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Opinion

Two Punjabs, one South Asia

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By Kanak Mani Dixit

For a flickering moment in the last week of November, it seemed as if Congress provocateur and Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu might set the geopolitical agenda, when he unabashedly spoke of the need for India and Pakistan to mend fences. He was in Lahore on the occasion of the start of work on the Kartarpur Corridor, meant to ease the travel of Sikh pilgrims to the resting place of Guru Nanak.

Unfazed by ridicule on Indian television, the cricketer-turned-politician spoke of peace, trade and people-to-people contact, all of them lost causes of the ‘track two’ dialogues of past decades. His confidence seemed to emanate from being a Sikh and Punjabi reaching out to Pakistani Punjab, and in his wordy sermons one actually detected the formula for India-Pakistan cohabitation, which would also catalyse cooperation in the larger South Asian region.
Peace in the Subcontinent presupposes amity between India and Pakistan, and more than 40 years of efforts at regionalism has been held hostage by hostility of the two, with the other countries watching askance.

The abuse hurled by the state establishments of each side is a populist political tool that distracts the public from pressing matters of growth, equity, democracy and accountability. That the cost of maintaining massive militaries in each country drags down efforts at social justice is lost in the fog of ultra-nationalism.

India, as the more stable democracy, should inculcate empathy for the neighbour, but the New Delhi commentariat tends not to recognise the difference between the Pakistani state and its people, the latter struggling against extremism, military supremacy and state-centralism all at one go.

Indian media by and large is not bothered by the travails of Pakistanis, as right-wing trolls rule the airwaves and social media. Similar to how dissent is sought to be silenced with the ‘Urban Naxal’ tag, since long those seeking India-Pakistan amity and South Asian regionalism are rejected as romantic peaceniks lighting meaningless candles at Wagah-Atari.

The trolling and abuse on all matters related to Pakistan can be expected to peak as India’s general election of 2019 draws near, which will only help Islamabad’s military-intelligence complex tighten its grip on the society. It is high time to try once again for a plan for South Asian regionalism.

The potential of South Asia for sustained high growth has been blocked by the tightened national borders, with India playing its part by building barbed wire fences on the Pakistan and Bangladesh frontiers. In all of seven decades, the economic history of the Subcontinent has been forgotten, with the ultra-nationalist narrative having us believe that this separate living is how it has always been.

Until Cyril Radcliffe drew the map of Partition, the economic synergy across the different parts of the Subcontinent was an unquestioned historical reality. There is no one to remember or remind that this reality of sealed borders was set only in 1947 for most parts of the Subcontinent, or that the door actually slammed shut only after the India-Pakistan war of 1965.

As the historical ‘connectivity’ of the Subcontinent crumbled, it created massive dysfunction as economies of scale and production chains were disrupted. The opportunity costs have been incalculable in terms of infrastructure, production and commerce, and the loss in livelihoods would be heart-rending if only we cared to calculate.

The present-day failure of South Asian academia is its unwillingness to theorise on the promise of economic growth and social justice that regionalism holds, through soft/open borders. Of the Indian intelligentsia, the failure is also in seeing economic geography through the New Delhi lens rather than those of the ‘peripheral’ regions, from Rajasthan to the Northeast.

‘South Asia’ must be understood as a project for social justice, to be achieved through economic rationalisation, sub-regional interactions and reduced military budgets – and open borders such as exists between Nepal and India.

The goal of the future should be to learn to compartmentalise one’s perceptions of the ‘other’ that Pakistan is made up of its state and its people just as India too is made up of its state and its people. The mutual demonisation has to do with conflating the two, state apparatus and citizenry, as one.

While the Pakistani state is rightfully critiqued for the way the military/intelligence calls the shots — from the Kargil misadventure to cross-border militancy, to even denying Punjab province the right to import energy from India — the self-perception of India as ‘good’ and Pakistan as ‘bad’ should have been abandoned long ago.
In Pakistan, the space of the public intellectual is circumscribed by the jihadists, the army and the military intelligence. In India, a much freer country no doubt, there is the rise of pernicious ultra-populism that keeps public figures from speaking up.

