Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Sunday, April 14, 2019
Friday, April 5, 2019
After the Pulwama terrorist attack, the already strained relations between India and Pakistan touched the nadir. In response to the attack, the Indian Air Force launched a surgical strike on a terrorist training camp located at Balakot and claimed that hundreds of terrorists were eliminated during the strike. A day after the strike, Pakistan Air Force warplanes launched a retaliatory air raid on Indian installations and shot down an IAF MIG-21 Bison aircraft and captured its pilot. In a ghastly yet largely unaccounted incident, the IAF also lost a Mi 17 helicopter to friendly fire which resulted in the death of six air force personnel.
It was a warlike situation and an environment of jingoism and hyper-nationalism was prevalent at that time. As a close follower of national news, I understood that in a warlike situation we rarely get to know the truth. All we hear is a bunch of claims and counterclaims and truth gets drowned in the resultant cacophony. Therefore, in such a situation, instead of completely depending on the official version of the government and the national media we should also explore the enemy’s claims. During the conflict, I frequently visited the Pakistani news site the dawn.com to know their version also. And I also understood that exploring the neutral sources of information enables us to get closer to the truth.
By exploring various sources, I concluded that some things published by Indian media outlets are true, but there are also many which are untrue. Firstly, the so-called Indian surgical strike appears to be not a successful one. An article featured in The Strategist, a commentary and analysis site of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, based on an analysis of satellite imagery of the buildings, concluded that there was no damage to the targeted site. The precision weapons fired by IAF pilots landed in a forest area and uprooted some trees.
The downing of MIG-21 Bison fighter plane flown by Wing commander Abhinandan was true as the pictures of the downed MIG were published in the media and the captured pilot was in Pakistani custody before being released. But at the same time, IAF claimed that it shot down a PAF’s F16 fighter plane. Pakistan refuted these claims and stated that it did not even use F16s. But after the IAF displayed the wreckage of an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile which could only be fired from an F16, Pakistan changed the tune. So, it is clear that Pakistan deployed F16s in its aerial raid on India.
But the claim that IAF shot down an F16 is still disputed as there is no incontrovertible evidence to state that it was indeed shot down. Though the IAF made some radar images public to substantiate its claim, the evidence appears to be far from being irrefutable. Even the Indian media, depending on open-source intelligence, published many stories to bring home the point that PAF had indeed lost one F16 in its aerial combat with IAF. Some newspapers even stated that it is a moment of pride for IAF to have shot down a far superior aircraft with a legacy fighter like MIG. But there are many defense experts who dispute the claim of the downed plane being a legacy fighter. MIGs are indeed legacy fighters but the MiG-21 Bison flown by Abhinandan Varthaman was updated with 4th generation fighter avionics and sensors in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
So, the MiG-21 Bison, according to some experts, is capable of downing a more advanced F16. In the meantime, an article featured in the website foreignpolicy.com stated that all the F16s in PAF’s inventory have been accounted for and none of them were found to be missing. This gave rise to the suspicion that the claim made by IAF was not true. However, days after this story, the United States department of defense stated that it was not aware of any investigation that was conducted to ascertain if Pakistan had lost an F-16 in an aerial dogfight with Indian fighter jets. There are other experts who believe that the US is reluctant to accept the fact that an F16 was downed by an obsolete fighter plane of Russian origin. Accepting this fact will not only give an edge to the Russian arms manufacturers but also adversely affect the prospects of American arms manufacturers.
There is already an effort going on from arms manufacturers to create an impression that India had lost a dogfight against Pakistan because of its old and outdated air force. They also opine that India, to keep pace with the changing times, must procure modern fighter aircraft.
So, from whatever information that is available from various sources, India’s post-Pulwama faceoff with Pakistan appears to have failed to yield the intended results as it could not inflict any significant damage on Pakistan to deter it from any future misadventures.
And the perception that Indian armed forces are ill-equipped to face modern threats may give a fresh impetus to the arms manufacturers in the US, Europe and Israel to make a fresh pitch for arms sale. And the prevailing environment of hyper-nationalism enables the government to allocate a large amount of money for the procurement of arms. The multibillion-dollar arms sales, as usual, will open floodgates for more corruption and leads to channelizing public money towards defense spending at the cost of welfare spending.
