Iran-Israel – What Just Happened

Iran-Israel – What Just Happened

Iran’s drone and missile retaliation for Israel bombing its Embassy in Lebanon has pushed Israel into a political maze with no clear exit in sight. That is the ingenious strategy of the Iranian Mullahs if they can pull it off. Israel’s position appears to be weakened. If it retaliates, many of its ‘friends’ or partners in the international community will be extremely unhappy; some will turn against it. Moreover, Iran will probably escalate it to a full war, which the world wants to avoid. If it does not retaliate, Israel will look weak and the regional challengers to it will become more confident.

Militarily, Israel is the superior of the two countries. Its arms technology is highly advanced and its famous Iron Dome defence systems have won the admiration of the most advanced military powers. It also has the added advantage of having a nuclear capability that may have been a powerful deterrence to any ambitious powers in the neighbourhood. It prides in a highly efficient army. Most importantly its second deterrence has been its willingness to strike back harder and mercilessly.

Israel has laid waste to Gaza and killed over 33,000 Palestinians in response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas. The ferocity has shocked not only the Palestinians but rest of the world too. Israel has a history of ‘taking out’ military commanders and scientists of its adversaries, particularly Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Under its current foreign policy and defence policies, it cannot simply sit back and let the Iranian attack unanswered. Its prestige, its deterrence factor and its own concept of security are at stake. It is caught between a reckless reaction or limited reaction to appease its own population.

How did it come to this? The Iranian leadership, it has to be said, is capable of extraordinary intrigue and strategy. In the second Iraq war, Iran was a major instigator behind the scenes to push the United States to attack Iraq and hence rid Iran of its arch enemy, the Saddam regime. Iran did not achieve that by any direct or indirect diplomacy with US.

Iran had nurtured four secret agents and put them close to the Saddam regime. These people probably didn’t know each other. Each of them then defected to different agencies of the USA. Each of them had a similar base story but a different ending. They told the FBI, CIA, and State Department that Saddam was indeed developing nuclear and chemical weapons. They even identified underground locations where this was allegedly happening. Each of them had a different ‘intelligence’ to give on the stage of the development of the weapons of mass destruction.

United States agencies were very competitive at that time and didn’t like to disclose their ‘source’ to the other agency. So each agency was pushing the narrative that they had absolute confirmation that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons but neither would disclose their ‘source’. The narrative appeared convincing as each defector gave incremental time span for final development of the nuclear bomb.

The US under Bush was looking for any excuse to attack Iraq after 9/11. Justifying it by the WMD story, it attacked Iraq and got rid of Saddam for Iran without realising what it was doing, until quite late when it tried to instal Chalabi as Vice President and discovered that he was in fact a suspected Iranian agent!

Now too, Iran has woven a spider’s web and choreographed the event and responses. It engaged in loudspeaker strategy of its intentions. It alerted Israel and all its partners about what it was about to do and what weapons it will use.

The first principle of any attack is meant to be the ‘surprise’ to catch the enemy asleep. Here Iran was declaring everything so that the ‘enemy’ and its partners had enough time to put up appropriate defence. And so they did. According to Israel, UK and USA, 99% of the drones and missiles were brought down before they reached their target. The coalition declared that Iran’s 301 drones and missiles had failed!

However, some missiles did reach targets despite the Iron Dome, advanced American and British counter drone-missile technology and an almost week’s warning to prepare.

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Iran, it seemed, was reckoning on all its drones and missiles being neutralised. It did not want any civilian casualties. And it was not really declaring war. It was a much announced megaphone warning to Israel and its partners that it will retaliate and that it has more advanced technology in wait if it comes to war.

That a few of the missiles hit targets has shown that if Iran were to mount 500 or more drones and missiles of the same calibre, it could hit a few targets with devastating damage. Secondly, it has also indicated that it has even more advanced technology to overcome the defensive systems of its ‘enemies’.

The most important outcome of the Iranian action is that it has politically incapacitated Israel and punctured its ‘invincibility’ factor in the Middle East. Again it has used its ‘enemy’ to supress its other ‘enemy’, Israel.

Iran has told USA that it will attack American targets if USA gets involved further. Its proxy, the Houthis, have already cornered British capabilities. The Americans know that Iran could damage many of its oil interests in the Middle East, which will send oil prices rocketing and the economy downhill.

Both USA and UK have leant on Israel to back off from further action. Israel is also fearful that it may not be able to rely on American and European support. It cannot be sure whether it can damage Iran without causing considerable damage to itself in destruction and human life. Israelis won’t forgive their government for this. Israel may triumph in the beginning, but in the long term it will be a shell of its current self.

The invincibility factor is disappearing. All that is left is a regime high on inflamed octane wanting to reassert its fierce factor in the region without knowing what to do. If Israel does something, it will backfire. If it doesn’t do anything, the Netanyahu regime’s bubble will be burst. The Nuclear deterrent won’t work for the simple reason that the whole world will turn against it. Iran may even pull in Russian or North Koreans nuclear arsenal in the conflict. A nuclear strike on Israel will decimate it considerably. America didn’t use a single nuclear weapon in any of the wars it was losing since Second World War.

Biden did try to explain to Netanyahu to learn from the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan which significantly deflated American power and allowed its competitors to rise in the world of power. Netanyahu didn’t listen, but chose to bombard Gaza relentlessly.

Iran, it needs to be understood, is an ancient power with long history of strategic abilities. Just because regimes change, doesn’t mean wisdoms and experience are lost. The training of an Iranian Mullah is not just the Quran. They spend three years in the study of the Quran, a year in western philosophy, a year in other philosophies such as Hinduism, Confucian etc. A year studying basic science and international relations and a year in critical thinking. It’s a seven-year course to match any PhD in the world. They are not simple priests that one encounters in many developing world.

The future for the current Israel regime is uncertain. Perhaps the best way forward is for Israel to come to terms with its limitations, change its leadership and seek coexistence within Middle East rather than surviving on the‘fearful factor’. Through this very difficult crisis, it needs a change of direction, just as the USA did after humiliations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, Iran can be a key to its conflict with Hamas and the door to a peaceful future. Israel needs a leadership that can engage through diplomacy and chart a different future for it.

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From Eidi to ED

Changing Political Discourse – From ‘Eidi’ to ED

After observing the Eid-ul-Fitr last week, India’s nearly 200 million Muslims have presumably joined the din of elections. Straddling the two events, this is a modest, snapshot attempt to see what has seemingly changed and what has not.

Muslims are part of the 960 million-plus electorate. Issues peculiar to their community – sectarian violence, hijab, beef and much else – may remain high on the minds, but provide no clue about the impact they may have on the elections’ outcome. One can at best try to capture the mood discernible on Eid with the help of media reports, some confirmed and sourced, others being mere thoughts on social media and depending on records, draw some comparisons.

Not for the first time though, some newspapers found it both convenient, even advisable in the heat of the ongoing election campaign, to project not the politicos but film stars, on their front pages. Shah Rukh Khan was on the front pages greeting his admirers from the balcony of his Mumbai home: “EID Mubarak, Everyone.” This may have helped spread the message that Eid was “for everyone.”

This ‘everyone’ bit also seemed to go well with social media platforms to whom the traditional/mainstream media have ceded space. No-holds-barred reflecting there – serious, provocative, light or humorous – widens the discourse.

More non-Muslims than usual appeared to post Eid greetings to “my Muslim Friends”, conveying an unspoken empathy. The generally divisive hate campaign against this community or that, which has been on the increase, abated, even if briefly. The elections injected it back, though, by the time this is written.

