West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and some other states in India’s North East were a simmering cauldron against compilation of a so-called National Register of Citizenship (NRC). Oblivious of national and international furor, Indian House of People (lok sabha) and Council of States (rajya sabha) passed a controversial amendment, Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), to its Citizenship Act, 1955. It naturalises non-Muslim refugees as Indian citizens but excludes Muslims.
The amendment sparked country-wide protests. Different states welcomed or abhorred the refugees for different reasons. Assam had the grievance that the amendment violated Assam Accord that ended agitation over six years. Gory agitation took thousands of lives, disrupted the economy and toppled several governments. The Accord barred `illegal immigrants’ from entering the state without an Inner Line Permit. In India’s home minister’s parlance, immigrants are variously described as `persecuted non-Muslims’ or `Bangladeshi infiltrators’ or `termites on Indian economy’.
Tripura had concerns about tribals and non-tribals. Much of the migration into Tripura occurred before the creation of Bangladesh. The 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that envisaged repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals. They included those who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and were not in possession of valid documents.
The chief ministers of five Opposition-ruled states, that is, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, opposed both the CAB and NRC. They declared that they would not implement the amendment in their states. Later, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik also joined their ranks. Communist-Party-of-India charismatic leader Kunhaiya Kumar (Bihar) warned `if you do not consider us citizens, we do not consider you the government’ (Indian Express December 17, 2019). Andhra Pradesh also has expressed ennui on the new law.
Stung by the brutal police action in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, students hit the streets in Chennai, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata and Guwahati in solidarity. Simultaneously, political leaders held rallies and sit-ins (dharnas) against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Twenty five students were killed, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone.
Mamta Bannerji, flamboyant chief minister of West Bengal, called the NRC an act of “deliberate destructiveness and political vendetta” of the BJP-RSS (Bharatya Janata Party-Rashtraya Swayem Sevak Sangh).She alleged that railway stations in West Bengal were set ablaze by ruling party’s hooligans. She remained unruffled by pro-BJP governor’s letters and tweets forbidding her to publish anti-NRC/CAA advertisements in the press. To governor’s chagrin, she herself participated in a mammoth rally and a seven –mile long three-day anti-CAA protest. She challenged the Centre to dare dismiss her state government.
Students could not remain silent spectators to malafide legislation. Voolcanic protests erupted in several states including Assam, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Students of Jamia Millia were brutally beaten. Police was accused of resorting disproportionate use of force. They entered the campus and thrashed all and sundry. They did not spare even female students, and even the prayer leader (imam) inside the campus mosque. The vice chancellor of Jamia Millia had to address a press conference to highlight police brutality. Videos of police highhandedness went viral. Even Oxford University students expressed solidarity with their Indian fellows.
Myopic view of consequences: The amendment embodies Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rhetoric that no Hindu can be a “foreigner” in India. It ignores the broader perspective, emerging ramifications, particularly secular fabric of Indian democracy. It marks a historic departure from India’s disavowal of the Two Nation Theory that led to creation of Pakistan. The opposition regards the law as a dark chapter in India’s history, a vindication of Jinnah’s two-nation theory.
It is a selective faith-based amnesty for a large segment of the 1.9 million people not included in the just-completed NRC in Assam. It excluded only Muslims from its privileged domain. Those excluded risked being declared `infiltrator’ and pushed back into Bangladesh, as India’s home minister had threatened.
Even in the absence of the new law, Hindus had been entering into India from the porous East Pakistan, now Bangladesh border. As such, Hindu population in Bangladesh dropped from 22 per cent of the total population in 1951 to 12 per cent in 1981, down to nine per cent in 2011.
The law does not promise Indian citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus. Yet it may quicken Hindu immigration to India with concomitant effects on India’s North East. Simultaneously, anti-Hindu sentiments might rise in Muslim Bangladesh. Life for affluent Hindus in Bangladesh may become harder. The have-nots may be eager to prowl upon properties and possessions of the Hindu minority. Antipathy to India in Bangladesh could rise pari passu with return of so-called Bengali-Muslim `infiltrators to Bangladesh from India. Simultaneously, some North Eastern States could become restless at hordes of Hindus fleeing from Bangladesh. Already, Assam is afire. Manipur is furious.
USA’s ennui: Even the independent bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed ennui on the citizenship amendment bill, while on the anvil, now enacted. According to a press note released by the Commission the bill amounted to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and ran “contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution” (Livemint, December 11, 2019). The agency had even forewarned of recommending US sanctions against India’s home minister Amit Shah, if the bill was enacted.
Fascism unmasked: Obviously, Modi followed Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist playbook dot for dot. Fear, terror and intimidation are favourite fascist tools. Modi wants to create fear so that his incompetence and dismal economic performance remained out of focus.
Fascist ideology envisioned a regimented nation in grip of a totalitarian ruler. It extirpated everything inimical to monolithism. Fascists abhorred a freethinking civil society, political opponents, brave journalists, fearless academics and an independent judiciary.
A page from German and Italian history: Five-yearly censuses took place, 1871 onwards, in the newly founded united Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The 1930 census happened to be postponed owing to the Great Depression.
Adolf Hitler began the census shortly after seizing power on April 12, 1933. Then, computers not being available, it was a huge manual enterprise. By the end of 1939, all orthodox Jews had been identified, pinpointed to their abodes, twice over. The purpose of Census was to first locate the Jews (67 million, or one per cent of the populace) and then “cleanse” them. The Citizenship and Denaturalisation Law of July 1933 empowered Nazi Reich to divest the undesirable” of citizenship. The Jews, even in professional services were outlawed, and pauperized by seizing their belongings. The object of both the 1933 and 1939 censuses was to isolate Jews both in the German heartland and the occupied territories before they were ghettoised, deported and eventually liquidated.
Hitler’s Fascist comrade Benito Mussolini, also, introduced a racial census for both the Jews and the Roma people of Italy. The headcount enabled Mussolini to initiate xenophobic laws in 1938.
