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South Asia

Is India witnessing an unfederal moment?



“A single constitution for a country of many and varied sub-nationalities,” said veteran Indian bureaucrat Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, was “a centralizing anachronism.” The tissues and textures of India’s quasi- federalism favour centralization. That explains why the Indian state has acquired a Leviathan character. What followed the Partition of India in 1947 was an inter-religious orgy of an unprecedented scale. What loomed large was not federation but national unity. And yet, the constitution makers didn’t abandon the federal idea. Federalism gradually took root because of India’s peculiar system what political theorist Ajay Gudavarthy calls “centrist polity and decentred politics.” Today, federalism has come under a cloud as efforts are being made to reduce India to what an analyst calls “a monochromatic wasteland.”

 Modern federal idea is first and foremost a democratic idea. A healthy democracy is a sine qua non for a healthy federalism. India began as a ‘Union of States’ and moved towards greater degree of federalism when the country accommodated diverse identities and interests and created instruments for decentralised governance. Under the Modi government federalism finds itself in an unchartered territory. India is witnessing an unfederal moment which is, by no means, confined to India alone.

No federalism is imperishable. It is not enough to merely adopt a federal polity or  federal institutions. Institutions don’t defend themselves. India’s federal institutions suddenly appear wobbly. What India is witnessing is both institutional paralysis and institutional silence. What is missing is institutional plumbing.

Look at what happened to the USSR. The Soviet Union was a one-party state. All control of political and economic life was centred in the Communist Party’s hands. It was the ultimate source of power, the brains of the government and the unifying bond in a land of endless diversity.

Surprisingly, the constitution gave the Soviet republics the right to secede from the Union. Ukraine and Bylorussia even got membership of the UN. But in practice, USSR remained a pseudo federation. So was Yugoslavia. The Ethiopian constitution proclaims the “unrestricted” right of “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples” to “self-determination up to secession.” Today, Ethiopia’s ethnic  federalism is in ruins.

As a Forum of Federations document says, a country becomes a federation only when it has “a federal spirit, two opposed aspirations—an aspiration towards diversity and an aspiration towards unity.” Only when there is “a mutual permeation of the two aspirations that a federal order has a future.”

India’s democratic backslide parallels erosion of federal practices. Though the Modi government is never tired of mouthing cooperative federalism, its commitment to federalism could be compared to the “peacock dance”–three steps forward, one step backwards and spreading of  colourful feathers.

Federalism is a functional arrangement rather than a mere division of powers between the Centre and the States. Cooperative federalism implies that the Centre and the States share a horizontal relationship, not the one in which one is over and above the other. Under Modi, federalism has become a mode of authorization, not a mode of governance. If federalism has given the US kings without monarchy, Indian federalism has produced monarchy without kings. Federalism has become a political orphan.

Federalism is not a layer cake, with each layer of government neatly on top of the other. It is like a marble cake. Despite the division of functions, there is intermingling of activities.

As far as federalism goes, India was never a fabled golden age thanks to the peculiar features of its federal polity. And yet, broad principles of federal governance remained largely intact all these years. But today, what we are left with is ramshackle federalism, dis-embedded from federal institutions.

What went wrong? Abraham Lincoln said in 1838 that “if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Dr B R Ambedkar, one of the architects of the Indian Constitution, too sounded a similar warning, “if things go wrong under the new constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad constitution. What we would love to say is that Man was vile.”

Federalism is a daily plebiscite. Demand for more power, more autonomy and  States’say in the affairs of the country represents a daily interrogation of that existence. The federal system has to go through frequent negotiations between the state and seekers of autonomy, between the federal and the state governments and  it should be prepared for repeated failures of talks and accords. It is through constant churning that the federal system matures.  

Federalism needs honest conversation and good-faith disagreements. If one analyses the political discourse, it would appear as though, ‘snake-oil salesmen’ have taken over politics. Policy makes politics. Today it is the other way round. Politics is dangerously fractious, broken and dysfunctional. India is now an anocracy. Debate is now a game that can never be won. Political leaders often act like rhetorical gladiators. The troll factories are busy trotting out misleading claims and narratives, often recycling and amplifying falsehoods.

Federalism’s success requires key stakeholders and those in key institutions to act like an umpire who must stand outside and somewhat above the political fray. J S Mill recommended relentless criticism of ideas including those held by the majority.

