Something very intriguing is going on in Pakistan, which could have been dismissed as amusing but for the seriousness with which even the supposedly mainstream media in that country is peddling the fake narrative of “India-backed terrorism”. A quick glance through articles written by even well-respected geopolitical analysts in the Pakistani press will invariably locate mentions of the ISI-inspired canard of “Indian terrorism”. This media narrative has to be seen as an extension of the sudden spurt in Pakistani activities to promote internationally the fiction of India being a terror-sponsoring nation. Its failure to do so in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case has not deterred Pakistan. Instead, its activities have gained momentum in recent months. Consensus is growing in India about this being a result of the additional push to such efforts being given by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “new” advisor on national security, Moeed Yusuf. Last year, Pakistan had gone to the UN to get four Indian nationals sanctioned as terrorists by the United Nations Security Council resolution 1267. All four names were knocked out by the sanctions sub-committee—two in September this year and two earlier. Not having learnt its lesson, Pakistan has now fielded its Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR)—ISI’s publicity wing—Major General Babar Iftikhar to release a dossier with the most ludicrous allegations against India. Pakistan presented the dossier to the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, this week, and the buzz is that it will present it to the incoming Joe Biden administration in the United States as well. It is a different matter though that the dossier being presented is being trashed by diplomatic and intelligence circles as full of outlandish claims and factual errors—even spelling errors!—and hence without an iota of truth.
This push also can be seen in the context of the exercise in propaganda mounted by Pakistan, post India’s abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, and the rhetoric that Imran Khan often indulges in comparing India with Nazi Germany. It has to be admitted that when it came to managing the messaging post the Article 370 move and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Indian government was rather late in realising that the narrative was getting hijacked, at least in mainstream western media, by the Pakistanis. In fact, Imran Khan went almost unchallenged in the US during his visit to the UNGA meeting in 2019, when he went around accusing India of the worst human rights crimes possible. The relative success that he got at least in the western media space, and also in a small segment of the US political space, would have emboldened him to believe that he can actually succeed in painting India as a terror state. But given the lack of interest even in the traditionally anti-India western legacy media, the whole exercise seems to have flopped—which does not mean that Imran Khan will stop trying. One of the main reasons he was selected as the Prime Minister by the military was the hope that he would be able to charm the West into getting Pakistan off the FATF grey list and loosen the purse strings of western nations and international institutions, apart from putting up a believable case against India on Kashmir and minorities. But the ageing playboy’s fading charm was not enough to rescue Pakistan, which continues to be on the FATF grey list. And now its economic situation is so grave that it had to run to the G20 this week to seek a debt relief of $800 million, in the company of 76 impoverished African countries—a G20, of which India is a part, and now the host of the 2023 summit! At least this should settle the case for those who still try to hyphenate India with Pakistan.
In short, Imran Khan has no choice but to continue with his ridiculous exercise against India, as that is one way of constantly burnishing his anti India credentials with the military, which is his boss. As the Opposition comes on the same platform of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, and mounts pressure on Imran Khan’s government, as well as on the military establishment, and as Pakistan slips into a state of penury, the anti-India noise will come in handy as a diversion to appease the domestic audience. Amidst this, even though Pakistan is at best an irritating sideshow for India, New Delhi should never lose sight of the fact the nuisance that Islamabad/Rawalpindi can be, especially when the latter has successfully sold to the Chinese the tall tale that it can be an effective counter to India.
Pakistan is a history sheeter, which has scorched its own record books by becoming the font of global terrorism and by perpetrating the worst kind of violence against its minorities. That Pakistan actually believes it can accuse India of all the crimes that it itself is guilty of, proves how highly this basket case of a country thinks of itself. It’s time it stopped punching above its weight.
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Even teams led by experienced and expert captains suffer from occasional self-goals. These are usually a consequence of the best of intentions, but end up as embarrassments. There was in the recent past a stray statement by a Union Minister that the gallant soldiers of the Indian Army had moved several more times in the direction of the PRC than PLA forces moving in the other direction. The movement of Indian troops, who are and have always been seeking only to safeguard or to re-occupy territory that belongs to India, cannot be compared to the transgressions of the PLA, which is seeking to expand through military means the territory controlled by them, every bit at the expense of India. That remark of a minister, possibly reported out of context, was swiftly used by PRC spin masters to try and spread the falsehood internationally that it was Indian forces and not the PLA who were theaggressors on the LAC.