A Hindu rashtra (nation): A hundred years back, Savarkar scribbled these words on the walls of a prison, later published in 1923 in his book on Hindutva. “With India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land… bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture (Hindus) can dictate their terms to the whole world.” He envisioned inevitable civil war with Muslims. So, he exhorted Hindus to join the British Army, not to fight fascism, but to prepare for the eventuality. He declared Muslims and Christians could never be loyal citizens. Not all those who are residents are a part of the nation, and not all outside the territory are outside the nation’.
Unconstitutional: The religion-based amendment may be in keeping with Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto, but it violates the Constitution. Indian parliament enacted the Citizenship in 1955. It did not lay down religion as criteria. But, the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 does. It amended certain provisions of the 1955 Act.
Manifesto not the Constitution: The BJP derived inspiration from its manifesto, not from provisions of India’s Constitution. Take the CAA. The BJP election manifesto vowed to enact a citizenship law “for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution”. Earlier, It revoked `special status’ (Article 370) for the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Bifurcating the State into two Union territories was in line with the BJP’s manifesto. It states, `we reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370’. Now, they have embarked upon building a sky-touching temple on the site of demolished Babri mosque. That too stood codified in BJP’s Sankalp Patra (manifesto). The manifesto states BJP would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and make all necessary efforts to facilitate the expeditious construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya’. BJP may implement other dangerous promises in its manifesto like
Pan-India NRC and revival of dead Sanskrit and other languages to create a Hindu nation (rashtraya). The excerpt on NRC declares, `There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country’. The excerpt outlining language goals states `We will constitute a National Task Force to study the status of all written and spoken languages and dialects in India. We will also work towards revival and promotion of vulnerable or extinct dialects and languages’.
India’s faulty persecution hypothesis: The whole superstructure of the Indian government’s citizenship amendment bill, now enacted, is erected on the claim that religious minorities had been brutally persecuted and were still being discriminated, in Pakistan since 1947 and also in Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The persecution hypothesis is based on faulty statistics. India’s Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed non-Muslims comprised 23 percent of Pakistan’s population at the time of independence. By 2011, their proportion dropped to 3.7 percent. Concerning Bangladesh, he claimed that Muslims comprised 22 percent of the population in 1947, and their proportion in 2011 fell to 7.8 percent.
In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He insisted Pakistan and Bangladesh had witnessed a decline of up to 20 percentage points in their populations of religious minorities. But how true are his figures?
Adulterated figures: The BJP used the 23 percent figure of non-Muslims in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1951 and compared it with the 3.7 percent figure of non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1998. This adulteration of figures led to the fallacy that the population share of non-Muslims fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan.
Myth of religious persecution: The fact is that not only non-Muslims but also Muslims migrated from Bangladesh to India. Better economic opportunities in India were the dominant lure for both non-Muslims and Muslims alike. India’s home minister did not quote the source of his data. He probably picked up the figure from co-authored Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea’s article Thwarting Religious Cleansing in the Muslim World. The authors postulate,
`The percentages of Pakistan’s Ahmadi, Christian, Parsi, and Hindu communities have all plummeted over the past 30 years, with non-Muslims declining from 5 percent of the total population to just 3.5 percent. If Shiite Muslims are taken into account, the number of those emigrating from Sunni-majority Pakistan as a result of religious persecution is even greater’.
Naz expressed similar views in her another Husson-Institute article titled ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities’ published in 2013. Be it marked please that Naz is married to Husain Haqqani, a senior fellow, and director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute. After resigning as Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA, Haqqani kept participating in functions, particularly those held in India, that portray Pakistan in poor light. A judicial commission’s report (Memo Gate) alleged that he was not loyal to Pakistan.
Past Censuses: The only credible information emanates from the 1951 Census. In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As per the 1951 census, the share of Muslims in Pakistan’s overall population was 85.80 percent, while that of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent.
In 1951, Muslims comprised 96.56 percent of the total population in the territory that is today known as Pakistan. The next census in Pakistan was carried out in 1961 which indicated the non-Muslim population in West Pakistan had fallen to 2.83 percent of West Pakistan’s total population.
By 1972 when Pakistan carried out its third census, East Pakistan had had become Bangladesh. The 1972 census showed non-Muslims in Pakistan comprised 3.25 percent of the total population. This was higher than their share in 1961.By the time the next census was done in 1981; Pakistan’s non-Muslim population registered a small rise from 3.25 percent in 1972 to 3.30 percent in 1981. After the 1981 census, Pakistan did not carry out a fresh census for more than 15 years and the next census was carried out in 1998.
As per this census, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population stood at 3.70 percent of the total population in 1998. Pakistan carried out a fresh census in 2017 but its religious tables have not been published.
Inferences from West-Pakistan Census data:
1: The proportion of non-Muslims was never 23 percent of Pakistan’s total population.
2. Non-Muslim population in undivided Pakistan was 14.2 percent in 1951.
3. Non-Muslims accounted for 3.44 percent of the population in West Pakistan.
4: Census data show that the share of non-Muslims in Pakistan remained 3.5 percent over the decades.
5. There was no appreciable migration due to persecution.
Inferences from East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Census data:
1. Non-Muslims formed 23.20 percent of erstwhile East Pakistan’s total population in 1951.
2. Share of non-Muslims in East Pakistan fell by 1961 to 19.57 percent, then to 14.60 percent in 1974, to 13.40 percent in 1981, to 11.70 percent in 1991 and 10.40 percent in 2001.
3. BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis
Bangladesh’s latest census was carried out in 201. It reflected that the share of non-Muslims was below 10 percent of the country’s overall population. In 2011, non-Muslims constituted 9.60 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Thus, from 1951 to 2011, the population of non-Muslims dropped from a high of 23.20 percent to a low of 9.40 percent. Bangladesh has promised to take back all illegal immigrants provided India proves its point. It also pointed out that minorities in Bangladesh felt safer in BD than in India.
Data refutes BJP’s claim: Official data does not bear out BJP’s claim that:
1: Population of non-Muslims in Pakistan dropped from 23 percent at the time of Independence to 3.7 percent in 2011.
2: Population of non-Muslims in Bangladesh was 22 percent at the time of Independence and fell to 7.8 percent in 2011.
