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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

Pakistan and Germany are keen to Sustain Multifaceted and Mutually beneficial Cooperation

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Pakistan has varied history of relationship and cooperation with other countries in international arena. Despite of proactive foreign policy Pakistan has been struggling to acquire global or regional status as a major power. Now in the age of globalization, the foreign relations between states have become more significant than before. Global and regional organizations, societies, economic zones and countries have network to attract and develop relationship among them. A major goal of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to develop good relations with international community and to handle global and regional issues. Activism of Pakistan‘s foreign policy reflects on the domestic socio-economic development. The national interest of Pakistan also support to regulate inputs from the external atmosphere into internal situation and to strive security and territorial integrity in the region and glob which always remained top concern of Pakistan. As bearing geo-strategic position, Pakistan seeks good relations with regional and global powers like America, China and European Union. Within European Union Germany has emergence as the developed economy in Europe. It is not only playing vital role within European Union but at the global level. Pakistan is also enjoying cordial relations with Germany on the base of common interest and perception on all international issues. Germany is also very keen to see sustainable development in Pakistan and acknowledges that the Pakistan is playing constructive role for regional peace. Germany greatly values Pakistan intense to strengthen multifaceted and mutual beneficial cooperation. Both the countries have been engaged on political, economic and socio-cultural partnership.

In past, East and West Germany had tilted towards forming alliance with India in 1950s but in 1960s, President Ayob Khan‘s visit to West Germany established economic relation between both the countries. Post Pak-India war 1971, East Germany was the first country of the Europe who recognized Bangladesh. During 1990s, Pakistan and Germany established Pakistan German Business Forum and Germany had become the fourth largest trade partner of Pakistan in 2000.  Germany also was ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism in the north-west part of the country. Since the last few years, both the countries developed trade relations as well as Germany invested in the field of science and technology in Pakistan. On August 24, 2014, Germany built Pakistan Gate in Berlin to provide business and trade facilities to the businessmen of both the countries.

In November 2018, Pakistan offered Germany to join CPEC and to invest in the Special Economic Zone (SEZs). The mutual trade between both the countries enhanced to 3.0 billion euro in 2019.In 2021, Both Pakistan and Germany are celebrating 70th anniversary of establishment of bilateral relationship. Both the countries are planning to undertake several activities in this regard. Last month German Ambassador visited Karachi Chamber of Commerce and industries to call German companies, entrepreneurs and investors to earn from the potential and opportunities which are available in Pakistan and to bring business communities of both the countries more closer as well. Foreign minister of Pakistan has visited to Germany and meeting with business and members of Pakistani community. The foreign Minister held meetings with the leadership of Germany and repeated the desire of expansion of bilateral economic activities and exchange of technology. Both sides also discussed rapidly changing situation of Afghanistan and South Asian region. During the discussion, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Mass, Pakistan and Germany agreed to review the entire gamut of Pakistan-Germany relationship and tools of further deep bilateral cooperation in the field of trade, investment security and defense, health, education, tourism. The mass of both the countries want to utilize the potential of good relationship but it is observed that both sides have lack of political hierarchy, dedication and sincerity in past. The development and expansion of bilateral relationship lies on the path of peaceful coexistence and serious changes in the socio-economic structure is needed. Peace process with the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India may attract Germany to invest in CPEC projects and other local project of education, vocational training, dam construction, tourism and economic activities in Pakistan. There is a need to organize a forum for the students and scholars of both the countries could interact and exchange their expertise for academic, economic and technology growth. There is potential of people to people interaction and development of cooperation between Pakistan and Germany. Pakistan may be more benefit from the relationship with Germany if the serious efforts be made on government level.

