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Opinion

PM MODI’S CABINET: NO TIME TO LOSE

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Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has carried out a major reshuffle of the Council of Ministers, including at the Cabinet level. As is the case with any Union Cabinet, the admixture contains a selection of those chosen for both representational purposes as well as a goodly amount of individuals known to have a good track record of performance in different fields. While these are the dual categories in which commentators bracket individual choices, it must be said that many of those said in the media to be chosen for representational reasons (so as to reflect inclusion of particular segments of society), it may be noticed that the Prime Minister has acted carefully in opting for those with a proven track record of effectiveness in the field and not simply those who are “high profile”. Although it must be added that more than a few of the “high profile” names also have substantial achievements to their credit, including multiple projects in their constituencies. Jyotiraditya Scindia has a very high media profile, but an equally good track record as an effective minister. His inclusion is clearly a message to the family that controls the destinies of members of the Congress party that they may have erred by preventing younger people of high calibre from securing the positions their qualities merit for fear that they may in some manner overshadow the 2019 Congress party candidate for the Prime Ministership of India. The longer the present AICC president and her heir apparent continue in their dominant positions within a party that has long been in need of a serious overhaul, the better it is for the political parties opposing the country’s first (and longest serving) ruling party. It is unlikely that this fact may not have dawned upon the minds of several of the leading lights of the party, as for example recent open letters suggest. Going when the music is still sweet is an asset that few politicians have, and in the case of the Congress party, two successive defeats in 2014 and 2019 do not appear to have weakened the desire of the top two in the party to hold on to their positions and authority. Given that the present reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers is clearly a preparation for Mission 2024, which is the securing of a hat trick by Captain Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, this is good news indeed.

Among those who bring the benefit of both representational as well as performance-linked advantages to the Council of Ministers is Hardeep Puri, who by his hard work and persistence has earned the promotion he has secured. Punjab is a very important state that merits representation at the High Table. Rajeev Chandrashekhar may be an adopted son of Karnataka (as indeed several from his home state are, thanks to the wonderful people of that extraordinary state) but is still very much Malayali and makes no secret of that. The BJP may have ceased for the moment to be represented in the Kerala Assembly, but the presence of Chandrashekhar (no doubt sometimes in Kerala as well) shows that the ruling party is still in the hunt for an unprecedented Lok Sabha seat from Kerala and will work hard for that prize. In Bengal as well, the BJP may be down but is far from out, and is very much in the hunt to equal if not surpass the TMC’s Lok Sabha tally in that very consequential state in 2024. Arvind Kejriwal’s insistence on speaking only in Hindi even to those who are unfamiliar with the beautiful national language of the country may have affected his chances of emerging as a significant player in 2024 where the east, south and west of the country are concerned, but his relatively good performance in Delhi has kept such hopes alight. As for Mamata Banerjee, the other hopeful, by the time 2024 comes into view, she may find the going rough in her own home turf unless her style of functioning changes significantly. More than her qualities, it was the series of tactical missteps made by the BJP in Bengal that led to the party’s less than impressive showing in a state with 42 Lok Sabha seats. In Maharashtra, should the Shiv Sena gravitate to a more natural partnership with the BJP, that combination is poised to do well in the next national polls, especially if the well-regarded Devendra Fadnavis is accommodated at the national level whether in the party organisation or in the ministry in a capacity that reflects his acknowledged competence. Not only Union Ministers could be of utility to the BJP and to the country, but office-bearers effective in the party organisation as well, especially at the state level.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by tweeting birthday greetings to His Holiness Gyalwa Rinpoche Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, has shown what ought to have been clear to a certain power from the start, which is that he is not the person to allow either himself or his country to be bullied. In case any doubts remained of Modi’s commitment to One India, that would have dissipated in the elevation of Kiren Rijiju to the Union Cabinet, a choice that gives further evidence that the Northeast is no longer at the periphery but at the centre of national politics and policy. Those selected with care as part of his team by Captain Modi need to get to work immediately at their allotted tasks so as to ensure that the 2024 Test series goes the way their Captain wants. They do not have a moment to lose.

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Opinion

WHY IS RAHUL GANDHI RELUCTANT TO TAKE THE ACTUAL JOB?

