This is the age of strategic autonomy in foreign policy, we are told. Our policy is all about “India first” and apparently, “strategic autonomy” helps us serve this policy. It’s but natural that any country will look after its own interests, before trying to save the rest of the world. In this direction, “strategic autonomy” has helped us, particularly in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war, when in spite of international opprobrium, we have stood our ground and bought Russian oil, thus managing to keep inflation at check and keep our economy in reasonably good shape. According to latest assessments, India may escape the recession that is sucking in the rest of the world, including the West, primarily because of its decision to increase the purchase of discounted fuel from Russia. By abstaining from voting against Russia in the UN Security Council, we say that we have managed to showcase our neutrality, while insisting on an immediate cessation of violence. It is a different matter that the rest of the world does not understand our nuanced position on the Russia-Ukraine war and has “thoughtlessly” branded us as supportive of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. Sadly, by our latest action, we are about to prove their assumption correct.
We are talking about the Vostok 2022 military exercises being held by Russia, in which we are participating. Keeping us company are China, Belarus, Tajikistan and Mongolia. We are participating in these exercises apparently to prove our strategic autonomy, to prove that we are not aligned to any bloc, and also presumably to stay in the good books of our “good” friend Russia. It’s almost as if we are not certain if our good friend will turn off the tap of components needed to maintain our defence materiel if we do not have good relations with them, just the way Putin has turned off the supply of gas to Europe. Is this why we have to participate in these exercises even if it means supping with China?
At a time when our troops are standing in an eyeball to eyeball stand-off with China’s People’s Liberation Army for over two years in the icy Himalayas, at a time when the Chinese are using salami slicing tactics to occupy our territory, when they are using their UNSC clout to block us from getting Pakistani terrorists sanctioned as global terrorists, are sending ships to Sri Lanka to spy on us, turning our name into mud by financing the most scurrilous narrative against us in the western media—in short, fighting an unrestricted political warfare against us, 24X7—what is the logic behind having military exercises with China? We are told that by holding such exercises we will be able to monitor the PLA’s military tactics and temperament. But the Chinese too will be doing the same and perhaps much more. They will not only monitor our tactics, but will also psychologically profile our soldiers, and perhaps even collect their DNA samples to find genetic characteristics and subsequently weaponize their findings. This is not science fiction; let’s not forget that US intelligence has alleged that the Chinese have been conducting unethical biological experiments in their attempt to create super soldiers.
Also, against which enemy are we participating in these exercises? Against the West? Against our Quad partners, the United States, Australia and Japan? We apparently are not participating in the maritime component of Vostok 2022 out of respect for Japan’s sensitivities, as Tokyo is unhappy that Russia is conducting these exercises near the southern Kuril Islands that are claimed by both Japan and Russia. What about respecting our own sensitivities too for a change? What about respecting the memories of the Galwan soldiers who were killed in a combat with the Chinese while trying to protect India’s territorial integrity? Galwan in 2020 has been a watershed moment for India-China relations that have moved beyond managing the differences between the two countries. It is well known that the Chinese consider all these conciliatory moves by India as appeasement of China. The common complaint from Indian think-tanks and policy analysts is that our foreign policy establishment is too cautious, too wary of angering China, because we share a 3,000 km long border with the Chinese. But did our caution stop Chumar (2014), Doklam (2017) or Galwan (2020) from taking place? The message that we are sending out is that we are too weak to stand up to the Chinese bully, allowing it to think it can get away with anything.
Also, is this the right time to participate in military exercises with Russia, when we say that we are neutral in the Russia-Ukraine war and that violence must stop? By participating in Vostok 2022, we are clearly taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Where is the strategic autonomy in this?
Pursuing strategic autonomy is fine. The problem starts when strategic autonomy starts looking like strategic confusion.
