Coexistence, A Unifying Factor For Indians

A recent survey throws contradictory and unbelievable findings, yet it also underlines how an Indian really feels

For most political parties, sociologists and psephologists what a common Indian on the street thinks matters most. It is an insight into a common man’s psyche, which allows them to strategies and formulate new plans and narratives. Though the political parties are able to set the narrative for their own narrow agendas yet they are unable to control the common perceptions and thinking among the populace.

Studies like a recent one by the US-based Pew Research Centre’s Survey of Religion across India, helps not just the narrative formulators but also offers a peep into the common man’s psyche. The recent Pew study based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (pre-COVID-19), finds that Indians of all religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.

Religious Tolerance

Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” And tolerance is a religious as well as a civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.

Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another. The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%).

Tolerance

Indians, then, simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres meaning they live together yet separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians they are not.

Indeed, many take both positions, saying it is important to be tolerant of others and expressing a desire to limit personal connections across religious lines. Indians who favour a religiously segregated society also overwhelmingly emphasise religious tolerance as a core value.

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In other words, Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities. While people in some countries may aspire to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups.

This is what I ascribe to the syncretic Indian values, which you’ll not be able to see in any western society. The Indians in spite of all differences and antagonisms try to view themselves as colours of a rainbow, which India is and this is what makes India, united.

Dimensions of Hindu nationalism in India

The survey reports that Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.

Most Hindus (59%) also link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, almost 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

Overall, among those who voted in the 2019 elections, three-in-ten Hindus take all three positions: saying it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian; saying the same about speaking Hindi; and casting their ballot for the BJP.

Indian Muslims

Vast majority of India’s Muslims say Indian culture is superior. Today, India’s Muslims almost unanimously say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and they express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others”.

Overall, one-in-five Muslims say they have personally faced religious discrimination recently, but views vary by region. Relatively few Muslims say their community faces “a lot” of discrimination in India (24%). In fact, the share is similar to the share of Hindus who say Hindus face widespread religious discrimination in India (21%).

In addition, most Muslims across the country (65%), along with an identical share of Hindus (65%), see communal violence as a very big national problem.

Muslims’ desire for religious segregation does not preclude tolerance of other groups – again similar to the pattern seen among Hindus. Indeed, a majority of Muslims who favour separate religious courts for their community say religious diversity benefits India.

South v/s North

The survey consistently found that people in the South (the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, and the union territory of Puducherry) differ from Indians elsewhere in the country in their views on religion, politics and identity.

For example, by a variety of measures, people in the South are somewhat less religious than those in other regions – 69% say religion is very important in their lives, versus 92% in the Central part of the country.

Hindu nationalist sentiments also appear to have less of a foothold in the South. Among Hindus, those in the South (42%) are far less likely than those in Central states (83%) or the North (69%) to say being Hindu is very important to be truly Indian. And in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP’s lowest vote share came from the South. In the survey, just 19% of Hindus in the region say they voted for the BJP, compared with roughly two-thirds in the Northern (68%) and Central (65%) parts of the country who say they voted for the ruling party.

Other Contentious Issues

Most Indian Muslims opposed triple talaq. 56% said Muslim men should not be allowed to divorce this way. Still, 37% of Indian Muslims say they support triple talaq, with Muslim men (42%) more likely than Muslim women (32%) to take this position. A majority of Muslim women (61%) opposed triple talaq.

Similarly many Indians, across a range of religious groups, say it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India want to prevent interreligious marriages of Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%). Even larger shares of Muslims feel similarly: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.

The survey throws up many findings which may sound contradictory and unbelievable, yet they represent the true feelings of Indians, however convoluted they may be. And this contradictory yet assimilating feeling is what makes India what it is.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Is It Curtains For Cinematic Freedom?

Most governments want control. Some governments want more control than the others. Some governments want more and more control, but also want to appear democratic. They camouflage this obsessive tendency with this or that fig leaf. However, some governments want absolute control, and they care a damn.

Witness what China is doing in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong was not like the ‘mainland’ – it was not like Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Lhasa, or even Urumqi in Xinjiang — under total control of a well-oiled totalitarian system. Hong Kong was so different!

For all you know, these days it reminds of ‘one hundred years of solitude’ in Hong Kong. It’s a new model of ‘cultural revolution’ enshrined by ‘President for Life’: Xi Jinping. Total control on freedom of expression; not even peaceful symbolism is allowed. They might pick you up if you flash your mobile as a sign of ‘creative dissent’.

Therefore, independent newspapers and media outfits etc, have been shut, or, compelled to be shut, while scores of peaceful dissenters and activists are rotting in jail. Also in prison are editors, journalists, and, at least one media owner. This is a ‘gift’ given to the people of Hong Kong as the mainland celebrates ‘one hundred years’ of the Communist Party of China!

Myanmar, like a good neighbour, has chosen China as a role model. A military junta is yet again running amok after dismantling a fragile democracy, killing hundreds of non-violent youngsters, and putting in prison not only Aung Sang Su Kyi, but pro-democracy dissenters, students and journalists. And since doctors and nurses were the first to protest, some of them too have been packed off to prisons, even as the pandemic rages like a death machine. Thus, many doctors and journalists have gone underground, running secret clinics and solo media-outfits, from nameless locations.

Surely, India is not going the Hong Kong or Myanmar way! So, what are the ‘signposts’ of Indian democracy while we await the third surge of a killer virus?

Stan Swamy, 84, no charges proved, not even interrogated by the NIA for one day, his body ravaged by Alzheimer’s and Covid. Witness his slow, tortuous death in jail, without bail — also called an ‘Institutional Murder’.

Or, remember all the others in prison for no rhyme or reason—young, brilliant scholars, eminent intellectuals and academics, under the draconian UAPA, on what are widely perceived to be fake and cooked-up charges.

Indeed, tomorrow, if a filmmaker makes a movie called ‘A Sipper for Stan Swamy’ — it might run into serious trouble.