Pakistan, on the other hand, appears to have gained an upper hand all through the Pulwama episode. It not only inflicted unacceptable damage on India through the Pulwama terror attack, the subsequent air strike on Pakistan and aerial combat with its air force left India embarrassed. Even Prime Minister Modi seems to have indirectly accepted that Indian action against Pakistan after Pulwama attack was ineffective. Speaking at the India Today conclave he said, “India is feeling the absence of Rafale. The entire country is saying in one voice today, that if we had Rafale, the results would have been different. The country has suffered a lot due to selfish interests earlier and now politics over Rafale”. But despite all these setbacks, there are reports suggesting that the surgical strike at Balakot will boost the electoral prospects of the BJP. The reason could be that the Indian media outlets managed to generate enough hype around the air strike to enable the ruling dispensation to garner political benefits.
Pakistan, though posed as a peacenik during the post-Pulwama episode, is not in a position to wage a war against India due to its fast deteriorating economy. Its strategy appears to be continuing with its policy of making India bleed through a thousand cuts by promoting cross border terrorism.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that India is planning to launch yet another attack inside Pakistan between April 16 and 20. It appears that the political leadership of Pakistan is trying hard to divert the attention of its people away from the pressing economic problems of the country to possible Indian aggression.
Pakistan’s economic woes are increasingly becoming insurmountable. Its shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring sovereign debt compelled it to approach the IMF once again for a bailout. As it is a well-known fact that an IMF bailout always comes with preconditions and Pakistan must agree for a painful structural adjustment before it receives any bailout package. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, (CPEC) as part of which mammoth infrastructure is being built, has already resulted in a spike in Pakistan’s sovereign debt and there are fears that failing to repay the Chinese debts may result in colonization of Pakistan.
Moreover, Pakistan appears to be increasingly getting isolated on the issue of terrorism as many nations have already asked it to reign in the terrorist groups that are operating from its soil. It is also facing the threat of getting blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) owing to its sparse measures in curbing terror financing. Therefore, Pakistan, instead of eying Kashmir, and using terror as an instrument of state policy, should take better care of its fast dwindling economy.
India, after failing to achieve anything significant in its action against Pakistan, should tread cautiously in future. Instead of resorting to military action, it should explore the possibility of further isolating Pakistan economically and politically. Pakistan, even while trying to bleed India with a thousand cuts, appears to be dying a slow death. India should wait and watch.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
The poll bugle has been sounded. In a vast, densely populated and infinitely diverse country such as India conducting elections is an enormously complex process. Predicting the outcome of the elections is even more difficult. That is why most of the pre-poll and exit polls surveys go haywire and give out results that are no way near to the actual outcomes.
From now onwards, newspapers will be full of juicy news and television channels air hot, chaotic debates. Cities and villages alike will turn noisy as politicians hit streets seeking votes. Many politicos leave seemingly sinking parties and leapfrog onto the parties with better prospects to keep their political careers afloat. Parties deploy their best spin doctors to defend the seemingly indefensible things and level all types of allegations and counter allegations against their opponents with an intention to gain one-upmanship. Not only social media but even the mainstream media will be abuzz with subjective opinions and even fake news.
In a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God. For full five years, the politicos voiced their “Mann Ki Baat” at regular intervals through various platforms and the people silently listened. Now, the ordinary people, including the poorest of the poor without an iota of social privilege will gain their momentary strength to collectively change the fortunes of not only the politicos but even their plutocrat cronies. Because it is mostly the poor who take elections seriously and queue up in front of the polling booths with infinite optimism and the rich hardly take them seriously except that some celebs flash their inked fingers on the polling day.
In this age of PR, mass media and lobbying only those who have the required resources at their disposal can make their voice heard and get what they want. They write and speak about the need of introducing more economic reforms and improving the ‘ease of doing business’ environment. They seek tax cuts, bailouts and various other sops that enable themselves to accumulate more wealth. And they also get more car-centric and bullet train-centric infrastructure built at the expense of affordable public transport.
The poor and the ordinary, who lack any resources, keep a low profile most of the time except when they vote and hit streets in distress. So, the elections, in a way, are the only platform for the poor and the downtrodden to voice their collective “Mann Ki Baat” and this platform must be utilized in an effective and judicious manner.
Now comes the question as to what the underprivileged want? They, undoubtedly, want opportunities to earn their livelihoods and want to lead comfortable lives, in other words, they want to get ‘ease of living’. They want employment opportunities, good quality education for their children and healthcare services. Unfortunately, most of these remain a mirage for them. The ruling dispensations, instead of taking concrete and result-oriented action to improve the quality of life of the people, always resort to tokenism in the name of various schemes just to hoodwink the masses.
So far, in the garb of governance, we only witnessed impressive sounding slogans, dazzling events, high decibel campaigns with no programs to bring about any perceptible improvement in the standard of living of the ordinary folks. The rulers, to divert the attention of the people, bring forth a host of non-issues to create an emotionally charged environment with an intention to distract the attention of the people away from the bread and butter issues. They, instead of asking for votes based on their good deeds, resort to social engineering to win elections.