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India will continue to give Pak ‘talking-to’ instead of talking to it
While addressing a rally at Baramulla, Union Home Minister Amit Shah categorically ruled out holding talks with Pakistan. “Some people say we should talk to Pakistan. Why should we talk to Pakistan? We will not talk. We would rather talk to Gujjars, Paharis and the youth of Kashmir,” HM Shah said. He further said that they (Pakistan) have spread terrorism here. The Home Minister’s statement, in fact, highlighted India’s firm position that it has no plan whatsoever to resume dialogue with Pakistan. What is clear now is that since Pakistan continues to sponsor terrorism and provide safe haven to terror outfits, New Delhi is not going to talk to Islamabad under such circumstances. Amit Shah’s remarks rejecting talks with Pakistan come as a clear message for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who has been so keen to resume dialogue process with India, regardless of the fact that his government in Islamabad is hardly able to rein in terror groups which continue to export terrorists to Kashmir. There are enough evidences to prove cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and Islamabad’s support to anti-India terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The Indian home ministry has enough evidence to expose Pakistan’s backing to terror outfits under the watch of the Sharif government. So, how can India resume talks with Pakistan amid the growing terrorism from the latter’s soil?
After taking over as PM of Pakistan, Shehbaz had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking “peaceful and cooperative” ties with India. He had said that this can be achieved through meaningful dialogue. But, PM Modi rightly raised the issue of terror calling for “an environment free of terror and violence” which would allow “us to focus our attention on the development and progress of our people”. This way, PM Modi gave the message that terror and talks cannot go together. This is exactly what Shah has underlined during his Baramulla rally, given the substantial evidence, which his ministry is in possession of that expose Pakistan’s terror connections.
Meanwhile, Shah’s statement that he would like to talk to the people of Jammu and Kashmir instead of talking to Pakistan must have given jitters to Shehbaz Sharif. Shah’s plan on massive outreach to the people in Jammu and Kashmir cannot go down well with the regime in Islamabad which keeps conspiring to misguide and mislead the youths of the Valley to serve its anti-India agenda. Undeniably, the Modi government’s increased connection with people in Jammu and Kashmir will be a setback for Sharif’s agenda to internationalise the Kashmir issue at the various global forums. On a number of occasions, the Pakistan PM tried to raise the Kashmir issue at the United Nations. But every time he ended up being admonished by the Indian side. Recently, Sharif raked up the Kashmir issue at the 77th session of the UNGA. His conduct invited Indian envoy’s sharp reaction, slamming Pakistan for sheltering terrorists behind the horrific 26/11 Mumbai attack.
That India’s perception about Pakistan as a terror exporting country continues to be unchanged was made clear by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishanakar recently. EAM drew a comparison between India’s IT (Information Technology) industry with that of the IT (international terrorism) industry of the “neighbouring” country. Jaishankar said just as India is an expert in information technology, “our neighbour is an expert in international terrorism”. Jaishankar’s strong remarks came just hours before Shah’s Baramulla terse statement in what should be viewed as a clear message to Pakistan that India has no plan to resume dialogue with it. The condition that Pakistan must take credible action against terrorists operating from its soil remains unfulfilled. And, this is the clear message given by the Indian ministers not only to the Sharif regime but also to the entire global community that must step up pressure on Pakistan asking it to act against terrorists. So, no end to terrorism means no dialogue with Pakistan.
CUET chaos is not good for higher education
To prove that a single common entrance test was a popular idea, the CUET was extended to all higher educational institutions, albeit voluntarily. Too much formalisation and standardization, however, does not necessarily improve quality.
The compulsory Common University Entrance Test (CUET) has been, to quote the head of the Educational Testing Services (ETS), a “great learning experience” for India’s National Testing Agency (NTA). For those at the receiving end, candidates aspiring for a seat in a programme and university of their choice, this learning has come at a huge cost. They underwent harrowing times in their life.
As the CUET-UG scores are out, the ordeals of students have only heightened. They are a confused lot and find it difficult to make sense of their absolute marks, percentiles, and normalised scores. They are now more jittery than ever before about their chances of pursuing a preferred programme in the institutions of their choice. With wide variations in the percentiles and normalised scores of different subjects, students are edgy about the choices they ticked while filling up their application forms.
Some universities have been more considerate and sympathetic and have reopened their portals for prospective students to apply and update their preferences and choices. Others have chosen to stick to applications already received. The academic session must have commenced by mid-July. Most universities, including the much sought-after Delhi University (DU), now seem reconciled that the academic session for the undergraduate programmes would not begin this year before November.
