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Nobody can stop Mayawati from crossing three-digit score in UP polls


Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member


In the data points of the 2014 Lok Sabha election results, the ground situation in Uttar Pradesh has a key reference point. Those results define the ceiling for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the floor for every other party.
Primarily because that was a Modi wave election and all non-BJP parties were fighting to plug the leaks in their respective votebanks. To define the BJP’s floor, the 2012 UP Assembly results can serve as a realistic reference point.
In 2012, the saffron party returned to the lowest level – 15 percent – in a trend line comprising several consecutive elections. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which scored a duck in terms of seats in Lok Sabha 2014, yet managed to secure a 20 per cent vote share. The Congress managed to poll barely 8 per cent in 2014, which is over 3 per cent lower than what they polled in the 2012 Assembly elections. The Samajwadi Party (SP) too scored only 23 percent in 2014.
First, the big picture. Common sense dictates that those parties which have touched their lowest or highest performance, will now begin their return journey towards the middle, call it the equilibrium, in the absence of 2014-like circumstances.
In bare terms, the BJP will shed from its unprecedented vote share of 43 per cent, to the advantage of the rest. Unlike in a Lok Sabha poll, UP’s local politics is every bit dominated by regional parties like the SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
In a parliamentary poll, the voters tend to consider the regional parties as marginal players. Also, the constituencies are far bigger and, therefore, relatively less manageable due to lack of a closer connect with the candidates. The Assembly polls are a different story. This puts added pressure on the BJP to shed from its vote share.
Finally, the lack of a viable state-centric leader to helm the campaign for the BJP – and that too when faced with a four-time chief minister like Mayawati or a youthful incumbent like Akhilesh Yadav, who is no less formidable – mars the chances substantially, if not completely.
Now the specifics. A majority of those Dalits who had substantially contributed to the BJP’s sweep in 2014 have largely returned to the BSP. The sub-caste level division to scoop out Valmikis is overstated.
Only Sonkars/Khateeks, who have usually been breaking ranks to vote for the BJP in urban areas, may stay with the BJP. This offers a major solace to Mayawati. Her headache is the reluctant Muslim vote. This segment is not moving en masse to her as in the past.
In places, Mayawati will get the Muslim votes because only the BSP is in a position to stop the BJP.
Prime examples are like Bijnor in western UP, pockets in Meerut, Agra and Ghaziabad and several districts in Terai and Poorvanchal.
The Muslim vote, particularly in western UP, has consolidated around the SP-Congress combine.
This consolidation is such that the Hindu candidate of SP in Budhana, Pramod Tyagi, is taking most of the Muslim votes even when the BSP has fielded a strong Muslim candidate.
In Saharanpur, the BJP may draw a blank in the entire district despite winning the Lok Sabha seat.
Likewise, in Moradabad and Muzaffarnagar, the SP-Congress combine is sweeping most of the seats.
An average Muslim voter goes for a three-filter test. The first and the foremost filter is who can defeat the BJP. The second, a desirable but not mandatory condition, is if such a candidate is also a Muslim. The icing is, of course, if the party happens to be SP.
The trouble for the BJP isn’t that the Muslim vote is out to avenge a complete wipe-out of 2014. Their problem is that the non-Muslim vote is blissfully indifferent to this one-way polarisation. And the BJP has only itself to blame.
In western UP, the BJP, which took more than 50 percent vote share in 2014, is suffering essentially on account of the Jats. The Jats have gone jittery with the BJP and a bit remorseful for having let down Ajit Singh and his RLD.
This may not yield even half a dozen seats to the RLD, but will almost certainly cook the BJP goose.
The Jats have always played a major role in the BJP’s success. Over the years, the party groomed its own Jat leadership and also made them ministers. But, they have not moved about the khaps to create the grassroots connect and acquire the stature that can match up with Chaudhary Charan Singh’s legacy.
Another chink in the BJP’s armour is their traditional mainstay, the trader vote. The demonetisation drive has hit this section the hardest. The party may be flush enough to not bother for their money, but the indifference of the traders is going to cost them dearly in some close fights.
Even the high vote share of May 2014 will not prove to be a credible-enough insurance.
In fact, that vote may turn out to be just a one-time fairytale surge.
UP, this time, is settling down to business as usual. The BJP can count on Tyagis, Sainis, Lodhs, Thakurs, Punjabis, Brahmins, Telis, Nishads, Kurmis and a host of others, but then they don’t vote en block everywhere.
They often weigh their own candidate options and the local equation. The Yadav vote too, which had leaked a little to favour the BJP in 2014, has almost entirely moved back to the SP. This is because the BJP is unable to offer itself evocatively enough, even to its own core.
Akhilesh has emerged as an affable young face. He has managed to camouflage the harsh edges of the SP, and that too after it ran roughshod over UP for five years.
He also seems to have emerged almost unscathed from the clan feud that threatened to go out of control in the eleventh hour.
By stitching an alliance with the Congress, Akhilesh has created an opening in what has traditionally been the weakest region for the SP – western UP.
Most importantly, he has shrugged off the incumbent’s accountability factor, which always weighs down even the most seasoned of the campaigners.
Akhilesh, believe it or not, is palming himself off as a fresh – new and improved if you please – option. The atmospherics suggest that no one has been able to call his bluff yet.
The winner in the midst of all equations seems to be the Congress. A party, as if given up for dead, is rising from its funeral pyre. Clutching on to the “dhoti/pyjama” of SP, the Congress is all set for a revival.
It was the fear of this revival that made Mulayam resent such an alliance. In several urban pockets, the Congress is tugging at the votes alienated by the BJP.
The likely scenario: UP seems headed for a hung house. Nobody can stop Mayawati from crossing the three-digit score. The question is, how far will she go beyond that?
Will she race ahead of the SP-Congress combine, which very few are willing to concede as on date, and the BJP?
The party should be very lucky to get even close to a 25 percent vote share, down from the 43 per cent it cornered in 2014. This does not translate to a three-digit score in terms of seats.
BJP seems to be in for some more “kar seva” for Mayawati – that is if she can keep her flock together after the polls.