This was the first Eid when ‘Eidi’, the gift the Muslim elders give to younger friends and family members, got mixed with ‘ED’, the government’s Enforcement Directorate that is prosecuting many an opposition leader – selectively, the critics at home and abroad say, to disrupt their election campaigns. As the issue is debated in the highest court of the land, the Eidi-ED memes filled the social media.

A popular Bollywood actor thought of repeating an old caricature of a Hindu from Haryana greeting a Muslim acquaintance:“Bhai Tanney Eid Ki Ram Ram”. Irrespective of the occasion, unlike in the cities where people wish each other by the hour of the day, greeting someone with “Ram Ram” is common in the countryside, especially in northern India.

These were soothing touches amidst the poll-time rhetoric. “Ghar mein ghus kar martey hain (killing after entering homes) is surely meant for the terrorists and their mentors, which they rightly deserve. But when political opponents are accused of having a “Mughal mindset” and are lambasted for “eating meat during the Shravan month”, the connotation and the ambit of the remarks and their targets, get widened, at least in the public perception.

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Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the venue of anti-CAA protests by Muslims, and the political heat they generated some years ago, was this year the hub for food stalls during Ramzan. It rivalled the Jama Masjid area in the walled city. Food lovers of all faiths thronged both venues.

Muslims praying on open grounds is an old, often contentious issue. Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena expressed ‘gratitude’ that there was no namaaz on the road for the first time. He was happy that this helped the authorities to “ensure that any eventuality of a flare-up by miscreants or vested interests was averted.”

The times are changing. The politics of hosting Iftars which was once an important part of the Ramzan, went missing. Like the Shaheen Bagh protests, Iftar was disrupted by Covid-19. Now, with Hindutva in focus, political parties shied away from hosting Iftar parties.

In political terms, an Iftar party is aimed at spreading a message of communal harmony. Clerics, diplomats and political leaders rising above party affiliations would come together and break bread. Meant to facilitate the Muslims, they were attended by all. It created a sense of mutual trust.

Interestingly, diplomatic missions in New Delhi – the United States, Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia among the many – continued with Iftars, while political parties, whether or not they marginalise the Muslim vote, were too busy electioneering.

The Samajwadi Party was known to host the biggest and best-attended Iftar party. Its founder Mulayam Singh Yadav would personally attend to guests. In earlier days his trusted aide Amar Singh supervised the catering. When Yadav was the Defence Minister, food came from Akash, the Indian Air Force mess. The menu on the table was lavish.

This year, Akhilesh Yadav, the present chief, party sources privately conceded, was wary of hosting an Iftar party lest his rivals brand him “anti-Hindu”. However, Akhilesh attended Iftaar parties hosted by others.

The Congress regularly hosted Iftaar parties earlier. In recent years though, the party has abandoned the tradition. Insiders claim it is short of funds, while critics blame it on its silently pursuing “soft Hindutva”. Its leaders vehemently deny this. But undoubtedly, the political parameters are set by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Iftar parties were started in Uttar Pradesh in the early seventies by the then Chief Minister Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. Thereafter, they became an annual tradition. In the changed times, Bahuguna’s children are in the BJP.

The only time that the BJP hosted an Iftar party, old records say, was when Rajnath Singh was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. He is now the Defence Minister. Other BJP leaders have avoided playing host on such occasions. The party as such views it as part of the Muslims’ ‘appeasement’.

What about the top dignitaries? Indira and Rajiv Gandhi hosted Iftar parties. So did Deve Gowda and I K Gujral. Leaders Ram Vilas Paswan, Rajesh Pilot, Jaipal Reddy and others played hosts.

One recalls the guests donning keffiyehs, turbans and ‘topi’ – like kashti, Turkish, Afghani – at Iftar parties Atal Bihari Vajpayee hosted at the plush Hyderabad House. Leaders of different faiths, diplomats and politicians of all hues attended. Vajpayee’s liberal face came through with his donning of green headgear.

The occasion was essentially for Muslims, but by the time they finished with the prayer to be able to break their fast, the food would be devoured and replenishments would be needed.

As President, APJ Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, if not hosting an official Iftar, would donate funds to some charitable cause or disaster fund.

The change began in 2014. PM Modi skipped Iftars hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee. And then, the practice ended. Electoral compulsions have set in as the ruling BJP calls it “appeasement politics” and condemn anyone who engaged in it. Its target this year was an ally, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Call it cynicism if you will. But the growing feeling of ‘otherness’ has led sections of the Muslims to think that the political Iftars of the past made the community too complacent to see through the ‘tokenism’.

The end of Iftar politics, applauded by those who support the present dispensation, is silently mourned by secularists who see it as an attack on India’s pluralistic ethos – the “Idea of India”.

Nazia Erum, the author of Mothering A Muslim writes: “Keeping it simple – the Iftar is meant to be a moment of spirituality. Ramzan and Iftar will come and go – but their achievement lies in helping you and your fellow human beings to introspect on how we are being led astray from loving and belonging together, by forces of politics and by the games of power.

To Erum, “The truth is, nothing would probably please God more than closing this gap of hatred and mistrust between fellow humans.”

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Guide to Modi’s Win-Win Foreign Policy

A Jargon-Free Guide to Narendra Modi’s (Mostly) Win-Win Foreign Policy

Just two things from last weekend can give you a huge insight into the manner in which India’s foreign policy has undergone a significant transformation under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who completes 10 years at the helm of India’s government and is poised to win another five-year term. But first the two things (spoiler: both have to do with S. Jaishankar, Modi’s foreign minister and close confidant when it comes to anything to do with India’s international policy).

One. Last Friday, at an event to launch the Marathi version of his book, Jaishankar said: “Whosoever will be the President of America will have good relations with India, because America will always want to have a partnership with Prime Minister Modi.”

Two. At the same event, in an obvious reference to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, he also said: “They (terrorists) should not think; we are this side of the line, so no one could attack us. Terrorists do not play by any rules. The answer to terrorists cannot have any rules.”

Both those statements by India’s foreign minister are accurate. I would amend the first a bit by substituting “partnership with Prime Minister Modi” with “partnership with India” but then we should not mind Jaishankar’s preference for mentioning the name of his boss. 

Indo-US relations and the China factor

Let’s start with the first statement. India’s relationship with the US has pivoted in the past couple of decades and has been warming for several reasons but for the US, the most important of them is the dynamics of China’s rise and its implications for regional stability. US-China relations have been deteriorating ever since the US started worrying about China’s military buildup and its assertiveness in the South China Sea. Then, in 2018, a trade war began under the Trump administration with both countries imposing tariffs on each other’s goods. In 2020, the tension escalated over the handling and origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and issues such as the handling of Hong Kong and the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. 

Strategically, the US supports India’s emergence as a leading global power in the region and sees it as a counterbalance to China’s rise. This strategic interest, coupled with economic interests and shared democratic values, has contributed to the strengthening of the US-India relations. 

The two countries now cooperate in areas such as defence, trade, technology, and climate change. So, to paraphrase Jaishankar, no matter who becomes the next occupant of the White House, the US will always want to have India as a partner, no matter what. When Canada accused India of being involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil, the US was remarkably guarded in its response, simply because it needs India strategically. 

For India, it is a win-win. It follows a policy of strategic autonomy and has avoided becoming a formal ally of the US, which allows it to follow an independent foreign policy that can also sometimes diverge from what the US would ideally expect. Case in point: India’s relations with Russia.

