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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 Rise of Non-State Actors in Afghanistan: A Consequence of Political Vacuum

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Terrorism

In recent years, Afghanistan has witnessed a surge in the influence of non-state actors such as the Taliban and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These groups have exploited the political vacuum in the country to carry out acts of violence and terrorism, creating instability and insecurity for the Afghan people and neighboring countries.

Introduction:

The history of Afghanistan is marked by political instability and conflict. In the 1990s, the country was torn apart by a civil war between rival factions, which created a power vacuum that was eventually filled by the Taliban. The Taliban regime was eventually overthrown in 2001 with the help of international forces, but the country has since struggled to establish a stable and effective political administration.

The absence of a recognized political administration in Afghanistan has led to a power vacuum that has allowed non-state actors, such as the TTP, to exploit the situation and use Afghan soil to launch attacks against Pakistan, thereby threatening its security and stability.

The Political Vacuum in Afghanistan:

In the absence of a recognized political administration, non-state actors have been able to take advantage of the situation to establish themselves as power brokers in the country. The Taliban, for example, has been able to regain control over large swathes of territory and carry out acts of violence and terrorism against the Afghan government and international forces. The TTP, which operates primarily in Pakistan, has also taken advantage of the political vacuum in Afghanistan to use the country as a base for launching attacks against Pakistan.

The situation in Afghanistan highlights the importance of having a recognized political administration in place. A stable and effective political administration is essential for maintaining peace and security in the country and preventing the rise of non-state actors like TTP. It is also essential for preventing the country from being used as a base for launching attacks against neighboring countries.

Furthermore, the lack of a recognized political administration in Afghanistan has made it difficult for the international community to effectively address the challenges facing the country. The international community has been working to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration, but progress has been slow. The rise of non-state actors like TTP has only added to the challenges facing the international community and made it more difficult to find a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

To address the challenges facing Afghanistan, the international community needs to continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration. This can be achieved through providing financial, technical, and diplomatic support, as well as through helping to build the capacity of Afghan institutions and encouraging the development of civil society. The international community must also work to address the root causes of the conflict in Afghanistan, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and political instability.

The international community must take a firm stance against non-state actors like TTP, who seek to destabilize the region and carry out acts of violence and terrorism. This can be achieved through targeted sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and military operations if necessary. The international community must also work to disrupt the networks and financing mechanisms that these groups use to carry out their activities.

The Threat to Pakistan:

Pakistan, a country with a rich history and culture, is facing a serious threat from non-state actors operating within its borders. One such group is the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been using the soil of Afghanistan to launch attacks against Pakistan. This has had a severe impact on the security and stability of the country, making it imperative for a coordinated effort to be made to address this issue.

The TTP, a militant group based in Afghanistan, has been using the country as a safe haven to launch attacks against Pakistan. From Afghanistan, TTP has been able to plan and coordinate attacks on Pakistan, causing death and destruction. The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has made it easy for TTP to cross over and carry out these attacks. This has resulted in a serious threat to the security and stability of Pakistan, putting the lives of its citizens in danger.

The actions of TTP have had a profound impact on the security and stability of Pakistan. The group’s attacks have resulted in the loss of innocent lives, causing grief and distress to families and communities. TTP’s actions have also had an impact on the economy, as businesses and industries have been forced to shut down due to the insecurity. This has resulted in job losses and economic instability, putting a strain on the country’s already fragile economy. The threat posed by TTP has also had a negative impact on the country’s reputation, as it is seen as a country unable to control its own territory and protect its citizens.

The threat posed by non-state actors like TTP cannot be addressed by a single entity. A coordinated effort between the government, military, and other relevant organizations is necessary to address this issue. The government and military must work together to secure the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent TTP from crossing over. The government must also take steps to tackle the root causes of extremism, such as poverty and ignorance, to prevent the rise of such groups. International organizations must also play their part in addressing this issue, by providing support and resources to help combat the threat posed by TTP.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the rise of non-state actors like TTP in Afghanistan is a direct result of the political vacuum in the country. The use of Afghan soil by TTP to launch attacks against Pakistan has had a severe impact on the security and stability of the country. The situation highlights the importance of having a recognized political administration in place to maintain peace and security and prevent the rise of these dangerous groups. The international community must continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration, and work together to prevent the country from becoming a breeding ground for non-state actors like TTP.