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It is not only the obsessive addiction with ‘control’ – the ominous signs are all out there: the concerted attack on campuses, the targeting of dissenters, scholars, journalists, intellectuals, the organized move to capture institutions like the FTII and the clampdown, the rampant use of a British-era law like ‘Sedition’, and the way in which sections of the media have become relentless perpetrators of fake, doctored news and hate politics — media ethics can go get damned! Or, the manner in which the organized army of trolls operate — in their crass cacophony, in tandem with the ultra-loyal TV anchors.

A pronounced savagery has come to rule the roost in the dominant political narrative, riding vitriolic, venomous and vicious campaigns, signifying the most bestial dimensions of human nature. This is upfront and ugly – from the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, to the death of photo-journalist Danish Siddiqui. Besides, he is a Muslim.

This was exactly the vile method followed in the systematic targeting of Rhea Chakravarty and Deepika Padukone, and the Mumbai film industry! Look at the language they would willfully use! It’s so predictable — this diabolical, indecent diatribe!

Undoubtedly, democracy in India is currently trapped in a twilight zone. It’s a kind of condemnation for an entire nation. There is therefore an immediate historic context to the uncanny unease in the film industry in India — from Mumbai to regional cinema.

So why has the central government sought comments on the ‘draft’ Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021? And what are the proposals in this new draft bill? 

To punish piracy with a fine and jail term, bring in age-based certification, and, most significantly, empower the central government with the power to seek ‘recertification’ of a film already certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

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Several eminent filmmakers have written to the government: “Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the central government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country, potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent.”

They are backed by scores of film associations and unions like the Producers Guild of India (PGI), Indian Film and Television Producers Council (IFTPC), Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association Associate (IMPAA), Western India Film Producers Association (WIFPA), Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA), the Associated Chamber of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM), Screen Writers Association (SWA), among others. There is a massive campaign on by academics, filmmakers, writers, artists, etc, arguing that this new proposal should be dropped lock, stock and barrel.

So, why this new draft at all? Why this need to ‘rethink’ certification once the CBFC has passed it?

In April this year, the Centre dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), where filmmakers could go seeking relief from decisions of the Censor Board which they did not agree with. Besides, there is a considered opinion in the film industry that the CBFC should only do certification, and not censor a film!

There can be many stated and unstated reasons behind this move, and conspiracy theorists can fly to the moon. Control, undoubtedly. But the underlying message could be less subtle: Choose self-censorship as a one-stop-shop, drop subjects which might seem to annoy the powers-that-be, toe the line, follow the dominant code of conduct, accept passive submission in terms of script, story-line or cinematic content, even songs and lyrics, take the safe way out, no creative subversion please, drop/rethink historical narratives with a historical backdrop, if they re-write history, keep your mouth shut, drop/rethink socially and politically relevant themes, avoid controversial current affairs, don’t make films which tell an established truth but they want it to be hushed up, avoid bitter realism, avoid realism, period. Don’t make films which they might not like; indeed, just don’t make films, period.

Said a filmmaker, “Tomorrow, after a film is passed by the CBFC, a group or politician might claim that the film is anti-national and a ruckus is socially engineered. So the government might just come in and block/delay the film. So what should the filmmaker do? Jump in which nearest well?”

Others say this is also a time-tested method to test the muddy waters, to send signals, and to put a leash on the film industry which has been historically secular. Anyway, with so much money pumped in, why should a commercial filmmaker or a mega star choose to not toe the line? As for the offbeat filmmaker making meaningful cinema – she/he can go hang themselves! The sword hangs like McCarthyism in the US during the Cold War.

In such a hopeless futuristic scenario, most good filmmakers will either stop making good films, or make only such films that make the ‘system’ happy. Meaningful, aesthetic or socially/politically relevant cinema just cannot be made in such a realm of authoritarian control, fear and uncertainty. In such a scenario, can a filmmaker really make a movie like ‘Parzania’ or ‘Haider’? Or,afilm on the assassination of Gandhi, for instance? Indeed, if you call a film ‘The Oxygen Cylinder’ with the second surge of mass cremations as a backdrop, they might just choose to get it canned – The End!

Indian Sports And Chinese Games

The Indian athletes at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics will be seen wearing ‘unbranded’ sports apparel. No more Chinese designs, logos and sponsorship. With this symbolic, globally visible (since it will be visuals-only games) parting of ways with the hostile neighbour, India has also joined the global China-versus-the United States game, on the latter’s side.

The change has come after last year’s military skirmishes on the disputed border. The Indian Olympic Association has suspended its collaboration with Chinese giant Li Ning that kitted the Indian athletes and sponsored their travel. This was being done, the IOA said, to respect “sentiments of the people of the country.”

Prior to the border incidents, then sports minister Kiren Rijiju, incidentally a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh that China claims as its territory, had said: “Li Ning designed the official sports kit inspired by India’s national colours and integrated unique graphics to emote the energy and pride of the Indian Olympic Team.”

The deal was reported to be worth INR 50 million. Li Ning was the Indian team’s apparel sponsor at the Rio Olympics five years ago and had also provided uniforms for the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Tokyo Games big medal hopeful, shuttler PV Sindhu, was also sponsored by Li Ning. All that is over, at least for now. Last year, till the border incidents, Vivo, the telecom giant had sponsored India Premier League, the multi-million cricketing tournament. It returned briefly this year, apparently due to some contract obligations.

India relies heavily on products and raw materials from China in nearly every sport. According to the Department of Commerce’s data for 2018-2019, over half of India’s sports equipment was imported from China. This includes ­footballs to table tennis balls and shuttlecocks, tennis and badminton racquets and their stringing machines, mountain climbing and adventure sports gear, gym apparatus and athletics gear including javelins and high jump bars.

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Forget the no-politics-in-sports idea. Popular sentiments over the ‘betrayal’ on the border should have triggered a “boycott Chinese goods” campaign. But Prime Minister Modi’s government, keen on taking political credit, does not wish to stir the economic and trade cauldron.

This is not child’s play. The global toy market is about $100 billion, but as Modi lamented at the recent “Toycathon”, urging Indian toymakers to be ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) in making toys for children, that India’s share is only around $1.5 billion. Worse, “we import about 80 percent of our toys,” and worse still (which he didn’t say), 70 percent of this 80 percent come from China.

