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Sri Lanka’s election results and their implications

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Mahitha Lingala*

The Sri Lankan election result, was closely observed, not just for its likely impact on domestic politics in Sri Lanka, but it’s impact on geopolitical dynamics in South Asia. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former Defence Secretary, and brother of former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa,  won by a massive margin, defeating his opponent Sajith Premadasa (son of a former President who was assassinated in 1993). He was sworn in on Monday, November 18, 2019 as President.

While Rajapaksa, the candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party) polled over52% of the vote, the runner up Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP)polled 42% of the votes. It is pertinent to note, that the UNP did much better in North Eastern districts of the South Asian country, which are dominated by Muslims and Tamils.

Analysts believe, that the triumph of the former Defense Secretary, is likely to result in Sri Lankamoving closer to China – as was the case during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s term (which ended in 2015, Rajapaksa lost to Maithripali Sirisena, the latter had served in Rajapaksa’s government but in  2014 he decided to part ways and was the Presidential candidate of the opposition).There is a belief however, that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may not veer as much towards China, as his brother given the changing ground realities.

Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s tenure

During Mahindra Rajakapsa’s tenure, Sri Lanka took a turn towards China, much to the chagrin of India. While one of the reasons cited for the same, was China’s economic prowess, and ability to deliver fast on key infrastructure politics. It would be pertinent to point out, that there was an equally, if not more important reasons for the Former President warming upto China –Beijing turned a blind eye to the Human Rights violations (an estimated 40,000 Tamils – which included journalists and opponents) were killed in operations against Tamil separatists)

 New Delhi-Colombo ties also took a hit, during Rajapaksa’s tenure, due to the opposition of regional parties – AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) — from the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Political parties from Tamil Nadu  have been constantly alleging Sri Lankan govt failed to follow their 13th amendment (which sought to provide devolution to the Tamil Community and reduce the harmony with the community) and also allege, that many innocent civilians were killed during the war for which Mahinda Rajapaksa must be held accountable. The previous Congress led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government voted against Sri Lanka in 2009, 2012 and 2013, supporting a US passed resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN. In 2014, India made a slight change to it’s approach and rather than voting directly against Sri Lanka, New Delhi abstained from voting against Sri Lanka. In 2013, Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh due to pressure from Tamil Nadu’s regional parties did not attend the Common Wealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting in Colombo.

In 2015,  when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost elections, Tamilian parties including the BJP TN unit in India termed it as a victory of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Indian PM, Narendra Modi had invited Mahindra Rajapaksa for his swearing in as PM in 2014 and also congratulated Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Modi also invited the newly elected President to visit India. The new President is likely to visit India on November 29, 2019.

Economic tilt towards China under Mahindra Rajapaksa

Colombo’s economic tilt to Beijing, was strongly reiterated by the Hambantota Port project, which was handed over to China, and given on lease for 99 years. The port was built with 85% of the funds coming from Exim Bank in China. After money shortage in 2017 in regard to this loan, Sri Lankan government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of associated land to China Merchants Port Holdings for 99 years. This was cited, as one of the strong instances of China’s ‘Debt Trap’ Diplomacy. US drew attention to this, and so did a report by the Centre for Global Development (CGD)but Sri Lanka has rejected this fear while admitting that the debt pressure is huge.

China remains one of Sri Lanka’s largest creditors accounting for an estimated 10% of its total foreign debt. China is investing in large infrastructural projects through its flagship programme  the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) in Sri Lanka, some of the major ones include; Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in southern Sri Lanka. Another project which has proven to be controversial is the Lotus Tower. The 17 story structure – South Asia’s tallest self supporting structure – has been criticised not just for the fact that it represented a wrong utilisation of resources, but the company which had the contract for building the tower was accused of misappropriating funds (a whopping 11 Million USD) by former President Maithrapali Sirisena.

Mahindra Rajapaksa’s close ties to China were also evident in the strategic sphere (two Chinese submarines docked in the South Asian Island nation in 2014)

Balancing of relationships

Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripali Sirisena did try to balance out relationships, and reduce the South Asian country’s dependence upon China, but was unable to do so. President Sirisena said that he would treat major Asian countries equally. India and Sri Lanka in February 2015 signed a nuclear pact to improve relationships and agreed to improve defence ties.

A number of important projects were taken over by Japan, and there have also been some strong instances of India-Japan working together in Sri Lanka. India, Japan and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Port. While India and Japan will retain 49% stake in this project, while Sri Lanka will have 51% (work on the project will begin in March 2020). 

