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India is starving its kids

London — GANDHI famously denied himself food. And by starving himself to protest British rule, he ultimately made India stronger. But India’s leaders today are using food as a weapon, and they are sacrificing not themselves, but others. Their decisions threaten to make India’s children — already among the most undernourished in the world — weaker still.

Earlier this month, the chief minister of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, struck down a proposed pilot project to introduce eggs in free government nursery schools in districts populated by economically disadvantaged indigenous groups. The proposal came from the state’s own officials, but was dismissed by Mr. Chouhan on the grounds that eggs are a nonvegetarian food. Mr. Chouhan, like many Hindus, is a vegetarian and avoids eggs because they may be fertilized and are seen as a life force. While he has refused to address this incident publicly, his press officer claimed there were “more nutritious options available.” But what, exactly?

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  • Picasso

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    The India Dividend

    New Delhi Remains Washington’s Best Hope in Asia


    For two decades, Washington has had high hopes for India on the global stage. Gigantic, populous, and resource rich, India is, by all appearances, a superpower in waiting. And as the world’s largest democracy, it promises—according to those hopes—to be a crucial U.S. partner at a time of rising competition from authoritarian challengers.

    Almost 20 years ago, acting on such expectations, Washington began resolving the disagreements that had held U.S.-Indian relations back through the Cold War and into the 1990s. During George W. Bush’s presidency, U.S. officials gave up their long-standing insistence that India relinquish its nuclear weapons, allowing Washington and New Delhi to sign a landmark nuclear accord and opening the way to heavy U.S. investments—diplomatic, economic, and military—to facilitate India’s rise. Successive U.S. administrations provided liberal access to military technologies and promoted India’s role in international institutions, culminating in President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Indian aspirations to permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Albeit imperiled by the Trump administration’s disregard for allies and partners, this basic U.S. approach continues to this day.

    Yet the logic of the U.S.-Indian partnership remains misunderstood by many, especially in the United States. The transformation of U.S.-Indian ties since the early years of this century has given rise to expectations that, sooner or later, the two countries would become allies in all but name, closely aligned on virtually every major foreign policy issue. That such an accord has not materialized has brought creeping disappointment and doubt about the relationship’s long-term viability.

    Critics carp that the United States has overinvested in India—that the favors accorded to New Delhi have not been worth the return. They point, for instance, to India’s failure to select a U.S. fighter for its air force or to its inability to conclude the nuclear reactor purchases promised under the breakthrough nuclear agreement. Even supporters of the partnership occasionally chafe at how long bilateral engagement has taken to produce the expected fruits. The Trump administration has taken such frustration further, focusing less on India’s potential as a partner than on its unbalanced trade with the United States. It recently withdrew India’s privileged trade access to the United States under the Generalized System of Preferences program, churlishly announcing the decision just hours after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn into office for a second time following his spectacular victory in elections this past spring.

    Both critics and supporters of the U.S.-Indian relationship seem to agree that the new engagement between the two democracies has not yielded the alliance-like bond once hoped for. These complaints are off the mark. Since the turn of the century, India has become a strong supporter of the U.S.-led international order, despite showing no interest in an alliance with Washington. If the United States’ aim is to turn India into a close ally, formal or otherwise, it will come to grief. Instead, Washington and New Delhi should strive to forge a partnership oriented toward furthering common interests without expecting an alliance of any kind. Simply put, the success of U.S. efforts in India should be measured not by what India does for the United States but by what India does for itself: if New Delhi puts in the economic and political work to make itself a major power—especially at a time of growing Chinese influence—Washington’s ambition to sustain what then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice once called “a balance of power that favors freedom” will have been satisfied in Asia.

    To achieve that goal, U.S. and Indian officials alike must think about the relationship differently. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle to a deeper partnership is wishful thinking about what it can achieve.

    STRATEGIC ALTRUISM

    U.S.-Indian relations underwent a dramatic change soon after Bush assumed the presidency, in 2001. After decades of alienation, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, had already made some headway with a successful visit to New Delhi in March 2000. But a major point of friction remained: the insistence that relations could not improve unless India gave up its nuclear weapons, first developed in the 1970s, in the face of opposition from Washington.

    Bush sought to accelerate cooperation with India in ways that would overcome existing disagreements and help both sides navigate the new century. Although the war on terrorism provided a first opportunity for cooperation (since both countries faced a threat from jihadist organzations), a larger mutual challenge lay over the horizon: China’s rise. Considering its long-standing border disputes with China, Chinese support for its archrival Pakistan, and China’s growing weight in South Asia and beyond, India had major concerns about China. In particular, leaders in New Delhi feared that a too-powerful China could abridge the freedom and security of weaker neighbors. The United States, for its part, was beginning to view China’s rise as a threat to allies such as Taiwan and Japan. Washington also worried about Beijing’s ambitions to have China gradually replace the United States as the key security provider in Asia and its increasingly vocal opposition to a global system underpinned by U.S. primacy. Where China was concerned, U.S. and Indian national interests intersected. Washington sought to maintain stability in Asia through an order based not on Chinese supremacy but on security and autonomy for all states in the region. India, driven by its own fears of Chinese domination, supported Washington’s vision over Beijing’s.

    For India, neutralizing the hazards posed by a growing China required revitalizing its own power—in other words, becoming a great power itself. But Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his successors recognized that, in the short term, they could not reach this goal on their own. India’s fractious democracy, institutional weaknesses, and passive strategic culture would impede the rapid accumulation of national power. Concerted support from external powers could mitigate these weaknesses—and no foreign partner mattered as much as the United States. American assistance could make the difference between effective balancing and a losing bet.

    The Bush administration appreciated India’s predicament. After many hard-fought bureaucratic battles, it came to accept the central argument we had been articulating from the U.S. embassy in New Delhi: that the United States should set aside its standing nonproliferation policy in regard to India as a means of building the latter’s power to balance China. Washington thus began to convey its support for New Delhi in ways that would have seemed unimaginable a few years earlier. The United States started to work with India in four arenas in which India’s possession of nuclear weapons had previously made meaningful cooperation all but impossible: civilian nuclear safety, civilian space programs, high-tech trade, and missile defense. That step laid the foundation for the achievement of Bush’s second term, the civilian nuclear agreement, which inaugurated resumed cooperation with New Delhi on civilian nuclear energy without requiring it to give up its nuclear weapons.

    Skeptics in and out of government argued that the United States ought to offer its support only to the degree that India would reciprocate by consistently aligning its policies with Washington’s aims. But such a demand would have been a recipe for failure. India was too big to forgo its vital national interests when they collided with U.S. preferences, and it was too proud a nation to be seen as Washington’s minion. It was also much weaker than the United States and could not often make substantial direct contributions toward realizing U.S. objectives.

    Generous U.S. policies were not merely a favor to New Delhi; they were a conscious exercise of strategic altruism. When contemplating various forms of political support for India, U.S. leaders did not ask, “What can India do for us?” They hoped that India’s upward trajectory would shift the Asian balance of power in ways favorable to the United States and thus prevent Beijing from abusing its growing clout in the region. A strong India was fundamentally in Washington’s interest, even if New Delhi would often go its own way on specific policy issues. Both Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, turned a blind eye to India’s positions in international trade negotiations, its relatively closed economy, and its voting record at the United Nations, all of which ran counter to U.S. preferences.

