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Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear: The Present Situation in India

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People all over the country are protesting against the damage that has been done to the very ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. In western world and across the globe, India is known for the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and let those ideals remain intact and flourish in his India.

Citizens Protests against the Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019

Indian Parliament last week enacted the amendment in the most controversial Bill in this millennium – The Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019, neglecting the beforehand mentioned stand of US Commission on International Religious Freedom that stated that US should go for sanctions against present Home Minister and ‘other principle leadership’ if the Bill goes through the parliament and becomes an Act. The very next day, Bill was through the parliament, became the Citizenship (amendment) Act, 2019 and New Delhi retaliated by pushing back the statement by USCIRF. But probably, it was unaware that a huge wave of active citizens is heading to counter the change, which they call ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘undemocratic’ in the criteria of amended Act. Since December 10, from when the Bill was enacted, a huge wave of protests have begun and are still going on.

The protestors are basically protesting for 2 reasons: First, the protests by students, various academia, scholars, and different citizens across different cities and states are against the ‘discriminatory nature’ of the Act which intentionally keeps one religious community (to name Muslims) out of the scope of the amended Act. The Act, as per New Delhi’s stand, basically grants citizenship to 6 religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The point that New Delhi misses here is that – the constitution of the country doesn’t grant any power to the state to enact any law which could potentially be ‘discriminatory’ on any grounds. Furthermore, the Act remains mute when it comes to Atheists and other Muslim minorities which are also persecuted in the countries mentioned in the Act. Now, to potentially exclude atheists indicates that it is direct violation of fundamental right in democracy – the right to choose or not choose the religion. Also, not including other minorities which are ‘persecuted’ in the neighbouring countries also has raised eyebrows about true intention of the Act.

The Second group of protests are happening in the north eastern region of the country which is bound to have the maximum plausible impact, be it positive or negative, by this legislation.

The citizens in the north eastern and eastern states, primarily in Tripura, West Bengal, and Assam see this legislation as a threat to their regional identity. India is diverse – both culturally as well as linguistically and any attempt which seems to curb that identity has always had a negative impact on the state and this time as well, the same thing has happened. Here citizens are uniting and protesting against the legislation because if the Law comes into the force then thousands of all those who are “foreigners” in the eyes of the citizens of north eastern state will acquire the official citizenship of the country and a complete change in demography of the region will take place, which might be up to an extent that in many areas the majority of native citizens would become minority against those whom they call “foreigners” and will acquire the citizenship.

Democracy itself at stake

New Delhi has always boasted about being the “world’s largest democracy” at all the international forums and panels but in present circumstances it is no strange that in the country the very idea of “democracy” seems to be at stake. Firstly, the university students, initially in New Delhi, who protested against the legislation were detained and have alleged the use of ‘force’ by the Delhi Police. The lathi-charge, use of tear gas, and that of water cannons by police against the university students indicates that everything is not going alright in the country. Initial protests occurred at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia University of New Delhi. The violent clash between police and protesting students of JMI occurred on 15th December 2019 in which 50 students protesting were arrested by the police. Soon thereafter, the students of another university in the neighbouring state to New Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University broke down the protests against the legislations as well as in the solidarity with the students of JMI. Again the students in AMU as well were made to face the brutality of police. In AMU campus, which initially saw a peaceful demonstrations till the campus area, the lathi charges, tear gas, stunned grenades, pellets and stones were used in the clash. Many students have been injured in a crackdown with the police.

Soon thereafter, the unity of the students across the country shook all the legislators, irrespective of the political party as presumably none of them would have expected that students across the country could unite and make all those in the government face – ‘the active citizenship’. Students, scholars as well as academia, irrespective of their academic background, have united against the legislation which they deem to be “discriminatory” and also in the solidarity with the students of JMI who faced the police ‘force’. The protests which began from 3 most prestigious universities of the country have spread across every region of the country and have covered universities in almost every territorial domain of India. The participation covering wide spectrum of citizens, protesting and demonstrating against the ‘nature’ of the Act clearly indicates that the ‘public opinion’ in the country is not in the favour of legislation which the current majority-retaining regime has brought.