In the age of Narendra Modi, proposing South Asian solidarity is frowned upon to such an extent that academics and opinion makers, not to mention bureaucracy and even international funding agencies, all think it is better to keep aloof of the concept. Since 2016, the Prime Minister has been consistent in his refusal to attend the 19th SAARC Summit slated for Islamabad, which has rendered the regional organisation comatose. His vision of South Asian regionalism is where the neighbours dance to India’s tune.

The fear that South Asia as a concept heralds some kind of supra-sovereignty is misplaced, for there is no plan afoot for supplanting of the nation-state and associated group privileges. No, the capitals are not being asked to relinquish their powers to a Subcontinental centre.

Instead, a realistic formula for South Asian regionalism lies in allowing the federal units of the two largest countries — the provinces of Pakistan and the states of India — autonomy, which today exists only on paper. This is where the Punjab-Punjab formula comes in.

Even as television sought to lampoon Mr. Sidhu, we saw what was required to push for peace in South Asia — chutzpah. The Yiddish word implies the gall or audacity of a showman, and the gift of repartee to challenge the harshest of televangelist anchors.

It does seem that ultranationalist populism can only be cut by counter-populist hyperbole. Responding to the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s invitation to the Kartarpur Corridor ground-breaking, the Punjab Minister replied in a letter: “As our nations take this first step, the Kartarpur Spirit can make pilgrims of us all, venturing out on a journey that breaks the barriers of history and opens the borders of hearts and the mind, a journey that our people can walk together towards a future of shared peace and prosperity for India and Pakistan.”

If you read the words and not the perception some have of the gentleman, the future of Punjab-Punjab, India-Pakistan and South Asia as a whole can be found in the paragraph.

Nothing has been left untried in the effort to ease India-Pakistan tensions — Atal Bihari Vajpayee visiting Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore; Mr. Modi flying in for Nawaz Sharif’s birthday; secret emissaries rushing hither and yon; and ‘track two’ and ‘track three’ events of every kind.

Nothing has worked, and we are today in suspended animation between Mr. Modi’s India-centric vision of the region and the Pakistani military’s control of the geopolitical discourse in Islamabad. At such a time comes the possibility held out by the Kartarpur Corridor.

Punjab province is by far the most powerful sub-national unit of Pakistan. The Indian Punjab may not be as powerful within India in relative terms, but it is no pushover either. The two Punjabs have one history, as the stepping stone for invaders, battlegrounds that go back millennia, the shared tragedy of Partition, and the shared culture and language of Punjabiyat.

Given that South Asian regionalism can only come from a turn towards genuine federalism in India and Pakistan, Punjab Province and Punjab State are the places to start anew. It may just be Punjabiyat is the concept which will help bring India and Pakistan closer to peace, and make South Asia a safer and more prosperous place.

(Kanak Mani Dixit, a writer and journalist based in Kathmandu, is the founding editor of the magazine, ‘Himal Southasian’. Source: thewire.in)


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Opinion

Believe in Yourself!

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By Dr.Shahid AminTrali

There are many resources that should not be easily wasted by humans. Money is important and life in this world without money is really a tough one. We should never waste our hard earned Money. There are people who are true and always tell us, money doesn’t buy happiness. But that single line alone challenging money doesn’t mean much. What will happen to us when we have no money? When right ways are followed in spending money, we will get back money in a multitude.

Someone has rightly said that money saved is money earned. I have a well-paid job does not mean that I have to be lavish in spending my money. Yes it is true that there are no limits on being contributive to charity works. We need to put ourselves consistently on a testing mode to try our guts and worth. I have a story to narrate how we can conquer the challenges if we are ready both mentally and physically to accept the challenges. Recently I was on a long travel from Kashmir to Gwalior. I was carrying a heavy luggage with as many as six big bags in my possession. I reached to one of the peak railway station at Jammu. With such a big luggage to manage, there was no other option left than to hire a labour. I was looking for a labour but looking into my dire need, the charges demanded by the labour there were unjustified. The challenge was accepted with open arms to manage my luggage on my own.

