US president Trump received an over-ebullient welcome in India. An, ostensibly, private trust Donald Trump Nagarik Abhinandan Samiti (Donald-Trump Welcome Committee) organised Trump’s welcome in Gujarat at cost of Rs. 120 crore.
India has for long been a champion of `non-aligned movement’. It is now hankering after politico-strategic alignments for short-term gains. In so doing, it is unmindful of the pitfall that it is falling into US `sphere of influence’ (SOI).
The SOI are international formations of an `influencer’ and one or more `influenced’ countries. Such a nexus should be ideational, economic and, at least ostensibly, non-coercive. For instance, Monroe doctrine postulated much of central and South America, and Japan in the US SOI (now Australia, Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam also included). China’s SOI includes North Korea. Kautliya also propounded a similar concept of mandala (inter-reltionships or circles), akin to the SOI.
Susanna Hast, in her book Spheres of Influence thinks though SOI are unacceptable from international norms, they serve as a “device” for limiting the danger of armed conflict between superpowers’. I, for one, believe that the SOI’s have pushed the post-cold-war world closer to a confrontation.
The stakeholders today are not weakling countries. Through the SOI, the USA is trying to forestall China’s rise as a rival power by year 2027. China is weary of its encirclement by US network of allies like Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. China’s strategy is to prevent US forces from effectively operating near over China or East or South China Sea.
Disputed islands: Senkaku group of five disputed islands is at the heart of Sino-Japanese sovereignty dispute. Three of the component islands (Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima and MinamiKojima) were privately owned by Kurihara family. Japan bought them for 2.05 billion yen ($26 million). After a few years of stasis, punctuated by domestic protests, Beijing began escalating its intrusions into sea around the islands.
Natuna islands of Indonesia are another Apple of Discord. Chinese coast guard vessels have been escorting dozens of their fishing boats into the exclusive economic zone around the Natunas. Natuna represents the southern edge of the South China Sea dispute between China and a number of Southeast Asian nations.
Indonesia deployed warships, submarines and fighters until the intruding vessels pulled back.
Malaysia, has filed new maritime territorial claims with the United Nations immediately triggering a response from Beijing. Indonesia invoked the UN Law of the Seas as part of a concerted use of lawfare to hem in China.
To enhance its maritime movement, China has established its first foreign military base in the East African nation of Djibouti, another in Mombasa, and a third, debatably, at Vanuatu.
Irritants: Even if India falls firmly into the USA’s SOI, some problems will remain intractable. These include installation of six nuclear plants by Westinghouse, now bankrupt, in India. Trump’s son in law has shady involvement in the deal.
Trade issues: India is now the eighth-largest trade partner of USA. The number of Indian students in the US and the number of US companies active in India have both grown. For most US-based tech giants, India is now one of their top three customer bases. Indian companies are investing heavily in the US.
Yet, the US has declared India ineligible for the generalised system of preferences, a market access vista. Besides, there are differences over e-commerce, data localisation and digital payments.
Domestic opposition: Pramila Jayapal, Indian-American Congresswoman from Washington state, has criticised India’s violation of minorities’ right to religious freedom, its Kashmir policy and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and the National Register of Citizens. Presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders demnded, “Instead of selling $3 billion in weapons to enrich Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed, the U.S. should be partnering with India to fight climate change.”
Sino-Indian relations in flux: USA wants to take advantage of low-ebb Sino-Indian relations. The last coffin in the relations is India’s cartographic aggression of amending maps to show Chinese territories as Indian. India has several boundary disputes with China.
McMahon Line: Upon independence, British legacy was a boundary dispute with China in the east in the form of McMahon Line “by treaty, custom or both’, exacerbated by India’s claim of disputed Kashmir state’s accession on October 26, 1947 (historian Alastair Lamb doubts authenticity of the `instrument of accession’).
India’s prime minister pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru was adamant that `India’s boundaries with China were clear and not a matter off further argument’(Notes, Memoranda and Agreement Signed between the Government of India and China, White Paper II, 1957 (new Delhi, Ministry of external Affairs, government of India, 1959), p. 49, 52-57). China shrugged off India’s point of view.
