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Indian Politics at Crossroads: New Dawn for a Modian Era?

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Let us begin with a straight point. It is not very easy for any ordinary citizen to become prime minister, president or chancellor of even modern democratic nations. In such nations across the globe, including western democracies, there are racial, linguistic, gender and religious considerations behind selecting a political leader. These considerations work as unwritten codes of political conduct and eliminate the very basic democratic conjecture of equality before the law, because a leader has, by definition, to aspire to be(come) more than a common citizen. The influence of these considerations is also based on the act of image or cult building, in which individual identity is negated for communal/majoritarian identity. For example, one need to be aware that the United States has not had a female President so far and no Western European democracies have a black president or prime minister, except Ireland, where Leo Varadkar, a gay Irish-Indian doctor, was Prime Minister in 2017-2020 and is now the opposition leader. This reality shows the negation of individual identity over the preference of communal/majoritarian identity and is part of the practical side of global realpolitik.  

Similarly, Indian politics is no exception to this unwritten code of political conduct.  Provided the stratified social structure, linguistic politics and religious-caste sensitivities in Indian society are taken into consideration, the choice of prime minister of India has been decided by a variety of factors, mostly caste status and heritage of the Nehru/Gandhi clan. Though any Indian citizen with no criminal background can be considered to hold higher posts of Indian democracy, it is not always the case practically.  Similar to western democracies, a multiplicity of issues can problematize the criteria of an individual’s eligibility to be considered for the post of India’s prime minister. Though modern India is characterized and considered to be the direct progeny of an anti-colonial, secular freedom struggle that spanned almost two hundred years, the troubled socio-political history of the Indian sub-continent always invites considerations of social capital like religion, caste, gender and financial position into democratic practices. Further, though the nation turned into a democratic republic with Indians as leaders of the various political parties and the nation, this also shows that various forms of social hegemonies continue to exert serious influence on Indian politics. As Dr. Ambedkar has rightly pointed out, India’s political leadership used to indicate the message that political freedom without social freedom is impossible. This is evident as the majority of Indian prime ministers hailed from upper middle-class and upper-class elite backgrounds.

The Elite Cult

Hero cult is typical of Bollywood, the Indian Hindi film industry and also its various regional manifestations. There are a number of stereotyped qualities for a hero:  A hero should be tall and fair skinned, a maestro of musical talents, and able to beat up to 50 men in one go.  This cult of a hero is very influential in Indian politics as well.  Since 1930 until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress and then prime minister of India for almost seventeen long years, had been the most potent figure of Indian politics. The Indian National Congress could not think of replacing Nehru. Moreover, Nehru was hailed both as the architect of modern India and the champion of South Asian authority. What is termed as Nehruvian policies used to hold a powerful sway over Indian politics until the 1990s. At the height of Nehru’s power, blind followers of Nehru, such as UN Dhebar, went to the extent of eulogising that India cannot move on without Nehru’s presence in Indian politics, reflected in the term ‘Nehruvian’, which denotes something heroic, a political hegemony of one man’s unquestioned authority over the world’s largest democracy. The term Nehruvian literally means ‘the period of Nehru or related to Nehru’, but in actuality it shows the power politics associated with the cult of an individual. This personality cult means that there is a whole plethora of blind followers who not only praise the leader but bully his opponents.  The influence of Nehru in Indian politics is further indicated by Indian phrases such as Nehruvian secularism, Nehruvian socialism, Nehruvian diplomacy, Nehruvian planning, which are widely used in regular political debates and in official policies.  While the term’ Nehruvian’ has been and is still hailed as a progressive indicator of Indian politics, the disastrous impact of the cult of ‘Nehruvian’ is that it forgets the basic idea that postcolonial India is a democracy in which Nehru led the government, while the term ‘Nehruvian’ generates feelings that Nehru was a king who ruled his Indian empire.

Not only that, the socio-cultural factors that established such a cult have also been largely unreflected While Nehru’s commitment towards anti-colonialism and socialist secular values have to be recognized, if we ask what was Nehru’s most important criterion to become leader of the Indian National Congress and later Prime Minister, one is not astonished to find that Nehru’s family background, caste position and western education had been milestones in making a prime minister out of a Kashmiri Brahmin boy. Delving into the biographical side of Nehru’s family, one finds that born into the upper caste and elite Brahmin family, as the son of a wealthy lawyer, Nehru had always been bestowed the privilege of tasting the best possible things in the world. He never experienced poverty, but leisure and lavishness. Nehru never faced slavery, though he was imprisoned for long times, but masterhood and authority were his companions. Motilal Nehru, the powerful father figure, was always there to buy Jawaharlal Nehru’s achievements, including the rise to prominence in the Indian National Congress.   