    The U.S.-Indian partnership was built on a careful calculation by each side: Washington, unsettled by the prospect of an ascendant China, sought to build up new power centers in Asia. New Delhi, meanwhile, hoped to balance China by shoring up its own national power, with the United States acting both as a source of support and, more broadly, as a guardian of the liberal international order. Under these terms, the partnership flourished. The two countries concluded a defense cooperation agreement in 2005—a first for New Delhi, with any country—and went on to sign the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region in 2015; Indian policymakers, breaking with their past reluctance, supported the U.S. goal of “ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea,” and agreed to a road map toward, among other things, bilateral military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Indian defense acquisitions of U.S. military equipment substantially increased, as well—from none in 2000 to over $18 billion worth in 2018—as New Delhi began shifting away from Russia, traditionally its principal arms supplier. U.S.-Indian cooperation intensified in a number of areas, including counterterrorism, intelligence sharing, military-to-military relations, and cybersecurity, as well as such sensitive ones as climate change and nuclear security. For two countries that had been at loggerheads for much of the previous three decades, this was a remarkable achievement.

    A STRING OF PEARLS

    U.S. President Donald Trump has complicated this relationship. His administration has shifted from strategic altruism to a narrower and more self-centered conception of U.S. national interests. Its “America first” vision has upturned the post–World War II compact that the United States would accept asymmetric burdens for its friends with the knowledge that the collective success of democratic states would serve Washington’s interests in its struggle against greater authoritarian threats. India, of course, had been a beneficiary of this bargain since at least 2001.

    In some ways, U.S.-Indian relations have changed less in the Trump era than one might expect. There are several reasons for this continuity. For one, New Delhi saw foreign policy opportunities in Trump’s victory—such as the possibility of improved U.S. relations with Russia, a longtime Indian ally, and more restraint in the use of force abroad, giving India more sway to advance its vision of a multipolar global order. It was also believed that Trump might put less pressure on India regarding its climate policies and its relations with Pakistan.

    Above all, India’s fundamental security calculus hasn’t changed. Leaders in New Delhi are still convinced that China is bent on replacing the United States as the primary power in Asia, that this outcome would be exceedingly bad for India, and that only a strong partnership with the United States can prevent it. As one senior Indian policymaker told us, China’s rise “is so momentous that it should make every other government reexamine the basic principles of its foreign policy.”

    New Delhi particularly worries that China is encircling India with a “string of pearls”—a collection of naval bases and dual-use facilities in the Indian Ocean that will threaten its security. A Chinese-funded shipping hub in Sri Lanka and a Chinese-controlled deep-water port in Pakistan have attracted particular concern. China has also invested $46 billion in a segment of its Belt and Road Initiative that crosses through Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. China’s economic, political, and military support for Pakistan, India’s enemy of seven decades and adversary in three major wars, suggest that China is working to establish a local counterweight to India.

    India has also watched with growing alarm as China has illegally militarized its artificial islands in the South China Sea, opposed Indian membership in the UN Security Council, and blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international organization of nuclear supplier countries committed to nonproliferation. China claims a huge swath of Indian territory in the Himalayas, questions Indian sovereignty over Kashmir, and last year triggered a military standoff with Indian troops in Bhutanese territory. In Tibet, China has been constructing dams that could potentially limit the flow of water into India, which would exacerbate water scarcity and complicate flood control in India’s plains.

    India’s response to the growing Chinese threat has been to develop its own capabilities, including military ones. But the Indian government recognizes that only the United States has the power necessary to prevent China from becoming an Asian hegemon in the decades ahead. As a result, fostering ties with the United States remains India’s topmost foreign policy priority. This openness to U.S. influence stands in sharp contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calls for “the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia”—a security vision for the region that excludes the United States.

    Buoyed by its hope that Washington will continue to serve as a steadfast security guarantor in Asia, India has begun to take a much tougher stance against China. It has condemned China’s claims to and militarization of islands in the South China Sea and its efforts to undermine the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, emphasizing the importance of “ASEAN centrality” in its own Indo-Pacific policy. New Delhi has also begun to engage more in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal group in which Australia, India, Japan, and the United States discuss how to protect the Indo-Pacific region in the face of Chinese ascendancy. And New Delhi has doubled down on its opposition to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative by collaborating with Japan on infrastructure investments in South and Southeast Asia and Africa.

    Most important, India began, in the last years of the Obama administration, quietly cooperating with the U.S. military through intelligence sharing, while continuing to expand its military exercises with the United States. The Trump administration, for its part, has started to resolutely confront China, much to New Delhi’s satisfaction. It has also articulated both a South Asia strategy and an Indo-Pacific strategy that stress India’s pivotal role in the region, has allowed India to buy drones and other advanced weapons systems, and has put India on a par with NATO allies in terms of trade in sensitive technologies. Other defense projects, such as India’s acquisition of advanced military technologies to counteract the expanding Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, are still in the planning stage, but they nonetheless are noteworthy for a country that long preached the value of nonalignment.

    A RELATIONSHIP ADRIFT?

    Still, U.S.-Indian relations have hardly been spared from the fallout from the Trump administration’s disruptive and often counterproductive foreign policy. Indian leaders want Washington to sustain the traditional strategic altruism displayed toward New Delhi while doing whatever is necessary to protect a liberal international order that will be open to a rising India. On both counts, Trump’s actions have left them jittery.

    Trump has questioned the value of U.S. alliances and raised doubts about whether the United States would defend its NATO allies against a Russian attack, leaving even staunch pro-U.S. stalwarts such as Modi wondering whether India could ever count on the United States to come to its aid in the event of a major crisis with China. These worries are compounded by the suspicion that the United States under Trump is too internally divided to muster the strength, unity, and resolve necessary to compete with China in the long term. Trump has also initiated trade wars with allies such as Japan and the EU, and Indian policymakers are now grappling with Trump’s punitive trade measures against India; in late 2018, Trump labeled India “the tariff king.” Likewise, given that the Trump administration has taken crucial policy decisions regarding North Korea’s nuclear program without consulting South Korea or Japan, who is to say that Washington will be forthcoming on issues of vital interest to India? The administration’s approach to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, which has failed to consider Indian interests, has already driven this point home in New Delhi. Trump has largely ignored the imperative of protecting U.S. alliances in Asia in the face of China’s rise—despite the continent’s centrality in the policy documents issued by his own administration. Trump, it appears, cares for little beyond major Asian nations’ trade balances with the United States. He has opted instead to invest heavily in personal relationships with autocrats such as Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump’s mercurial personality, which leaves the credibility of his commitments in doubt, and the departure of India’s supporters, such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, from the administration have only made matters worse, despite recent efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to correct the drift in U.S.-Indian relations.

    The uncomfortable question facing Indian policymakers is whether they can continue banking on the cooperation of a Washington that appears to have abandoned the liberal international order and evinces little enthusiasm for continued strategic altruism toward New Delhi. Although they want a stronger relationship with Washington—in part because Modi has already expended much capital on this cause—they have already started diversifying India’s international portfolio and repairing New Delhi’s relations with Beijing and Moscow. In June 2018, Modi himself used a major international address to revive the concept of “strategic autonomy,” a hoary Indian locution that has traditionally stood for seeking good relations with the United States without alienating China or Russia. The fact that Modi has opted for such geopolitical hedging, knowing full well that the strategy would not protect India in the face of increased Chinese hostility, speaks volumes about India’s crisis of faith in Trump’s America as a security partner.