3: The decline in the population share of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh was due to widespread religious persecution.
Statistical inferences: Based on Pakistan’s Census 1951, the BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis of minority persecution. Non-Muslims in East Pakistan’s population constituted 23 percent, not in both wings, as the BJP claimed. Clubbed together (East and West Pakistan), the share of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent (the highest ever) in 1951. BJP’s claim that non-Muslim share fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan is incorrect. It averaged about 3.5 percent from the first census onwards. That is, 1951: 3.44 percent,1961: 2.80 percent,1972: 3.25 percent,1981: 3.33 percent, and 1998: 3.70 percent.
truth: As alleged by BJP, the non-Muslim population did decrease
significantly in Bangladesh, but not exactly as pretended by the BJP. It fells
from 23.20 percent in 1951 to 9.40 percent in 2011, not from 22 percent to 7.8
percent, as alleged.
Citizenship vs. Indian Constitution (Jus solis vs, jus sanguinisi:
The opposition, spearheaded by Congress, pilloried the iffy bill as a violation of the Constitutional provisions about `Freedom of Religion’ (Articles 25 to 28).These articles provide `all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice’. A five-bench Supreme Court judgment observed `It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the State itself’. The Preamble to India’s Constitution, read with Articles 25 to 28 states `it is in this manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone of the Constitution’.
`Secularism’, even if a later innovation, is intertwined into golden architectural design of the Indian Constitution, It is rooted in ethos of freedom movement and deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. The design embraced diversity and pluralism with reservations for disadvantaged groups to cultural rights for religious minorities.
The faith-based discrimination militates against spirit of Indian Constitution. It may lead to unforeseen injustices. Ready instances are sealing/confiscation of properties in Yogi Adityanath’s la-la land, Uttar Pradesh, and deportation of foreign students epitomized by ilk of German student Jakob Lindenthal, studying at Institute of Information Technology, Madras, (Tamil Nadu). Indian Express, dated Dec. 24, 2019 reported `Speaking to The Indian Express from the Chennai airport shortly before his scheduled flight back home, he disclosed he received “oral directions” to leave India from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai’. Modi denied existence of any detention centres in his Ramlilla, New Delhi speech. But, The Hindu dated December 23, 2019 reported there are six jails, including Goalpara (Assam) that serve as detention centres also. An ex –army officer Mohammed Sanaullah, on bail, declared them “Hell”. Now, a detention centre has been reported in Karnataka also.
The Articles (5-11) on citizenship in the Constitution of India and Citizenship Act1955 embodied freedom-movement sentiments .The Constituent Assembly held the principle of jus soli (citizenship based on birth on the soil of a country) to be the more “enlightened modern civilised” principle, as compared to the “racial” principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on descent). The Citizenship Act of 1955, though a combination of jus solis and jus sanguinis, is compatible with Constitutional design. Yet, it confers equal rights on all citizens without discrimination on grounds of caste, creed, tribe or gender. However, under Atal Behari Vajpayee, then prime minister, an amendment was enacted to undermine jus soli in favour of jus sanguinis. It excluded people born in India with one illegal-migrant parent. Modi 2.0 could have followed Germany that moved in a more inclusive direction, combining elements of both jus soli as well as jus sanguinis, instead of majoritarian Donald Trump, fearing minorities.
Sloganeering and reforms: lessons from Modi 2.0: Modi won by riding wave of slogans.Amendment in citizenship laws is aimed at diverting popular attention from his performance.History of elections in both India and Pakistan tells that slogans helped win gullible vote banks _ roti, kapra aur makan (bread clothing and shelter), or tabdeeli (change). Likewise India has seen numerous slogans in 16 general during 72 years of independence_ Nehru’s slogan of “aaraam haraam hai.” (rest is not kosher), Lal Bahadur Shastri’s “jai jawan jai kisan” (long live farmer, long live soldier), Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty), post- 1977 echo of “Indira hatao, desh bachao” (remove Indira, save the country), post-Indira-assassination (October 31, 1984) “jab tak suraj-chaand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega” (till sun and moon shines Indira will live on) , BJP (1996) slogan “sabko dekha baari-baari, abki baari Atal Bihari” (now it’s Bihari’s turn), BJP (2014) “achchhe din aane waale hain” (good days are in the offing), BJP (2019) Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible).
Modi brazenly bags credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system. He had the nerve to face the reality that minor kings, riyasats and feudal landlords were still quite influential shortly after independence. It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. A new class of political leaders, hands in glove with corporations, replaces the royals and zamindars. Like our nouveau riches they are unchallenged.
Yet, a bitter truth is that we had to drift away from doorsteps of Medina State to knock at IMF portals. But, Modi 1.0 and 2.0 stayed the course. In its very first cabinet meeting, Modi enhanced educational scholarships, and extended scope of his income support to farmers. Now 14.5 crore farmers, instead of previous 12.5 crore owning two hectares or less land get dole of Rs. 6,000 a year.. The step will cost the government an additional Rs. 12,000 crore. The total cost to the exchequer in 2019-20 under the Indian-PM- kisan (farmer) scheme is now estimated to be Rs 87,217.50 crore. Besides, several ministries have been merged in newly-created jal shakti ministry to provide piped water supply to every Indian by year 2024. Let’s hope our `welfare’ government, also, could do something to ameliorate lot of the common man.
Is Modi 2.0 magic waning in India? Despite populist reforms and slogans, Modi’s magic appears to be waning.Jharkhand is the fifth state in which opposition parties have managed to unseat the saffron party in the past one year, starting with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to Maharashtra. Modi himself participated in election rallies to cast his spell. But, it was in vain. At least six states are hostile to his faith-based citizenship amendment.Now, even Andhra Pradesh, seventh in the row, has refused to support the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Anti-Congress wave is petering out. In national elections, saffron snatched away even Congress-ruled Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Even Rahul Gandhi lost its citadel, Amethi. In the gory West-Bengal contest, the formidable Mamta Bannerjee lost many seats to BJP. Congress has proved it is not just a dynasty. It embodies an ideology of secularism socialism and pluralism. It could still throw up a surprise in coming mid-term polls or state assembly elections.