Fortunately, the world knows the truth, and such deception was not believed except by the usual suspects, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is swift to repeat as gospel whatever gets conveyed from Beijing. The minister who made the earlier (possibly misquoted) remark has distinguished himself for his service both before and after joining the Council of Ministers at the Centre, and has not repeated the earlier remark attributed to him. The movement of Indian troops is to safeguard existing control over land and to recover territory that has been snatched in the past. This can never be compared with the transgressions of the PLA, which has joined hands with GHQ Rawalpindi in the errand of seeking to constrain and damage the growth and stability of India. These need to fail repeatedly, an outcome that can be made possible through strong will and capability on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. Care needs to be taken to avoid statements that can be used by the other side to obscure facts and to discredit the factual narrative that has been disseminated by India about the situation on the borders.
The armed forces defend the territory of India with zeal when given full support by the government. In several statements and through many actions, Prime Minister Modi has shown his commitment to stand by the courageous men and women in uniform who are tasked with defending the borders of the Republic of India, the most populous democracy on the face of the planet. Moreover, ours is a country that alone in its neighbourhood has remained a democracy and not fallen victim to authoritarian rule of any form, save a brief period of quasi-authoritarian rule during 1975-77 that was swiftly replaced with the holding of elections that led to the replacement of the existing government through the ballot box and to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai in the PrimeMinister’s Office.
Now another self-goal has been scored, in the form of the remarks of a Union Minister that the power outage in Mumbai was not the consequence of a cyberattack executed by elements in the PRC but was the consequence of “human error”. The statement is reminiscent of several made by other policymakers in the past, when unexplained misfortunes afflicted some of the most potent weapons platforms of different wings of the armed forces. In some cases, entire platforms were rendered inoperable, to great human and material cost, besides causing gaps in defence preparedness. Very quickly, unnamed sources rushed to pin the blame on “human error”, whether these relate to naval personnel or air force pilots. Both risk their lives in defence of the country and have shown an exceptional degree of competence in handling the weapons given to them to operate. The possibility seems to have been ignored of malfunctioning of equipment as a consequence of glitches introduced clandestinely, and which have had the effect of so damaging operational capability that nothing the pilot or seaman did could have rescued the situation.
In the past, there were serial deaths of those associated with the nuclear and missile programme, and the dots were first connected by the Sunday Guardian after having been in the open for several years, in each of which those connected with these key programmes had their number reduced through “accidental” deaths or “suicides”. Circumstances indicated that such hastily reached conclusions were far from accurate. That there was a cyberattack is not a reflection on the Power Ministry but a warning that this is a threat needing much more attention than shown in the past. There are powerful lobbies involved in the import of critical infrastructure equipment from countries that have a record of hostility to India expressed in a kinetic way. Such lobbies should not be given a handle to continue to keep the country vulnerable through dependence on equipment or other services from companies deeply involved with strengthening the offensive capabilities of at least two foreign militaries that have attacked India in the past, and are expected to do so again. There must not be a rush to hasty conclusions and the giving of clean chits to those companies and entities who are transparent in their linkages to enemy forces, including in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, territory that belongs to India and where no other country has a right.
Prime Minister Modi has spoken firmly and often about the dangers facing the country. Among the reasons why the PM is popular is the trust voters have in his ability to defend the nation. That same strength of purpose and determination should be present in each of the members of the government. The country is facing a grave threat, and action is needed to reduce vulnerabilities and to expand capabilities. In such a task, it is all hands-on deck, and an end to remarks by policymakers that may be used by foes of India to paint themselves as innocent of the wrongs that they have flagrantly committed.
Embedded patriarchy in science must end
History and research have shown proof of how few women in science have received their due, despite making discoveries and providing services which have led to the progress of modern science and civilisation. Decision makers must find a way to put an end to the gender bias.
