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The Hindu Notes for 18th September 2018

2+2 is less than the sum of its parts?

India risks going down the ‘slippery slope’ of becoming a U.S. acolyte in conflicts not of its choosing

The much heralded 2+2 Dialogue between the U.S. and India finally fructified on September 6. The 2+2 format, involving the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries, unconventional though it may be from an Indian standpoint, is a familiar tactic employed by the U.S., intended to align the military, strategic and diplomatic policies of the involved countries. It is often intended to signify a ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and the concerned nation, even as it seeks to underscore the U.S. dictated ‘rules-based global order’.

In the past, India was chary of endorsing the 2+2 formula, considering it alien to traditional diplomatic and strategic intercourse between nations. However, the U.S. has been persistent, and exploiting the current state of ‘special relations’ between the U.S. and India, it succeeded in overcoming the inhibitions of India’s political, diplomatic and strategic community. It went out of its way to assuage many of India’s concerns in the run-up to the talks and there was, hence, a great deal of expectation about possible outcomes.

Lop-sided outcome

Some forward movement has taken place, but it would seem that the U.S. has been the main beneficiary. With this Dialogue, the U.S. also seems to have succeeded in co-opting India into the U.S. strategic framework aimed at the containment of China. The moot question for India is whether in the 21st century it wishes to play such a role, notwithstanding the obvious advantages stemming from access to state-of-the-art U.S. defence and security technologies.

The principal takeaway from the 2+2 Dialogue was the signing of the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that is expected to facilitate India’s access to advanced U.S. defence systems, and “enable India to optimally utilise existing U.S. origin platforms”. It is also expected to help the armed forces of both countries to enhance interoperability.

COMCASA is part of four foundational agreements the U.S. believes are critical to establish a foolproof security relationship. It has for years persisted in its efforts to get India to sign the four agreements. So far, it has succeeded in getting India to accede to three. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed in 2002. The Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was signed in 2016. COMCASA has now been finalised, and the deal has been sweetened by the U.S. offering to transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for U.S. origin platforms like C-17, C-130 and P-8I aircraft.

COMCASA tipping point

Far more than the other two foundational agreements, COMCASA entails greater integration with the U.S. military. The implications of this can be far-reaching. Having been earlier accorded the status of a major defence partner, and with COMCASA now affording access to advanced defence systems and U.S. origin platforms — that involve obligations to share operational intelligence in real time — India risks going down the ‘slippery slope’ of becoming a U.S. acolyte in conflicts not of its choosing.

Among the more important advanced defence systems and platforms that India hopes to secure are: state-of-the-art items such as the Weaponised Sea Guardian (a high altitude long endurance Drone), the Armed Predator-B, and cutting edge military and encrypted communication technologies. These can be expected to tie India firmly into the U.S.-driven military-security-intelligence grid.

As part of the exercise to integrate India with its objectives, the U.S. once again reiterated the importance and significance of India as a ‘strategic partner and a major and independent stakeholder in world affairs’. This is further sweetened by implicit references to the role of Pakistan as an incubator of terrorism. There is also a mention of further expansion of bilateral India-U.S. counter-terrorism cooperation. A new offer on display is of facilitating closer relations between the U.S.’s Defence Innovation Unit and India’s Defence Innovation Organisation, intended to progress joint projects for co-production and co-development under the aegis of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative.

It is not clear at this time whether all this would earn India a reprieve from U.S. sanctions directed at countries trading with Russia and Iran. India is interpreting U.S. affirmations that it would not be sanctioned for its ‘legacy platforms’, to mean that the purchase of the S-400 Missile Defence Systems from Russia would not be affected. New purchases would, however, come under the purview of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Vis-à-vis Iran, there are even less signs of a ‘give’ in the U.S. stance. Meanwhile, it is certain that India will come under further pressure from the U.S. to sign the fourth foundational agreement — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA).

