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The Hindu Notes for 11th October 2018

Polls and polarisation politics

The Opposition parties have to press ahead with political adjustments to counter the dominant narrative

  • The political discourse, as Assembly elections approach, is slipping to new lows. Addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh recently, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Amit Shah, once again described infiltrators as “termites”. Earlier, speaking at a rally in Rajasthan, he said that he was confident that the BJP would win every election despite incidents of mob lynching, naming Mohammed Akhlaq. At the party’s national executive meeting last month, he had declared that if the BJP comes to power in 2019, it would stay put in office for another 50 years.
  • A clear strategy

  • But what is the basis of this self-confidence in the face of the poor record in office and the unravelling of the party’s own carefully constructed social constituency? This self-assurance stems from the belief that a politics of polarisation will pay dividends. Development and corruption were two major poll issues in 2014 when Narendra Modi projected himself as the harbinger of development. Both these issues have lost their appeal as non-Hindutva supporters who backed the BJP on the promise of development are disenchanted. The BJP appears to be refurbishing its strategy with greater prominence given to Hindutva, reflected in the high-pitched communal rhetoric of the past few months.
  • That this strategy is driven from the top is evident from the manner in which the BJP president has been focussing on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue, which is ideally suited to create polarisation. Mr. Shah has set the pace for this. While raising the issue of the NRC in a rally in Gangapur town in Sawai Madhopur, he said that ‘crores of illegal infiltrators’ have entered the country like ‘termites’ and should be ‘uprooted.’ He has been sticking to this theme in several speeches, warning for instance: “BJP sarkar ek-ek ghuspaithiye ko chun-chun kar matdata suchi se hatane ka kaam karegi (the BJP government will remove every infiltrator from the voters’ list).”
  • The ‘chun-chun ke nikalenge’ threat to the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants becomes clearer when viewed together with the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016. This Bill would permit Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to be eligible for Indian citizenship, but not Muslims, and if passed would violate Article 14 guaranteeing equality before law. Through this, the BJP is aiming to polarise Indians to convince them that what is rightfully theirs is being snatched away by ‘outsiders’. Hence, Mr. Shah is bringing up the issue in rally after rally to target minorities. At a public meeting in Kolkata, on August 11, he asked: “Are the Bangladeshi infiltrators a security threat to this country or not?”
  • Such acidic comments are echoed by other BJP leaders in their mobilisation campaigns. The sharpened focus on Bangladeshi immigrants, the NRC, the 2106 surgical strikes on Pakistan, to name a few such issues, are an indication of the tone and tenor of the BJP’s combative political strategy for 2019. The NRC issue is particularly important for its political agenda as it signals the shifting relationship between the Indian state and its diverse citizens and communities on questions of citizenship, equality and democracy.
  • Several commentators point out that the BJP has begun to forefront a combative strategy because of the growing feeling that the ruling dispensation is unlikely to repeat the 2014 performance. At the same time, it’s important to remember that polarisation has been an indispensable part of its campaign strategy, and is embedded in its ideology. For the BJP, creating a Hindu-Muslim divide is at the heart of its quest for a Hindu consolidation. Many State elections after 2014 have witnessed aggressive pitching of divisive issues rather than development. This happened during the Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh elections in 2017. Same was the case in Bihar in 2015 and Karnataka in 2018. Moreover, this type of campaign is always conducted at the grass-root level by the RSS-BJP cadres even when on occasion the top leadership is speaking a less divisive language. Whether the communal dimension should be highlighted by the leaders in their speeches depends on the assessment of the ground situation and its intensity varies from phase to phase of the election campaign.
  • Among the lynchings