CUET PG scores are also out but most universities are yet to work out when their postgraduate classes would begin. UGC may have released a list of universities indicating as to when they would start their classes, but the same is quite incomplete and does not mention the schedule of some of the bigger universities. It appears that this year, nearly a semester would be lost.
The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) prescribed that the General Education Council (GEC), one of the verticals of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), should evolve a National Higher Education Qualification (NHEQF) in sync with the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF).
As HECI and GEC are yet to see the light of the day, the University Grants Commission (UGC) capitalised on the opportunity and came up with a draft NHEQF. Broadly, outcome-based, it mandates that each programme must provide for a minimum of 20 credit hours of coursework in a semester. And that one credit would be equivalent to one hour of lecture/tutorial or two hours of practicals/fieldwork per week.
NHEQF does not specify the duration of an academic calendar. It may be assumed that earlier regulations mandating a minimum of 18 weeks of teaching in a semester would remain applicable. Accordingly, the odd semesters must commence by 16 July and end by 15 December. Most central universities, with a few occasional exceptions, have been adhering to this schedule. The past two academic sessions were disrupted due to Covid-19. Universities took time to decide on critical issues and get acclimatised with the newer ways of admission, course delivery, examination and evaluation.
Most universities were able to salvage their academic sessions by shortening the semesters and requiring teachers to teach longer hours and sacrificing their vacations. It is now being realised that the pace of learning was a huge casualty. This time the delay is purely due to human folly. CUET was mandated as late as March, leaving little time for the organisers of the test to plan and prepare for the mammoth exercise.
Many universities had to reissue their prospectus as they had already announced their details schedules as per the past practice. Students were given little time to comprehend the change and brace themselves for this abrupt change. Since such a test was being conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for a few central universities, mostly the new and smaller ones, it was thought to be a cakewalk to scale it up to cover all central universities.
Warning signals from a few were ignored as voices of dissent just for the sake of dissent. In fact, they had the opposite effect. To prove that a single common entrance test was a popular idea, the CUET was extended to all higher educational institutions, albeit voluntarily.
The ensuing chaos and the pandemonium that followed are now known to the world and have become a case of how not to rush things up. Amid frequent additions, deletions, modifications and corrigendum, the rules of the CUET games continued until the test ended. Students were advised to continuously visit the CUET portal for updates about modifications. The netizens did but those on the other side of the digital divide—the poor, the downtrodden, and those living in rural and remote areas—simply gave up after a few attempts, to save the hassle and cost.
Frequent changes in the test centres, cancellation and postponements and rescheduling of tests have caused unimaginable inconvenience to the aspirants. This probably explains why only about 65 per cent (9.68 lakh of the 14.9 lakh applicant) could take the test.
Students are anxious about their future. Are we staring at a zero semester? Would the session be saved by compressing and crashing the semester? with crash courses? Will it have a cascading effect? Students are asking around to whomsoever they have access.
With CUET candidates still struggling with their tribulations, they were jolted by the announcement that Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and National Eligibility Entrance (NEET) would soon be merged into CUET. Thankfully, the Union Minister of Education has put a halt to this idea, at least for the next two years.
The idea of one nation one examination sounds catchy but is fraught with its own challenges. It is also opposed to the National Education Policy (NEP 2020), which is being invoked to introduce the idea. The policy does suggest that a common ground be found for admission to higher education.
The policy also mentions that the National Testing Agency (NTA) could conduct admission tests for higher education. However, the policy had equally emphatically emphasised that the decision of whether to admit students on the basis of this test should be left to the respective universities. What was ignored in the process was the fact that the new education policy had hoped that the quality, reliability, consistency, and transparency with which the NTA would organise these tests would entice universities to adopt the same rather than having their own methods of selecting students?
India is not a country. It is a subcontinent. It is simply too large, too diverse, and too complex and complicated to be subject to centralised common admission tests. Too much formalisation, uniformity, and standardisation does not necessarily improve quality. Instead, they lower the overall quality of higher education by pulling down all institutions to the lowest common denominator.