What benefit does India derive from this 2+2 exercise? By its offer of a string of state-of-the-art defence items under ‘controlled conditions’, the U.S. is seeking to reinforce its claims to becoming the principal defence supplier to India, and in the process displace Russia from this perch. This is hardly an unmixed blessing. Russia has been steadfast in its defence commitments to India, and is not likely to take kindly to its displacement as India’s No.1 defence supplier. Any counter moves by Russia, such as seeking out Pakistan as an outlet for its defence items, will not be to India’s benefit.

Our tilt towards the U.S. is also taking place at a time when the world sees the U.S. as a ‘declining power’. This is not 1991, when the Soviet Union had collapsed, China was not a dominant economic power, the U.S. had just demonstrated its unassailable military strength in Iraq, etc. Exhausted by a succession of past interventions, the U.S. is currently seen, in Asia at least, as largely in retreat.

On the other hand, the world today confronts a post-Cold War situation. This features China as the second biggest world power and possibly among the biggest military powers. Considerable parts of Asia are already tilting in its favour. There is also the phenomenon of the re-emergence of Russia. At the same time, everything points to a weakened Europe.

The U.S. image in Asia further stands tarnished thanks to some of its ‘strategic retreats’ in the recent period, viz., the failure of the ‘pivot to Asia’ and U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. The U.S. threat to use force to impose its diktats has again lost much of its meaning due to its inability to rein in China’s aggressive postures in the East and South China Seas. It has also been unable to effectively contain China’s ambitions to emerge as a key naval entity in the Indo-Pacific region. At this time, for India to be tagged with the label of an U.S. acolyte is hardly the best, or the next best, option.

Strategic integrity

India has struggled for long to maintain its strategic integrity, apart from its strategic autonomy and independence. There were several occasions in the past for it to be strategically aligned with the U.S., but India was not willing to accept the terms of such alignment. China is a matter of concern, but not an imminent threat as far as India is concerned. The entire 2+2 Dialogue, on the other hand, seemed to centre on the threat posed by China and the need to contain Chinese aggression through force, or display of force, under a U.S. umbrella. Pakistan is the more immediate threat for India, and not solely on account of incubating terrorism. We have real concerns about Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear threat, engaged in increasing the numbers of its nuclear warheads, developing several new delivery systems, creating new plutonium production and uranium enrichment facilities, etc. Pakistan’s threat to build new short-range nuclear capable weapon systems is again a real danger. None of this seems to fall within U.S. purview at present.

U.S. blandishments should not, hence, blind us to current realities. There has to be a limit to what we seek from other nations in terms of arms. In any case, there can never be any compromise with our strategic autonomy or the strategic direction that we have chosen to follow all these years.

M.K. Narayanan, is a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

The progressive way

Enacting just laws is more desirable than tinkering with personal laws for the sake of ‘uniformity’

In a consultation paper released recently, the Law Commission of India has boldly said that a uniform civil code (UCC) is neither feasible nor necessary at this stage.

The response must come as a shock to those in support of a “one nation, one law” tagline. The divide between the socialists and liberals is clearly visible. ‘Legal pluralism’ and ‘radical libertarianism’ are well-recognised scholarly traditions. There is a consensus that the state is not the only source of law. History has many instances of pluralistic legal systems where multiple sources of law existed.

Therefore, the Law Commission has rightly recognised the plurality of diverse personal laws and proposed internal reforms in personal laws to make them compatible with the constitutional provisions of equality and non-discrimination.

One hopes that religious communities in general and Muslims in particular will now as a first step initiate meaningful dialogue on internal reforms in personal laws.

Some pronouncements

The Supreme Court has been advocating the enactment of a UCC, perhaps without fully appreciating the ground realities. For instance, Justice Vikramajit Sen in ABC v. State (2015) observed: “Our Directive Principles envision the existence of a uniform civil code, but this remains an unaddressed constitutional expectation.” Here, the court was not dealing with some religious or personal law but with a statutory provision of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. Thus the reference to a UCC was unwarranted. In Sarla Mudgal (2015), the Supreme Court made observations that those who stayed back after Partition knew that India believes in one nation and therefore no community can claim separate religious laws. Loyalty to the nation and uniformity in laws are not related to each other.