The Misdeeds of Decades: Why BJP and we face a full-blown jihad in the Kashmir Valley today

Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member


Omar Abdullah wants the constitutional clock in Jammu and Kashmir turned back to pre-1953 status.
To be fair to him, it isn’t just his election-time rhetoric. He’s been at it for some time now.
Likewise, Mehbooba Mufti too has been saying, like a stuck CD, that if Articles 370 and 35A are fiddled with, the Indian tricolour will not find a taker in Kashmir.
While the content of their rhetoric has almost turned stale, what is new is their stridence — this new-found stridence looks like an ominously desperate attempt at raising the political temperature in the Valley to gain some traction, which has plummeted for both of them to an all-time low. Also, even though both Omar and Mehbooba are competing with each other, their mutual rivalry is dwarfed by their combined hostility towards Narendra Modi and the BJP. To dismiss it as their usual competitive fulmination (targeting the BJP/RSS to mobilise the BJP-sceptic Muslim-votes) will amount to misreading a significant development — with huge potential.
Both are ‘legacy’ politicians. Both have been the chief minister. And, presumably, both aspire to regain that office at the first available opportunity. Between them, they can claim to represent most of the voters in the Valley. In the rest of the state too, thanks to a sustained demographic engineering over the decades and their thinly disguised communal politics, their votes may not be an insignificant few. But, it is owing to blatant gerrymandering that the Valley has become all-powerful and, therefore, also their preferred mainstay.
To implement their bipartisan demographic agenda and to succeed at communal gerrymandering, besides a host of other sinister goals, power politics in the state has had to have some semblance of political arrangement with those who ran the central government. Initially, such arrangements rested, largely, on owing an allegiance such as the one Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed from Sheikh Abdullah till 1953, and later from Bakshi and Sadiq.

Till things fell apart: Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed Sheikh Abdullah’s allegiance till 1953. (Source: Twitter)

Subsequent examples of such allegiance are from the 1970s, when Sheikh Abdullah promised it to Indira Gandhi or for that matter, in the 1980s, when Farooq Abdullah offered it to Rajiv Gandhi. Whenever such allegiances broke up, due to vaulting ambition, political agendas, waning trust or even mere whim, serious consequences followed.
Later, as the polity fragmented and a single-party legislative majority became difficult to come by, feudalistic allegiances made way for coalitions. NDA-1 had the National Conference (NC). It was followed by a PDP-Congress coalition that extended into UPA-1. Subsequently, an NC-Congress coalition entered UPA-2 and a PDP-BJP coalition became a part of NDA-2 — in less than two decades, almost all possible permutations and combinations have worked together, sharing power and public office. For any other state, this would have been considered maturing of the polity, through the democratic process — not for Jammu and Kashmir.
J&K suffered a veritable misfortune at its very birth into the great family called the Indian Union.
Nehru, the self-appointed midwife, and Sheikh, his ambitious apprentice, had pre-decided that it was going to be a ‘special’ child — very early on, crutches like Articles 370 and 35A were declared to be essential armours and strapped onto its fragile limbs.

Haunted by its own ‘special status’ — Articles 370 and 35A have become the greatest thorns in J&K’s growth. (Source: Reuters)