The majoritarian democracy’s assertion of “power over” than “power with” is antithetical to federalism. Both the central and state governments see one another as the untrustworthy other. Centre-state ties have reached an inflection point.

 India is experiencing concerted efforts to destroy the federal structure. While the status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been lowered by the Modi government, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is now a glorified mayor. 

See the irony: Kejriwal’s party wins more than 90 % seats in elections but after a statutory change by the Central dispensation, the “government” in Delhi means the unelected Lieutenant Governor nominated by the centre. The message for Kejriwal is loud and clear: “congratulations on graduating. Now give up on your dreams.”

Parliament has been made a rubber stamp. On 13 March, 2018, the Lok Sabha (lower house) passed funding demands from 99 ministries and government departments in 30 minutes without any debate. The government extended the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force without consulting the states.

Prime Minister Modi brags about increasing the grants from central tax collections to states but what his government has given to states by way of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, it has taken away through Gods and Services Tax Council where it has an overriding authority over state governments.

Federalism works through persuasion and through a network of gatekeepers and oversight institutions. However, independent institutions, supervisory bodies and statutory commissions have been defanged to favour the party at the centre. The chain of command is tilted in Centre’s favour. The separation of power is fast becoming separation of parties. Bureaucrats and law enforcement agencies openly identify themselves with the governing party.

 When the States ask for funds, the Modi government acts like god. The Centre’s approach towards a petitioning state can be summed up thus: “look, out of all my projects, I really had hopes from you. It will be very hard for you to explain how you ruined one of my best works. I am sorry son, I have to tell you, the financial heavens have also denied your petition for help.”

President Trump left the States to fend for themselves in their fight against the Coronavirus. In a conference call with the nation’s governors about the coronavirus pandemic, the president declared, “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment—try getting it yourselves.” It was a Darwinian approach to federalism: states’ rights taken to a deadly extreme.

 The same happened in India. Public health is a state subject and therefore all matters concerning the prevention, containment and treatment of an epidemic disease should have been dealt with by the states. There was no consultation with state governments who were to implement the lockdown. Overnight, millions of urban migrant labour were left to their fate.

And yet, the Prime Minister, while addressing the World Economic Forum, claimed to save humanity from a big disaster by containing Coronavirus effectively. India’s Covid mortality was 6 to 8 times higher than official counts. A study has estimated that between 3.2 to 3.7 million people had died by November 2021. The official count was over 509, 000 only.

The opposition-led state chief ministers have attacked Modi government’s “constitutional rampage” and “usurping of states’ powers.” India doesn’t need a champagne-and-pizza brand of federalism. It needs what A O Hueglin describes as “institutionalized power sharing.”

All said, under Indira Gandhi rule, India witnessed unprecedented attacks on democracy and federalism. When she was defeated and the Emergency was lifted, people sighed “never again.” The downhill journey of federalism and democracy in India is worrying. One only hopes that “never again is not here again,” to borrow a phrase from author and journalist Caroline de Gruyter.

Ash Narain Roy did his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies , Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He was a Visiting Scholar at El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City for over four years in the 1980s. He later worked as Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times, Delhi. He is author of several books including The Third World in the Age of Globalisation which analyses Latin America's peculiar traits which distinguishes it from Asia and Africa. He is currently Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

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South Asia

Indo-Pak Game of Influence in Afghanistan: Who Is Winning?



Afghanistan has earned its status as a centerpiece of the global ‘Great Game’. It has been fought for, sought after for reasons ranging from its strategic location to huge in situ reserves of natural resources and reserves. Standing at the crossroads of Central-South Asia and Middle East, it is believed to be holding more than $ 1 trillion worth of untapped natural/mineral resources and metals.

For Pakistan, it has earned the repute of being its strategic depth owing to reasons ranging from use of the soil by India against Pakistan to cross-border terrorism. While India has capitalized on these threats post 2001 using USA-sponsored regimes in Afghanistan to launch its own hybrid warfare against Pakistan. The dossier released by Pakistan in November, 2020 proposed with evidence the existence of 66 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the report alleges were being used to wage terrorism and dismantle economic prospects of the former. Building upon prospects of state sponsored terrorism by India, it maintains that India has been actively involved in rekindling the fusion of Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP) with its break away factions, Jammat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul-Ahrar while also paying more than $820, 000 to TTP through its collaborators.