Two years of #MeToo have changed little in the world of scientific research, according to most women in science across the world. India has 43% of women as science graduates—the highest number in the world—but a mere 14% in science-related jobs. Despite the additional push the present government has provided since 2017, in which the Department of Science and Technology was provided Rs 2,000 crore to encourage more girls into science-related careers, the picture remains grim. Gender inequity, subtle discrimination, indifference, workplace derision and isolation have kept women in India out of the job market that matches their science training. This has serious challenges for the country’s developmental ambitions. As a McKinsey research report of 2020 emphasised, narrowing gender gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can lead to an increase of $12 trillion to $28 trillion in the global economy. Does this sound an alert for decision making bodies of science and the NITI Aayog?
In developed countries such as Sweden, women science graduates are much less than India, at 35% only, but 34 % of them get placements in STEM jobs. The lack of women in these jobs reflects gravely on India’s science policy as only one woman out of 41 men has been able to reach the position of an office bearer in 86 years of the existence of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA). This marginalization further unfolds in the shortlist for the INSA awards, which have so far gone to only 14 women as compared to 501 men. The situation is appallingly unfavourable towards women in other top science awards too, such as the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award which has been bestowed on only 16 women against 500 men beneficiaries. It appears that patriarchy rules most science academies across the world even if women are fortunate to obtain a STEM job, since globally only 12% women are represented in 69 science academies across the world.
India’s developmental dreams may have to crash land over an utterly deficient terrain if women in engineering and technology, despite holding a 50% share of undergraduate degrees, fail to get absorbed into appropriate jobs. As a consequence, many switch to non-science jobs or become homemakers—recent situations show that more than 49% women in science are ready to switch to other jobs which they would have otherwise rejected. The irony of the STEM job market is that it has the potential of creating 10.5 million additional jobs, if countries can promote gender equality, as was suggested by a report by the European Union. Most new fields in science such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are currently completely male-dominated with a pathetic 10-15% jobs going to women in top companies like Google and Facebook.
Science, to be appropriate, should be able to absorb dynamic social relationships from the living and non-living or everything around it. Women have proved to be more perceptible and transdisciplinary in their approach than men with similar training. Traditional societies which were hierarchical, orthodox, fatalistic and believed in supernatural forces offered little space for modern science to flourish. Yet when modern science came, it also became a source of immense power which was soon captured by men. Modern science advanced through state power and started distancing itself from a holistic social relevance, inadvertently falling into a trap of increased productivity and control which the industrial revolution brought about.
Minnie Vaid’s book on the role of women space scientists in the Mangalyaan mission exposes an embedded gender bias that pushes women out of key positions where they can perform better than their fellow men. Nonetheless, this bias can also help analyse an unanswered question that most students in social science classrooms are perplexed about: why did Einstein win the Nobel Prize when his invention destroyed the world? Did Einstein know what could happen when his invented genie would be released from the laboratory to a wider and ever-advancing world of power aggrandizement?
The nature of science is founded on a matrix of human disconnect, and after reading an interesting Paul Halpern’s science narrative from 2015, titled Einstein’s Dice and Schrodinger’s Cat: How the Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics,the fact reveals, to our dismay, that scientists give much greater priority to winning the right scientific algorithm than the world around them. These power pathways of science have ignored many achievements by women who fed and fuelled these discoveries within the fortresses of labs. This was a terrain where questions on social conscience were never ever asked.
This does not mean that all scientists are directly influenced by dominant interests as many are also instructed by their own or their society’s cultural framework which is embedded in their individual morality, values, beliefs and community ethics. An example is the case of Joseph Rotblat who withdrew from the Manhattan Project in 1939 for he firmly believed that such weapons of mass destruction should be avoided due to their catastrophic impact upon humanity. He preferred to receive a Nobel Prize for Peace rather than for Physics which was awarded to his number two scientist, Einstein. However, the most astounding is the revelation about Einstein’s wife, Mileva Marić, who, despite being a classmate of Einstein with an equal or even stronger disciplinary training in physics, was not acknowledged for her influence and contribution to Einstein’s achievement. A 2019 book Einstein’s Wife, written by Allen Esterson and David C. Cassidy, with Ruth Lewin Sime, presents an evidence-based history of Marić’s life with Einstein. Science historians have repeatedly established that Marićs ideas were central to Einstein’s science but while her pregnancy, childbirths and divorce gradually weakened her relationship with science, Einstein marched ahead to the Nobel Prize.
