About Saif Ahmad Khan

Saif Ahmad Khan is presently a student of journalism at the University of Delhi. Even though he is often accused of arrogance, communalism, narcissism and self obsession; he claims to be an inquisitive intellectual who writes and speaks with passion and logic.

Bihar shows India’s intolerance against Hindutva forces

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The electoral victory of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar has come as a big boost for Lalu Prasad Yadav who was on the verge of political extinction. By emerging as the single largest party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has successfully exhibited its popularity among Biharis. What is astonishing is that Lalu’s popularity has risen despite his conviction by a CBI court in the fodder scam.

On the other hand, Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal United or JD (U) has won for himself a third term as Chief Minister of Bihar. Along with the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar is sure to be touted as the one of ablest men to lead a third front assault on the two national parties, particularly the BJP, in the times to come.

However, the most interesting take away from the landslide victory of RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine is the continuing trend of decisive mandates. Post 2012, states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, and now Bihar, have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a particular party or coalition. The general elections in 2014 too exhibited a similar pattern. The notable exceptions to this phenomenon were Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

In 2013, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fought elections for the first time turning battlefield Delhi into a triangular contest between BJP, Congress and AAP. This led to AAP and BJP narrowly missing out on the magic number and what followed next was a short lived Congress supported AAP government. Thereafter, when elections were held again in early 2015, the verdict of Delhi-walas was entirely one sided and brought AAP absolute majority.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir elections of 2014 are concerned, though the verdict was split, it was clear that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was the chosen one in the valley while the BJP comfortably led in the region of Jammu. That way the election result was again decisive in nature and led to the formation of a coalition government comprising of PDP and BJP. Despite the confusion in the minds of pollsters and psephologists, the voter is acting very cleverly. The exit polls might predict a khichdi verdict or neck to neck competition but the voters are throwing up a clear mandate.

Secondly, the elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues. The voters in Uttar Pradesh rejected the false bogey of live jihad during the by-elections held in the state last year. The national capital voted against ghar wapsi and attacks on churches in February this year. Finally Bihar has voted against beef politics and fear mongering in the name of carving a religion based minority sub quota out of the reservation pie of Other Backward Castes or OBCs.

The writing on the wall is becoming increasingly clear for the BJP. It is time to perform or perish. The Prime Minister can manage any number of events, undertake as many foreign trips as he wishes to and campaign as vigorously as possible but if his government doesn’t deliver in terms of poverty alleviation, job creation and income equality, the electorate is going to show his party the door. The voter cannot be fooled simply on the basis of Hindutva and rhetoric.

When BJP lost in Delhi, the blame was shifted towards Kiran Bedi as she happened to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate. The same cannot be done in the case of Bihar as the BJP fielded no chief ministerial candidate with Modi being the outright leader. Even in Delhi, it was Modi who led the campaign all through but his failure was conveniently set aside. Modi is based out of Delhi. He along with his entire cabinet campaigned in Delhi yet they lost.

Prime Minister Modi left African leaders in Delhi to campaign in Bihar yet BJP lost. The lesson which is to be learnt is that Modi can be overcome electorally with the help of strong local leaders like Kejriwal, Nitish and Lalu. BJP must realize that it cannot always piggybank on Modi’s supposed PAN-India popularity. There is a dire need for cultivation of popular local leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan.

Another observation is that no matter what is proclaimed from 24 Akbar Road, Congress is on the decline. They drew a blank in Delhi but have performed reasonably well in Bihar. However, their vote share remains in single digit and the party is far from being the nationwide force it once used to be. If INC has chosen to eternally play second fiddle to the likes of JD(U), RJD and AAP then its altogether an entirely different story.

Politics in the country is becoming all the more BJP-centric. The vote in Bihar was against the BJP government at the centre as also against Hindutva. Those who are rushing and labelling the verdict as a victory of development oriented politics need to do a rethink. Lalu’s campaign rhetoric was less about development and more about a “battle between forward and backward castes.” Nitish’s masterstroke was in aligning with his bête noire Lalu to oust the BJP instead of holding a referendum on his ten year rule by going solo.