India is ‘critically dependent’ on China in imports across 86 tariff lines, a Group of Ministers (GoM) reported last December. Line items include consumer electronics, computer hardware, telephone equipment, electronic items, and air conditioners and refrigerators. Also, China has the largest share in India’s imports — more than 18 per cent in April-September 2020. This share has risen since, despite the border incidents and despite the pandemic, as China, unlike India, has managed to curb the spread of Covid-19 and kept its factories running.

The Indian authorities have banned a hundred Chinese apps and more are in the pipeline.  Only, the Chinese presence in India’s market – name any product – remains heavy, a fact of everyday life. Two-way trade in 2020 reached $87.6 billion, down by 5.6 percent, the trade deficit declined to a five year-low of $45.8 billion. “The trade deficit is not in dollars, it is in overdependence,” Sanjay Chadha, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in January.

Cell-phone has fully integrated into an Indian’s life. Visit any home or market place and see how Chinese brands dominate. They commanded 75 percent of India’s smartphone market in 2020, up from 71 percent in 2019. Given their spread, pushing Germans, French, South Koreans among others to the margins of a growing market, it is doubtful if India’s online education of millions of students, compelled by Covid-19, would have been possible.

Cell-phone is just one example. Computers and other communications gadgets and apps are hugely Chinese. Fear of a possible suspension of Chinese tech-support for their maintenance persists. Keen to avoid any such problem in future, this writer purchased a Taiwanese brand laptop last year, only to find that it was “Made in China” under Taiwanese licence.

It is no consolation that the US itself is having to urge its own basketball stars to shun Li Ning sports products because the Chinese giant is said to be using cotton sourced from its Xinjiang region where the authorities are accused of suppressing minority Muslims. Incidentally, in a tit-for-tat, Li Ning had itself suspended cooperation with the Americans earlier, “in national interests”, after American producers backed the anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong.

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The Indian story is similar to many countries. Only, not everyone has a disputed border with China. Neither is there nudging from a strategic partner like the United States to ‘balance’ the Asian scene. In a sense, India pays double price when it cannot deal with erstwhile ally Russia, Iran or anyone the US dislikes.

India’s case remains unique for several reasons. Besides a border that gets ‘live’ from time to time, and talks have made little headway in the last six decades, it has reasons to feel ‘surrounded.’ The Himalayan ranges became pregnable in the last century.  For long years, one debated on the “string of Pearls”, of China developing military bases on islands all around the Indian Ocean. The region was for long ‘Indian’ — its backyard, in broad maritime terms – no longer so.

This is old story. The Chinese deep pockets have won over just all of India’s neighbours after China formally launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). All South Asians have joined in, with varying outcome, but with bright hope of the Chinese money and technology being available — for a price. India is the sole ‘outsider’. Its pockets are not deep, nor has it established a good record of completing projects in its neighbourhood, yielding space to China.

For long years, there was a quiet pride that India and China managed well their economic and trade ties, despite an unsolved border dispute. It was called pragmatism and was contrasted with India-Pakistan, wherein the trade was restricted due to mistrust. India would show the Chinese example and accuse Pakistan of being cussed. While that remains, the China story has taken a beating. This is unlikely to normalise for long.  

The conflict-from-cradle rivalry with Pakistan has taken India miles ahead of the recalcitrant neighbour. But even that is now becoming thin. China has taken resolute striders in Pakistan in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), investing billions in building infrastructure that Pakistan could never dream of despite its decades of alliance with the West – the US in particular. Now, China, the “iron brother”, is helping out, in return for entry to the Indian Ocean. Now, the two are about to extend their collaboration, howsoever unequal and weighed in China’s favour, to a land-locked Afghanistan. Whether or not Pakistan gains “strategic depth” against India in future, a government in Kabul that may not be hospitable to India, with this extension of CPEC bears the potential of giving it “economic depth.”

Call it “Chinese East India Company”, or talk of the inevitable debt trap – who cares? In the next decade, China will have laid infrastructure that is as good, or even better than, India, across South Asia. And its CPEC will have created a significant class or rich politicians and civil and military officials in Pakistan who can, supported by military and economic heft from China, can afford to stare down at India.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

A Resurgent Taliban In India’s Backyard

The recent advances by Taliban in Afghanistan compel us to impartially analyse their psyche and reasons for their success and continued survival

The US President Joe Biden in a speech on Thursday 8 July announced that the U.S. military would complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, nearly two weeks before his earlier deadline of September 11, announced in April. The U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan, will end the US’s longest overseas war – which cost the lives of around 2,300 US troops and $825 billion monetarily- is a result of the February 2020 agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

In his latest speech Biden strongly defended his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan, saying the Afghan people must decide their own future, rather than sacrificing another generation of Americans in an unwinnable war. Biden called on countries in the region to help bring about an elusive political settlement between the warring parties. He said the Afghan government should seek a deal with the Taliban to allow them to coexist peacefully.

And this is what has proved to be the red herring amongst the neighbouring and regional countries. Most of the countries have reacted in a guarded manner over the advances of the Taliban forces in Afghanistan since May, who now controls 162 districts in Afghanistan.

In reality the chaotic and unpredictable conditions in Afghanistan will have a significant impact on the regional geo-politics. For starters, the Iranians have started fishing in the troubled waters by inviting the Taliban leadership for talks in Teheran.

Iranian Initiative

The Taliban-Iranian talks began in January this year, as part of Iranian efforts to broker peace between the Afghan government and other factions. The latest round of intra-Afghan talks began on Wednesday 7 July morning by a speech from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who warned that the continuation of conflicts between the government and the Taliban will have ‘unfavourable’ consequences for Afghanistan, noting that a return to the intra-Afghan negotiations is the ‘best solution’.

Earlier, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, had said that Taliban is part of the reality in Afghanistan and they are also talking to the Afghan government. During the recent meeting, Zarif discussed the prospect of Afghan people forming an all-inclusive government, including Taliban.

Pakistan’s Alarm

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in an op-ed in The Washington Post on 9 June sounded hurt by the accusations of the government in Kabul naming Pakistan as inciting violence in the country.

He further wrote that he would like Pakistan to be ‘a partner for peace in Afghanistan’, which may have ideated from the Indian outreach to the Taliban.