This investment has been seen as a joint effort by India- Japan to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Apart from this project, both India and Japan have also been working on an LNG project terminal near Colombo.  India’s Petronet LNG (one of the country’s energy giants) will have a 47.5% stake in the project, while Japan’s Mitsubishi and Sojitzcorp will have a 37.5% stake)

US has also been trying to make Sri Lanka part of the Indo-Pacific narrative.

The US has also begun to pay more attention to Sri Lanka, especially in the context of being an important stakeholder in the US vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’.

US Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, and Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana held the third US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue in Washington DC in May 2019. Both sides, according to a joint statement issued after the dialogue, resolved to work together for a“a safe maritime domain in the Indian and Pacific oceans through a rules-based order that ensures respect for international laws and norms” . Furthermore, after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka also became a Logistics hub for the US Navy in the Indian Ocean

Domestic Politics

It is not just geo-politics, even in the context of Sri Lankan politics, it remains to be seen what approach he takes towards Muslims and Tamils. The electoral verdict is polarized. On his part, the newly elected President, did state that

“I am conscious that I am also the president of those who used the vote against me…. “It is my duty to serve all Sri Lankans without race or religious discrimination. I promise to discharge my duties in a fair manner’

Conclusion

In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether there will be a drastic change in both domestic policies, as well as Sri Lanka’s foreign policy orientation. While, Sri Lanka is dependent upon China, in the economic sphere, it is important to acknowledge the fact, that there have been a number of economic and geo-political changes in recent years. First, China’s economy has witnessed a slowdown, and Beijing will be unable to assist Sri Lanka to the degree it did earlier – though it’s overall economic influence could grow. Second, US has been paying attention to Sri Lanka, due to it’s strategic importance especially in the context of Indo-Pacific, as was mentioned earlier. In this context, it is likely that US, Japan and India could work jointly in Sri Lanka  (Japan and India have already initiated some projects) .The new Sri Lankan President would do well to pay attention to the fact, that South Asian countries like Bangladesh have been able to balance ties and not remained solely dependent upon China.

 Finally, the US reaction to the election, and the warning with regard to Human Rights is significant. The outside world, is likely to keep a close watch on Sri Lanka, and it is likely, that the new President while upgrading economic ties with China will do a balancing act, so that Colombo is not totally dependent upon China.

*Mahitha Lingala is a student at the OP Jindal Global University

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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South Asia

Indian Republic Day: A Black Day for Kashmiris

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India celebrates ‘Republic Day’ on January 26th every year to commemorate the day when the Constitution of India came into effect, replacing the Government of India Act 1935, and making India a republic. However, it is observed as a ‘black day’ in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) because it marks the day when the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomous status and imposed direct rule from New Delhi. Kashmir has been a contentious issue between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised a high degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was in effect until August 2019, when the Indian government revoked it. This autonomy included the right to a separate constitution, a separate flag, and laws that were distinct from the rest of India. However, in practice, the Indian government has been involved in suppressing the political and basic rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and denying them their right to self-determination.

The special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was revoked by the Indian government in 2019, had given the region a high degree of autonomy and protected its distinct identity. The revocation of this special status has led to widespread protests and resentment among the people of the region, who see it as an infringement on their rights and an attempt by the Indian government to suppress their political and cultural identity and right of self-determination.

The Indian government’s handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has also been criticized by international human rights organizations, who in their recent reports have highlighted how the Indian government has been involved in human rights violations of the people of Kashmir, through the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship of the media. International Human Rights Law forbids the unjustified deprivation of life. The right to life is embodied in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is being flagrantly violated in Kashmiri. India has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well (ICCPR). Which hasn’t prevented it from abusing the law, though.