If Kejriwal won Delhi on the basis of populist politics, Lalu and Nitish have won Bihar by carving an alliance which none saw coming. It’s a triumph of complex caste arithmetic over Hindutva superimposition. The much talked about development politics had little relevance with both sides banking heavily on identity politics. The blunders committed in Bihar by the BJP should be carefully scrutinized but Lalu’s comeback in Bihar exemplifies that caste still lords over Bihar’s election castle. Modi sarkaar has indeed failed in fulfilling its tall promises but where was the vision of “maha gathbandhan” during Bihar elections? The people seem to have chosen the one whom they viewed as the “lesser evil”.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/bihar-polls-narendra-modi-nitish-kumar-lalu-prasad-hindutva-rss-jdu/story/1/7240.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

Hafiz Saeed should shut up, best not talk about SRK

Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. (Image: AP)

Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. (Image: AP)

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the chief of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and the alleged mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, has invited Shah Rukh Khan and other Muslims facing discrimination in India on account of their religious identity to cross over the border and stay in Pakistan. Saeed claimed that “discrimination against minorities in India” was a proof that “Modi’s India” is no longer secular but rather a fascist Hindu state.

“We welcome Indian intellectuals raising voices against intolerance inflicted by Hindu extremists if and whenever they come to Pakistan. We would be pleased to demonstrate to them JuD’s ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts for minorities living in Pakistan,” Saeed said.

It’s interesting to note that Hafiz Saeed has claimed on Twitter that his organisation is involved in activities to safeguard the lives of minorities in Pakistan. Transparency demands that Saeed furnishes evidence to effectively establish the work JuD has done to protect the persecuted lot of Ahmadiyyas, Shias, Hindus and Christians.

Ordinance XX, promulgated during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, prevents Ahmadiyyas from posing or claiming to be Muslims. If they do so then they will attract imprisonment for as many as three years. Has Hafiz Saeed or his men ever taken out a rally to pressurise the Pakistani government to repeal Ordinance XX? Even Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani to win the Nobel Prize (Physics) in 1979, cannot be called a Muslim without attracting legal penalty simply because he belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been constantly utilised to settle scores with minorities. “Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran (Quran) or for blasphemy,” says aBBC news report (July 22, 2015). Asia Bibi, a Christian woman has been on death row since five years on allegations of insulting Prophet Muhammad, a charge which she vehemently denies. She has been publicly threatened by people from her own village who have vowed to kill her. When Punjab governor Salman Taseer spoke in her favour opposing the blasphemy laws, he was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri who was hailed as a hero by many in Pakistan.

Thousands of Pakistani Hindus have fled their country fearing persecution. Several hundred of Hindu families left Pakistan way back in the 1970s and have settled in the Pakistani Mohalla camp in New Delhi’s Sanjay Colony. In spite of such atrocities, Hafiz Saeed and the JuD have remained silent. Instead there have been hate speeches against India, calling for the country’s annihilation. What is worse, Hafiz Saeed stands accused of orchestrating one of the bloodiest terror attacks in India. He has no moral standing to comment on the recent events which have unfolded in India.

The murder of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef-consumption and the recent tirade against Shah Rukh Khan by the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Prachi ought to be condemned. But condemnation holds no value if it’s coming from a discredited individual like Hafiz Saeed. There are credible voices in Pakistan like journalist Hassan Nisar whose take on the tolerance debate in India would be much respected. But we refuse to listen to Hafiz Saeed and the only thing that we, as Indians, demand is that he should be investigated and prosecuted for 26/11 in which more than 150 people lost their lives.

As far as Shah Rukh Khan is concerned, the actor is wise enough to deal with these kinds of politically motivated attacks. In 2010, SRK had said that Pakistani players were most welcome to represent Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the Indian Premier League (IPL). This led to the Shiv Sena attacking Shah Rukh and accusing him of a Pakistan bias. It also threatened preventing the release of Shah Rukh’s film My name is Khan, but SRK didn’t give in to the bullying and the film released to packed theatres with Indians across the country rejecting Bal Thackeray’s low level politics.

While the storylines of Shah Rukh Khan’s films have tried to address the stigmas associated with being a Muslim, the actions of men like Hafiz Saeed have earned Muslims a bad name. In My name is Khan,SRK portrayed the role of Rizwan Khan who is suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. The film depicts his journey across the US post-September 11 terror attacks to eventually meet the American president and say “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”

Enacting the role of a Muslim hockey player in Chak De! India, Shah Rukh’s character Kabir Khan leads the Indian women’s hockey team to World Cup victory after he was himself accused of selling out to Pakistan in a match several years ago.

