Choppy waters lie ahead
Anger in Kashmir and adverse global opinion are but expected; policymakers must learn from similar world events
•In a series of swift moves, New Delhi has effectively altered the character of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, setting certain new terms for engagement. Between August 5 and 7, Parliament passed several resolutions; emasculating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K); making Article 35A a dead letter; abolishing J&K as a State of the Indian Union and replacing it with two separate Union Territories — the Union Territory of J&K and the Union Territory of Ladakh. These provisions were endorsed by both Houses of Parliament with huge majorities.
•The dramatic turn of events, and the swiftness with which they were carried out, stunned the nation. Preceding this, Kashmir had come under a blanket of secrecy. The Amarnath yatra as well as other yatras and similar activities were prematurely called off. All non-J&K personnel were asked to leave the State. Communications with the outside world, including the Internet, were disrupted. An unprecedented number of paramilitary personnel were inducted into the Kashmir Valley and still remain. All combined, it gave the impression of a total lockdown of a kind and on a scale not previously attempted.
A decline and fall
•The change in status of J&K from a princely State (under the tutelage of the British from 1846 to 1947) to a Union Territory now with few legislative powers, mirrors the State’s decline and fall. No special circumstances were mentioned for removing the special status accorded to J&K, enshrined in Article 370 of the Constitution. Article 35A was a casualty of this step. The decision was merely presented as a “fait accompli”. Not explained again was the need to take the step under such a cloak of secrecy. The Prime Minister has since characterised the decision as ‘historic’ and as providing a new beginning for J&K and Ladakh. Further steps have been initiated to complete J&K’s integration with India so as to transform Kashmir from a ‘civilisational backyard’ to a modern State.
•It would be an error of judgment, however, to believe that “all is well” in J&K. The nation does confront a situation which could have many, and unintended, consequences. Many ‘-isms’ have, no doubt, collapsed during the past half century and more. Today, communism is a pale shadow of what it was in the 20th Century. Humanism is under threat. Liberal ideas face attacks from all sides. Nationalism is the dominant imperative, and comes in many shades and sizes. India had been slow to adopt nationalism as a creed but is now tilting towards majoritarian nationalism. Whether it would dilute India’s “diversity”, which had always been regarded as the country’s greatest virtue remains to be seen.
•The immediate concern in many quarters, even though it is not being publicly articulated at this time, is whether other “Guarantees” enshrined in the Constitution would wilt under the juggernaut of “majoritarian nationalism”, with the ruling dispensation having an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Whatever might be the demerits of constitutional guarantees such as Article 370 (which aimed to protect J&K’s autonomous status), it cannot be ignored that it was intended to accommodate not only Kashmir’s diversity but also to meet prevailing circumstances at the time of accession. Over time, it helped India put at rest speculation, as far as the world was concerned, about the status of J&K within the Indian Union.
•It is imperative to recognise that preservation of the asymmetric character of India’s federal structure necessitates effecting several compromises. It also needs to be recognised that the manner in which India had dealt with such asymmetry in the past is what has made India and the Indian Constitution the envy of the rest of world. Every Article in the Indian Constitution has an appropriate role in sustaining India’s diverse and asymmetric federalism.
•The least of our concerns in the coming days, however, may not be the “dumbing-down” of Article 370 and Article 35A. Equally inconsequential may be the sledge-hammer tactics employed to swat remnants of Kashmir’s autonomy. There are far weightier issues that India may have to contend with.
•For the present, criticism may be muted regarding the manner in which the changeover in Kashmir was effected. Within Kashmir itself, reeling under a veil of secrecy, it is difficult to gauge the depth of anger and the extent of animosity towards New Delhi. When the current measures are relaxed, a recrudescence of violence in the State can be expected.
Global reactions and lessons
•International opinion is unlikely — whatever gloss we may apply — to accept at face value our reasons as to why the steps taken in Kashmir were necessary. Already, voices critical of India’s actions are beginning to be heard. China made its views clear to India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on August 12, implicitly rejecting his argument that a bifurcation of J&K and the voiding of Article 370 were India’s internal matters. China also did not heed Mr. Jaishankar’s caution that “the future of India-China relationship will depend on mutual sensitivity”.