Another astounding case is that of Henrietta Leavitt who in 1900 joined the Harvard College Observatory as an assistant for Edward Pickering. There were some far-reaching astronomical revelations which were observed and discovered by her. One such observation was that slower-moving stars were more luminous through which the size of the galaxy and much more on the study of variable stars could have been discovered. She paved the way for modern astronomy. enabling scientists to measure the universe. Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer, became famous by using Leavitt’s ground-breaking research and he also admitted that it was she who deserved the Nobel Prize. But Levitt watched all this as a silent worker at the laboratory, where she was paid half of what her fellow men researchers got ($10.5 a week) and did not raise an alarm when Pickering published her findings without giving her due credit.
The laboratory’s new director Harlow Shapely also used her work without acknowledging her phenomenal contribution. The patriarchal culture in science of keeping women out of mainstream publications and awards has been so strong that the world has wasted many years seeing men scientists reach milestones which had already been achieved by women much earlier. Leavitt’s work was interrupted by her family obligations and her early death by stomach cancer ended the tragic and continuous marginalisation she suffered because of her powerful male colleagues.
The world of science has not changed much. Most laboratories belong to men scientists who continue to control them even after they are transferred, retire or are thrown into disrepute through charges of corruption or sexual harassment. Women scientists, on the other hand, are made to leave their laboratories immediately when they retire or are transferred, notwithstanding that their ongoing research might prove a great contribution to society. From life sciences to physical, environmental and geophysical sciences, a woman’s journey is gripped by obstructions and gendered ostracism. From Muthuswamy to Swaminathan, some leading women scientists—the ones who led the ICMR towards an accountable bioethical journey or silently brought out key cancer research findings in the biochemistry lab at AIIMS while taking care of her ailing father or dedicated herself to set up the Brain Research Institute at Manesar—have definitely not received their due despite their services being of utmost importance to the progress of India. The country needs to look for more of them in the IITs, CSIR, INSA, ICMR, AIIMS and other science institutes for more holistic progress of science. Why should one hear science policy talk only from male scientists, who are now also controlling NITI Aayog as well as the TV channels?
Unless the needs, capacities and acceptability patterns for women are absorbed in the behaviour of decision makers, the road to gender equity in science would remain bumpy and hazardous. Science shapes society and women in science break stereotypical frames of research, bringing acceptable solutions to the problems of development and acting as catalysts for change and progress.
The writer is president, NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group, and former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
G-23 LEADERS SHOULD HAVE WAITED TILL THE ASSEMBLY POLLS
The Congress is fighting two battles, one is the electoral one against the BJP in the oncoming Assembly elections and the other is the battle within as some members of the G-23 fired another salvo from Jammu last week. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a tussle for power.
The Congress high command (read the Gandhi family) has tried to create a wedge in the G-23 by weaning away those it can with party posts and responsibility. That’s also a smart move because it’s always easy to criticise from afar (as is what happened after the Bihar debacle) but not so easy if you are part of the process. For instance, what stopped Kapil Sibal who has been a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar from campaigning in the state during the polls. While he did not campaign, he did criticise the poor showing post polls. In fact, the only leader who campaigned in both Bihar and the Madhya Pradesh bypolls (apart from Rahul Gandhi) was Sachin Pilot. But therein lies another story.
Social media is also full of images of the Gandhi siblings with Rahul deployed in the South and Priyanka Gandhi in the north—so far, she has been focusing in Uttar Pradesh, but last week saw her dancing the Jhumur dance with tribals of Assam during her two-day visit to the state. Rahul too was seen doing push ups with college students in Tamil Nadu and jumping into the sea with fishermen in Kerala. The subliminal message is clear—the Gandhi siblings are leading from the front and owning this election campaign. Deputing Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel in charge of Assam has also given the leaderless party a fighting chance to wrest the state away from the astute Hemanta Biswa Sarma because Chhattisgarh is the only Congress-ruled-state that has access to funds.
Given the B+ for effort, perhaps the rebels who met in Jammu should have waited till the Assembly polls were over before declaring open hostilities. That battle is pencilled in on the Congress calendar, for the party’s elections for president are slated post the Assembly results. Maybe that was the time to bring out the divisions within. Why this rush to praise Narendra Modi?
As things stand, the Congress is really fighting a battle to win in Assam and Kerala; in Tamil Nadu, it’s in the role of a supporting actor at best. However, Kerala is important as that’s the state where Rahul Gandhi is now an MP from, that is also a state where he made his now infamous North Vs South comment. It was a gamble and he really needs it to work so he is focusing all his energies in the South, leaving Assam in the hands of the Chhattisgarh CM and some shrewd alliances.
