Emerging Political Realities in India

Whether one swallow it or not, Mahant Yogi Adityanath (Ajay Singh Bisht) -Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP)- is a new democratic reality of India, at least for present. He is well known for his questionable politics and political hold in and around Gorakhpur district in the eastern UP. Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Group) acts as his private brigade and has, allegedly, fomented and participated in communal activities. Even Yogi’s anti-minority diatribe during public meetings are well known. He is facing charges for rioting, related to intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace, charges related to injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class, charges related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony etc. All these were piled up during the non-Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) governments at the Union and state levels. Instead of taking action against Yogi, his politics had been carefully nurtured during the rule of those governments. It is also alleged that they did so to keep the minorities with them. In past, this politics of fear has mechanically worked to serve the respective political interests of various political stakeholders.

With Yogi, as CM and the massive mandate BJP has got (won 312 seats out of 384 it contested), a question arises: is he a future or a temporary present? He may not be the future of India, but his politics is. He has an ability to divide the people in the name of religion, and at the same time can unite different castes of the Hindu community by arousing religious feelings. One of the reasons why most of the psephologists went wrong in their pre-poll analyses that they gave little attention to this uniting effect of the divisive politics. This pattern has taken years to develop. Analysts kept on writing and engage themselves into brain storming sessions on Mandal versus Kamandal while, on the ground, the two entered into a ‘comfortable’ symbiosis by making certain power related adjustments. In that adjustment, Kamandal has given political leadership to OBC, Dalits, and Schedule Tribes, and in return these leaders help in spread of Hindutva in their area and among their influence groups.

In contemporary India, one may analyse in a different way, but a larger reality is that the members, many of them, of the dominant Other Backward Castes or Dalits identify themselves as a Hindu first then a member of a non-upper caste group. They too believe that they are ‘different’ from the members of minority groups and, like majority members of the so called upper caste, many of them still practice social discriminations against the Muslims. This is evident during communal riots. This is essentially a result of Brahminization of a large section of OBCs, Dalits, and tribal groups carried out by the Hindu revivalist groups since the colonial era. This Brahminization dictates the cultural traits, behavioural pattern, and also dietary habits. Therefore, moral policing and forceful closure of chicken and mutton shops in UP find support from a substantive number of people. Moral policing is mean to regulate women’s sexuality and movement, and an attempt to check inter-caste mix up. Ad  banning of sale of meat is a form of  economic  attack  on  profession , largely, related with the members of  minority religious group and to those who do not adhere to Brahminical values.

As individuals wear multiple identities, they keep on changing them according to time and space. In the UP elections of 2017 majority of Hindu voters gave preference to their religious identity over the other identities. Almost all political parties are aware about this tenuous relationship between caste and religion, therefore no one shows enthusiasm or vocal about implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report to improve status of a large number of Indian Muslims.

One may ask that if this is the situation then why it did not work in Bihar in 2016. Well, in case of Bihar, BJP lost the election which was almost in its plate. Second, Nitish Kumar as a Chief Minister has always been considered to be a safety valve through whom others can ire their vent out while the upper castes can safeguard their political interests. In late 1990s he was a part of BJP’s such experiment in Bihar. In past he led coalition governments with BJP as an ally. Many such factors joined together to help him to develop similar political equation with the voters.

The results of a series of elections since 2014 general elections, with a few exceptions, prove that the BJP through its sister organizations has successfully captured the available political space in India, and is a dominant force with little or almost no opposition in coming years. Any challenge to its present position is possible only through a rise of an alternative politics from the below.

Regional jealousies and transboundary rivers in South Asia

In the final reckoning, Pakistan got about 80 per cent of the Indus and India 20 per cent. India has limited rights on the western rivers and cannot undertake projects on those rivers without providing all the details to Pakistan and dealing with Pakistan’s objections. Why did India put itself in that position? The answer is that if Pakistan got the near-exclusive allocation of the three western rivers, India for its part got the eastern rivers. This was important from the point of view of the Indian negotiators because the water needs of Punjab and Rajasthan weighed heavily with them in seeking an adequate allocation of Indus water for India. Yet, Punjab had a serious grievance over the signing of the IWT [Indus Waters Treaty] by the union government. Citing provisions of the IWT which caused transfer of three river waters to Pakistan, Punjab had terminated all its water-sharing agreements with its neighbouring states in 2004.