•Most nations across the world may adopt a similar line, with a few even pontificating that when push comes to shove, India is no different from most other Second and Third World countries, which make and break rules of their own choosing. India could, hence, once again find itself isolated, having to defend its actions in Kashmir in the international fora.
•At a time like this, policymakers in India would do well to heed the lessons of history and take suitable prophylactic measures. Without drawing any parallel, one situation that immediately comes to mind is the crisis that ravaged Bosnia in the 1990s, following the break-up of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the post-1945 Communist order. Before the break-up, Muslims, Serbs and Croats lived reasonably amicably in mixed communities. As the war intensified, clashes between different communities increased. Support for, including a supply of arms to, different communities, were forthcoming from nations supporting each group. Pakistan, for instance, was one of the countries that at the time defied the existing United Nations ban on a supply of arms, and airlifted missiles to Bosnian Muslims. What followed was one of the worst carnages in history. We must ensure that nothing of this kind happens here.
•We must also realise that the geo-political situation in our region at this juncture is not entirely in our favour. The power play in Afghanistan, together with the fact that India has been excluded from the talks to deal with Afghanistan’s problems, and that Pakistan and China are playing key roles, has put India on notice. Pakistan is already using its leverage in Afghanistan to regain greater acceptance internationally, specially with the U.S. The nexus between China and Pakistan has, if anything, become stronger.
•We can, hence, anticipate a joint effort by Pakistan and China to muddy the waters as far as Kashmir is concerned. Pakistan will almost certainly intensify terror attacks and whip-up local sentiments inside Kashmir. China, which is already concerned about a “rising nationalist India”, is likely to adopt more insidious tactics, aimed at weakening India’s influence across the region. Buoyed by the fact that it possesses one of the most powerful militaries in the world and with growing acceptance of the Belt and Road Initiative, China can be expected to raise the ante on both the border and in the Indian Ocean region.
•Given the complex nature of the international situation, India also needs to be on its guard on how the situation in Kashmir might encourage radicalist Islam to exploit the situation. Across both Europe and Asia, widespread concerns exist that radicalised Islamist ideas and concepts thrive in conflict situations. Experts warn of the inherent dangers in such situations, and their recipe is that apart from utmost vigilance devising more inclusive and diversified policies is important to achieve positive results. Policy makers in India would do well to heed these concerns.
•One final word. The removal of Article 35A should not result in demographic “aggression” in Kashmir, with outsiders seeking to “çolonise” Kashmir. This could be highly counter-productive. It could also induce fears across the entire Northeast, even though Article 371 still holds sway there. In short, authorities must avoid any kind of ‘colourable exercise of power’ in many other areas as well, including on the language issue.
Trump calls: On Kashmir
While India opposes third party mediation, it can expect U.S. pressure on Pakistan
•The United States views Jammu and Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint, considering the capabilities of India and Pakistan, and this is a rare point of agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and the country’s professional strategists. He conveyed the importance of reducing tensions and maintaining peace to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. He also urged Mr. Khan to “moderate rhetoric with India”, echoing India’s sentiments. He had spoken to Mr. Khan last week too, as relations between the neighbours took a turn for the worse after India’s decision to revoke the special status of J&K on August 5. Under Mr. Modi, India has revised its long-held policy on J&K and ruled out any role for Pakistan in New Delhi’s ties with the troubled region, while reiterating its claim over Pakistan occupied territory. Pakistan’s ruling establishment has flourished by using Kashmir as a trope of Islamic nationalism, even as its society sank in radicalism and violence. With Islamabad crying itself hoarse over the sudden turnaround in India’s posture and considering the history of conflicts between the two countries, the U.S. — even under an isolationist President — could not have looked the other way.