Despite loud proclamations about rejecting the two-nation theory and building the Union of India into a secular democratic constitutional republic, J&K-specific exceptions and modifications were forged. The reason — irrespective of all the alibis offered from time to time — was its Muslim-majority demography. Our Constitution — arguably the most liberal one in the whole world— was not extended to the state of J&K as a concession to its Islamic identity. Earlier, our Parliament, India’s highest sovereign body, was denied jurisdiction over the territory of J&K — a mere province in our Union — just because it had a Muslim majority population. A separate Constitution for J&K — which was regressive and majoritarian, with no fundamental rights or minority protection — was allowed to supersede the collective will of a secular India.
Ironically, it looked as if another Pakistan was sought to be built now, within our own territory, and that too in the immediate aftermath of a bloody partition.
In the Congress leadership’s tentative and apologetic approach towards the state of J&K, Pakistan sensed an opportunity.
Over the next seven decades, Pakistan continuously invested in a constituency within India that questioned J&K’s accession to India. Pakistan flourished in our campuses, within our media, bureaucracy, judiciary, economy, popular entertainment and, of course, among the so-called mainstream politicians of Kashmir.
Our response was to placate.
We ceded territory, eroded our own authority, legitimised politics based on sub-national identity, patronised separatist leadership, paid hefty ransoms to secessionists, allowed Hindu genocide and did everything else that put a premium on challenging India’s sovereignty and discounting patriotism. Often, our polity would let the most patently anomalous conduct pass as legit.
The net result of it all is that today, jihad has taken control, of the street as well as the narrative, in the Valley.
That it faces an equally serious backlash in Jammu and Ladakh is another matter, but even that is no thanks to the Indian state.

Jihad has taken control over the streets and the narrative of Jammu and Kashmir today. (Source: Reuters)

While the Indian state was indulging the politicians from the Valley, the Jana Sangh, and later, the BJP, since their very inception, opposed such decisions by dubbing these ‘appeasement politics’. Their founder, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, led a movement to oppose provisions such as Articles 370 and 35A. To their credit, they mobilised public opinion throughout the country on these issues. Since they were politically insignificant, they could never intervene and reverse the drift in Jammu and Kashmir. But even when they could, the political will seemed to lack. Meanwhile, whenever the NC and PDP associated with the BJP, they always did so with explicit caveats, safeguarding the Muslim interests in J&K.
Today, much has changed.
The BJP, ruling the Centre and almost a score-odd states, has become the most powerful political force in India.
It has achieved this feat a bit too fast for its rivals’ comfort. Its opponents are facing a veritable crisis of existence. A clear fallout is that politics, at the national level, seems to have sharply polarised — at the same time, in the Kashmir Valley, the fledgling jihad of the earlier decades has gained a critical mass.
After 40 months of a disastrous collaboration with the PDP, the BJP seems to find it difficult to sidestep the full-blown jihad staring at it in the face. It knows now that it stands to lose too much all over the country for its follies in the J&K. BJP’s own core constituency, and the rivals even more so, never lose an opportunity to remind them of the very prescriptions vis-à-vis J&K that they had peddled during their years in the Opposition. A widely shared belief that we, as a nation, have reached an inflection point is adding to the tension — Pakistan too, it seems, feels that it is now or never. It may also feel that its investments over the decades are now on the verge of paying off.
Everything seems to be converging synchronously.

Looking Delhi — talking Islamabad? Why does such politics always suit Pakistan’s agenda in J&K? (Source: PTI)

In light of all this, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are going to decide a lot more than just who will be the next Prime Minister. Everybody with a stake in the outcome is busy picking a side. In the middle of this, when Omar wants pre-1953 status, it isn’t because he fancies himself as the next Prime Minister of Kashmir — he is dog-whistling to his followers, to do what Farooq Abdullah told them to on April 5, 2017, from Hazratbal mosque, in Kashmiri. Back then, he had reportedly told the Hurriyat, “We are not your enemies but friends.”
And when Mehbooba speaks for Imran Khan in the wake of Pulwama, denounces the ban on JKLF/Jamaat-e-Islami, asks for ‘self-rule’ (that reportedly includes Pakistan’s currency to be valid in J&K, shared sovereignty, open borders, Sharia) and threatens to secede on 35A, she isn’t trying to merely win a Lok Sabha poll from Anantnag — which, incidentally, she calls Islamabad.
She is openly daring a billion-plus people by poking us in the eye.
But, with its manifesto, it is the Congress that outdoes both in pleasing Pakistan — the fountainhead of jihad against India. And both the NC and the PDP, in gratitude, step aside for the Congress to help it defeat the BJP in Jammu and Udhampur.
It is this convergence of the PDP, the NC and the Congress, under the benign gaze of Pakistan, that is emerging as the leitmotif of the 2019 polls.

OPINION: It is long overdue


Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member

In Shariat-driven Kashmir valley, temples and places of worship have been under threat in the last two decades. They are heavily guarded by armed-to-the-teeth paramilitary forces. Idols have been desecrated and many temples have been abandoned for years. As for schools, most have been closed as they were largely run by Kashmiri Pandits. There were the Vishwa Bharti schools, Vidya Bhavan schools, DAV schools, all of them iconic. They were shut down once the Pandits were forced to leave the Valley after the ethnic cleansing began.