Post Nehru Realities

Nehru was not an exception in Indian politics, as many national and state-level leaders of Indian nationalism had an elite background and most of them utilised their social and cultural capital to become rulers at various levels in India.  Following Nehru as Indian Prime Ministers, we see his daughter, Indira Gandhi, also bestowed with the best tastes of life. She lived in Teen Murti Bhavan, the prime minister’s residence, was trained by her father in politics, and never experienced the life of an ordinary Indian. In the midst of her authority and personality cult, she has been hailed by her colleagues as ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. No doubt, these trends show the degeneration of Indian democracy. Indira was followed by her elder son Rajiv Gandhi, an Air India pilot by profession and a western-educated elite man with a foreign wife, who in his early forties was fated to step in. Of course there are exceptions to this elite politics. Morarji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Charan Singh, Chandra Sekhar and H D Deva Gowda were Indian prime ministers coming from more ordinary social backgrounds. However, their hold on power was also far less for various reasons.  

Laymen’s Rise

In this context, the rise to power of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India since 2014 indicates a sharp deviation from the earlier regularities of Indian politics.  Mr. Modi is coming from a lower caste and ordinary background, which indicates that people of lower origins can also be successful rulers if the key of Indian politics is handed over to such laymen. This does not mean that Mr. Modi is a direct incumbent to the throne of Indian politics, or that he was selected because he belonged to an ordinary social background. On the contrary, Mr. Modi had been in politics for many years before becoming India’s Prime Minister in 2014. He was in power since 2001 as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and has been controversial in exercising his ministerial power at certain occasions. But even then, the fact that he got an opportunity to lead the world’s largest democracy is not a small factor. As an individual, Mr. Modi does not have a financially rich family background nor socio-culturally elite parentage. Rather, his family background and parental status show that he experienced an ordinary Indian life including poverty, marginalization and negative impacts of social hierarchy, which probably indicates that he had experienced caste discrimination earlier in his life, though he is not a Dalit.

The rise to power of leaders like Mr. Modi seems to indicate that Indian politics is moving away from its elitist circles, where family background, social position and caste status decide a person’s eligibility for higher office. He may not be successful in creating a ‘Modian Era’ as seen in the case of Nehru. But Mr. Modi represents a revolution of the laymen, showing that postcolonial Indian democracy is not about purity of race, semen or caste. In this, the persona of the current Prime Minister of India is a significant reflection, one could almost say, a mirror image, of recent re-assessments of the position of the Indian Constitution as the cornerstone of the nation. As the historian Rohit De, who teaches at Yale University, is now showing in A People’s Constitution. The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), this Constitution may have been made by elite men, but its focus is the common Indian as a rights-holding citizen. As is increasingly evident to those who are willing to leave the magic circles of elite acclaim of heroic leader figures and their products, breaking new methodological ground is possible and much-needed, as De (p. 4) claims, ‘by studying the Constitution through the daily interpretive acts of ordinary people as well as judges and state officials’. The fact that India’s postcolonial democracy has become attuned to the non-elitist leadership style of someone like Narendra Modi has, thus, deeper meanings and implications than just the traditional earlier privilege, elitism and somewhat haughty ‘modernity’ that still left most Indians feeling that they did not fully belong to this nation of now almost 1.4 billion people. Anyone paagal enough to put themselves forward to lead this nation has different agenda than earlier generations of India’s leaders. In that sense, too, the stressful but relentless democratisation of the Indian Constitution that De’s new book analyses is matched by the heavy labouring of the current leadership, which cannot rely on inherited privilege, but has to justify its claims to electoral acceptance by various kinds of action that make India the unique democracy that it has now become in the global world.

Vineeth Mathoor teaches at the Research Department of History, N.S.S. Hindu College, Kerala, India. He is an Assistant Editor of South Asia Research published by Sage International.

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South Asia

The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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Source: Twitter

The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.

The dilemmas are as follows:

I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.

Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.

The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.

There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in.  It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.

II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.  

Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.

If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.

A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA.  Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will  stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.

But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.

In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out  only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893  do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)

[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.

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How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?

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The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.  

Gunpoint diplomacy

A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.

The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.

During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.

