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Friday, January 17, 2020

View From The Neighbourhood: Bellicose India

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

Published: January 6, 2020 1:24:19 am
A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore, AP reported.

The newspapers across South Asia — like their counterparts the world over — commented on and analysed the consequences of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, in-charge of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The killing has been, broadly, been condemned and its aftermath is awaited.

On January 3, though, the editorial in Dawn took umbrage to the fact that “India’s new army chief Lt Gen M.M. Naravane has said that conducting pre-emptive strikes across the LoC remained an option for India”. The editorial recalls many of General Bipin Rawat’s statements that may politely be called bellicose. It also recalls the “Balakot misadventure”. “The Foreign Office has done well to remind the new Indian army chief that the last time India attempted “pre-emptive strikes” it lost two aircraft and one pilot. It also lost face. The pilot was returned in good faith by Pakistan. This good faith has not been reciprocated,” the editorial says.

Its thrust is that increasingly, and towards the point of no return, the government and security establishment in New Delhi is becoming bellicose to appease a domestic constituency: “India is trapped in violent domestic convulsions that are creating dangerous fault lines within its society. The right-wing government of Narendra Modi is struggling to contain the fallout of its anti-Muslim policies. It may be tempted to embark on yet another misadventure across the LoC to divert attention from its domestic troubles.” It asks the Pakistan government to be on alert for India to dial down its rhetoric.

Not a Nice Neighbour

C R Abrar, an academic-activist in Bangladesh, writes in The Daily Star of the “fallacy of unsuspecting trust” that Bangladesh has developed vis a vis India. Abrar argues that the CAA and NRC have been a long time coming and the policies will seriously impact Bangladesh society. But, the elites and civil society at large did not see the writing on the wall.

The article recalls the many controversial, even abusive, statements by Amit Shah over the last few years with regards to Bangladeshi migrants and Muslims. It says: “Such persistent emission of anti-Bangladeshi vitriolic statements of the Indian ruling elite triggered little concern in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh appeared to be oblivious to the stirring up of anti-Bangladesh sentiments. Until quite recently, the statements of the ministers, advisers and senior functionaries gave the signal that the government was quite comfortable with the Indian assertion that the NRC was indeed an “internal matter” of that country.”

But now, as Indians take to the streets against the NRC and CAA, Abrar says that the trust may have finally been broken: “The rolling out of the NRC and the application of CAA is likely to have grave consequences for Bangladesh. Even if India refrains from officially deporting those who would fail in the NRC test, millions of Muslims who would be unable to prove their claims to Indian citizenship and secure protection under the CAA in all likelihood will cross the border and seek shelter in Bangladesh. They would do so to avoid languishing in detention camps in atrocious conditions. The recent border crossings from the Indian side and the concomitant telecom network suspension in Bangladesh may signal the beginning of a difficult time for the country. It is time for those at the helm of the state to discard the rhetoric, take stock of these developments and collectively develop a national strategy to face the likely challenge.”

Curbs in Nepal

Attempts to police the internet and free speech on social media seems to be a pan-South Asian phenomenon. Sushrey Nepal, a lawyer, writes in The Kathmandu Post about “another toxic layer of durability to the custom of state policing” being brought about in Nepal by the Information Technology Bill.

Using broad definitions of terms like “public order” and “decency”, the article asserts that the Bill provides sweeping powers to the government to punish all forms of dissent, or even what it perceives to cause offence — from political speech to jokes.

In India, we have seen the dire consequences of such laws. The situation in Nepal, if the article is anything to go by, may not end up being any better: “This Information Technology Bill is a loud declaration by the government that it is coming for its citizens, and we cannot hide behind the shield of our right to privacy and freedom of speech. If a state is willing to incriminate its citizens for an internet post, one can only imagine what else it is hiding in its shadow.” —Curated by Aakash Joshi

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