•Mr. Trump’s anxiety about India-Pakistan tensions is also linked to his desperation to disentangle the U.S. from the conflict in Afghanistan — now in its 18th year — before his reelection bid in 2020. In the jihadi world view, Kashmir and Afghanistan are two fronts of the same war, and the Pakistani state has conveniently peddled this idea for long. The U.S. is no longer swayed by Pakistan’s argument that the ‘road to peace in Afghanistan runs through Kashmir’, but it is certainly conscious of Islamabad’s proclivity to mischief, most evidently by supporting terror groups launched into Afghanistan and Kashmir. India has always resisted, rightly, any linkage between Afghanistan and Kashmir but it cannot be dismissive of the implications of the U.S’s inevitable withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.S. has gradually but decisively tilted in favour of India on a range of regional strategic questions in recent years, but its search for an Afghan escape route forces it to keep Islamabad in good humour. While Mr. Trump and his administration have been largely sympathetic to India’s latest move on J&K, his tweet on Monday projected parity between Mr. Modi and Mr. Khan by terming them “my two good friends.” While India opposes any third party mediation, it expects the U.S. to keep Pakistan on a tight leash. India’s position that Kashmir is strictly an internal matter can be reinforced only by holding its citizens close and reassured. New Delhi’s dealings with J&K must be becoming of the world’s largest democracy.
Aadhaar-social media profile linking: Supreme Court concerned at dangers of dark web
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal stresses need to link social media profiles of registered users with their Aadhaar numbers
•The Supreme Court on Tuesday stressed the need to find a balance between the right to online privacy and the right of the State to detect people who use the web to spread panic and commit crimes.
•A Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Ghose expressed concern over the dangers of the dark web. “Though I do not know how to access it, I have heard about the dark goings-on in the dark web. It is worse than what happens [in the service web],” Justice Gupta expressed the court’s consternation.
•The Bench’s comments were in response to submissions made by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government along with advocate Balaji Srinivasan, about need to link the social media profiles of registered users with their Aadhaar numbers, and if required, have platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to share the 12-digit unique identity with law enforcement agencies to help detect crimes.
•Mr. Venugopal argued, “The linking of social media profiles of the users with the Aadhaar is needed to check fake news, defamatory articles, pornographic materials, anti-national and terror contents in the online media.” He referred to how online game Blue Whale had not long ago terrorised parents and claimed several young lives in India.
•He said the government found it a challenge to trace the ‘originator’ of such online content. The services of social media platforms, which were used to circulate such content, was the need of the hour. “We do not have the mechanism to find out the originator… We cannot have people commit crimes.”
•Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Kapil Sibal, representing social media platforms, said they had moved the Supreme Court for the sole purpose of transferring the proceedings pending in High Courts to the apex court for adjudication.
•Facebook contended that there were four petitions – two in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and the Madhya Pradesh High Courts – on the issue.
•Mr. Rohatgi said Mr. Venugopal was unnecessarily delving into the merits of the case and he should only argue on the question of transfer. The court, as the highest court in the country, and not the High Courts, should decide the issue that affected the privacy of an online user. A decision of the top court would cover the entire span of the country and would uniformly apply to all the States.
•There was a risk that the different High Courts may arrive at conflicting decisions on the issue of Aadhaar linkage. It would be better to have the apex court take the final call. The Tamil Nadu police were saying that Aadhaar should be used for linking user profiles, he said.
•“They cannot tell us how to run our platforms. We have end to end encryption on WhatsApp and even we do not have access to the content. How can we tell them what is the Aadhaar number? We also have to take care of the privacy of the users,” he stated.
•Mr. Sibal said a decision of the Indian courts on the issue would have global ramifications.
•Both lawyers pointed out that a nine-judge Constitution Bench had declared privacy as a fundamental right associated with life and dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
‘Why move SC now?’
•Mr. Venugopal asked why social media platforms have decided to approach the Supreme Court at this point of time.
•“Why are they coming now? Eighteen hearings have already taken place [in the Madras High Court]. The proceedings are at an advanced stage. They [social media platforms] had accepted the jurisdiction of the High Courts,” he said, opposing the move to transfer the cases from the Madras High Court.