Wrong To Dismiss Trump’s India Visit As All Hype And No Substance

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump shake hands after introductions during the “Howdy Modi” event at NRG Stadium in Houston, US.
 US President Donald Trump’s visit to India should be looked at rationally. It would be wrong to dismiss it as all hype and no substance. Equally, it should not be seen as path-breaking in terms of resolving all problems in Indo-US relationship.
The US, as a global power, and India, as a regional power, will have divergences. But our diplomatic goal should be to manage them and focus on increasing convergences. All countries, even US allies, have trouble dealing with Trump’s unorthodox, unpredictable, transactional, and disruptive policies. To his credit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, with an odd hiccup, taken the measure of the man and succeeded in establishing a good personal equation with him, which explains Trump’s standalone visit to India and the “Namaste Trump” event at Ahmedabad.
After the stigma of an impeachment process and liberal America’s relentless vilification of him, Trump may look at his India visit as a triumphal recognition of his stature as a world leader as mammoth crowds await to welcome him at Ahmedabad. It would be an ego boost for him. He would also have calculated that a celebratory India visit would gain him funds and support from the Indian diaspora in America.
Meanwhile, for PM Modi, the US President’s visit raises India’s stature as an interlocutor, both regionally and internationally. Opposition elements in India may denigrate the visit as event management by Modi, but our neighbors — Pakistan, China and others would not look at it so simplistically.
As regards tangibles, the first India-US 2+2 dialogue held in December 2019 yielded impressive results and these can be built upon during Trump’s visit. Earning more goodwill may not be measurable but this should result from the visit, with a positive fallout on relations in general.
Trump is no doubt more focused on trade issues than on strategic ones. His world view is that of a businessman focused on dealmaking. Yet, under his watch, India and the US have moved forward on strategic issues. These include development of the Indo-Pacific concept that positions India centrally in security issues pertaining to the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific; according India STA-1 status to facilitate transfer of defense technologies; signing of the Industrial Security Annexed that will potentially include India in the global supply chains feeding the US defense industry, linking of the Defense Innovation Units of both countries, building India’s capacities through transfer of high-end defense platforms, signing of COMCASA, and so on. But this is not enough. The US must be induced to participate meaningfully in the “Make in India” project in defence manufacturing.

India and the US have differed on trade issues for years, bilaterally and within the WTO. A mini trade deal expected to be signed during Trump’s visit will not materialize. It goes to India’s credit that even with the pressure of Trump’s visit it has not made costly concessions that would “impact the lives of millions of Indians and would have long-term consequences”. Trump, obsessed by winning on trade issues, has compromised by visiting India without a deal in the offing, but this is a temporary reprieve.

ONE-SIDED STORY: Baseless reports by the paper

Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member
The Washington Post’s coverage of Kashmir has been woefully one-sided. Stories of lockdown, atrocities by armed forces and communication blackout are baseless. Even though the protest was led by Kashmiri Pandits, there were Indians of all states present. The good thing is that the Washington Post published a letter to the editor, which the protesters handed over to the newspaper.
Interestingly, when this large demonstration was taking place, a counter-demonstration, much smaller in size, was held across the road by a notorious ISI agent, Ghulam Nabi Fai. Fai ran a lobbying firm on Kashmir in the US two decades ago, whose finances were found to be dubious when investigated. He was behind bars for several years..