The demand of Kutch (in Indian Gujarat), which used to fall into a catchment area of River Indus, decades back, was not taken into consideration despite many petitions, arguing about their historical claim on its water, sent by the prominent Kutchi leaders, in 1950s, to India’s Ministry of Irrigation and Power. Also people from the Indian side of Kashmir always show their ire against the IWT. On 3 April 2002, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly, cutting across party affiliations, called for a review of the treaty. The state government has been contending that in spite of untapped hydroelectric potential, the state has been suffering from acute power deficiency due to restrictions put on the use of its rivers by the Indus Treaty. They claim that their interests were not taken into consideration and their views were not taken while signing the treaty. (6-7)

This is from my latest paper, “Disputed Waters: India, Pakistan and the Transboundary Rivers,” published by Studies in Indian Politics, and which you can find here.

Here is a map of all the Indian states mentioned in the excerpt above:

blog-india

 

Migration from Bangladesh: Impulses, Risks and Exploitations

Migration and emigration from Bangladesh is a pervasive phenomenon. Historically, large-scale migration from the region constituting the present Bangladesh started after tea plantations were introduced to Assam by the British in the early 19th century. Gradually, the number of migrants from this region increased due to geographic location, climate change and poverty. Over the years, there has been a change in the gender pattern of migration, where the proportion of female migrants has increased significantly. These migrants play a significant role in the Bangladesh economy, as remittances constituted about 8.21% of gross domestic product in 2014. This article examines why, despite the many dangers that the migrants face, including violence in the host countries and exploitation by their ‘masters’, the number of migrants from Bangladesh continues to rise constantly.

That’s the abstract from my latest paper (pdf), published in The Round Table.

Narratives, Impacts and the Actors: Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War

That’s the subject of my newest paper, which was just published by India Quarterly. Here is the abstract:

Both the Bangladesh state and society are yet to settle the questions over and narratives related to the Liberation War of 1971. Broadly, there are two groups with contradictory and conflicting interpretations of the events related to that war. This has also led to the mushrooming of militant groups in the country. The beginning of trial of perpetrators of Liberation War crimes since 2010 and the execution of a few of the leaders has further polarised the society and politics of Bangladesh. The existing debates over the Bangladesh Liberation War cannot be studied without looking into the roles of India and Pakistan. The two countries have their own interpretations and political fallout of the 1971 liberation war.

Here is the full paper (pdf).

Mohammad Iqbal’s writings on Islam and on the partition of India

That is the topic of a paper of mine that has just been published in the Journal of Punjab Studies. Here is the abstract:

Iqbal was a poet, religious philosopher, political activists, and supporter of autonomy to Muslim majority provinces in British India, but cannot be regarded as the ‘main’ architect of Pakistan. His basic concern was over the falling status of Muslims of India during British rule and ways to arrest the situation. His speech in 1930 at Allahabad session of the All India Muslim League is being always cited as his support to Pakistan, but later on he never made his position very clear over the issue of partition of British India. Yet his contribution to the formation of Pakistan cannot be entirely ruled out because he was speaking out the minds of the Muslim minorities who, by 1920s, not not only raised the demand, but started whispering about having a separate socio-political space. He was a towering figure of Islamic modernism, a great poet and also a religious philosopher, whose thinking still has considerable significance. His writings are still being read and researched in India and Pakistan.

The link to the whole paper can be found here [pdf].

An overview of India-China boundary disputes

I have a new paper that has just been published in Asian Affairs. Here is an excerpt:

Questions over the India-China border are not a new phenomenon. They are asked whenever there is a Sino-Indian state visit. Despite having close to $100 billion of trade between them, China and India have failed to bring their frontier disputes to an end. In the 1980s and 1990s it was thought that the increasing economic cooperation between the two countries would act as a prompt to resolve their political disputes, but it has not. Military stand-offs and confrontations between border guards from India and China occur at regular intervals. To address their boundary disputes, they have engaged in frequent dialogues (17 rounds of focused dialogues can be counted between 1988 and 2015), but nothing substantive has yet been yielded through such engagements.

The boundary disputes between India and China have their ultimate origin in the ‘Great Game’ played during the British Empire. At present, the two main areas of dispute along the Himalayan frontier are the western sector (Aksai Chin around 37,250 sq km/14,380 square miles) and the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh, around 83,740 sq km/32,330 sq mile). This article traces the roots of the boundary disputes between India and China and attempts to discuss sources of tensions and probable solutions.

The link to the whole paper can be found here [pdf].