  • From Independence, India’s politics had taken the form of a consensus pertaining to issues about nationhood and majority-minority relations. Clearly, that consensus has broken down, with the BJP keen to break away from the traditional national discourse. In the past too, religion wasn’t divorced from politics since it is part of the political landscape, but it is certainly more strident now. One important reason for the democratic regression is the majoritarianism promoted by the BJP as the dominant ideology since it came to power. The second reason is growing incidents of mob lynchings, which have emerged as a critical element of the new political order. It is not conventional Hindu-Muslim violence but targeted violence that is no longer episodic but a continuum, with lynching of Muslims on issues ranging from allegations of cow slaughter to love jihad to petty theft. Most of these incidents are perpetrated by vigilante militias and are the direct result of the communal atmosphere that the Hindu right has created, leaving little scope for recourse to justice against persons who commit these hate crimes.
  • But it is not only Muslims who are the targets of violence, most marginalised groups and anyone who speaks on their behalf or for justice is generally under attack, while those who make up a lynch mob have actually been feted by a Union minister. Also, anybody who is critical of Hindutva or the politics of the current establishment is branded as anti-national. This labelling draws sustenance from a conflation of communalism and nationalism since nationhood under the BJP government is defined more by what it excludes than what it includes. It is a well-thought-out strategy: speak against the government and you’re anti-national and anti-Hindu.
  • Threat to plurality

  • The polarisation strategy is an attempt to remove political plurality and in a sense pave the way for a one party, one leader-centric system which will weaken the foundations of our vibrant democracy. The job of the Opposition parties, in particular the Congress, in these circumstances is cut out: it has to press ahead with political adjustments to counter communal polarisation. Besides bringing together disparate parties, the Opposition must build a narrative that can hold some political interest for voters. The ideological thrust of this counter-narrative has to focus on safeguarding fundamental constitutional principles which have become points of contention and contestation, for example, nationalism, secularism and social justice. The Left has to play a leading role in building this narrative and any hesitation on its part will be damaging to both itself and to the country.
  • Next steps after the 377 judgment

    It is time that marital rape is criminalised

  • The Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377 should be celebrated for ejecting an ugly Victorian norm from the Indian criminal justice system. The landmark decision breaks new ground by removing restrictions that made consensual sexual relations between members of the same sex and the transgender population a crime. The judgment of the Supreme Court will, however, likely have unintended negative consequences for one group that has used Section 377 to protect itself from sexual violence — women.
  • What data show

  • While Section 377 has indeed been used as a tool to vilify and arbitrarily punish members of the LGBTQ community, it may be surprising for most to learn that an overwhelming majority of those who utilise the section at police stations are abused and physically tormented married women. Utilising new data as well as research conducted at police stations across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, we find that female complainants invoked most cases of Section 377 in the context of Section 498A (wherein the husband or his relative subjects a wife to cruelty, often within the framework of harassing her for additional dowry post-marriage). Nirvikar Jassal’s analysis found that for every hundred Section 377 cases, more than half are filed by women in the context of Section 498A.
  • Incidentally, Section 498A was diluted by the Supreme Court last year, making it more difficult for women to utilise the one law that had some teeth in deterring husbands from causing harm to their wives. In the Indian criminal justice system, Section 498A has a connotation as a “minor” gendered crime. This is partly why the Supreme Court suggested that first information reports should not be registered immediately after such a case comes before a police officer. The court mandated that no arrests or coercive action based on the law should be carried out until “family welfare committees” had looked into a case under Section 498A, and reconciliation centres had made an effort to resolve the couple’s differences. In other words, woman and spouse would be “counselled” before the case was handled by the justice system.
  • However, most dowry harassment cases are anything but “minor” crimes, and invariably involve the vilest and most degrading forms of physical abuse that the legalese of Section 498A is not able to capture on its own. The legal problem is that India, as in large parts of West Asia and Africa, does not recognise marital rape as a crime.
  • In POCSO too