To win national elections, the BJP hoodwinked Muslims. Muslim munch, distributed RSS leaflets at RSS enclaves. Even after winning the elections, BJP stalwarts visited Madrassa Deoband. Modi captivated popular imagination as a strong leader _ Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible). Modi gave tickets to nine Muslim candidates who lost because of banal Muslim caste –structure (ashraf, ajlaf and arzal).
Modi brazenly bagged credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system (we could not do so being blocked by Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench’s decision). It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. Modi 1.0’s economic- progress figures were plain cookery.
Indira Gandhi, a charismatic leader, fell because of her authoritarian attitude and reliance on intelligence agencies. Modi2.0, also, is threatened with resurgence of authoritarianism and Hindutva nationalism in his party. Legislators were sworn in amid shrill ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. Even Muslim MPs Asaduddin Owasi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Shafiqur Rahman Barq of the Samajwadi Party were heckled with Jai Shri Ram slogans. Owaisi defiantly shouted “Jai Bheem, Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind. The hooted Trincomalee Congress MPs chanted Jai Maa Kali: In stark contrast, Modi2.0 bowed his head in worshipful namaskar, before a bedecked copy of the India’s Constitution. Modi2.0 showcased ‘Jai Constitution’ pledge. However, BJP MPs displayed allegiance is to ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Modi’s confidante Amit Shah has directed intelligence agencies to report directly to him. RSS leaning is now sine qua non for appointment to political offices.
Modi2.0 has a Herculean challenge to realise his tall promises. Congress has opportunity to capitalise on unfulfilled expectations to rout BJP in coming elections
Indo-Bangla bonhomie unmasked! The NRC unmasks India’s equivocal policy towards Bangladesh. She suddenly banned export of essential commodities like onions to Bangladesh. During her recent visit to India, BD prime minister quipped “I’ve asked for food without onions” She contended that `the Government of India ought to have alerted the countries that import the commodity before rather abruptly announcing the decision’ (The Statesman October 11, 2019). The onion ban was Modi’s knee jerk to BD’s hesitation to supply natural gas to Tripura (India).
India dubbed over 19 lakh Bengali refugees or settlers in Assam after 1951 as `infiltrators’.
The citizenship register establishes genealogical family trees going back until 1951. The forbears of some Assamese Muslims date back 500-700 years. But they possessed no document to prove their nationality. Most of the settlers were sheltered during 1971 war as precious raw material for mukti bahini (freedom fighters). While disenfranchising Bangladeshis, India would grant `citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India’. The citizenship criterion violated provisions of Article 14 of the Indian constitution. The article guarantees `equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. The persecution argument more aptly applies to Nepal (Rohingya), Sri Lanka (Tamil settlers) and Bhutan (whence Christians trek to Indian churches for worship).
Anti-Christian animosity predates Muslims’: The Christians in India have hailed the new piece of legislation. They are oblivious of Hindu fanatics’ hatred of their own community. Baptist Press dated November 22, 2019 reported `Hindu extremists hit in the head with an axe 68-year-old Lakhpati Devi, the mother of pastor Basant Kumar Paul, in an attack on Paul’s home-based church Nov. 12 in Jharkhand’. Many churches have been rampaged. Several states have passed anti-conversion bills.
When Narendra Modi was chief minister of Indian state of Gujarat, he made several attempts to collect personal data of Christians living in the state. In February 1999, survey of the Christians living in northern and central Gujarat was started. It was withdrawn after protests. The same was the fate of the survey, conducted in March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian-inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).Indian Express dated June 13, 2003 (dateline Ahmedabad, June 13, 2003), reported Gujarat police had again started a survey of Christian localities. The Christian community in Indian state of Gujarat came to know of the survey when policemen in plain clothes visited a few institutions in Kheda district of central Gujarat and made enquiries about their source of funds, origin and items of expenditure.
The Christian community was rueful at the recommencement of the survey. To them, it negated the state’s then chief minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to visiting team of the National Commission for Minorities, “No survey or census of Christians or other minorities would be carried out in the state”.
The policemen allegedly had a list of 42 Christian institutes, including Don Bosco School and Pushpanjali Society, in Kheda district. The Don Bosco is a secondary school run for poor students from nearby villages, with 150 boys staying in the boarding. Puspanjali is a medical centre with boarding capacity for 60 girls studying in the school.
The Christian trustees refused to give information for fear of harm at the hands of the fanatic Hindus. The Christians believed that Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat state, harboured a xenophobic phobia not only towards the Muslims but also against the Christians.
Surveys were conducted some year ago also when Sangh Parivar stalwarts targeted Christian tribes in the Dangs area. Such surveys are akin to door-to-door survey of Jewish localities in pre-World-War-II Germany.
Let the Christians not forget anti-conversion laws, enacted in several states to bar Hindus from converting to Christianity. The down-trodden (dalit) find Christiantiy a whiff of fresh air out of Hindu caste-based system (varna).Indian Express (dateline New Delhi, June 6) reported that the Hindu extremist party, Rashtriya Swayem Sevak Sangh, bitterly criticised the Pope for his alleged remarks against anti-conversion laws in India. The RSS claimed, “The Pope’s utterances were tantamount to a direct challenge to India and its pluralist tradition” It urged the government ‘‘to register their protest to the head of Vatican for his intemperate remarks on Indian laws’’.
At a press conference, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav quoted the Pope as having said to some Indian bishops: ‘‘Unfortunately in some regions, state authorities have yielded to the pressures of extremists and have passed unjust conversion laws’’. Mr. Madhav defended anti-conversion laws promulgated in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. He stressed such laws were needed in other states too ‘‘because the activities of missionaries for converting people to their faith are leading to tensions and posing serious threat to peace and harmony”. The RSS spokesman justified forced-conversion activities of the VHP and other Hindu bodies. He termed such conversions as ‘‘homecoming’’, bringing back people to the Hindu-fold.
The Indian bishops had told the Pope that the anti-conversion bills contravened the UNO’s charter of human rights, signed by India also, and protection of religious freedoms as under India’s `secular’ constitution.
