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NOTA: A Step Forward Or Just A Toothless Tiger?

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Authors: Nakul Chadha and Abhay Raj Mishra*

 “ I went to vote once, but I got too scared. I couldn’t decide whom to vote for.”[1]Andy Warhol

The above-mentioned statement by an American artist to a certain extent defines the situation of almost every voter while casting his vote in a democracy. Every voter gets stuck in the dilemma that to whom he should vote so that it can be in a best interest for him as well as for the nation. Democracy is something which provides the citizens to participate and help in the formation of a good governance with their choice of change. It is essential that best of the men should be chosen for the survival of a democracy in a country.[2] Thus sometimes there comes a situation when voter has no confidence in the candidates that are standing in the fray, so he does not want to cast his vote to any of them.

Before NOTA, if a person wanted to abstain from voting to show his rage against the candidates, he has to go through a process that annihilated his secrecy. Hence, it pushed a need for a provision that allowed secrecy of every voter intacted even if he does not want to vote to any of the candidtes standing in the fray.

Hence, NOTA was introduced in the year 2013 keeping above points in mind by the Supreme Court through People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India[3] judgement. Although, It does not provide the Right to Reject and thus candidate who has got the maximum vote eventually wins the election irrespective of the number of  NOTA votes. Still, India became the 14th country to introduce a concept of negative voting.

The authors have critically analyzed the situation for which NOTA was required. The purpose of this article is to evaluate whether this reform in election process i.e. introduction of NOTA has contributed to strengthen the democracy or not. The authors have criticallly analysed the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of PUCL v. UOI, 2013 and it also takes into consideration the belief and opinion of ECI about NOTA. It reviews the role of NOTA in the election process.

The authors have taken into account the issues like flaws and loopholes that are present in the provision and thus analyzing it and suggesting some of the measures that can be taken to make it more helpful in conduction of free and fare election and thus strengthening the backbone of democracy.

Background – Need For The NOTA

India stands as a paragon in front of many arising democratic countries and is also designated as one of the spirited democracy across the globe. One of the principle virtues of a democratic state is its free and fare elections. It is the fundamental principle for every democratic state to have Right to Vote as a constitutional right for the citizens and conduction of election in free and fair form. Although we are proud of our democratic system but there are many area that has to be strenghtened or renewed and in such a large country it cannot be done in one go but through a gradual development until we realize the true potential of a well-operative democracy.[4]

The main objective of NOTA was to increase the number of voters in the election and for maintaining the secrecy of a voter in an election. As secrecy of voting is one of the pivotal factor that keeps up the purity of a election. Introduction of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and implementation of rule 49-0 of The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 raised the foremost concern for the Election Commission of India (ECI) as it made impossible to protect the privacy of voters who wanted to abstain from voting.

In order to fix the critical flaw regarding the secrecy of voters with respect to Right to Reject,

the Election Commission on 10.12.2001, addressed a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice. The letter declared subsequent opinions that the electoral right present under Section 79(d) also includes a right not to cast vote. It also suggested to provide a panel in the EVMs so that an elector may indicate that he does not wish to vote for any of the aforementioned candidate and at last gave the viewpoint that Such number of votes expressing dissatisfaction with all the candidates may be recorded in a result sheet. Although no actions were taken by the ministry in this regard.[5]

The fate of the Right to Privacy while voting was finally decided in the case of Peoples’s Union For Civil Liberties v. Union of India. In the afore-mentioned case, the Apex court stuck down Rules 41(2) and (3) and 49-O of the Election Rules as being ultra vires section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution to the extent they violated the secrecy of voting.[6]

Rule 49-O – Elector deciding not to vote – “If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”[7]

Citing section 128 and section 79(d) of RPA, court duly quoted that ‘secrecy of casting vote is duly recognised and is necessary for strengthening democracy’ to maintain the purity of elections.

Section 79(d) defines electoral right of a person to vote or refrain from  voting at an election whereas section 128 of the Act obliges any person performing any duty in connection with the recording or counting of votes at an election to maintain secrecy and penalizing in failure.

If the international provisions would be taken in consideration then Article 21(3) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 25(B) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides for secret vote for ballot for guaranteeing the unbound expresssion of the will of the electors.