It was never an easy task for me to manage my heavy luggage and it tested my patience and spirit. First I got my luggage out of a cab hired and kept bags on a road side. Next I picked up three bags and dropped those three bags at the security checking point there at the station. I rushed back and brought three more bags and put it also into the security checking point. Now on getting all of my six heavy bags out of the security checking point there, I started looking for help. I requested few passers-by there but no one was interested to help. Finally the wishes came true and a humble boy passed by and filled me with a hope of being kind. He was going to travel by some coming train. Me said ‘baya help kar do, ye do bag upar platform takpagdo (translation- brother please help in carrying those few bags up to the platform). ‘No issues’, he replied and he was waiting for his more friends to come. He told let his friends come and they will also carry my bags upto the platform.

When his friends came they all carried my bags up to the platform 1. Next they started looking for their train. I also began to look for my train and the announcement was made that my train will depart from platform 2. Oh! Abi sangarshaurbhihain (Translation- Oh! Still I have to pass more tests). I was never defeated and again ready to put my brains into work. I had to make a quick strategy how to manage my six bags next. I began to look for help and requested one hawker at the platform 1 to take care of my three bags and had to drop three more bags at the platform 2. I was to come back to platform 1 and take three more bags to the platform 2. But everywhere be it platform 1 and 2, huge risk was involved as there was was no one confident to take care of my bags. I had to think smartly how to minimise my risk of losing my bags. I had to quickly access which bags were more costly for me which I can keep on the hawker shop at platform 1.There was uncertainty but still I had to be optimistic that someone will be there at platform 2 to take care of my bags. I picked up three bags and rushed to platform two and found one more hawker there. Smartly I asked the hawker about the rates of his items that he had offered for sale. Then I made a strong request to keep my three bags there for a while so that I can get my three more bags from platform one. ‘Aapjaldiaana and we are not responsible if you are late’, he replied (Translation- You can come quick and we are not responsible if you are late). I got my three bags from the platform 1 and reached back to the hawker at platform two. I purchased some small items from him and mentioned thanks to him for his help. Now looking into the large size of the train, I began to look for the exact location of my coach. Again I got to know that my train coach is much ahead of my current waiting point. I kept my three bags there with the hawker on request and went ahead with three more bags. At a fair distance found one military officer and requested to keep my bags there for some time. I had to rush and bring three more bags. Now I felt relaxed that now I am ready to board my train. But the challenges were not going to end soon. I came to know again that my coach will stop at a point ahead. I went there with three bags applying the same strategy and requested one water point owner there to take care of my luggage. Finally the train arrived and with the help of water point owner boarded my train to Gwalior.

I reached to my destination. The great part of the journey was that I managed my heavy luggage without any labour. I received help at many points and no cost was involved. Ah! It was a great feeling to think deep for the day that tested me well. It was a tough time but with energy and presence of mind, I could make it a big day of learning. I felt heavily satisfied and rewarded even if the rewards were too small. I could realise that at every step life teaches us so well. We need to apply ourselves seriously in every situation to make our life more lively and worth living.

It is rightly said that God helps those who help themselves. But we must not rely solely on a divine intervention every time there is some need. It is up to us to take matters in our own hands and try to solve our own challenges. We should never give up easily in life. The supreme force, God, has already gifted us with every means to be able to help ourselves. Once we have a strong faith and begin to apply ourselves to achieve the goals we desperately want, then God will help us further to achieve those goals. We must not forget that no one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior and a regular contributor to this newspaper. E-mail: [email protected])

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Cong needs new ‘vision’ to take on BJP

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By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

In these troubled times it is tempting to view the Assembly election results as indication of the revival of the secular republic, the rejection of doctrinaire politics and governance, and evidence of mandate correction. However, by dwelling excessively on the change of government in the three states where the ruling BJP has been unseated by the Congress, the resurgent Grand Old Party and its supporters would lose sight of the graver challenges ahead. While the first of these is undoubtedly the Lok Sabha election, the rollback of majoritarianism is the long-term task.