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Kashmir – Beyond Solidarity

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Kashmir, a region located in the northern part of India and southeastern part of Pakistan, has a long history of conflict and political disputes. One of the core issues in the region is denial of peoples Right of self-determination guaranteed by 13 UNSC resolution. The situation in Kashmir has further escalated in recent years,when India revoked the autonomous status Under Article 370 and Article 35-A of Constitution in August 2019 and initiated a demographic changes of Muslim majority region. After this unilateral and illegal annexation of occupied territory, India has doubled the war crime and crimes against humanity in the region.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan- a party to the Kashmir dispute marks February 5th, the annual Kashmir Solidarity Day, to express support for the people of Kashmir and their Just struggle for self-determination. The right to self-determination is a principle enshrined in international law that recognizes the right of a person to freely determine their political status and pursue economic, social, and cultural development. To achieve this fundamental Right of Self-determination, the people of Kashmir have been struggling for more than seven decades and the Indian government has used excessive force and resorted to war crimes against the Kashmiri for suppression of this inalienable right.  

In last 75 years and particularly since 1989 when Indian occupational authorities closed the peaceful and democratic means seeking UN guaranteed Right of self-determination for region. India started mass massacres and multiple abusive mechanization against the civilians and pro freedom politicians. Human rights organizations have documented the widespread use of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other forms of violence by Indian armed  forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir. These actions have resulted in the death of thousands of Kashmiri civilians and the displacement of many others. The Indian occupying forces have also imposed strict restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in the region, leading to the suppression of dissent and the stifling of Pro freedom political activism.

The new war strategy against the Kashmiris by Indian government is a massive demographic engineering by settling non-Kashmiri Indians in the territory, confiscating their land ,properties  and the ongoing demolition to pave the way for outside industrialist with the aim to change the disputed status of Kashmir, which has been guaranteed Plebiscite by UN and then Indian parliament.

The situation in Kashmir remains a complex and volatile issue that requires the international community’s attention and action. The people of Kashmir have the right to self-determination and must be protected from violence and human rights abuse perpetrated  by 900,000 Indian armed forces occupying the territory . Moreover, the selective approach of international organization on Kashmir & Palestine questions the basic structure of UN Charter which pledges to safeguard the ‘Humanity’ from the wrath of aggressor.  The international community has largely been silent on the issue of Kashmiri self-determination and violence committed by Indian armed forces in the region. Some international organizations and countries have called for an end to violence and for the protection of the human rights of the Kashmiri people, but these calls have been rhetoric which has been rejected by the Indian government.

The responsibility of Pakistan towards Kashmir must be beyond diplomacy and geo-economic interest. On this Kashmir Solidarity Day, we must come together to draw a new road map liberating the people of Kashmir from the Illegal occupation of India and also support their Just Struggle for justice, freedom, and self-determination.

The majority of Kashmirs in the IIOJK consider their struggle against India for the unfinished agenda of Partition and it is a moral responsibly of every Pakistani to become part of their legitimate struggle.

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The U.S. raising Engagement in South Asia: New Battlefield of Sino-US rivalry

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Victoria Nuland, the United States undersecretary of state for political affairs, calls on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at the latter’s residence in Baluwatar of Kathmandu on Monday, January 30, 2023. Photo: Dahal’s Secretariat

With the new year 2023, the visits of top American diplomats to South Asian countries have increased.  These recent visits are concluded as the counter steps of the US against the Chinese influence in the region.

Recently, from the end of January to a few days in February, the American Under Secretary Victoria Newland visited three countries in South Asia and headed toward Gulf. Recently, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland visited to three South Asian nations including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and the gulf nation Qatar for a week starting from Jan 28-Feb 3.

Before her, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu had traveled to India and Bangladesh from January 12-15. Within the span of a week, another senior official from the Biden Administration, Samantha Power, administrator of the USAID is scheduled to Visit Nepal.

Soon after Power’s return, Afreen Akhter, Deputy Assistant Sectary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, as well as the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs set to visit Nepal.

These engagements and activisms by the US in Nepal and South Asian Region are focused on Countering Chinese influence and encircling from the South.

Review of Recent Visits

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, the visit was centralized with US-Indo Pacific Strategy and its framework. It was the first visit of any senior US official after the formation of a Leftist dominated government led by Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachand’, the Chair of CPN (Maoist Center). During her Stay in Nepal, she met with Prachanda, foreign minister Bimala Paudel Rai, former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and KP Sharma Oli.  During these meetings, she proposed a collaboration to fight against China and Russia.

Let me quote her from the meeting with the press in Kathmandu, “We can see authoritarians from all over the world trying to force them to enforce the rules around the world.” Though she didn’t mention China, her indication was toward China. “So we have to work together to protect democracy,” she purposed to the leaders in Kathmandu. In the term “Urgent Global Issue” all her meeting was focused on China and obviously on Russia too.