Border incursions: Both countries accused each other of border violations. India alleged People’s Liberation Army often trespassed Hoti, Damzen, Shipki Pass, Lapthal and Sangcha Malla by 1954. To create a nation-wide furor, Nehru told Indian parliament on August 25, 1959 that a Chinese detachment encroached into Indian Territory of Longiu in the Subansiri frontier Division at a place south of Migyitunand opened fire. Inlate1950s,
The 1962 War
Nehru and Zhou En Lai met in New Delhi from April 19 to 25 1960 to defuse the situation. But, it was in vain. The boundary dispute led to October 1962 War. In the short war, China occupied Aksai Chin, an uninhabited area of Ladakh in disputed Kashmir state, close to Azad Kashmir area. After occupying Aksai Chin, China built its Highway219 to connect with its eastern province of Xinjiang.
Why Sino-Indian bonhomie ended: The 1962 War was upshot of Indi’s Forward Policy, propounded by Indian’s General BM Kaul, and reluctantly followed by Nehru. According to this policy, India provocatively deployed troops and established b order outposts along India-China boundary. To justify deployment, India alleged China had built seven roads inside the Indian territory of Ladakh, several roads being close to India’s border in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, six in Sikkim and Bhutan borders, and eight in the North East Frontier Agency. It was further alleged that China had established seven new posts in Ladakh, 14 in the Central Sector of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, 12 across Sikkim and Chumb Valley, and three across NEFA.
Contours of Disputed border: Sino-Indian boundary is divided into three sectors, eastern western and the middle. The border dispute relates only to the western and eastern sectors. Western sector covers 4000 kilometers. Half of this boundary separates disputed Kashmir from China’s north-western province, province Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. In the undefined northern part of the frontier, India claims an area equivalent in size to Switzerland under China is actually part of Indian Territory of Ladakh. Besides, Indian claims a Chinese controlled territory that was debatably ceded to China by Pakistan in the northern sector. Furthermore, Shakasgam Valley was claimed by India but later happened to be shown as Chinese territory in China Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963.
China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh: China claims an Indian controlled area three times bigger, including most of Arunachal Pradesh. China never ratified McMahon Line.
Since inclusion of Tibet in China, Arunachal Pradesh is a buffer between Tibet an India’s north-eastern region.
Twang Region: China disputes Indian claim that Tawang region is a part of Indian Territory, showed as such in McMahon Line. China says Taiwan had historically been a part of Tibet. By corollary it is a part of China.
The Sino-Indian dispute began from Taiwan region. In view of India’s hardline position, China began to claim whole state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
India’s equivocal China policy: The hallmark of India’s foreign policy towards her neighbours is equivocation. India’s China policy is ostensibly based on Panchsheel principles that are mutual respect, non-aggression, non-interference and peaceful existence. But, it is actually based on Chanakya’s mandala principle which states ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’.
The duality of India’s foreign policy is reflected in her relations with China. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Indian prime minister, is extolled as `architect of India’s China policy’. During his visit (June 2003) to China, he admitted China’s suzerainty over Tibet. Even in a written statement before the Lok Sabha, he said, ‘On Tibet, I would like to assure this House that there is no change in our decades old policy. We have never doubted that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China”. But, in a subsequent press conference, he clarified that there was no cataclysmic change in the status quo and India’s views on disputes with China.
After the visit, the Indian delegation told newsmen that ‘the Chinese draft wanted India to use the word “inalienable” for both Tibet and Taiwan being part of its territory, but India did not go the whole hog with this phraseology. Frontline dated July 18, 2003 reported, ‘Indian officials were at pains to point out that they had used the term “People’s Republic of China”, and not China- the PRC being an entity that came into existence in 1949’.
“What was the status quo? Kiran Kumar Thaplyal and Shiva Nandan Misra in Select Battles in Indian History: From Earliest Times to 2000 A.D (Volume II, page 632), point out ‘India gave major concession to China by giving up military, communications, and postal rights. It also withdrew military detachments from Yatung and Gyantse. By this treaty (1954) India indirectly recognized Chinese sovereignty (as against suzerainty) over Tibet referring to the latter as Tibet region of China’.
India’s intrusions into the Chinese territory are a stark contradiction of her status quo concerning the Chinese territory adjoining her so-called state of ‘Arunachal Pradesh’. The after math of the India-China War, also, was acceptance of Chinese point of view by India.
The vicissitudes of India-China Relations (1950 – 1962) reflect that India unquestioningly accepted China’s control of Tibet. India’s policy on Tibet during the British rule was to secure Tibet as a buffer state between India and China (fear of red China and the then USSR).