When the Indian government removed Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special status and sent thousands more troops to the area, the situation for the locals of Kashmir became much tougher. Additionally, India reverted to age-old slavery techniques by enforcing a curfew on the helpless population, cutting off the internet and telecommunications, and detaining political figures, leaving 1.47 billion people cut off from the outside world, devoid of fundamental human rights, and living in dread. Since the repeal of Article 370 and the ensuing curfew, there have been reports of nighttime raids in which youngsters have been kidnapped and tortured, as well as of women being harassed. Intentionally violating both international humanitarian law and human rights law, the Indian military has intentionally dismembered, injured, and several times murdered people during this forceful conquest. The Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and Europe observe “Black Day” on January 26th each year to protest the Indian government’s illegal actions in Jammu& Kashmir. This day marks the anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into effect in 1950, which provides a pretext for the formalization of Indian control over Kashmir, a region that has been the subject of ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. The diaspora uses this day to raise awareness about human rights abuses and the ongoing conflict in the region, and to call for self-determination for the people of Kashmir. They also call on the international community to break the status quo imposed by the fascist Indian government. For instance, the president of Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK president claimed that “the people of Kashmir have challenged India to take out the forces (one million) from the valley and then celebrate the republic day”. Jammu & Kashmir salvation movement president Altaf Ahmed also call the UN for intervention to protect the rights of Kashmiris.

India has long claimed to be the world’s largest democracy and a champion of human rights. However, it has a long history of human rights abuses and political suppression in the region of Kashmir. Despite India’s claims of being the world’s largest democratic state, it has been involved use of excessive force against peaceful protesters, the imposition of strict curfews and internet shutdowns, and the detention of political leaders and activists in the Kashmir region. The Indian government has also been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the insurgency in the region, which has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Indian government has also failed to provide the people of Kashmir with basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to self-determination.

It is certainly true that the Indian government’s actions in the region of Kashmir have been widely criticized for human rights abuses and the suppression of political dissent. The deployment of a large number of security forces in the region, along with heavy-handed tactics, have resulted in widespread human rights abuses and a lack of protection for the people of Kashmir. This is in contrast to the protection of basic human and democratic rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens of India by the Constitution. How a democratic state can be the largest human rights violator? A self-proclaimed secular state which does not give the rights of minorities cannot be a democratic republic state.

The situation in Kashmir raises questions about the Indian government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. A democratic state should ensure that all citizens are protected and treated fairly under the law, but the actions of the Indian government in Kashmir suggest that this is not always the case. Similarly, a self-proclaimed secular state like India should ensure that all religious groups are treated fairly, but the Indian government has been criticized for its treatment of minority groups in the country, particularly the Muslim population of Kashmir.

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A Brief History of British Imperialism in India

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Map, "The Indian Empire and surrounding countries" (1909), Imperial Gazetteer of India. Via Wikipedia

The British Empire

The British Empire or Kingdom was an imperial entity that changed the global order in every way imaginable. The Kingdom of Great Britain was conceived in 1707 when Scotland and Wales joined England under the sovereignty of the Crown. Having ruled for three centuries, its imperialist tendencies had started to show quite early in the 17th century when Britain lay claim to its very first colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Imperial tendencies refer to the aggressive and expansionist ideology that had been donned by the Empire. British imperialism refers to the attempts and following successes of Britain in expanding its power territorially. It did this by infiltrating various regions of the world and forming colonies; though the colonies were self-managed for the most part, they were answerable to the monarchy and were exploited thoroughly without any compensation. Their foreign policy was to self-portray as traders and travelers and then obtain regional control over time. It was a global phenomenon, and it was majorly aided by England’s foray into maritime expansion. Shipping routes were new and undiscovered which led to new lands ripe for exploration and exploitation. There was also a certain rush within the Empire to expand due to the competitive nature of the international system at that time. It was a challenging race for control between England, Spain, France, and Holland.

The colonized regions of the world include North America, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong), Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya), and more. Around sixty-five current nation-states gained independence from the Empire. However, Britain left behind deep scars within the system that are detrimental to progress to this day.

Geopolitical

The British monarchy played a dominant role in one of the world’s greatest tragedies – The Transatlantic Slave Trade which lasted from about the 16th century to the 19th century. It altered the geopolitical dimensions of the world through massive population displacements. Even though later on it called for the Abolition (1833) and Emancipation of slavery and slaves – it had been a decisive enough move to alter world history.

Economic

The formation of colonies was for both political and economic power. They were sources of power with a combined manpower of over 450 million people. The colonies presented as pure profit as the natives and slates weren’t given adequate fiscal compensation. Working for pennies on the dollar, the indigenous populations were forced to work in less than favorable working conditions for long taxing hours. The major trade from colonies consisted of sugar, spices, silk, cotton, salt, silver, gold, ivory, tobacco, tea, and more. Many of these such as mining metals and extracting sugar are incredibly labor-intensive works.

The empire used various tactics to carve out strongholds in their regions of choice. The establishment of trading companies – Hudson Bay Company and East India Company, and Strait Settlements.