  • This is where Section 377 comes in. Women who register spousal abuse, especially in the form of Section 498A, often do so as a case of last resort. As we found, in extreme circumstances, women encourage police officers to register an additional case of Section 377 against their husbands. They do this to to elevate the “heinousness” of Section 498A, i.e., to signal to the police that their abuse is not simply “cruelty” but also one of sexual abuse. Section 498A has the lowest conviction rate of any law in India, and by tacking on Section 377, women are potentially able to increase the likelihood of the husband being punished. In a legal context in which marital rape is not recognised, Section 377 emerges as a tool for married women to highlight the “unnatural” abuse they face. Interestingly, the media in Kerala have found that the use of Section 377 is often added to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to increase POCSO’s stringency. We too have found such evidence.
  • In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court appears to have been conscious of the fact that Section 377 has been used to protect women but implied that as Section 375 (rape) already criminalises non-consensual acts, Section 377 is redundant when applied to women. The court also implied that Section 377 was obsolete because the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 broadened the scope of Section 375 to include non-penile-vaginal penetration, “thereby plugging important gaps in the law governing sexual violence in India”.
  • However, this is not entirely accurate. There remains a significant gap. An exemption in Section 375 says, “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” This is why police officers have to pin Section 377 to many dowry harassment cases that involve sexual violence because those registering a case would not be able to utilise Section 375 if the violation was carried out by the husband.
  • While Section 377 will now apply to minors and in cases of bestiality, it is unclear whether abused married women will be able to use the law in quite the same way as they did before.
  • More importantly, they really should not have to. If physically abused by their husbands, wives should be able to register a case without having to use the circuitous paths of employing laws with anachronistic language when they are essentially being raped. A far more effective and progressive strategy would be for the state to now criminalise marital rape. This could be done by passing a new law or merely removing the exemption in Section 375.
  • In its judgment on Section 377, the Supreme Court stated, “The constitutional courts have to recognize that the constitutional rights would become a dead letter without their dynamic, vibrant and pragmatic interpretation. Therefore, it is necessary for the constitutional courts to inculcate in their judicial interpretation and decision making a sense of engagement and a sense of constitutional morality.”
  • We fully agree with this sentiment and urge both the political class and the court to give married women full restitution of their rights under the Constitution by making marital rape a heinous crime.
  • The power of non-alignment

    There is space to resurrect the old movement as a soft balancing mechanism against powerful states

  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its precursor, the Bandung Afro-Asian conference in 1955, were examples of soft balancing by weaker states towards great powers engaged in intense rivalry and conflict. As they had little material ability to constrain superpower conflict and arms build-ups, the newly emerging states under the leadership of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indonesia’s Sukarno, and later joined by Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, adopted a soft balancing strategy aimed at challenging the superpower excesses in a normative manner, hoping for preventing the global order from sliding into war.
  • The founders of the NAM, if alive today, could have taken solace in the fact that in the long run some of their goals were achieved due to a radical change in the policies of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • Understanding a movement

  • The NAM is often not given credit for what it deserves, because by the 1970s, some of the key players, including India, began to lose interest in the movement as they formed coalitions with one or the other superpower to wage their conflicts with their neighbours. It is also not theorised by scholars properly. The Western countries often portrayed non-alignment as pro-Soviet or ineffective and the general intellectual opposition was the result of the Western scholarly bias against a coalitional move by the weaker states of the international system. This is very similar to how upper classes or castes respond to protest movements by subaltern groups in highly unequal and hierarchical societies.
  • The international system is hierarchical and the expectation is that the weaker states should simply abide by the dictates of the stronger ones. It is often forgotten that when the Bandung meeting took place, the world was witnessing an intense nuclear arms race, in particular, atmospheric nuclear testing. The fear of a third world war was real. Many crises were going on in Europe and East Asia, with the fear of escalation lurking. More importantly, the vestiges of colonialism were still present.
  • Despite all its blemishes, the NAM and the Afro-Asian grouping acted as a limited soft balancing mechanism by attempting to delegitimise the threatening behaviour of the superpowers, particularly through their activism at the UN and other forums such as the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, as well as through resolutions.
  • “Naming” and “shaming” were their operational tools. They worked as norm entrepreneurs in the areas of nuclear arms control and disarmament. They definitely deserve partial credit for ending colonialism as it was practised, especially in the 1950s and 1960s in Africa, parts of Asia and the Caribbean through their activism at the UN General Assembly which declared decolonisation as a key objective in 1960.
  • Impact on N-tests