•The court finally issued notice to the Centre and the States on the plea made by social media platforms for transferring the proceedings in High Courts to the apex court. It further scheduled the next hearing to September 13.
•The Bench said the “hearing before the Madras High Court may go on but no effective order be passed till further orders.”
Assam NRC is India’s internal matter: Jaishankar
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s remarks came after he held talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart in Dhaka on various issues, including the Teesta water deal and the Rohingya crisis
•The National Register of Citizens (NRC) process, now under way in Assam, is internal to India, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday in Dhaka.
•Addressing a press conference in Dhaka after meeting his counterpart A.K. Abdul Momen, Mr. Jaishankar said, “It’s an internal matter.” He was responding to a question on the future of more than four million people likely to be affected by the process.
•His statement is significant as it indicates India’s official position just days before the final NRC list is to be published on August 31. In July, Mr. Momen had expressed concern about the possible fallout of the final list on Bangladesh. More recently, on August 7, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart Asaduzzaman Khan in Delhi. The event raised eyebrows as no joint statement was issued after the meeting, indicating some differences on key issues.
Assures Dhaka all help for development
•Mr. Jaishankar, who is on his first visit to Bangladesh after taking charge in May, announced that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to visit India in autumn.
•Stating that Delhi will extend “all possible support” to the development agenda of Bangladesh, Mr. Jaishankar added that the India-Bangladesh relationship is a “model” of cooperation within the Neighbourhood First policy of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
•Addressing the press with Mr Jaishankar, his Bangladeshi counterpart, A.K. Abdul Momen said the bilateral talks had satisfied the Bangladesh team. Both sides had also discussed the repatriation of the Rohingya from refugee camps in Chittagong to Myanmar.
•“We agreed that the safe, speedy and sustainable return of displaced persons is in the national interest of all the three countries — Bangladesh, Myanmar and India. And we reaffirm our readiness to provide more assistance to the displaced in Bangladesh and to improve socio-economic conditions in Rakhine State,” said Mr. Jaishankar.
Chandrayaan-2 placed deftly in lunar orbit
Moon mission crosses a milestone
•A nerve-wracking 30-minute manoeuvre performed from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Mission Operations Complex here on Tuesday ensured that Chandrayaan-2, the Indian lunar lander-rover spacecraft, slid precisely into its planned orbit around its destination: the moon.
•The Lunar Orbit Insertion was carried out at 9.02 a.m. from the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC).
In the defined orbit
•In a media briefing after the event, K. Sivan, Chairman of ISRO, said, “Today Chandrayaan-2 crossed a major milestone. Around 9 a.m., a precise LOI [Lunar Orbit Insertion] manoeuvre was carried out for about 30 minutes to inject Chandrayaan-2 perfectly into the defined orbit.”
•It now goes around the moon in a pole-to-pole ellipse of 114 km x 18,072 km.
•Now that the orbiter is in place, the focus will shift to the Vikram lander riding on top with the small rover inside its belly.
•Around 9 a.m., a precise LOI [Lunar Orbit Insertion] manoeuvre was carried out for about 30 minutes to inject Chandrayaan-2 perfectly into the defined orbit,” Dr. Sivan said. The spacecraft now goes around the moon in a pole-to-pole ellipse of 114 km x 18,072 km.
•Now that the orbiter is in place, the focus will shift to the Vikram lander riding on top with the small rover inside its belly.
•Dr. Sivan said, “We will now have four lunar burns starting tomorrow [Wednesday] at 1 p.m., followed by subsequent burns on August 28, August 30 and September 1. The orbit of Chandrayaan-2 will be reduced gradually from the present 18,072 km to make it orbit moon in a circle from a distance of around 100 km by September 1.”
•He said the next major event was slated for September 2. On that day the lander is due to separate from the orbiter and start descending towards the lunar surface – like “a bridegroom separating from his parental home and entering the bride’s home.”