    Strong and enduring policy differences on trade, Iran, and Russia have complicated the relationship even further. Last September, in response to a decline in the rupee’s value against the dollar, the Modi government announced tariffs on various imports, such as jet fuel, plastics, gemstones, and shoes. After many delays in reaching a settlement in its trade dispute with the United States, it also imposed retaliatory duties on U.S. agricultural products and metals in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. New Delhi is also concerned about the increased difficulties that Indian nationals face when applying for H1-B visas, which allow workers to take specialized jobs in the United States. Washington, for its part, would like to reduce barriers to U.S. access to the Indian market, which has been hampered by tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods, the latter stemming from the “Make in India” initiative, designed to spur domestic manufacturing. U.S. companies in India also face restrictions on data collection and price constraints on medical products.

    The United States and India are currently discussing how to resolve these issues, but the structure of a potential deal remains unclear. Washington could grant New Delhi a lasting exemption to its steel and aluminum tariffs, perhaps in exchange for specific concessions on the pricing of medical devices and information technology imports. But the Trump administration is unlikely to end its trade confrontations anytime soon. And India is unlikely to open its markets significantly in the near future: trade liberalization remains at the bottom of India’s list of future economic reforms, largely because of the country’s desire to protect its economy from foreign competition for as long as possible. Modi, for all his other economic reforms, has actually taken India a step backward on trade by raising tariffs to generate revenue. Despite the danger that increased protectionism could undo the country’s progress since it liberalized its trading regime in the early 1990s, imperil Modi’s dream of India’s becoming a “leading power,” and exacerbate the trade frictions with Washington, there appears to be neither the vision nor the appetite in New Delhi to liberalize trade.

    Iran is another major point of contention. India, whose ties to Iran go back centuries, strongly supported the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement; it had previously worried that a Shiite nuclear power would inevitably set off a cascade of proliferation in the Sunni Arab world, leaving India with many more Muslim nuclear powers to its west. After the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran deal, in May 2018, India joined many other states in trying to keep elements of the agreement alive and find ways to avoid U.S. sanctions against Iran, especially on oil. When the United States reimposed oil sanctions in November 2018, India was one of eight countries to secure a six-month waiver from Washington. Subsequently, in an effort to appease Washington, India reduced its oil imports from Iran drastically, despite the importance New Delhi places on its partnership with Tehran (in part because Iran gives India land access to Afghanistan that circumvents Pakistani territory). The Trump administration wants Indian cooperation in its confrontation with Iran, but New Delhi is reluctant to clash with Tehran at a time when it has already gone beyond the original U.S. demands to minimize its Iranian energy imports. Iran is thus likely to remain a source of irritation in U.S.-Indian relations for the foreseeable future.

    Relations with Russia form another stumbling block. India worries that despite Trump’s apparent desire to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. administration is pushing Russia into an ever-closer relationship with China, including intensified military-to-military cooperation. New Delhi is at the same time determined to protect its ties with Moscow, including its decades-long defense collaboration. In October 2018, India announced a deal to purchase a $6 billion S-400 air defense system from Russia, and the two countries reaffirmed their military partnership. Unless the Trump administration issues a waiver for the sale, the deal will trigger secondary sanctions against India under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. Yet Nirmala Sitharaman, at the time India’s defense minister, stated in July 2018 that India would not change its long-held position on the S-400 based on U.S. domestic laws alone. (Senior administration officials apparently promised India a waiver for the S-400 purchase if New Delhi cooperated by reducing its Iranian oil purchases—which it did—but the administration now seems to have changed its mind.) So far, neither side seems to be budging, and if the issue remains unresolved, there will be significant collateral damage.

    PARTNERS, NOT ALLIES

    On all these issues, Washington has taken a hard line, at least in public. This is because under Trump, strategic altruism toward India has taken a back seat to demands for specific acts of reciprocity. Yet this American expectation, which even U.S. treaty allies have trouble satisfying, is several bridges too far for what is nevertheless a U.S.-friendly Indian government. New Delhi is content to cooperate when there are common national interests at stake, as in the case of balancing China, but seeks the right to go its own way without penalty when U.S. and Indian interests diverge.

    Ultimately, neither the American nor the Indian approach provides a stable basis for long-term cooperation; both will instead produce only acrimony and frustration. The United States must recognize that India is not an ally and will not behave like one, even though there are issues on which the two countries’ vital national interests align. Strengthening those convergences should be a priority in Washington. Toward that end, the United States should desist under certain circumstances from levying demands on India that could threaten New Delhi’s relations with its other partners: when vital U.S. interests are not at stake, when the demands would undermine progress toward collectively balancing China, and when they relate to peripheral differences in the bilateral relationship with India. And India should stop taking the United States’ strategic altruism for granted and assuming that it can rely on continued U.S. generosity even in the absence of any attempts by New Delhi to make it worth the cost. For India, this means contributing to the liberal international order at a time when Washington’s commitment to bearing those costs is wobbly, accelerating defense cooperation with the United States, and pursuing economic reforms that would allow U.S. businesses more access to the growing Indian economy.

    Both sides should prioritize practical cooperation to balance China’s rise. They should start by routinely sharing intelligence on China’s military modernization and real-time information about Chinese military movements in the Indian Ocean. Each could allow the other’s military to use its facilities for rotational access. And by working together on antisubmarine and antisurface warfare, air and missile defense, and cyber- and space technology, they could erect a joint anti-access/area-denial system that constrains Chinese military operations in the Indo-Pacific.

    “Forgetting our intentions,” Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “is the most frequent of all acts of stupidity.” Washington and New Delhi should remember that their most pressing objective by far is not to agree on trade or Iran or Russia; it is to cope with the power of a rising China in the coming decades. If balancing China in the context of protecting the liberal international order remains the lodestar, the actions that both sides take toward that goal, both unilaterally and bilaterally, will be more than worth all the inevitable disagreements on other issues.

    ~ Foreign Affairs

    September/October 2019
     
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    The Roots of Hindu Nationalism’s Triumph in India

    What the BJP Learned From the Congress Party

    By Kanchan Chandra



    When Indians voted in parliamentary elections earlier this year, they did more than just elect a government. They also participated in the birth of India as a Hindu nation with a state to match.

    India was established in 1947 as a pluralist nation, home to people of many religions, sects, and ethnicities. The country’s constitution provides no special claim over the state or its territory to any one of them—including the Hindus, who make up roughly 80 percent of the population. Moreover, Hindus themselves are hardly a monolith: they differ in the languages they speak, the beliefs they hold, the deities they worship, and the rituals and customs that shape their lives. As a result, Hindus have historically not thought of themselves as a single community or nation.

    But to judge from the results of the election, the pluralist idea of India is receding into the past. At the polls, 44 percent of Hindus—a larger proportion than ever before—voted for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which seeks to transform India into a Hindu nation. According to public opinion surveys conducted between 2016 and 2018 by researchers at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Azim Premji University, a majority of Hindus, including those who vote for other parties, now profess support for some of the BJP’s most important Hindu nationalist positions. This was also the first Indian election in which no major political party challenged the BJP’s position that India’s Hindu majority constitutes a single community that can rightfully claim ownership of the nation. Today, the basic struggle in Indian politics is not over whether Hindus and Hinduism should enjoy privileged status but over the precise legal and constitutional forms that privilege will take.

    The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lost no time in trying to enshrine that status in law. Bills designed to further the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda—changes that once would have produced fierce debate—have already been enacted with the support of a wide spectrum of opposition parties. More such legislation is likely to follow.

