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.


(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.


(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

Muslim countries are not as bigoted as world may think

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries.  (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has led to the Emirati government allocating land for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple. This move of the UAE government is bound to accelerate religious pluralism in the Gulf nation which is home to nearly 2.6 million immigrant Indians. The Emirati city of Dubai currently has two temples, one of which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Krishna. These facts introduce us to an altogether ignored reality in certain Muslim majority societies.

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, is a secular nation. The Indonesian constitution is planked on the philosophy of “Pancasila” which is pluralistic in its outlook. The drafting committee of the constitution categorically decided to replace the word “Allah” with “Tuhan” so as to ensure that the minorities in Indonesia did not feel neglected and all communities could relate to the phraseology of the constitution.

Indonesia’s national carrier is called “Garuda Indonesia” whose name has been inspired by Hindu mythology. Garuda is the steed or “vahan” of Lord Vishnu. In fact, the Garuda Purana details the conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda. Some of the Indonesian currency notes carry pictures of Lord Ganesha and it is a common sight to come across statues of Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Ghatotkach while paying a visit to the Main Square in Jakarta, or the city of Bali.

There are examples from many other nations which can be recounted. Foremost among them is Turkey, which was built on the lines of fundamentalist secularism by none other than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk brought in sweeping secularisation measures and cultivated the notion of Turkish nationalism. Lebanon is another mutli-faith country where the law mandates equality between Muslims and Christians. Following their independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union, the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, despite their Muslim majority societies, chose to embark on the lines of Leftism and secularism instead of Islamism. The same is the case with Bangladesh.

After its liberation in 1971 which effectively buried the dubious theory that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, Bangladesh chose to ingrain “secularism” within the preamble to its constitution and decided not to replicate West Pakistan by proclaiming itself to be an Islamic state.

Interestingly, several of these nations had been led by women. Megawati Sukarnoputri served as the president of Indonesia, Tansu Ciller as the prime minister of Turkey and Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia as prime ministers of Bangladesh. This is not to suggest that these states do not suffer from their respective set of domestic issues which are a challenge to the kind of secularism being practised in these countries. We’ve been reading about the brutal manner in which many secular and atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh. The word “secularism” was expunged from the preamble to the Bangladeshi constitution during military dictator Ziaur Rahman’s regime, but was thankfully brought back owing to a high court ruling in 2010.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a known Islamist, and the Pancasila philosophy is often criticised in Indonesia courtesy its secular grounding. No country is devoid of religious politics or communal discrimination, but the very reality that secular Muslim majority countries exist should be an eye opener for many. But at the same time, let us also recognise the reality of countries like Saudi Arabia which masquerade as “Islamic states.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) does not even provide its non-Muslim citizens the right to freely propagate their religion and build their places of worship.

How absurd can a state get, especially when it claims to rule under the pretext of Islam? Doesn’t the Quran explicitly mention religious freedom? Of course it does! Chapter 109, Verse 4 of the Quran says, “I have my religion and you have your religion.” Another much quoted verse is Chapter 2, Verse 256 which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” These two verses from Islam’s most significant religious document clearly hint at how ignorant the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is regarding the teachings of Islam when it prevents non-Muslims from professing their faith freely and puts to death anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion.

One can cite more verses from the Quran to explain how integral the freedom of worship is to Islamic teachings. Chapter 22, Verse 67 of the Quran states, “We have appointed for every community ways of worship to observe. Let them not dispute with you on this matter.” The need to protect religious monuments belonging to non-Muslims as well as Muslims is also mentioned in the Quran in Chapter 22, Verse 40 wherein it is stated, “If god did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of god is much invoked, would surely be destroyed.” And here we have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its redundant apostasy laws and completely un-Islamic ways of not allowing non-Muslims build their religious monuments and worship god in their own prescribed ways.

There are several theocracies like Saudi Arabia where such laws are common. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are often targeted and asked to prove their patriotism. This sort of racism was regularly manifested during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood. Didn’t the members of Muslim Brotherhood hear tales of the Christian delegation which came to meet Prophet Muhammad from Najran? The Prophet didn’t just have a theological debate with them, but allowed them to pray inside Masjid al-Nabwi or the Prophet’s Grand Mosque in Medina. Yet, we had certain elements in Egypt questioning the Coptic Christians’ patriotism simply because of their annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They were labelled as being part of a Zionist ploy which is indeed laughable. This kind of an anti-Christian sentiment needs to be shunned.