UK’s Concern

The UK it seems is more worried about the presence of Al Qaeda and Daesh elements in Afghanistan and not with the Taliban advances. Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI-6 has cautioned about the terrorism threat to Britain rising, following the US withdrawal and has further said the threat from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh would grow if the UK turns its back on Afghanistan.

But the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, who served several command tours in Afghanistan, believes the Taliban leadership may have learnt from their earlier mistakes. He maintains that if the Taliban expect to share power, or seize it, then they will not want to be seen as international pariahs. Wiser heads amongst the Taliban, especially those who attended the recent peace negotiations, may well argue for a clean break with Al Qaeda in order to secure international acceptance.

India’s Outreach

Indian officials recently met with the Taliban delegation in Doha. This marks a marked policy shift in India’s approach to Afghanistan and Taliban. Besides showing maturity of the policy makers and strategists, the move may accelerate the transition from a non-existent relationship to the inception of a diplomatic engagement, whilst acknowledging Taliban as a critical component of future Afghanistan.

Though Indian policy makers will also be worried about the security threat from the pro-Taliban Pakistani outfits, yet they may have weighed the advantage of engaging with the Taliban and also considered that in future the Taliban might be able to assert pressure on forces inimical to India.

India has always called for ‘an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process’, and as such, the strategic move to engage with Taliban broadly demonstrates a regional security imperative for India and its efforts to minimise Islamabad’s influence.

Taliban Psyche: American View

The Americans have always wondered what fuels the Taliban to fight against a huge military machine despite the odds. Though in reality this has not led to any effort to try to understand the Taliban’s psyche and their commitment.

However, an American, Carter Malkasian has tried to discuss this in his new book The American War in Afghanistan: A History. Malkasian analyses the Taliban advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. He opines that their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonates well with Afghan identity and psyche.

He says that for Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as ‘resistance’ or ‘struggle’ than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defence against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. The Taliban were able to tie them-selves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

He further says that the Taliban exemplified something that inspired, something that made them powerful in battle, something tied to what it meant to be an Afghan. They cast themselves as representatives of Islam and called for resistance to foreign occupation. Together, these two ideas formed a potent mix for ordinary Afghans, who tend to be devout Muslims but not extremists.

Now, with the Taliban overrunning districts in the north, they will likely press their attack, further emboldened by US departure over the next few weeks. Afghan soldiers and police will suffer from the same morale problems that have plagued them for two decades. Provincial capitals and Kandahar or Mazar-e-Sharif are likely to fall, possibly within a year. After that, Kabul itself will be in danger. The capital may hold, at least for a while, but the government and its allies will struggle to survive, with little chance of regaining what has been lost.

The world it may seem is bound to sit at the same table with Taliban, once they embrace political identity and become part of the political establishment, and this may mark a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Is India Prepared For 3rd Covid Wave?

Indonesia now is in exactly the same terrible and tragic situation as India was during the peak of the second surge. Australia is going for a lockdown, and even New Zealand, hitherto totally safe, is on high alert. With cases rising in thousands every day, Boris Johnson might once again take the UK down the drain if he opens up the lockdown on July 19, even while all is not well in Catalonia/Barcelona in Spain, among other EU nations.

Vice President Kamala Harris led a ‘pride rally’ recently without a mask. Americans in many parts are allowed to come out in the open without masks. However, with 50 per cent fully vaccinated, is the virus really “on the run”, as President Joe Biden so proudly claimed on Independence Day, 4th of July?

There is reportedly a ‘silent surge’ in many parts of America and it is worrisome. It is being largely attributed to clusters of unvaccinated people, including Trump-supporters ‘in denial’. A Georgetown University study reportedly found 30 clusters of counties, of which five are across the Southeast and Midwest, from Georgia to Texas, across Missouri, and parts of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas, where the threat is real and looming large.

So how well is the Indian State with a new health minister at the helm prepared for the ‘third surge’, even as the second wave lingers on, and thousands care a damn in tourist spots, without masks or physical distancing?

Listen to the Covid Task Force head, Dr VK Paul, as reported by the Indian Express: “It is right that the graph (of the decline in the number of cases) has slowed down. It was earlier declining at a faster pace. It only shows that we cannot take the situation for granted. If it is around 35,000-37,000 cases per day, this is almost one-third the number of cases we saw during the first wave peak. The war is not over; the second wave is not over. It is perhaps more visible in some districts and two particular states and the Northeast, but it is still there. As long as this is still rising there, the nation is not safe…With a lot of effort and difficulty, we have reached a situation where cases are on the decline. The situation is bad only in a few districts. But all this can be snatched away from us because we have not contained the virus completely. If we give the virus an opportunity, and chains of transmission are launched…this is something we cannot afford…”

Indians banged thalis, frying pans, pressure cookers at 5 pm on March 22, 2021, following the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even when the virus was just about spreading its wings. Indians followed dutifully with no questions asked, the sudden, draconian and unplanned lockdown last March, which led to the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers. Indians even believed the PM when he said that all will be well in 21 days.

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Meanwhile, the states fought their own battles without any tangible help from the Center. Millions were rendered jobless, the poor were left to their helpless fate, the economy tanked and continues to tank, hunger, starvation, anxiety and depression stalked the unhappy landscape, there was ‘no vaccine policy’ worth its name, and people hoped against hope that 2021 will start with a flicker of hope. Remember the PM’s cathartic speech at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue in January 2021?

“Today, Covid cases are declining rapidly in India… India’s stats cannot be compared with one country as 18 per cent of the world’s population lives here and yet we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic… In these tough times, India has been undertaking its global responsibility from the beginning. When airspace was closed in many countries, India took more than 1 lakh citizens to their countries and delivered essential medicines to more than 150 countries…” 

Significantly, the PM said India’s role will increase with the rollout of more ‘Made in India’ Covid-19 vaccines. Clearly, this was chest-thumping in its most glorious form at the world stage.

Then arrived the deadly second surge, even as the PM and his Union home minster were obsessed with capturing Bengal at any cost, while welcoming millions at the super-spreader Kumbh. The PM was delighted to see huge crowds in one of his last rallies in Bengal. While sections of the stooge media played along, the international media published front page pictures of mass cremations, accompanied with highly critical text putting the entire blame on Modi. And they were on the spot, on the dot. Surely, the mass tragedy was a public spectacle for the world to see!