Furqan Qamar, former Adviser for Education in the Planning Commission, is a Professor of Management at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
Elections, emotional exploitation and emotional intelligence
Our political leaders focus on instigating voters on sensitive issues and go to the extreme stage to exploit voters’ emotions.
It has been our history that emotions always override pragmatism in the matters of politics and elections. An Indian election is the greatest stage for political leaders of all ideologies to court their people on a variety of issues using emotional appeal and approach. Emotions have always played a vital role in Indian elections. The origin and growth of the Dravidian political parties are closely linked to the emotions over linguistic nationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rapid rise in national politics would not have been possible without the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh continue to live in the hearts of people there due to the emotional undertones in their politics. The sympathy wave that followed the assassinations of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi helped the Congress win general elections in 1985 and 1991.
Even in Kerala, emotional issues have cropped up where, normally, politics and elections were always fought on ideological and social issues. An allegedly fragile 116-year-old brimming dam, which has been a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu for years, had become an explosive and sensitive political issue in the state.
Emotions are powerful source which mobilize very fast in politics. They frame ideologies, build up opinions and can drive the specific agenda. It is observed that political campaigns recognise the centrality of emotions in shaping voter perceptions and strategically leverage voters’ emotional vulnerabilities to fulfil electoral goals. Keeping the power of emotion in mind, our political leaders focus on the interplay between ethics and emotions such as fear, hope, anxiety, anger, hatred, betrayal for electoral success. They also instigate voters on sensitive issues and go to the extreme stage to exploit voters’ emotions in many cases.
Emotional exaggeration is harmful for any ecosystem, not just for politics. It can lower the credibility of a fraternity, an institution, a society or even a family. Repeated emotional exaggeration might diminish the system’s sensitivity. It might lead to decreased trust and dependability in those who exaggerate their emotions.
Elections should be fought on issues of public welfare and development, not on emotions. Of course, our leaders talk about it but in practice, they flout the model code of conduct and polarise voters in the name of religion, caste and many kinds of emotional issues. We are the largest democracy in the world. Instead of developing and evolving to become more mature after 75 years of independence, the democratic ideals are rapidly vanishing in our country.
Political parties should recognise that their organisations are intended to remain forever, while individuals may exist for a limited time. Promoting impolite political behaviour and reinventing politics for short-term political gains may do irreversible harm to not just their particular parties, but also to public discourse, state institutions, and the nation’s political ecology.
This is now time to recognise and acknowledge the importance of emotional intelligence in everyday politics.
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to perceive, control, use, evaluate and handle emotions. People with emotional intelligence can recognise their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments.
Unfortunately, in today’s politics of deception, exaggeration and hyperbole, emotional intelligence is the farthest thing one can anticipate from the present political scenario.
Politics is a democratic institution, not dramatic platform. It enables self-government via people’s representation; it is not a system that should be mocked on a regular basis to the point where it becomes an ugly comedy soap opera or a C-grade TV series.
Sudhir S. Raval is a veteran journalist and columnist from Gujarat and Consulting Editor with iTV Network, New Delhi.
Western democracies on a negative trajectory
The Ukraine war may have distracted the West from dealing with some fundamentals to making democracy more attractive, bettering fundamentally, the West’s economic health at large.
Win, lose or draw on the war in Ukraine, the West, overall, is in trouble—or at least on a negative trajectory, even if it were to find a mecca of a cheap energy source. Why?
You could focus on identity politics, wokism and the creepy ever-growing creep of the highly technologically advanced security state ever widening its net. But I am more into basics like long term growth trajectories, labour stability and availability, productivity, GNP growth, business and commercial friendly regulatory environments. And secondarily, I focus on popular sentiment about the future and government.
Let us look at some good examples. Some come from Professor Graham Allison in his lecture at Harvard University (on YouTube) on whether there will be war between the West and China. He gives a whole lot of statistics demonstrating the overall fast growth of the Chinese economy. For 1978, he shows that 90% of the Chinese people were living on two dollars or less a day—and the remarkable degree to which mass deep poverty in the 1980s has become a very small part of the China of today. In fact, by 2014, and no doubt beyond, only one in a hundred are living in extreme poverty.