Yet, to China’s chagrin, India spurred Tibetans to expe1 the Chinese mission from Lhasa in the middle of 1949. This event forced the Republic of China in January 1950 to claim Tibet as part of China. Induction of Chinese army into that region in October 1950 vapourised the Englishman-conceived buffer between India and China.
India made muffled protests and then, according to military historians, ‘meekly acquiesced’ to China’s forward policy. In November 1950, when EI Salvador requested that Tibetans plea be heard by the United Nation, the Indian delegate did not support it. United States and Britain could not exploit the issue as India, China’s immediate neighbour, did not vote for Salvadorian proposal.
In March 1959, Dalai Lama fled to India, and was given asylum along with his followers. The New China News Agency accused India of ‘expansionist aims in Tibet’. Indian border post of Assam Rifles at Longju was evicted by the Chinese by force. In the Western Sector, the Indian government decided to set up posts north east of Leh.
India sent patrols to Lanak Pass. One of these patrols of about seventy men encountered the Chinese at Kongka Pass. On 20 October the Chinese and Indian patrols clashed. The flight of the Dalai Lama into India in 1960 and clashes between rival patrols led to a border war between India and China in 1962.
Inference: Duplicity in India’s foreign policy is the greatest obstruction to peaceful resolution of her disputes with her neighbours. She never tangibly objected to Chinese control of Tibet or construction of communication links in the area. Never invoked intervention by UNO on this matter. Yet, she sheltered Dalai Lama, and sent patrols into Chinese territory, leading to India-China War. India considers Kashmir issue to be a bilateral dispute. Yet she does not like to sit eye-ball-to-eyeball with Pakistan on dialogue table. She boasts of friendly relations with Bangladesh. But, simultaneously accuses the latter of providing sanctuaries to Indian ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’ in BD territory. About Bhutan, the Indian strategic analysts say, if India does not annex it, China will.
Inference: India is wooing the USA to win her blinker-eyed support on Kashmir issue and repression of religious minorities.
The Persecution of Individuals from Hazara Community in Balochistan
The drastic situation was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being slaughtered by the terrorists of Islamic State of Iraq & Levant’s Khurasan chapter that continued the legacy of sectarian and ethnic violence that used to be conducted by the extremists and terrorists of Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) in the region. The community of Hazara is quite vulnerable and the violence against them has no doubt the capability of potential fault line for the state of Pakistan being exploited by foreign players the war anti-state elements give fuel to the violent sectarian and ethnonationalists of Balochistan province of Pakistan. In this mean study, the very focus will be made towards the possibilities of foreign intervention in case of Hazara persecution in the region which provenly had involvements of Indian agencies via the territory of war-affected Afghanistan.
The persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts which makes them as the easy target of being killed, tortured or slaughtered by the extremist Wahabi tendencies or racist tendencies among Pashtuns and Balochis. In the current era specially after the events of 9/11 and further strengthening of Wahabi extremist doctrine in the region had paved ways for the spreading of sectarian violence against the Shia Hazara Muslims inside Balochistan province of Pakistan. The major persecution events that keeps a lot importance in the unfortunate violence being committed against the people of Hazaras were the massacre on the day of Ashura at Quetta in 2004, the killings of Hazara people in Mastung Massacre, the playground massacre in Quetta, slaughter of Hazara pilgrims coming back from Islamic Republic of Iran, the two major bombings against Shia Hazaras in the year of 2013, the massacre in Akhtarabad, the 2003 bombing on Hazara Imam Bargah and most importantly the recent slaughter of Hazara peoples in Mach District of Balochistan province of Pakistan. Even in the target killings, some major political figures, social workers and sportsmen also remained aim of target killings inside the extremist and sectarian violence.