A buffer zone

Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.

Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.

The treacherous annexation of Manipur

The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.

Colonisation of Nagaland

The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.

The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.

The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Mizoram

Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.

Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.

Tripura

In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.

A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.

Concluding remark

After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.

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The myth of “shared values”

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PM Narendra Modi and US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a press statement. (Photo: Twitter/@MEAIndia)

The Indian prime minister’s visit to the USA underlines a paradigm shift in the United States’ policy: a shift from Europe to Asia. The shift is dictated by India’s constant pressure on the US to do its part of the quid pro quo for India’s joining the Quad, a conglomerate to corner China. Like the USA, India also is embarrassed at the fall of Kabul. India wants that the Taliban would shut their eyes to the reign of terror in the occupied Kashmir. In its disappointment, the USA, like a rueful baby, is doing everything on India’s bidding to further isolate Pakistan.

Still the portents are that not everything is hunky-dory with Indo-US relations. The US wants India to cancel its deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US has given India a muffled message that unless the deal is cancelled India may face sanctions. India is hopeful of getting a waiver.After all, India became a member of the nuclear club without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has been a recipient of the US favours in the past also.  In July 2003 India turned down the US request to provide 17,000 troops to shore up America’s war in Iraq. Then, India under prime minister Manmohan Singh also refused to support any US attempts to isolate or topple the Iran government. Manmohan wished Russian diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme would succeed.The US companies have invested $ 200 billion in China. Yet, she is perceived as the number one competitor to the US. The reason is that China may surpass the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth in the near future.

US ennui
To Modi’s chagrin, the US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris underscored the importance of democratic values in their meetings. Biden quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance to allude to prevailing intolerance of BJP’s government, an avatar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Harris stressed the need for democratic countries to “defend democratic principles and institutions. Her remarks amounted to a diplomatic nudge to the Indian leadership amid concerns about “democratic backsliding” in India (Freedom house and the Economist downgraded India).
Before Biden and Modi joined their delegations for bilateral talks, the US President had made opening remarks: “Our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are…. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including four million Indian Americans who make the United States stronger every single day.”
Harris said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House: “As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home.
She had earlier openly differed on Twitter with Jaishanker when he refused to attend a meeting with the House foreign affairs committee because the US legislators had rejected his request to exclude Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had been critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had tweeted in December 2019.
Shared values
As for “tolerance”, the US invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan leave no doubt about how much the US believes in what it professes.

India’s democratic “tolerance”

Since British raj days, India’s north east had been a simmering cauldron of freedom movements. British colonists held sway over the North East at gun point. In footsteps of the British colonists India suppressed freedom movements in the volatile North East through a slew of draconian laws. The most atrocious law applied to the region was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It was later extended to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state also.

The AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.   AFSPA has been used in these regions to inflict thousands of deaths, custodial deaths and rape, torture, encirclement of the civilian population, combing operations, looting of private citizen’s property etc. Thousands of youth have simply disappeared.

Onus of proof on the accused

The AFSPA holds an accused guilty until proven innocent. This law violates legal maxim Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“innocent until proven guilty”).

A quasi-emergency

A governor of an Indian state could through a notification declare a state to be “disturbed” without consulting the state legislature. The law gives armed forces immunity from any accountability. The law is not “in aid of civil authority” but “in place of civil authority”.

Powers of officers

Section 4 gives the following special powers to any commissioned officer, warrant officer or non commissioned officer of the armed forces in a disturbed area: (a) If in his opinion, it is necessary for maintenance for public order to fire even to the extent of causing death or otherwise use force against a person who is acting in contravention of an order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapon. (b) If in his opinion, it is necessary to destroy any arms dump or fortified position, any shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, and any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed gangs or absconders. (c) Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and to use whatever force is necessary to affect the arrest. (d) To enter and search without warrant any premises to make an arrest or to recover any person wrongfully confined or to recover any arms, ammunition, explosive substance or suspected stolen property.

Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, ‘All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts’.

A war against own people

The act applies toacts that are ‘likely to be made’ or ‘about to be committed’. This presumption is characteristic of war zones. In a war situation, any officer whether he is a commissioned, junior commissioned or non-commissioned officer-leading his men in the field is the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments.

The AFSPA grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill. Thus it violates the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people. The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). India signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.

Concluding remark

India is often called “the world’s largest democracy” by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people.  In truth, Indian democracy is in name only, not in substance. The “shared values” are a ruse.  

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