As implied by Allison, such fast paced progress was due to the serious goals and time frames, Xi Jinping the Chinese leader, his officials and his post Mao predecessors set for the country on the long term. But even a clip from his lecture shows how serious the Chinese are about fulfilling short-term goals. Allison showed a time lapse video of a small bridge being reconstructed in Beijing done entirely in 43 hours—all while a small bridge near the Harvard campus has taken years to renovate.
I will add the famed doomed California fast train system. The Gaurdian (UK) headline says it all: “Despite 14 years of work and about $5bn spent, the 2008 promise of quick transport between Los Angeles and San Francisco has not materialized”. Contrast over the same period, as according to Xinhua news, “The total length of high-speed rail lines in China came in at about 37,900 km at the end of 2020 and was up about 2,900 km from 2019 and almost twice that of 2015.”
And what do we have in the UK. In Britain, speaking of train service, it has been on strike. Only an intermission due to the passing away of the late Queen Elizabeth II, interrupted the work stoppage. Several years ago in a famous report, the current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss derided the lack of work ethic and devotion to aspiration by too many native Britons. Many today, as polls show, are very uncertain of their future. She even went as far as praising the greater commitment and ambition by many Indian immigrants to get ahead. Truss seems worried that England has been in a too low productivity situation for way too long which undermines economic growth. Piers Morgan, one of England’s most famous talk show hosts, goes further in a recent YouTube clip. He categorizes Britain as essentially a basket case.
An Ash Center poll underscores the important contrast between the US and China. From the Harvard Gazette: “Survey team found that compared to public opinion patterns in the US, in China, there was very high satisfaction with the central government. In 2016, the last year the survey was conducted, 95.5% of respondents were either ‘relatively satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’.” It goes on and says only 38% in America were so.
And speaking of India, it has seen extremely fast growth, registering well over 6% over recent years and up to around 12% in recent quarters. Its technology sector has been fast developing and its major companies have been important sources of investment capital for England. In fact, exogenous capital from countries of the South has been an important lifeline for British manufacturing, not only the Premier football league. Main brands like Jaguar to Range Rover are owned by Indians. It is hard to think how worse off the UK would be without immigration and investment from such, so-called developing or newly developed countries. Some of these patterns of low or insufficient growth and productivity and labour issues hold up on the continent.
My view is that it becomes increasingly hard to have stability without economic fundamentals in order. For Asia, this has been the practical focus—wealth and stability. Economic growth is intricately connected with fairness. A priority that cannot be (overly) subordinated to western values of pro-identity politics and beyond, even if a country does not meet the US definition of democracy, exceptional or not?
To be fair, the West has reached a very large GNP for their population size. So, there may be increasing limits for high growth rates when compared to India, Southeast Asia if not China. India is said to have an overall GNP that has surpassed that of the UK. But the UK has a much smaller population and China whose economy is fast approaching a size or bigger than the US’s. So, what to do to clearly boost the economic prospects of the West with its poor growth prospects and negativity among its populations about government. All of which is giving a bad name to democracy or at least western forms.
There needs to be a culture change in the West (and Japan). That means welcoming more entrepreneurship and the skilled from places like the Commonwealth, yet in a more orderly way than the madness at the Mexican border, Channel or Mediterranean crossings of illegals in rickety boats. Many more resources should be put forward to accelerating legitimate and functional immigration from the South to vitalize “rusty” regions of the West. This should be done sensibly, not in panicky manner. As well, the diversification as seen in the Liz Truss cabinet should be a signal that rewarding meritocracy goes hand in hand with anti-racism. Achievement should not be overly tied up in quotas but pushing and supporting excellence and productivity through all layers and regions of society. Varied sources of foreign investment can help, too. Educators have important roles in this including raising the economic and investment IQ among students.
The Ukraine war has not only been sad given all the deaths of the innocent, refugees and physical and environmental destruction. But it may have also distracted the West from dealing with some fundamentals to making democracy more attractive, bettering fundamentally, the West’s economic health at large.
Peter Dash, an educator based in Southeast Asia, has written for many years on development and international affairs issues. He was a researcher at Harvard University in the Africa Research Program.