No doubt, such massacres and large scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW)’s major agent Kulbushan Jadhav confessed in the very statement after he was arrested by Pakistani authorities in espionage operation that India had been involved in the fueling of ethnonationalist and sectarian violence in the region. The government of Pakistan had also shown quite many concerns regarding the matter that the hands of Indian state agencies and government can possibly be involved in the backing of outfits like ISIL (Khurasan) which operates from Afghanistan while conducting of violence in the province of Pakistani Balochistan. The dots are being matched by different Pakistani officials and think tanks that the involvement of Indian government with confirmed sources towards the secessionist tendencies in the province in shape of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) that the possibility can be there in also of backing the extremist militants and terrorists of ISIL (Khurasan) while fueling the violence in the region on sectarian basis. Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi said in his statement that the hands of India are there in the recent activities of sectarian violence that was happened in the region of district of Mach of Balochistan. The possibilities of Indian government and state agencies backing the militant factions against the state of Pakistan had been also proved by the state intelligence agencies of Pakistani state including Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Directorate General of Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). Even it is confirmed through the sources in form of statements of leading Indian think tanks, journalists and retired military officials that the fault lines inside Pakistan are to target the Shia communities for paving ways for the violence and to make platform for the conduct of violence on sectarian basis by creating a lot of chaos among the different Muslim sects inside the state of Pakistan. These are the major possible factors which had proven the point that the sectarian violence specially the one which was conducted against the coal miners belonging from the Shia community of Hazara has proven the very point that the factors of possibility is quite much there of the involvement of Indian government as actor of fueling violence.
In the very crux of the study, it is added with the point that the persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts. The radical condition was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being massacred by extremist tendencies. The possibility of the terrorist wings being supported by Indian government in this regard because of the past confirmed terror activities in which the position of India was quite much cleared. such massacres and large-scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency of R&AW.
Is India fearful of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute?
At the time of Partition, India knew that its policies with regard to the Princely states were inconsistent. So, it feared internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute. Vallabhai Patel, presented Kashmir to Liaquat Ali Khan in a platter, so to say, in exchange for Junagadh and Hyderabad. Liaquat Ali Khan did not accept the offer. Saifuddin Soz, former Congress minister and a prominent Kashmiri politician, told The Print Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk show that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad.
Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, took Patel’s offer to Pakistan on the exact day the Indian Army landed in Srinagar to push back intruders from Pakistan in October 1947. “From the very first day Sardar Patel was adamant that Kashmir should go to Pakistan. In the partition council, he tried his level best to convince Liaquat Ali to take Kashmir and leave Hyderabad-Deccan,” Soz said.
“But as Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan writes in his book,” Soz said, “Liaquat Ali neither understood history, nor geography. So, he did not accept the offer..”(Sardar Patel was adamant, give Kashmir to Pakistan, take Hyderabad. Nehru saved it: Soz, The Print June 25, 2018).
Till the 1990s, internationalisation remained India’s nightmare. Former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented a formula which offered many concessions to Pakistan in exchange for a promise not to agitate the Kashmir dispute on international forums and keep it on backburner for ten years. He presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor Verghese also gave similar proposals). Mehta had also proposed (a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”
(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalization, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat. (g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached.
Mehta’s quasi-solution, re-coined as Musharraf/Qasuri solution, was advocated by the United States’ Institute of Peace also. . Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).
UK MPs concern on Kashmir
To India’s chagrin, a day after debating persecution of minorities in India, the members of the British House of Commons turned to human-rights violations in the occupied Kashmir and “called for the European Union and the United nations to be given access to the disputed state and for Boris Johnson to raise the issue with Prime minister Narendra Modi and for the UK government to `use its influence with India and Pakistan’ and send its own delegation to assess the human rights situation (UK MPs call for Britain to `use its influence for human rights in Kashmir’, Times of India January 15, 2021). MP Naz Shah asked, `Without the UN rapporteurs allowed into the region and with every report in the region censored how can anyone assure this house that genocide in Kashmir is not taking place. The MPs expressed concern about the continuing lockdown and Internet restrictions in J&K as well as allegations of rapes, detentions without trial, unexplained and uninvestigated deaths disappearance, curfews, communication blackouts and mass arrests’.
The Indian High Commission in London shrugged off the allegation of “genocide, rampant violence and torture” as “unsubstantiated”.
Ten MPs, drawn equally from Labour and the Conservatives, took part in the debate on “Political situation in Kashmir” . India labeled them as “backbenchers”.
Conservative MP James Daly called for the UK government , “working with our European partners with President – elect Biden in America” to came up with an international programme through the UN that will give hope to those poor people in Kashmir”. Mp Sarah Own highlighted plight of Kashmiri under constant lockdown, “enforced by half a million soldiers” for ten months. She said, ‘I have heard[that there are] women in Kashmir that are terrified of being assaulted by the thousands of soldiers on their doorstep. Women fear for their lives and do not feel safe”. She urged the UK government to take position against Kashmir’s illegal annexation”.
