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Indian civilisationalism: a potential next flashpoint?

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When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he laid down a marker for a critical mass of world leaders who, like him, think in civilizational rather than national terms.

In the minds of these leaders, the stakes in Ukraine are about much more than the future of a former Soviet republic or the rejiggering of Europe’s security architecture.

Much like Mr. Putin’s ambition to establish a Russian world that is defined by the geography of Russian speakers and adherents of Russian culture rather than internationally recognized boundaries, men like Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi envision a 21st-century world order in which civilisationalist aspirations trump national sovereignty, freedoms, and minority rights

To them, creating a 21st-century world order involves coercion and potentially, if need be, the use of military force to redraw maps to suit their, at times, downplayed aspirations.

It comes at the expense of the independence of countries like Ukraine, the rights of littoral states in the South China Sea and ethnic and religious minorities like Indian and Chinese Turkic Muslims, and potentially much of non-Indian South Asia.

No doubt Messrs. Xi and Modi are eyeing Ukraine closely for lessons learned. Mr. Putin has crossed a Rubicon at tremendous human, political and economic costs with no immediate potential reversal.

Mr. Xi has other immediate fish to fry. He is unlikely to cross a similar Rubicon any time soon to achieve his ambitions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s One China policy that views Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland.

Neither is Mr. Modi, whose ideological home embraces the concept of Akhand Bharat or an India that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompasses nuclear-armed Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

US and European diplomats take heart from the fact that since first becoming prime minister in 2014, Mr. Modi has refrained from publicly referencing Hindu nationalist geopolitical ambitions. He seemingly last spoke publicly about those ambitions in an interview in 2012 when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he suggested that “Hindustan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should rejoin.”

Nevertheless, one lesson the war in Ukraine offers is that the United States, Europe, and their Asian allies at their peril take civilisationalist aspirations lightly.

Despite warnings by US intelligence and statements by civilisationalist, nationalist and far-right voices in Mr. Putin’s immediate entourage, many wrongly believed that the Russian leader was playing bluff poker in the run-up to the invasion but would not send troops into Ukraine.

“Although the notion of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) may seem far-fetched today, the same was said of Putin’s expansionist ambitions until recently,” said political scientist and journalist Sushant Singh.

Six weeks into the Ukraine invasion, a prominent militant Hindu nationalist with close ties to Mr. Modi predicted, in the first indication of a timeline, that the aspirations of the Hindu nation could be achieved in the next 15 years.

“You spoke about 20-25 years, but if we increase our speed, I say 10-15 years… I do not have the power at all…it is with people. They have the control. When they are ready, everyone’s behaviour changes. We are preparing them… We will walk together as an example, without fear. We will talk about non-violence, but we will walk with a stick. And that stick will be a heavy one,” said Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The RSS, with some six million members, is Mr. Modi’s political cradle that gave birth to his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Founded almost a century ago, the RSS is a militant, right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organisation.

Mr. Singh noted that RSS schools across India teach the concept of Akhand Bharat. Moreover, an RSS publisher produces a map of India’s “holy land” that includes Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.

Mr. Modi’s policies, including his 2019 amended citizenship law that provides a pathway for citizenship to Hindus from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan but not to Muslims, as well as the stripping that year of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, seemed to be nods towards Akhand Bharat.

India’s Muslims constitute the world’s third-largest Muslim community and account for 14 per cent of India’s 1.4 billion population.

It may be a long shot, but Mr. Modi could be the one major civilisationalist leader with whom engagement has a chance of containing, if not taming, whatever irredentist instincts he may have. Those instincts likely constitute one reason why India has sought to walk a middle road in the Ukraine crisis.

In contrast to Russia and China, with whom battles lines have been or are being drawn, engagement with India by the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian states is based for a good part on a perceived shared geopolitical interest to counter the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific.

In a broadening of engagement that goes beyond existing close economic and political ties, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has invited Mr. Modi to attend a summit in June of the Group of 7 (G-7) in the Bavarian Alps.

The Quad is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, while the G-7 groups Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States.

In another positive sign of engagement, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and religious nationalists are quietly exploring whether they can find common ground in shared humanitarian values.

RSS executive committee member and former BJP secretary-general Ram Madhav said in an interview last week with this writer that “Eastern civilizations (and) Eastern religions all share the same civilizational value system.” Mr. Madhav referenced Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and ‘an Islam with an Eastern value system like Indonesian Islam.’”

Mr. Madhav, widely viewed as a moderate among Hindu nationalists, was referring to a concept of Humanitarian Islam put forward by Nahdlatul Ulama, the world and Indonesia’s largest Muslim civil society movement.

Nahdlatul Ulama advocates reform of what it calls “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights without reservations and envisions inter-faith relations based on shared common values.

Mr. Madhav spoke on the eve of his second visit to Indonesia in two years for talks with Nahdlatul Ulama.

“Maybe we all can stand up and talk about these values…commit ourselves to those values including respect for pluralism, inclusivity, and commitment to the nation-state idea, (and) patriotism… If something can be worked out jointly, we would be definitely happy to do that,” Mr. Madhav said.

In Mr. Madhav’s mind, the RSS’s vision of Hindu nationalism or Hindutava already incorporates principles of humanitarianism as articulated by Nahdlatul Ulama .

The movement’s critics reject that assertion. Moreover, the RSS’s alleged association with widespread inter-communal violence and perceived discrimination of Indian Muslims calls it into question.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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