Court said that no distinction can be drawn between the voter for the right of secrecy, regardless of the fact voter decides to cast vote or or to not cast vote in the fray.[8]

With this it was fully ensured that voter’s may or may not cast vote with maintenance of  their secrecy and purity but without the fear of being victimized if his vote is disclosed.

NOTA – As A Provision

NOTA is basically an option which gives voters a right to reject all the candidates. It is present at the bottom of the Electronic voting machines (EVMs) after all the contesting candidates and the voter can cast his NOTA vote by pressing it. Provided that democracy is all about choices and furthermore it is a essence of democracy, NOTA made it easier for voters to have a choice without being victimized.

Earlier, if the voter wants to cast a negative vote then he had to inform the presiding officer which surely was infringment of the Right to secrecy of the voter thus making him stand in a position of being victimized but this does not requires any involvement with any officer on duty and one has to give no information even if he do not want to vote to any of the candidate  contesting in the fray.

‘NOTA’ or None of the above came into existence in September, 2013 when the Supreme Court, in the case of PUCL v. Union Of India upheld the right of the voter to reject all candidates contesting elections saying it would help in cleansing the political system of India as it would lead to political parties contesting clean participants in election. So, Supreme Court in its judgement said “We direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy”[9]

The NOTA option was first introduced in 2013 assembly election in four states Chhattisgarh , Mizoram , Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and one Union Territory, i.e., Delhi.

Positive Aspects Of NOTA

Addition of NOTA option on EVMs has helped in several ways in the election process such as by giving voters their freedom of expression, preserving their Right to Secrecy and with all this making a systematic change in elections.

NOTA as a tool for protest:

NOTA preserves freedom of Expression by allowing voters to express dissent or their right to reject all the contesting candidates. This would lead to potentially improve the voter turnout by providing an option to disapprove all the candidates, by this it can encourage more participation in the democratic process i.e. Elections. It also prevents bogus voting as a result of higher voter turnout.

Someone would go for NOTA option only if the ruling party has not done enough work in their previous election term and the opposition party is very weak. For e.g. we can take Gujarat legislative assembly election 2017, there seemed to be an incumbency on the part of Bharata Janata Party(BJP) rule in the state due to several factors and people wanted to change the ruling party but the opposition was Indian National Congress (INC) which has lost its significance in Gujratover the years due to Modi government .

So, it would have been a different scenario if voters chose NOTA option, there was a possibility that BJP would not have won the election in the first place or won it with a very little margin, helping them realise that the party has not done enough and thus encouraging them to work hard for the next election.

NOTA as a tool to protect secrecy:

NOTA also preserves voters Right to secrecy because before NOTA if a voter wants to reject all the candidates i.e. give a blank vote then according to rule 49-O of Conduct of Election Laws, 1961, voter had to sign a form with their name on it which would lead to violation of their right to secrecy and the blank voters could be traced and punished for their choice but with this there was no disclosure of any names to anyone helping voter to have his secrecy.

NOTA as a tool for change in politics :

After, NOTA there is a possibility that most of the candidates selected are honest because after NOTA the contestants representing the parties are also with good and clear public image as the political parties have fear that voters can give votes to the NOTA option.

By utilizing this power, electorates can send a clear signal to the political parties that some people are not happy regarding the candidates that are contesting in the election and thus creating extreme pressure on the parties to only field those candidates who are more acceptable to the electorates. This empowerment of the voters may also result to more systematic change in the election process.[10]

Negative Aspects:

Although NOTA to a certain extent has fulfilled its major cause, that is, to protect the voters of the country from being victimized by safeguarding their Right to secrecy but no rule or provision comes without flaws.

  • No significant increase in participation:

NOTA seems to fail in increasing the participation of voters in the elections, which signifies the strength of democracy as the court implied that turning up to booths and voting on NOTA is far better that not voting at all.

  • Not equal to Right to Reject:

The observation behind it was to give the voters a feeling of empowerment. But the meaning of the order has not been taken correctly. It in no way provides a Right to Reject. The Supreme Court just assserted that as people have right to show the liking for a candidate to be elected, in the same way they should have a choice for the Negative voting.