Bringing down Article 370 wall

Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Thirty years ago, it was the wall. On November 9, 1989, what they brought down in Berlin wasn’t just a few tonnes of bricks, mortar and barbed wire.
They tore up an entire fault line that had dragged the world to the brink of MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction. It ended an epoch. MAD, incidentally, was a very sophisticated argument to avert precisely what it assured.  What was done for the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the Parliament last week was no different. On the surface, it may seem that an inglorious history, of seven decades of self-infliction, has ended. Beneath that surface, an entire civilisation gasping for breath in Kashmir has been extended an oxygen mask. Article 370 was introduced in our Constitution-in-the-making in the month of November, 1949. This was a good two years after the accession of J&K to the Union of India.
Through this provision, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah sought ‘autonomy’ by circumcising the jurisdiction of Indian Parliament. He sought, and got away with, a separate Constitution.
These concessions were most unlike the arrangement with any other princely state, despite the fact that all of them acceded to India on identical terms. These exceptions and concessions for J&K were, clearly, an afterthought.
None of it was a condition prerequisite for accession, which itself was the sole prerogative of the Maharaja. It is time India knew the reasons for such largesse. In the run-up to August 15, 1947, when the then Maharaja of Kashmir sought talks to negotiate the terms of accession, he was snubbed repeatedly. His Prime Minister was kept waiting for three days and denied audience by the interim Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He was clearly told to appoint Sheikh Abdullah as his Prime Minister and send him as J&K’s emissary to deal with PM Nehru. This was humiliating for the Maharaja because the Sheikh was in detention for sedition. The delay in accession thus caused, was blamed on the Maharaja’s dithering.
Invasion by Pakistan on October 22, 1947, precipitated matters. The Maharaja sought help to fight back the invasion. PM Nehru refused on the grounds that Jammu &Kashmir wasn’t a part of India yet.  An unconditional accession was offered by the Maharaja on October 24. Nehru refused to budge till the Sheikh was appointed the PM. On October 26, another offer of accession was sent. This time, Sheikh Abdullah was persuaded by the Maharaja to carry it.  Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, then a Lt. Colonel, was an eye witness to the interaction when the accession was sealed. In his interview to Prem Shankar Jha, published in 1996, in the book —Rival Versions of History – the Field Marshal explained how the accession was signed and Kashmir defended. How Sheikh had no role more than that of Nehru’s preferred courier boy. And, how Sardar Patel had to, virtually, coax an instruction out of Nehru, to mobilise the Indian Army for Kashmir.
Later, keeping his word, Maharaja appointed Sheikh as the PM of J&K. Soon after, he started demanding concessions from Nehru, who had his own phantoms to fight. He had emerged badly bruised and battered from the partition contest with Jinnah. An unmistakable rebuff by the Muslims of India must have rankled, like unrequited love. A Muslim-majority Kashmir acceding to India looked like a consolation prize. But with his overture, the secular, liberal progressive and democrat Nehru went overboard. He forced India to make an exception to its secularism for the J&K because it was a Muslim-majority state. He allowed the Sheikh to run roughshod over all norms of democracy, rig elections and stuff the assembly with his own stooges because he was a leader of Muslims.  Nehru forced India to allow the state of J&K complete immunity from the Indian Constitution. All this was done because the J&K was a Muslim-majority state.
Going forward, in 1954, even a law like 35A was smuggled into the statute, to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of its citizens, deprive them of their basic human rights and institutionalize gender discrimination.  On August 5 and 6, 2019, all these travesties were reversed. But, what it unleashed in the last 70 years are like a genie out of the bottle.  If one has to identify the top-most challenge to India’s integrity today, it has to be the relentless jihad that the Valley of Kashmir faces today. I know a few people who are squeamish about using the word jihad to describe what goes on in the Valley in the name of Azadi. They are broadly of two types. Both empathise with the Azadi seekers. Both enjoy privileged access to their ecosystem. Both have enough common sense to know that it is nothing but jihad. Yet, they are reluctant. It is because they know that the world has very little appetite left for jihad.
One of the two are jihadis themselves. Just that they are the white-collar, politically literate, tactical type. This type knows that unless they dress-up the medieval world view of jihad and accord it the correct vocabulary, there is no hope.  The other one is the typical bleeding heart liberal who go through considerable trouble to be in the bed with the enemy. Lenin had a description for such species — useful idiots. The trouble is that jihad is able to find them in abundance.  The bigger challenge is the genie of violent jihad that has been roaming free and gaining heft. It has the mosques, streets, the media, academia, the polity, bureaucracy, the civil-society platforms and more in its stranglehold. Those who wish to triumphantly declare victory must sober down. We have barely begun. It is a long road ahead. The Jihad is well entrenched and implacable. It will take a lot of time, effort, resources, tact, perseverance and above all, a single minded resoluteness to re-establish freedom, equality, democracy, gender-justice and a harmonious plural order in Kashmir.

Why we need to be pragmatic with China

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

India is facing a major military challenge, with escalatory potential, from an unscrupulous and deceitful adversary on its northern border. The stakes are huge in terms of national security and economic choices India must now make with greater clarity and realism than before.
Unfortunately, instead of a show of national unity to meet the heightened external threat, the government is also facing an internal challenge, with opposition politicians aggressively questioning the government’s read-out of the developing situation and demanding premature explanations, and retired army officers claiming a fuller grasp of the ground situation (based on secondary information) than field commanders and confounding the public. They, along with some strategic experts, are giving running commentaries on the evolving situation as if a cricket match was being played in the high mountains.
Lack of foresight
The nation must show solidarity in facing a hegemonic adversary that sees India as an obstacle in realising its global ambitions. Regrettably, those who have held high-level security positions in earlier governments have begun to play politics in criticising the Modi government for showing ineptitude in handling China, as if the governments they have served had a more robust China policy that limited Chinese options in dealing aggressively with India.