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Lest we forget, there were tens of thousands dying due to the acute scarcity of hospital beds, oxygen, life-saving drugs, with cremation and burial grounds unable to find space for the dead bodies, while parking lots, pavements, open spaces and public parks in some places were converted into cremation grounds. Some electric crematoriums refused to work because their ‘internal organs’ had melted due to the relentless heat, huge make-shift walls were created to block journalists to report on the relentless mass cremations (in Lucknow), and the data of deaths were allegedly fudged or censored, even while the obituary pages were full of tributes to the dead (as in Gujarat). 

So, is India prepared for the third wave?

On June 19, said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi:  “We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level. But it could happen within the next six to eight weeks… maybe a little longer.” He said that unless the population is vaccinated, the country will remain vulnerable in the coming months.

The Hindu reported in early May that that the principal scientific adviser to the government of India has warned that the third wave of Covid-19 is inevitable. “There is, however, no clear time-line on when this third phase will occur. We should be prepared for new waves, and Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccine upgrades is the way forward,” he said.

Modi has made the promise on live television of total and free vaccination in India after June 21. Hoardings have come up with the PM’s mug shot profusely thanking him for free vaccines. If Rahul Gandhi as much as tweets: ‘July has come. Where are the vaccines?’ some central ministers suddenly emerge from the shadows and Rahul gets a good tongue-lashing.

The situation is as fuzzy as it gets. Noida apparently stopped vaccination from June 30 for a week – reasons not known. Gujarat suspended vaccination recently for unknown reasons – there were no vaccines, according to sources, it was reported. Vaccination was stopped in Mumbai due to lack of vaccines, but restarted again. Almost all the big states reportedly have vaccination shortfalls; Bihar has a shortfall of 71 per cent, while West Bengal, Jharkhand and UP are not far away. Even Kerala and Delhi, who have done the best, will not be able to achieve a 60 per cent target by December.

Is the current scenario optimistic? Not really.

Apparently, about 20 per cent plus have got their first dose, and 5 per cent plus have been fully vaccinated. Surely, at this rate, no one knows when a country of India’s size will ever get ‘fully vaccinated’. And the bitter truth is that less the level of vaccination in the population, the more there are fears of multiple mutations of this killer virus. India, therefore, is as vulnerable as ever.

Turkey’s Entry Into Kabul Carries Risks

The proposal made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to US President Joe Biden last month on the sidelines of a NATO summit that Turkey could undertake the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a bargaining chip for improving Ankara’s relationship with Washington but given the resurgence of the Taliban it could turn into a nightmare in the long run, unless it is handled very skillfully and with the utmost caution.

Erdogan told Biden that Turkey could run security at the airport if the US provided it with the necessary “diplomatic, logistical and financial support.”Ankara wants to collaborate with Pakistan and Hungary in this task. In their first face to face meeting, Erdogan and Biden did not make much progress on the main disputes that have poisoned Turkish-US relations in recent years, but Erdogan indicated that there is a possible consensus on Afghanistan.

Ankara’s proposal to secure Kabul’s airport, after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by August 31, raises questions about the risks it is prepared to take, what logistical and other support is going to get from the US for the whole operation, what the Biden administration is prepared to do on the contentious issues between Ankara and Washington and what actual support Turkey may be given on the ground. Moreover, Turkey must take seriously into account the risks involved in the whole operation and the possibility of having to confront other regional players, like Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and China.

It is highly probable that all these regional powers would prefer to deal with a domestic actor — the Taliban — or a new government that might emerge, rather than Turkey.

On July 9 Turkish President Erdogan said that an agreement has been reached over the post-withdrawal Kabul airport security. He added:”Our Defense Minister met with the US Defense Secretary, and we had a meeting with US and NATO to discuss the future of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. We decided on what we accept in this respect and which conditions we don’t agree upon.”

The Afghan government immediately welcomed the move. The Civil Aviation Authority on Sunday said that a new defense system has been activated at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Taliban on Sunday announced its opposition to the agreement between the US and Turkey. A spokesman for the group stressed that the Taliban are against the presence of any foreign troops after the given deadline for their withdrawal from Afghanistan. “If they remain within the framework of NATO or Turkey or any other country, it will not be acceptable both for the people of Afghanistan and for the Taliban,” former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha said.

Turkey has about 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a non-combat NATO mission. Its soldiers never had any direct conflict with the Taliban, while maintaining good relations with all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. They were mainly involved in the training of Afghan security forces, while some still serve, together with Hungarian soldiers, at the Kabul airport. The hard question for Turkey is how it could assume responsibility for the security of the airport, embassies and critical facilities in Kabul without conducting military policing and patrolling, which are clearly combat tasks.

As Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul offers a vital connection to the outside world and is generally considered to be a prerequisite for the operation of diplomatic missions in the country and for the delivery of international humanitarian aid. If the Airport does not remain open and operating, embassies in Kabul will be withdrawn and Afghanistan will become an isolated state. Last May, Australia, citing security fears, closed its embassy in the country.

Taliban’s rejection cannot be lightheartedly ignored by Ankara, as according to several reports the Taliban controls nearly half of the 400 districts in Afghanistan, while a Taliban delegation in Russia claimed that 85 percent of Afghan territory was under the group’s control.

NATO’s former senior civilian representative for Afghanistan and former Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, told Al Jazeera: “While Taliban’s political wing is in favour of reconciliation, the military wing is chasing a military victory. Otherwise, nothing will have changed there in the last 19 years. Yet far more hinges on Turkey reaching an accord with the Taliban, which is steadily advancing towards the capital and has made clear it will not tolerate any foreign forces on Afghan soil after the US leaves…Afghanistan is now in the midst of a de facto civil war. Turkey needs a ceasefire and a deal with the Taliban, which is now telling it: ‘You came with Nato, and you’ll leave with Nato’. Without the Taliban’s approval, Turkey assuming this role is a mistake. It’s too risky.”

Another serious problem, Turkey may face in Afghanistan, is the lack of cooperation and open hostility prevailing among the various ethnic groups existing in the country and the dreaded possibility that it could be forced to support one or more against the others.

