Citizenship Amendment Act

Corona Virus: India enters the stretch when the wheels could come off

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India stood as one behind its prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to “isolate” itself on Sunday but there is a fear that the deadly Corona Virus could be laughing in the background—or in the midst of 1.3 billion people.

Any world leader could have swooned at such a doting citizenry which stood indoors and came out with pots and pans; conch-shells and bells at an appointed hour to extol India’s medical warriors in the frontline against the pandemic virus. But Modi’s words in the aftermath are one of caution: “Stay indoors”.

For the moment, Modi’s message is directed at residents of 80 districts of 22 states which have officially been “shut down.” But for grocery and medical shops, nothing moves. This figure, if the example of rest of the world is anything to go by, is due to shoot skywards in coming days, if not hours.

Nations, mauled by this virus, have shown a spike after the first 250 cases are detected. Thus, Italy went from 322 to 41,000 cases in 24 days. Spain (261 to 17,000) and the United States (233 to 14,000) went into a tailspin in just two weeks. Germany (262 to 14,000) and France (285 to 11,000) nosedived in a mere 16 days. United Kingdom took a dozen days to find its 270 cases balloon to 3,200.

India crossed its 300-patient figure last Saturday.

India, on its part, is stretching itself thin to buck this trend. Trains have stopped running as India’s migrant poor, who work in cities and different states, are coming in hordes on platforms to return home. It’s Capital, Delhi, is now formally under curfew. Most states are shutting shops, entertainment malls, restaurants, metros etc. in cities to ensure people stay indoors. Only essential services like grocery and medicine shops are exempted.

All signs indicate that India is fearing the worst. Its health ministry held a press conference on Sunday to confess they are mostly using anti-viral drugs to combat the menace. “But then countries most developed, having the best of

scientific and medical infrastructure, haven’t been able to come to grips with it,” said the official rather sheepishly.

The preparation for the worst-case scenario is underwhelming. New labs are being taken into the fold but they add only 60 to the numbers which is battle-ready from the State’s side. Schools are being converted into quarantine-wards. Medical staff in the business of testing suspect cases is complaining of inadequate protection. India would lose the battle if its medical personnel take to heels. Then there would be no stopping the marauding virus.

A committed, aware citizenry is thus India’s best bet. And there could be no better man than Modi for the task as millions swear by him. His secretariat is holding meetings with honchos of other states to get real on the situation. States increasingly are offering money and free food to aid India’s poor, without a formal job and now shunned by the shops and householders who usually seek them out on a day-to-day basis.

Isolation seems to be the first and possibly best bet for the Indian state. Many of its citizens believe that the rising temperatures could stall its spread. Some hope Indians have the requisite immunity system within their frames, having grown up in less than perfect environment, to combat virus. Nobody knows for sure.

For the moment though the nation is on its Sunday-high. The recent heat generated on Kashmir or the recent Citizenship Act is doused. Families are rooting for neighbours they hadn’t noticed previously. Indian flags are being unfurled on balconies and roof-tops. There is celebration at the sight of empty streets—quite eerie, Orwellian, for this otherwise would signify the end of the world.

 

Modi’s churn of silence is taming the beast of protests

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi could well end up taming the beast which hogged the headlines and filled the streets for two months now in protest against a new Citizenship Act.

A seemingly innocuous Act which fast forwards the citizenship process for persecuted minorities of three neighbouring Islamic states of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh was dressed up as one against the Muslims by Modi’s detractors. The propaganda succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

It tapped on the raw anxiety of Indian Muslims who were fed the misinformation the Citizenship Act was the first step towards their disenfranchisement despite various official clarifications.

Political opponents upped the heat by passing resolutions in state assemblies run by them, such as Kerala and Punjab, even though constitutionally Citizenship is a matter which doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction and strictly is a preserve of the Centre.

The Siamese twins of mainstream Indian and Western media fished in the troubled waters with inflammatory headlines. The New York Times wondered if India is becoming a Hindu nation and BBC termed it an anti-Muslim law.

Various cities in the United States staged anti-Citizenship Act protests though there were hardly many Indians discernible in those rallies. A segment of European Union called for a stricture against the Modi government which was withdrawn at the last minute. From United Nations Human Rights office to US senate religious committee, all whipped up a storm.

An Indian Maidan in the making?

A tiny enclave in India’s Capital, Shaheen Bagh bore all the markings of a Maidan of Ukraine or a Tehrir Square of Egypt. It’s the shrine of protests, so to say, well into its eighth week, full of mural arts, revolutionary songs, media briefers, technological deftness to be passed off as spontaneous. It holds the torch to a revolution India never had. This was Modi’s gravest crisis in six years.

Modi has chosen to meet this mushroom of clouds overhead with a churn of silence. He kept his police in the barracks, used a light hand over provocations. People, including his supporters, wondered if he had lost control. Now it appears to be a part of a grand strategy. He always knew the contours of powers, both at home and abroad, at work against him. Now his followers, which are the majority in his country, have been made aware of the gravity. It could lead to consolidation and additions in millions among his supporters.

Rivals are now waking up to Modi’s grand game. They are urging protestors to withdraw and go back home. A leader who was so nuanced in handling Kashmir against international storm, couldn’t have been silent without a reason. They sense a turn in tide. Credible surveys reveal that Modi remains muscularly popular; far from being severely bruised as his opponents had bargained for in the present protests.