Long before Modi/BJP came to power, China has been countering India strategically with impunity. The 2005 agreement on guiding principles and parameters for settling the border issue had some good features, but we accepted the Chinese formulation on making “meaningful” boundary adjustments, a Chinese code word for territorial concessions in the east by India. China began claiming Tawang in violation of the provision in the agreement about safeguarding due interests of their settled populations in the border areas, and we absorbed this Chinese provocation. From 2005 onwards China began claiming the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, calling it South Tibet, started issuing stapled visas to those from Arunachal Pradesh, shortened the length of the India-Tibet border, provoked the Depsang incident before the visit of the Chinese premier to India, which the then External Affairs Minister absurdly described as acne that can be cured with an ointment. In May 2013 while visiting China he announced that he would “love to live in Beijing” and that “On the problem on the LAC, both countries are on the same page” and that “we don’t have prickly issues of significant difference”.
The joint statement on Premier Le Keqiang’s visit to India illustrates the unreal assumptions, confusion and wishful thinking behind our policy towards China. It talks of India and China setting an example of relations between big, neighbouring countries. It refers to India-China relations having acquired global and strategic significance and stated that both countries do not see each other as rivals or competitors.
Additional errors
Where was the need to agree that in the Chinese path of development “fundamental human rights and rule of law are given their due place”. Tibet? Worse, it says that the “two sides are committed to taking a positive view of and support each other’s friendship with other countries” and “support each other in enhancing friendly relations with their common neighbours for mutual benefit and win-win results”. This meant, absurdly, that we view positively and support China’s relations with Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc. Besides acknowledging China’s commitment to non-proliferation processes, we agreed to carry out bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy. This undercut our objections to Sino-Pak nuclear cooperation, if we were open to such cooperation ourselves, besides ignoring China’s opposition to our NSG membership. We even agreed to ‘further enhance bilateral cooperation in maritime security”, to “earnestly safeguard the security of international sea-lanes and freedom of navigation”, implying that we didn’t view China’s maritime silk route as a threat.
Rising to challenge
There is continuity in government policies and Modi inherited this incongruous legacy. Having yielded ground to China, anti-Modi critics, that include some retired diplomats, shouldn’t hobble the centre’s response to China’s aggression by eroding domestic support, or behaving like spectators who seek a good fight. The government has to act responsibly and exhaust the negotiating process fully before examining other options. It is becoming apparent that the restoration of the status quo ante is improbable, as it would seem that China had buckled under a strong Indian response and obtained nothing for what would seem in hindsight as a reckless, ill-considered move. We have therefore a serious challenge ahead for us. Disengagement, partial withdrawal in phases, creation of a buffer zone, even if it is equitably done, is not a solution, as China will still preserve the option to apply pressure and raise tensions at will to exercise oversight over India’s regional and global foreign policy options. We should disregard the so-called Chinese sensitivities about our relations with the US, Quad or bolstering the Indo-Pacific concept. This is not a question of ideology, it is one of making pragmatic choices faced with a geopolitical adversary determined to obstruct India’s peaceful rise as much as possible.

Why China cannot limit the Indo-US bonhomie

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

Chinese aggression in Ladakh has been analysed and commented on in India as a democratic country with freedom of expression.
From this how India broadly sees the Chinese challenge can be reasonably gauged. However, China’s calculations and insights into why it has provoked this crisis remain opaque because of its closed system. In their writings, South Asia experts abroad have essentially piggy-backed on commentaries in India, without offering any insights of their own, as they too have no direct access to Chinese thinking. Speculative and misleading reasons being touted to explain China’s aggression only give advantage to its propaganda.
That through this aggression China wants to pressure India to remain “nonaligned” between it and the US is an absurd view. India’s ties with the US and China cannot be equated. Unlike China, the US is not claiming Indian territory. It is today supplying advanced defence equipment to India as a “major defence partner”.
Synergy with the US
We conduct major military exercises with the US, especially naval. We are partners in the Quad and in the Indo-Pacific. The people to people ties with the US are deep, with a 3 million diaspora in the US and well over 200,000 Indian students in US universities. The US is now our biggest economic partner, including in goods, and, what is more, unlike in China’s case, we have a trade surplus with it.
China would be foolish to think that it can place limits on India-US ties by creating border tensions intermittently as a dissuasive strategy. Actually, this belligerence builds greater public support for closer ties with the US. Besides, if China wants India to be more “non-aligned” between it and the US as its adversary, it needs to be more “non-aligned” between India and Pakistan, our implacable adversary.
To underline the absurdity of bringing in the US factor, did the Tibet issue arise between India and China because of our closeness to the US?
Beijing’s old agenda
Did the Dalai Lama flee to India for this reason? Did the Chinese occupy Aksai China to counter the US and was 1962 a part of this? Does China make offensive territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh, and on Tawang in particular, because of our US connection? China transferred nuclear and missile technology in the 1980s to Pakistan when India was under severe non-proliferation sanctions by the US.
Did the US provoke the Doklam stand-off, and has China made the latest claim on eastern Bhutan with Tawang in mind because of the US factor?
Leftist lobbies in India use the argument of our increasing strategic closeness US to make China’s purported case, forgetting that the most intense partnership in the last couple of decades or so has been the US-China one. There may be independent, non-ideological reasons for Indian caution about over-reliance on the US.
We have to meet the land threat from China (which includes Pakistan) essentially on our own, with at best diplomatic and intelligence support from US and others, unlike in the maritime domain where US-India cooperation along with Japan and Australia can act as a deterrence against China. US policy towards Afghanistan and the Taliban, which shields Pakistan from the kind of pressure US puts on Iran, not to mention the huge economic ties that the US, Australia and Japan have with China, should be properly assessed by us to determine the scope of our future options. American analysts should not mix the logic of stronger India-US defence ties to scotch India’s so-called non-aligned inclinations, and, more importantly, reliance on Russian defence supplies.
Our longstanding defence ties with Russia cannot be jettisoned, more so in the context of Russia’s increasing strategic closeness to China pushed by US/European policies.
The US, Australia, Japan and Europe, not having territorial contiguity with China have security concerns that differ from ours. (They, unlike us, also have cold ties with Russia). Not facing a territorial threat from China, will they be ready to actively intervene in territorial issues between India and China? However, should the border situation escalate militarily, stepped up US pressure on China in the western Pacific can present China with a two-front situation, tie-down its forces in the east and force it to relieve pressure on India as a result.
The US would have an interest, even independently of India’s concerns, to expose this Chinese vulnerability and contain its muscle-flexing, which is becoming an international problem. India can, on its part, strengthen the Quad, give it a military dimension by including Australia in the Malabar Exercise.
Take ASEAN along
India should convince ASEAN that Quad and the Indo-Pacific concept are the second line of defence against China’s mounting threat in the South China Sea and that it supplements, not dilutes, ASEAN’s critical role in evolving Asian security architecture. Such an architecture will either not emerge because of China’s unbridled conduct or it will be China-centric. As long as China resorts to bullying individual ASEAN countries, fractures ASEAN unity does not disown the nine-dash line and believes that its economic and financial clout limits the scope of retaliation by others, China will pursue its hegemonic policies in Asia.