Although the Bill has always been controversial and the present regime had failed to enact it in 2016, but after retaining power in 2019 elections – the present regime went ahead with the legislation. The present regime missed two thing – first the public sentiment in north eastern state and second and most unexpected for the legislators – the active citizenship by the students of the country. Presently ‘to maintain law and order’ situation, internet services has been seized in many regions of the country including its capital city – New Delhi. Government has imposed Section 144 of Indian CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) and curfew has been imposed so as to stop protests from being violent.

Diplomatic Loss

New Delhi has suffered a huge diplomatic loss as a consequence of the recently amended Act and it is an ‘open secret’. Since very beginning itself USCIRF – the body of US congress has been critical of the Act which held a view that it is ‘a dangerous turn in wrong direction’. Later on United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), in one of its tweets, expressed the “concerns” over the Act and maintained a stand that it is “fundamentally discriminatory” in nature. New Delhi seems to have forgotten that it is no isolated place from the rest of the world and if anything which seems to be “undemocratic” happens in the largest South Asian country then it is much obvious that fingers would be pointed out to the country which, at many occasions, has boasted about being “world’s largest democracy”. The very ideals of India as well as the Indian diplomacy are based on pluralism and democracy, which has to be kept in mind while making any decision. It is highly likely that New Delhi might be held accountable, at international level, for the Act which has caused a chaos throughout the country. Furthermore, its relations with eastern as well as southern neighbouring countries might also be affected by this legislation. The long-standing international image of India being pluralistic and respective diverse opinions seems to be at stake.

Meanwhile the statements in which the elected representatives are trying to humiliate protestors in name of seizing their properties and doing economic loss to them will accelerate the image blurring of the country at international level.

The Conclusion

India is going through a phase where potentially its “democratic” image itself is at stake. The present generation, particularly the students and academia have raised their concerns and have held the demonstrations and protests all across the country to express their displeasure with the legislation. Nation-wide protests have erupted since last one week and the ‘wellbeing democratic country’ image of the country has begun to tarnish which will surely have its own implications in the future. The activeness of the students is commendable as they are trying to participate in the democratic decision making process irrespective of their respective academic background. The present legislation has already been challenged in the Supreme Court but it would be too idealistic for citizens to sit idly and wait for the apex court to deliver the judgement and thus they have came out in the streets and have expressed themselves. In the western world and across the globe, India has always had an image of country of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar – the country of pluralism and rule of law, it is high time that the very ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the chairman of drafting committee of their constitution – Dr B R Ambedkar is realised in the country.

Jaimin Parikh is a diplomatic researcher currently engaged with European Institute of Policy Research and Human Rights. He is also serving as an Expert Reviewer with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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South Asia

How Free Is India?

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Under Narendra Modi’s virulent Hindu nationalist leadership, India has lost another prize:  it is no  longer designated as ‘Free’ in the latest Freedom House freedom report.  Based on civil liberties and political rights, the country rankings are published annually, and India’s new classification is “Partly Free’ like arch rival Pakistan.

Suffering a progressive decline since Modi took over, India barely made the cut-off last year scoring 71.  For comparison, a country like Canada scores 98, the UK 93 and the US only 83.  Norway, Sweden and Finland are the only three countries with a perfect score of 100.

If China under Xi Jinping is grasping for top economic status, living there is no panacea according to the Freedom House report.  It is one of a very few countries given a negative for political rights and only 11 for civil liberties scoring a total of 9.  Yes, that’s a single digit and close to countries like Saudi Arabia 7 and Tajikistan 8.

India, however, considers itself a democracy, so what has happened there?  The answer of course is that Modi happened, and Yogi Adityanath, an extreme right-wing nationalist appointed by Modi to run India’s most populous state, happened.  Then discriminating laws and laws curbing dissent happened.  