Socio-cultural

The Britishers have been responsible for most of the socio-cultural divide in the Subcontinent. Before their arrival in 1600s, the region was flourishing under the Mughal Rule with various castes and religions coexisting peacefully. Once the Empire came into control, they sowed seeds of discord amongst the masses along racial and religious lines. The promotion of white supremacy and the English language enveloped the people in a sense of inferiority that still rears its head to this day. The Muslim-Hindu divide became more pronounced after the War of Independence in 1857.

Indian Subcontinent

Formation of the East India Company

In the last months of the year 1600, a group of London-based traders asked for a royal charter – a document that essentially brings legal recognition to organizations and declarations and is granted by the monarch of the time, in order to expand their trade to the East Indies via new naval routes. They wanted to set up a new organization called The East India Company in the Indian subcontinent due to its massive potential. The request was granted by Queen Elizabeth I and the merchants set out, headed by James Lancaster. Once they reached it, they had to first request permission to establish their company. Sir Thomas Roe was sent forward to conduct negotiations with Mughal Emperor Jahangir who was eventually won over by the British charm. Finally, the company set up shop in Surat in the first decade of the 17th century.

Entrance into Politics

The initial interest of the Britishers was indeed purely economic and the company was working independently of the Kingdom. However, soon it became a full-blown empire of sorts with its own armed forces and land. They became responsible for almost half the goods being exported out of India. Their trade included spices, silk, cotton, dye, ammunition, glass, clay-made goods, opium, and tea. Their control over the remaining pillars of the state – Military and Politics, was initiated by General Robert Clive. Clive was a member of the EIC who joined the company army and led it to victory against Siraj-ud-Daulah – The Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. As he replaced the Nawab as the new governor of Bengal, it marked the start of British incursion into Indian politics. As another century passed and as India became more valuable to England, the Crown took over ruling in 1857 after the War of Independence, eventually dissolving East India Company in 1874.

British Raj

The British rule, as known in India – British Raj, was significantly more parasitic than the East India Company was with its ventures. It managed to destroy systems that had been thriving for centuries.

Disregarding Traditional Ways

British economy brought with it a complete disregard for cultural sentimentality and practices. They were in a global race for capital and territory, something which was not compatible with the traditional practices of the Indian people. They were made to abandon their ancestral teachings and ways of craftsmanship to fall in line with the mechanized ways of the British economy. Cheaper machine-made products replaced handmade goods. Those who could not work for hours in factories or toil away on the fields were suddenly out of jobs. There was a massive decline in employment in the vulnerable sectors of society – women, the elderly, and disabled communities.

Economic Policies

Forced labor and poor pay weren’t the only means through which British imperialism was ripping Indian society into shreds. There was a hefty price to pay because of their economic policies introduced in 1813, the repercussions of which can still be felt in modern times. The infamous policy of ‘One Way Free Trade’ which was introduced in 1813 set forth a precedent for British trade. According to it, British exports into India were not taxed, nor were they met with any tariffs, while Indian exports were taxed heavily. India was drained. It meant that Britain was working with a pure profit off of Indian resources and labor while actively suppressing any nationalized economy of the subcontinent.

Class Divide

England was front and center in creating and cementing a class divide within India. White supremacy was prevalent and with it came a heavy dose of linguistic racism. English was the primary mode of trade and communication in the upper echelons. The English Education Act was passed in 1835 which got funds reallocated for restructuring educational institutions for the sole purpose of making English the language of instruction and discussion.

Famines

Once World War II was initiated in 1939, Britain was up against Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Although it had the support of other Allied powers, still the cost was too high for Britain to bear due to its resources being spread out amongst the colonies all over the world. It directed the cash flows to the war efforts leading to massive famines in India. Overall, during its imperial rule, the Crown contributed to no less than 12 famines in India spanning from the years 1769-1944. The most atrocious one was The Bengal Famine. Lasting for little over a year, this famine set India back decades as it slaughtered millions and led to an internal economic collapse as well, sending many tumbling below the poverty line. The money that could have preserved the masses was instead used to fund arms and ammunition.

The Disintegration of Hindu-Muslim Relations

The British and their colonial legacy are responsible for the religious disharmony that is seen in modern-day India. The Britishers borrowed the divide-and-rule philosophy from Julius Caesar and used it to segregate the communities of India. The Sepoy Mutiny saw a religious fracture in the social fabric of the subcontinent which isolated both Hindus and Muslims – a previously co-habiting community into separate metaphorical corners. It eventually led to the Muslims forming an in-group mentality due to the common suffering. This ‘Us vs Them’ approach led to the 1947 partition and is still visible in modern-day India keeping the socio-religious conflict alive.