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Modi’s Illiberal Majoritarian Democracy: a Question Mark on the Future of Indian Minorities

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The word majoritarian is an adjective which relates to or constitutes a majority, majoritarian politics, or majoritarian democracy. It can be defined as a traditional political idea, philosophy or a practice according to which any decision whether political, social, or economic of an organized society should be made by a numerical majority of that society or it can be defined as a traditional political philosophy that stresses that a majority usually branded by religious, language, social class that also includes other recognizing factors of individuals in a society are subject to a level of superiority in a society because of which they have a say in every affair of a society. The concept of majoritarian dispensation in India under Narendra Modi has deep links with four other political philosophies i.e. Populism, Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Sultanism. Before exploring Narendra Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India and its effects on the future of Indian minorities, I will first uncover the link of majoritarianism to political philosophies as mentioned.

A majoritarian leader is actually a populist leader who works hard for the concerns of people that who thinks are being ignored by the established elite groups in a society, and who always present himself as a new man mostly of a modest and plebeian background against old political establishment, in spite of the fact that who is a seasoned political figure, but usually not centre stage. This is exactly what Narendra Modi is, because in his 2014 election campaign, he presented himself as a new man against the Ghandi’s family’s old political system despite the fact he was CM Gujrat at that time. He also presented himself as someone who belongs to a very plebeian background that he had to work in his father’s tea shop when he was a child. Whereas, nationalism is a political idea or a philosophy that promotes and protects the interests of a particular nation, nationalism is the bedrock of most of the populists and NarendraModi is no exception. NarendraModi is a majoritarian national-populist leader who since his childhood has been the member of RSS, and now is a full time pracharak of RSS ideology that stresses that Hindu are the true and only sons of this Indian soil.

Majoritarian national- populist leaders like Narendra Modi are basically authoritarian leaders who reject political pluralism, and this is exactly what Modi is doing in India.Modi  and the BJP has made it clear that no other party should compete with it, or is even needed, as indicative from its slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (a Congress-free India).Whereas, Sultanism is a form of authoritarian government and according to Max Weber NarendraModi is a new sultan of India who is pushing India towards illiberal democracy by rejecting all kind of civil liberties particularly of Indian Muslim minority.

Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India is basically the promotion of majoritarian democracy that asserts Hindus a special and superior status in India because they constitute 80.5% of total Indian population and that this majoritarian policy protests Hindutva ideology  that stresses that Hindus are the only sons of this soil and that strengthen the Hindu community. This majoritarian democracy is a big question mark on India as the world biggest liberal democracy because continuous violence, rejection of civil liberties, and crimes against the minorities that are Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have been on the increase. About 1.8 million people who are minority communities are tortured in police custody every year. The word murder of minorities has been replaced by the term encounter killings. Torture have increased to such a huge extent that it questions the credibility of the rule of law and criminal justice. Hindu nationalists are revolting all around India especially against Muslims because they are the largest minority in India constituting 13.4% of total population and because Hindus have resentment toward their religion, Christians and Sikhs are no exception to their violence because they too constitute 2.3% and 1.9% of total Indian population.

Unfortunately, India under Narendra Modi is crawling from the world’s biggest liberal democracy to illiberal majoritarian democracy which is promoting and safeguarding only Hindu’s civil rights and liberties and that which is negating minority’s civil liberties and civil rights especially rights and liberties of Muslims of India. One such example of this is the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).Under the act, for the first time in India, religion is a basis for granting citizenship. According to some this citizenship amendment bill by BJP is an intentional act in order to marginalize Muslims from mainstream politics. In addition to this, Muslims are not only being tortured at their religious places for their religious affiliations, but they are also being tortured at their educational institutions which is evident from a video of 15 December 2020, where Delhi police brutally tortured Muslims students of Jamia Millia Islamia university.

Keeping in mind Narendra Modi’s illiberal majoritarian democracy, the future of liberal democracy or pluralistic India appears to be gloomy, where the future of Indian minorities especially Muslims is a big question mark. 

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South Asia

CoVID-19 Control: Can Pakistan Learn From China?

