As India and Pakistan continue to fire artilleries at each other’s positions on the LOC and International Border (IB), the ‘war’ has spread to New York where the foreign ministers and other representatives of the two countries are busy in exchanging verbal volleys in the ongoing UN General Assembly session. The foreign minister were earlier scheduled to meet and discuss peace on the sidelines of the session but the abrupt cancellation of the proposed meeting, barely four hours after its announcement, brought the two countries to a new level of hostility. The announcement of the planned meeting had been considered an encouraging sign for restarting stalled talks between the nuclear-armed neighbours. New Delhi had agreed to hold the meeting in response to a letter from newly-elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has written his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, stressing the need for positive change, a mutual desire for peace and a readiness to discuss terrorism. There is a war of words going on between the two countries at the UNGA session. While Pakistan raised the Kashmir issue and “India’s brutal response to Kashmiris demand for azadi and gross human rights violations by its forces”, India hit back accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in south Asia. India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj alleged that Pakistan sheltered international terrorist Osma Bin Laden before he was killed in his Pakistani hideout. Pakistan FM Shah Mahmood Quriashi in his counter-speech said that “Pakistan continues to face terrorism that is financed, facilitated and orchestrated by our eastern neighbour.” He referred to extremist attacks in his home country, including one at an army school in the north-western city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 children, which he said were perpetrated by “terrorists supported by India.
The acrimony and insult that was played on speaks of the bewildering standards of relations between Delhi and Islamabad. For now, it appears that India and Pakistan have stuck to their respective lines. A moment of hope has been gratuitously extinguished. With the involvement of army top brass in war of words, the hostility seems to be touching new heights. Indian army Chief Bipin Rawat said that India needed to take stern action to avenge the ‘barbarism’ by Pakistan army and the latter responding with the call “we are ready for war’. Such unpredictability among countries with nuclear weapons could be disastrous for the entire south Asia. It requires international intervention to avert such human catastrophe. It is very unfortunate that the foreign policies are devised in TV studios by unprofessional anchors and retired army officers. Internal politics is believed to be major reason for the continuing hostility between the two countries. The ruling parties use the tense relations as a means to garner political support in their respective countries. With general elections scheduled in March and April next year, it is unlikely that the Indo-Pak relations would see any thaw. The ruling BJP has been thriving on divisive politics. The hostility in Indo-Pak relations is the main plank of the discordant political stand BJP believes in. One cannot expect much improvement in Indo-Pak relations before the Indian elections. The BJP leadership is using Pakistani card to discredit the opposition, the Congress in particular. Many of its leaders were heard saying, the other day, that Pakistan wanted Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister of India. In 2014 elections too, BJP used Pakistan and Muslims as the main issues of concern during their election campaign which polarized the Indian voter on religious lines much to the advantage of the BJP. The party is using the same prescription again with the hope to repeat the 2014 win. This is how party politics runs supreme over national issues in the subcontinent.
Purpose of fasting
The purpose of fasting is to develop the quality of righteousness (taqwa), inwardly and outwardly, by abstaining from sinful deeds and training ourselves to control our thoughts and desires. Fasting is a deeply spiritual practice that is meant to benefit us in body, mind, and heart.
Allah says: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become righteous.
The word taqwa comes from the root meaning “to guard” and it is variously translated as mindfulness, righteousness, and God fearing piety. Fasting is meant to instill this virtuous quality within us and its associated virtues of good character, generosity, patience, purity of heart, and so on. In this way, fasting acts as a shield which protects us from sin and ultimately from the punishment of Allah in the Hereafter.
There are three levels of fasting that correspond to its outward and inward components: abstaining from food and drink, abstaining from sins, and abstaining from bad thoughts.
Al-Ghazali writes: Know that there are three degrees of fasting: the fasting of common people, the fasting of the elite, and the fasting of the elite of the elite. As for the fasting of the common people, it is retraining the stomach from fulfilling its desires as has been mentioned. As for the fasting of the elite, it is restraining one’s hearing, sight, tongue, hands, feet, and all limbs from sin. As for the fasting of the elite of the elite, it is the fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts and to restrain it entirely from everything besides Allah the Exalted.
Hence, we must be especially careful to guard ourselves from all kinds of sin while we are fasting. We should abandon unbeneficial speech and specifically arguing with others. If anyone tries to argue with us while we are fasting, we should simply respond by saying we are fasting.
Saying this is as much a reminder to ourselves as it is to others. When we are tempted to commit sins or engage in bad thoughts while fasting, we should remind ourselves that we are fasting and change our thinking towards something good and beneficial.
If we do not abstain from bad words while fasting as well as sins and bad inward statements, then our fasting has not achieved one of its most important purposes. Allah certainly does not need any of us to fast, so we must remember that the benefits our fasting might be nullified by these sins. Whoever does not give up false speech and evil deeds while fasting, then Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink.
Fasting is not merely from food and drink. Rather, it is from lies, falsehood, vain talk, and swearing. In addition to keeping away from sins, we can use the exercise of fasting as a means to develop self-control over our low desires. Fasting generates will power within the heart that can be transferred to other situations in which we need to overcome temptation.
If we can turn down a delicious meal and refreshing drink when we are hungry and thirsty, then we can strengthen our will power to overcome other desires as well. For this reason, the Prophet told young men who could not get married to fast in order to control their natural urges.
Fasting should also be a means of developing control over our anger. True strength is in the ability of a person to control his or her mind and behaviour while they are being provoked to anger. For this reason, we should not argue or respond to the bad words of others while fasting.
Moreover, fasting is a means for compassion for the poor and gratitude for the favours of Allah. When we feel the pain of hunger, we have to remember that many people in the world go hungry without choosing to do so. We should empathize with their pain and act within our capabilities to help them. Reflecting on the situation of those in need will also generate gratitude and contentment for the blessings in our lives.