Priya Sahgal

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Hours before the Congress Working Committee met there was a hashtag trending on Twitter clamming, #YehDilMangeRahul. And true to the script, the usual suspects (AK Antony and Ashok Gehlot) raised the question of leadership, asking Rahul Gandhi to take over as party president. Rahul replied: “I will consider it.” No one asked the obvious follow-up— What is there to think about and consider? It’s not as if it came as a `Breaking News’ for him that his party wanted him to step up. Despite Sonia Gandhi claiming that she is not an interim arrangement but a full-time, hands-on working president the fact of the matter is that she has been stepping back for a while now and letting her children, especially Rahul take all the crucial decisions. The theatre in Punjab was scripted by Rahul and Priyanka as was the rather successful show of opposition strength in Lakhimpur Kheri. Again it was Rahul Gandhi who met and admitted Kanhaiya Kumar to the party; when Navjyot Singh Sidhu threw on his sulks, it was Rahul who met him before the CWC meet and placated him. Again during the meeting, while Sonia handled the discipline issues by sending a stern message to the G 23, it was Rahul who laid out the party’s agenda i.e we are a party for the downtrodden and so we should reiterate the message by promoting backward caste leaders like Charanjit Singh Channi, that we should not let media dictate our narrative, etc (am paraphrasing the gist of his comments as told to me by sources).

So, if Rahul is taking all the important decisions, why is he still reluctant to take the actual job?

One reason for this could be that he is still wary that catapulting him to the post of the party chief will put him in direct confrontation with the Prime Minister in the next Lok Sabha polls. As the leader of the largest national party in opposition, he cannot fight the polls under the leadership of another opposition leader even someone like Mamata Bannerjee who may be feisty but she is still a regional leader (and yes I know her party is national but she still has to extend her appeal outside West Bengal).

The opposition fight will have to be spearheaded by Congress with the support of Mamata, Sharad Pawar, etc. Rahul Gandhi has done a lot to improve his image but his real test will be the next round of assembly polls to establish his credibility. Uttar Pradesh is not the only state going to the polls and if Congress shifts its focus to the low-hanging fruit of Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Goa then it could win 3 of the 5 states in the next round. That will blunt the edge of losing Uttar Pradesh (despite Priyanka’s Lakhimpur Kheri intervention I still think the UP fight is between the BJP and SP while the Congress will at best improve its tally). Some Congress leaders claim that this is the plan and the Lakhimpur Kheri was as much as sending a message to the farmers of Punjab, as it was about Uttar Pradesh.

Well, let’s watch this space over the next few months. Because the main problem with the Gandhi siblings has always been consistency.

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Opinion

Lok Sabha without the Deputy Speaker

A petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Dy Speaker, Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is, arguably, well concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Deputy Speaker.

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The Vedic literature refers to ‘Sabha’, ‘Samiti’, and ‘Sabhapati’. A hymn of Yajurveda says, ‘Salutations to the Assembled and salutations to the President’. An Assembly cannot transact business without electing its Sabhapati or the President. The makers of our Constitution, therefore, made specific provision for the election of the Speaker and Dy Speaker. Article 93 of the Constitution casts an obligation that “the House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof, and so often as the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the House shall choose another member” to fill the vacancy.

The expression used is ‘shall’ and not ‘may’ which, as per the cardinal principle of statutory interpretation, leaves no shred of discretion left with the House. The posts are considered so important that the makers of the Constitution provided not only for choosing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as early as possible but made it mandatory for the House to choose another Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may, if any of the post becomes vacant.

The expression, ‘as soon as may be’, cannot be construed that these constitutional posts remain vacant for years indefinitely. The House consists of members and it is for the Government, commanding majority in the House, to hold election to these constitutional posts so as to avoid any constitutional void.

It is in this backdrop that a petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Dy Speaker, Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is, arguably, well concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Dy Speaker. It may take still longer as the Winter Session of Parliament is yet to convene.

The post of Deputy Speaker, as per well-established parliamentary convention, goes to the opposition. The foundation of this convention was laid way back in 1956 when Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akaali Dal was elected unapposed as Dy Speaker. The Deputy Speakers like G.G. Swell, Shivraj Patil, Mallikarjuaiah, Suraj Bhan, P. M. Syed, Charanjit Singh Atwal, Karia Munda, and Thambidurai too, did not belong to the ruling party.

During the Monsoon session, 2021, when the issue about prolonged delay in the election of the Dy Speaker was raised, the Speaker observed that it was not in his power. Let’s see what the Rule says. Under Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, ‘the election of the Deputy Speaker shall be held on such date as the Speaker may fix’. However, the fact of the matter is the date for holding election to the post of Dy Speaker is fixed at the initiative of the Government. As a parliamentary convention, the post, though elective, goes to the opposition. The Government plays a decisive role as it commands majority in the House. Government may have behind the curtain consultation and help in the election of a candidate who may be, though from the opposition but not from the principal opposition party. So, Government has the leeway by virtue of its numerical majority to contrive a situation in which the post of Dy Speaker may go to a mellowed-in-tuned-opposition rather than the dominant opposition.