For the BJP the big fight really is in West Bengal and Assam and if the Opposition can somehow stop the saffron party in its tracks here then it could be the turnaround in the fortunes of the Modi government. The onus of stopping the BJP in West Bengal is on Mamata Banerjee, while the Congress is doing its bit in dividing the anti-TMC vote. And all this is happening against the backdrop of the farmers’ protests which is now firmly established as an anti-BJP movement.
Given all this, at a time when the rest of the Opposition, including the Congress, is focusing on stopping the BJP in its tracks, perhaps the dissidents should have waited till the Assembly polls were over before diverting from the agenda.
Why PM Modi can’t be Ronald Reagan
In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics.
On the eve of the 2019 elections, Ruchir Sharma, the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, expressed his disappointment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a New York Times column. According to Sharma, beneath the Modi rhetoric of “minimum government, maximum governance” lay a Bernie Sanders-like socialism including a welfare splurge, which disappointed a free-marketeer like him who expected a Reagansque redux of reform and small state. In a subsequent book, he ascribes Modi’s socialism to electoral exigencies instead of philosophical moorings.
Sharma’s analysis is partly true. In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. Hence, when American political scientist James Manor asked P.V. Narsimha Rao who his role model was, he intuitively named social democrat Willy Brandt, the German Chancellor whose economics was animated by expanding both private capitalism and welfare spending. Astute politicians like Rao and Modi, both boasting a humble background, understand social welfare as a fait accompli in India. While Modi never publicly espoused the likes of Brandt as his hero, his former chief troubleshooter and strategist, the late Arun Jaitley, alluded to this balance: “Being pro-poor and pro-business are not mutually exclusive.”
But what makes a government pro-business? The Ruchir Sharmas sitting in global capitals are much more ambitious in their ask from what is termed as a right-wing government in India. They can grudgingly countenance an increasing welfare spending so far as reforms remain on track. Lesser taxes, divestment, and minimum state interference start their wish list followed by a range of expectations. Reagan and Thatcher personify their ideas of economic governance, and hence, they sum up their pro-business laundry list by citing these conservative British and American giants.
The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics. President Reagan enacted policies that incubated in the American conservative movement for decades. The likes of the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation prepared the fine print that was impregnated with political will before those policies were finally conceived. Reagan was a heavy consumer of Friedmanite worldview even before he considered running for the presidency. However, it was The Heritage Foundation, headed by Edwin Feulner, that injected conservative principles and policies through a 1000-odd pages prescription-laden manual, which encompassed a potential policy outlook for all major US cabinet departments and federal agencies. To see these policies through, the Foundation manned key political appointments with suitable conservatives.
Thatcher’s story is no different. Her two steady sources of prescriptions were the Institute of Economic Affairs and then-inchoate Center for Policy Studies. Sir Keith Joseph, another Friedmanite and founder of CPS, is considered the most significant influence on Thatcher while she was in office. He chose to be the Secretary of State for Industry in the Thatcher administration and kicked off the divestment program in Britain on an unprecedented scale.
Coming back home, where are Modi’s Edwin Feulner and Keith Joseph? Where are BJP’s Heritage Foundation and Center for Policy Studies? Surely, Sangh has affiliate organisations working on economic policies—Swadeshi Jagran Manch (focuses on indigenous economic development), Bharatiya Vitta Salhakar Samiti (for finance and taxation professional), Laghu Udyog Bharati (for small and medium enterprises), and Sahkar Bharati (for cooperatives). These organizations, more than producing an economic canon that defines the Indian right, have mostly served as a feedback loop for RSS and BJP. Something that comes closest to a CPS is Vivekanda International Foundation in terms of personnel, but its impact on policy is not that evident.
Economics, it seems, is barely on the mind of even modern Hindutva ideologues. For example, BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta in his book Awakening Bharat Mata curated two dozen essays by the pantheon Indian right would like to venerate. From historian R.C. Majumdar to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current Sangh ideologue S. Gurumurthy, it features the writings of who’s who. The anthology attempts to collate and create a philosophical canon sans a single essay on economic thought.