Indo-Russian relations and the economic factor

While the US-led West has imposed heavy sanctions on trade with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, India has maintained its historical bond with Russia. India buys Russian oil, weapons and trade between the two continues to be robust. In the financial year 2024, India bought 35% of its oil imports from Russia. India and China together buy an estimated 80% of Russia’s oil. In 2023, India spent $15.2 billion on Russian oil. For Russia, embroiled as it is in a war in Ukraine since February 2022, such revenue is of critical importance. 

Arguably, those earnings could be financing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s onslaught against Ukraine but for India, it is a win-win. Because India has been buying Russian oil at discounted rates. Following the sanctions imposed on Russia, Russian Urals crude has been selling at a discount. For instance, at one point, it was more than $30 a barrel cheaper than Brent crude, the global benchmark.

Indo-Chinese relations and the tension factor

If India’s relations with the US and with Russia can be said to be determined by strategy and economics, respectively, its relations with China are much more complex. It is marked by both cooperation and contention. Continuing border disputes with China have strained ties between the two countries. 

The border disputes over areas in the north-eastern part of India are long-standing. Recently, Prime Minister Modi highlighted the “urgent need to address” the prolonged situation on the borders to resolve the “abnormality in bilateral interactions”. There have been ongoing diplomatic efforts to ease the tensions, but there has been no breakthroughs.

A new controversy has been over China renaming territories by issuing standardised names in Mandarin for places within India’s Arunachal Pradesh, which China refers to as Zangnan. India has strongly condemned this move, with the Indian defence minister questioning the logic behind the renaming and asserting that such actions cannot change the fact that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. The U.S. has also reacted to this development.

These actions by China are seen as attempts to assert its territorial claims over the region, which India rejects. The renaming of territories is part of a broader pattern of assertiveness by China in its border disputes, but India maintains its stance that Arunachal Pradesh is, and will always be, an integral part of its territory. The situation remains sensitive.

India also fears security threats from China. In 2020, it banned 59 Chinese-made apps, including popular ones like TikTok and WeChat, citing them as a danger to the country’s sovereignty, integrity, and national security.

Yet, Indo-Chinese relations aren’t that simple. Despite the border tensions, trade between India and China has not only continued but has reached new heights. In 2022, the trade volume between the two countries was at an all-time high of  $135.98 billion, with India’s trade deficit with China crossing the $100 billion mark for the first time. This was despite India’s efforts to become more self-reliant and reduce its dependence on Chinese imports. However, imports from China have remained strong mainly because they are cheap.

Indo-Pak relations and the big daddy factor

I began this piece by listing two recent statements by India’s foreign minister but tackled only the first. The second too is of significance. When Jaishankar said the “answer to terrorism cannot have rules”, he could have likely been referring to a report in The Guardian, which alleged that India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), conducted operations deep inside Pakistan to neutralise wanted terrorists. That statement reflects the tough stance that India now adopts when it comes to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, particularly in Kashmir. 

Elsewhere, in its South Asian neighborhood, India under Modi has tried to reassert its leadership role. Its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy aims to foster better relations, but challenges persist. India’s influence faces competition from China’s economic clout, as Beijing invests heavily in regional infrastructure projects.

Modi’s global ambitions are also reflected in India’s outreach to Africa and the Middle East. In Africa, India has focused on development partnerships and trade, positioning itself as an alternative to China’s resource-driven approach. In the Middle East, energy security and the welfare of the Indian diaspora (66% of non-resident Indians live in the Middle East) have guided its policies, leading to stronger ties with nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As Modi likely heads into a third term, what kind of foreign policy should we expect? For sure, the policy of “strategic autonomy” that has now become familiar will continue with India navigating the complex geopolitical web of the world by blending pragmatism with national interest. That strategy will also gain heft from  India’s economic might–it could soon become the third largest economy in the world. To sum up, it would be: Modi’s win-win foreign policy.

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Humanitarian Crisis Unfolding In Myanmar

A Humanitarian Crisis Unfolding In Myanmar

Democracy in Myanmar proved to be the briefest spring possible following the November 2020 general elections. Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy had a decisive victory at the polls despite all the army tricks in the face of popular championing of democratic rule. But on February 1, 2021 when the newly elected parliament was due to hold its first session, the military junta staged a coup on the specious plea that in many ways the conduct of elections compromised the country’s sovereignty. However, there never was any elaboration of the junta’s reservations about the poll process.

Whatever that was, brutalities have routinely followed the junta’s accession to power, resulting in the killing of thousands, locking up of much greater numbers of pro-democracy protesters across the country, which shares common borders with India (including a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal), China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos. Displacement of nearly 2 million people is a massive human disaster story.

Thanks to the brave human rights groups such as Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), Myanmar Witness and Human Rights Foundation of Monland and an alert Western Press, the world becomes aware of the growing ferocity with which the junta is out to crush dissent. Junta reprisals take the form of wanton killing and condemning dissenters to jail where many routinely perish. Unfortunately and very rarely, India’s English dailies will use stuff about gory happenings in the neighbouring country sourced to Western syndicates.

A New York Times dateline New York story based largely on inputs from civil society and rights groups tells the world of the horrific torture and inhuman living condition that await pro-democracy inmates in Myanmar jails. The NYT story, which has a chilling effect on readers who care for democracy and freedom of speech, says the junta unnerved by growing protests and successes of rebel groups in their encounters with the army in various parts of the country “is meting out increasingly lethal treatment to those in custody. In the first two months of the year, more than 100 prisoners perished, either from torture or neglect… Conditions in military-run prisons have deteriorated further… with prisoners being deprived of food, proper sanitation and healthcare.” More than words, bits of statistics pointing to the gory outcome of growing severity of junta abuses shows human rights in Myanmar have gone for a toss. Unfortunately without the outside world caring.

According to the NYT report, since the February 2021 coup, the number of people dying in detention has crossed 1,500, including dozens dying due to physical torture. Jail inmates themselves confirm the flagrant abuses. It further says, the junta, allergic to elected government running the country, has the notorious reputation to bomb “civilians, using them as human shields, persecuting minorities, including the Rohingya people and torturing pro-democracy activists.”

Despite the fear of reprisals by Tatmadaw, the Burmese word for royal armed forces, the ranks of activists pining for restoration of peace and democracy are growing to junta’s dismay. A much bigger concern for Tatmadaw is the rising spirit of accommodation among ethnically diverse groups. They now have the shared goals to see that the army is divested of political power for it to go back to the barracks. The aspiration is to have a federal democratic future. But to win every bit of freedom, the combine of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Democratic Alliance Army will be engaged in a battle to be bloodied by the junta. The combine is formally named The Brotherhood Alliance (TBA).

As is the wont with military rulers and despots of every other kind everywhere, the Myanmar junta will press the repressive button firmly every time it feels challenged. From the progress the rebels continue to make since the success achieved in the ‘Operation 1027’ (named from the date it began last year) with TBA springing lighting attacks on the army in the northern Shan state bordering China, the Myanmar scene is emboldening the activists. Since the October bravery, the rebels have to their credit some other major successes in wresting control of territories from the army.

ALSO READ: We Have Asked All Indians To Leave Myanmar: MEA

The writ of rebels now runs over Laukkai, which earned notoriety for being the den of gamblers and internet fraudsters, Kayin state in southeast and Chin state in the west. More recently, the rebels seized control of main township of Ramree island off the coast of Rakhine state. This particular rebel success is of considerable strategic significance since the place happens to be next to Kyaukpyu wherefrom China sends oil and gas by pipe to its landlocked areas. China has developed a deep water port and terminals at Kyaukpyu and to keep the facilities from being targeted by the rebels, Beijing must find ways to keep them in good humour.