The Deputy Speaker discharges the functions of the Speaker in his absence. He is not subordinate to the Speaker. He holds an independent constitutional post and is answerable to the House and can be removed by the House only. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House and no appeal lies against his rulings given in the House and cannot be reopened by anyone. He is, like the Speaker, as the Speaker of the British House of Commons pleaded with King Charles who had stormed the House in 1642 thus, ‘Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here..’

In the absence of the Speaker or due to vacancy in the office of the Speaker, Dy Speaker performs the duties of the office of the Speaker. In 1956, when Speaker G. V. Mavalankar died, Dy Speaker, M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar filled the void, and later he was elected as Speaker. In 2002 due to the demise of G. M. C. Balayogi, P.M. Syed, Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker. It was P. M. Syed, the Dy Speaker belonging to the Congress party who presided over the joint sitting of Parliament convened to pass The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 by the Vajpayee Government. When G. S. Dhillon resigned from the post of Speaker in December, 1975 on being sworn as Minister, Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the office of the Speaker. Similarly, when Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy contested in two different terms the election of the President of the republic, he resigned from the post of Speaker and the Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker.

Since the matter is sub-judice, the moot question is whether the High Court can direct the Lok Sabha to elect the Dy Speaker. The High Court is empowered to issue appropriate direction to do complete justice in a matter before them. In any case, the Speaker Lok Sabha is on record that it is not his job to appoint the Dy Speaker but of the House to choose one. However, the well-established parliamentary practice is that a motion is moved by the parliamentary affairs minister and duly seconded by the treasury benches or by the opposition, which is carried by the House. With the unanimous election of Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akaali Dal as Dy Speaker in 1956, it has become a sound convention that the ruling party, despite its majority, offers the post to the opposition. When the Dy Speaker is elected, he is duly conducted to his seat by the parliamentary affairs minister and the leader of the opposition. There are instances when prime ministers, namely, Deve Gowda, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Dr Man Mohan Singh personally conducted the newly elected Dy Speaker to his seat. Notably, Atal Bihari Vajpayee conducted the Dy Speaker to his seat during the 12th and the 13th Lok Sabha.

Another fascinating aspect is that the post of Deputy Speaker never remained vacant. Even the Britishers, when the central bicameral legislature was set up in 1921 under the GoI Act,1919, the post of Vice President was held by Sachidanand Sinha with Sir Frederick Whyte as the President of the Central Legislative Assembly. The Constituent Assembly, tasked with the responsibility of framing the Constitution, had two Vice Presidents- H.C. Mookherjee and T.T. Krishnamachari. The Provisional Parliament too had a Dy Speaker- Ananthasayanam Ayangar. The Constitution makers therefore rightly made a mandatory provision to have the posts of Speaker and the Dy Speaker filled without any delay, when the new House is constituted and as and when any one of these posts fall vacant. It is the fundamental duty of every citizen and constitutional body to abide by the Consitution and respect its ideals and institutions. The Constitution, more than the citizens, binds the State and, more so, the constitutional bodies, must be exemplar in discharging their constitutional obligation. Minimum government and maximum governance cannot obliterate in its sweep a constitutional provision. If gold rusts, what shall iron do?

The author is ex Addl Secretary, Lok Sabha, and member Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are personal.

The Deputy Speaker discharges the functions of the Speaker in his absence. He is not subordinate to the Speaker. He holds an independent constitutional post and is answerable to the House and can be removed by the House only. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House, and no appeal lies against his rulings given in the House, and cannot be reopened by anyone.

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Opinion

SHEIKH HASINA MUST STOP ANTI HINDU VIOLENCE WITH AN IRON HAND

Joyeeta Basu

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Bangladesh is burning. Violence is sweeping through the land, with several members of the minority Hindu community being butchered to death by Islamist radicals. Hindu homes, temples, businesses and even villages have been burnt down. News is coming of murder, rape and plunder. There is major conflagration in places like Comilla, Noakhali, Rangpur and Feni. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is categorical that “nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished.” Forces have been deployed to control the violence. In spite of that, violence continues—for five days now. Eyewitnesses talk about inadequate police presence on the ground, especially in remote areas. The whole pogrom seems to have been pre-planned and timed to coincide with the Bengali Hindu’s biggest festival, Durga Puja. Trouble started from a village in a remote area where Islam’s Holy Book was deliberately placed at the foot of the Durga idol in the middle of the night when no one was present at the puja pandal, and a photo was clicked and spread on social media. Apparently, the next day, a live streaming was done of the Holy Book being “rescued” by the police, leading to the outbreak of the violence. It needs to be found out who placed the Holy Book in the pandal and why the police allowed the streaming to take place, thus inciting the people. The police is also being accused of inaction in many areas. A quick look through the Bangladesh media shows that questions are being raised even about the role played by some politicians in turning a blind eye to the violence, if not abetting it actively. Consensus is building that the anger is anything but spontaneous, and much of it is meant to scare the Hindus out of the country and grab their assets, apart from spoiling India-Bangladesh ties.