Another BJP MP, Subramanian Swamy, now a little sidelined politically, produced his version of ‘constitutional Hindutva’ in his book The Ideology of India’s Modern Right outlining five dimensions that suggest how Hindutva can exist within a constitutional framework. To his credit, Swamy, an old free-market warhorse and professional economist, sporadically mentions minimalist state as a governance desideratum. His subsequent work Reset makes a modest attempt to add to his earlier work using the framework of Integral Humanism of Pandit Dindayal Upadhyaya but falls short of adumbrating a complete economic program.
The illustrations of two oft-visible ideologues broach the lack of clarity and focus on economic thought in the broader Hindutva intellectual imagination. Their relevance to and influence on policy, if at all, remain questionable. Somehow, the Indian right, too preoccupied to parry itself from secular salvos, have failed to produce an ecosystem that can moor itself in a coherent economic philosophy. Such an ecosystem has to function outside of the party in the quiet, away from the rough and tumble of incessant elections.
Finally, such an intellectual ecosystem not only incubates policies but reconciles economics with other priorities of the movement. When Tory Brexiteers faced the challenge of squaring business interests with their Euroscepticism, the policy ecosystem outside the party salvaged them. Through its extensive outreach, it also brought on board scores of businesses who otherwise saw Brexit as detrimental to their trade.
Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Reagan or Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given. The Reagan part of it still remains undefined, and to an extent, unimagined. It is high time for this intellectual vacuum to be filled by the Indian right drawing from two ancient ideals: Sarve sukhinah santuh (prosperity for all) and making India vishwaguru (a leading major economy).
Chirayu Thakkar is a Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, Washington DC. The views expressed are personal.
Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given.
RISE OF ABBAS SIDDIQUI WILL POLARISE BENGAL FURTHER
On Sunday, a show of strength was organised in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground by the CPM and the Congress, along with the newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) of cleric Abbas Siddiqui. Reports suggest that the huge crowd was not mobilized by either CPM or Congress, but primarily by Abbas Siddiqui. He is the pirzada of Furfura Sharif, a religious shrine venerated by Muslims and thus may have a major influence on that community. Let’s make no mistake, in spite of the name of Siddiqui’s outfit, there is nothing remotely “secular” about ISF. Its whole politics is premised on religious identity; and it is representative of a particular minority community. ISF hopes to tap into their grievances and raise their demands at relevant levels, and find political representation in the process. From all accounts, the young Siddiqui already has got a fan following among the youth of his community and may play a decisive role in certain minority dominated seats in the Assembly elections starting on 27 March. In fact, this minority vote bank has a decisive say in at least around a hundred seats in Bengal’s 294-seat Assembly. This has to be seen in the context of the fact that it was the en bloc voting by the minority community that helped Mamata Banerjee come to power in 2011 and return with a landslide in 2016. This vote bank was created by the CPM-led Left Front and it was only when it shifted to Mamata that she managed to defeat the CPM, which should explain her party’s pronounced tilt towards this particular community; and she is quite open about it. In fact, even Congress’ pockets of influence in certain minority dominated districts such as Malda and Murshidabad are because of this particular community. However, there is major grievance in this community that the so-called secular parties have always used them as a vote bank, but have done nothing for them. Siddiqui hopes to tap into this grievance, while at least talking about broad-basing his “movement” by giving a voice to the marginalized in general.
The Communists, who have become irrelevant in Bengal politics with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, are hoping to piggyback on Siddiqui’s ISF and get a chunk of Muslim votes and with that a few seats. Hence, CPM is going for a seat-sharing arrangement with ISF and is likely to give it around 30-40 seats to fight from. However, CPM’s ally Congress, or rather Adhir Chowdhury—MP and president of Congress’ Bengal unit—is not keen to join hands with ISF, in spite of what is believed to be pressure from the party high command in Delhi. This is primarily because, in the long run, Chowdhury’s minority vote bank in Murshidabad district may get dented with the entry of the cleric from Furfura Sharif. The state Congress under him is apparently unwilling to give the ISF even one seat in Murshidabad. Whether that part of the “secular” alliance works out or not, what is certain is that Siddiqui and CPM together have the potential to damage Mamata Banerjee in her stronghold in South 24 Parganas district in particular, where there is a substantial presence of minority voters. Until recently, the cleric from Furfura Sharif was seeking to be in alliance with Mamata Banerjee, but did not get any response from her. However, if Sunday’s show of strength by him is any indication, and if he manages to take away a chunk of Trinamool Congress’ Muslim voters, then sooner or later Mamata Banerjee may have to give space to Abbas Siddiqui, or else face an existential crisis, as her party’s political fortunes are totally dependent on this particular vote bank.