There is also the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which excludes Muslims from its benefits and the associated National Register of Citizens (NRC) which penalizes and requires proof of citizenship, again targeting the vulnerable.  Critics call it an act with the potential to rob India’s 200 million Muslims of their nationality.

Political parties other than the ruling BJP say that they will not implement the acts in the Indian states where they run the provincial governments.  The central government contends they must, setting the stage for a lawsuit.

In the enduring Kashmir problem, Kashmiris who are predominantly Muslim are fully aware of their status in an India that now seeks to unify Kashmir with India without their consent and with their status as citizens subect to social inequity.  If citizenship is a sense of belonging, in Modi’s India it appears to cohere specifically around a Hindu identity — Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis need not apply … unless they are willing to be second-class citizens.

Consider the case of a Muslim primary school teacher, Farida Begum, charged with sedition and jailed awaiting trial.  She and her students put on a school play about the CAA and NRC, the latter requiring proof of citizenship and the former marginalizing Muslims by exclusion.  In the play, a woman complains how a boy who was selling tea (a reference to Mr. Modi’s tea shop from his early days) is now demanding documents and how she might have to dig up the graves of ancestors to find them.  The teacher and the mother of the play’s lead have been charged with sedition — sedition with 9-year old girls might appear to be risible but apparently not in Modi’s India.

In this India of a tea-seller from Gujarat with ridiculous sedition laws and blatantly discriminatory citizenship acts, it is a natural consequence that Freedom House (a respected think tank with a history going back to 1941) in its latest annual report should no longer classify it as a free country, for it is not.

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Pakistan: Politics entered into a new phase

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Although Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan got the vote of confidence from Parliament and seems his grip over politics. No doubt that the masses in Pakistan still believe that he is an honest, sincere, and visionary leader. But many questions are rising in their minds. Like: why he opted for seeking a vote of confidence from the Parliament: was he obliged? Any legal requirement? Was he wanted to prove his popularity? Etc.

Irrespective of Senate elections, he was not legally bound to seek a vote of confidence from the Parliament. In Pakistan’s history, one of the prime ministers got a vote of confidence from the Parliament but could not survive longer and have to leave his prime minister-ship soon.

Will PM Imran Khan complete his remaining tenure till 2023 comfortably? Should he stay relax once getting a vote of confidence and proving his popularity? Should he conceive all is fine and his Prime Ministership is out of danger? Will the opposition stay calm and quiet till 2023 for the next general election in the country? And so on, many questions need to be answered.

True, it is absolutely true that PM Imran Kahn, for 178 votes in the National Assembly and secured his confidence in the Parliament. It was only the vote of filthy wealthy parliamentarians; they might not be reflecting the views of the masses. They got elected in the general elections held in 2018 but have lost contact with the masses in their own constituencies. PM Imran Khan also has in isolation from his voters. A specific class has encircled him and keep a distance between him and the masses. They do not know how tough is life for the majority of masses in their constituencies. The cost of life, inflations, and price-hike have made their lives miserable.

Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, who is a well-known public leader and representative, has expressed his views just after the vote of confidence in the Parliament that the Prime Minister should take notice of Government Servants Salary structure, which has not been revised for a long time. In contrast, the inflation and price-hike have made their lives miserable.  I fact majority of the masses are facing hardship due to price-hike and are not satisfied with the Governance of PM Imran Khan. They might reflect their anger in the next general elections.

PM Imran Khan has struggled 22 years to become 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. He made several promises to the public to seek their support during the election campaign. People of Pakistan shown trust in him and voted for him. But after becoming Prime Minister, he has not met the expectations of the masses or his voters. He has not fulfilled some of his promises. Especially his promises affecting the common person and masses are not fulfilled, which might harm his political career.

The country is still facing an economic crisis, joblessness, poverty, corruption, lack of merit, denial of justice and lack of health care and education, etc. The masses are still suffering and living a miserable life.