Plight of Muslims under quasi-Hindu caste system: In post-election India, the Muslim is being `lynched, shot at and told to “go back to Pakistan” simply for having a Muslim name, carrying or eating beef’ or `wearing a prayer cap and made to shout slogans in praise of Hindu gods’ (Aljazeera, and Organisation for World Peace dated June 4, 2019). Hindus even demanded that eid prayer-goers should not spill over on adjoining roads. BJP MLA Narendra Mehta, affiliated with dangerous bajrang dal, has started live weapons training at his Seven Eleven Academy. A Facebook user Prakash Gupta shared pictures of live-weapons training on Facebook from May 25 to June 1. NGO, Democratic Youth Federation of India, has filed a complaint with Navghar police station (Thane Rural police station). BJP President Amit Shah referred to undocumented Muslim immigrants as termites”. Nathu Ram Godse killed `Mahatma’ Gandhi `for supposedly cowing to Muslim demands’. He is being glorified as a patriot. Modi himself as then chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, `presided a pogrom that killed over 1,000 people; in 2011, a senior police officer testifying in the Indian Supreme Court stated that Modi defended this violence at the time as a legitimate route through which Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger’. He described refugee camps housing Muslims displaced by riots as “baby-making factories”.
Modi’s first five years in office were marred by a rise in violent attacks on minority groups, particularly the Muslim. According to the Sachar Committee Report, conditions of the Muslim in India are worse than that of dalits (downtrodden/untouchable). But, the Muslim itself is to blame for its current plight. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and the Muslim poverty rate is only slightly higher than the low-caste Hindu. The Muslim makes up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. He falls behind other groups in terms of access to credit. So is the case despite the fact that the self-employed Muslim population exceeds other groups.
According to Islam, the Muslim society is homogeneous. There is no hierarchical caste-system in Islam, like the Hindu varna system of social stratification. In Sanskrit, varna means type, order, colour or class. The term refers to social classes in dharma-shastra (religious text) books like the Manusmriti. Hindu literature classifies society into four varnas: (a) Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. (b) Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators. (c) Vaishyas: agriculturalists and traders. (d) Shudras: laborers and service providers. Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna. The dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna. This four-fold division is a form of social stratification distinguished from jati or the European term “caste”. The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept is generally traced to the Purusha Sukta verse of the Rig Veda.
Contrary to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification. Unlike the Hindu caste system, where it is easy to discern the stratification, caste identities among Muslims are not defined rigidly. As such, the reservation quota and other benefits, available to scheduled castes, do not trickle down to the needy Muslim.
It is bitter reality that the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). The ashraf are regarded as the superior group and are mainly endogamous, while the ajlaf are considered to be inferior. Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).
To ameliorate the lot of the downtrodden Muslim (arzal or ajlaf), there should be a caste-based census to identify those deserving `reservation’ in scheduled caste. Is such a census in accordance with definitive text of Holy Quran Allah. “O you, who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah : 208).
Some Indian scholars justify Indian caste system according to Islam.At the top of the hierarchy are the ashrafs (nobles), of Arab, Persian, Turkish or Afghan origin. They lay claim to a prestigious lineage that they trace back to the Prophet (in the case of Sayyids) or his tribe (in the case of qureshis). The shaikh (descendants of the Prophet’s companions), the pathan (descendants of migrants from Afghanistan), and even the Mughal (originating in Central Asia and Iran) can also be included in this group. Many ashraf are either ulama in the case of the sayyid, or else landowners, merchants or business people. One’s birth group constitutes a major criterion for defining social status. At the middle level, the ajlaf (low-born) represent the masses. His status is defined by both his profession (pesha) unlike the ashraf. Many castes of intermediate status fall into this category, such as farmers, traders and weavers (ansari and julaha). Social elite of many ashraf in rural areas believe that this category is not part of the Indian Muslim community (millat).
At the bottom of the social scale is the arzal (vile, vulgar). It is a group comprising non-untouchables and converted “untouchables” who, as in Hinduism, practise supposedly impure trades. This was the case of slaughterers, laundrymen (dhobi), barbers (nai, hajjam), tanners (chammar), and so on.
Like the Hindu caste-ridden society, relations between Muslim social groups are governed by a social taboos _ sharing a table, marriage, sociability) and spatial restrictions (access to domestic areas and places of prayer, segregation in cemeteries and neighbour-hoods.
The ashraf opposes caste based count of Muslim community. But the ajlaf and arzal support it. The ashraf, being a “creamy layer”, obstruct any step that may improve lot of the downtrodden. The Indian Supreme Court decided to exclude the “creamy layer” from the quotas in 2008. But, it was never implemented. Questions about Islam mostly relating to ibadaat like hajj are asked in Indian parliament by the non-Muslim. No question about economic justice for all and sundry is asked.
Though Islam preached homogeneity, social stratification among the Muslim in India is a fact. The Muslim caste system has hampered their progress in various realm of life. The Indian Muslim is impervious to whatever happens in Kashmir, or in the world.
Where should the excluded go? Muslims in India are already ghettosied, not `termites’ on economy as Amit Shah thinks. Islam did away with caste superiority. Yet, the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).
Would Amit Shah detain them in concentration camps akin to those in Germany? If so, for how long? Could Bangladesh, already under Rohingyas burden, or India retain the stateless people under international covenants? Amit Shah says Rohingyas (as also Baluchis and Ahmediyya) could still apply for citizenship under Foreigners Act. But, his statement sounds like an eye-wash.
Kashmir under Hindutva citizenship: The laws in the state grant hereditary pushtini) certificates to its citizens. As such, only the hereditary residents are entitled to express their voice in a plebiscite to be held to determine future stats of the disputed state. To scuttle UN mandate and to dilute the demography, Modi government has decided to grant domicile certificates to even non-hereditary residents.
Modi government’s sinister lies on citizenship: In his Ramlila-Maidan speech, Indian prime minister reiterated “no detention centres in India” to “no plans for nationwide National Register of Citizenship. Though it is eerie that these `plans’ are incorporated in ruling Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto. Amid protest that took 25 lives, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone, India’s Union Cabinet approved (24 December 2019), funds to
the tune of over Rs 3,941.35 crore to update the National Population Register. Both the Union minister and home minister vehemently denied any connection between the NPR and the NRC.