Yet, as former CEC, S.Y. Qureshi, points out by giving a example that even if 99 votes out of 100 total votes goes to NOTA still the candidate who has got that 1 vote will be treated as a winner, as he has got the highest number of valid votes. The rest of votes given to the NOTA are considered to be invalid or as no vote.[11]

  • Only a moral obligation to parties:

It only bounds the political parties to nominate a better and more ethical and moral valued candidate as larger number of votes going to NOTA shows a kind of disafffection towards the candidates that are present in the fray. But in general, it only puts a moral pressure on the parties rather forcing them by rules and regulations which in some ways is a bit more optimistic and thus political parties refuse to stop the candidates from contesting in the election making NOTA a tool of participation for voters and nothing more than that.

S.Y. Qureshi along with Mr. Rajeev Dhawan and Subhash Kashyap, Former Secretery General of Lok Sabha also believed that Supreme Court is in some way too optimistic in thinking that NOTA will by-product in a cleaner politics. While K.K. Venugopal and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) forced to elongate it a Right To reject.[12]

NOTA by far can be said said as toothless tiger as it does not result in re-election or disqualification of the candidates that once have got less vote than NOTA itself and thus, in no way it influences the result of elections. It is not a direct substitute to a bad governance but only is a motivation to change and improvement. Candidates also began to campaign against NOTA and said it be a wastage of vote and thus influencing the voters against it who may not have a full knowledge about the provisions.[13]

Conclusion And Suggestions:

With this, a conlusion can be drawn that a country like India having vibrant democracy, adding NOTA button in the EVM will certainly increase the political participation but only if, it is provided with more power and is implemented in better way. In order to further strengthen the NOTA, there are several suggestions.

There should be addition of rules that votes casted to NOTA should also be counted and if in an election where NOTA has got the most number of votes, none of the contestants should be elected and all the candidate contesting in that particular election would be barred from contesting again as they have already been opposed by voters.

Other than that, political parties should also think about the fact that they should only field such contestants in the election who have a certain qualification, experience in public service rather that by seeing his ability to spend money or to which caste or religion he belongs.

Also door to door campaigning should be stopped as it can help in manipulation of voters and mal-practice and corruption. Above all there is dire need of awareness programs to make voters more cognizant of the concepts of NOTA as one can only take a decision about certain things when he is fully aware of its repercussions and keeping in mind the fact voters are backbone of a democracy in a country.

*Raj Mishra, Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur


[1] Edward D. Powers, “Third-Party Politics: Andy Warhole’s ‘Vote McGovern’, 1972, Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte, vol.75, no. 3, pp. 391–416, 2012< www.jstor.org/stable/41642670 >Accessed May 3, 2020

[2] Ms. Mamta D. Awariwar, ‘Supreme Court Guidelines on Right to Reject and its Implication : A Study’, University Grants Commission, Pune, July 2017

<http://bvpnlcpune.org/Results%20PDF/Executive%20summary.pdf>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[3] AIR 2003, SC 2363

[4] Sanjeev Kumar Chaswal ‘A Paradox of Right to Recall and Reject- A boon or a bane’ The Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies  

<https://www.academia.edu/8249541/_A_Paradox_of_Right_to_Recall_and_Reject_-_A_boon_or_bane_> Accessed April 29, 2020

[5] Report No. 255 , Electoral Reforms, ‘Nota and the Right To Reject’, ch.1, pp.190, March 2015,

<http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/Report255.pdf>

Accessed April 29, 2020

[6] People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, AIR 2003, SC 2363

[7] The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, Rule 49-O

[8] Pooja pandey, ‘ The NOTA Judgement in India: A Bigger Narrative’

 <https://www.academia.edu/35272294/NOTA_Judgement_in_India_Bigger_Narratives.pdf

 Accessed April 30, 2020

[9]                  PUCL v. Union Of India, 2003, SC 2363

[10] Arindam Mandal, Biswajit Mandal, Prasoon Bhatthacharjee, ‘Does NOTA Affect Voter Turnout? Evidence From State Legislative Elections in India’, Asian Journal of Economic Modelling, Vol. 5, No. 3, August 17, 2017<https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318008834_Does_Nota_Affect_Voter_Turnout_Evidence_from_State_Legislative_Elections_in_India>

Accessed April 30, 2020

[11] S.Y. Qureshi, Pressure of a Button, The Indian Express, October 3, 2013

 <https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/pressure-of-a-button/>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[12] Katju Manjari, ‘The None of the Above Option’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 48, no. 42, October 19,    2013 <https://www.epw.in/journal/2013/42/commentary/none-above-option.html>