Politicians, who act as “Choukidars” of the plutocrats and jealously safeguard their interests at the expense of the livelihoods of the commoners, resort to welfare tokenism in the last minute. And to cover up their non-performance, they coin new slogans to entertain and distract the masses. Maybe that is why Marx quipped about elections by saying, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” So, in a democracy, the elections are all about opting for a lesser evil.
But democracy is also about optimism and hoping for better. Therefore, people should continue to explore various options in their pursuit of better alternatives. There are many who are calling for ‘stability’. Stability is good as long as it leads to welfare and ease of living. Stability laden with empty rhetoric is not only futile but also causes damage to the long-term prospects of the nation. Therefore, an enduring change for the better should be the mantra of the people especially the poor and underprivileged. Let us hope that the forthcoming elections will pave way for the change.
Friday, February 8, 2019
|Image Credit: geographyandyou.com|
Perhaps for the first time during Modi’s tenure, the finance minister made a pro-poor statement during the budget speech saying, “The poor have the first right over the nation’s resources.” It has many concessions and freebies to offer to salaried class, farmers and informal sector workers. These concessions and cash transfers, which are aimed at reducing the rural distress, sound good at the outset.
So, it has once again proved that on the eve of an election, governments in India shed their plutocrat-centric policies and temporarily adopt pitchfork-centric policies. They, for a while, reluctantly set aside their plutocrat cronies to give an impression that they are pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-rural.
For full four years our politicos move hand in hand with business oligarchs and hand over nation’s resources to them in the name of development. And as if it is not enough, they even give them tax cuts and bailouts in the name of ease of doing business. When the poor and the ordinary take to streets demanding ease of living, their pleas are simply ignored.
The entire thing makes me recollect the article titled “of the 1%, by the 1% for the 1%” authored by the Nobel winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz. Governments in India, irrespective of who is in power, appear to have only one strategy. They safeguard the interests of the 1% plutocrats for full four years to enable them to accumulate more wealth, which leads to the concentration of economic power, and play a ‘sop opera’ in the election year to grab the attention of the rest of the 99%.
Now the question is why do they do this? The plutocrats who they nurture, constitute only 1% of the population and democracy, unlike corporate governance, allows only “one person one vote”. Therefore, politicians, as elections near, reluctantly do something which caters to the needs of the poor and the ordinary, who patiently queue up in front of the polling booths elections after elections with unending optimism. So, the politicos, irrespective of who is in power, think about the poor and the ordinary only on election eve and this budget is a clear manifestation of this trend.
Most of the news media, while writing about the budget, prominently mentioned how the government missed the fiscal deficit target. Now the economists who don’t lose any time in showering praises on Modi government for bringing the fiscal deficit under control through its judicious spending, start predicting that with the introduction of these welfare schemes, the fiscal slippage will happen more rapidly.
In this neo-liberal era, the fiscal deficit is a big thing and becomes extremely important for the governments during the first four years. “Fiscal prudence” is important for them to get higher ratings from international credit rating agencies and accolades from the World Bank as these entities brand welfare as ‘populist’ and blame it for being responsible for widening fiscal deficits.
But neither international credit rating agencies nor the World Bank ever said that big business defaults followed by bailouts and corporate tax cuts, which have insidious costs, are not good for maintaining fiscal prudence.
So, the governments practice fiscal prudence during the first four years of their tenure by cutting welfare expenditure and handing out all the sops to the tycoons in the name of ease of doing business and only during the election year they get reminded of people’s welfare and let “fiscal slippage” happen. Once they win the elections, they – politicos, plutocrats and egg headed economists – once again emphasize on stalling the fiscal slippage and things will be back to square one.
Hailing the budget, Prime Minister Modi stated, “It is essential to ensure that the benefits of development reach all sections of society. This Budget will empower the poor, give a boost to the farmers and an impetus to economic growth.” But he might have forgotten the fact that he ignored the same poor during the first four years of his tenure.
As far as the targeted cash transfers the FM has introduced now are concerned, they are paltry when compared to the corporate debt that the government had written off. Some trade unions even accused this government to be more caring towards cows than workers. Because it allocated 500 crores for worker’s pension and 750 crores for the welfare of the cows.
Friday, December 28, 2018
In the history of humankind, many things that were discriminatory were passed off as legal, such as apartheid, slavery, and colonialism until they were finally abolished. Because the people who made them legal were powerful and did so to serve their narrow self-interest. The oppressed classes, when they have an overwhelming desire to get emancipated, fight back to get the discriminatory laws overturned. That is what exactly happened in case of ‘triple talaq’ also.