Even in the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting a UCC in the fundamental rights chapter. The sub-committee on this was so sharply divided that the matter was eventually settled by vote. It finally held that the provision was outside the scope of fundamental rights and thus non-justiciable. We need to appreciate the distinction between justiciable and non-justiciable rights. B.R. Ambedkar explicitly said in the Assembly, “No government can use its provisions in a way that would force the Muslims to revolt. If a government acts thus [imposing a common civil code], such a government would be insane in my opinion.”

Preserving legal diversity

We need to appreciate that in Article 44, the framers of the Constitution have used the term ‘uniform’ and not ‘common’ because ‘common’ means one and same in all circumstances whatsoever and ‘uniform’ means ‘same in similar conditions’. It is an erroneous perception that we have different personal laws because of religious diversity. As a matter of fact, the law differs from region to region. It seems the framers of the Constitution did not intend total uniformity in the sense of one law for the whole country because ‘personal laws’ were included in the Concurrent List, with power to legislate being given to Parliament and State Assemblies. Preservation of legal diversity seems to be the reason of inclusion of Personal Law in the Concurrent list. The Law Commission has given due weightage to this diversity.

It is a myth that we have uniform criminal laws. States have made amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. For example, Punjab recently introduced Section 295AA to the IPC — life term in all sacrilege cases.

Another myth is that Hindus are governed by one homogenous law after the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill. It is also true of Muslims and Christians. The Constitution itself protects the local customs of Nagaland. It is repeatedly mentioned that Goa already has a uniform code. But Hindus there are still governed by the Portuguese Family and Succession Laws. The reformed Hindu Law of 1955-56 is still not applicable to them. In the case of Muslims, the Shariat Act 1937 has not been extended to Goa. Thus they are governed by Portuguese and Shastric Hindu law, and not by Muslim personal law. The Special Marriage Act (a progressive civil code) has not been extended to Goa. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, local Hindu law statutes do differ with the Central enactments. The Shariat Act is also not applicable and Muslims continue to be governed by customary law which is at variance with the Muslim personal law in the rest of the country.

Forgotten issues

It is distressing that no one talks about the non-implementation of other Directive Principles which are far more important than the enactment of a uniform code. What about the right to work, living wages, distribution of community resources to sub-serve the common good, avoidance of concentration of wealth in few hands and the protection of monuments?

Amendments to a community’s personal law with a view to bringing about changes for its betterment is one thing; but to tinker with the enactment with the sole purpose of introducing ‘uniformity’ is quite another. Just laws are far more important than uniform law. Piecemeal reforms should be the way forward.

Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal

When Dravidianism and Hindutva met

Political parties in Tamil Nadu today must heed Periyar’s message in rejecting Hindutva overtures

In 1944, an unusual meeting took place between the pre-eminent leader of the non-Brahmin movement, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, and a major leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Balkrishna Shivram Moonje.

Periyar and Naidu’s friendship

On September 19 that year, Periyar received a letter from an old friend, P. Varadarajulu Naidu, saying he wanted to arrange a meeting between Periyar and Hindu Mahasabha leaders Moonje and Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Periyar’s friendship with Naidu went back to the late 1910s when both of them were active in the Congress. With the rise of the Justice Party and its challenge to the Brahmin-dominated Congress, the two had played a stellar role in articulating non-Brahmin interests within the nationalist movement. The campaign against separate dining arrangements for Brahmin and non-Brahmin pupils in the nationalist gurukulam at Cheranmadevi, run by V.V.S. Aiyar, in 1924-25 had further brought them together. After Periyar launched the Self-Respect Movement with its radical criticism of the Hindu caste system and religion, the two drifted apart. Like Periyar, Naidu too had distanced himself from the Congress from 1930. During World War II, he joined the Hindu Mahasabha and presided over its Tamil Nadu unit for five years. At the time of the meeting between Periyar and Moonje, he was all-India vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha. That Naidu’s brief dalliance with Hindu communalism — notwithstanding his principled resignation from the Sabha in 1945 — destroyed his political career and deprived Tamil Nadu of a resourceful leader is another story.