 Accessed May 3, 2020

[13] Dr. Vijaya Laxshmi Mohanty, Ms. Ramneet Kaur, NOTA- A  Powerful Opponent or a Toothless Tiger?- In Perspective of General Election 2014, Institute of Public Policy Studies and Research, Odisha, December 14 2014<https://www.academia.edu/9787108/NOTA-A_powerful_opponent_or_a_toothless_tiger_-in_perspective_of_General_elections_2014>

Accessed April 30 2020

South Asia

The failure of the great games in Afghanistan from the 19th century to the present day

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Whenever great powers have tried to make Afghanistan a colony, they have always been defeated. British imperialism and its “civilising mission” towards backward (and therefore terrorist) populations – a mission equal to that of the time when Great Britain established itself as the first drug pusher to the Chinese Empire with the two opium wars of 1839-1842; 1856-1860: an action that was terrorist at the best.

The Russian Empire and its exporting the orthodox faith and the values of the Tsar towards the barbaric (and therefore terrorist) Afghans. The Soviet Union and its attempt to impose secularisation on Muslim (and therefore terrorist) Afghans in the period 1979-1991. The United States of America that thought it could create parties, democracy, Coke, miniskirts, as well as gambling and pleasure houses by bombing the Afghan terrorists tout-court.

In this article I will try to explain why Afghanistan won 4-0, and in 1919 – thanks to its rulers’ wise skills – was one of the only six actual independent Asian States (Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen), so that at least the barroom experts – who, by their nature, believe that History is just a fairy tale like that of Cinderella and stepmother with evil sisters – reflect on the nonsense we read and hear every day in the press and in the media.

In his book I luoghi della Storia (Rizzoli, Milan 2000), former Ambassador Sergio Romano wrote on page 196: “The Afghans spent a good part of the nineteenth century playing a diplomatic and military game with the great powers – the so-called “Great Game” – the main rule of which was to use the Russians against the Brits and the Brits against the Russians”.

In the days when geopolitics was a forbidden subject and the word was forbidden, in the history textbooks of secondary schools it seemed that the United States of America and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen from the sky as large as they were on the atlases. I still remember that in the dialogues between professors and high school students, it was stated that the two powers could not be called colonial, since they had something messianic and redeeming in themselves (therefore anti-terrorist).

It was only thanks to western movies that the young people of the time understood how the thirteen Lutheran colonies had extended westwards into lands that we were led to believe had been inhabited by savage villains to be exterminated (hence terrorists) and by uncivilised Spaniards, as Catholics, to be defeated. Moreover, we did not dare to study Russia’s expansion eastwards and southwards, at the risk that the high school students – unprepared, pure and enthusiastic – would understand that the homeland of socialism had no different assumptions from all other imperialisms.

Sometimes the students heard about the great game or, in Russian, the tournament of shadows (turniry teney). What was the great game? Today it is mostly remembered as the epic of freedom of the unconquered Afghans, but in reality its solution meant the alliance between Russia and Great Britain, which lasted at least until the eve of the Cold War. A key position that is sometimes too overlooked, and not only in scientific and classical textbooks, but also in many essays by self-proclaimed experts.

British aversion to the Russian Empire – apart from the “necessary” anti-Napoleonic alliances in the Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Coalitions – dated back to the 17th century and worsened considerably in the 19th century. Although Russian exports of grain, natural fibres and other agricultural crops were made to Great Britain – because the Russian landowners were well disposed to good relations with the Brits in order to better market those products abroad – there were no political improvements. The opposition came more from Great Britain than from Russia.

Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1825-55) – in the late 1830s, during his trip to Great Britain in 1842, and later in 1850-52, i.e. just before the Crimean War (1853-56) – often tried to bring about normalisation, but due to British suspicions and doubts (the Russians were considered to be terrorists) this did not occur.

What worried the Foreign Office – created in March 1782 – was Russia’s fast march eastwards, southwards and south-westwards. Great Britain could feel Russian breath on it from the three sides of India. The Russian goals with regard to Turkey, the successes in Trancaucasia and the Persian goals, not to mention the colonisation of Central Asia, initiated by the aforementioned Tsar Nicholas I, and conducted vigorously by his successor Alexander II (1818-1855-81), were – for Her Britannic Majesty’s diplomats and generals – a blatant and threatening intimidation of India’s “pearl”.