As Al-Monitor columnist Metin Gurcan says: “The Taliban hail predominantly from Pashtun groups that have been extremely hostile to other ethnicities in Afghanistan. Turkey might face a dilemma on whether to align with non-Pashtun and Turkic groups or the dominant Pashtun groups. This may sound like a minor issue, but it was one of the essential causes of the US failure in Afghanistan. So, Ankara needs to think twice and be aware that Afghanistan is not Syria, Libya or Nagorno-Karabakh and is not called a “graveyard of empires” without reason.” (ANI)

Enabling Visually Challenged Voters

Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, states that the Election Commission of India and the state election commissions shall ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and all materials related to the electoral process are easily understandable by and accessible to them. The Act was made to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to ensure full and effective participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

According to the Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections adopted on July 4, 2018 in the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, the Election Commission is committed to building an equal access framework for persons with disabilities supported by the fundamentals of responsiveness, respect and dignity to enhance elector confidence among them; and support initiatives for improved service offerings to enhance their electoral participation. The Election Commission recognises the use of accessible technological tools for facilitating persons with disabilities of different categories to cast their votes.

Yet, persons with disabilities have been fighting for long for their right to vote on par with other citizens. There are about 2.68 crore disabled persons in India, out of whom about 50 lakh are visually challenged. Voters with disability in seeing are still able to cast a vote at an election booth with the assistance of a companion. An assisted vote, while not a secret and independent one, still allows such voters to participate in the electoral process. However, in the present system of voting through EVMs, there is no way of knowing if the assisting person has indeed cast his/her vote for the candidate picked by the voter with disability in seeing.

For the convenience of voters with disability in seeing, there is Braille signage on the balloting unit of EVM. On the right side of the balloting unit along the candidates’ vote button, digits 1 to 16 are embossed in Braille signage for the guidance of such voters. However, a voter with disability in seeing can press a button but cannot ascertain the actual voting. The voter is not sure whether his/her vote is recorded or not, if recorded, whether it is recorded in favour of the candidate to whom it was intended or not. Moreover, not every person with disability in seeing understands Braille.

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Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is an independent system attached with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.  However, there is no such facility by which the voters with disability in seeing can verify their voting. There is a need to provide a system by which the voters with disability in seeing can get immediate audio verification of their cast votes.

Image Text to Speech Conversion Device

The basic idea of the proposed stand-alone real-time system is to capture the image of the paper slip generated by the printer in VVPAT, extract text from it and convert the text into speech that can be listened to through the headphones.

The ITTS device consists of four main components: camera, programmable system (optical character recognition software and text-to-speech engine), headphones and battery. As the optical character recognition software can not recognise and convert the image of the symbol of the candidate printed on the paper slip in VVPAT into text, the name of the symbol needs to be loaded in the VVPAT machine along with the serial number, the name of the candidate and the image of the symbol.

The ITTS device shall be fixed inside the VVPAT machine in such a way that the voters’ clear view through the transparent window of the VVPAT remains unobstructed and the printed paper slips displayed for seven seconds in VVPAT come within the field of view of its camera lens. Externally, it requires a set of headphones with volume controls in them.

Upon entering the booth, the voter puts on the headphones. When a vote is cast, a paper slip is printed in the VVPAT containing the serial number, the name of the candidate and the image and name of the symbol of the candidate and remains exposed through a transparent window for seven seconds. The ITTS device captures the image of the paper slip using its camera. The extraction of the text from the image is done by optical character recognition software and the process of converting text to speech is done by the text-to-speech engine. The audio output is then listened to through the headphones. It states the serial number, the name of the candidate and the name of the symbol of the candidate. The voter listening at the headphones can instantly verify that his/her vote is cast as intended. Thereafter, the temporary files created in the ITTS device during this process get eliminated automatically creating space for new files.

The proposed stand-alone system is not vulnerable to manipulation. The manufacturers of EVMs (Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd.) are capable of making inexpensive and efficient image text to speech conversion (ITTS) devices using current technologies.

Voting is an act of expression which has immense importance in a democratic system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the electoral system and to restore the confidence of voters with disability in seeing in the EVMs, it is necessary to provide them the facility to verify their voting. It is the voters themselves who must consider their voting experience to be a success. To have confidence in the outcome of an election, they must believe that they successfully used the voting system. Without this belief, the outcome of the election may be questioned.

Therefore, in order to empower the voters with disability in seeing to verify their cast votes, the Election Commission of India should incorporate a system of “image text to speech conversion” in the Electronic Voting Machines.

Obituary: An Ode To A Legend

By Amit Khanna

Dilip Sahab undoubtedly is one of the greatest actors we have seen, not only in India but perhaps across the world. He pioneered, what we today call the method school of acting, and generations of actors have used him as their role model.

I first met Yusuf Sahab more than 50 years ago when I had just started working with his contemporary and friend Dev Anand. Soon thereafter, when I went to Bombay to work, I used to see him at the studios and wherever he went, I would see that he was looked upon by actors and other unit members and workers with awe.

I don’t remember the exact date but in 1972, I met him again at a common friend’s residence. That was the first time we chatted and I was pleasantly surprised to see him speak with authority not only on cinema but other subjects like politics, art, and literature.

I also used to address him as Lala. Over the years, I got to know his family and you know, his brothers and sisters. Over time, I cannot claim he was a friend, but he was somebody who was warm and affectionate towards me. He would talk to me as I was a younger member of his family.

Contrary to the myth, I remember those days where Dilip Sahab, Dev Sahab, and Raj Kapoor Sahab were very warm and affectionate. Yusuf Sahab was very concerned about the pride of the film workers, he would ask all of us as to what we were doing for welfare.

He raised funds for various causes, in the mid-70s there were floods in many parts of India, he organised a film star rally, and most of his contemporaries like Dev Sahab and younger stars like Dharmendra and all the leading ladies came together.

Whenever there was a natural calamity or even after the 1971 War, he was actively involved in organising premiere shows and star nights for collecting money for the welfare of people.

We grew closer over the years. I would go to his house or drop at his film shootings and we would talk about projects. Our common friend JK Kapoor had produced a film with Dilip Sahab and Saira Ji in both Hindi and Bengali called ‘Sagina Mahato’.