Shah Rukh’s characters defy the political roadmap of Hafiz Saeed who is mostly busy in anti-India activities and instigating Indian Muslims to rise in revolt against their own country. Had SRK been living in Pakistan with his wife Gauri Khan and bowing his head in front of an idol of Ganesha, the same Hafiz Saeed would have refused to recognise him as a Muslim and perhaps even forced him into exile.

A debate on tolerance in Indian society is much needed and while it is open to participation from all corners, Hafiz Saeed and his ilk better stay quiet and stop preaching since they are merely interested in wrecking havoc in India by encashing on the politically volatile atmosphere.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/hafiz-muhammad-saeed-jamaat-ud-dawah-shah-rukh-khan-terrorism-dadri-murder-shiv-sena/story/1/7188.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

Did Express go overboard with SC verdict on quota story?

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. (Image: Wikipedia)

Many of the front page stories which featured last month in The Indian Express generated a nationwide response. Following the ink attack by Shiv Sena on former AB Vajpayee and LK Advani aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Express published a photograph of Kulkarni on the first page with the headline “Photo courtesy Shiv Sena” (October 13). The paper, edited by IITian Raj Kamal Jha, evoked a lot of buzz on social media owing to the creativeness and brevity which Express exhibited by aptly summarising Sena’s insane ink attack with the help of a subtle headline.

In another lead story, (dated October 16) titled “Muslims can live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef, says Haryana CM”, The Indian Express exposed the conservative mindset of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in an exclusive conversation. The 61-year-old leader’s remarks attracted intense criticism from political and social media circles.But the cover story run by the newspaper on the recent Supreme Court judgment concerning reservation in super specialised medical courses was an unlikely deviation from the high standards of reportage maintained by the publication.

The news report authored by IE‘s Utkarsh Anand was published with the provocative headline: “In national interest, scrap quota in higher education institutions: SC”. The lead paragraph of the report said, “Regretting that some ‘privileges remain unchanged’ even after 68 years of independence, the Supreme Court held Tuesday that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in institutions of higher education and urged the Centre to take effective steps ‘objectively'”.

However, the news report then went on to contextualise the comments made by the Supreme Court, which were obviously in relation to a particular form of reservation vis-a-vis super speciality medical courses. If one peruses through the 58-page Supreme Court judgement delivered by Justices Dipak Mishra and PC Pant, one would find little evidence to claim that the Supreme Court directed the central and state governments to abrogate all forms of existing reservation in the realm of higher education.

On page 57 of the judgement, the Supreme Court referred to the case of one Fazal Ghafoor and quoted a previous judicial ruling which said: “In Dr Pradeep Jain case, this court has observed that in super specialities, there should really be no reservation. This is so in the general interest of the country and for improving the standard of higher education and thereby improving the quality of available medical services to the people of India. We hope and trust that the government of India and the state governments shall seriously consider this aspect of the matter without delay and appropriate guidelines shall be evolved by the Indian Medical Council so as to keep the super specialities in medical education unreserved, open and free.”

In this context, the court went on to add in succeeding point number 38 on pages 57 and 58: “The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope though there has been a progressive change. The said privilege remains unchanged, as if to compete with eternity. Therefore, we echo the same feeling and reiterate the aspirations of others so that the authorities can objectively assess and approach the situation so that the national interest becomes paramount. We do not intend to add anything in this regard.”

Editorially, the Indian Express has a right to have a particular view on the reservation policy in higher education but that view has to be exhibited in the edit and opinion pages, instead of infiltrating into news reports on the front page. Nowhere, did the Supreme Court blatantly call for scrapping of reservations in higher education as theExpress headline claimed. All it disapproved of was reservations in super specialised medical courses and called upon the authorities to “objectively assess and approach the situation”.

The Press Trust of India copy on the Supreme Court judgement titled “SC reinforces no quota in super speciality courses” was far more responsible in its reportage of the ruling. Refraining from attributing any over the top comments to the Supreme Court, PTI’s lead said that “the Supreme Court has reinforced its earlier view that “there should really be no reservation” in super speciality courses in medicine in the general interest of the country.” PTI added, “It (SC) said at a time when the ‘privilege’ of reservation is ‘competing with eternity’ an objective assessment of the situation is required keeping national interest in mind”.