To understand the test ahead there is first a need for a deep dive into the verdict from the states where the Congress wrested power. While everyone heaved a sigh of relief after the Congress’ tally rested at 114, just one short of the halfway mark, the figure which should worry the party and its backers is 47,827 — the number of votes which the BJP polled more than the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. Although the Congress eventually edged out the BJP in a humdinger of a contest, the latter led the former by a whisker in terms of its voteshare — 41 per cent for the BJP to 40.9 per cent for the Congress. It is due to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system that often legislative strength does not represent popular support. After all, even the BJP’s Lok Sabha tally of 282 in 2014 was way beyond what its 31 per cent voteshare would have reflected. Or that the 37 per cent that the party got along with allies was way below their commanding presence in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress would seek solace in the fact that if the votes polled by four rebel Independents, who after becoming MLAs are back into the fold — although formal induction is still awaited — are added to its voteshare, the Congress would nose ahead of the BJP and actually become Party No. 1 in the state. Despite this, the two parties would remain at par, evidence that the Congress will face with a sterner test in the Lok Sabha elections and that this verdict has not automatically reopened the path of its electoral comeback at a national level.

In Rajasthan too, the Congress is dogged by its voteshare being discomfortingly close to the BJP’s — 39.3 per cent of the former to the latter’s 38.8 per cent. In terms of actual number of votes which separated the two, the figure was just 177,699. Party leaders, however, would argue that there is a need to factor in the votes polled by 13 Independent candidates, most of who are Congress rebels, and they would eventually either back the party from outside or make a homecoming. These Independents polled 9.5 per cent of the total votes cast, a whopping 33,72,206, and even if almost half of these were bagged by “inconsequential” candidates, it would still add up sufficiently to the Congress’ tally, providing it an element of comfort. But this “notional” lead over its rival has to be converted. This would, however, not be possible without taking steps that strike at the endemic problem within the party across states — rebels are encouraged and put up by faction leaders whenever they fail to secure nominations for their favourites. To counter this, the party high command has to deploy authority and cannot hide behind the argument of being more democratic because it should never become an excuse for indiscipline.

Paradoxically, of the three states, the Congress secured the most comfortable mandate in Chhattisgarh, a state expected to be the tightest for two reasons. First, almost its entire state leadership was wiped out in the terrorist attack in 2013, and second, the alliance between Ajit Jogi and the BahujanSamaj Party had the potential to cut significantly into the anti-BJP vote. Yet it is here that the Congress secured a comfortable 10 per cent voteshare margin, and this is due to its weakness becoming its strength — the absence of strong faction leaders and the possibility of a split in the anti-BJP vote instilled fear that any internal division would finish whatever chances the party had.

In addition, the Congress benefited by the strong sentiment against the BJP’s approach of centralising the entire issue of left-wing extremism, which the people in the state see as the result of the refusal of successive governments, especially under the watch of Raman Singh, to tackle the roots of the unrest. While the BJP at the national level progressively increased the use of the issue of “Urban Naxals” as another stick to beat liberal-radical India with, the epicentre of this discord became boggy for the party.

The lessons for the Congress and other Opposition parties are obvious. But even if one assumes that the Index of Opposition Unity will rise significantly in the states, and the most where it is most required, it cannot be ignored that the Narendra Modi factor was utilised only in Rajasthan. It was the Prime Minister’s thrust towards the end of the campaign which had significantly reduced the Congress’ victory margin. That Mr Modi retains the ability to turn this election in his party’s favour even when issues were chiefly local provides a hint of what confronts the Congress and other Opposition parties in 2019. There is no denying that the race has opened up, but the BJP cannot in any way be written off. It still remains the party most likely to emerge at the top of the tally next year.

To deny the BJP this position, the Congress has to stop being in reactive mode and set the agenda. Instead of awaiting the BJP to implode like in Chhattisgarh, the Congress must provide an alternate vision for India. It must stop being the B-Team of the BJP and return to its inclusive past. It will be tempting for the Congress to continue pursuing “soft” Hindutva, but the real cause for cheer will be when it sheds diffidence of articulating issues concerning the well-being of those on the margins of society, including the religious minorities.