One day, JK Kapoor called me and said Dilip Sahab has to do some scenes because he had written them in Urdu and he needed someone to translate them into Hindi so he asked me why don’t you do it? I said I am very busy but then I met Dilip Sahab, I translated what was written, I got one of my persons to work with him for a while.

He got to know then that I was a writer. Every time I would bump into him, he would ask me what song have you written? He behaved like someone elder in the family and when I became the producer, I started India’s first integrated media company, which did several TV shows and movies. Whenever I called him for functions, he would always come. Even if he was busy, he used to say for you I will come. Younger people in the generation looked up to him. Mr Amitabh Bachchan has always looked up to him, the same can be said for Shahrukh Khan.

When I talk about the current generation, I remember one incident related to Rani Mukherjee. Once, she had spent the whole evening sitting at Dilip Sahab’s feet and she kept on talking to him.

‘Hulchul’, ‘Deedar’, ‘Shikhar’, all these films were hits, but then came his first Filmfare Award in 1954 for ‘Daag’. The film ‘Devdas’ (1930) originally starred KL Saigal and in that film, Bimal Roy was the cinematographer.

Bimal Roy then made ‘Devdas’ in 1955 and he casted Dilip Kumar. Dilip Sahab gave such a nuanced performance that it still remains as a test book for all actors. Everyone watches that film and of course, Shahrukh Khan played Devdas in the next remake.

Yusuf Sahab has also given some powerful performances in movies like ‘Ganga Jamuna’, ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, ‘Naya Daur’, and ‘Karma’.

Yusuf Sahab was very big in public life also, he was a member of the parliament in Rajya Sabha. He was given the Padma Bhushan and later on Padma Vibhushan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Dilip Sahab is the only actor who has won eight Filmfare Awards. Now, the number of awards has gone up but Dilip Sahab has won every possible Lifetime Achievement Award.

For the last 10-12 years, Yusuf Sahab was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He had forgotten faces and he would often forget who is there. It was sad to see him like that.

The last time I met him on his birthday three-four years ago, he kept holding my hand and he said thank you for coming. Age had caught up with him, but I must give full credit to Saira Bhanu ji, she has looked after him really well.

For me, it was more of a personal loss.

(Amit Khanna is a filmmaker, writer and industry veteran). (ANI)

Indian Education Needs Remodelling

What is education? Answer to this question is multifaceted. Some say that it is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values and habits. Swami Vivekananda rightly said that, “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in the men.” Mahatma Gandhi said that, “Education is the basic tool for the development of the consciousness and the reconstitution of society”. However, recent moves by our policy and decision makers try to belie this belief, as these moves seems aimed at taking India back to the old ages.

Education is a journey, which gives the art of living, not just the livelihood. It makes us learn how to nurture our life and be more creative. Education makes us understand our conflicts. Thus, education is not merely learning of facts but is to train our mind to think. Education systems must provide opportunities to each and every individual to learn through experience and should help to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

However, in India the education system has evolved in a completely different manner. Instead of focussing on critical thinking, expressing new ideas and debating and writing critically on any issue, our students are forced to learn through the rote route.

This concept of education goes back to the British colonialists, who wanted an army of clerks with basic understanding of the language and mathematics, to support their administrative system. However, this concept got roots in India and instead of focussing on developing mental and critical thinking faculties of the students and promoting research, our education system tuned into one where you amass degrees by cramming.

Educational Advance in India

Education and the right to education is one of the fundamental rights of our country’s citizens. It is compulsory for children aged between 6-14 to have an education. Over the many years, especially after independence, India has managed to increase its literacy rates to nearly 75% by 2021, and some states even boast of 100% literacy rate.

Most important focus in the recent decades has been on enhancing infrastructure, incentivising enrolments in schools by providing benefits such as midday meals etc. The private sector with government support has played a significant role in the expansion of the Indian education system and improving its quality. But it can also be credited with corporatising the education system, thus making education accessible to a privilege few.

In the research domain, India lags behind many countries. Our universities and colleges lack a multi-disciplinary approach to stimulate enquiry-based research skills. Absence of a proper framework for developing industry linkages with academia to promote research, further limits the faculty and students to work in this area.

We can perceive that most measures are more on paper with no tangible results evident. In 2004, the then UPA government had imposed an Educational Cess of 2% on every transaction in the country. In a three year period this cess generated 32,000 crore rupees. But how this amount was used, nobody knows and if one asks then vague answers are given. In fact if this amount had been used prudently, we would have a well-equipped and well-staffed middle-level school functioning in every village of the country. Similarly, for the last ten years, every taxpayer is bound to pay a 1.5% education cess on his total income tax. Where this money goes, nobody knows.

Tinkering With School Syllabus

Last year, in a completely uncalled for move, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) revised its syllabus for students of Classes 9th to 12th in the name of handling the stressful situation of teachers and students in view of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, and in the name of rationalising the syllabus.

Some of the important chapters that have been deleted include: Federalism, citizenship, nationalism and secularism from class 11th political science subject besides India’s foreign relations with neighbouring countries and citizenship, besides Social and New Social Movements chapter in India from class 12th political science paper. Demonetisation from class 12th Business Studies paper. Colonialism and the countryside colonial cities and understanding partition from class 12th History subject have been deleted.

The irrational exclusions smacks of a political tone, aimed at keeping a large and young part of the population unaware of these issues. We should not forget that depriving the young generation of its right to increase its knowledge base is not only authoritarian but it might also boomerang. Most of the deleted topics form the foundation of democratic societies and students need to learn about these to enhance their knowledge base.

National Education Policy 2019 and 2020

The national educational policy came into force in the year 1968 to make education accessible to masses. It was aimed to strengthen national integration through a unified culture of learning. Since then constant measures have been taken to reform the Indian education system to provide better education services in the country, the latest being the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 and 2020.

However, if we analyse critically the NEP 2019 and 2020, the overall intent and decision maker’s mindset, in tandem with the moves taken last year, will be clearer.

A critical study of the 484-page NEP 2019 reveals an issue deserving of wider, more heated debate. The words “secular” or “secularism” are not found anywhere in the NEP 2019. Though a clear reference to secular education was vital to be seen as the base for these ambitious reform proposals.