During a lecture held at my university, an editor of a long-form magazine described the Express as “a journalist’s newspaper”, a view echoed by many of my classmates since most of them happen to be its loyal readers. But, as it’s famously said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. The Express cannot afford to shoot from the shoulders of the Supreme Court on a matter as polarising as affirmative action and mislead its readers. Accuracy has to be maintained and a newspaper ought to refrain from reading too much into a judgement which simply talks about reservations in super specialised courses.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/supreme-court-reservation-indian-express-journalism-raj-kamal-jha-higher-education-super-specialty-medicinal-courses/story/1/7154.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

Scrap religion-based Scheduled Caste reservations, Mr Modi

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? (Image: Flickr)

While addressing an election rally in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dig at the grand alliance of Congress, JD(U) and RJD by raking up the issue of religion-based reservations. Modi said, “The leaders of this ‘Mahaswarth’ alliance are trying to mislead the people on the issue of reservation. It is clear through the discussion of our Constitution makers that reservation cannot be given on the basis of religion.” He added that “these leaders are making a devious plan. They are conspiring to take away 5 per cent reservation of Dalits, Maha Dalits, backwards and extremely backwards and give it to a particular community”.

Though Modi did not particularly name any community, it was apparent that he was referring to Muslims. What Modi was attempting to do was consolidation of Hindu votes by tacitly asking them to rise above caste and vote in unison to outdo “Muslims” who were portrayed as a group which was out to swallow the “Hindu” pie of reservation benefits. Such remarks are a reflection of the BJP’s nervousness in Bihar where they might suffer a setback due to the polarising remarks of their ministers and legislators both at the central and state level following the Dadri lynching episode which occurred last month.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi added, “I come from an extremely backward class and understand the pain of having been born to a poor woman. I will not allow this to happen. I pledge to protect the rights of Dalits, Maha Dalits and backwards.” If Modi truly believes in what he says then he should immediately initiate steps to outlaw religion-based reservations which have been in existence in our country since 1950.

Yes, you heard it right. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 pertaining to Article 341 has been providing religion-based reservations for more than 60 years now. The controversial 1950 order whose legality has been repeatedly questioned states, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”

Initially, the order only recognised Scheduled Castes from the Hindu religion. Thereafter, it was amended twice in 1956 and 1990 to include Sikhs and Buddhists, respectively. The question to be asked is: Can’t a Muslim, Christian, Jain or Parsi be a Scheduled Caste? Do Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have a monopoly over being Scheduled Castes?

The Sachar Committee Report, whose findings suggested that the Muslims of Gujarat are among the most prosperous in the country (and was effectively utilised by BJP spokespersons to build on Mr Modi’s vikaas purush image), had the following to say about Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950: “Dalit (SC) Muslims are not allowed the benefits of Scheduled Caste quota, while their counterparts in Sikh community (Mazhabi Sikhs) and Buddhist community (Neo Buddhist) are allowed the benefits of reservation quota for SC.”

It further added, “It is recommended that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to the Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely delink the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Caste net religiously-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”

Will Modi do justice to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians by acting on the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report concerning Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order), 1950? He won’t because the talk of protecting the rights of Dalits and Mahadalits is hollow rhetoric and electorally motivated. Moreover, Modi’s party is ideologically opposed to granting of SC quota benefits to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

In a speech delivered on August 14, 2004 in Mumbai, BJP patriarch LK Advani said, “For a long time, there have been demands for extending reservations to so-called ‘Dalit’ Christians and ‘Dalit’ Muslims. However, successive governments have not paid heed to these demands. Why? This is because the framers of the Indian Constitution were very clear in their minds that caste is a feature of the Hindu society. If some lower caste Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity in the past, it was because of the claim and the promise of these religions that they were casteless and hence offered an equal station to the converts vis-a-vis original Muslims or Christians.”

