOs run by Madi Sharma. The NDTV reached out to Ms Sharma. Having received no response, it asked, `Will the Prime Minister tell as to who is Madi Sharma? Why and in what capacity is Madi Sharma fixing an appointment of Prime Minister with a delegation of EU MPs on a personal visit and why is Government of India facilitating it? Where is the money to finance the entire trip coming from? Why has Ministry of External Affairs been totally sidelined?

Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi – whose delegation was turned back from the Srinagar airport – have questioned why European lawmakers were allowed amid such restrictions but opposition politicians in India were not. AFP has reported that the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved in this visit. Several European embassies in Delhi were unaware of the visit. It also quoted an unnamed EU official in India as saying the visit was not official and the lawmakers had come at the invitation of an NGO, the International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). It is a fake entity  owned by the Srivastava Group of Companies, which was found to have been behind EP Today, a news and opinion website that largely drew its content from state-funded Russian media RT. EP Today’s address, the group’s Brussels office, and the International Council for Inter-Religious are all listed under the same address: 37 Square de Meeûs in Brussels. Since POLITICO’s reporting, incorporating research done by NGO EU vs Disinfo, both Facebook and Twitter had shut down the website’s presence on their platforms.

The visit, described as private, was sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a think tank, according to Madi Sharma’s emails. Its office in Delhi was locked.

Chris Davies, a British Renew Europe MEP, said Madi Sharma invited him to the India trip, promising a “prestigious VIP meeting” with Modi, according to the email he received from her. Davies said his invitation was rescinded after he told Sharma he wanted to meet local Kashmiris unsupervised.

Sharma had reached out to Davies in her official capacity as the director of WESTT, but it is unclear how a think tank with an operating budget of less than €25,000 and one full-time staff member had direct access to the Indian prime minister’s office, its top military officials and its foreign minister — who featured on the trip’s itinerary. Davies tweeted `the visit a “PR stunt.”

Sharma’s work is also heavily featured on the website EP Today, including her trips to the Maldives and Bangladesh. Sharma herself has written op-eds for the website. In one article she called India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status — widely condemned by human rights groups — a “victory” for Kashmiri women. But, she did not respond to NDTV’s repeated requests for an interview.

Madi Sharma was present when the European MPs met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

Inference

India is reminded of the proverb `Pot calling kettle black’. It should do some soul searching instead of blaming Pakistan for portraying Kashmir’s real situation.

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More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar

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Tannisha Avarrsekar. Image source: startocure.com

Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.

Why did you start Lokatantra?

I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.

I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.

I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.

Tell us more about Lokatantra.

Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.

On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.

The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.

What do you think can make journalism more neutral?

More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.

Why is equal representation in politics important?

Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.

How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?

Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.

We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.

Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.

As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?

I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.

A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.

What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?

The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.

It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.

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