China does not conduct its foreign policy based on scruples or ideology. When the junta overthrew the elected government in February 2021 to run Myanmar, Beijing had no compunction to describe the development as a “major cabinet reshuffle.” What is more besides selling arms worth over $250 million to the junta,  China came down hard on the West for its sanctions on Myanmar liking these to exacerbation of prevailing tensions. But once the TBA, a coalition of ethnically based militias, started getting the better of the junta in northern Myanmar to start with, a flip in Beijing’s policy towards its disturbed neighbour was visible.

No doubt, China not in any way is discouraging the rebels and on the contrary, as reports say providing help to TBA is solely in order to protect its economic interest. The Economist writes: “China, which had long supported the junta, is doing deals with others… China will surely seek an accommodation with the AA at Kyaukpyu to protect its energy supplies there.” Measured support from China alone is, however, not enough to create condition for Myanmar to return to democracy.

As the conflict between the rebels and the junta has by now spread over two-thirds of the country, the people are facing an acute economic crisis. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in a report released the other day that the ranks of middle class in Myanmar are shrinking dramatically and poverty is spreading widely. The report further says the middle class is now half the size it was three years ago. Rising inflation is forcing households to cut spending on food and other essentials. Nearly half the population lives under the national poverty line of 76 cents a day.

Unnerved by rebel challenge, deepening economic crisis and consequent public unrest, a bewildered junta introduced conscription in February with the provision that anyone trying to avoid the mandatory draft will be consigned in the prison for five years. Expectedly many are trying to flee the country. Many others are joining people’s defence forces pledging loyalty to the National Unity Government in exile.

What the rebels need the most at this stage is moral and material support from democratic countries, the US and India in particular. Their indifference to junta atrocities is only helping China to have growing control both over the junta and the rebels in Myanmar. This, The Economist finds quite concerning. It says: “A Myanmar over which China establishes dominance is in no country’s interests but China’s. Yet America is distracted. India has called for dialogue, but offered little else. The ten-country South-East Asian club, ASEAN, timidly sticks to a lame ‘five-point consensus’ that the junta does not even pretend to honour.”

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United Opposition Unsettled BJP

United Opposition, Unsettled BJP

If the manifest use of language is a social-psychological indicator of hidden tectonic shifts, civilization and culture, as much as compulsive Freudian slips, then, surely, things don’t seem to be going hunky dory for the muscle-flexing, cash-rich ruling party in the Centre. For one, its two unilateral supremos from Gujarat have not been seen smiling or happy since a long time now – their tense faces a give-away, a repetitive syndrome, especially in the poll rallies.

Obviously, the unprecedented multi-million electoral bond scam of organized extortions linked to raids by central agencies, and lucrative contracts in millions soon after to all kinds of companies, including sleazy business groups, often unknown with a pathetic front of its office (as that of a gaming company plus biggest doner to the BJP), has hit the party hard. It has hit them real hard in the face of a united opposition which held a massive rally in Delhi recently against the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren, two elected chief ministers. The crowd was spilling over outside the Ramlila Maidan, almost like the Mumbai finale rally of the Bharat Jodo Yatra Part II.

Besides, this crowd was extremely serious; they were not hired and brought on buses and trucks. They were real people, citizens of India, original dissenters, and they listened to the speeches with intent and concentration. Every top leader of all the parties in the alliance was there, with Derek ‘O Brein, ironically, seated between the two leaders of the two communist parties. And the speeches were first class, especially that of Tejeshwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi.

The INDIA Bloc statement, significantly read by Priyanka Gandhi, had every sentence etched out in its articulation, and the audience heard her with rapt attention. This kind of audience is more likely to be a ‘change catalyst’ with a rapid multiplier effect, in contrast to those hired or brought in hordes with food and cash by political parties.

In UP, the BJP’s Pandora box of caste and communal politics, the Ram Mandir hyperbole has fizzled out like an artificially bloated balloon suddenly shrunk. Political observers believe that the loss here could be as many as 10 seats, with the quick alliance with RLD boomeranging badly. Recently, a tea party hosted by a BJP leader for RLD leaders and supporters in Western UP was reduced to a street bout with the BJP cadre getting thrashed very badly. Besides, farmers here are really angry with the BJP for all its failed promises, including on MSP.

Civil society groups in the state, as in other states, have started a campaign on EVMs, threatening to enter polling booths demanding proof in paper, of votes cast. A new survey by an unknown research outfit says, surprisingly, that BJP might not cross 170 this time. As if taking a cue, Rahul Gandhi has been talking in conjectures: for instance, he says, if the BJP gets 170, 160, 140, then what? He has also threatened severe action in the post-election scenario in case the BJP loses, saying that you can’t win elections through the terror mechanism of the agencies, by freezing Congress accounts with threats of huge tax arrears, and putting opposition leaders, including chief ministers in jail.

Ground reports point out that in the best case scenario the BJP might not cross 270, and that itself would be a big downer for the ‘great helmsman’, now being caricatured as Mr Paisa Wasool Bond, Mr Crook Bond, Mr 056 Bond (punning on 56 inches), and spoofing on 007 James Bond! If the hired BJP troll army is eternally hyper active, the counter-narrative in terms of videos, memes, caricatures, posters, songs, and spoofs, is also relentless and high-voltage.

Besides, now, clearly, the fight is for the soul of India – a corrupt and arrogant quasi-dictatorship verses the collective urge for democracy, secularism and a society without the terror of jail and raids, with jobs and justice! This kind of mass instinct surfaces and solidifies in rare moments of history, it accumulates through multiple layers of frustrations, angst and anger, and it does take a while. However, indications are that the underpinnings are sharp, a simmering rebellion seems to be brewing, and the South, Bengal, Punjab, and perhaps Bihar and Delhi, will show the way!

ALSO READ: Narendra Modi’s Southern Discomfort

Hence, here comes the use of language as a Freudian slip, if not a sign of obsession with absolute power, while strangely feeling suddenly cornered and pushed to the wall. In a reminder of the post-Pulwama phase before the 2019 polls, the PM raked up Pakistan yet again, and for no rhyme or reason, in what is our nation-state elections. He said in a rally in Jamui, Bihar, flanked by another obsessive power-hungry turn-coat, Nitish Kumar (who disclosed, ironically, that he would not go anywhere now!): “Aaj ka Bharat ghar mein ghus ke maarta hain.”

Now, apart from the routine terrorist activity across the line of control in Kashmir, where the government has botched up very badly, alienating the entire population, including in Jammu and Ladakh, Pakistan has done nothing to be so brazenly threatened by the PM of India, and that too with such crudity. Why beat up anyone, or our neighbours, indeed, in their own home, in the first instance, in an era of subtle and nuanced diplomacy?

Surely, heads of state are expected to speak the language of statesmanship. That is what is expected of them, isn’t it? They are role models for their own country, and the whole world is listening to them!  Besides, if there is only one leader who uses such crass language, he is Benjamin Netanyahu — perhaps, the most hated, condemned and isolated leader in the world in the current circumstances, and in his own country, Israel. Witness the massive protest rallies in Tel Aviv against Bibi!

The slip-of-the-tongue is a prophetic sign that the BJP is slipping, and on slippery ground. Pakistan hits the radar of the party every time it finds itself on a sticky wicket. The ‘China card’ is never used, because the ‘red eyes’ for the enemy turns blink-blink-blank when it comes to Chinese soldiers violating the buffer zone across the LoC in Ladakh. Now, even the Gandhian satyagraha has spread like wildfire in what was a totally sublime and peaceful Buddhist landscape, with women and youngsters joining the Sonam Wangchuk non-violent movement in large numbers. So much so, Leh, as per latest reports, is under a police siege, as the administration is out to foil a long ‘border march’ by the citizens of Ladakh.