It is being alleged that the pro Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami is behind the violence. The Jamaat, which is a radical extremist organisation, was part of the ruling coalition of Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) between 2001 and 2006. When Bangladesh was under Pakistani occupation, the Jamaat formed the Razakar paramilitary force, which worked with Pakistani soldiers to commit genocide. While the Hasina government has been coming down heavily on the Jamaat, including sending Razakars to the gallows, the radical group has always had a major presence on the ground, with their influence extending to at least 10% of the population. This may not be enough to bring them to power, except in coalition with the BNP, but is more than enough for fomenting violence. It was to counter the Jamaat’s hold on the underprivileged that the Hasina government had started courting another Islamist group, the Hefazat-e-Islam (HIM), but it turned out of a similar shade as the Jamaat and started flexing its muscles from as far back 2013, when they came up with a 13-point charter demanding the enactment of a blasphemy law with provision for death penalty. Their opposition to statues led to the removal of a Goddess of Justice statue from the Supreme Court in 2017, and under pressure, the Hasina government even recognised a madrasa degree as equivalent to a postgraduate degree. It is only recently that her Awami League government has started realising its mistakes and has reopened the terror cases against HIM. It was the HIM that was responsible for the protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh earlier this year, and the subsequent violence against the Hindu community. History shows that Bangladesh’s radical clerics can unleash mayhem on the streets and bring life to a standstill whenever they want to. By appeasing groups such as HIM, the Awami League government has been seen to be buying peace with them, thus making Islamist radicals in general think that they can get away with murder.

Sheikh Hasina should not forget the period of 2013 to 2016 when the worst kind of radical Islamist violence took place in her country, with bloggers being hacked to death, and well off youngsters turning terrorists and going on a killing spree at a café in the heart of Dhaka. Whatever be its claims to a syncretic culture, Bangladesh has always had a major problem of Islamist fundamentalism, one of the reasons why its minority population has started dwindling over the decades. Unless this problem is tackled with an iron hand, it will deal a death blow to Bangladesh and its fledgling economic achievements—apart from becoming a major security headache for India. For the sake of Bangladesh and its people, it is imperative on the Hasina government’s part not to come across as soft towards the perpetrators of the heinous crimes against Hindus.

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Opinion

FIGHT RADICALISATION, SAVE INDIA

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s assertion tries to find the middle ground while ignoring differences. The way to fighting radicalisation is to find common ground between the followers of two faiths and emphasise that rather than the differences.

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RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on fighting radicalisation deserves the full attention of every Indian since it is basic to the survival of India as a secular democracy where people of various denominations co-exist peacefully with an inclusive mindset. Recognising and identifying the problem is crucial to finding a solution to it. If we keep our eyes closed imagining that the storm of irrationality would subside with time, we would do so at our own peril. This would drown us and devour the rich culture and civilisation that India prides itself on.

If there was a Ravan who was blinded by lust, there was a Purushottam Ram to counter him and establish dharma. If there was Duryodhan and Dhritrashtra of the Kauravas blinded by the lure of wealth and pride, there were the Pandavs and Krishn to establish dharma. It is this dharma that forced Chankaya to strengthen the mighty Magadha empire under Chandragupta and intimidate Sikander who was intoxicated by the dream of winning the world.

History has always found a hero who has demolished evil and established dharma and a just society. That is why we Indians celebrate most festivals as a victory of good over evil. But this process was somehow stopped when India was invaded by the Turks and the Mughals. The raiders from the North West frontiers in the 11th century and till the establishment of the Mughal Empire were lured by wealth, something about which Indians did not bother much and thought temples to be repositories of wealth and faith.

But invaders and raiders had other motives too. This was to spread Islam and subjugate the local population. Lakhs of temples containing idols were destroyed and mosques were built over many of them. Hindus were asked to accept Islam or face persecution. Lakhs were killed for not accepting the new faith. Absence of a Chanakya who could unite Indian Rajas under one banner and launch a counterattack was absent. These Rajas were happy demonstrating personal glories in fighting against the invaders or compromising with them in search of safety and security. It was Shivaji and the Marathas who later gave stiff resistance and prevented the Mughals from becoming an all-India phenomenon. 

Persecutions and humiliations of Hindus did not deter them from following their faiths. The Mughals imposed Jazia on the non-Islamic population. Depending on their understanding of the Indian reality, the Mughal rulers were either benevolent or tolerant or despotic. But all of them sought legitimacy of their rule from scriptures and their interpreters and no problems relegating Hindus to the position of second-class citizens.