Yet, the brutal truth is that several official statements, including those in parliament, corroborate that the NPR is the first step towards planned NRC. On July 23, 2014 Kiren Rijiju, former Minister of State for Home Affairs, replying to B K Hariprasad in Rajya Sabha said, “The government has now decided to create the National Register of
Indian Citizens (NRIC) based on the information collected under the scheme of NPR by verifying the citizenship status of all individuals in the country.” On 26 November 2014, Rijiju, once again, reiterated the aforementioned point in Rajya Sabha in response to a question by Dr. T N Seema. On April 21, 2015, a press release by home affairs ministry iterated “logical conclusion” of the NPR is the creation of NRIC. “It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) and National Identity Cards would be issued to citizens by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR. The proposals for the same are under consideration of the Government.” Rijiju replied in the Rajya Sabha on 31 July 2019 `NPR is linked to CAA as it seeks to implement the citizenship requirement under the Citizenship Act i.e., to prove that one parent is an Indian citizen’.
It is eerie that USA has again blinker-eyedly designated Pakistan, earlier on watch list, as violator of religious freedom. No focus on India where several states enacted anti-conversion laws, a pastor was axed dead right before eyes of his son, menstruating women not allowed to enter Sabarimala temple despite court’s orders, dalits hacked for daring enter high-caste temples. Interestingly, a court held that a mosque was not necessary for offering prayers.
Let jaundiced eyes turn to religious repression in India.
Conclusion: The amendment in the citizenship law violates spirit of Indian Constitution. Spearheaded by students, it has engulfed many states. Already, 25 students have been killed, some buried incognito by police. Flabbergasted by violence, Modi and his coterie are giving contradictory statements that are adding fuel to the fire. Several renowned intellectuals have been arrested. Muslims’s properties are being sealed. And, they are being served notices to make good fictitious damage to property. Student amity transcends ethnicity and religious leanings. Hindus shielded Muslims while they offered prayers on roads.
However, an enduring problem in India is that Muslims are not united. They are highly stratified. The upper affluent layer is sold out to ruling party. It never expressed sympathy with Kashmiris under Indian yoke, nor Muslims being perxecuted. Similarly, Christians are lukewarm to Hindutva onslaught on Indian Muslims. The minorities need to coalesce to avert extinction.
The Muslim should learn from the Christian. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after the jain. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeastern India. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners
The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.
It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds. Unless they are united, they can’t survive Hindutva aggression, manifested in legislation or in social life.
United States snubs India for its excessive maritime claim
On April7, 2021, a 9,000-ton guided-missile destroyer, USS John Paul Jones (US 7th Fleet), waded (not strayed as it was deliberate) into the vicinity of India’s Lakshadweep Islands. The ship was 131 nautical miles away from India’s coast (12 nautical miles territory) but well within its exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles, 370.4 kilometre).
The trespass by the US destroyer triggered indignation through all walks of life. It conjured up memories of the arrival of the 7th fleet during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The fleet gave a message, loud and clear, to India that it should not dare finish West Pakistan, its long cherished desire. Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14). During 1971, Pakistan was a US ally. Now India is in the anti-China US-backed basket.
Yet, the `destroyer’ conjured up memory in India’s mind of `bitter’ American intervention. Congress leaders voiced surprise at the U.S. move. In a tweet, Manish Tewari said, “This never happened in the 10 years of UPA [Congress-led rule] or perhaps even before that as far as I can recall. The last time I remember it being so rather in your face was 1971 – Task Force 74 – 7th Fleet. What then happened is History. Hope the NDA/BJP shows some Oomph?” Echoing the surprise, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, said, “And this happened when the former U.S. Secretary of State and Climate Envoy, John Kerry, was meeting Ministers in New Delhi.”
The euphoria created by US gung-ho support for Quad, and Pakistan’s exclusion from the climate conference petered out.
India’s foreign office tried to play down the event by stating that it was not a “military manoeuvre”. So, the USA was not bound to inform India about it. But, to India’s chagrin, the U.S. The Navy announced that its ship the USS John Paul Jones had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims.” The U.S. defends its actions saying they were in compliance with international laws. Even Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby justified what India calls “intransigence’ by announcing the US Navy’s move was in compliance with international law. He told reporters, “I can tell you that the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives by conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea in normal operations within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission. We conduct routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements’.
India compelled to protest
As a face-saving gesture, India was forced to protest the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. India’s external-affairs ministry retorted, ‘The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or man oeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.’ The ministry insisted that the USS John Paul Jones was “continuously monitored” transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.
The incident is a rare falling out between the two partners in the Quadrilateral Grouping that had recently committed to upholding freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together.
Bone of contention
The USA shrugged off India’s ennui. According to the annual FONOP reports released by the U.S. Department of Defence for each fiscal year, the U.S. had been regularly conducting FONOPs in Indian EEZ. The FONOPs were carried out in several c continental shelves of several countries including its allies and partners. The USA regarded Indian maritime claim as “excessive” and in violation of International Law. From 2007 onwards till 2017, the U.S. carried out multiple FONOPs every year challenging “excessive” Indian maritime claims. No FONOP was carried out in 2018 and 2020 and one FONOP in 2019.
Difference of opinion is due to the fact that the USA has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of Seas. India and China have ratified it with some reservations. But, the USA does not care a fig about provisos attached by China and India.
Ashamed of USA’s crass rebuttal, India is coining excuses to mitigate its embarrassment. To relieve pressure on Indian government, former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash interpreted the US “trespass” as if it were a message to China that the USA has unfettered “freedom of navigation”. Prakash Tweeted
“While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoNOPs missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF (Identification, friend or foe)! Prakash added FONOPs by U.S. Navy ships, “ineffective as they may be,” in South China Sea, are meant to “convey a message to China that the putative EEZ” around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” “But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he asked.