Said Wangchuk on Twitter: “Leh is being turned into a war zone with disproportionate force, barricades, smoke grenades. Attempts to arrest peaceful youth leaders, even singers, continue. Seems they want to turn a most peaceful movement violent and then brand Ladakhis as anti-nationals… The government seems worried only about Ladakh’s effects on their votes and on mining lobbies… not the people here nor even national security.”

That tells a dark story of bad faith. On one end of the border, in the north-east, Manipur is still simmering with rage and sorrow. Women stripped in public by a blood-thirsty mob is a nightmare which comes back, like nightmares, like the murderous attacks and burning of villages, the scores of dead across the communities, in the valley and the forests; the unknown bodies, the mothers in mourning, the virtual civil war in a sensitive border state ruled by a partisan and unrepentant BJP chief minister.

Of course, the whole country knows that the PM did not visit Manipur even once, and almost always chose a tacit silence, for reasons only he knows. Language failed him on a ravaged Manipur, and he could not even blame it on Pakistan! Now, Ladakh is becoming restless. They too want justice, and they too are on a sensitive border region, walking a tight-rope, in a delicate situation, with China, literally, breathing down their neck. So, like Manipur and Kashmir, will they botch up Ladakh too, now under a siege? Immerse a pristine heaven of simple and gentle people into the ugly hell-fires of a tragic epic? Quite probably, yes!

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Modi Should Make Equality & Not Growth His Main Target

A crucial and key aspect of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaign is the rallies that Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses across India. Modi, 73, is a powerful orator and he has a hectic itinerary, criss-crossing the country to address public rallies, sometimes as many as three or even four in a single day. The rallies are usually huge, with hundreds of thousands of people turning up to hear him deliver his speeches, which resonate regardless of one’s political views. In India’s current political scenario there isn’t anybody else whose public speeches can match up to Modi’s.

Last week, in Cooch Behar a northern district of West Bengal, which will go to the polls on April 19 in the first phase of India’s 44-day parliamentary elections, Modi, in his customary style of exhorting public responses (and sometimes referring to himself in the third person), asked the crowd four rhetorical questions: Should we or should we not make India the world’s third largest economic power? For that do we need a strong government or not? Does Modi provide a strong government or not? Will Modi provide a strong government in future or not? 

The target of making India the world’s third largest economy (measured by GDP) is not only attainable but it may even be low-hanging fruit–not very difficult to pick. Economists and organisations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) believe India’s economy is on track to become the world’s third largest, possibly by the end of this decade. 

India is currently the world’s fifth largest economy with a GDP of around $3.7 trillion. The US and China hold the top two spots, followed by Japan and Germany. 

India’s economic growth rate is expected to be around 6.7% on average over the next seven years, which is higher than most other major economies. This growth is fueled by factors like a large young population, increasing digital adoption, government reforms, growth in domestic consumption, and investment in infrastructure.

Several financial institutions believe India can achieve its target of becoming the third biggest economy within the next 3-7 years by maintaining a growth rate of around 7-8% This would require surpassing the growth rates of Germany and Japan, and staying competitive with China’s projected growth.

According to S&P, the American credit rating agency, India could achieve this goal by 2030, or, just after the end of term of the next Parliament. Others, including Modi, believe it could happen even earlier. 

Shocking Inequality is Widening

Becoming the third-largest economic power would undoubtedly be a moment of pride for all Indians. Yet, the more important challenge–and one that no one, including Modi, likes talking about–is the deplorable level of economic inequality in India. While India’s policymakers and politicians have professed to make growth inclusive and ensure that the benefits of economic progress reach all segments of society, it has not happened. 

In his speech at Cooch Behar last week, Modi claimed that in the past 10 years, his government had pulled 250 million Indians out of poverty. It is true that during his regime, which began in 2014, India has witnessed a significant decline in multidimensional poverty from 29.17% in 2013-14 to 11.28% in 2022-23. This represents a reduction of 17.89 percentage points. Multidimensional poverty indices break down poverty levels in different areas of a country and among various sub-groups of people, and consider factors besides only income–like education, health, living standards, and other essential aspects of well-being.

Yet, as poverty declines, income inequality in India has widened. According to Oxfam India’s “Survival of the Richest: The India Supplement”, the top 1% in India owned more than 40.5% of total wealth in 2021, while the bottom 50% of the population (700 million people) has around 3% of total wealth. From the beginning of the Covid pandemic till November 2022,  billionaires in India have seen their wealth surge by 121%. That means by a staggering Rs 3608 crore per day in real terms (or Rs 2.5 crore a minute!). 

Take a few moments to digest those numbers and then consider this: The country still has the world’s highest number of poor at 228.9 million. On the flipside of that is the fact that, according to Forbes, the number of billionaires in India rose from 169 last year to 200 this year, making it the world’s third largest concentration of the ultra-rich. 

Additionally, the richest 10% in India collectively own 72.5% of the country’s wealth, further emphasising how acute inequality is in India and the fact that although India’s policymakers can feel proud about making it the world’s fastest growing economy, that pride is superficial. Modi’s avowed target of making India the third largest global economy means little really to the masses of people who gather to hear him speak at his election rallies.

Huge Challenge of Joblessness

According to Oxfam’s index, India ranks 147th out of 157 countries in terms of commitment to reducing inequality. India’s Gini index, which measures income distribution inequality, in 2021 was 35.7. The Gini index measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Gini index of 0 represents perfect equality, while an index of 100 implies perfect inequality. 

In a way, India is trapped in the cycle of inequality. Economic disparities hinder India’s poorest from being socially mobile and to move up the ladder. Economic inequality intersects with caste, gender, and background disparities, thus making it even more difficult to break out of that cycle.

Concentration of wealth in the hands of a few can undermine social justice and cohesion and further perpetuate inequality. 

A classic textbook method of redistributing wealth is to tax incomes progressively. Yet, in India despite the concentration of wealth among a few, the number of people who pay taxes is abysmally low. Only 20.9 million people paid income tax in 2021-22. In the same year, there were 943.5 million adults among the population. Unless the income tax net is widened, meaningful redistribution of wealth will be impossible to achieve.

The biggest challenge that policymakers face is youth unemployment. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) released this year, youth unemployment (20-34 age group) has been on the rise. In the October-December 2023 quarter, 44.49% of those in the age group of 20-24 were unemployed, while for the 25-29 age-group it was 14.33%, and for  the 30-34 age group it was 2.49%. Breakups of that data show that the problem is particularly acute in rural India where youth unemployment is at record levels. Remember too that the number of Indians that are 15-24 is estimated at 250 million, more than half the population of the European Union.

So when Prime Minister Modi exhorts crowds at his election rallies with slogans about making India one of the world’s most powerful economies, we might need to stop and wonder what power he is talking about.

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Cinematic Reel – From Celluloid to Digital

A Cinematic Ride – From Celluloid to Digital

How to promote ‘good’ cinema in a country that is the largest producer of films – over 2,000, annually – where viewing them remains the opium, next only to religion, of the masses?

Not very different from the rest of the world, the dilemma of India’s film society movement is having to struggle to stay relevant in radically changed times.