Anti-Semitism is even more deeply entrenched as Islamic clerics in West Asia have repeatedly called for boycott of Pepsi, since Pepsi allegedly stands for “Pay-ever-penny-to-save-Israel.” Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used to deny the holocaust and label the 9/11 terrorist attacks as insiders’ job. There is no space for such blatant lies in Islam. The Quran says in Chapter 2, Verse 42, “Do not mix truth with falsehood or hide the truth when you know it.”

The likes of Ahmadinejad have to recognise the horrors of the holocaust and treatment meted out to the Jews in Germany. Conspiracy theorists have to give up on the preposterous suggestion of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-Mossad involvement in 9/11. We must regret the fact that a terrorist named Osama Bin Laden used Islam’s name to commit an entirely inhumane act on September 11, 2001, which led to the death of thousands. He shall never be forgiven for that because Islam teaches that the death of even a single innocent person is like the death of all humanity (Quran: 5:32).

One more thing that is essential to undo the baggage of anti-Semitism rests in understanding that not every Jew is a Zionist sympathiser and not every Jew can be held responsible for the excesses of the Zionist state in Palestine. Lastly, we have our dear neighbour Pakistan where the population of religious minorities has historically been on the decline. Blasphemy laws are utilised to frequently frame non-Muslims and forcible conversions aren’t that rare. Owing to a hostile environment, the Hindu community in Pakistan has steadily shifted base to India which is a matter of great shame for Pakistan.

Whether a country is Muslim majority, Christian majority, Buddhist majority, Hindu majority, Jewish majority or atheist majority ruled by communists, it has to realise that freedom of religion and equality of all religions before the law is a must. No person can be deprived of any privileges because of his faith which is a matter of choice. Everyone must be treated equally. Muslim majority countries, in particular, are doing fairly well in some regions but have dreadful laws in places like Saudi Arabia.

A thorough revision of the law is a must in such regions to bring non-Muslims at par with Muslims as citizens of a free state. It must also be ensured that minorities within the Muslim community, be it Shias, Sufis or Ahmadiyyas are not discriminated against, labelled as heretics, and recognised as Muslims.

More importantly, the rights of women need to be recognised, which is possible only when the state bans female genital mutilation, introduces compulsory girl education, outlaws polygamy and gives women an equal say in matters of divorce, inheritance law and judicial testimony.


(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

Why India deserves a fixed UN Security Council seat

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? (Image: Wikipedia)

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? (Image: Wikipedia)

Ever since taking over the leadership of the world’s largest democracy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has doggedly concentrated on giving a new shape to India’s foreign policy. Modi’s global aspirations and desire for international recognition became known the moment he extended a formal invite to the leaders of neighbouring South Asian countries to attend his swearing-in ceremony at Raisina Hills last year.

Modi has repeatedly struck one masterstroke after another during the course of his foreign trips. Be it addressing a public meeting of NRIs inside jam packed stadiums in USA and Australia or articulating the nation’s external policy at the United Nations or National Assemblies of Nepal and Bangladesh, Modi has made the world take notice of his eloquence and oratorical skills. He has been exceedingly sharp in visiting places which were mostly off the radar of Indian diplomats be it the state of Mongolia which is strategically sandwiched between Russia and China or the energy rich nations of Central Asia ie Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Prime minister’s foreign visits have been high on symbolism and soft power. He has been quick to sight old ties by invoking the teachings of Buddhism and Islam. He hasn’t missed out on an opportunity to visit a temple or gurdwara and successfully steered the holding of the first ever International Yoga Day. Predictably, foreign policy is one area where Modi has tasted relatively more success as compared to domestic issues. The hateful rhetoric of the Hindu right concerning love jihad, ghar wapsi and forced sterilization definitely embarrassed the ruling establishment headed by Modi and the impasse in Parliament on the issue of Lalitgate has sent the much awaited reforms in cold storage. Amid all this gloom, Modi can stare at the horizon of foreign policy and give himself a pat on the back.

But Modi will have to do a lot more if he wishes to establish India’s position as a country wielding global clout. The simplest way of achieving that objective would be by attaining a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which Nehru allegedly turned down in the 1950s. India has served seven terms as a non-permanent member of UNSC and has echoed the need for expansion and reform in the Security Council. A permanent seat in UNSC would elevate India to the status of USA, UK, France, China and Russia in the diplomatic sphere and warrant India a critical say in all global matters that matter globally.

Interestingly, India is not the only country in the world eyeing a spot in UNSC. Other competing nations include the likes of Japan, Germany and Brazil. The very notion of a reform or expansion in UNSC leads to the rise of a few fundamental questions: How many countries will join the existing brigade of P-5? What will be the basis of inclusion of more countries in UNSC? Will it be economic status, regional parity or human development? If another Asian country is to be included in UNSC then will it be Japan or India?