  • The non-aligned declarations on nuclear testing and nuclear non-proliferation especially helped to concretise the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. They also helped create several nuclear weapon free zones as well as formulate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The tradition of ‘non-use of nuclear weapons’, or the ‘nuclear taboo’, was strengthened partially due to activism by the non-aligned countries’ at the UN. The non-aligned could find solace that it took a few more decades for a leader like Mr. Gorbachev to emerge in one of the contending superpowers, and that many of their policy positions were adopted by him, and later partially by the U.S.
  • As the great powers are once again launching a new round of nuclear arms race and territorial expansion and militarisation of the oceans, a renewed activism by leading global south countries may be necessary to delegitimise their imperial ventures, even if they do not succeed immediately. If these states do not act as cushioning forces, international order could deteriorate and new forms of cold and hot wars could develop. China, the U.S. and Russia need to be balanced and restrained and soft balancing by non-superpower states has a key role to play in this.
  • If the present trends continue, a military conflict in the South China Sea is likely and the naval competition will take another decade or so to become intense, as happened in earlier periods between Germany and the U.K. (early 1900s), and Japan and the U.S. (1920s and 1930s).
  • The U.S. as the reigning hegemon will find the Chinese takeover threatening and try different methods to dislodge it. The freedom of navigation activities of the U.S. are generating hostile responses from China, which is building artificial islets and military bases in the South China Sea and expanding its naval interests into the Indian Ocean. Smaller states would be the first to suffer if there is a war in the Asia-Pacific or an intense Cold War-style rivalry develops between the U.S. and China. Nuclear weapons need not prevent limited wars as we found out through the Ussuri clashes of 1969 and the Kargil conflict in 1999.
  • The way forward

  • What can the smaller states do? Can they develop a new ‘Bandung spirit’ which takes into account the new realities? They could engage in soft balancing of this nature hoping to delegitimise the aggressive behaviour of the great powers. The rise of China and India, with their own ambitious agendas, makes it difficult that either will take the lead in organising such a movement.
  • China’s wedge strategy and its efforts to tie Afro-Asian states through the Belt and Road Initiative have limited the choices of many developing countries. However, despite the constraints, many have been able to keep China off militarily by refusing base facilities and also smartly bargaining with India and Japan for additional economic support. They thus are already showing some elements of strategic autonomy favoured by the NAM.
  • More concrete initiatives may have to rest with emerging states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping. Engaging China and India more intensely while restraining the U.S. and Russia from aggravating military conflict in Asia-Pacific can be the effort of the developing countries. Norm entrepreneurship has it value, even if it does not show immediate results.
  • The alternative is to leave it to the great powers to engage in mindless arms race and debilitating interventions, which rarely create order in the regions. Restraining the established and rising powers through institutional and normative soft balancing may emerge as an option for developing countries in the years to come. They still need a leader like Jawaharlal Nehru to bring them together.
  • Teaming up with Tokyo

    Ahead of the PM’s visit to Japan, hopes are high for a greater synergy on security and connectivity issues

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo later this month will be keenly watched by India’s strategic community. Since he assumed office in 2014, Mr. Modi has made India-Japan relations a key priority area of his foreign policy. Now, in the last year of his term, Indian analysts are looking for tangible signs of a transformation in economic and security ties.
  • Fortunately for India, Mr. Modi’s Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe is a keen advocate of closer bilateral relations. Mr. Abe views India as the pivotal state in the Indian Ocean. A strong India, he candidly professes, is in Japan’s interest, just like a strong Japan is beneficial for India.
  • The Abe administration is focusing attention on two critical areas — maritime security and strategic connectivity. On the security front, Japan is keen to strengthen the trilateral Malabar exercises with India and the U.S. During the last iteration of the exercises off Guam in June this year, the Japanese Navy deployed a maritime surveillance aircraft and a submarine, demonstrating a readiness for a strategic role in Asia’s sensitive littorals.
  • Closer maritime ties