ECI’s credibility in question
Election Commission is regarded as the most respectable and elite institution in India leading and holding the election process efficiently and honestly. But in the ongoing general election, its credibility has come under serious question. The opposition parties have time and again raised fingers on the conduct of the Commission with accusations of ignoring the breach of Model Code of Conduct by the ruling BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Tuesday, the EC came under fresh attack with opposition parties raising new questions about the protocols followed while shifting and storing electronic voting machines (EVMs) after polls and the way the counting will be done on Thursday. Videos of some EVMs being transported in private vehicles without security in UP, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi were shown in support of these accusations. Protest demonstrations have been reported from several places in UP with protestors alleging foul play. Though the Election Commission clarified that these were empty EVMs being brought back to strong rooms, however, the procedure followed in itself is questionable and defies the guideline laid by the EC. EVMs used or unused have to be brought back to strong rooms under strict security of the central forces, say the guidelines. Suspicions are raised that the EVMs are pre-loaded with votes and could be replaced to influence the outcome of elections. The fears have been exacerbated by suggestions that a pre-emptive narrative has already been created through exit polls. Despite EC’s clarification, the bitterness against the Commission has not died down. Since the counting of votes is taking place tomorrow, it is unlikely to guess which way the wind blows. Leaders of 22 political parties submitted a memorandum to the EC urging the poll watchdog to ensure paper slips from the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) module are matched before the counting begins. At present, the counting will involve the matching of paper slips in five polling booths picked at random for each assembly segment.
The questions on the conduct of Election Commission were raised all through the poll campaign. On occasions, the Commission was publicly accused of being biased and unfaithful in its behaviour. The EC’s discreet silence over the launch of Namo TV—a free publicity channel—without a proper license is what hurt its credibility most. The TV channel was launched by unknown persons with the announcement of elections. The channel went off air the very day when polling was held in last phase on May 19. There had been huge cry against the channel but the EC failed to take action. Some statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi purportedly politicizing armed forces and announcement of India’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test on March 27, and UP chief minister Adityanath Yogi’s statement wherein he referred armed forces as “Modi’s army” (which were deemed as grave violation of Moral Code of Conduct also failed to attract the attention of the Commission. The Election Commission instead of taking any action gave clean chit to the Prime Minister. One member of the Commission Ashok Lavasa had dissented on a series of clean chits given by the Commission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on their speeches during the election campaign but it was not made part of the order. Needless to say, the questions being raised about the credibility of the EC are a cause for worry. Elections are the bedrock of democracy and the EC’s credibility is central to democratic legitimacy. It is time that ECI conduct itself in fair and honest manner to maintain the dignity and credibility of the institution. It is a step needed towards restoring all-important public faith in the institution.
What the exit polls mean for India
A series of exit polls have predicted return of Narendra Modi to power as the voting process in the general elections completed on Sunday. More than half a dozen polls suggested that Modi and his party BJP are all set to get the majority in the elections and they will get 280 to 300 seats (in the House of 543) when the votes would be counted on May 23. It goes without saying that exit polls are not exact polls. India has a patchy track record of exit polls. In 2004 and 2009 general elections, the exit polls had predicted BJP’s win. But the final result was against the BJP. It was the Congress which stole the show. However, if this time the polls matched the official results, it would have a loud message for the entire country. Sectarian divide and economic distress have been two key issues which dominated the five-year rule of Narendra Modi. The rise of Hinutwa forces was the other main highlight of this rule. Several moves aimed at changing the idea of India (from secular to Hindu) were set in foot at various levels. Key Hindutwa figures were given crucial positions in and outside the government that had created a sought of deep wedge in the society. Muslims, lower caste Hindus (Dalits) and Christians mainly faced the brunt of this campaign. Dozens of Muslims were killed by Hindu zealots (cow vigilantes) on flimsy accusations of transporting cows for slaughter and carrying beef. In UP, under Adityanath Yogi, places with Muslim names were changed with Hindu names which many people saw as an attempt to erase the Muslim past. The farmers’ distress was at its peak. Hundreds of farmers committed suicides following deteriorating economic conditions. The GST and demonetization affected badly the traders and business class who expressed their anger publicly.
Despite all this, Modi (if one goes by the exit poll) remains incredibly the most popular leader of India. He was the face of the party’s campaign, addressing 142 rallies across the country. In his speeches, he targeted Congress and other opposition parties and leaders as “Pakistani proxies”. It appears that the ideological change the Modi government has initiated in his previous rule has got social approval. The worrying part of it is that Modi’s supposed victory would embolden the Hindutwa brigade to assert Hindu nationalist policies with more vigor and force. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir too it is fraught with more risks. It is yet another hard era dawning at the people of Kashmir. Removal Articles 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution which safeguard the interests of the people of the state have been part of BJP’s election campaign. No less a person that home minister Rajnath Singh said on several occasions that these articles would be quashed. It is most likely that the new BJP government would undo these constitutional provisions to annul the state’s special status. It would mean yet another period of uncertainty ahead of the people of Kashmir. The larger picture is that Indo-Pak relations touched the lowest ever ebb in the past five years of Modi rule. The two countries virtually came to the brink of nuclear war. The air strike inside Pakistan by Indian air force and the retaliatory action by Pakistan army had plunged the region into the war, which however was averted due to international intervention. Muscular policy in foreign as well as domestic affairs is likely to remain the core of Modi’s new government. Its consequences are not difficult to imagine. The minorities, Muslims, Dalits and Christian in particular, have definitely a cause to be worried if the exit polls turned out to exact polls.
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