PM Imran Khan cares a lot for the imported elite and which was reflected in the senate elections. He has chosen 15 out of 27 cabinet members from outside the hardcore PTI members. His choice of imported, dual national, foreign nationals, and electives from other parties will not stand with him once he is in deep crisis and may travel abroad, leaving him alone. Some of his cabinet members, who have not to stake in Pakistan, or on the pay role of foreign countries, may not rescue him in severe crises. At the cost of few cabinet members, he should not offend his loyal workers and PTI members.

This is when he should think twice about what caused him to seek the vote of confidence. How should he serve Pakistan in the capacity of Prime minister, where he can meet the masses’. It is masses whose votes make a difference. The elite is not more than 10% in the country, and their vote bank can not make him Prime Minister again.

On the other hand, the opposition is intended to give him a hard time and may not spare him to relax or enjoy the prime ministership longer. The masses, due to dissatisfaction, may be exploited by the opposition.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s politics has entered into a new phase, and it is suggested that PM Imran Khan availing this opportunity, should re-evaluate the situation and revise some of his policies and take merit-based righ decisions. It is never too late!

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South Asia

COVID-19 pandemic and positives/negatives of the Pakistani government’s policy towards it

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The covid-19 erupt from Wuhan in December 2019. The first case in Pakistan was observed on February 26th, 2020.It is considered a global pandemic because of its contagious nature. It has engulfed many lives and economies. Whereas Pakistan, despite its socioeconomic and political problems, has tackled covid-19 efficiently so far. Objectives of these policies were to contain and mitigate the spread of covid-19. Pakistan made effective policies to hamper the unfurling nature of covid-19. It was praised by the director-general of WHO and he mentioned it as a lesson for the rest of the world. The upshots of the policies on its citizens were both positive and negative, but they helped a lot in sailing through covid-19.

Covid-19 has accentuated the inadequacy of the health sector. However, to combat covid-19, RFCC assists hospitals to evolve their capacities to provide treatments. Many hotels and motels were converted into quarantine centers. Number of ventilators, gears, beds, and testing capability has been increased. Pakistan got a loan of $760M to improve its medical handling. These policies seem effective as they are the major line to combat covid-19. Number of staff has also increased. These policies play a crucial role in containing Corona virus but due to lack of awareness, many people didn’t get tested. Overall, it played a positive role.

“Out of 220M population, 25% are living below the poverty line and 30% live in grave poverty,” said the PM Imran khan. Therefore, containing the poverty and retaining the economy is an arduous task. For this purpose, the Ehsas program was launched with a stipend money of Rs.12000 for the vulnerable. Employees wouldbe paid a salary during complete lock-down. The government displayed leniency in paying taxes to accelerate the investment. The banks remained open during the nationwide lock-down. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that Ehsas program didn’t prove effective due to the absence of a proper tracking system. The poor and needy people in rural areas were not affable with the technology, therefore they were unable to enroll in this program.

Moreover, the government’s policy of smart lockdown cannot be ignored. It started in April, targeting the disease hotspots. The purpose of this policy was to provide a breathing space to the most vulnerable section of the society. Because nationwide lock-down was threatening food security. Smart lock-down technology played a crucial role and made Pakistan distinctive around the world.

To dampen the adverse effects of covid-19 on society, section 144 was implemented to avoid public gathering. According to the health ministry “home quarantine, zoning of hospitals, and social distancing should be in the nitty-gritty of the policy.” They imposed a ban on air traffic and started screening at the airports for international travellers these measures proved beneficial to some extent. But unfortunately the government couldn’t ensure the SOPs.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned account enables a worthy conclusion that Pakistan has managed to contain the devastating effect of covid-19, however, the danger is not over yet. The second wave of covid-19 has started globally which can overturn the successful results other way round. Therefore, some stringent action should be taken to make the policy of containment of covid-19 more effective that is only possible if there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The only way to limit the dangers of the virus is to come up with the unified and all inclusive national plans.

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