    The transformation of India into a Hindu nation, however, was set in motion not by the BJP but by the other great force in Indian politics, the Congress party. That process began in 1969, with a nearly forgotten event in India’s political history: a major split in the Congress party that pushed the present-day Congress toward a Hindu majoritarian position and paved the way for the eventual success of BJP’s more extreme ideology five decades later.

    WHEN CONGRESS GOT RELIGION

    The successful dissemination of an ideology by a political party requires an organization that links the leadership to the grassroots. The Congress party once had such an organization, forged under the leadership of Mohandas Gandhi during India’s nationalist movement, and inherited by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. It was this organization that articulated and popularized the original pluralist idea of India in 1947.

    Nehru died in office in 1964, and, after two short-lived prime ministers, Indira Gandhi took power in 1966. She quickly found herself at odds with the party’s powerful regional bosses, known as the Syndicate, after she tried to wrest control over the party’s economic policy, political appointments, and choice of candidates to stand for elections. As a result of this conflict, Congress split into two blocs in 1969. The bloc led by Indira Gandhi evolved into the present-day Congress party, while the one controlled by the Syndicate disintegrated over time.

    The split destroyed the organization that had linked the party leadership to the grassroots. It left Gandhi with two plausible routes to political survival: she could find a galvanizing popular issue in order to forge such links temporarily, or she could avoid elections altogether. She tried both. In the parliamentary election of 1971, the first after the split, she won by campaigning on a populist antipoverty platform. Then, in 1975, she postponed elections by declaring a national emergency. After the emergency ended, in 1977, voters punished her party with a resounding defeat in the next parliamentary poll. So, ahead of the next elections, Gandhi returned to the tactic of finding a galvanizing issue.

    Fatefully, she found one in the politics of religion. At first, she tried to play all sides of the country’s religious divide. In the early 1980s, for example, she extended covert support to the militant Sikh preacher J. S. Bhindranwale, who called for an independent Sikh nation and who had been implicated in violence against Hindus in Punjab. By supporting Bhindranwale, Gandhi sought to weaken her main opposition in the populous state of Punjab, the Sikh-led Akali Dal party, as well as prop up her own power base at the expense of other regional leaders within the Punjab Congress. In 1984, she reversed herself and sent the Indian army into the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, to root out Bhindranwale and his militant supporters, who had set up base there. Gandhi hoped that the siege, codenamed Operation Blue Star, would send Hindus a strong signal ahead of a parliamentary election that her government was capable of protecting them as well as safeguarding India’s territorial integrity. The army succeeded in ousting and killing Bhindrandwale, but the move antagonized many of India’s Sikhs who did not support Bhindranwale or his ideology but viewed the army’s entry into the Golden Temple as sacrilege.

    Gandhi played for Hindu favor in Muslim-majority Kashmir, as well. In 1983, she aligned herself with the Hindu minority there during regional elections. But the Congress party lost, and a popular Muslim leader, Farooq Abdullah, was elected chief minister of Kashmir. A year later, Gandhi dismissed Abdullah and his elected government, to the fury of much of the state’s Muslim population.

    In the end, such machinations would be Gandhi’s undoing. In October 1984, two of her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in retribution for Operation Blue Star. Hindu mobs retaliated by attacking thousands of Sikhs. Congress was complicit in the anti-Sikh violence: some of the party’s leaders even participated in it. When Gandhi’s son Rajiv took over as prime minister, he excused the violence by saying, “When a big tree falls, the ground will shake.”

    Rajiv Gandhi followed in his mother’s footsteps by first trying to balance religious interests against one another and then moving decisively toward Hindu majoritarianism. In 1986, a Congress government allowed Hindus to worship at a disputed site in the north Indian town of Ayodhya that was home to a mosque. This gave a boost to Hindu revivalist organizations, which had launched a popular movement claiming that the mosque had been built on the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram and demanding that it be replaced by a temple. In 1988, Congress asked Arun Govil, an actor who played Ram in a wildly successful television show, to campaign for the party’s candidate in a by-election. Govil, dressed in saffron robes, asked voters to “take the name of Lord Ram and vote for the Congress.” In the 1989 general election, Gandhi launched Congress’ campaign from Ayodhya, promising to establish Ram rajya—literally, “the rule of Lord Ram”—if he won.

    Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. In 1992, the national government led by the Congress party failed to protect the Ayodhya mosque from a Hindu mob that destroyed it—and with it, Congress’ secularist credentials. Since then, Congress has given up on making an ideological case for secularism. Instead, influential Congress leaders have argued that the party should be careful not to advocate too strongly for the rights of India’s religious minorities—in particular Muslims—lest it be perceived as anti-Hindu.

    In the 2019 election campaign, in which Congress sought to regain power after five years of BJP rule, Congress dropped the word “secularism” from its manifesto altogether. The party’s then president, Rahul Gandhi (son of Rajiv and grandson of Indira), also pointedly avoided the term on the campaign trail. Instead, both Rahul and his sister and principal co-campaigner, Priyanka Gandhi, signaled their alignment with India’s Hindu majority by conspicuously visiting Hindu temples and avoiding mosques and other non-Hindu places of worship. Both were silent on the question of minority rights, including a spate of lynchings of Muslims under the BJP government.

    LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS

    Congress’s sustained move toward Hindu majoritarianism over several decades created fertile ground for the more extreme ideology of the BJP.

    The BJP, which was formally founded in 1980, traces its lineage to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). The BJS was founded in 1951 as the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a cadre-based organization devoted to the cause of establishing a Hindu nation. For decades, the BJS was the main advocate of Hindu nationalism in the electoral arena. Worn down by a lack of success, the BJS substantially moderated its platform and, in 1977, merged with the ideologically diverse Janata Party.

    In 1980, BJS members left the Janata Party to form the BJP. They initially conceived of the BJP not as a Hindu nationalist party but as a centrist one. They had given up on Hindu nationalism after years of failure, having come to believe that it would never attract a popular following in India. Indeed, in the 1984 elections, Congress was the most pro-Hindu of all the major parties, and the BJP, as the political scientist James Manor noted, was “in the curious position of being more tolerant of minorities than Congress was.”

    Congress won a large majority in 1984. In response, the BJP rapidly and gladly returned to its roots, having witnessed the popular legitimacy that Congress had managed to create for Hindu majoritarian politics. The BJP’s 1989 manifesto restored the emphasis on Hindu nationalism that had been missing from its 1984 platform. It also included a statement in support of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, an issue on which it had been silent in 1984.

    The BJP was soon able to outflank Congress as the champion of India’s Hindus thanks to the one thing that Congress did not have after 1969: a strong grassroots organization. It also benefits from the formidable organizational networks of the RSS and its affiliates. Indeed, several BJP officials are considered to be “on deputation” from the RSS. The BJP has never undergone a nationwide split despite major disagreements among its senior leaders. In recent years, the BJP has also substantially extended and strengthened the links between the leadership and the grassroots by expanding party membership, pioneering the use of social media, and appointing thousands of new local functionaries to help connect the party to its target voters.

    All of this has meant that the BJP could formulate and disseminate the idea of India as a Hindu nation—and market Modi as its chief advocate—with an effectiveness that Congress has not demonstrated for decades. In traveling across India during this year’s election campaign, I found that the BJP’s ideological message, in contrast to that of the Congress, was clear and consistent from top to bottom: the regional leader, the election candidate, and the party worker at the polling booth level said exactly the same things that Modi did.