AN OPPOSITION ON THE MOVE, FINALLY
It’s the season for political yatras what with Rahul Gandhi’s 3570 km Bharat Jodo yatra, Arvind Kejriwal’s countrywide Make India No 1 mission and Prashant Kishor’s 3500 km padyatra in Bihar. The one unifying narrative here is that all these are opposition leaders who have taken to the streets, so in a way what we are getting is the optics of an opposition on the move. Finally. Because for the last eight years we have largely been treated to the visuals of a somnambulant opposition, giving the BJP a walk-over.
Of the three it is Rahul’s yatra that seems to be getting the maximum headlines. Which by itself is no mean feat given the cold shoulder the Gandhi scion has been getting from the media in recent times, due to a variety of reasons. However, now and especially on social media, Rahul seems to have upped the ante. What helps is that a yatra provides for some great visuals, of interactions with the public, of him addressing a rally in the rain or just some playful exchanges with some of his colleagues. All of which makes for better TRPs than his preachy, finger waving sermons at rallies. Some credit must be given here to the party’s media department lead by Jairam Ramesh and fellow ‘yatri’ Pawan Khera who have keep the social media blitzkrieg alive with interesting snippets along with Supriya Shrinate; not to mention colleagues such as DK Shivkumar, Srinivas BV, Madhu Goud Yaskhi, Surendra Rajput to name a few.
Ironically Arvind Kejriwal’s mission was launched on 6 September in Hisar, around the same time as Rahul’s Bharat Jodo amidst great fanfare with the patriotic Rang de Basanti Chola playing in the background and Punjab CM Bhagwat Mann dancing in the foreground. Since then I am not quite sure if the mission is still carrying on in the form of a yatra or if it’s been transformed into the Gujarat and Himachal election campaign. But the AAP Chief has succeeded in making waves in both the states, specially Gujarat where more people seem to know his name than that of the sitting Gujarat Chief Minister (that’s the problem with changing so many CMs so often). But since this is Gujarat the votes for the BJP will be in Modi & Shah’s name, regardless of who the CM is, so that doesn’t matter. Will Kejriwal’s rallies translate into votes? While few doubt that the BJP will come back in the state, it would be interesting to see if AAP manages to replace the Congress in the second position.
As for Prashant Kishor, he has just embarked on his yatra a few days back. He clearly sees a void in Bihar’s leadership with Nitish Kumar doing one too many somersaults and the RJD still a faction ridden outfit. The BJP is trying to fill this same vacuum but it lacks a tall regional leader to take on Nitish, Lalu and Tejashwi. From Prashant’s rhetoric he is targeting the youth, talking about jobs and education more than caste arithmetic. Will it work and will the election strategist be able fashion a win for himself the way he has done for his clients?
Sometimes, even in politics, it is not the end but the journey that matters. And it is a healthy sign for our democracy to see opposition leaders walking their talk.
As Sindh struggles, Imran Khan rolls on
With Pakistan witnessing its worst floods, several questions have risen, both inside the country and worldwide. Before the floods, Pakistan was already going through political, economic, and social turmoil, with tensions visible through recurring protests, news of ethnic persecutions, human rights violations, and dire living conditions for Pakistanis in many regions. The southern province of Sindh has been the most affected. According to Sindh’s Information Minister, more than 600 people have died in flood-related causes, and the province is set to face unsurmountable losses in agricultural production. Ironically, before the floods, Sindh faced an acute water shortage. The situation was so grave that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali had appealed to farmers not to cultivate rice. Sindhi leaders blamed Punjab’s provincial administration for stealing Sindh’s water and creating a water crisis.
Floods and failures
The floods have exacerbated underlying tensions in Pakistan, which the leaders have tried to bury for a long time. The indifference toward human rights and ethnic minorities came under the spotlight as floods’ devastating effects started mounting. In one such incident, Sindh police arrested journalist Nasrallah Gaddani after he covered the story of Hindu flood victims who were expelled from the flood relief camp.