“Conflicts in South Asia Will Go On and On”

That is the title of my recent article (pdf) on the long-term effects that the British partition of its Indian colony has had on South Asia. Here is the abstract:

This brief article, an extended review of two recent important publications, problematises the continuity of inter-state and intra-state conflicts since the partition of British India in 1947. Territory and identity are the main triggers of those conflicts, many of which will remain, while others will take on new forms relating to resource scarcity, mainly water. Conflicts are unlikely to be settled fully through various interventions, as sub-dimensions will linger on, develop new roots and new issues will constantly crop up. The article argues that past, present and future are visibly and invisibly connected through the fallout of patterns of myth and memory, dissatisfaction with the status quo and present conditions and often completely unrealistic expectations of a better future. Identifying elements of interconnectedness as central, the review assesses the contributions these two new studies make for a deeper understanding of the scenario of continuing conflict within the context of South Asian Studies.

It’s been published by South Asia Research, and is pessimistic throughout…

South Asia and the Glass Ceiling

That is the broad topic of my latest article (pdf), which was just published by Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies: Alam-e-Niswan. Here is the abstract:

South Asia is one of the most violent societies in the world, and also the most patriarchal. Both characteristics have led to continuity of violence, in which women are the silent and non-recognised victims. The situation is such despite the fact that women have occupied the highest office in their respective countries. The post-1991 wave of globalisation has led to the emergence of two parallel societies, based on different values, in almost all South Asian countries. In both societies women are being exploited and violence has been unleashed on them. Revolution in information and communication technology has helped in the dissemination of patriarchal values through ‘objectification’ of women in the name of ‘liberation’ from the grip of tradition. These patriarchal trends are clearly reflected in the making of domestic policies as well as formulating foreign policies of South Asian states. In such a situation, an academic argument for feminist foreign policy is relevant, though not encouraged by social actors.

You can also find the article on my ‘About…‘ page here at NOL.

Four of my papers on South Asia

The following two are downloads:

And these two are pdfs that can also be found on my ‘About…‘ page:

I hope they can be widely circulated.

Migration from Bangladesh: Causes and Challenges

Migration and emigration from Bangladesh is a regular phenomenon. Historically, large scale migration from the region constituting present-day Bangladesh started after the tea plantation was introduced in Assam by the British rulers in the early nineteenth century. Large numbers of coolies (porters) were needed for the tea gardens. To fulfil that demand the Assam Company began to import labourers from Bengal (especially from its eastern part) in 1853. In contemporary times, the first batch of emigrants from Bangladesh were the ‘refugees’ seeking shelter in a foreign country, after atrocities started by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan in 1971. This phenomenon did not stop even after the East Pakistan was liberated and Bangladesh was formed in 1971. Instead, since then many Bangladeshis have been migrating to Europe, West Asia, India, and East Asia. Migration has its impact on the demographic composition of the host countries. For example in some cities of Italy, like Lazio, Lombardy, and Veneto, the migrants from Bangladesh comprise a significant number of the population. In developed countries most of these migrants are engaged in service sector jobs like souvenir selling, or being a vendor, shop worker, restaurant waiter, or domestic maid.

Causes for large scale Migration from Bangladesh

Although its economy is stable, maintaining between 5-6 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for the last two decades, it is not viable enough to occupy all skilled, semi-skilled, and non-skilled workers in the country. Statistically, only 26 percent of its population lives below the national poverty line of US$ 2 per day, but a substantive percentage remains unemployed or underemployed. To evade poverty, unemployment, and under employment, many Bangladeshi migrate to other countries. Often, they do so even at the cost of their lives. Many times, such a desperate act has lead them to be trapped in a situation like the one happened in May 2015, when about 8,000 people consisting of Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladeshis were stranded at sea close to Thailand. While moving illegally, many Bangladeshis have even lost their lives. The most recent high profile case of death of Bangladeshi migrants occurred on 28 August 2015 in North Africa, where at least twenty four Bangladeshis, including two minor children, died after two boats carrying up to 500 migrants sank off the coast of Libya. The first boat, which capsized early on 27 August 2015, had nearly 100 people on board. The second, which sank later, was carrying about 400 passengers.

As 80 percent of Bangladesh’s geographic area is situated in the flood plains of Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, and many other small rivers, a contributing push factor to the migration is the character of these deltaic rivers. They often change their course, forcing many inhabitants to move to new settlements. The submergence of chors (silt areas) during the flood season forces many inhabitants, deliberately or out of sheer ignorance, to migrate into India. Out of these total number of environmental migrants, only a few return after the normalisation of the situation; others look out for ways to earn their livelihood in their ‘acquired ‘or ‘adopted’ land.