    The BJP’s organization also helped it further its ideological agenda by forging alliances with other parties: strong support from the rank and file allowed it to make concessions even to its former opponents. Congress, in contrast, was not able to strike deals with even ideologically proximate parties for fear of opposition from its party workers.

    MODI’S MOVES

    During Modi’s first term in office, most of the steps the government took in the direction of Hindu nationalism took place outside the legislative arena. The BJP appointed a Hindu religious leader as chief minister of India’s largest state, changed history textbooks to identify Hindus as the country’s original inhabitants, renamed cities and roads after places and figures from Hindu mythology (replacing Muslim ones), tacitly sanctioned efforts to convert Muslims to Hinduism (which the party called “homecoming”), and supported and even incited vigilante violence against Muslims.

    But it did not have the mandate to introduce new legislation. The two bills associated with a Hindu nationalist ideology that it tried to pass lapsed for want of support in Parliament. The first of these criminalized the system of instant divorce among Muslims. The BJP cast this bill as an effort to protect women’s rights. But it was also aimed at eroding the autonomy of Muslims in matters of civil law. For Hindu nationalists, who have long criticized the protections afforded to Muslims (the largest religious minority in India) as instances of special treatment, downgrading these protections is as important as upgrading the status of Hindus. The second introduced religion-based preferences in India’s citizenship policies for the first time by relaxing eligibility requirements for non-Muslim migrants from some of India’s neighboring countries.

    Even today BJP does not have the numbers to pass such legislation on its own: it holds a majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament but falls short of a majority in the upper house, even after taking into account the seats won by its alliance members. Yet it has won support for its ideological agenda among parties outside its governing alliance. Some of these parties are jumping on the BJP’s bandwagon based on a calculation that the electorate is now more receptive to Hindu nationalism than before.

    The first bill that the new government introduced in Parliament revived the criminalization of instant divorce among Muslims. Some of the BJP’s allies opposed the bill, but they did not vote against it, and the BJP was able to win the support of some parties outside its alliance. The bill passed in both houses and was enacted into law in July this year. Days later, the BJP enacted an amendment in India’s antiterrorist legislation that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists regardless of their organizational affiliation with a relatively low burden of proof. This law not only supports the Hindu nationalist vision of a muscular security state but also empowers the government to pursue its ideological enemies.

    The following month, the government issued a notification curtailing the autonomy constitutionally guaranteed to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Ending this autonomy is one of the oldest and most controversial tenets of its Hindu nationalist agenda. It also succeeded in getting both houses of Parliament to approve a bill that stripped Kashmir of its status as a state within the Indian federal union altogether. Remarkably, a number of regional parties within and outside the BJP alliance, who could reasonably have been expected to oppose attempts to curtain regional autonomy, supported the move.

    Congress has in the meantime been engulfed in a fresh organizational crisis. Rahul Gandhi resigned as the party’s president immediately after its poor performance in the elections. After months without leadership, the party appointed Sonia Gandhi as its interim president. The party seems confused about how to respond to the BJP’s moves. Although Congress party leaders in Parliament opposed the BJP-sponsored legislation, some members not in Parliament tweeted in support of it. The gap between leaders and the grassroots, meanwhile, has widened. As a result, just when the vision of a secular, pluralistic India is threatened as never before, the Congress party—the original incubator of that vision—is at its weakest. And, to some degree, it has itself to blame.

    ~ Foreign Affairs

    September 11, 2019
     
    Picasso

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    Why Religious Tolerance Won in Indonesia but Lost in India

    It Turns Out Pluralistic Nationalism Isn’t Enough

    By Dan Slater and Maya Tudor



    Modi waves to his supporters in Varanasi, India in April 2019Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

    Asia’s two largest and most diverse democracies held national elections in recent weeks, and religious tolerance was on the ballot in both. Voters, however, delivered diametrically opposed verdicts.

    In Indonesia, the government of incumbent President Joko Widodo (widely known as Jokowi) won by broadcasting a message of pluralism. Jokowi preached an inclusive nationalism that transcended Islam, Indonesia’s dominant religion, and won reelection by a decisive margin.

    In India, victory also went to the incumbent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but on very different terms. Modi, who heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won in large measure by invoking his party’s vision of an India of and for the Hindus.

    Like all elections, of course, these were not simply referenda on a single issue. Jokowi and Modi owe their victories as much to their charisma, common touch, and pro-development reputations as to their stances on questions of piety and religious discrimination. No less consequential was that India’s main opposition, the Congress party, traditionally a voice for religious inclusion, chose as its candidate the charisma-free scion of a powerful political dynasty, whereas Jokowi’s party in Indonesia wisely desisted from running its own deeply unpopular dynastic leader into near-certain defeat. Banal as it may sound, tolerance wins only when its champions can manage to put forward strong candidates. The implication is that victories for religious tolerance, such as in Indonesia, tend to be fragile, contested, and therefore potentially short-lived.

    Still, a weightier factor can tip the scales: historical conceptions of nations, going back decades or centuries, help decide whether a message of tolerance will resonate or fall on deaf ears. From the moment of their nearly simultaneous founding as independent nation-states in the late 1940s, Indonesia and India both inherited pluralistic nationalisms from the leaders and movements that fought for independence. Crucially, neither country’s constitution favored the demographically dominant religion—Hinduism in India, Islam in Indonesia—over other faiths.

    On the whole, such a pluralistic understanding of the nation has been a critical democratic resource in both countries. It helps explain the resilience of Indian democracy since the late 1940s and the surprising democratic opening that followed military rule in Indonesia in the late 1990s. Inclusive nationalism is of enduring value for tolerant democrats, both in times of democratic transition and when confronted in elections by those with more exclusionary and discriminatory visions of the nation. And while formal inclusivity does not prevent politicians from appealing to the dominant religious community, Indian secularism and the Indonesian national philosophy of Pancasila, which mandates belief in a single but not necessarily Muslim god, regularly help legitimate the countries’ leading pluralist political parties and their inclusive messages.

    But if what unites the two countries is their inclusive brand of nationalism, why did tolerance just win in Indonesia but lose in India? Putting aside the campaign-related and candidate-specific factors, one might think that pluralist voices would have an easier time flourishing in formally secular India than in Indonesia, whose founding national creed makes nonbelief literally illegal. Because Indonesia has more closely identified its national identity with religion and always provided pious Muslims a central position in the national community, it might seem that the country is more vulnerable than India to religious intolerance infecting its electoral politics.

    In practice, however, the religious quality of Indonesian nationalism can act as much as a vaccine for intolerance as a virus that spreads it. Because Indonesia’s national identity accommodates but does not prioritize Islam, politics is not fundamentally divided between Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. Instead, nationalist Muslims allied with non-Muslims on the one side compete with more intolerant Muslims on the other side. Consequently, one can easily be both a pious Muslim and a pluralist nationalist in Indonesia.

    The 2019 elections conformed to this pattern. Indonesian nationalism’s historical embrace of religion made it easier for Jokowi’s pluralist party to form an alliance with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) the country’s largest Muslim organization. To be sure, Jokowi picked an especially conservative leader of the NU as his running mate, raising hackles among Jokowi’s more liberal supporters. But his vice-presidential pick helped him secure an overwhelming landslide in the heavily populous regions of Central and East Java, where NU has its deepest roots. Remarkably, Jokowi won the national vote by around 17 million votes, but took those two vital provinces by close to 20 million votes. The alliance of Jokowi’s party and NU, and their shared commitment to a nationalism that is at once Islamic and pluralist, carried the day for Jokowi more than anything else.

