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Mare Nostrum for Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka’s “India First” foreign policy

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardane*

Sri Lanka has been often portrayed as being in the crossroads of geopolitical encounters with powerful nations throughout its history and its unique geographic location in Indian ocean closer to the Indian mainland, yet distinct from it has made the island’s destiny extremely intertwined with India. Sri Lanka’s own historical identity is the best testimony proving how crucially India has played its influence in island nation’s destiny. From one side it has been an inexplicable factor that how Sinhalese community who represent the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka perceive India as their stances on India embody a love-hate story. While they worship India as the county that brought Buddhism as a spiritual gift, the antagonism towards Indian among the Sinhalese is deeply rooted in the psyche of the people with the intense nationalist rhetoric which has always portrayed India as an invading force throughout Sri Lankan history. When India became an independent nation-state at the end of the British raj, there was a strong proposition arose from India’s scholar diplomat K.M Panikkar regarding the need of immediate cooperation among India, Burma and Sri Lanka as a pre-requisite for a “realistic policy of Indian defence “. In Panikkar’s fascination on making Indian Ocean “Mare Nostrum “to uphold India’s position, he further stated 

“The first and primary consideration is that both Burma and Ceylon must form with India the basic federation for mutual defence whether they will it or not. It is necessary for their own security”.(K.B Vaidya, The National Defence of India, 1949, p.30 )

 Even Nehru himself had pointed to the ethnic, linguistic and cultural unity of India and Sri Lanka to support the view that later would inevitably be drawn into a closer union with India. Nehru’s approach to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was not a euphoric claim emerged in the eve of India’s independence mixed with mere chauvinist effusions, because many of Indian policymakers and strategists believe that departure of British power from Indian Ocean region has enthroned newly independent India as the natural successor to Britain as the guardian of the Indian Ocean. 

 However, it was evident that Sri Lanka’s attitude to Indian in her foreign policy was sceptical in the first decade after independence with growing fear pervaded among Ceylonese politicians on a possible annexation of Sri Lanka to the Union of India. It was under this tense perception Sri Lanka’s first premier D. S Senanayake was eager to cementing a defence alliance with Great Britain which he considered being a practical necessity for Sri Lanka’s defence. It is a fact beyond any conjecture that India’s interest Indian ocean and Sri Lanka’s unique location in it are been decisive factors on carving the directions of every aspect of Indo- Sri Lanka relations. Indian naval historian Ravi Kaul wrote in the early 1970s about the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the defence of India. Kaul stated

“Sri Lanka is important strategically to India as Eire to the United Kingdom. As long as Sri Lanka is friendly or neutral, India has nothing to worry about but if there be any danger of the island falling under the domination of a power hostile to India, India cannot tolerate such a situation endangering her territorial integrity “ ( 1974, Indian Ocean Power Rivalry, pp.66 )

These words still echo in New Delhi’s strategists in planning their foreign policy attitude towards Sri Lanka regardless of whatever the political changes taking place in both countries. In particular, the growing rivalry between China and India in the Indian Ocean stands as a crucial factor on the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. Even decades before China embarked upon their ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, in 1963, China and Sri Lanka entered into a Maritime Agreement giving most favoured nation status to the contracting partied agitated Indian public opinion at that time as Delhi suspected that such an agreement would provide facilities to Chinese warships.

However, the stir created by Sri Lanka’s close ties with China in the aftermath of the Civil War was a notable factor in the recent past.  The visit of the Chinese submarine in 2014 to Colombo harbour reached the climax of India’s tension on Chinese involvement in the island nation and Indian ocean. Given this critical background newly elected government of Sri Lanka’s “India First” policy seems to be a piece of consoling news for the policymakers in New Delhi. The statement made by Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage has affirmed Sri Lanka would adhere to “India First “policy in dealing with strategic security issues which would not undermine the interests of India while dealing with other players for the economic development. This position has given a clear signal to India about a paradigm shift in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy which was weighing between New Delhi and Beijing for years, but the acceptance of India’s position in Indian ocean by Colombo and her willingness to comply with it is a diplomatic triumph gained by India from the Sri Lankan government under president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In his statement, the foreign secretary has accepted handing over of the Hambantota Port to China under 99 years lease was one of the biggest blunders made by Sri Lanka paving the path for India’s great anxiety over China’s role in IOR (Indian Ocean Region). A detailed report by Pentagon to the US Congress has clearly shown that today the Chinese navy stands as the largest navy in the world which consists of 350 warships with two aircraft careers and the report issued by Pentagon to the US Congress indicates that China is determined to build another two aircraft careers with the eventual goal of overtaking the US. Yet, India’s unique geopolitical advantage will be a greater setback for China to reach its dominance in the Indian Ocean Region. Taking china biggest geopolitical headache Malacca dilemma into consideration, it is evident that India has the biggest advantage thwart Chinese naval engagements in the high seas of IOR and the closer ties with Sri Lankan government under their newly adopted doctrine “India First” policy would make India’s task easy in its grip over Indian Ocean region. Indeed, it will be the realization of what K.M Panikkar dreamed about the Indian Ocean as Mare Nostrum in the eve of Indian independence.

Nevertheless, it is an indispensable reality to fathom that Sri Lanka is another country that has fallen to China’s debt trap and its long-term consequences can always play a bigger role in the foreign policymaking in the island nation. Even in the statement made by Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka needs to look for other players for economic prosperity while giving first priority to India’s security concerns. In this situation Modi’s government needs to understand that assisting Sri Lanka to spur its investments, reduce its debt burden will Colombo’s affinity with New Delhi harmoniously without pushing Sri Lanka towards China due to economic imperatives.

*Eshan Jayawardane is an independent researcher currently based in New Zealand. He holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and completed MA in International Relations at JNU in New Delhi. He served as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University.

Punsara Amarasinghe is a PhD candidate at Institute of Law and Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa Italy. He held a research fellowship at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and obtained his Masters from International Law at South Asian University, New Delhi. He served as a visiting lecturer at Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo Sri Lanka and author can be reached at punsaraprint10[at]gmail.com

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The Persecution of Individuals from Hazara Community in Balochistan

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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.

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Is India fearful of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute?

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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.

Inference

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.

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More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar

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Tannisha Avarrsekar. Image source: startocure.com

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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