The Supreme Court, in 2017, held the Muslim practice of triple talaq unconstitutional and struck it down and directed the Union government to consider appropriate legislation.
The court, by pronouncing the triple talaq unconstitutional, provided succor to the countless Muslim women who are reeling under the scourge of the discriminatory practice. The unfair practice emboldens a Muslim man to violate the sanctity of marriage by deserting his wife in a unilateral and patently unjust manner. The triple talaq dehumanizes women, enslaves them to their husbands and deprives them of their dignity. Though the law is a welcome step, the very fact that it took 70 years for independent India to reform an utterly discriminatory law is deeply saddening. It also shows how arduous and painstakingly slow it is to bring about any reformation in Indian society.
There are many people who are not only questioning the intent of the BJP in enacting the law but also opposing the law itself. By doing so they revealed their true colors. No religion or no society is a perfect being and reformation should be an essential ingredient of human progress. Congress, by continuing to oppose the triple talaq law, appears to be intent on continuing its appeasement of the Muslim clergy. It, through its appeasement policies, in fact, fueled the advent of the Hindu right wing.
Indian women, irrespective of the religion they are born into, are the oppressed class. The oppression is the direct result of their disempowerment, which is a consequence of their subjugation and financial dependence. The conservative elements in every religious community target their womenfolk in the name of community honor and leave no stone unturned in their effort to exercise unwarranted control over them thereby restricting their freedom.
Many of us wonder as to what made the practice of triple talaq continue in India even after it was banned in more than 20 Muslim majority countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh? The main reason behind the continued injustice meted out to the Muslim women appears to be political. In India, the Muslim clergy, to tighten their grip over their community, make unceasing efforts to drive it towards more conservatism and even try to unduly influence the Muslim community’s voting behavior. The fatwas issued by Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, to vote for certain political parties is too well-known. Therefore, the political parties that treat the Muslim community as a mere vote bank compete to grab the vote bank by appeasing the conservative Muslim clergy.
The Shah Bano case stands as a testimony to the fact that the political parties in India stoop to any low in order to appease the Muslim orthodoxy. In a blatantly unjust move, the then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi made a law in the parliament to deprive a divorced Muslim woman called Shah Bano of her right to maintenance, overturning a verdict given by the Supreme Court that granted her alimony. And, it is this unholy nexus between the political leaders and the clergymen, which made the lives of countless Muslim women miserable by creating hurdles on the path to reformation.
The Muslim women who were victimized by these discriminatory laws, have fought back and knocked at the doors of the highest judicial body. The male-dominated and downright regressive All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) bitterly opposed any alteration in triple talaq on the pretext that it will amount to the intervention in the Muslim personal laws. In its feeble attempt to dissuade the Supreme Court from delivering its verdict, it even proposed that it would take some measures that include subjecting the errant Muslim men to social boycott. The board, however, appear to be ignorant of the fact that subjecting people to social boycott is also illegal and discriminatory. The victims of triple talaq fought a protracted legal battle and faced many odds in their effort to get justice. With the tabling of the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha, and its passage, the focus now shifts to the Rajya Sabha, where the opposition parties are bent on thwarting it. If passed even in the Rajya Sabha, and made into a law, it will not only be a victory for the cause of gender justice but also a decisive defeat of the forces that support male chauvinism in the garb of religion.
The Muslim clergy appears to have a very negative view of gender justice and many of them publicly expressed their aversion to it. Some time ago a prominent Muslim leader called Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar stated, “Gender equality is something which is never going to be a reality. It is against Islam, humanity and was intellectually wrong,” and went on to say that “women are fit only to deliver children”. The AIMPLB, headed by the self-proclaimed leaders of Muslims, is no different. Therefore, these forces are not fit to represent the interests of Muslim women. It appears that the Muslim women have realized the futility of expecting others to speak for them and have at last taken matters into their own hands. A progressive Muslim women’s organization called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) was instrumental in bringing about awareness among Muslim women and is at the vanguard of the fight against discrimination.
The clergy and other orthodox elements in the Muslim society must realize the fact the gender justice is non-negotiable in this 21st-century society and they can no longer thwart the overwhelming urge among their womenfolk to lead a life of dignity in a just society. The self-proclaimed Muslim leaders, instead of opposing every move towards reformation and getting branded as patently regressive, can transform themselves into the instruments of change. They can try to bring about awareness among the Muslim community about various social evils and sensitize them about the need for reformation. But that appears to be too much to expect from them.
This article first appeared in http://www.pensivewebizen.in
This article first appeared in http://www.pensivewebizen.in