Kashmir: An international issue
Earlier in June 2020, also, British MP Andrew Gwynne, Chairman of Labour Friends of Kashmiris, along with several other UK MPs had, in online conference, termed Kashmir “an international issue, requiring “ international intervention to resolve the dispute taking into consideration aspiration Kashmiris’ (UK MPS: Kashmir is an international issue’: `Reorganization of Indian-administered Kashmir in contravention of Geneva convention, UN resolutions, says lawmaker, Andalou Agency June 4, 2020).
With no cogent answer India indulges in malicious allegations
Instead of answering questions raised about human rights violations India alleged that “ImranKhan government in Pakistan reportedly spent Rs. 30 lakh on member of British parliamentary group visit to the country [Pakistan] and Pakistan occupied Kashmir [Azad Kashmir] (Pakistan paid Rs. 30 lac to British MPs to visit Pakistan, spread false narrative on Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, Zee News, July 19, 2020).
Questions India parried
India is still to answer why it disallowed opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi to visit occupied Kashmir while according VVIP reception to anti-Muslim group of EU MPS? Why it disallowed UK MP Debbie Abrahams to visit occupied Kashmir?
Debbie alleged she was denied as she had been critical of India’s decision to abolish special status of the disputed state. She tweeted, `Why did the Indian Government revoke my visa after it was granted? Why didn’t they let me get a visa on arrival? Is it because I have been critical of the Indian government on #Kashmir human rights issues?”
Madi Sharma, a self-styled `international business broker’ arranged anti-Muslim EU MPs all-expense-prepaid visit to occupied Kashmir. Why India did not publicise the expenditure incurred.
Madi Sharma: A Raw surrogate
EU DisinfoLab and India’s own NDTV exposed fake identity of NGOs run by Madi Sharma. The NDTV reached out to Ms Sharma. Having received no response, it asked, `Will the Prime Minister tell as to who is Madi Sharma? Why and in what capacity is Madi Sharma fixing an appointment of Prime Minister with a delegation of EU MPs on a personal visit and why is Government of India facilitating it? Where is the money to finance the entire trip coming from? Why has Ministry of External Affairs been totally sidelined?
Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi – whose delegation was turned back from the Srinagar airport – have questioned why European lawmakers were allowed amid such restrictions but opposition politicians in India were not. AFP has reported that the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved in this visit. Several European embassies in Delhi were unaware of the visit. It also quoted an unnamed EU official in India as saying the visit was not official and the lawmakers had come at the invitation of an NGO, the International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). It is a fake entity owned by the Srivastava Group of Companies, which was found to have been behind EP Today, a news and opinion website that largely drew its content from state-funded Russian media RT. EP Today’s address, the group’s Brussels office, and the International Council for Inter-Religious are all listed under the same address: 37 Square de Meeûs in Brussels. Since POLITICO’s reporting, incorporating research done by NGO EU vs Disinfo, both Facebook and Twitter had shut down the website’s presence on their platforms.
The visit, described as private, was sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a think tank, according to Madi Sharma’s emails. Its office in Delhi was locked.
Chris Davies, a British Renew Europe MEP, said Madi Sharma invited him to the India trip, promising a “prestigious VIP meeting” with Modi, according to the email he received from her. Davies said his invitation was rescinded after he told Sharma he wanted to meet local Kashmiris unsupervised.
Sharma had reached out to Davies in her official capacity as the director of WESTT, but it is unclear how a think tank with an operating budget of less than €25,000 and one full-time staff member had direct access to the Indian prime minister’s office, its top military officials and its foreign minister — who featured on the trip’s itinerary. Davies tweeted `the visit a “PR stunt.”
Sharma’s work is also heavily featured on the website EP Today, including her trips to the Maldives and Bangladesh. Sharma herself has written op-eds for the website. In one article she called India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status — widely condemned by human rights groups — a “victory” for Kashmiri women. But, she did not respond to NDTV’s repeated requests for an interview.
Madi Sharma was present when the European MPs met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
India is reminded of the proverb `Pot calling kettle black’. It should do some soul searching instead of blaming Pakistan for portraying Kashmir’s real situation.
More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar
Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.
Why did you start Lokatantra?
I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.
I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.
I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.
Tell us more about Lokatantra.
Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.
On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.
The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.
What do you think can make journalism more neutral?
More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.
Why is equal representation in politics important?
Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.
How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?
Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.
We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.
Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.
As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?
I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.
A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.
What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?
The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.
It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.
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