Owing to its strategic importance, India invested more than $ 3 billion in Afghanistan in about 400 economic projects it launched in the country. 150 projects were still underway when Taliban government took reins in Afghanistan in August 2021. During Ashraf Ghani’s government, India-Iran-Afghanistan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been proposed, whereby India committed $21 billion to expand its Chahbahar project to Hajigak. It is pertinent to mention here that Hajigak holds 1.7 billion tons of untapped iron deposits out of total 2.2 billion tones that Afghanistan is estimated to be holding, placing Afghanistan among top ten countries with extractable iron reserves. About $11 billion worth of Hajigak iron and steel mining project was handed over to consortium of seven Indian companies, together with $ 2 billion commitments for developing supporting infrastructure including Chahbahar –Hajigak Railway. India will never give up on its planned and already attained investment in the country while for Pakistan, it is much favorable to bring in the major shift in its policy towards Afghanistan.

Pakistan, with the Taliban government stands on more favorable grounds contemporarily but owing to Afghanistan’s economic woes-about 28. 3 million people (2/3 of its population) need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, according Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHR)-it is not unlikely for the country to shift alliances.

Pakistan has remained heavily invested in Afghanistan with respect to security affairs. It has been the foremost reason behind its independence from USSR in 1989 and is heavily engaged diplomatically to build interlinkages of the state with the international community for earning the humanitarian benefits for its people. A peaceful, prosperous, stable and connected Afghanistan serves the interest of Pakistan and hence the country continuously commits to pursue continuous and practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.

The atmosphere is now changing with realizations. In the latest Fifth China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Foreign Minister’s Dialogue, The Afghan interim government reiterated its commitment both with Pakistan and China that it would not allow any individual, group or party, including the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM to use its territory against the neighboring countries. The format is of strategic importance in its focus on trilateral economic cooperationto fully harness Afghanistan’s potential as a hub for regional connectivity. Pakistan shall be prudent in this regard as it can reap magnanimous benefits from expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan, as proposed. Ad hocism must be avoided to maximize mutual benfit under such overtures in such a manner that national interest is attained.

For its part, Pakistan has spent more than $ 1 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and invested heavily in capacity building of Afghanistan, including 72 km Torkhum Jalalabad Road and 400 bed Jinnah Hospital worth $118. 8 million while also training 644 Afghan police and drug control officers, among others. Keeping up with its commitments of capacity building in Afghanistan, it has also been providing high-end assistance as that of road construction machinery, mobile hot mixers, generators, medicines, ambulances and trucks among others. More than $ 5 billion in in-kind humanitarian assistance has also bene provided.

Although such overtures intensify Pakistan’s standing in bilateral relations with Afghanistan but bilateral consolidation would require early completion of such projects as that of TAPI, CASA-1000, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line among others. Such projects serve dual purpose for Pakistan: Afghanistan that protects the interest of Pakistan and regional consolidation that would mean raising Pakistan to higher pedestals when it comes to regionalism and hence International affairs.

How Afghanistan realigns itself socially and politically will have long-term consequences for the entire region and the world. States continue to seek their own vested interests in the process. It is long-term, strategic and holistically calibrated policy making and intense economic investment on bilateral and multilateral levels that can pit Afghanistan in favor of Pakistan as compared to India, in the long run.

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South Asia

Pakistan’s Political Turmoil and Global Security Concern

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Pakistan is currently in a critical juncture of political turmoil which is posing a threat to its sovereignty as well as growing concerns about global security.  Not only that, if Pakistan fails to address the crisis, then definitely it will be the beginning of the extinction of democratic values regionally and globally. Pakistan has also been spiralling towards a severe economic catastrophe and struggling to meet the basic needs of its population. Now Pakistan is in a state of critical emergency after 1971, where the elite class should not repeat their apocalyptic mistake of ignoring the voices of the people. 

The power struggle of the current stalemate began when Imran Khan was ousted in April 2022 following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.  However, this imbroglio is hardly a scenario that has arisen overnight. This is a result of bankrupt political regimes. Needless to say, Pakistan’s ruling power has generally been characterized by its preference for one side of the Pakistan Army. Each of the five prime ministers has been indicted or imprisoned after leaving office. The military-dominated Pakistan has a long record of engineering the electoral playing field to achieve the Army’s preferred result.