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It has been over a year since the first case of CoVID-19 was confirmed in Pakistan. The tally has reached 721,018 confirmed cases, 15,443 have died and 4,143 critical cases by 11thApril2021. Across many countries, since January 2020, a massive surge of research into CoVID-19 had enabled the scientific and medical community to better understand how to manage and eliminate the virus through public health interventions. Today, we have learned, CoVID-19 causes acute symptoms and death. We have learned, immunity lasts at least eight months and we also have five licensed vaccines. We have learned, the long-term effects of CoVID-19 and the morbidity attached to having this virus. We have learned, virus transmission occurs through droplets and aerosols spread through coughing, sneezing, breathing and speaking. We also have learned, stopping the spread of CoVID-19 requires people to avoid mixing though restrictions on social life. We have learned, the virus can mutate into various strains that can be more transmissible – and we also have understand cat-and-mouse game between vaccine and variants.

To alleviate the destructive effects of CoVID-19 on the economy, Pakistan has sought debt relief of slightly around $2 billion from its G20 creditors. In addition to the G20 countries, China was the largest bilateral creditor with $9 billion, followed by Japan with $5 billion. By early April 2020, when there were just about 2,000 CoVID-19 positive cases in Pakistan, the World Bank approved $200 million package to help Pakistan. Likewise, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had approved the payout of $1.386 billion as financial support to Pakistan to meet its urgent balance of payment needs halting from the CoVID-19 outbreak. Further, to support Pakistan’s public health response to the CoVID-19 and allow to meet the basic needs of the vulnerable and poor segment of society, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved $500 million emergency assistance loan to Pakistan. Similarly, The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) also provided a $650 million financial package to support Pakistan in its efforts against the CoVID-19. All these grants were provided to Government of Pakistan to assist in effective and timely action in response to the spread of the CoVID-19. The objective was to strengthen Pakistan’s public health infrastructure and to alleviate socioeconomic disruptions due to the pandemic. Despite huge grants and substantial endowments, Pakistan’s response to the CoVID-19 has been unsatisfactory. Lack of basic healthcare infrastructure, disease surveillance and management system,  and inconsistent implementation of policies and SOPs resulted in the rapid and incessant spread of third-wave of CoVID-19 throughout the county.

China’s extraordinary organized and preventive risk management approach, established on coalition between government officials, virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts, has demonstrated to be successful in containing and controlling CoVID-19.The experience in China emphasized the significance of listening to science and public health experts during pandemic event. Firstly, China’s response demonstrates the value of national research and public health capability. Huge investment in research and development rendered China much better prepared for CoVID-19. China’s experience indicates the value of investing in national health and research scheme to boost laboratory capacity along with workforce. They are essential to a rapid and effective national response to health emergencies and to national health security. Secondly, a strong foundation of research and development cannot ensure effective control without powerful top-level political dedication to use science to confront the outbreak. Government and leaders must respect science, understand its significance, and act on science-based advice in a way that is best for society. Thirdly, attaining speedy and successful implementation of control measures for CoVID-19 requires extensive community engagement. Public solidarity during the CoVID-19 outbreak in China had been unprecedented. Control measures that could sacrifice personal freedom were accepted readily by the nation.

To be brief, cricket is to South Asia and football is to Europe. In fighting CoVID-19, everyone is equal. Everyone has the identical liability and shares the equal threat. The effective implementation of prevention and control measures in China is a model for Pakistan other parts of world to follow. From the beginning, a science-based, risk-informed and phased approach was taken, with a clear appreciation and enthusiasm. Today, China has restarted its economy, reopened and almost returned to normality. The key of success story is to make everybody responsible, get every single division involved and held executives accountable. These are the most prominent lessons Pakistan could learn from China at national and local levels. After the failure of “Smart-Lockdown” strategy, Pakistan needs to choose a strict strategy, should follow the example of China and continue the lockdown until the number of CoVID-19 infections is brought close to zero; the strategy should then be to maintain infection rates at very low level until vaccination is done. China’s epidemic management provides an important experience from which countries such as Pakistan can learn. This applies in particular to Pakistan, which would risk to lose many of its achievements in case of a severe third wave of the epidemic. Government of Pakistan should involve not only public health experts, virologists and epidemiologists, but also scientist and respect science advice when making any decision that is required to keep the epidemic under control. The rest of the world can also learn from China’s success in bringing outbreak under control.

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