India commands three distinct characteristics which make its case for a permanent seat compelling. Currently having a population of 1.28 billion, India will become the most populous country in the world by 2022. Such a large portion of the planet’s population cannot be altogether ignored or kept at a distance from the decision making table of UNSC which brings with itself the “veto” power. Secondly, India happens to be the second fastest growing economy in the world making it an ideal destination for foreign investment and future growth. Thirdly, India is ruled by a democratic, secular government which has never been upstaged by an army coup and can be labelled as a “responsible” nuclear power.

India’s last stint as a non permanent member of UNSC in 2011-12 was supported by regional rivals Pakistan and China but Pakistan might turn out to be a big thorn in India’s way if a global consensus is reached in providing India with permanent membership. Pakistan is bound to raise the issue of regional imbalance if India is in a position to acquire permanent membership and draw the world’s attention towards the persisting Indo-Pak conflict regarding Kashmir.

Despite prospects of a bright economic future, India has reasons to fear competing powers Japan, Germany and Brazil. India’s GDP (nominal) makes it the ninth biggest economic power in the world. At present, Japan, Germany and Brazil’s economic size is bigger than that of India with Japan being the third largest in the world and second largest in Asia after China, Germany being the largest in Europe and fourth globally, while Brazil commanding pole position in South America and seventh globally.

As far as per capita income is concerned, India is nowhere on the list. As per International Monetary fund (2014), India ranks 125 globally with a per capita income of mere $5,855. Japan, Germany and Brazil rank much higher at 18, 28 and 74, respectively. Human Development Index Report (2014) of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks India 114 in the category of “medium human development.” Japan and Germany are countries with “very high human development” ranking 6 and 17, respectively whereas Brazil ranks 51 and is christened as a country with “high human development.”

Simplistic breakdown of facts and figures certainly lowers India’s prospects of a permanent seat when compared with its rivals. But India has a silver lining when it comes to its track record in terms of its contribution to UN Peacekeeping forces which have played a pivotal role in combating violence and maintaining peace. India is the fourth largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping behind Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Pakistan. Though India has a large physical presence in UN Peacekeeping, it finances a minuscule 0.13 per cent of UN peacekeeping operations. The P-5 has lesser boots on the ground but rules the roost when it comes to financing peacekeeping operations with USA pitching in with over 28 per cent financial contribution. Japan comes in second with 10.83 per cent followed by other permanent members.

It is a complex situation. India is growing economically but lags being when it comes to per capita indicators. Owing to its military strength, it is contributing in huge numbers to peacekeeping but cannot match up to the financing levels of P-5 or Japan in relation to peacekeeping operations. The story is a paradox. But the most important element of the story is yet to be spoken about ie P-5. A reform in UN Security Council would necessitate the need for an amendment in the UN Charter which is possible only when a resolution is adopted by two-third member nations in the UN General Assembly. It has to be further ratified by the constitutional process of two-third member nations including P-5.

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is on record stating “President (Obama) would support the inclusion of India in that process (reform of UNSC)” but cables leaked by Wikileaks quoted Former US Secretary of State and arguably the next American president Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculing countries like India as “self appointed front-runners” for a permanent membership of UNSC. The two statements, one on-record and the other off-record, hint at the underlying duplicity of USA. If the “Great Indian Dream” of attaining permanent membership has to be accomplished then India will surely have to cultivate a global consensus which will include the P-5. The penultimate question is: Can Modi pull off a Himalayan miracle?


(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

The other side of Narendra Modi’s Sri Lanka visit

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Colombo. (Image: Quartz)

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Colombo. (Image: Quartz)

Ever since becoming the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi has concentrated on building strong diplomatic ties with foreign nations. The process began with the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian Prime Minister when Modi extended a formal invite to the heads of state of neighbouring countries which included Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

There were two principle intentions behind the move. The first was obviously to attempt a geo-political re-alignment in the region aimed at containing China’s influence in South Asia. The second one was slightly personal. When Modi was serving as the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, communal riots in the region led to large scale death of Muslims. The incident hit his reputation badly as he was turned into a “pariah”. The United States refused him a visa while the European Union also remained suspicious of his role in the anti-Muslim riots.

However, Modi started becoming diplomatically acceptable to the West as he emerged the frontrunner in the 2014 Indian General Elections. Therefore, the invitation extended to foreign leaders on the occasion of Modi’s swearing-in ceremony was the Indian Prime Minister’s way of announcing his arrival at the global stage and putting an end to the political isolation or untouchability associated with him internationally.