In the north-west of the Indian subcontinent the British possessions bordered on the Thar desert and on Sindh (the Indus River delta) which constituted a Muslim State under leaders residing at Haidarābād, conquered by the Brits in 1843. To the north-east of Sindh, the Punjab region had been amalgamated into a strong State by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji (1780-1801-39) who, as a simple Governor of Lahore (Lâhau) on behalf of the Afghan Emir, Zaman Shah Durrani (1770-93-1800-†44), had succeeded not only in becoming independent, but also in extending his power over Kashmir and Pīshāwar, creating the Sikh Empire in 1801, which was overthrown by Great Britain during the I (1845-46) and II (1848-49) Anglo-Sikh wars; the region became what is known as the Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the North-West Frontier Province).

Given the British expansion into the neighbouring States of Afghanistan and Persia, Russia’s influence was trying to creep in; hence the Brits were paying close attention to what was happening on the border of the great Northern “neighbour”.

Russia had long been aiming to make its way to India through Western Turkestan, but that steppe region was inhabited by the Kyrgyz in the north-east and the Turks (Turkmen) in the south-west.

After unsuccessful attempts at peaceful penetration, the Russian Governor of Orenburg, Gen. Vasilij Alekseevič Perovskij (1794-1857), prepared an expedition against Chiva: it involved crossing about a thousand kilometres of desert and was thought to be easier to make during the winter. The expedition left from Orenburg in November 1839, but the cold killed so many men and camels that the Commander had to give up the venture and turn back (spring 1840). For a long time, the Russians did not attempt any more military infiltrations there.

In Persia, instead, Russian influence was strongly felt: Tsar Alexander II pushed the Shah, Naser al-Din Qajar (1831-48-96), to undertake an enterprise against the city of Herāt (which dominated the passage from Persia and Western Turkestan into India): it had detached itself from Afghanistan and had been a separate State since 1824. The Persian expedition began in the autumn of 1837: Herāt resisted strenuously, so much so that in the summer of 1838 the Shah had to renounce the siege and accept Britain’s mediation for peace with the sovereign of that city. That diplomatic move was therefore also detrimental to the influence of St. Petersburg. Even the first relations established by Russia with the Emir of Afghanistan did not lead to any result.

In those years, Russia was busy quelling the insurrections of the mountain populations in the Caucasus, where the exploits of the alleged Italian sheikh, Mansur Ushurma (Giambattista Boetti, 1743-98), in the service of the Chechen cause, still echoed.

Through two treaties concluded with Persia (1828) and Turkey (1829), Russia had become the master of the region; however, it found an obstinate resistance from the local populations that still persists today.

The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) was one of the most important military conflicts of the great game and one of the worst British defeats in the region. The Brits had started an expedition to Afghanistan to overthrow Emir Dost Mohammad (1793-1826-39, 42-63), the first of the Barakzai dynasty, and replace him with the last of the Durrani dynasty, Ayub Shah (17??-1819-23, †37), who had been dethroned in 1823, but he renounced. Not wanting to cross the Sikh country in order not to arouse mistrust among the Sikhs, the British entered Baluchistan, occupied the capital (Qalat), then penetrated into Afghanistan and advanced without encountering serious resistance as far as Kabul, where on August 7, 1839 they installed their own puppet, Shuja Shah (1785-1842), formerly Emir from 1803 to 1809.

Dost Mohammad was caught and sent to Calcutta. A the beginning of 1841, however, one of his sons – Sher Ali – aroused the Afghans’ rebellion. The military commander, Gen. William George Keith Elphinstone (b. 1782), got permission to leave with 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 non-combatants to return to India. In the mountain passes near Kabul, however, the expedition was taken by surprise and annihilated (January 1842). The commander died as prisoner of the Afghans (on April 23).

The Brits obviously wanted revenge: they sent other troops that, in September of the same year, reconquered Kabul: this time the Brits – intimidated – did not deem it advisable to remain there. Convinced they had reaffirmed a certain prestige, they withdrew and, since the Emir they protected had died on April 5, 1842, they agreed – helplessly – to Dost Mohammad’s return to the throne. He conquered Herāt forever for Afghanistan.