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Opinion

The anatomy of a police station

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ByRashmi Sharma

The death of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, shot while trying to control a mob of cow vigilantes in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, is a vivid expression of the contempt of our ruling classes, and those aligned to them, for the rule of law. The increasing number of human sacrifices for the alleged protection of cows signals a steep rise in this contempt. These incidents shock us because they are graphic and indicate a discernible change for the worse. The shock turns into dread as the ruling elite fails to condemn and punish the perpetrators. Mob violence is growing, and the government’s efforts to contain it are wanting.

Underlying these shocking incidents is an equally terrifying lawlessness, which is quiet, insidious and pervasive. The stunningly casual statements from the establishment after the incident are a new development in a systematised attack on the rule of law. This is illustrated in my case study of an unobtrusive, sleepy looking police station in the tribal belt of central India.

The police station was structured to perpetrate lawlessness in two ways. First, it was simply not enabled to enforce the rule of law. Manned by 16 people in all, with six of its 22 posts vacant, and headed by a sub-inspector, it was expected to serve 83 villages across 2,680 sq km. The police personnel were expected to investigate crime, maintain law and order, and were frequently deployed on VIP duty. The personnel rotated through it rapidly, as there was at least one transfer per month. The senior officers complained that postings were based on patronage, and it was not possible to deploy the best people for the most difficult tasks. The thana was always short of money, and personnel spent from their pocket on stationery and other needs.

The police personnel were extremely dissatisfied. They were entitled to 16 days of leave in a year, but this was never actually sanctioned. They reported being overworked, on duty 24 hours a day, with high stress. Their families were neglected. A head constable said that he had never attended a parents’ meeting in his child’s school. A majority of the constables lived in the nearby city because of lack of housing, schools and health facilities in that area. They travelled to the police station everyday, which is not how things should be as they need to be available in case of a crisis. This cost them around ?5,000 per month. They saw themselves as underpaid and not respected.

To this demotivating background were added idiosyncratic working styles. Though a police station is expected to respond to the needs and events of the area, it was assigned targets, such as for seizing a certain amount of liquor and issuing a number of challans. Every year, the targets were increased. Sometimes they simply did not correspond to the situation. For example, it had problems achieving its targets for issuing challans in the case of people riding without helmets, because there were few motorcycles in the area and people simply did not have money to pay the fine.

Discussions with the police personnel showed poor understanding about enforcing the law. When violence against women was discussed, many said that women usually made false complaints. During the study, a mentally disturbed person was beaten up as he stood hallucinating, decrying imagined enemies. The shortage of personnel, the sorry working conditions and their ignorance created a system not capable of upholding the rule of law.

The second way in which the police station became an agent of lawlessness was corruption. Interaction with the community showed that the village people feared and avoided the police. They said that the police listened to those who had money. The usual dismal tales of police greed and brutality emerged. Constables extracted money from vehicles plying the highway, snatched away mobile phones of ordinary people and returned them only when they were paid money. When an FIR was lodged, the police evinced sympathy for the victims as well as the accused, and took money off both to solve the case. An attempted rape was ignored after money exchanged hands.

One police personnel admitted that it was difficult not to be corrupt, because everyone was. She had started her career determined to never accept bribes. But over time, her perspective changed, as she faced pressure from senior officials as well as local leaders to ‘help’ in various ways. The pressure from inside, she said, was worse. This problem was clearly systemic and not individual, as the police personnel themselves were not happy with their corruption. They tried to atone for their sins by ensuring proper last rites when bodies were not claimed by anyone after accidents, by spending their own money.

This dull-looking police station was not newsworthy, and its activities did not shock anyone. But it symbolises the pervasive lawlessness to which we are now habituated. It is out of this system of lawlessness that the more dramatic incidents like the death of Singh emerge. We remain apathetic to systemic callousness, which also needs scrutiny and action.

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