Might is Right
Obviously, the USA is acting upon might-is-right policy. India itself acted upon this policy to devour princely states, and annex Nepalese territory. Junagadh and Kashmir disputes are still unresolved on UN agenda. Indian Union is an artificial sally.
In its entire history India had never been a single nation, or one country, until united at gun point by the British. The artificial nature of modern India created by the British colonialists and adopted by post-colonial India generated insurgencies and separatist movements.
At the time of partition, India was in grip of virulent insurgencies and separatist movements (Dravidian South, Khalistan, Seven Sisters in the North East, so on). Wikipedia lists 68 major organizations as terrorist groups. Of them, nine are in the northeast (seven sisters states), four in the center and the east (Maoist/Naxalites), seventeen in the west (Sikh separatist groups), and thirty eight in the northwest (Kashmir). India kept afloat as a union only at the barrel of gun. The Indian army chief paid a five-day visit to Bangladesh as a prelude to conducting a massive operation against the Naxalbari militants.
UK and USA’s Diego Garcia headache
International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The ICJ `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll (leased out to the USA by the UK).
The ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf observed, `The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible’. The court ruled that separation of Chagos Islands from Mauritius during decolonisation in the 1960s constituted an “unlawful detachment” and was a “wrongful act”.
In 1966, the U.S. signed a secret agreement with Great Britain allowing the Pentagon to use the Indian Ocean territory as an airbase in exchange for a big discount on Polaris nuclear missiles. Three years later, hundreds of Navy Seabees arrived by ship and began pouring out two 12,000-foot runway that would become a bulwark of American Cold War strategy in the region, and a key launching pad for the first and second Gulf wars, the 1998 bombing of Iraq and invasion and carpet-bombing of Afghanistan.
The base can house more than 2,000 troops and 30 warships at a time. It has two bomber runways, a satellite spy station and facilities enabling the use of nuclear-armed submarines. It served as a CIA black site (like Guantanamo Bay) to interrogate and torture terror suspects including those from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The base holds key to America’s Afghan exit plan, by year 2024, to avoid a rout at the hands of Taliban.
To India’s chagrin, the USA wants to exert its authority on Indian Ocean also. Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 percent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States. India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50 per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
To dominate Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia), India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar Islands.
In diplomacy, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests. Afghan exit plan requires the USA continues to retain Diego Garcia.
US-China Developing Confrontation: India and QUAD
At the request of the editors of International Affairs magazine, the renowned Kanwal Sibal, India’s Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia, comments on new US initiatives in Southeast Asia.
Judging by its Interim National Strategic Security Guidance (INSSG) document (March 2021) the Biden Administration intends to be tough towards China on many fronts. Human rights issues in Xinjiang and Tibet, threats to Taiwan, limiting Hong Kong’s autonomy, encroachments and territorial pressures in the East and South China Seas, freedom of navigation and overflight issues, preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific, unfair trade practices, technology theft, resilience of critical supply chains, emerging technologies, standard setting for 5G, a new competitive US industrial strategy, and so on.
Whereas Trump had alienated allies and weakened America’s hand in dealing with China’s challenge, the Biden administration seeks to speak to China from a position of strength. For this it seeks to restore ties of confidence with Japan, South Korea and Australia in priority. In doing this the US is indirectly recognizing its reduced strength and its inability to meet the China challenge alone. In this perspective, It had reached out to Europe for policy coordination towards China even before it took office, but Europe went ahead to sign a Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) to protect its own independent and competitive interests in China. After the fractious US-China Alaska meeting, the US has continued its coordinating efforts with Europe but faces resistance from Germany and France in particular who want to retain their strategic autonomy in dealing with China, believing that US policy under Biden will remain self-centred and that too much water had flown under the bridge for US-Europe ties to simply revert to the pre-Trump era.
The timing of virtual Quad summit before the Alaska meeting was also intended to signal to China that like-minded countries were coming together to deter what they view as China’s increasingly aggressive policies. From a telephonic meeting at the Foreign Ministers level in February 2021 the summit was a major step forward in consolidating the Quad politically. India, earlier reticent in moving too far too quickly with the Quad in the light of the need to manage the stresses of its China ties, decided to join. After the stand-off in eastern Ladakh India has realized that deferring to Chinese sensitivities is not reciprocated by China. The visit of the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to India coincided with the US-China meeting in Alaska.
In the INSSG, India is not treated strategically in the same category as US allies like Japan, Republic of Korea and Australia. The China challenge is felt primarily in the western Pacific where the US has bases, deployed military forces and a powerful naval presence. China’s challenge in the Indian Ocean is not considered of the same order for the time being, but partnership with India, with its significant naval assets and geographic position, overlooking the critical sea lanes of communication in the region, is important for the future. India is seen as a net security provider, fitting into the template of burden sharing. For this the US has shown its readiness to build India’s maritime surveillance capacities by supplying defense platforms, intelligence sharing, increasingly complex military exercises with the inclusion of Japan and Australia, and utilizing the India-US defense-related foundational agreements that provide for inter-operability and sharing of geo-spatial data.
Although the joint statement issued by the Quad summit did not mention China by name, China was of course discussed, with each leader sharing his thinking. According to US NSA Jake Sullivan, China, about whom none of the leaders had any illusions he said, was discussed at the meeting but was not its focus. Coercion of Australia, harassment around the Senkakus, border aggression against India figured in the discussions. According to him, the Quad is now a critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific. Cybersecurity incidents impacting Quad members too figured, including attacks against India’s power sector. He dismissed the talk about Quad being a military alliance, though he stated that it has to worked out at the leaders level and that of the working groups how the Quad can move from freedom of navigation to broader regional security questions. Apparently, at Alaska, the Chinese reacted negatively to US mentioning its dialogue with India.
The summit rightly felt that the Quad should have a broader agenda than simply China, a point of view that India has studiously supported. India is conscious of the fact that the US, as well as Japan and Australia, have deep economic ties with China, which can be rolled back selectively to lessen dependence by decoupling in critical areas, restricting Chinese access to advanced critical technologies in which China has external dependence such as semi-conductors, preventing Chinese investments in sensitive areas etc but cannot be dramatically reduced, given China’s huge weight in the global economy. The US policy seems to be “extreme competition”, cooperation and confrontation, as required. India’s investment in the Quad, beyond the maritime security aspect, would be to benefit from a shift away from China of critical supply chains, use India’s democratic environment to attract more US investment and technology transfers that would accelerate India’s growth for the welfare of its people, besides enabling it to close the developing gaps with China.