Russia did not just stand by and watch and asserted its power in the Far East. In the years 1854-58 – despite its engagement in the Crimean war: the first real act of the great game, as Britain had to defend the Ottoman Empire from Sarmatian aspirations of conquest – it had established, with a series of expeditions, its jurisdiction over the province of Amur, through the Treaty of Aigun – labelled as the unequal treaty as it was imposed on China – on May 28, 1858. Shortly afterwards the fleet arrived at Tien-Tsin (Tianjin), forced China into another treaty on June 26-27, thus obtaining the opening of ports for trade, and the permanence of a Russian embassy in Peking. Moreover, in Central Asia, Russia renewed its attempts to advance against the khanates of Buchara and Kokand (Qo’qon), and had once again led the Shah of Persia, Mozaffar ad-Din Qajar (1853-96-1907), to try again the enterprise of Herāt (1856), which had caused again the British intervention (Anglo-Persian War, 1856-57) that ended with Persia’s recognition of the independence of the aforementioned city. The Anglo-Russian rivalry thus continued to be one of the essential problems of Central Asia, for the additional reason that Russia gradually expanded into West Turkestan, Buchara and Chiva between 1867 and 1873.

After the Russian conquests in West Turkestan, Dost Mohammad’ son and successor, Sher Ali (1825-63-66, 68-79), came under the influence of the neighbouring power, which was trying to penetrate the area to the detriment of Britain. On July 22, 1878 St Petersburg sent a mission. The Emir repelled a similar British mission at the Khyber Pass in September 1878, thus triggering the start of the war. The Brits soon opened hostilities, invading the country with 40,000 soldiers

 from three different points.

The Emir went into exile in Mazār-i-Sharīf, leaving his son Mohammad Yaqub (1849-79-80, †1914) as heir. He signed the Treaty of Gandamak on May 26, 1879 to prevent a British invasion of the rest of the country.

Once the British First Resident, the Italian Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (b. 1841) went to Kabul, he was assassinated there on September 3, 1879. British troops organised a second expedition and occupied the capital. They did not trust the Emir and raised a nephew of Dost Mohammed, Abdur Rahman (1840/44-80-1901), to power on May 31, 1880. He pledged to have no political relations except with Britain.

The former Emir, Mohammad Yaqub, took up arms and severely defeated the Brits at Maiwand on July 27, 1880, with the help of the Afghan heroine Malalai Anaa (1861-80), who rallied the Pashtun troops against the attackers. On September 1 of the same year Mohammad Yaqub was defeated and put to flight by Gen. Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) in the Battle of Kandahâr, which ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

This brought Afghanistan permanently under British influence, which was secured by the construction of a railway from the Indus River to the Afghan city of Kandahâr. Since the railway passed through Beluchistan, it was definitively annexed to British India. In 1880, Russia began the construction of the Transcaspian Railway, which alarmed the Brits who extended the section of their “railroad” to Herāt.

It was only with the accession to the throne of Imānullāh (1892-1919-29, †60), on February 28, 1919 (Shah from 1926), that Afghanistan took its foreign policy away from Great Britain through the Third Anglo-Afghan War (6 May-8 August 1919), by which the Afghans finally threw the Brits out of the picture (Treaty of Râwalpindî of August 8, 1919, amended on November 22, 1921).

As early as 1907, the Russian government had declared it considered Afghanistan to be outside its sphere of influence, and pledged not to send any agents there, as well as to consult the British government about its relations with that country.

Indeed, Britain soon gave up direct control of the country, given the fierce fighting spirit of its people, who had humiliated it many times, and contented itself with guarding and keeping the north-west Indian border under control.

In reality, the great game has never ended. As Spartacus Alfredo Puttini stated (La Russia di Putin sulla scacchiera, in “Eurasia”, A. IX, No. 1, January-March 2012, pp. 129-147), upon his coming to power Vladimir Putin found himself grappling with a difficult legacy. Gorbachev’s policy of katastroika had dealt a lethal blow to the Soviet and later Russian colossus.

Within a few years, Russia had embarked on a unilateral disarmament that led, at first, to its withdrawal from Afghanistan and then from Central and Eastern Europe. While the State was heading for collapse and the economy was being disrupted, it was the very periphery of the Soviet Union that was catching fire due to separatist movements promptly subsidised by those who – in the great game – replaced the Brits. Massive US aid to the heroic anti-Soviet patriots, who were later branded as terrorists.