    Not so in India. Hindu nationalism has long had an influential voice in Indian politics, but the country’s post-independence constitution emphasizes equal rights for all minority groups. Reinforced under the towering leadership of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, this constitutional structure led to the creation of separate legal codes for religions and a politics of caste recognition that defined Indian politics for decades.

    Over time, however, the bright line between the religion of the majority and the character of the state has led the forces of religious nationalism to consolidate on one side of the political divide—within the socially conservative BJP. The shift was gradual. Political scientists Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma found that fifteen years ago, virulent Hindu nationalists, who favored a statist embrace of jingoist nationalism and majoritarian policies at the expense of minorities, particularly Muslims, voted for the BJP by large margins whereas those who simply favored protecting Hindu culture voted equally for the BJP and the Congress party. But the BJP managed to popularize the idea that the Indian state should actively prioritize Hindu culture and that secularism was effectively a policy of minority appeasement. By 2014, pious Hindus had defected in large numbers to the BJP. Unlike in Indonesia, strongly identifying with Hinduism and embracing pluralist nationalism in today’s India is difficult. Modi’s ability to win the support of both aspirational young voters attracted to his dynamism and pious Hindu voters who support cultural majoritarianism delivered him the election.

    India and Indonesia both have the foundations in place for pluralism to defeat intolerance. But it is up to pluralist parties and politicians to make the most of them. Despite Indonesia’s inclusive national heritage, an intolerant and authoritarian brand of political Islam is growing more popular. There is no guarantee that the country’s pluralist inheritance will not be upended in the near future. In India, Hindu nationalism may have won the day this time, but pluralism can prevail if opposition parties cast aside dynasts and promote more appealing politicians capable of exploiting ideological contradictions within the incumbent party’s support base.

    The next time elections roll around in India and Indonesia, we could very well be telling the opposite story. What is certain is that the fight to defend pluralism against its challengers in Asia’s largest and most diverse democracies will continue.

    ~ Foreign Affairs

    July 3, 2019
     
    proIsrael-nonIsraeli

    proIsrael-nonIsraeli

    Legendary Member
    Why Religious Tolerance Won in Indonesia but Lost in India

    It Turns Out Pluralistic Nationalism Isn’t Enough

    By Dan Slater and Maya Tudor



    Modi waves to his supporters in Varanasi, India in April 2019Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

    Asia’s two largest and most diverse democracies held national elections in recent weeks, and religious tolerance was on the ballot in both. Voters, however, delivered diametrically opposed verdicts.

    In Indonesia, the government of incumbent President Joko Widodo (widely known as Jokowi) won by broadcasting a message of pluralism. Jokowi preached an inclusive nationalism that transcended Islam, Indonesia’s dominant religion, and won reelection by a decisive margin.

    In India, victory also went to the incumbent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but on very different terms. Modi, who heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won in large measure by invoking his party’s vision of an India of and for the Hindus.

    Like all elections, of course, these were not simply referenda on a single issue. Jokowi and Modi owe their victories as much to their charisma, common touch, and pro-development reputations as to their stances on questions of piety and religious discrimination. No less consequential was that India’s main opposition, the Congress party, traditionally a voice for religious inclusion, chose as its candidate the charisma-free scion of a powerful political dynasty, whereas Jokowi’s party in Indonesia wisely desisted from running its own deeply unpopular dynastic leader into near-certain defeat. Banal as it may sound, tolerance wins only when its champions can manage to put forward strong candidates. The implication is that victories for religious tolerance, such as in Indonesia, tend to be fragile, contested, and therefore potentially short-lived.

    Still, a weightier factor can tip the scales: historical conceptions of nations, going back decades or centuries, help decide whether a message of tolerance will resonate or fall on deaf ears. From the moment of their nearly simultaneous founding as independent nation-states in the late 1940s, Indonesia and India both inherited pluralistic nationalisms from the leaders and movements that fought for independence. Crucially, neither country’s constitution favored the demographically dominant religion—Hinduism in India, Islam in Indonesia—over other faiths.

    On the whole, such a pluralistic understanding of the nation has been a critical democratic resource in both countries. It helps explain the resilience of Indian democracy since the late 1940s and the surprising democratic opening that followed military rule in Indonesia in the late 1990s. Inclusive nationalism is of enduring value for tolerant democrats, both in times of democratic transition and when confronted in elections by those with more exclusionary and discriminatory visions of the nation. And while formal inclusivity does not prevent politicians from appealing to the dominant religious community, Indian secularism and the Indonesian national philosophy of Pancasila, which mandates belief in a single but not necessarily Muslim god, regularly help legitimate the countries’ leading pluralist political parties and their inclusive messages.

    But if what unites the two countries is their inclusive brand of nationalism, why did tolerance just win in Indonesia but lose in India? Putting aside the campaign-related and candidate-specific factors, one might think that pluralist voices would have an easier time flourishing in formally secular India than in Indonesia, whose founding national creed makes nonbelief literally illegal. Because Indonesia has more closely identified its national identity with religion and always provided pious Muslims a central position in the national community, it might seem that the country is more vulnerable than India to religious intolerance infecting its electoral politics.

    In practice, however, the religious quality of Indonesian nationalism can act as much as a vaccine for intolerance as a virus that spreads it. Because Indonesia’s national identity accommodates but does not prioritize Islam, politics is not fundamentally divided between Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. Instead, nationalist Muslims allied with non-Muslims on the one side compete with more intolerant Muslims on the other side. Consequently, one can easily be both a pious Muslim and a pluralist nationalist in Indonesia.

    The 2019 elections conformed to this pattern. Indonesian nationalism’s historical embrace of religion made it easier for Jokowi’s pluralist party to form an alliance with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) the country’s largest Muslim organization. To be sure, Jokowi picked an especially conservative leader of the NU as his running mate, raising hackles among Jokowi’s more liberal supporters. But his vice-presidential pick helped him secure an overwhelming landslide in the heavily populous regions of Central and East Java, where NU has its deepest roots. Remarkably, Jokowi won the national vote by around 17 million votes, but took those two vital provinces by close to 20 million votes. The alliance of Jokowi’s party and NU, and their shared commitment to a nationalism that is at once Islamic and pluralist, carried the day for Jokowi more than anything else.

    Not so in India. Hindu nationalism has long had an influential voice in Indian politics, but the country’s post-independence constitution emphasizes equal rights for all minority groups. Reinforced under the towering leadership of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, this constitutional structure led to the creation of separate legal codes for religions and a politics of caste recognition that defined Indian politics for decades.

    Over time, however, the bright line between the religion of the majority and the character of the state has led the forces of religious nationalism to consolidate on one side of the political divide—within the socially conservative BJP. The shift was gradual. Political scientists Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma found that fifteen years ago, virulent Hindu nationalists, who favored a statist embrace of jingoist nationalism and majoritarian policies at the expense of minorities, particularly Muslims, voted for the BJP by large margins whereas those who simply favored protecting Hindu culture voted equally for the BJP and the Congress party. But the BJP managed to popularize the idea that the Indian state should actively prioritize Hindu culture and that secularism was effectively a policy of minority appeasement. By 2014, pious Hindus had defected in large numbers to the BJP. Unlike in Indonesia, strongly identifying with Hinduism and embracing pluralist nationalism in today’s India is difficult. Modi’s ability to win the support of both aspirational young voters attracted to his dynamism and pious Hindu voters who support cultural majoritarianism delivered him the election.