There can’t be a more preposterous assertion. Sikhism and Buddhism are also casteless religions in the sense that they do not advocate the division of society on caste lines. Yet Dalit converts to Buddhism and Sikhism are provided with reservation under SC quota. Then why the same privilege can’t be extended to Dalits who converted to other religions including Islam and Christianity? Caste, unfortunately is no longer a problem of the Hindu society as LK Advani opines. It is a problem of the Indian society. Though caste doesn’t exist in Islam or Christianity per se but caste system exists among Muslims and Christians living in India. Therefore, it is wrong to state that Dalits can’t be Muslims or Christians.

The communal Constitution order of 1950 won’t go away anytime soon because no one has the courage to do what justice demands. The Indian National Congress was the party responsible for enacting this provision. It was in power during the last ten years from 2004-2014. Despite repeated pleas from civil society it never bothered to amend the 1950 order. Instead it introduced a minority sub quota of 4.5 per cent in the lead up to the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections. It was touted as “Muslim quota” and floated by the then minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid.

Though it was for all minorities yet the tag “Muslim” became synonymous with it simply because the Congress was desperate to encash on the votes of Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Competitive politics demanded that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party dismissed 4.5 per cent quota for minorities as too less and promised even more. In its blind pursuit of the Muslim vote, the Congress forgot to follow the correct procedure leading the Andhra Pradesh High Court to strike down the 4.5 per cent sub quota for religious minorities in May 2012.

The court said, “No evidence has been shown to us by the learned assistant solicitor general to justify the classification of these religious minorities as a homogenous group or as more backward classes deserving some special treatment.” It went on to state, “We must, therefore, hold that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians do not form a homogenous group but a heterogeneous group.”

Have you ever wondered why do politicians reignite the debate on reservations only before elections? Congress and SP remembered Muslims before Uttar Pradesh elections, Modi remembered Dalits before Bihar elections and the inimitable Lalu Prasad recently described the upcoming elections as a “fight between backward and forward castes”.

Reservations have become a political tool in the hands of our corrupt leaders. In the midst of political mudslinging, the core issue concerning an objective analysis of the prevailing reservation policy is being overlooked. Should 21st century India adopt a reservation policy? If yes, then what should be the criteria for granting reservation in educational institutes and jobs? How should it be implemented? These are the questions which our leaders should have addressed clearly but they never did so.

Millions of Indians still find themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. Several others are educationally backward and belong to communities that are actively discriminated against and grossly under-represented in government sector jobs. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the State to help such individuals by means of affirmative action. One cannot shrug off the need for reservation by citing simplistic arguments of merit. The bigger picture needs to be taken into consideration. Hence, it is essential to have reservations in place for disadvantaged sections of society.

The second point is in relation to the basis on which reservation is to be granted. This is a subject on which the Central and state governments must necessarily revisit their policies. BJP’s Subramanian Swamy maintains that reservations should apply to those who have historically been discriminated against (Dalits, Mahadalits and the likes) and not the erstwhile ruling class like Brahmins, Muslims and Christians. This is a flawed proposition.

I’ve studied along with reserved category students who belonged to a historically disadvantaged group but made use of Apple iPhones. Such individuals are not disadvantaged and shouldn’t be reaping the benefits of reservation. We have a lot of people from the so-called forward castes who are struggling financially and need state support.

The only way out is to make the economic status of an individual the foremost criterion while granting reservation. Secondly, a sub quota needs to be drawn out of the entire reservation pool to exclusively cater to those people who are economically backward and also belong to communities that are educationally backward, under-represented in government jobs and services and victims of social discrimination. We need to adopt an evidence-based approach instead of an electoral or agitation-based approach while identifying such communities.

Backwardness would have to be proven on the basis of data and not perception. No community should be declared as being backward by the government because the party in power intends to reap their votes in the coming elections. Neither should governments give in to pressure from groups who organise bandhs and paralyse state machinery including railways to acquire reservation status. This sounds good on paper but the governments are obviously incapable of doing so because of their overt political agenda. We can only hope that good sense prevails and political parties start thinking along these lines else law courts might have to step in.

Lastly, we need to be absolutely mindful of certain rules while implementing the reservation policy. Reservations have to be time bound. They need to be reviewed and reformed from time and time. As per Supreme Court, reservation cannot extend to more than 50 per cent of the total seats. All institutions should abide by the said rules. While implementing reservation policy, additional seats or vacancies need to be created. For instance, if there are 20 seats in an educational institution for a particular course or 20 vacancies in a government office, reservation of  50 per cent should mean 20 general seats + 50 per cent reserved seats, instead of 20 – 50 per cent reserved seats.