In a short time the real collapse occurred and the ‘new’ Russia found itself geopolitically shrunken and morally and materially prostrated by the great looting made by the pro-Western oligarchs in the shadow of the Yeltsin Presidency.

To the west, the country had returned to the borders of the 17th century; to the south, it had lost Southern Caucasus and valuable Central Asia, where the new great game was soon to begin. In other words, the process of disruption would not stop, and would infect the Russian Federation itself: Chechnya had engaged in a furious war of secession that threatened to spread like wildfire to the whole of Northern Caucasus and, in the long run, called into question the very survival of the Russian State divided into autonomous entities.

This was followed by the phenomenon of “orangism” in 2003-2005 (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan): the various caricatures of oxymoronic “liberal” revolutions aimed at moving certain governments away from Russia’s influence.

Ultimately, the central power had been undermined on all sides by the policy of Yeltsin and his clan, aimed at granting extensive autonomy to the regions of the Federation. Public property, the glue of State authority and the instrument of its concrete activity to guide and orient the nation, had been sold off. Over time, Putin put things right, and the rest is condensed into the restoration choices of the plebiscitary vote in his favour.

In the end Afghanistan also saw the US failure, which I have examined in previous articles.

The Asian sense of freedom is summed up in the expulsion of foreign aggressors from their own homelands and territories. Someone should start to understand this.

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South Asia

The Post-US Withdrawal Afghanistan: India, China and the ‘English Diplomacy’

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The recent developments in Afghanistan, the impatient Tri-axis and the emphatic India at SCO, with the ‘English Diplomacy’ at display that tends to blunt the Chinese aggressiveness in South China Sea mark a new power interplay in the world politics. It also shows why the US went for AUKUS and how it wants to focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Afghanistan has turned out to be the most incandescent point of world politics today deflecting the eyes from the South China Sea and Gaza Strip. What is more startling is the indifferent attitude United States has shown to the other stakeholders in the war torn state. While Brexit appears to have created fissure in the European Union the AUKUS effects further marginalisation of France and India against the US-British and QUAD understandings. The vacuum that US have created in Afghanistan has invited several actors willing to expand their energy access to central Asia and Afghanistan provides an important bridge in between. The TAPI economics (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline) and huge Indian investments are endangered by the Afghan security question and make it imminent for India to stay in Afghanistan as a reckoning force.

The Taliban and the Troika

While the Russo-Chinese and Pakistani engagement with the Taliban’s takeover was visible the US exit has invited the wrath of other stakeholders like India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. India is significantly affected because of its huge investments of over 3 billion dollars over two decades in Afghanistan that would become target of the orthodox retrogressive Taliban regime. The government of India’s stand on Afghanistan is that an ‘Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years. India supports a united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan. India is deeply concerned about the increase in violence and targeted killings in Afghanistan. India has called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire’(MEA).

However, the takeover by Taliban that endangers India’s strategic and capital interests has made it pro-active in the state. Probably for the first time in Afghan history, India has shown aggressive tones against the militant government which may create problem for Kashmir in the longer run. The Pakistani air force’s engagement over the Panjashir assault by Taliban has unravelled the larger plans of destabilisation in South Asia.

In the meantime China has unequivocally expressed its willingness, as was expected to work with Taliban. The visit of Taliban delegation, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar who also heads the office of Taliban at Doha, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in Tianjin, on July 28, 2021. The visit followed the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Kureshi’s visit to Beijing and unravelled how the two states have been supporting the Talibani cause. Although, China has its own perceptions about Xinjiang and Mr. Wang even told the Taliban “to draw a line” between the group and terror organisations, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which has carried out attacks in Xinjiang. Russia too has shown interest in Taliban and it didn’t plan to evacuate its embassy at Kabul. Its foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said that Russia will carefully see how responsibly they (Taliban) govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions.

The little Indo-Russian engagements over Afghanistan have minimised the scope of cooperation over the decades now. Although, Russia has been trying to follow a balancing policy between India and Pakistan yet its leanings towards the latter is manifest from its recent policies. “The extent of Russia-Pakistan coordination broadened in 2016, as Russia, China, and Pakistan created a trilateral format to discuss stabilizing Afghanistan and counterterrorism strategy. In December 2016, Russia, China, and Pakistan held talks on combating Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), which were widely criticized in the U.S. for excluding the Afghan government.” (Ramani). The deliberate neglect of Afghan government and Indian role reveals the neo-Russian policy in South Asia that de-hyphenates India and Pakistan and sees Pakistan through the lens of BRI and at the cost of North-South Corridor. The Chinese and Russian belief that by supporting Taliban they will secure security for their disturbed territories and escape from terrorism appears to be unrealistic keeping in view the Taliban’s characteristics which are chameleon like i.e. political, organizational and jihadi at the same time looking for appropriate opportunities.