The British used all their guiles to keep Hindus and Muslims divided. When the two communities came together to fight the common enemy the British, the mighty Empire crumbled. But discrimination and favouritism by the British solidified the compartments and consolidated the Hindu-Muslim divide. Introduction of democracy where there would be Rule by numbers created fear among Muslims who thought they would be outnumbered by Hindus. The British were too keen to divide India into Hindu and Muslim nations and our leaders were too keen to accept.

The partition was an acceptance by our leaders that Hindus and Muslims are two nations and could not live together. Had they tried a little harder, partition could have been avoided. Pakistan that became a hotbed of terrorism in the name of Islam could have been saved from going this way if the monster was killed in the foetus. If Pakistan is the villain today, those who created Pakistan must share the blame for disturbing world peace. Islamic brotherhood and rule by Sharia with sanctions from the Quran have created a new wave of radicalisation of Islamic society. 

Intolerance of adherence to others’ faiths and the feeling of Islamic supremacy has created a wedge as never before. Killing people in the name of religion by terrorists has made Islam the target of hate by other communities. Although apologists of Islam say Islam is a religion of peace, the much talked about peace is elusive even in Islamic countries. Studies say that close to 85% of victims of Islamic radicalisation have been Muslims.

India, which has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, has to find out its own way to fight this radicalism. Aggressive Islam driven by Puritanism is leading to the radicalisation of youths and it is producing a counter-radicalisation of Hindus. For Hindus, it is a matter of survival since it is the land of their origin. The issue is whether the culture would vanish like many others in the world before the onslaught from Islam. A disproportionate increase in the Muslim population opens up the issue of demographic change and the theoretical possibility of Rule by the Sharia. This is likely to produce a counter polarisation of Hindus. 

Closing one’s eyes to the impending danger would not lead to the resolution of the crisis. The bull must be taken by the horn. If one does not agree, just visit the clubhouse or any other forum of discussion on social media. The favourite topic is Hindu Rashtra or Islamic radicalisation. So many of our youngsters are engaged in the discussion and they are not ready to take things lying down. They challenge the verses of the Quran that promote enmity between believers and non-believers. All India Shia Board member Wasim Rizvi has opened Pandora’s Box by questioning some of the verses of the Quran and people are discussing it threadbare. Why should hate verse be not analysed and removed, is the common argument.

Quran is infallible and it cannot be changed since these are words of God. But people ask how can God be contradicting Himself in the verses. God should be clear and consistent in what He is saying. Asking followers of Islam to question the faith is blasphemy. Hindus are supposed to be seekers and salvation is individual and can be achieved through various means including knowledge, bhakti, meditation and work. So, there are many Hindus who may question unabashed adherence to a faith. Can there be an open discussion on hate verses of religious texts?

Mohan Bhagwat’s assertion tries to find the middle ground while ignoring differences. The way to fighting radicalisation is to find common ground between the followers of two faiths and emphasise that rather than differences. And one way is to assert the Indianness of their identity at a time when a proliferation of communication is trying to create global Islam. Both Hindus and Muslims belong to the same ancestors and the same motherland. Hence their interest can’t be different.

It is not once but many times in the past the RSS chief has spoken about the DNA of both communities being the same. This means there should be no hatred based on religion. Two people can have different faiths and can live with unity and brotherhood. Nobody can be differentiated based on their ways of worship, he said during a book launch a few days back. His reference to extolling historical figures such as Akbar and Dara Shikoh and not Aurangzeb is born out of this understanding that while the former represents the Indian culture of peaceful co-existence, the latter represents the culture of the Turks and the Mongols who would use the sword to spread the faith.

Those Islamic leaders who did not believe in hate or Islamic supremacy and sacrificed their lives for the motherland need to be idolised. India has many such heroes who need to be extolled to make Muslim youths aware of them. This would also help Hindu youths to appreciate that all Muslims should not be put in one basket. Freedom fighter Ashfaqullah Khan of the Kakori fame had dreamt of a free India where the poor would live happily and fully satisfied. Every Indian irrespective of the faiths respect Dr APJ Abdul Kalam because of his contributions to strengthen the country.

But while mere stress on oneness and common grounds would be good optics, the Government would need to identify the ideology of radicalism and take steps to tackle them. It is time to have a common syllabus for imparting education irrespective of the institutions. Indians must have a common value system that stresses on dharma and righteousness. Radicalisation, as well as de-radicalisation, is a slow process and we must have the patience to make rationality win over hot-headedness. 

And there should be no premium on hatred and terror. The arm of the law should be long and strong enough to punish the guilty irrespective of his faith or power in society. The NIA is doing a great job in nabbing terrorist modules and preventing terrorist activities that can polarise society. Society needs to be more vigilant and the State ruthless in suppressing violence of any kind.

The writer is the author of ‘Narendra Modi: the GameChanger’. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates.