The Indian audiences are spoilt for choice with films being made in a dozen mother tongues if not more. By flocking to the cinema theatres to see anything they get, they seek to redefine what ‘good’ cinema is. Since film viewing is voluntary but compulsive, the approach is what-is-good-is-what-I-like and rejects what is not liked. The masses, as anywhere else, have remained untouched by the quest for good cinema of a few.   

Besides being social, the change is also technological. A just-released book is aptly titled Celluloid to Digital. It seeks to explore the role of India’s film society movement in this century. It recommends change since the digital revolution has breached barriers. With OTT – over the top – platforms proliferating, film watching is no longer confined to cinema theatres. Nor is the cinema specific to a nation or a region. The book advocates a radical change in the outlook and the format to ensure that cinema appreciation remains alive and film societies do not become mere talking shops.

Penned by journalist and film enthusiast V K Cherian, the book, actually his third take on the subject, explores the movement of cine clubs/societies/associations/forums that began in Europe in the 1920s and spurred watching and discussion of niche cinema in India in the 1940s. It blossomed in the four decades after Independence.

Significantly, the movement coincided with what is called the Indian cinema’s “golden era” and with governments headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, all of whom patronised cinema as an art form and afforded it social respectability that it did not earlier have. The state influenced cinema’s growth by setting up the National Awards, the Film and Television Institute of India, the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the National Film Archives of India (NFAI). Two inquiry bodies explored the workings of the cinema industry.

The movement ushered in a “cultural renaissance”. Among the pioneers were Satyajit Ray, Chidadanand Dasgupta, Ritwik Ghatak in Kolkata, Vijaya Mulye (akka) and Arun Roy Chowdhury in Patna and many marquee names in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Trivandrum and other cities. It gave India some of its best films and filmmakers.

At Nehru’s instance, Marie Seton, “the chain-smoking, saree-clad British socialist” arrived in India. Cherian records that she was “truly the evangelist and the pioneer of India’s Film Society movement and contributed to the rise of the ‘new’ or ‘parallel’ cinema in the 1950s to the 1970s.

A worthy follow-up of the social change that India’s freedom movement ushered in, it gave among others Satyajit Ray and his Pather Panchali, Bimal Roy’s neo-realist cinema, Ritwik Ghatak who recorded the trauma of Bengal’s partition, Mrinal Sen’s comment on poverty and youth unrest and many in the South who interpreted social change.  The ‘parallel’ cinema brought in the likes of Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani. Actors included Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi who eventually switched to the commercial (desi) cinema. Shah later deprecated the “new wave” that abetted with time.

Significantly, the film society movement drew inspiration from the West even as India, unlike much of the world, resisted the Hollywood avalanche. Indian films – not ‘desi’ commercial potboilers but those who claimed a superior film language, marked their presence in many international film festivals.

In its heyday, the movement had a substantial following of film enthusiasts that grew to approximately 100,000 members by 1980. While it primarily attracted individuals who regarded themselves as devoted film enthusiasts, it gained momentum through discussions reminiscent of those that animated left-leaning cultural movements originating in late colonial India, especially the Indian People’s Theatre Movement (IPTA).

Four decades on, prominent filmmakers and film society members including Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal, who have propagated the film society culture for decades, concede that it has remained confined to the urban educated and professionals who enjoy good cinema but have been unable to penetrate the larger society.

Perhaps, they did not try hard. Or, perhaps, too much was expected from an elitist movement that ran ‘parallel’ to the taste of the masses for whom cinema is little else but a source of entertainment. The other two purposes in a well-done film, imparting education and information, emphasised in the years after the Independence, have taken the back seat. This also explains the near-total emphasis on feature-length films as against a documentary.

ALSO READ: Bollywood Studios Fading Out

There has been some welcome streamlining by the government. But by and large, the state, while greedy about earning revenue from the cinema industry, is fast withdrawing from patronage and promotion that it earlier extended through funds and nurturing of institutions.

With or without state patronage and control, the cinema today impacts and is in turn impacted by an India that is fast urbanising and indeed, globalising. For one, rural India has more or less disappeared from the film narrative. The actors appear and act for a global audience. The niche Indian ethos is missing.

Today, the movement must live with many global cinema companies operating in the Indian market, financing and producing films. There is corporate financing, commercial viability, and better production values with the use of the latest in technology.

But two things any lover of good cinema will concede: India still produces more chaff than grain. And, it is difficult to make ‘great’ cinema like the opulent “Mughal-e-Azam” or ‘Devdas’, or a contemporary “Kaagaz Ke Phool” or ‘Guide’.

Part of the movement, Cherian says the only way for the film societies to survive is to become part of the media studies institutions at the university and college levels. They could capture the young by floating film clubs. As per the University Grants Commission (UGC), some 200 university-level institutions are already offering such facilities. Some of it is already happening in Kolkata and the South. This is practical since India is among the few major nations where media is growing and so are the media studies institutions. The Film Society movement is under dire stress even in Europe. India is better placed than France from where it imbibed the cinema and England from where the idea of the film society travelled in the 1920s.

Cherian wistfully writes: “India awaits a Pather Panchali,” taking a shot at another round of “cultural renaissance.” But he also wants the movement to confront the harsh reality: Does its ‘good’ cinema sell in this era of commercial blockbusters? “Bollywood’ and its southern allies-cum-competitors make billions at home, but also have a fast-growing global market. In a sense, the better of commercial cinema has raided the larder – the Western world from where ‘good’ cinema enthused and influenced many of India’s post-independence pioneers. It’s a small, complex world today.

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Will Kejriwal’s Arrest Make AAP More Powerful

Will Kejriwal’s Arrest Make AAP More Powerful?

Approximately one year from now, when the state of Delhi holds its next assembly elections, how many of the 70 seats do you think the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will get? Here are some facts to help you with your estimate: Last time the Delhi elections took place, in 2020, AAP won 62 of them, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 8; and in the previous elections, in 2015, AAP won 67, while the BJP won 3. So how many seats do you think AAP will win in 2025?

It might seem a bit silly that I’m talking about an election that will probably not happen till February 2025, at a time when everything should really be focused on the big fat Indian elections that begin next month when nearly a billion of us will vote to elect 543 Members of Parliament. Then again, there will likely be few surprises when that long 44-day polling is over and the votes are counted. Unless something totally unforeseen happens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are expected to sweep those elections and the only question is about whether they can get more than the 353 seats they won in 2019 and, if so, how many more.

Delhi’s next assembly election, though, is a more interesting subject to speculate about. As I write this, AAP’s national convenor and Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is in a Delhi prison after he was arrested on 21 March by the government’s Enforcement Department, which investigates economic crimes such as money laundering offences. The charges against Kejriwal, 55, and some of his senior party colleagues who are also incarcerated pending trial, involve alleged aberrations in the granting of liquor licences to private vendors in the state of Delhi. Even as AAP refutes those allegations and the ED continues its investigations, his arrest coming just before the parliamentary elections start has raised many questions.

Kejriwal’s AAP, a young party formed in 2012 out of a larger mass civil movement against corruption, has already blazed a remarkable political path. In Delhi, it has decisively won elections to the state assembly and Kejriwal has been chief minister since 2015 (also earlier for a year in 2013-14). In Punjab, in 2022, as a newcomer, the party won the state election with 92 of the 117 seats and has been running the state’s government there. It has just one seat in Lok Sabha and has not really fared too well in other states where it has contested elections but Kejriwal’s popularity as a politician and leader has been on the rise and AAP does have ambitions of emerging as a national party.