In 1944, independence was imminent. The Pakistan question loomed large, and Periyar was in close touch with Muhammad Ali Jinnah and B.R. Ambedkar. It is not surprising that Naidu tried at this juncture to weaken the Muslim League by accommodating Periyar. He also wanted the Hindu Mahasabha to address the non-Brahmin question. In any case, the two organisations were united by an anti-Congress predisposition.

As an early associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Moonje was not an unknown figure in Tamil Nadu — in fact, the celebrated nationalist, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, counted him among his friends despite his own critical distance from Hindu communalism. Moonje, who was a doctor, was a key figure in the revival of the Hindu Mahasabha in the wake of the Khilafat movement, and had represented Hindu interests in the Round Table Conference in London in 1930. He also met the fascist leader Benito Mussolini to draw lessons on how to organise Hindus. Though he had given way, in 1938, to V.D. Savarkar as president of the Hindi Mahasabha, he was still active in the organisation.

Never one to shy away from engaging with ideological foes, Periyar agreed to Naidu’s invitation, and indicated that he was happy to meet the Hindu Mahasabha leaders on September 29, either in Erode or in Trichy. The meeting took place in Trichy at the home of T.P. Vedachalam, a well-known advocate and a close friend of Periyar. Only Moonje, who was then touring the south, came to meet Periyar, not Mookerjee. The meeting lasted for about two hours. Apart from Naidu, C.N. Annadurai, Periyar’s star lieutenant who would later become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and C.D. Nayagam were present. The preliminary report in Kudi Arasu, Periyar’s weekly, indicated that the two discussed matters in a “friendly manner” and that they “agreed to cooperate without compromising on their fundamental convictions”. It further said that Moonje was personally convinced by Periyar’s Self-Respect ideals, and promised “to endeavour to propagate Self-Respect ideals in north India in his individual capacity”. The apparent success of the meeting was too unrealistic to be true, as was soon borne out by a subsequent report in Kudi Arasu.

Agreements and disagreements

After exchanging pleasantries, the two discussed the south Indian political situation. Periyar detailed the setbacks to non-Brahmin interests with the rise of the Congress, and how only a Dravidastan could provide true freedom. According to the Kudi Arasu report, Moonje saw Periyar’s point but strongly emphasised that he could never countenance the conversion of Hindus to Islam or Christianity. However, he reiterated his commitment to propagate Self-Respect ideals in his individual capacity in north India. The following consensus was thrashed out after the discussions: Hindu identity should not give primacy to religion; the Hindu community should be taken to mean all Indians and not be defined by religion, and therefore efforts should be made to weld all the people of India into a single non-religious community, while religious conversion should be prohibited; Brahminism should be rooted out; all prevalent Hindu religious rites and customs should be forsaken by the people; the government should be controlled neither by Aryans nor by the Congress; strict proportionate communal reservation was to be observed for all communities (with Brahmins too having proportionate reservation without votes in the general constituencies); there would be no representation for Brahmins in the Madras Cabinet; the Dravidian movement and the Hindu Mahasabha would strive for freedom from British rule. This was the Kudi Arasu version of the meeting. We do not know the Hindu Mahasabha’s side of the story. The relevant entries in Moonje’s diary could not be traced. Two weeks after the meeting, Moonje and Naidu met Ambedkar in Bombay. Moonje’s diary entry suggests that he was to be disappointed again.

To come back to Periyar, the agreement between the two did not take concrete shape. The meeting and its resolutions were quickly killed, as evidenced by the media reports of this meeting. A press release was drafted by Anna. The Madras Mail, The Hindu, Swadesamitran, Dinamani and Dinasari “distorted the report of the proceedings”; this, as the Kudi Arasu reported, was “an example of how the Brahmin mind worked”. The consensus of the meeting was consequently given a quick and quiet burial. Evidently the differences between the two were irreconcilable.

