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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

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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