In many ways, Sindhis are waking up to the realisation of having been docile with their government for far too long. Several recent videos circulating over social media platforms like Twitter highlight that the worsened situations are being blamed not on floods but the government’s mismanagement and the pursuit of selfish political interests.
Pakistani politicians have not helped their case either. While surveying the region on a boat, a viral video showed senior Sindh government leaders comparing the flooded areas of Sindh with Italy’s Venice. A few days later, the same leader was seen running away in a video when flood victims blocked roads and surrounded him, demanding accountability.
In another instance, hundreds of protestors came to bring to notice to the visiting PM Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and Sindh CM that they haven’t been provided relief materials even after multiple assurances. In response, Sindh police lodged cases against over 100 unidentified persons on terrorism charges for allegedly inciting flood victims outside a relief camp and attacking police personnel.
Shifts in Sindh
A lot of Sindh’s turmoil has its roots in the ongoing political discourse. The dynamic between the three biggest political parties in Pakistan—Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), Sharif’s PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-N), and Bhutto’s PPP (Pakistan People’s Party)—can be seen at play in Sindh.
After successfully removing Imran Khan from the helm through a no-confidence motion in April this year, PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government, electing Shehbaz Sharif (former PM and party founder Nawaz Sharif’s brother) as the PM and making Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (son of party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari) the foreign minister.
PTI is the largest opposition party in Sindh, which is ruled by PPP (with Syed Murad Ali Shah as CM). In the 2018 general elections, the PML-N lost its stronghold in old Punjab province, with the PTI coming to power through a coalition government. Now, it looks like Bhutto’s might also lose their stronghold Sindh to Imran Khan’s PTI in next year’s general elections.
Several reasons contribute to shifting tides in Sindh. Firstly, the floods have anguished Sindhis to a great extent. It has been highlighted over social media that Sindh police created hurdles for trucks and vehicles loaded with relief goods, especially those arriving from Punjab. It has been alleged that police allowed vehicles to pass only after taking bribes. Other videos showed Sindhis complaining that they have not received the 25000 rupees aid promised to flood victims by the PPP government while underlining that people in PTI ruling provinces have received the aid. For Sindhis, while the PPP and the Bhuttos are falling short of their promises, Imran Khan is exceeding expectations.
Secondly, political backlash against PPP is now coming from multiple directions. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi head (another Pakistani political party) condemned the Sindh government over rampant street crimes. He warned that the party would assemble masses for protests in front of police stations if the government and police department failed to put an end to the increasing number of mugging incidents and robberies. As floods recede and the exact toll on livelihoods comes to light, the after-effects might worsen the law and order situation in Sindh cities even more.
Thirdly, as the flood worsens Pakistan’s economic and food security, Sindh, an agricultural hub, will be significantly affected. While prices of essential commodities were already soaring, a shortfall in crop production will affect both exports and domestic availability. This can lead to more protests in the coming months.
Finally, the Imran Khan factor is set to play a big role in Sindh. Since his ouster, he has gained immense popularity among the masses of Pakistan, who now see him as a beacon of hope for democratising Pakistan and standing up to the Pakistani army and China. Asif Ali Zardari (the PPP co-chairman) is said to have been the chief architect behind the no-confidence motion in April. In a recent interview, Imran emphasised that the ‘Zardari mafia’ has kept Sindh undeveloped through loot and plunder and said that Zardari’s days were numbered. Highlighting the ‘system of injustice’ installed by Zardaris, Imran urged the youth to fight and defeat him in the coming elections. He also vowed to raise donations for Sindhi flood victims through his international telethon (fundraising event). He had already collected 5 billion rupees worth of donations successfully through these telethons.
What lies ahead?
It is expected that it will take years to rehabilitate and rebuild Sindh and other affected areas in Pakistan. But while these regions struggle, Pakistani politics will not slow, especially with next year’s general elections. Meanwhile, Imran Khan is making all the right noises and reaching out to people in ways that have not been seen in Pakistan in the last several decades. Sindh provides a glaring example of these developments. As Imran rolls on, the shaping dynamics will be monitored closely in Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi. The ongoing floods might bring some significant changes to Pakistani political discourse.
(Divyanshu Jindal is a Research Associate at Centre for Air Power Studies)
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