Modi’s measures can now be clearly deciphered. On the domestic front, his ministers are linking the protests to a machination by the arch-rivals Pakistan who, unable to whip up support for Kashmir in international arena, are now being linked to causing unrest within India, an insinuation which never fails to get the ire up of a billion-plus people.

Bilateral ties are all which matter

In the world beyond his borders, all that matters is bilateral ties. Modi is yet to hear a move from any of the major nations against the Citizenship Act. The European Union and US Senate and George Soros of the world could make as much noise as they want; the Western press could send its army of correspondents and cameraman to India’s Capital in droves, the  non-state players like NGOs could work its collective noise to a shrill but all of this would materially make no difference to Modi or India’s standing. As long as there are no sanctions; and the majority of his people are behind him, Modi can afford to sit back and let the forces against him play themselves out into a meaningless heap.

Important alignments in Modi’s favour are beginning to emerge. All parties in alliance with him are backing him to the hilt on the Citizenship Act. The Supreme Court is due to take a call on the petitions this month and it’s unlikely to go against the Act.  Shaheen Bagh protests are alienating the rest of the Capital as its causing traffic jams, affecting local business, and rendering schools and hospitals in the area virtually inoperable.

There are now also incriminating videos in public where the prime organizer of Shaheen Bagh was heard hatching plans for India’s northeastern states to secede from the mainland. It has raised the hackles of a nation which has already been severed of its eastern and western arms on the grounds of religion at the stroke of independence seven decades ago.

Politics is not a zero-sum game but Modi is set to harvest a bounty nobody had seen coming out of the present crisis.

 

 

Supreme Court could leave the dissenters red-faced on Citizenship Act

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India’s Supreme Court is likely to crack the whip on Wednesday on a few dissenting states who have raised the banner of revolt against the Centre and are looking to bend the Constitutional norms which have served the country so well for over seven decades now.

The bone of contention is the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which has met the mandate of the Parliament and strictly comes under Centre’s domain yet a few opposition states have struck it down in home assemblies and added fuel to the fire of protestors, out on India’s streets for over a month now.

India of dozens of states, hundreds of languages, thousands of castes, millions of gods and a billion plus people was envisaged as a federal structure by its founding fathers where states could run most of its affairs independently as long as they don’t interfere with the core of the Union which has restricted itself largely to defence, foreign affairs, communications, citizenship etc.

Such a division was enshrined in India’s Constitution which took four years of intense making and where legislature, executive and judiciary were so finely balanced that each knew of its roles and limitations. India also boldly trusted its millions of citizens, largely illiterate at the time of independence, to choose its representatives at the local, regional and national levels at periodic intervals, never more than five years apart.

A rare Constitutional success in Asia

If my founding fathers were venture capitalists, and if India was a start-up, it would have been a wildly successful investment.  India’s Constitution has survived when none have in Asia among the countries freed from the yoke of colonialism after World War II, barring Taiwan and South Korea. It’s a still bigger feat if one is told that Constitutions around the world have lasted a mere 17 years on an average since the French Revolution of 1789. It might have taken 15-lakh words but nearly 300 men who shaped the Constitution gave India the priceless gift of life.

India presently is in churn because a New Order has emerged which is threatening the entrenched class of political and academic elites. It’s a classic masses vs classes situation. Never has the embedded ecosystem been rattled so badly. It’s losing election after general elections as masses overwhelmingly are voting in favour of prime minister Narendra Modi who is a complete antithesis to a typical political elite: A tea-seller once, carrying no baggage of dynasty and an existential threat to cronyism.

It’s been only six months since Modi’s re-election but the speed with which a new India was changing its contours, be it on matters of Kashmir or Lord Rama’s temple, issues which had been frozen in a time warp for decades, has made the entrenched ecosystem sense a quaking, slipping earth below their feet. The new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) gave them an opportunity to spread the misinformation and stoke the fears of Muslims which has led to protests and riots on India’s streets. People are being openly incited to slam the door shut on Centre if it comes asking for their verifiable identity.

Thus a few opposition-ruled Indian states have been defiant and a few more have professed to do so in coming days. The protests have been sensationalized by India’s deplorable media which has long been part of ecosystem and thus not prepared to lose its entitlements. Western media, as ever, is fishing in troubled waters.

Global implications

So is India coming off the wheels? Does the rebellion by a few of its people and states portend an approaching disaster? Has the historical and cultural animosity between Hindus and Muslims been unsheathed and won’t return till it has devoured its share of lives? Would a few states go ahead and declare themselves independent? Would India’s established institutions strike back and change India’s cherished Constitution forever? Would it make the Western sharks smell the blood in the waters and move in in the name of protecting “democracy” and “human rights”? And if that happens would a nuclear-armed South Asia became a flashpoint which could be humanity’s worst hour?

History often is a good guide in troubled times. It’s not the first time when states in India have rebelled against the Union. It’s also not the first time when people have indulged in anarchy or large-scale violence on India’s streets. It’s also not the first time when feelings have run high between Hindus and Muslims. But sooner than later, the order returns. And that’s because the two sides of the divide, political or religious, realize that they are better off with existing order than in trying to finish each other off. That in essence is the reason why India’s Constitution endures. That’s exactly the message Supreme Court is likely to declare on Wednesday. And that’s when the warring camps would return to their trenches.