    India and Indonesia both have the foundations in place for pluralism to defeat intolerance. But it is up to pluralist parties and politicians to make the most of them. Despite Indonesia’s inclusive national heritage, an intolerant and authoritarian brand of political Islam is growing more popular. There is no guarantee that the country’s pluralist inheritance will not be upended in the near future. In India, Hindu nationalism may have won the day this time, but pluralism can prevail if opposition parties cast aside dynasts and promote more appealing politicians capable of exploiting ideological contradictions within the incumbent party’s support base.

    The next time elections roll around in India and Indonesia, we could very well be telling the opposite story. What is certain is that the fight to defend pluralism against its challengers in Asia’s largest and most diverse democracies will continue.

    ~ Foreign Affairs

    July 3, 2019
    Actually there is no religious tolerance in Indonesia.
     
    Picasso

    Picasso

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    Orange Room Supporter
    Modi Makes His Bigotry Even Clearer

    By The Editorial Board

    A citizenship law helps non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority countries but ignores Muslim refugees from other nations.

    On the face of it, India’s new citizenship law might seem quite reasonable in its offer of expedited citizenship for migrants of minority religions from neighboring countries. What’s not to like in offering refuge to minority groups facing repression in predominantly Muslim states?

    A lot, as India’s Muslims, about 14 percent of the population, have proclaimed in the eruption of protests across India after the law was passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party last week.

    The devil is in the missing details. Accelerated citizenship is offered to members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsee and Jain religions — but not to Muslims. And the only neighboring countries named in the law are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, all majority Muslim. Other neighbors, from Sri Lanka to China, where Muslims do not predominate, are not mentioned.

    The not-so-hidden message is that the Muslim-majority countries abutting India persecute Hindus and other minorities, and that Muslims from such countries cannot be refugees — even people like the Rohingya, some of whom have reached India after fleeing to Bangladesh from brutal repression in Myanmar.

    The law, as India’s 200 million Muslims have correctly surmised, has nothing to do with helping migrants and everything to do with the campaign by Mr. Modi and his home minister, Amit Shah, to marginalize Muslims and turn India into a homeland for Hindus, who comprise about 80 percent of the population of 1.3 billion.

    Last summer, Mr. Modi’s government abruptly stripped statehood and autonomy from India’s only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, arresting many of its leaders and shutting down the internet. Also in August, Mr. Modi aggressively escalated a program of citizenship tests in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving nearly two million people, many of them Muslims, potentially stateless. Mr. Modi has vowed to extend the process, which requires Indians to prove they’re Indian, to the entire country and is building large new detention centers for those who can’t.

    In common with other governments around the world that have turned undocumented immigrants into a nationalist issue, including President Trump’s, Mr. Shah has taken to demonizing the primary target of the dragnets, Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, whom he refers to as “termites.”

    Those initial moves met little resistance. The citizenship bill, by contrast, has provoked furious protests across India, some of which have been viciously repressed by police and the army. The government has also shut down the internet in several regions, a tactic against dissent used by India more than any other authoritarian-leaning government in the world, claiming it is necessary to prevent violence and false rumors. Kashmir has been offline since August, and India is by far the world’s leader in the number of internet shutdowns.

    Still, the reaction to the citizenship law has apparently surprised Mr. Modi, who was re-elected by a comfortable margin last May, but he has shown no signs of backing down. He rose to power by vilifying Muslims, a core tenet of Hindu nationalists. When Mr. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state, thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands were driven from their home in sectarian violence; most victims were Muslims.

    This is not the way India was meant to be. The vision of Mohandas Gandhi (who was murdered by a Hindu nationalist) and Jawaharlal Nehru after the partition of British-ruled India into a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India was to build the latter into a secular and democratic republic, with civil liberties for citizens of all faiths.

    Since he took office in 2014, Mr. Modi has actively worked to change that, even rewriting history books to exclude Muslim rulers — who, among other things, built the Taj Mahal — and changing official place names to Hindu from Muslim. Hindu mobs that lynch Muslims are rarely punished.

    The citizenship bill was the first action that linked religion to citizenship, undermining a fundamental tenet of India’s democracy. Some non-Muslim Indian liberals, including members of the once-dominant Congress Party, have joined in the protests. The law has also drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups and governments. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the citizenship bill “fundamentally discriminatory,” and the United States State Department issued a statement urging India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values.” Alas, that would be far more credible if the Trump administration was treating undocumented immigrants in keeping with America’s democratic values.

    Mr. Modi’s hold on power remains firm, but the protests at home and abroad have demonstrated limits to how far Indians will allow him to go in pursuit of his Hindu-nationalist agenda. The citizenship bill might still be blocked in the Indian Supreme Court, which begins hearings on it in January. But if it is not, all democratic nations need to speak out against a law, and a national policy, that is patently discriminatory and a threat to India’s democracy.

    NYTimes
     
    Picasso

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    India Awakens to Fight for Its Soul

    By Anjali Mody

    Authoritarian and divisive polices of the Modi government have pushed Indians across the country to the streets in protest.


    NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government have deployed propaganda very successfully since coming to power in 2014. So much so that numerous egregious decisions the government has made — demonetization, electoral bonds allowing secret donations to political parties, a flawed citizens registry in the state of Assam, revoking the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir — were accepted by a majority of people.

    But over the past few days, India seems to have risen up in countrywide mass protests. A growing awareness of what the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act means for the country seems to have jolted people, bringing them into the streets.

    The Act makes religion the basis for deciding who will be offered Indian citizenship and who will be prosecuted for being an illegal immigrant. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Zoroastrians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan can obtain Indian citizenship, but not Muslims, even if they are from the persecuted Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan or Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan. Citizenship based on religious identity violates a core principle of equality in the Indian Constitution.

    The exclusion of Muslims leaves no room for doubt that the bill advances the blatantly sectarian agenda of Mr. Modi and his government, which is to transform secular India into a majoritarian Hindu nation.

    The reaction to the new citizenship law panned out in three steps. There were massive protests in India’s northeastern states bordering Bangladesh, fueled by the fear that new settlers of any religion pose a threat to their small populations and many indigenous cultures. In Assam, the largest northeastern state, ruled by Mr. Modi’s B.J.P., five people were killed in the protests and internet connectivity was blocked.

    Elsewhere in India, after six years of fearful silence, Muslim community organizations, afraid that they could be rendered stateless, stepped out to protest in towns and cities across the country.

    University students who had watched aghast as the bill became law in the blink of an eye, pushed through a weakened parliament by a government with massive electoral majority, held protests against what they saw as subversion of constitutional values of secularism and equal citizenship. Violent police action to shut down student protests has had the opposite effect: Young people, horrified and angry at the violence, poured into the streets as never before.

    Indian Muslims and secular-minded Indians have been concerned that the government now has a tool to exclude or threaten to exclude Indian Muslims from citizenship. Amit Shah, Mr. Modi’s right-hand man and the home minister of India, has repeatedly said the Citizenship Amendment Bill will be followed by a National Register of Citizens — aimed at identifying and removing illegal immigrants. The N.R.C. places the burden of proving citizenship on the individual. The proof is a set of documents establishing that a person’s parents have been resident in India before a specified date.

    The N.R.C. has been tested in Assam, where nearly two million people — Hindus and Muslims — have been left off the register mostly because they did not have all the documents or the documents had errors. Error-free documents, if the documents exist, are a rarity in India.