It is in this perspective that the decision on building India’s capacity for vaccines should be seen. The three expert groups set up by the Quad summit, on vaccines, critical technologies (5G, AI, Quantum Computing, human biology) and climate change broaden the Quad’s agenda, opening up bilateral opportunities with the US for India, besides creating the beginnings of a structure. In line with Indian thinking and emphasis on a broader agenda, the Quad leaders pledged “to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief as well as maritime domains”. The decision to manufacture US vaccine in India with Biological E Ltd to provide one billion doses to the Indo-Pacific region was taken, with Japanese finance and Australia’s delivery support. The third group will deal with critical – and emerging-technologies to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future.
China’s concerns about the Quad summit and the strengthening of India’s strategic ties with the US have no basis. China has benefited enormously from US capital and technology and that of its allies for China’s rise. The economic power it acquired, and with that military power, has been used by it to expand territorially in the western Pacific and globally through the BRI, not to mention in the Indian Ocean. Now that defenses are being put up against China’s policies and ambitions, China, after the stand-off in Ladakh, has no ground to warn India not to become close to the US. Even now the US is China’s biggest economic partner and China is reaching out to the US to ease pressures on it. Its critique of “selective multilateralism” would apply equally to the Russia-India-China group, BRICS as well as the SCO. It has established a Quad in our region- the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Nepal group, in which Nepal does not fit at all.
The bristling encounter at Alaska demonstrates that China’s expectations that a change of administration in the US could lessen tensions and some accommodation could be worked out have been belied for the time being. China touted the Alaska meeting as a strategic dialogue, which was strongly denied the US. In response to Secretary of State Blinken’s severe strictures on China’s infringements of a rules based international order on various issues, Politburo member Yang Jiechi hit back brutally, decrying US democracy, castigating America’s racism, calling it the champion of cyberattacks, rejecting the notion that western nations represent global public opinion, and, most significantly, stating that the US lacked the qualifications to speak to China from a position of strength, now or even 20 or 30 years earlier. Yang Jiechi may have intended to say all this in private but felt compelled to do so in public to show to the domestic and international audience that China will not be bullied and will deal with the US as an equal. If he had reacted meekly, it would have been a blow to China’s prestige and its self-image. It appears that after the public spat the two sides got down to business calmly on the agenda items , with serious differences over Taiwan emerging and raising US concerns that this could become a flash point if Xi Jinping was determined to achieve reunification, by force, if necessary. There was no commitment by the US side to meet again despite persistent probing by Yang Jiechi to elicit a response.
With China and Russia in the cross-hairs of the Biden government, it is not surprising that both countries have closed ranks against the US. Lavrov and Wang Yi rejected US calls for “a rules-based order” and proposed a summit of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to be held “to establish direct dialogue …in the interests of maintaining global stability”. With the sharper US divisions with China and Russia it is unclear what the P5 summit could achieve concretely, especially as the representative nature of the UN Security Council as currently constituted is questioned in large parts of the world.
Regrettably, a new version of the Cold War might now be taking shape. In the developing scenario, it is very important that the India-Russia dialogue is strengthened so that the implications of the new developments and the compulsions of the two countries are better understood bilaterally.
From our partner International Affairs
Convergence of interests determines Russia-Pakistan Relations
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan on 6-7 April 2021 and held delegation-level meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in addition to called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief, as well as had interaction with other dignitaries and senior officials during his two-day stay in Islamabad, Pakistan.
It is worth mentioning that Russia and Pakistan face similar challenges and pass through similar difficulties, including sanctions, economic challenges, security threats, etc. Both countries share similar views on the Afghanistan issue, terrorism, regional security, and China’s common friend. There exists a comprehensive convergence of interests.
Especially after India signed a series of Defense agreements and acted as a “Major Defense Partner” and American-led Quad or concept of Asian NATO, the geopolitics has emerged so that Russia and Pakistan must cooperate with each other. As a matter of fact, we left with no option except strengthening regional cooperation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with his country providing defense equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint military exercises.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan restated Pakistan’s determination to expeditiously complete the mandatory legal process for the “Pakistan Stream” (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and begin the work as early as possible.
Pakistan-Russia mutual relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed in the meeting. The Prime Minister fondly recalled his interaction with President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek in June 2019. He had emphasized his desire to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. He repeated that the importance Pakistan attached to its relations with Russia as a critical foreign policy priority. The Prime Minister uttered satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security, and defense.
Citing to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Prime Minister shared Pakistan’s perspective on peace and security issues in South Asia, including the need for sustainable, peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
The Prime Minister repeatedly extended his invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience. It is hoped that President Putin will visit Pakistan soon.
Moreover, disturbing the peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of concerns. It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a delicate time for Afghanistan with peace talks making little progress and a deadline approaching for the United States to withdraw its forces. “(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues … including peace and stability in Afghanistan,”
The visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in war-torn Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a critical player in fast-tracked efforts to find a permanent peaceful end to decades of war.
As Washington appraisals an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethought a May 1 withdrawal of its troops, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials, and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.
Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Lavrov expressed satisfaction over a 46 percent increase in trade between them. He, however, stressed there is a need to diversify it further. Discussing the energy sector opportunities, he said both the countries are now discussing a new protocol on the Stream Gas Pipeline Project, an ambitious project to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of regasified liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. As soon as it is signed, the construction work will begin. The top Russian diplomat termed the relationship between the two nations mutually beneficial and constructive. He recalled Russia had provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V Vaccine.
Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said Moscow has always advocated the importance of international law and multilateralism. “These are principles that Pakistan adheres to. Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level have been excellent.” At this, Lavrov reaffirmed the commitment to deepen ties with Pakistan and create win-win cooperation between them.
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