In the meantime, the rise of Siddiqui and the political legitimacy being given to him by the communists will further polarize, along religious lines, an already polarized state and deepen the divide in society. Whether this helps the BJP or not, will depend on the extent of minority consolidation for Mamata Banerjee and the counter consolidation of the majority in favour of the BJP. The other possibility of a hung verdict will depend on how far the CPM-led “front” can eat into the TMC’s and BJP’s respective votes. However, if there is a hung verdict, there is every possibility of the CPM, Congress, ISF and TMC coming together to form government in the name of keeping “communal BJP” out. In other words, BJP will have to sweep Bengal to come to power. Nothing short of that will do.
As for the rise of Abbas Siddiqui, only time will tell how his politics of religious identity will play out in Bengal.
Same-sex marriage: Undermining the bedrock of Indian society
The social unit of the family is the foundation of Indian society. Since ‘the Indian family system presupposes a biological man as a husband and a biological woman as a wife and the children born out of the union between the two’—as the Union government has argued—legalising same-sex marriages might turn the existing social order upside down and open a can of worms.
The demand for the recognition of same-sex marriage has opened up a Pandora’s box of issues which question the very foundation of the institutions of marriage and family as building blocks of social, cultural and political life. The Delhi High Court is seized with the matter and the Union government has submitted its arguments on why it is opposed to the proposal.
When the Supreme Court was considering the issue of the validity of Section 377 of the IPC, which made homosexuality a criminal offence, the Union government had refused to give its opinion on the issue and left the matter entirely up to the Supreme Court. The apex court decriminalised homosexuality between two consenting adults. At that time, the government’s stand had been guided primarily by the argument that the government should not interfere in deciding the sexual preferences of people. There had also been many complaints before that about the law being misused to harass same-sex partners living together.
But decriminalising homosexuality is not the same thing as allowing marriage between people who identify as homosexual. The government in its affidavit has told the court that any change, such as recognising same-sex marriages, would create havoc in the delicate balance of personal laws in the country. “The Indian family system presupposes a biological man as a husband and a biological woman as a wife and the children born out of the union between the two,” it has argued.
The government has also argued that the registration of same-sex marriages would result in the violation of existing personal as well as codified law provisions such as the degree of prohibited relations, ceremonial and ritual requirement, etc. Decriminalising consensual homosexual relations in 2018 was “neither intended to, nor did it, in fact, legitimise the human conduct in question,” the affidavit has argued. It has also argued that any such change should be left to the legislature.
What is the purpose of marriage in society? Let us try to understand this without getting religion-specific since every religion has a particular way of looking at the family and they invariably sanction only heterosexual relationships. The purpose of marriage is not sex alone but the procreation of children who would become healthy citizens. If sex was the purpose, then society has many outlets, including the one provided by the amended Section 377.
For Mahatma Gandhi, marriage was exclusively for the procreation of children. British philosopher Bertrand Russell had said, “It is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognisance of by a legal institution.” If culture, religion, tradition, societal mores, etc. shape constitutional laws, then these cannot be ignored without endangering the very foundation of society.
Heterosexual biological parents have a different kind of attachment to the offspring, as various sociological studies have shown. It is no wonder paternity leave is now being allowed to the father to feel equally responsible towards parenthood and does not leave things to the mother alone. Mother’s milk is scientifically the best for children since it helps boost immunity and the biological process makes a woman produce milk after she gives birth to the child. But homosexual couples cannot have their biological children and hence they may adopt children, but can they give the same love and affection and security which biological parents can?
It is argued that those heterosexual couples who fail to procreate either adopt children or undergo artificial insemination. Why can’t the same right be given to same-sex couples? But what is the guarantee that the children adopted would not become objects of exploitation? This can be true for even heterosexual couples, but the existence of a father and mother ensures that the adopted child is not subjected to exploitation. The web of relationships that marriage brings with it in the Indian context ensures that there are checks and balances.