In recent months, arrests and investigations against opposition leaders by agencies of the government of India have caught the attention of those who follow Indian politics because of their timing and also because of the people that have been targeted. In an interview to Al-Jazeera news channel, the opposition leader and Trinamool Congress MP from West Bengal, Derek O’Brien alleged that 96% of the anti-corruption cases against politicians are against those from non-BJP opposition parties. He also alleged that most of these are “trumped-up charges” that miraculously go away when some of those charged defect to the BJP.

It is for the investigators and the judiciary to decide whether the charges against various politicians stick or not but the timing of some arrests may be more than mere coincidence. Kejriwal’s rise and the growing prominence of his party has clearly been a challenge for the BJP as well as the Congress. A first-generation politician from a middle-class family, Kejriwal, who has an engineering degree from one of India’s top technology institutes, quit a government job to join politics. Like Modi he doesn’t come from a political dynasty as many Indian political leaders, notably Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party, do.

His Aam Aadmi Party has the avowed mission of being dedicated to the cause of the common man and despite several constraints that his government faces because of Delhi’s special status as a state, its achievements are notable. Here are some of them: In education, the AAP government has focused on improving the quality of education in Delhi. Initiatives like mohalla schools and happiness classes have been implemented to enhance learning outcomes. In healthcare, the Delhi Arogya Kosh scheme provides free treatment to over five lakh citizens. In public transport, the addition of 1,650 electric buses to the public transport fleet aims to reduce pollution and improve mobility.

It’s not easy for the Delhi government to operate within constraints imposed by the special status of the National Capital Territory (NCT), where certain subjects such as policing, law and order, and land matters, fall under the jurisdiction of the central government. In addition, the NCT’s 33.8 million population (with a staggering 22,800 people per sq km) poses challenges related to infrastructure, traffic, and pollution management that are not easy to tackle.

Although AAP is part of an alliance of around 26 opposition parties, the badly-named Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.), it is one of the few parties within that fold that can be expected to challenge the BJP’s formidable force in coming years. AAP may still be a small and young party but its leader, Kejriwal, has the charisma and voter-pulling power that few others among India’s opposition parties do. Many such as Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal have a sway over their own states but have been able to make no headway outside their fiefdoms. Kejriwal, who has led AAP to victory in Punjab, stands out among the others.

In Delhi, because of the state’s special status, Kejriwal and his AAP government have constantly sparred with the Lieutenant Governor of the state, who is, in effect, appointed by the Centre, and has discretionary powers over the subjects outside the state government’s jurisdiction. As a consequence, AAP and Kejriwal have become, from the point of view of the BJP, a thorn in its side.

One of the professed objectives of the Modi regime since it came to power in 2014 was to create an India or Bharat that is “free of the Congress party”. It is an objective that electorally it has achieved. In Parliament, the once powerful Congress party has just 50 of the 543 seats; and of the 28 Indian states, it is in power in only three.

With the Congress out of the way, could the BJP now be training its sights on other rising opposition parties such as AAP? Or could its recent crackdown on Kejriwal and other AAP leaders actually backfire and boost support for them? That brings us back to my earlier question: How many seats in the next Delhi elections do you think AAP will win? Any guesses?

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JNU Says My Name is Red

My Name is Red And I’m No Pushover

And if it were said of us that we’re almost romantics, that we are incorrigible idealists, that we think the impossible: then a thousand and one times we have to answer – ‘yes we are’
Che Guevara

Idealism, yet again, has won in JNU! Demonised, destablished, destroyed, degraded, demoralized, deconstructed, debunked and damaged, JNU, predictably, has yet again risen from the ashes of contemporary history, phoenix-like, a red star luminescent like hope shining, amidst the darkened skies blacked out by the perverse and putrid shadow of fascism.

In this beautiful, lush green landscape, where the wings of pure, eclectic desire and passion was always in synthesis with the imagined utopia of universal freedom, justice and equality, surely, the commune of Prussian-blue peacocks across the rocky Aravalli terrain of the Parthasarathy plateau and the open-air theatre — they too must be celebrating, joining the addictive slogan of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ — with the lovely choir and chorus of their lingering, echoing, sing-song, peacock calls. Theory, once again, has found radical catharsis in praxis.

It’s truly a festival of colours in JNU once again, after a prolonged period of what used to be routinely called in its simple, hand-made, cyclo-styled pamphlets of the past – a ‘graveyard of silence’.  Undoubtedly, it is ‘resurrection time’, and a sublime omen before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Elections happened in the hounded campus after four years – something unprecedented in its history. Those days it used to happen when the chilly nip in the air had just arrived, the campus would be full of lovely pre-winter flowers, and the greenish-white flowers in soft clusters of the tall Saptaparni trees would fill the atmospherics with a sublime sensuality which could drive both poets and philosophers mad!

Those days the elections would be called the ‘Great October Revolution’ – as an annual tribute to the Great Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the working class, the poorest, and the resilient people of Russia. The Election Commission (EC), as it is now, would be composed of students. No EVMs were ever used, and the EC was eternally non-partisan, unbiased, and provided an equal playing field to all the students’ organisations.

No outside political or extra-constitutional interference, and no vulgar exhibition of money or muscle power was allowed; all posters were hand-made by students, spaces in walls and public spaces were duly allotted to all contestants, public meetings were held peacefully at night in the hostel messes, campaigning would go on from morning till late night inside and outside classrooms, whereby the candidates would present their manifestos and arguments, no violence, unruly behaviour, abusive language or aggression was tolerated by all concerned, and the elections were conducted in the schools with great maturity, efficiency and discipline.

The counting day, which was always a nocturnal affair, marked the cathartic finale of this grand festival of democracy, when students in multiple groups would celebrate the entire night with drums, songs, slogans and collective bonhomie. Once over, the winners would take out a victory procession across the girls and boys’ hostels, shouting slogans, singing songs, making the campus resonant with a pronounced youthful fervour. The opponents and losers were all treated with dignity and respect, and differences were swallowed by all in a democratic spirit, albeit, sometimes, with a big pinch of salt!

The United Left has given a decisive drubbing to the ABVP in JNU this time, thereby sending a clear signal to the sleazeball Electoral Bonds party, flush with multi-million scam money, that ‘achche din’ finally seems to be coming in India, after the dingy days of prolonged darkness at noon. JNU might be a small campus, and just about 5,500 students voted in what was a 73 per cent turn-out, but the signals sent from there to the country, especially to students and young voters, is strong and optimistic. Indeed, with their mighty messiahs and fake guarantees, the students’ wing of the BJP, as always, lost badly.

Earlier, they had allegedly created an aggressive ruckus inside the campus, their trademark style repeatedly witnessed in Delhi University in the past, especially when they choose to violently disrupt an academic seminar, or a film show organized by students and faculty. There is a certain pattern to this predictable lumpenism which marks their compulsive behaviour! In a typical response, a massive, non-violent ‘mashaal jaloos’ was taken inside JNU by students, led by the Left.

ALSO READ: JNU Is Not Going To Crawl Or Bend

Pray, hold your own seminar and film show! Show all the Vivek Agnihotri, Anupam Kher and Kangana Ranaut films to your heart’s desire! Why do violence when an intellectually stimulating seminar or public meeting is being conducted peacefully, with a Q and A session, or a meaningful classic is being screened? If anything, go, ask one hundred questions – what stops them?

It is not a dark irony of history that they flourish and flex their muscles only when they have their party in power. Ask them to make sacrifices, face police barricades, take up burning causes of injustice or social suffering, and they will disappear into the blue.