India, which has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, has to find out its own way to fight this radicalism. Aggressive Islam driven by Puritanism is leading to the radicalisation of youths and it is producing a counter-radicalisation of Hindus. For Hindus, it is a matter of survival since it is the land of their origin. The issue is whether the culture would vanish like many others in the world before the onslaught from Islam. A disproportionate increase in the Muslim population opens up the issue of demographic change and the theoretical possibility of Rule by the Sharia. This is likely to produce a counter polarisation of Hindus.

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Opinion

SONIA SNUBS G-23, BUT CONGRESS FUTURE REMAINS UNCERTAIN

Pankaj Vohra

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The Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi, snubbed the G-23 leaders within her party but failed to answer several pointed questions regarding how decisions were being taken within the organization. At a Congress Working Committee meeting, held after five months, she hit out at the dissidents, reiterating that she was the party chief and instead of raising issues through the media, it would be better, if they met her personally to address the grievances. The short point is that for majority of the leaders, the Gandhis have been inaccessible and with no forum available within the party, they do not know how to get their views across. The CWC meeting turned out to be more an exercise of expressing loyalty to the family than an attempt to provide a road map so far the future strategy goes. As expected, the CWC members urged Rahul Gandhi to take over even though a schedule for the party elections was simultaneously announced. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik, three of the G-23 leaders who were present, found themselves outnumbered and decided to maintain a low profile. The underlining message sent out to the dissidents by Sonia was that they carried no weight of their own and were dependent on the High Command for any positions.

However, the interim president should have known that the senior leaders have never had any problem with her leadership by and large and if they had turned dissidents, it was because certain questionable decisions which did not bear the Sonia stamp but those of the Gandhi siblings had been taken, taking the cadres by surprise. When Kapil Sibal had stated a few weeks ago that we know who was taking the decisions and yet we know who is not, he had voiced the internal concern of the rank and file. The matter that has to be understood by the High Command is that several appointments made in the recent past were not necessarily going to enhance the position of the party in the respective states and it would be better that in future, the process of wide consultations was gone through. There are also apprehensions that many sensitive decisions were prompted by the Gandhi siblings without factoring in the ramifications since there was no one in their inner group, who had the capacity to manage the consequences of the fallout. What Sonia basically achieved at the CWC meeting was that she was able to maintain a status quo till the next year’s president’s election while making it abundantly clear that the family was not going to easily give up its ownership of the grand old party. However, politics is pregnant with all kinds of possibilities and if the Congress fails to win in any of the poll bound states next year, there could be serious repercussions so far as the leadership question goes. It is being generally perceived in political circles that Priyanka has fired up the cadres in Uttar Pradesh after her Lakhimpur Kheri visit, bringing the party back into reckoning in about 30 to 40 seats.

Simultaneously, it is pointed out that any alliance with any other party in the State, may boomerang on the Congress. There are also serious doubts over the ability of Navjot Singh Sidhu to adhere to the party’s stand in Punjab unless he controls his impulsive actions and falls in line. He is certainly the stormy petrel of Punjab politics. In Delhi where the municipal polls are due, Anil Chaudhury’s leadership as the PCC president, has proved to be unsatisfactory since he has not been able to carry the rest of the leaders. It is being suggested that the best person to head the party in Delhi would be either Arvinder Singh Lovely or Hari Shankar Gupta. The Working Committee also failed to discuss the issue of opposition unity and it is evident that Sonia by declaring that she was going to heading the party, has sent out an important signal that without the Congress as the nucleus, no opposition federal front can be effectively formed. The Congress High Command is responsible for the state the Congress is in and by resigning from his position in 2019, Rahul had acknowledged this fact.

However, ever since then, uncertainty over his return has existed and this has harmed the party more than helping it out. The Congress needs someone who can assume the role of Ahmed Patel in sorting out things before they go out of control. For this the Gandhis have to prepare themselves to zero in on such a person from amongst senior leaders, who has the energy, understanding and the ability to carry everyone with the party. The road ahead is not going to be smooth with both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, posing pragmatic and hard challenges.

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Opinion

A recalibration of strategy

Many learned people and policy analysts have suggested that there can be no military solution to India-Pakistan disputes. However, it may well be true that, like in the case of Egypt and Israel, it might take a calculated military escalation before a long-term ceasefire can be restored.

Ankit Kumar

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The geopolitical developments of past few months have made India’s apprehensions of a two-front engagement, very realistic. While India has been locked in an attritional conflict with Pakistan and its state supported proxies in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) since the later part of 1980s, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has opened another front in Ladakh and on North-Eastern border. Both China and Pakistan are driven by the motive of capturing Indian territory. The deepening China-Pakistan nexus presents a more challenging security environment for Indian forces.