With the BJP today looking for allies to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu, notwithstanding M.K. Stalin’s strident speech on the occasion of his election as president of the DMK, speculation of an alliance between the DMK and the BJP, legatees of Periyar and Moonje, respectively, has not been put to rest. The questions discussed nearly 75 years ago in Trichy still animate contemporary politics. One can only hope that the ideological firmness of Periyar and Anna will prevail over transient considerations.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy is a historian and Tamil writer. Periyar’s 139th birth anniversary was on September 17

No land’s people

Cooperation among governments and tolerance among citizens will help us find a solution to the refugee crisis

A large number of people in the world today are stateless and are thus deprived of the rights that the majority enjoy. This problem is particularly significant in the Indian context now — not only because of the Rohingya crisis that is unfolding in the subcontinent, but also because of the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is worrying that over 40 lakh people in Assam have been left out of the draft NRC, and that many of them have reportedly not been given reasons for their omission. Even within families, some members have been recognised as citizens, while others have to refile their claim for citizenship. If rejected again, these people stand the risk of losing citizenship and even being deported. But where will they go?

The NRC situation sounds eerily similar to how the Rohingya Muslims were ousted from Myanmar. And the attitude of various governments towards stateless people is similar. Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn a lot of criticism from the international community for the treatment of the Rohingya, so much so that she has been stripped of many prestigious international titles. India has argued that taking in the Rohingya would be a national security concern as well as a drain on its resources. These concerns trump the basic concern for the lives of these people.

Election promises

This pattern is repeated across the world. It is ironic that the U.S. has condemned the attacks on the Rohingya given its own “zero-tolerance” policy towards illegal immigrants. Recent reports of the U.S. separating children from their families and keeping them in enclosed quarters were reminiscent of the infamous political leadership of Germany in the 1930s and ’40s, and provoked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to say that the U.S. can no longer be considered a champion of human rights. U.S. President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to get tough on illegal immigration, which helped him ride to Republican nomination and subsequently to the White House.

Similarly, the BJP promised during its campaign before the Assam Assembly elections to scrutinise citizenship in the State. This helped the party clinch the State. These examples seem to suggest that votes are being cast, among other things, on the promise of delivering results akin to ethnic cleansing.

In Germany, the influx of refugees nearly cost Chancellor Angela Merkel her office; in Britain, the refugee question was the key deciding factor in the Brexit referendum. The question is, even if the political leadership is willing to accept immigrants, would the general populace today accept them or has xenophobia swept over compassion? Disturbing images of families and even children being washed ashore seem to do little to affect the ethnocentrism of today.

No international cooperation

There seems to be no political consensus or international cooperation on refugee rehabilitation. This is a grave concern, because the fate of these people does not hang as an albatross around any country’s neck. The inability to take a stand will only worsen the situation, as has been the case in Palestine, where over a million people have been living in camps as refugees since the 1940s. Their descendants are also treated as refugees. These refugees have been without an identity for seven decades now, which shows how prolonged a migrant’s ordeal can be when no nation is willing to treat the problem as its own.

Receiving little media attention is the fact that Africa is taking in a disproportionate number of refugees — currently 80% of the world’s refugee population, according to the UN. Developing countries have fewer resources, which is why it is heartening that countries like Ethiopia choose to value the lives of refugees over nationality, ethnicity and polity considerations.

The importance of protecting borders and containing threats to national security cannot be undermined. But the key factors that have led to the refugee crisis in some places seem to be the need to appease voters, and growing jingoism. The trends indicate that this is only set to rise, if it is not checked. Hegemonic countries cannot adopt isolationism in dealing with a situation that involves such a significant number of the world’s inhabitants. Cooperation among governments and tolerance among citizens will help us find a solution to this conflict.

Damini Chopra, an actor starring in Telugu and Hindi films, is also working with NGOs that focus on child immunisation and independence of women