Corruption has long been a pressing issue in Pakistan’s political landscape, with high-profile corruption cases involving influential politicians and bureaucrats. These scandals have eroded public trust in the government and raised concerns about the misuse of public funds. The economic condition in Pakistan was facing a severe crisis. Now the devastating flood of 2022, 50-years high inflation, food and energy shortage, collapsed investment, critically low exports, and foreign exchange reserve, mounting foreign debt, and the failure of international lenders have further exacerbated the situation.  Furthermore, Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia put tremendous pressure on world food and energy prices, which has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistan is experiencing violent social unrest. Economic challenges, rising inflation, polarized politics, and unemployment have contributed to the frustration and discontent among the populace, especially the youth where over 60% of the population is under the age of 30.  A weaponized society with nothing to lose has grown a new ability to touch the untouchable elite Institutions.  Furthermore, ethnic and sectarian tensions, mass reform movements recently by religio- political parties, and engagement between Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan(TTP) and security forces clearly spelled out the public frustration with elite Institutions or ruling systems.

Pakistani, especially the young generation, are frustrated and possess discontent with the country’s political discourse of weakening opponents and appeasing puppet masters.  Poor dynastic leadership has also paved the way for military intervention in state power. Imran Khan has taken advantage of the situation to make himself the savior of the nation. However, he is also seen as a trump card for Islamic jihadist organizations. His party’s strongholds, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Lahore, and Punjab, are all strongly under the control of Islamic jihadist groups.  Imran Khan as a prime minister praised the mujahideen and hailed Osama bin Laden as Shahid (martyr) in the parliament. One more significant thing, the Pakistani Constitution has ensured the right to choose the Sharia rule provincially or in special administrative areas.

Now, in recent years, TTP or other similar religio- political fundamentalists have exhibited mass reform movements and continue armed struggle across the country. Their issue-based movement has become popular among the countrymen and their armed struggle has made the elite establishment bound to sit for a peace deal with TTP. We will be in a fool’s paradise if we ignore the smartness and political acumen of present Islamic jihadist organizations. Now the situation in Pakistan is more favorable for TTP as well as International Islamic militant organizations. The Pakistani Judiciary, PTI, Islamic militant organizations, and military, Pakistan Democratic Movement(PDM) coalition are near to head-on collision. The worst possible fact is civil war, and the next phase will be the triumph of the Islamic jihadist movement.

The pressing question that demands attention from global leaders is why Pakistan should be a cause for concern. We must not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation. Drawing upon my extensive two-decade study of Islamic militant organizations, it is evident that the Islamic jihadist movement will emerge at full throttle in Pakistan. In my opinion, Pakistan will be Afghanistan 2.0 today or tomorrow unless the crisis is not dealt with appropriately. This ideological warfare is just like cancer in the human body. If we fail to recognize it at an early stage, it would leave us no choice but to surrender.  Now, if we compare the situation of Pakistan with earlier Afghanistan, Iraq, Burkina Faso, and Mali, then it becomes evident that Pakistan is at the last stage of ideological cancer.  I assume that the next Islamic jihadist movement is likely to extend its reach to Kashmir and Yemen. If this movement gains traction in Pakistan, then it will be a matter of time to establish a strong jihadist bastion in South Asia and the Middle East.

The West, unfortunately, has deprioritized its engagement against Islamic militant organizations, which will compromise the value of democracy and bring a new dimension to democratic countries globally. To be sure, we will not be able to see democracy piping over the Great Wall in the East and the African-Russian imaginary barrier in the West. Meanwhile, Somalia and Yemen will serve as strategic game-changer, providing an economic lifeline for international Islamic jihadist organizations. 

So, where does the savior of democracy lie? Or, are democracy and human rights merely tools used to suppress third-world nations? These crucial questions demand answers. 

In conclusion, my perception will only begin to take shape once Islamabad falls. Pakistan must respond quickly because time is not on its side. Now the most straightforward way to restore peace in Pakistan would be through timely, free and fair elections, unfettered by the establishment’s intervention. An elected government has the potential to restore confidence in Pakistan’s Institutions, and that confidence is as desirable for Beijing and Riyadh as it is for Washington and New Delhi. Otherwise, the simplest explanation for other means may align with my perceptions(!), ultimately, becoming a stark reality.