Conclusion

Much of the western world and most of Britain especially is built upon the backs of colonial labor. Their infrastructure, factories, and entire social standing are built because of the free and forced labor of the former colonies. Excess taxation and plunder are the only reasons why Britain survived the industrialization of the world and managed to maintain its position at the top.

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Hindutva has overshadowed Indian Republic Ideology

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India Modi

India observes Republic Day on January 26 each year to honor the 1950 Constitution of India, which succeeded the Government of India Act (1935) as the country’s governing law. Following decolonization, India’s new constitution was secular, emphasizing a reasonable separation of religion and state matters rather than strict demarcation as in many Western democracies. However, the political victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1990s and past six years of Moodi’s victory, deduced an obvious Hindu interpretation of democracy that differs from the existential western form of democracy.  Religious content has increased in India’s electoral environment (BJP). The post-colonial era has conveyed an alternative nationalism, one that is founded not on secular ideas but rather on the idea that Hindu culture and Indian culture are inseparable. Moodi is ready to transform India into a contemporary Hindu version of controlled democracy through his widespread advocacy of Hindutva ideology.

The secularism of the Indian Republic has always been opposed by the Hindutva movement. A significant portion of Muslims were persuaded to remain in India instead of migrating to the newly founded Islamic state of Pakistan because, at the time, independent India proclaimed itself a secular state, offering freedom to all minority groups as well as citizens’ fundamental rights. All those who supported secularism were perished tragically due to the brutality of the rising Hindu extremism. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the most influential Hindu leader, was assassinated by the RSS because of his secular vision. Since then, Hindutva has become the core of every right-wing political group in India, including the RSS, Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasbha, and BJP, led by Narendra Modi.

Since many years, termite fascism—which rejects equality—has been encroaching on India in the form of Hindutva. Apparently, in present day India, the Hindu Rashtra is theoretically opposed to caste discrimination against political Hindus. Modi’s ordinary beginning and ascension to authority offer conclusive proof of a free and fair modernity. However, in practice, Hindutva is ready to accept the daily coercions that characterize contemporary Indian society. Instead of assuring the due rights of minorities residing in India, the parliament validated the communal, majoritarian, and intolerable Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)  – 2019 (CAA) followed by Indian High Court’s suspicious decision on the Babri Masjid.  By fabricating a “Muslim threat” to support the BJP’s anti-Muslim actions, Hindutva has exacerbated social divisions in India. Undoubtedly, right-wing Hindu nationalism threatens India’s constitutional foundations by establishing a Hindu Rashtra. This includes the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the removal of Kashmir’s autonomous status, and the Kerala hijab ban. Fascism is reshaping itself in India. It has infiltrated Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, and now seriously endangers Indian democracy.

Similarly, the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Ayudha on August 5, 2020 (the same day a year after Article 370 was revoked) in lieu of a Mughal-era mosque razed by a right-wing Hindu mob in 1992. This confirms that the BJP has re-energized Savarkar’s plan of Hindutva as a political religion, although in a decidedly populist tone. Conservatism is now increasingly couched in current class semantics (“rich” and “poor”) rather than ancient caste terminology. Some people are considered more equal than others. Muslims, Christians, Marxists, and anti-caste campaigners are the new targets of prejudice and rejection. Individuals under such categories would be deemed political Hindus if they accepted Hindutva. In the new Hindu government, the lines are porous, and everything is negotiable.

Here, the point of concern is whether secularism would continue to serve India’s central philosophy. Perhaps it would be determined by a confluence of political factors, specifically the BJP’s future electoral success and the tactics the opposition uses to challenge the ruling party. Hindu nationalism is stripping India of one of its greatest strengths at a time when nations all over the world are struggling to deal with religious diversity. Therefore, it may not be incorrect to say that Hindu nationalism has an unquestionable sphere of influence over Indian politics and society, despite its evidently xenophobic emergence under the BJP. In fact, the revival of caste identities, which frequently threaten religious identities, is indirectly detrimental to secularism. The BJP has consistently attempted to adopt discriminatory policies to exploit caste-based individualities. In sum, India’s commitment to secularist republic tradition is now in doubt given the political dominance of the BJP’s trademark of Hindu nationalism.

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