On 13th March, 2015, Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Sri Lanka following a gap of 28 years. The last Prime Minister to do so was Rajiv Gandhi who sent peacekeeping forces to Sri Lanka in the battle against LTTE. Rajiv’s involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war cost him his own life as he was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber on 21st May, 1991 in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

By ending a near three-decade long absence of an Indian premier in the island nation, Modi made it well known that Sri Lanka happens to be in his priority list. His trip to Sri Lanka was as well planned as his previous foreign visits. In USA, Modi addressed a jam packed public meeting of Indian Americans at the Madison Square Garden in New York. He addressed a similar public meeting in Brisbane, Australia when he visited down under for the G-20 summit.

In Sri Lanka, Modi met President Maithripala Srisena and batted for better ties by stating, “The future I dream for India is also a future that I want for our neighbours.” He stressed on the need for Tamils to be able to lead “a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a unified Sri Lanka.” But Modi’s symbolic visit to the war-torn region of Jaffna was the most crucial event.

Modi became the only second international leader after British Prime Minister David Cameroon to visit Jaffna where he handed over 27,000 homes to Tamil families who became homeless as a result of the civil war.

This move of Modi was indeed strategically carried out as it had a significant domestic importance. The plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka has been a subject of high political relevance in India. Tamil Nadu based parties, namely Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, have strongly supported the Tamil cause in the past.

During the 2014 General Elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept through nearly all regions except for places which had strong regional leaders. These included Mamata Banerjee ruled West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha and Jayalalitha’s Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalitha’s hold on Tamil Nadu has slipped since then as she was convicted in a disproportionate assets case. As a result, Jayalalitha was disqualified from being Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. However, she continues to exert political influence in Tamil Nadu through proxy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. AIADMK also has 37 Member of Parliaments (MPs) in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, and 11 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house.

While Modi’s BJP has a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha, it is clearly short of numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Considering the arithmetic, AIADMK can be a crucial player in helping the Modi government pass key reforms in the Union Parliament. In January this year, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had paid a visit to Jayalalitha’s residence in Chennai. Though the meeting was labelled as a “courtesy call”, its political ramifications cannot be overlooked.

Narendra Modi’s BJP is in search of an aide inside the Union Parliament. As Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka indicates, the ally which they are seeking is definitely Jayalalitha’s AIADMK. By reaching out to the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka, Modi intends to not merely position himself as a statesman but also capture the imagination of Tamil-sympathizers in India, a large section of whom reside in Tamil Nadu and support Jayalalitha’s AIADMK.

The move is set to catapult Modi’s popularity in the region. It would ensure that AIADMK extends support to the government at the Centre because the Dravidian party would not wish to be seen as being opposed to a pro-Tamil government. Considering BJP’s expansion programmes and the recent inroads which it has made into West Bengal, AIADMK would remain wary of allowing a national party like the BJP to eat up its vote-bank and it is most likely to compliment BJP’s initiatives at the Centre to keep them in good humour.

However, it would be interesting to see as to what extent Modi will go to win the trust of Tamil sympathizers in South India. Tamil politics in the region has often attracted controversy as demands have been raised to grant clemency to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. The state assembly in Tamil Nadu had unanimously passed a resolution on 30th August, 2011 seeking clemency for the three persons who are on death row for assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. The resolution was moved by none other than the former Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself.

The BJP’s trump-card has been its supposedly uncompromising approach towards terrorism.

Will Modi cave into any such pressures which might be exerted by Jayalalitha in exchange for her support? Another interesting development to watch out for would be to see which way India would vote when it comes to the 28thSession of the UNHRC where a US-sponsored probe report is to be tabled documenting the human rights abuses carried out by the Sri Lankan army and LTTE between 2002 and 2011.

In case a resolution is initiated against Sri Lanka, Jayalalitha would surely pressurize the Modi government into voting against Sri Lanka but such a measure would only alienate the Lankans more from India as they continue to drift towards China. India cannot afford to be isolated any further in the region as neighbouring Pakistan is already seen as close to Beijing. A hostile Sri Lanka would mean a volatile neighbourhood which is tantamount to speedy economic growth which Modi’s government is desperately eyeing.

In an interview given to Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post, Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused India, US and other European countries for having played a key role in his defeat in the Sri Lankan Presidential Elections held in January 2015. Though Modi did meet Rajapaksa before concluding his visit to Sri Lanka, the fact is that the former president is visibly miffed with India.

With his visit to Sri Lanka, Modi has certainly tried to build a rapport with Srisena which was obviously lacking in the case of Rajapaksa as his recent comments indicate. But how long will Modi-Srisena camaraderie last will depend largely on Modi’s relationship with Jayalalitha and the political concessions which she would seek to extract from Modi.


(This article was originally published in Groundviews.)