Most importantly, it has to be ensured that reservations don’t compromise on quality and are provided only to those who truly deserve it. The maximum relaxation lent to applicants from reserved category shouldn’t go below 10 per cent of the general category cut-off in any case. If it happens then even people from the unreserved category will learn to appreciate the utility of reservations. This is because they will be sharing their classrooms and offices with people from the reserved category who are deserving and have achieved a certain level in the merit list despite the economic and social handicap that they have suffered from. This will eventually lead to the fading away of resentment regarding reservation among the unreserved people which currently exists in gigantic proportions.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/bihar-polls-narendra-modi-reservation-muslims-christians-parsis-jains-scheduled-castes/story/1/7032.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

How Modi can change India-Africa ties

The Indian society will have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. (Image: Wikipedia)

The Indian society will have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. (Image: Wikipedia)

New Delhi will be a host to the third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit from October 26-29. Africa is the second largest continent in the world but it is home to more countries than both Asia and Europe. With an estimated population of 1.1 billion, Africa also happens to be the second most populous continent in the world. Ironically, the population of the entire African continent is less than the population of India. In fact it is less than even 50 per cent of the combined population of Asian giants China and India.

Despite that one cannot overlook the importance of Africa as a continent simply because of its size and the population it supports. Fortunately, the upcoming summit in New Delhi will witness participation from 54 recognised African states. News reports have suggested that nearly 40 heads of state will be in attendance at the summit. This is indeed a big achievement because the previous summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, saw participation from only 14 African states. “India is proud to host @indiaafrica2015. The Summit reflects India & Africa’s desire to engage more intensively for a better future,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lead up to the summit.

Considering India’s growing keenness for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which became evident during PM Modi’s trip to the United States last month, it is incumbent upon India to foster good relations with African nations. The support of the African countries as a whole would be vital for bringing in reform at the UNSC. The developing countries have to come together and pressurize the P-5 into expanding the Security Council thereby making it more geographically representative and reflective of the new economic world order.

Developing together

If India-Africa ties improve exponentially then the larger international picture is bound to transform. Besides acting together on the global stage, India and Africa should also develop deep bilateral relations. As far as India’s role in the African continent is concerned, Prime Minister Modi must realise that India has to be a friend of the African people and not the African leaders. Though Modi believes in building strong personal relations with international leaders like President Obama, it is important for him to realise that many of the African leaders are undemocratic despots who’ve ruled their respective nations for decades without doing much for the welfare of their people.Take the case of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who has been in power since 1987 and is the incumbent chairperson of the African Union. As per World Bank estimates, when Mugabe assumed power the average life expectancy in Zimbabwe was 61.11 years. In 2012, it was down to 58.05 years. The Zimbabwean economy is in a mess after having witnessed years of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe’s neighbour in southern Africa, the oil rich nation of Angola, is led by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. President Santos has served in office since 1979. While his own daughter Isabel Dos Santos happens to be a billionaire, Angola happens to be the deadliest country in the world for children. Ground reportage from Angola by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof showed that Angolan hospitals do not have medicines for dying children. In his column titled “Deadliest country for kids”, Kristof wrote that “one child in six in this country will die by the age of six” and “150,000 Angolan children die annually”. All of this conveniently occurs at a time when the president’s own daughter earns billions while the children of the commoners are left to die.

There are several African leaders like Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, all of whom find place in the list of “World’s Worst Dictators” by David Wallechinsky, who have ruled since more than three decades now. Indian foreign policy should not seek to extend the undemocratic rule of such men. Neither should it take an interventionist shape. Change has to come from within and all our country can do is be a friend of the African people as stated earlier instead of being a friend of the African leaders who lack credibility.

Shared history and challenges

The African Union is a successor body to the Organisation for African Unity whose primary objectives were to fight colonialism and apartheid in the African continent. The AU which was launched on July 9, 2002, focuses more on democracy, peace, prosperity, security and human rights. The rise of terror groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Lord’s Resistance Army poses a serious threat to the peace and stability in the African continent. The Indian security forces have an experience of dealing with terrorism in several places including regions of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the northeast. The Indian forces should help train and better equip the African troops to fight the terror groups operating in Africa.