Changing Gender Pattern and Consequences of Migration

Gender-wise, like other countries from the developing world, the migration-related statistics of Bangladesh too is tilted in favour of males, of which there are around three million working in different parts of the world. But in last few years there has been a constant increase in the number of female migrants, who can migrate either alone or as a spouse. As reported in the Daily Star (a well-respected English language daily in Bangladesh), according to the June 2015 statistics of Bangladesh’s Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), a total of 37,304 female workers had gone to different countries in 2012; it has increased to 76,007 in 2014. One country which stands out in terms of employment of female workers from Bangladesh is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to the BMET statistics, the UAE is home to 27 percent of the total female migrant workers of Bangladesh. Two basic reasons can explain this rising trend. Firstly, the demand for female workers in the UAE is higher than that of other countries. Secondly, attractive salary in the UAE draws more female migrant workers there than other countries. After the UAE, Lebanon hires a large number of female migrant workers. While the country has only 1.3 percent of total Bangladeshi migrants, it nevertheless has the second highest percentage of female migrants (24.3 percent) compared to all other countries. About 97,000 female workers reside in Lebanon.

Host countries remain hostile to the migrants. Sometimes, under pressure from political and economic constituencies, the host country (ies) restricts its visa policy for the citizens of a particular country or even denies issuing it to them altogether. The migrants are accused of ‘cultural invasion’ through demographic transition. They are also blamed for taking away job opportunities from the locals. Quite often, the migrants face violence from the locals, which is a sign of an extreme form of hatred towards them. Bangladeshi migrants have faced both situations. In 2014 Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas for Bangladeshis even for the Umrah (a pilgrimage to Mecca performed by Muslims; it can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Hajj). The Saudi officials claimed that in 2014 many Bangladeshis for whom Umrah visas were issued did not return to their country after performing the ritual. The Umrah visa was restored on August 5, 2015, after Bangladeshi foreign minister Md Shahriar Alam’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where a request was made to the Saudi State Minister for Foreign Affairs (Nizar bin Obaid Madani) for Umrah visas to be resumed.

Termed as ‘illegal’, the Bangladeshi migrants have faced violence in the Indian states bordering Bangladesh. The radical groups in the area have centuries-old grievances against them. They are considered to be an economic and cultural threat to the region. Many contrasting figures are being presented by these groups to justify their position; in reality, according to the United Nations data of 2013, the number of Bangladeshi in India is around 3.2 million. Migrants from Bangladesh have faced violence not only in India, but in other parts of the world too. In Thailand there have been rampant cases of exploitation of Bangladeshi women working in various sectors, including the flesh trade. In West Asian countries, the women workers are forced to work in many houses as a maid and beaten when they demand salary from their ‘masters’. In Malaysia, too, the cases of abuse of maids is on the rise. Most of these maids are from Bangladesh. In February 2015 Bangladeshi workers faced targeted violence in Rome, Italy.

Conclusions

Remittances play a crucial role in pushing the Bangladeshi economy. According to the World Bank, total remittance received by Bangladesh in 2013 was $14.5 billion, which has increased to $ 15.0 billion in 2014-15. In 2014, the remittances constituted 8.21 % of the GDP of Bangladesh. In January-March 2015 quarter Bangladesh earned $ 3771.16 million of remittance, which is 8.49 percent higher than the previous year. These remittances have helped Bangladesh’s economy maintain its 5.5- 6 percent GDP growth.

Though the migrants are important to Bangladesh’s economy, many serious ill effects of migration too have emerged. Under the guise of migration, human trafficking is taking place from Bangladesh to many parts of the world. Women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked into India, East Asia, and West Asia for commercial sexual exploitation and to serve as bondage labour. To check this activity, especially human trafficking of females, the government of Bangladesh issues licences to the recruiting agencies, which are renewed at regular intervals of time and maintained by the concerned agency. Also, in 2013 the Government of Bangladesh revised the Overseas Employment and Migration Act which includes Emigration Rules, Rules for Conduct and Licensing Recruiting Agencies, and Rules for Wage Earner’s Welfare Fund. Despite all such steps migrants are being exploited by the domestic agencies and they face umpteen challenges in the host country they end up in.

My latest book review: Rafia Zakaria’s “History of Pakistan”

The other pertinent issue raised by Rafia is about the patriarchal structure, which is a political institution now sanctioned by religious practices and with social acceptance. The plight of women is considered to be a private affair but it is a political programme through which one gender controls the activities of the other. It defines values and sets up norms to control and regulate the body of women. This control and regulation becomes strong in conflict-affected societies where the level of violence is high. The stronger group tries to abduct and carry out violence against women from other communities while the minority, in the name of protection of its ‘honour’, puts all forms of restrictions on their women and carries out violence against them within their own community.

Read the rest.