The biggest challenge that the Indian strategic planners are currently grappling with is developing an effective counter-strategy to the two-front war scenario. As after Pakistan’s Kargil war debacle, any full-fledged military adventure by it seems highly unlikely, its use of proxies and terror groups will continue unabated. Insurgency is cost-effective and serves the larger strategic goal. China on the other hand caught India by surprise in Ladakh and now sits in possession of more territory than it used to claim in 1959. The countless corps commander talks have made little headway and seem more like a ploy by China to buy time to impose a new reality on the boundary question. So, what is the way out for India?

Given the limitations of military resources at India’s disposal, India must make some fundamental changes in its military strategy. India’s priority should be to deal with China’s threat. The war of attrition with Pakistan is going to continue unless a better counter-strategy is formulated. Pakistan has been able to tie down a significant number of Indian security personnel and resources in J&K region. The 2003 ceasefire agreement, practically dead for all these years was resurrected in February 2021 amid surprise and much-needed relief for residents of border areas. But with the geopolitical situation changing in Pakistan’s favour with the victory of its proxies in Afghanistan, will the ceasefire continue to hold?

CALM ON THE WESTERN FRONT

The Indian security establishment believes that the February ceasefire is going to last, at least till Winter arrives. However, this seems more a case of wishful thinking. After a high of 4645 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2020, the Indian and Pakistani DGMOs (Director General Military Operations) notified in February this year that they have mutually agreed to adhere to the 2003 agreement. The ceasefire was needed by India too as it is caught in a tense stand-off with China in Ladakh. While reports suggest that back-channel talks between NSA’s Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf led to this, the Pakistani NSA was quick to disown it. Perhaps due to compulsions of domestic politics in the aftermath of the 5 August 2019 decision amending J&K’s special constitutional status.

The question remains – how does Pakistan benefit from the continual of ceasefire? In retrospect, it seems evident that the ceasefire with India became a necessity for Pakistan to devote its undivided attention to Afghanistan. That was the big prize for Pakistan’s Army. It appears Pakistan Army needed a stop-gap arrangement to ensure peace on their Eastern border, so they could focus on the Afghanistan situation. With its grip on Afghanistan strengthening, Pakistan’s Army would be keen to push for more infiltration of terrorists into J&K.

However, Pakistan is also witnessing an uptick in the attack by Baloch nationalists and TTP rebels from across Afghanistan. Several dozen Pakistani soldiers have died in these attacks this year alone. Pakistan anticipated this spurt in attacks which is why it began fencing its border with Afghanistan in 2017 at an estimated cost of over $ 500 million. Afghans, including a section of Taliban are against this and even the Pakistan government is not sure if it can stop these attacks. The Pakistan government seems out of options and is reportedly exploring talks with TTP to negotiate a peace. Whether Pakistan’s triumph in Afghanistan will prove to be pyrrhic victory, only time will tell. What is clear is that this does not augur well for the region.

With Pakistan firmly in control of affairs in Afghanistan, their forces on top of their morale by believing they have defeated another superpower, they would be eager to take the war to J&K. The recent belligerent outburst by Pakistani PM Imran Khan at UN General Assembly directed against the Indian government, certainly emphasises that they don’t think they would need peace on the border with India for much longer. Worth noting that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister had not raised the usual rhetoric about Kashmir in an informal meeting of SAARC ministers held in mid-February 2021.

With elections in Pakistan slated to be held in 2023, the Imran Khan government and its benefactor, the Pakistan Army, would have to show some “action” on Kashmir. They cannot be perceived as making peace with India as Nawaz Sharif was dethroned by the Army giving the same excuse.

The Indian strategy to deal with Pakistani designs has, by and large, remained unchanged. As a result of that India is not only facing a high cost in terms of lives in containing the insurgency in the Kashmir region but is also having to deal with significant casualties at Line of Control (LoC). Indian government indeed has conducted several operations to target the terrorists on their launchpads, but that is unlikely to change Pakistani behaviour. The terror attacks are now largely limited to Punjab and J&K. This might be due to India’s improvement in precluding terror attacks and due to Pakistani leadership trying to avoid international criticism in the aftermath of large-scale terror attacks like 26/11. However, there is a need to revisit the current strategy being followed to counter terrorist infiltration from across the LoC, which is the centre of focus and learn lessons from counter-infiltration strategy of other countries like Israel. Killing terrorists is not a measure of success and fighting a protracted insurgency should not be the job of the Army.