Many of the victims of the mayhem unleashed by African terrorist groups are young women and children. LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is notorious for pushing children into sex slavery and turning them into child soldiers. LRA does so in the name of religion with Kony pretending to be a prophet of God. Boko Haram has also been utilising religion to ferment unrest in Nigeria. They are ideologically opposed to western education and have abducted young schoolgirls in the past and forcefully converted them to Islam. Al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab is another threat which cannot be overlooked and so is the Islamic State as it plans to spread its tentacles across Africa.We cannot breathe easy here in India as long as terror groups continue creating havoc in Africa. India should proactively lend its military expertise in terms of intelligence sharing and sophisticated weapons to African nations in their quest to wipe out monstrous groups like Boko Haram and LRA. African nations also have a lot to learn from India’s secular model of democracy. Countries like Nigeria and Central African Republic are embroiled in bloody religious conflicts. Though India has its own share of religious conflicts to resolve yet the Indian model of pluralism and secular democracy can serve as a lesson for those in Africa who truly believe in coexistence and multiculturalism.

Tackling racism

India must throw open the doors of its universities to African students. Such an arrangement would be beneficial both ways. Young Africans will get an opportunity to transform their lives by gaining access to affordable education and at the same time India’s university campuses will get foreign students which they seriously lack. More hostels would have to be created to accommodate African students and the government will have to arrange for credit and scholarship facilities for them.

Our country will also have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. A visit to Khirki village in New Delhi will make one realize how Indians refer to African migrants as hapshis or cannibals. They are stereotyped and accused of being involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. Such vices have no place in a pluralistic society. Racism against Africans living in India has to be tackled with utmost seriousness. We cannot allow autowalas and real estate brokers to overcharge Africans for their services simply because they can’t understand the local language or are unaware of the fundamentals of the local economy. But what we have to be wary about is regarding the involvement of some Africans in drug trade. The proliferation of drugs on Indian soil capable of endangering the lives of our young minds will not be tolerated.

These issues will surely come up for discussion in the upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit. But the most vital talking point would be of trade, investment and business.

In the past few days a number of statistics have been thrown around to give a sense of the size of Indo-Africa trade relations. As per a Press Trust of India report, India’s trade with Africa is worth USD 75 billion. The figure is expected to rise as a number of memorandums of understanding would surely be signed during the summit between the Indian and African leadership. But India needs to be sure of one thing i.e. that we shouldn’t go inside African territory with the intention of looting Africa.

No scramble for power

Africa’s tragedy rests in the fact that its resources and people were looted by the European colonial powers. In the 21st century, we are witnessing the evils of neo-liberalism and multinational corporations. Some of our own companies are exploiting our wealth and resources in states like Chhattisgarh and Odisha. We cannot allow them to do in Africa what they have been trying to do at home. Any trade relationship between India and Africa has to be premised on the notion of egalitarianism. Strict rules and regulations would have to be devised to prevent the loot and theft of Africa’s oil, emeralds, pearls, gas and mineral wealth.

Economic justice and fair distribution of wealth are often ignored in the blind pursuit of prosperity. India-Africa trade relations should negate any trade activity which impinges upon economic justice. Progress should be mutual and its benefits must necessarily flow down to the citizens of both India and Africa instead of being limited to the ruling elite in both the regions. The task ahead for India and Africa’s political and business leadership is overwhelmingly difficult but with the resilience and spirit of our people it is a feat which can certainly be achieved.

Martin Luther King Jr once dreamt of an America free from racial bias, an America which practised racial integration instead of racial segregation. The people of India and Africa too have a dream. They dream of well-built roads and residential complexes instead of broken pathways and slum houses. They dream of affordable schools, colleges and hospitals which would lead to education becoming a right instead of a privilege. They dream of becoming self sufficient in terms of food production and safeguarding themselves from epidemics like AIDS and Ebola. They dream of a nation where life expectancy would be high and salaries paid to workers would be in the spirit of optimum remuneration and mindful of the prevailing price rise. They dream of a time when people of all religions, sects, tribes and castes would live together in peace.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-africa-ties-india-africa-forum-summit-2015-foreign-policy-racism-boko-haram-west-asia-unsc-martin-luther-king-jr/story/1/6954.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)