Is it the Post-Brexit Plan?

The Brexit ensures a better space for Britain; at least this is what Brits believe, in international politics following the future US overseas projects. However, it for sure annoys some of its serious allies with the new takes. The announcement of the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact, a historic security pact in the Asia-Pacific to contain China is an important step in this direction. The Brexit and the US-withdrawal seen together mark a shift in US policy perception of Asia that aims at Asia Pacific more as compared to Central Asia. It has not only betrayed India in Afghanistan but also France through AUKUS which sees an end to its multibillion dollar deal with Australia. France now shows a stronger commitment to support India in its moves against Taliban and Pakistan’s interventions.

President Macron recalled French ambassadors for consultations after the AUKUS meet that dropped France deliberately from the major maritime security deal. The French anguish is not about its absence in the deal by the Canberra, Washington and London but being an allied nation, its neglect in the secret deal. “The announcement ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) that France had signed with Australia in 2016 to build 12 conventional submarines. China meanwhile accused the three powers involved in the pact of having a “Cold War mentality”(Schofield 2021). It also reminds one of the Roosevelt’s efforts at truncating French arms in Asia, especially in Indo-China and the consequent sequence of betrayals by the US. AUKUS also symbolises the ‘English diplomacy’ of the English speaking states just like the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence alliance consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Started around 1946 the member countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. Recently there have been voices for taking India, Japan and South Korea also into its fold to strengthen the contain China job.

The Wildered QUAD

While the first ever in-person QUAD summit approaches near, the announcement of AUKUS shows haze that prevails over the US decision making. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga meet at the White House for the summit on September 24, 2021. This follows the virtual meet held in March 2021. How apposite it would be to declare a maritime deal at a time when the QUAD meet is about to take place with the same motives and plans, notwithstanding the fact that QUAD has a wider platform for discussion like climate change, cyberspace, pandemic and Indo-Pacific. Is there an uncertainty over the realisation of QUAD? However, AUKUS  unravels the US intentions of first line preferences and second line associates in its future projects that will further marginalise its allies like France, Germany and many other states in future.

SCO

At SCO meet at Dushanbe India has unequivocally announced its view of the situation that takes Taliban as a challenge to peace and development in Afghanistan and South Asia. Prime Minister Modi remarked that the first issue is that the change of authority in Afghanistan was not inclusive and this happened without negotiation. This raises questions on the prospects of recognition of the new system. Women, minorities and different groups have not been given due representation. He also insisted on the crucial role that UN can play in Afghanistan. India’s investment in the Iranian port of Chabahar and the International North-South Corridor along with TAPI are central to its argument on the recent developments in Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar had also remarked in July 2021 that the landlocked Central Asian countries can benefit immensely by connecting with the huge market of India and the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past and that the world must not let the new generation of Afghans down (Hindustan Times). The Indian message is clear and received huge support at Dushanbe and India is poised to play a greater role in Afghanistan, where the US and Russia have failed miserably.

The Internal Dynamics

The internal dynamics in Afghanistan presage a government by uncertainty in the coming months as Sirajudin Haqqani of Pak supported Haqqani network, captures Mulla Baradar, the man who settled the deal with US at Doha. It appears from the Pakistani backed government of Haqqani that Baradar has been dumped for his commitment for inclusive government expected to be pro-west against the Sino-Pakistan expectations. The US reluctance to remain engaged in the troubled region marks a shift in US foreign policy but the exclusion of its allies from Indo-Pacific plan are bound to bring new engagements in world power politics. While US dumped Afghans France and Israel appear as new hopes for Indian led moves against the undemocratic terrorist forces in Afghanistan.

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South Asia

Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions

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Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.

The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.

The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.

Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.

Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.

Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.

Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.

A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.

That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.

These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.

The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.

Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.

“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.

The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.

Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.

Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.

Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.

Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.

Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.

Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.

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