ISRAELI EXPERIENCE

Israel is one of the few countries that has thrice fought multiple front wars and continues to fight terrorism. This is something that Indian military planners need to look at and study considering that India too faces the risk of one. Going back in history, the current situation in J&K is somewhat reminiscent of Israel’s low-intensity war of attrition with Lebanon that it fought for 15 years (1985 to 2000). The war with Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, resulted in the death of hundreds of IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers and ultimately forced IDF to undertake a humiliating withdrawal from the security zone, the territory it was holding in Southern Lebanon as a buffer. Parallels can also be drawn with the recent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

It was not the first time that Israel was defeated by its opponent by forcing it to fight a battle of attrition. Egypt, after its defeat in the Six Day War in 1967, changed its strategy and engaged IDF in an attritional war from 1968-70 that ate away Israel’s military edge. Israel’s ostensible victory proved delusional, as the loss in men and materiel was significant. Egyptian forces, on the other hand, after getting rehabilitated thanks to generous arms support by USSR, nearly routed IDF in the 1973 Yom Kippur war which helped Egypt recover its lost territory eventually.

‘An attritive war is adopted as a strategy when one side perceives it to be weaker than the other and thus uses attrition to exhaust its enemy’s will to fight without making any concession’. For India the number of lives being lost is unacceptably high. According to government records 5,886 security personnel were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in terrorist incidents from 1989 till August 5, 2019 – 80 in 2019; 62 in 2020; 16 in 2021 (up to June). While on the opposing side, most casualties have been young locals recruited by various terror outfits in Kashmir. Pakistan security forces have suffered fewer casualties of its personnel in its attritional war with India. This presents a scenario of unwinnable conflict for India, as it is unable to inflict any serious damage or cost on Pakistan.

The situation for residents of border villages is equally tragic. The LoC. Ceasefire violations results in higher civilian casualties than those of the military. As the past suggests, whenever Pakistan Army comes under increasing pressure, it escalates tensions with India. Therefore, it is likely that these things will occur with higher frequency until India inflicts severe cost. Ensuring that Pakistan remains on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Grey List is important in this regard.

From its experience of cross-border terrorism, Israel has pioneered several countermeasures. The deployment of smart fences along with physical barriers is an important one. Smart fences are effective in stopping infiltration to a large extent as is seen in case of Israel’s fencing the Egypt border. Israel also uses drones to gather intelligence and at times to carry out targeted pre-emptive strikes. Of course, the adversaries faced by Israel and India are not similar. The terrain and climatic conditions are quite different, India’s being harsher. Therefore, India would have to pick and choose what might work for its security needs.

FINDING TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTION

The cross-border raids that are carried out, like that in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) after Uri or in Myanmar in 2015, no doubt act as a deterrent, but only for a short while. There is also the risk of these raids resulting in casualties, the capture of soldiers, and resultant escalation. Pakistan is already exploiting drone technology to drop off arms and narcotics to its terror modules within India. Therefore, there is a case for India to learn from Israel and induct more technological platform to neutralise the technological advantage that Pakistan is trying to exploit.

Protecting lives of civilians and security personnel in a conflict zone should be the government’s foremost concern. The current government has shown commitment towards this. Project for construction of bunkers for residents of border villages have been sanctioned. And rightly so, as the Raksha Mantri had remarked that people living in border villages are “strategic assets.” Government has also tried to address the shortage in bulletproof vests for the soldiers deployed in the region. The project to install smart fence along the LoC is also moving forward. The introduction of technology for border security management is the solution. After the installation of high-tech fence all along Israel border, it has witnessed a sharp decline in number of infiltrations. The same smart fence has been installed by the US on Mexico border. Of course, no security measure is completely fool proof, yet this combination of i-tec and low-tec measures would certainly go a long way in helping better guard the borders and reducing casualties. No solution guarantees hundred percent result. There would obviously be some gaps. Terrorists try to get creative to beat the security measures in place. Something as rudimentary as tunnelling can sometimes defeat the huge investment that country’s make in installing the smart fences.

The government of India also needs to expedite the development of MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs and induct them for surveillance of crossing points and if possible, induct armed drones to neutralise terrorists on their launch pads or before they infiltrate. The induction of Predator UAVs by Navy would certainly help Indian security forces gain some on-hand experience of using these high-tech platforms.

CONCLUSION

Many learned people and policy analysts have suggested that there can be no military solution to India-Pakistan disputes. However, it may well be true that, like in the case of Egypt and Israel, it might take a calculated military escalation before a long-term ceasefire can be restored. Of course, India and Pakistan being nuclear powers, following a policy of brinkmanship might not be easy. Despite its precarious economic situation and causalities in the tit-for-tat ceasefire violations, Pakistan has shown little willingness for any lasting truce. The idea seems to be to keep the Kashmir cauldron boiling, as Pakistan’s aim is to deny India peace. There is no reason why Pakistani establishment would want to rein in their proxies. So, the onus is on India to better safeguard its personnel and borders.

The writer is a PhD Candidate at National Security Studies, Central University of Gujarat. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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