JNU still remembers how ABVP goons, under the tacit protection of the cops, went berserk with iron rods etc., attacking hostels, teachers and students, and smashing the head of the then JNU Students’ Union president, Aishee Ghosh, her face splattered with blood. Not one of these goons were punished by their mentors in the ruling regime. And when Deepika Padukone came to a peaceful rally in the campus, and stood in silence in solidarity, she was relentlessly hounded by the stooge media.

Earlier, the onslaught started when Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya were arrested with not an iota of evidence. There was organized propaganda that this prestigious academic institution, with its students spread across the Indian and international kaleidoscope (including inside the central BJP cabinet of ministers), was a den of ‘anti-national’ activities. So much so, this demonization campaign was conducted with the brazen objective to destroy its essence and liberating character, with another stooge vice-chancellor at the helm, who left no stone unturned to destroy JNU.

And, yet, JNU has repeatedly shown that it is a shining landmark in the firmament of higher education, and the students have proved this, again and again. Thousands of youngsters continued to sit for its entrance exams despite the negative propaganda. The library is an every-day intellectual refuge for its students, sometimes till past midnight, and the canteen and rocks, its heady locations of friendship, the adventure of ideas, and creative arguments. Reading Pablo Neruda and Muktiboth outside Ganga Dhaba under the lamp-post, or debating about global politics, or the Tiananmen Square massacre of June, 1989 in Beijing, the doors of enlightenment have always had open-ended windows.

The cause of Dalits, adivasis, minorities, the poor, women’s rights, and injustice across the world, from Gaza to Ukraine, would find its resonance in JNU. Indeed, we all danced in many circles at the India Gate, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after a long condemnation of three decades, in apartheid South Africa.

The United Left victory, therefore, is more than a signal in the current scenario of quasi-dictatorship in India. Two elected chief ministers have been put in prison. One is a tribal leader, and the other a middle-class hero across the country, who has done a lot for the poor, especially by turning government schools into fabulous symbols of modern enlightenment, among other social welfare measures. Congress funds have been frozen, once again, an unprecedented move against the main opposition party! Mamata Bannerjee’s party is facing daily raids by the agencies, latest being Mohua Moitra, who took on the PM and Adani in Parliament.

Brilliant scholars, including Umar Khalid, are languishing in prison, for protesting peacefully against the communal and anti-constitutional CAA. The Election Commission (selected by a ruling party majority) and EVMs are under a shadow of doubt. The mainstream media is shamelessly toeing the establishment line.

In this bleak scenario, the slogans reverberating in JNU, and becoming viral in the social media, with young, passionate faces refusing to succumb, marks a happy departure from the tragic twilight zone that stalks India. Surely, if idealism can win in JNU, why not then, in the rest of this beautiful and vast country?

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Expect in Five More Years of Modi

What You Could Expect in Five More Years of Modi

What You Could Expect in Five More Years of Modi

In mid-March, at this year’s annual conclave organised by the India Today group, in his introductory speech before inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak, the group’s chairman Aroon Purie remarked that Modi was not just campaigning for the soon to begin 2024 parliamentary elections but he also seemed to have his sights on the next one to be held in 2029. When Modi rose to speak, he was quick to grab that as a cue. Playfully rebuking Purie, he said, “You stopped with 2029? I am aiming for 2047!”

That repartee may have been in jest. In 2047, Modi, if he is still around, will be 97–an age at which it is not usual to still be active in politics. Yet, 2047, in Modi’s scheme of things, is a significant year. It will be the 100th anniversary of India’s Independence. It is also 

the year for which Modi has envisioned Viksit Bharat @2047, a plan that is all about making India an advanced and developed country by that year. 

Most observers, political analysts, and journalists, including the dwindling few among that third group in India who could still be considered detractors, are quite clear that it is almost a certainty that Modi will get a third term as Prime Minister, and that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies will again win an overwhelming majority of the 543 seats for which the elections will be held in seven phases, beginning April 19. Modi himself is confident that his alliance, the National Democratic Alliance, will get more than 400 seats, beating its 2019 tally of 353. 

The support and popularity that Modi enjoys is quite unprecedented in Indian politics and, as a consequence, his party and its allies are tipped as the clear winners in this year’s elections. Yet when it comes to the number of seats, the math may not be simple. Modi and his party are not very popular in the southern Indian states, which have largely been a bastion of regional parties and the opposition Congress Party. The south (four states and one union territory) has 130 of the 543 parliamentary seats, and in the 2019 elections, while it swept the northern states, the NDA won only 30 of them. How Modi and his alliance fares in the south this time would determine whether their final tally touches or crosses 400.

The Impact of Modi 3.0

That is a minor math conundrum. The larger issue is what a third term for Modi would mean for India and its people. At the India Today Conclave mentioned earlier, Modi ended his speech with his own predictions. In the next five years, he said, India’s infrastructure would reach new heights with significant advancements. For example, he said, Indian Railways would bring transformative changes to transportation. India, which is now the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment, would emerge as an exporter with a much stronger presence in the global defence market. And, in the space sector, after already having launched a successful moon mission, India would set new records in space endeavours.

Economic Growth. On the economic front, Modi has already set some tangible targets to achieve in his third term. Such as becoming the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. India with a GDP estimated at $3.7 trillion is growing the fastest among the world’s big economies and in size it is now the fifth largest economy in the world. To become the third, it would have to overtake Germany (at number 4) and Japan (number 3). With its fast-paced growth that would not seem difficult to achieve.

Reducing Poverty. According to the National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), India has  already made big strides. The MPI captures overlapping deprivations in health, education, and living standards by complementing income-based poverty measurements by directly measuring and comparing deprivations. In the period, 2019-21, 14.96% of India’s population was multi-dimensionally poor, compared to 24.85% in 2015-16. This means that 135 million individuals have escaped multidimensional poverty during the 5-year period. The several schemes implemented by the Modi regime (such as direct transfers of welfare and subsidies; credit assurance to vendors; and support for tribal groups and artisans) will likely lead to further reduction in poverty during a third Modi term.

Other areas where progress could continue includes women’s empowerment. Although violence against women, closing gender gaps, and promoting economic opportunities are ongoing priorities, women have benefited from schemes to increase financial inclusion, subsidies on items such as cooking gas, emphasis on girl child education, and women’s involvement in local government. Gender equality can be expected to be an important objective in Modi’s third term.

An increased emphasis on national security and strengthening India’s security infrastructure, both internal as well as external, will also be a top priority area for the government. ‘

The Worrisome Issues

A third term would also pose other challenges for the Modi regime. One topic of discussion has been the potential downgrading of democracy ratings in India and the independence and autonomy of its institutions such as the judiciary. In 2021, international indices such as the US-based non-profit, Freedom House, downgraded India’s status from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. Sweden’s V-Dem Institute, which publishes datasets that describe qualities of different governments, classified India as an “electoral autocracy”. The Economist Intelligence Unit described India as a “flawed democracy” pointing to enacted laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Registration of Citizens, and the revocation of Kashmir’s special status.

The past 10 years has seen a rise in majoritarianism in Indian society and increased communal tension, particularly between Muslims who account for 14.2% of the population and Hindus who make up 80%. How minorities will be treated in a third term of the BJP-led government could be an area of concern.

Also, despite the optimism about the Indian economy and its high growth rate, issues like inflation, unemployment, and rural inequality remain pressing challenges that need to be addressed. Youth unemployment because of mismatch of education with employment opportunities are areas that the new government or a Modi 3.0 regime will have to focus on in the next five years. India is still a young country–more than 50% of its population is below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. While this is often referred to as a demographic dividend, in the absence of opportunities for India’s young, it could backfire horribly.

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