Why the world should not meddle in India’s internal affairs

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

Our resistance to external interference in our internal affairs has greatly eroded at the national level. This gives unfriendly external forces more room to play on our internal differences, promote lobbies to weaken us from within, make governance more difficult, with consequences for the pace of India’s rise and its global ambitions. The UN Secretary-General has been violating the Charter’s core principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states by pronouncing on our legislative decisions, internal security steps and community tensions when India functions much more democratically than the UN.
Out to offend India
The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCHR) targets India on issues of internal political management that are subject to unconstrained legal, civil society and media scrutiny domestically, far beyond what is possible by any external observer. Moves are made in the US Congress and the European Parliament to rebuke India on sensitive issues internal to India, putting our diplomacy on the defensive. The UK government permits demonstrations against our High Commission in London by known anti-Indian lobbies on issues internal to India.
main_un-secretary-ge_032520111431.jpgUN Secretary-General has been violating the Charter’s core principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states when India functions much more democratically than the UN. (File photo: Reuters)
Iran’s Ali Khamenei and the country’s Foreign Minister make offensive statements charged with religious rhetoric on street violence in Delhi, ignoring the sharp debate in India itself on the subject. The Islamist Turkish president believes he has the mandate to promote the welfare of India’s Muslims. Malaysia intrudes into our internal affairs by its propagandist accusations about the persecution of Indian Muslims. Surprisingly, Indonesian Muslim lobbies are also agitating the issue of such persecution. All this suggests a concerted campaign against India by Islamic countries outside the Arab world, now that the Gulf countries, with which India has intensive trade, financial, manpower and energy ties, have reached a level of bilateral understanding with the future in view.
The so-called liberal western press is involved in a massive campaign against the Modi government, driven by deep-seated prejudice and ideological antipathy for “Hindu nationalism”. It is playing opposition politics through its reporting, discarding all pretense of objective and fair reporting.
Political polarization in India has reached such a point that instead of the country uniting to rebuff unwarranted external intervention in our internal affairs, elements in our political class, civil society and the media support it as a weapon to beat the Modi government with. The blame is put on the government for damaging India’s image internationally, of generating concerns abroad about the erosion of India’s secularism and democracy, and so on.
The enemy within
In actual fact, it is the anti-Modi/BJP/RSS circles in India that have promoted the negative narrative about India abroad by associating fascism and genocide with Hindutva, referring constantly to lynchings of Muslims and Dalits, comparing Modi with Hitler, accusing the government of seeking to reduce the country’s Muslims to second-class citizens through the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens etc.
The government has to fight on two fronts — against the internal lobbies ranged against it and the external lobbies as well, with both in symbiosis. (Photo: Reuters)
The government has to fight on two fronts — against the internal lobbies ranged against it and the external lobbies as well, with both in symbiosis. This explains why the opposition lobbies ask the government to heed foreign critics rather than wear the mantle of nationalism and reject criticism. Regrettably, some who have handled India’s external relations at political and high bureaucratic levels indirectly legitimize this outside intervention in our internal affairs by not condemning it and blaming the government instead for the loss of India’s stature abroad.
Need to show unity
Our political and social activists could have asked Khamenei and Zarif to worry about Iran’s international isolation rather than threaten India with isolation from the Islamic world, and reminded them that India has not commented on the killing of hundreds of protesting civilians by the Iranian security forces. Instead, when External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, with reference to Iranian tweets, makes a mild comment that we now know who are friends really are, he is accused of arrogance. Erdogan could have been reminded about Turkey’s long-standing brutalities against the Kurds, the regime’s exactions against its people after the failed coup and Ankara’s illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus etc. Our Muslim leadership has been remiss in not condemning Iran, Turkey and Malaysia for speaking on behalf of Indian Muslims without any authority to do so.
The government’s response to these affronts from abroad could be stronger if our public opinion was more visibly agitated. On the contrary, some of our papers continue publishing columns by foreign scholars who are ideologically hostile to Modi and the BJP. Ban Ki-Moon, the former UNSG, has just been allowed to regurgitate the standard anti-Modi propaganda by our domestic lobbies. A column is carried favoring the UNHCHR’s bid to be amicus curiae in the petition against the CAA before the Supreme Court, even though the UNHCHR, is exceeding its mandate and has no legal basis to join domestic litigation in a member state. If our political class, think tanks, the media, the civil society do not react strongly to unwarranted foreign interference and help create room for a sharper government response, the perception would endure that hitting out at India carries no price.
Like all clichés “united we stand, divided we fall” is rooted in good sense and human experience.