    The sense is that even Indian Muslims, particularly in border states, may fall through the N.R.C. cracks if they cannot produce the documents required, while Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Zoroastrians can claim citizenship through the new citizenship law. Mr. Modi’s party has always maintained that only Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are Indian religions. The inclusion of Christians on the list of acceptable communities in the new law is seen as a peace offering to influential Christian groups in the West.

    Its was against this fraught backdrop on Dec. 13 that students at two major public universities, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in neighboring Uttar Pradesh, held protests against the new law. Both universities have significant Muslim student populations and histories linking them to Muslim social reform movements and India’s independence movement. The protesting students spoke of equal citizenship; the government saw troublesome, young Muslim bodies on the street and unleashed the police upon them.

    At Jamia Millia Islamia, the police stormed the campus, exploded tear-gas canisters inside the library, smashed everything in sight and battered students with their bamboo staffs, before marching them out onto the street with their hands up in the air. Police brutality left a student blind in one eye and many with broken bones. At Aligarh Muslim University, about 85 miles southwest of Delhi, police brutality was at an even higher level. Tear gas canisters were fired into student dorms. Scores were injured, battered by police with heavy bamboo staffs and rifle butts. At least two students are in critical care with head injuries, and two had their hands blown off by stun grenades fired by the police.

    Prime Minister Modi sought to discredit the protests as violent and deployed his usual sectarian dog whistle. “Those creating violence can be identified by their clothes,” Mr. Modi said. Every Indian heard that as a reference to Muslims, to the skull caps and shalwar kameez, a knee-length, long-sleeved shirt with a pair of loosefitting trousers that Muslim men in northern India wear. Mr. Modi, his party and the broader Hindu nationalist movement have worked tirelessly to redefine India as a majoritarian Hindu nation and cast India’s Muslims, secular intellectuals, liberals, progressive universities, respected former prime ministers, vice presidents and anyone who disagrees with their politics, including the political opposition, as the “enemy within.”

    The brutal police action against students at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, a majority of whom are Muslim, seemed calculated to peddle stereotypes of violent Muslims and to terrorize India’s Muslims, once again, into silence, by criminalizing their best and brightest.

    But for the first time in years it seems silencing people may not be so easy. What followed the police violence was not acquiescence but an inspiring assertion of citizenship and solidarity by tens of thousands of young, educated Indians in universities and colleges across the nation.

    Even campuses known for their political and social conservatism, like the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management, held vigils and signed petitions against the new citizenship law or in support of Jamia and Aligarh students, sometimes defying hostile college administrations.

    There have been new forms of protest, like public gatherings to read aloud the preamble to the Constitution of India, which promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Every day lists of protests in different towns and cities are circulated, and every day the number grows.

    Mr. Modi’s government, clearly rattled, is now using a colonial-era law prohibiting public gatherings to prevent protests in the states where the B.J.P. or its allies are in power. But protests have continued, and well-known writers and activists have been arrested, along with dozens of other protesters.

    The protests are small, hopeful signs that there are people, particularly younger Indians, still willing to fight for an India that is not a majoritarian Hindu state. This could yet be the reopening of a fearless national conversation about equal citizenship and the idea of India.


    NYTimes
     
    proIsrael-nonIsraeli

    proIsrael-nonIsraeli

    Legendary Member
    Modi Makes His Bigotry Even Clearer

    By The Editorial Board

    A citizenship law helps non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority countries but ignores Muslim refugees from other nations.

    On the face of it, India’s new citizenship law might seem quite reasonable in its offer of expedited citizenship for migrants of minority religions from neighboring countries. What’s not to like in offering refuge to minority groups facing repression in predominantly Muslim states?

    A lot, as India’s Muslims, about 14 percent of the population, have proclaimed in the eruption of protests across India after the law was passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party last week.

    The devil is in the missing details. Accelerated citizenship is offered to members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsee and Jain religions — but not to Muslims. And the only neighboring countries named in the law are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, all majority Muslim. Other neighbors, from Sri Lanka to China, where Muslims do not predominate, are not mentioned.

    The not-so-hidden message is that the Muslim-majority countries abutting India persecute Hindus and other minorities, and that Muslims from such countries cannot be refugees — even people like the Rohingya, some of whom have reached India after fleeing to Bangladesh from brutal repression in Myanmar.

    The law, as India’s 200 million Muslims have correctly surmised, has nothing to do with helping migrants and everything to do with the campaign by Mr. Modi and his home minister, Amit Shah, to marginalize Muslims and turn India into a homeland for Hindus, who comprise about 80 percent of the population of 1.3 billion.

    Last summer, Mr. Modi’s government abruptly stripped statehood and autonomy from India’s only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, arresting many of its leaders and shutting down the internet. Also in August, Mr. Modi aggressively escalated a program of citizenship tests in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving nearly two million people, many of them Muslims, potentially stateless. Mr. Modi has vowed to extend the process, which requires Indians to prove they’re Indian, to the entire country and is building large new detention centers for those who can’t.

    In common with other governments around the world that have turned undocumented immigrants into a nationalist issue, including President Trump’s, Mr. Shah has taken to demonizing the primary target of the dragnets, Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, whom he refers to as “termites.”

    Those initial moves met little resistance. The citizenship bill, by contrast, has provoked furious protests across India, some of which have been viciously repressed by police and the army. The government has also shut down the internet in several regions, a tactic against dissent used by India more than any other authoritarian-leaning government in the world, claiming it is necessary to prevent violence and false rumors. Kashmir has been offline since August, and India is by far the world’s leader in the number of internet shutdowns.

    Still, the reaction to the citizenship law has apparently surprised Mr. Modi, who was re-elected by a comfortable margin last May, but he has shown no signs of backing down. He rose to power by vilifying Muslims, a core tenet of Hindu nationalists. When Mr. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state, thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands were driven from their home in sectarian violence; most victims were Muslims.

    This is not the way India was meant to be. The vision of Mohandas Gandhi (who was murdered by a Hindu nationalist) and Jawaharlal Nehru after the partition of British-ruled India into a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India was to build the latter into a secular and democratic republic, with civil liberties for citizens of all faiths.

    Since he took office in 2014, Mr. Modi has actively worked to change that, even rewriting history books to exclude Muslim rulers — who, among other things, built the Taj Mahal — and changing official place names to Hindu from Muslim. Hindu mobs that lynch Muslims are rarely punished.

    The citizenship bill was the first action that linked religion to citizenship, undermining a fundamental tenet of India’s democracy. Some non-Muslim Indian liberals, including members of the once-dominant Congress Party, have joined in the protests. The law has also drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups and governments. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the citizenship bill “fundamentally discriminatory,” and the United States State Department issued a statement urging India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values.” Alas, that would be far more credible if the Trump administration was treating undocumented immigrants in keeping with America’s democratic values.

    Mr. Modi’s hold on power remains firm, but the protests at home and abroad have demonstrated limits to how far Indians will allow him to go in pursuit of his Hindu-nationalist agenda. The citizenship bill might still be blocked in the Indian Supreme Court, which begins hearings on it in January. But if it is not, all democratic nations need to speak out against a law, and a national policy, that is patently discriminatory and a threat to India’s democracy.


    NYTimes
    "A citizenship law helps non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority countries but ignores Muslim refugees from other nations."

    I fail to see the problem - what makes Modi a bigot?
     
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