In New Delhi, Under Secretary Victoria co-chaired the annual meeting of the India-US Foreign Office Association (FOC). Within the umbrella term “India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership” the meeting was focused on US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The statement by the Ministry of External Affairs mentioned that both sides have made their commitment to a free, open, and equitable Indo-Pacific region and discussed in the Quad, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative (IPMDA). All these forums are led by the US against China.

The Quad is an informal security alliance comprising India, Japan, and Australia, led by the US. While The IPEF and IPMDA are the ‘framework’ unveiled by US President Joe Biden during his visit to Japan on May 23 last year. The White House’s fact sheet states that the United States is an economic power in the Indo-Pacific region and aims to expand American leadership in the area. India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries are included in this framework.

China had strong opposition to such a framework. On the geopolitical strategy, these frameworks are designed as the new weapon by the US to counter China.

“The IPEF is designed to advance US geopolitical strategy. In the name of cooperation, the framework seeks to exclude certain countries, establish US-led trade rules, restructure the system of industrial chains, and decouple regional countries from the Chinese economy,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on May 25, 2022, had lamented the framework.

Mahathir Mohamad, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, a member nation of the IPEF had criticized a new U.S.-led economic grouping, saying it is intended to isolate China, and won’t benefit regional economic growth without Beijing. This show that the visit of Under Secretary Victoria was solely focused on US-IPS, and rheostat the Chinese influence in the region.

Colombo was the third and last stop of this visit in South Asia. It was the second visit of Under Secretary Victoria to Sri Lanka, which they called the victims of China’s “Debt Trap”. She with Assistant Secretary Donald Lu and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Amanda Dory visited Colombo last year in March.

Sri Lank a member of BRI, had rejected the US assistance program MCC. The US used to accuse Chines investment in Sri Lank as a “Debt Trap”. the cause of the “debt-trap diplomacy”, Sri Lanka lost Control of a major port- read the report entitled “The Elements of the China Challenge” state.  But, Sri Lank had rejected the western accusations of the “Debt Trap”.

On January 12-15, the US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu had his visit to India and Bangladesh. This visit was also aimed at expanding bilateral relations and preventing Chinese influence from the relevant countries.

It is a controversial interview with an Indian Television, Lu directly accused China of being Aggressive towards Indian Border. “We have said that the border dispute between India and China Should be solved peacefully through negotiations directly between the two parties. Having said that we haven’t seen PRC has taken good faith steps to resolve this border conflict,” he stated.

His Next Stop was Dhaka, where the Newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang was stepped in a week before. Though it was called “Technical Stopover” by China, it was his first foreign stop after holding the position. They stopped after a day, US Senior Director for South Asia, National Security Council Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher landed for four days visit to Dhaka.

Bangladesh, with close ties with China holding an election next year. The United States has imposed sanctions on the Bangladesh Paramilitary Forces ‘Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)’ on charges of human rights violations since 2021. Previously, Bangladesh was not invited on the Summit for Democracy held by US President Joe Biden on December 9 and 2021. During this visit to Dhaka, US Assistant Secretary of State Lu praised the RAB and hinted to lift the ban.

He also held talks with Bangladesh to participate in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

South Asia as New Battlefield of Sino-US rivalry

These high-ranking US officials’ visits to South Asian countries are in line with the strategy to encircle China, while Taiwan Straits Crisis is ragging the Sino-US tension. The US has a clear interest in South Asia with its defense strategy of IPS. In this case, it seems that the small countries of South Asia will be in the strategic grip of the power centers. India is competing with China as a member of the IPS. The three-tier economy and the Power Centre are competing against south Asia.

The rise of China has challenged the US’s hegemony in global affairs. China plans to overtake the position of the US by 2050. The US fears that Beijing could overtake the US’s global leadership role. To stop China from achieving its goals of 2050, the US has deployed its IPS toward South Asia too.

The center stage of the global affair is shifting towards Asia. And, when the world is divided into two poles, it will have an adverse effect on the small countries of South Asia directly. The US is talking about peace and stability in the region, isolating China, with the largest population in the globe. China is also moving forward to expand its influence in the Asian region. India is an emerging economy in itself, which has supported the US to stop China. India wants to maintain its domination in South Asia by stopping China.

In the rivalry between the three-tier economy and the two polar power centers, underdeveloped South Asian countries have opportunities to gain economic and infrastructure development. Side by side the three are chances of losses of balance and risk of becoming the battlefield of Sino-US rivalry. 

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