Many sociological studies have shown that a child adopted by a single father or mother longs for the affection of the other parent. If the tender care of a mother is needed for the overall growth of the child, the careful guardianship of a father is needed too for the security and discipline it provides. The Indian family system is the smallest social unit. It has withstood the test of time. Cultural norms and values are imbibed in new members through the process of socialization in which not just parents but other relatives also take part.
Same-sex couples in the West have often argued that they don’t get respect from society. Homosexuality is a deviant behaviour. One can make laws to decriminalise it but can’t force society to change its orientation.
Aping the West would not do our society good. In most Western societies, people have become more and more individualistic and family norms are breaking. This is not true of the Indian society. Despite rising cases of divorce and conflicts in marriages, the institution has proved to be useful. Legislations have given a cushion to ensure that people who divorce each other are not exploited by one another.
‘Once gay, always gay’ is not true and there are many cases where a gay person has walked out of it and married in a normal way and lived happily. How do you ensure marriage and divorce laws for these people? There are chances that same-sex marriages may break after sometime and the couple may decide to live a normal family life. There are also chances that the prospect of a person marrying many times would increase. In the possibility of such instability, will the adoption and rearing of children in a healthy way survive?
It is not an issue of ‘liberals vs conservatives’ which we often see in the West. It is an issue of what these gay rights activists want to achieve. You want a share in property, but that can be achieved through mutual agreement. You want healthcare facilities, which are easily available to individuals. The right to be treated with dignity as a citizen belongs to all. You wish to bequeath your property to someone, you can do so. You can do the same with your insurance and other related issues. You can give the property you earn to anyone under secular laws. If you inherit your part of property from your parents, you can do the same once you inherit it. There is absolutely no problem.
And the biggest issue is that you cannot proclaim yourself to belong to a particular religion and then claim that the marriage granted by that religion should be applicable to you as well for same-sex marriage. This means you want to change entire religious beliefs. In Hinduism in particular, marriage is not a contract but a sacrament with associated notions of spirituality, commitment and responsibility. During many religious functions, the husband and the wife have to be together to perform the rituals.
A typical flaw with the same-sex marriage argument in India is that it seeks an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act but does not talk of other religious practices. Can you change the law of the book? Are we prepared to say that there would be no personal laws since these violate the fundamental right to be treated equally? Can courts impose monogamy on the Muslim community in India? Why did policymakers in India work for the secularisation of Hindu laws but not for Islam? Why should the law say that polygamous marriage is prohibited for Hindus but allowed in Islam?
Gay activists have taken the right to be treated equally to ridiculous proportions. The law treats men and women based on biological differences and not on a subjective understanding of one’s sexual drive or orientation. It may also be a matter of conditioning as some studies have revealed more so in case of impressionable youths. Impressed by this conditioning, some have even gone for sex changes.
While it may have worked in some countries where people are more homogenous or where religion does not ordain secular life, it may create an explosive situation in India where religion plays a significant part in secular life as well. Religion is the source of morality, respect for each other’s lives, and values that define existence.
You cannot undermine an important social institution that has evolved over a period of time not because of law or legislation but because of its usefulness to society. Many aspects of law emanate from the concept of family. While trying to recognize same-sex marriage, there is surely going to be a disturbance of the very foundation of Indian social life. I am talking about all religionists residing in India since they come from the same stock and share the same culture despite their personal laws.
The next argument which is increasingly being made is the person acting as the female in a same-sex partnership would demand to be treated as a woman for participation in sports. If one’s right to be treated as a female is granted then biological reasons should not become a stumbling block for their right to be treated as a female. This can have disastrous consequences for society.
LGBT activists were right when they demanded that laws should not be used against them to suppress their freedom. Decriminalisation of homosexuality should be seen in that context. If there are other genuine concerns that should also be looked into, a legal framework should be provided to protect their rights. But this can happen even without legalizing same-sex marriages. In trying to be liberal and progressive, we are not going to turn everything upside down.
The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.
It is not an issue of ‘liberals vs conservatives’ which we often see in the West. It is an issue of what these gay rights activists want to achieve. You want a share in property, but that can be achieved through mutual agreement. You want healthcare facilities, which are easily available to individuals. The right to be treated with dignity as a citizen belongs to all.
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