The absence of the word “secular” in the NEP 2019 becomes all the more pronounced when seen in contrast to the earlier policies of mentioning secularism as a core Indian value for the Indian education. The omission of the words “secular” and “secularism” in the NEP 2019 is ominous, along with the frequent affirmation of its aim of inculcating constitutional values in the education system, making it doubly odd.

The NEP 2019 was launched last in its new avatar as NEP 2020, but many of the contentitious isssues still remain.

In contemporary India, which has seen a sharp rise in caste and religious violence, the curriculum and teaching methods in Indian classrooms clearly have a key role to play in making caste and religious prejudices in society irrelevant and out of times. The challenge is to find fresh and creative ways of making young minds grasp these difficult contemporary social realities.

You have to understand that you can’t hide history by giving it a new twist. Even in countries like the UK there are demands to teach the medieval history to the school students again. If you feel that by hiding the truth on your controversial decisions you’ll be able to befool people or hide your misjudgements then you are wrong, as the history will ultimately judge you, whether you like it or not.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Xi’s Comment On Taiwan Sends Ripples

China has sent a forceful message to the West, in fact the United States. It has been lost in all the other rhetoric that Chinese leader Xi Jinping thundered in the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. President Jinping said that the party will ‘complete reunification of Taiwan with the mainland’ and hinted it could be by force. If China ends up doing this, it will be symbolic end of ‘American century’.

China has made similar reference to Taiwan every time a new leader takes over and repeated it almost every year. However, this year there is a seriousness that seems to have replaced caution that marked previous policy. Under President Xi there has been escalation of incursions into Taiwan air and sea territory, gradually encircling Taiwan or testing its defences.

Taiwan is a small State of some 35 million people, one of the densest populated in the world. China on the other hand has 1.4 Billion people and the world’s largest army. In a straight war, Taiwan would not last a day. But Taiwan has a sort of guarantor, that is the United States. This is perhaps the only reason Chinese troops haven’t walked into Taiwan.

The United States has a complex relationship with Taiwan. It has an ambiguous treaty with Taiwan called the Taiwan Relations Act that ensure that Taiwan can defend itself against any aggression by China. The treaty does not commit USA to defend Taiwan. The Act states “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities”.

But there is an implicit threat further in the Act, It states that the United States will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States”.

And further, ‘to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.’ 

So the Act draws in the United States dependent on what the United States regional policy and interest are at the time rather than a defence treaty. Taiwan has relied heavily on this Act as a sort of guarantor against a forced takeover by China.

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China has to calculate what strategic importance the United States gives to the region and how important is Taiwan to USA in that regional interest at any time. China has a reputation for long thinking. Its policy is to make Taiwan of lesser value for USA so USA will avoid a full frontal war.

That policy has already been successfully applied by China in the case of Hong Kong. It refused to accept British sovereignty in Hong Kong, claiming the Island belonged to it. It was transferred in 1997 with Britain ensuring China committed to democracy, freedoms and capitalist system in Hong Kong. China then waited till Britain’s power in the world had waned significantly to break with the one nation two systems agreement. In 2021 the commitment has all but disappeared.

In his speech, President Xi also stressed that China does not interfere in other countries nor attack them. However, China considers Taiwan to be part of China with some legitimacy.

Taiwan was part of the Qing dynasty until 1895 when Japan invaded and took over the islands. Meanwhile in mainland China, the Qing dynasty was ended by revolutions in 1912. The Republic of China was established in 1916. Following further unrest, the country was united by General Chiang Kai-Sheik under the Kuomintang in 1920s. China was called the Republic of China, ROC. But the Kuomintang faced challenge by the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong. During second World War, there was truce between the two. With the defeat of Japan, Taiwan was returned to China.

However, the civil war between Kuomintang and CCP continued with the later winning in 1949 and establishing its control over all of mainland China. This was now called the People’s Republic of China, PROC. Chaing Ke-Sheik and a lot of his elite escaped to Taiwan where they established their Government. They claimed that mainland China belongs to them. On the other hand mainland China claims Taiwan belongs to it.

The Taiwan Government was considered to be the legitimate Chinese Government by the West and held the seat at the UN as a veto holding power. This was mainly American policy rather than British.

The situation was absurd to say the least and a reflection of American belligerence and opposition to communism. Finally as China became more powerful and USA needed to restore relations with China, the USA recognised People’s Republic of China as the real China. Mainland China took its place and veto power at UN in 1972. Consequently, Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign country by UN except by some 14 countries. It engages with the world through Trade Mission Offices.

Chinese policy for reunification has been multipronged. It has blocked any formal defence pact between US and Taiwan and formal recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign country. Trade with China is important for USA. Regionally China has engaged in free flow of trade and travel between mainland China and Taiwan.

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In some ways, Taiwan’s position is somewhat similar to that of Goa. Goa was a Portuguese territory. After independence, Indian request for Portugal to cede the territory to it was refused. India invaded it and annexed Goa in 1961. Portugal didn’t show up.  

Will Xi invade Taiwan as India did with Goa? Xi is more likely to send the Chinese Army into Taiwan to annexe it than any other Chinese leader in recent history. His incursions in Indian territory are a testament to that.

Currently the Chinese Government is still attempting to influence the democratic vote in Taiwan in its favour and peaceful annexation. There is also brain drain from Taiwan to mainland China as there are more opportunities in China for skilled and professional Taiwanese. Lifestyle is better and China is a highly developed country now.

However Xi’s patience will run out at some stage and the prospect of invasion will become imminent.

There is considerable debate within United States to shore up its presence in Taiwan. United States think tanks are divided between letting Taiwan go or US defending it. Those promoting defence of Taiwan think that a showdown in Taiwan will contain Chinese power. The pragmatists say that USA has to come to terms with Chinese power.

If there is a showdown between China and US, it will not affect China but Taiwan might not recover, even possibly be decimated. If US lets Taiwan be taken over, it will affect American prestige, for what is left after defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq. The best possible way forward is to avoid a war, have a hands off approach and let a peaceful process determine gradual entry of Taiwan into China.