  • In a bid to raise its Indian Ocean profile, Japan recently deployed its state-of-the-art helicopter carrier-destroyer, Kaga, to South Asia. After a brief stopover at Colombo, the ship is in Visakhapatnam for the Japan-India Maritime Exercises.
  • Tokyo is keen that its military exchanges with India also include Army and Air Force exchanges. An Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement — on the lines of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. — is in the offing, and there is also talk of joint collaboration in unmanned armoured vehicles and robotic systems. Further, Japan also wants to assist India in improving the state of maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean, where India is keen to set up an ‘information fusion centre’.
  • Notwithstanding the excitement over security relations, it is strategic connectivity that presents the bigger opportunity. Tokyo and New Delhi have been working together on infrastructure projects in the Northeast. They are also building the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, whose four pillars — developmental projects, quality infrastructure, capacity building, and people-to-people partnership — make it an effective counterpoint to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • What makes Japan a reliable partner in the connectivity arena is its emphasis on ‘quality’. Unlike China’s Belt and Road projects, Japanese infrastructure initiatives are environmentally friendly and financially sustainable, with project managers laying particular stress on life cycle costs and asset resilience. Not only has Japanese development aid produced demonstrable results on the ground, Tokyo’s insistence on transparency has generated enormous trust.
  • The Modi government’s economic and security outlook — often articulated in terms of its ‘Act-East’ outreach — fits well with Mr. Abe’s vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. Both countries want a regional order based on rules. However, neither country is keen to antagonise China. While Tokyo is willing to work with Beijing on overseas infrastructure projects, New Delhi has expressed reservations about its ‘Quadrilateral’ partners (the U.S., Japan and Australia) resorting to China-containment tactics.
  • Even so, Japanese and Indian policymakers recognise the importance of balancing Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific. To deter China’s maritime aggression in their strategic backwaters, Japan and India have upped their defence engagement.
  • None of this suggests a neat alignment of strategic interests and ambitions. Despite repeated attempts, talks for the sale of the US-2i amphibious aircraft have been deadlocked over issues of price and technology transfer. The deal has been hanging fire since 2014 when Indian officials raised objections over the platform’s high cost. Tokyo subsequently agreed to a concession but the aircraft’s price was still deemed high by Indian negotiators (over a $100 million apiece).
  • Of greater concern has been Japan’s unwillingness to let India license produce the US-2i, insisting on delivering all aircraft in flyaway condition. The hard-bargaining, say observers, hasn’t been worthwhile, not least since the plane does little other than search and rescue.
  • Even so, India’s foreign policy establishment knows the deal has come to be seen a symbol of India-Japan defence cooperation. A failure to procure it would be deemed as a setback. Policymakers also acknowledge that the partnership is increasingly vital for the security of littoral Asia. In the wake of growing challenges in the maritime domain, New Delhi knows that operational synergy with Tokyo is a strategic imperative. Striking a deal on the US-2i would be a good start point.
  • Abhijit Singh is a Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi
  • The meat in AAP’s sandwich politics

    A series of pro-citizen policies in Delhi offers important lessons

  • All parties and governments claim control over the nation’s resources, but the real question should be on where those resources are spent and how they are redistributed by people in power.
  • Consider the case of the three-year-old Aam Aadmi Party government led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi. It has been accused of ‘dharna politics’, of being inexperienced and unable to engage in the ‘sandwich politics’ of balancing the Centre’s Lieutenant Governor and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Municipal Corporation. However, a series of pro-citizen, pro-labour policy actions offer lessons for other State governments.
  • The government’s recent decision to conduct a pan-Delhi socio-economic survey, which aims to map benefits of social security schemes with beneficiaries, to mitigate exclusionary errors, is worth mentioning. The launch of door-to door delivery of public services via ‘mobile sahayaks’ is another transformative move that will help minimise beneficiary inconvenience and petty corruption at government centres, and maximise efficiency and outreach.
  • Another important move concerns the de-linking of Aadhaar from pensions of widows, old-age pensioners and the differently-abled. The Delhi government realised — long before the recent Supreme Court verdict — that Aadhaar should not be responsible for delays, denials and deaths. As many as 25 deaths in the country since 2017 have been reportedly linked to ‘Aadhar-related issues’.
  • The government’s pro-labour policy measures include making minimum wages mandatory, with firm punitive measures for defaulting employers. Another radical proposal is to do away with outsourcing of labour in the public sector, which allows employers to escape their responsibility to provide social security benefits to their employees.
  • The AAP government’s emphasis on social security — including its policies against forced evictions; in-situ slum upgradation schemes; health provisioning through ‘mohalla clinics’; provision of cheap electricity and water; and popular reforms in Delhi government schools — dates back to its initial 2015 manifesto.
  • That said, the party has also faced flak over concerns relating to sources of political funding, key members leaving the party, office-of-profit cases against its MLAs and questionable decisions around ticket distribution. Some of its promises, such as passing the Jan Lokpal Bill making Delhi a ‘wifi city’, are yet to see the light of day.
  • The fundamental question that remains unanswered relates to whether these policies have any appeal for a middle and upper-class electorate, especially in an era of competitive party politics whose success rests on narrative-building through advertisements and campaigning.