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South Asia

G-20 Summit may not cultivate Indian-desired results



G-20 Summit 2023, is scheduled to be held on 09-10 September 2023, in India. The Summit will be hosted and chaired by Indian Prime Minister Modi, the President of g-20 on rotation. However, the United Nations recently released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India, casting a shadow over the country’s preparations for the prestigious event.

Human rights violations have risen dramatically in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) since 2019 when the government of India revoked the special status of the region, warned a UN Independent Expert, one week before a G20 meeting is scheduled to be

“By holding a G20 meeting of the working group on tourism on 22-24 May”, Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, warned that the government of India is seeking to normalize what some have described as a military occupation by instrumental sing a G20 meeting and portray an international “seal of approval”, despite what Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, told the UN Human Rights Council a few weeks ago was a worrying human rights situation in the Kashmir region.” held in Srinagar.

India’s Intentions in Hosting the G20 Summit:

Although India’s decision to host the G20 summit reflects it’s over ambitions to play a larger role on the global stage and shape the discourse on important issues. As a developing economy with a vast population, India wishes to leverage its position to promote its development agenda, attract foreign investments, and enhance its diplomatic standing. Hosting such a high-profile event presents an opportunity for India to showcase its economic progress, technological advancements, and commitment to global cooperation. But the release of the UN special report at this pertinent time, on Indian severe violations of Human Rights Violations, is a big obstacle to realizing Indian dreams.

The UN Report’s Highlights:

“The situation there has — if anything — become much worse since myself and fellow UN independent experts transmitted a communication to the government of India in 2021. We then expressed our grave concerns that the loss of political autonomy and the implementation of the new domicile rules and other legislation could alter the demographic composition of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, may result in political disenfranchisement, and significantly reduce the degree of political participation and representation of the Kashmiri and other minorities previously exercised in the former state, undermining their linguistic, cultural and religious rights,” he said.

“On all counts this seems to be occurring on the ground, in a repressive and sometimes brutal environment of suppression of even basic rights”.

The expert noted that there have been reports of significant numbers of Hindus from outside the region moving into the region so dramatic demographic changes are underway in IIOJK to overwhelm native Kashmiris in their own land.

According to de Varennes, the G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions, and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate.

“International human rights obligations and the UN Declaration of Human Rights should still be upheld by organizations such as the G20,” he added, concluding that “the situation in IIOJK should be decried and condemned, not pushed under the rug and ignored with the holding of this meeting”.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures experts of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures Experts, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Key Points of the UN Report:

Ahead of the G20 summit, the United Nations released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India. While the specific details of the report may vary, it is important to note that India, like any other country, faces complex challenges in maintaining human rights standards, given its diverse society and socio-political dynamics. Some of the key concerns raised in the report include:

Kashmir Issue: The report draws attention to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, focusing on the alleged excessive use of force, restrictions on freedom of expression, and arbitrary detentions.

Religious Freedom: The report highlights concerns regarding religious freedom, particularly with regard to incidents of violence, discrimination, and restrictions on religious minorities.

Women’s Rights: The report expresses concerns about gender-based violence, discrimination, and gaps in addressing women’s rights, including issues such as child marriage and gender inequality.

Freedom of Expression: The report raises concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and the shrinking space for civil society organizations and independent media.

Potential Impact:

The UN report’s release ahead of the G20 summit may have several implications for India:

Diplomatic Challenges: The report’s allegations can strain India’s diplomatic relations with some countries, potentially affecting bilateral cooperation and undermining its reputation on the international stage.

International Scrutiny: India’s hosting of the G20 summit will face heightened scrutiny, with the spotlight on its human rights record. This could lead to increased pressure on India to address the concerns raised and make tangible progress in safeguarding human rights.

Domestic Repercussions: The release of the UN report may fuel domestic debates and discussions about human rights, putting pressure on the Indian government to address these issues effectively and transparently.

Civil Society Activism: The report can empower civil society organizations and activists who are advocating for human rights and social justice, leading to increased public discourse and demands for change.

To be over clever, may turn into a disaster and counterproductive for India.

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