India is no country for Islamophobia

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

To accuse India of Islamophobia is truly perverse. Given the wounds inflicted by centuries of Muslim rule, India as a majority Hindu country could have been deeply intolerant towards Islam. Instead, it has embraced Islam as an integral part of India.

Attempts at peace
Islamic fundamentalism ravaged India in 1947, long before the world discovered the pernicious nature of this ideology centered on a clash of civilizations, refusal to accept modernity and diversity, the violent assertion of religious identity, religious intolerance, terrorism, unspeakable brutalities, territorial ambitions, and so on. The belief that Muslims formed a separate nation created Pakistan. Up to 2 million were possibly killed during Partition and 14 million made refugees. The Muslim issue, despite Partition, has continued to torment India with Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir, and Islamic terrorism against India since 1990 by jihadi groups based in Pakistan. The Kashmiri pundit community has been the victim of ethnic cleansing in the Valley.

India has nevertheless striven since independence to build a socially peaceful, secular, democratic home for all Indians, including the Muslim community. India gave itself a secular constitution in tune with the accommodating and tolerant Hindu spirit, which even embraced the “minority” concept and made special provisions for the Muslims and other minorities to manage their religious and educational institutions and leaving almost untouched their personal laws.
While the Hindu majority has been willing to shed the bitter load of history and move forward towards an inclusive future, the conservative Muslim leadership has resisted the change in thinking needed to become real partners in this national ethos and endeavor. Instead of becoming secular in its thinking for better integration, identity assertion with Arabized accoutrements has become more visible. Extremist Muslim organizations have emerged in southern India. The agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act, as well as the National Register of Citizens, has communal roots dissimulated under a constitutional cover. Kashmir has lost its Sufi traditions and has become Islamized. Its leadership has kept the wound of partition alive by nurturing separatism and lionizing terrorists. The Ram Mandir issue was made into a prolonged test of political and social will by the Muslim leadership, with the Supreme Court judgment not accepted with grace.
The resistance
Without being secular themselves, Muslim leaders like Owaisi constantly take shelter behind the secular Indian constitution to disgorge their communal bile. The “liberal leftist” lobbies in India see no contradiction in the Hindu community being exhorted to be secular to protect the right of the Muslims to be non-secular. Their focus is therefore always on the “non-secular” acts or statements by a Hindu and not on the communal acts or statements by a Muslim.
The Muslim leadership has been content to play divisive politics in India in league with those political parties also averse to any form of Hindu consolidation. Its electoral strategy not to vote for the BJP as a Hindu party is itself communal in approach. If the BJP wins without the Muslim vote, as it has, the Muslims are bound to lose politically, as they have. They cannot then fall back on the constitution to compensate for the failings of their political strategy.
The secular Indian constitution is no barrier to pan-Islamism, which is antithetical to Indian nationalism. The Muslims by virtue of their faith cannot delink themselves from Muslims worldwide. This explains the reputedly moderate Delhi minority panel chief’s reprehensible tweet thanking Kuwait for “standing with Indian Muslims” and reminding Hindu bigots of the huge goodwill Indian Muslims enjoy in the Arab and Muslim world, and praising in the process a terrorism instigator like Zakir Naik.
Global hypocrisy
This explains why when the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USICRF) castigates India as an Islamophobic country and recommends sanctions against it, no denunciation comes from Indian Muslim leaders. When Turkey’s Erdogan speaks about his concern for his Muslim “brothers and sisters” in Kashmir or Malaysia’s Mahathir condemns India for occupying Kashmir by force, no Muslim organization rejects this interference in India’s internal affairs and reminds the USCIRF or foreign Islamic leaders that as Indian citizens they have the protection of the Indian constitution and do not need foreign support.
Organizations like the USICRF, whose focus is on conversions to Christianity in India, have no historical understanding of the Muslim question in the subcontinent and the remarkable tolerance with which Hindu society addressed it in independent India. They should contrast it with the cavalier killings of blacks by the American police even though blacks never ruled America and suppressed whites, a stigma that even the ‘half-Black’ President Obama failed to handle. Europeans would understand the Indian situation better if they reflected on how their Muslim population, which never ruled them and has no historical angst to sublimate, resists integrating itself into their democratic, secular polities and sections of it are still attached to sharia, not to mention their involvement in terrorism at home and participation in the excesses of the Islamic State in West Asia. It is Hinduphobia to accuse India of Islamophobia
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