•Precise actions with the latest LOI and the earlier TLI, besides improved sensors, guidance and navigation systems and repeated tests on them, he said, should enable Vikram to soft-land on the moon at 1.45 a.m. on September 7.
•As for the manoeuvre to put the spacecraft in lunar orbit, Dr. Sivan said that at 3 p.m. on Monday, Chandrayaan-2 reached the vicinity of the moon and started picking up speed due to the moon’s gravity.
•“The latest LOI manoeuvre was essential in order to reduce its speed from 2.4 km per second to 2.1 km per second. If we had not done it or done it improperly, we would have lost the spacecraft as it would have gone astray,” he said.
A top post, its promise and peril
The post of CDS can lead either to a transformation of the defence forces or it could sink with a middling mandate
•On Independence Day, in his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Officially, this post was first proposed by the Group of Ministers Report in 2001 but the idea for a CDS can be traced back to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the architect of India’s higher defence organisation. In many ways then, this is a culmination of a long cherished dream, and Mr. Modi deserves full credit for it. However, implementation is key, something that perhaps he knows all too well, having dealt with the aftermath of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout and demonetisation.
•The Prime Minister therefore needs to be bold with this initiative and should understand that his military and civilian advisers, institutionally, have an interest in undermining it. So the manner in which this office is set up portends either the greatest, necessary transformation of the Indian military or a naam-ke-vaastey appointment with a middling mandate and a middling job.
•Currently there are no further details on the proposed powers of the CDS. According to one report, an “implementation committee” has been established comprising the Defence Secretary, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and other unnamed officers. This itself is a mistake. The committee should ideally be headed by a political leader and/or a rank outsider, who should have no skin in the game. Indeed, the experience of defence reforms in other countries suggests that it is best to have qualified ‘outsiders’ involved in the process. Serving officials can of course assist such an individual or a team but expecting them to, if necessary, curtail their own powers is quixotic.
•After his first term in office, Mr. Modi must have realised the aversion within the service headquarters to reform. In more than one Combined Commanders Conference, the annual gathering of senior most officers from all three services, Mr. Modi challenged them to come up with a common plan for greater integration. It is still unclear what the modalities of this proposed plan were, submitted sometime in 2018, but according to Admiral Sunil Lanba, till recently the Chief of Naval Staff and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, they recommended creating a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Fortunately, Mr. Modi did not settle upon this term, which perceptually is a step below a CDS. These interactions, however, must have revealed an obvious detail — the service chiefs and their headquarters will bitterly oppose creating an empowered CDS. India’s is perhaps the only large military wherein the service chiefs retain both operational and staff functions. This anomaly cannot continue merely because that is the tradition. If this government wants a “new India” it will have to break decisively from the past and draw up a time-bound road map to divest the chiefs of their operational command.
•Perhaps one of the best approaches is to focus squarely on the powers and capacity of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), which will serve (or served) as the secretariat to the CDS. The IDS is the joint staff, created in 2001, and comprises around 270 officers. The services have viewed it with a mix of irritation bordering on contempt. It is usually treated as a career backwaters and perhaps the Prime Minister should examine how many recent chiefs have served in this institution. Going forward, civilians should emphasise joint staff experience as an important consideration for senior officer promotions. On another count, one of the aspects worth looking into is the physical location of the IDS and the office of the CDS. According to some reports, an IDS headquarters is proposed to be built somewhere in Delhi Cantonment. Instead of being shunted, officers in the IDS should occupy prime offices in South Block and the office of the CDS should be located right next to that of the Defence Minister.
•One of the most closely watched decisions will be on appointing the first CDS. The government need not go with the seniority rule and should instead consider a “deep selection” from current pool of flag officers. To begin with, and to assuage the fears of the smaller services, it may be wise to not let an Army officer to first tenet this post. Moreover, it is not necessary, or perhaps even desirable, for a former service chief to be appointed as the CDS. As a fulcrum for future defence transformation and armed with a possible mandate to examine inter-services prioritisation, long-term planning, officer education (including the perennially-imminent Indian National Defence University) and jointness, the CDS can emerge as the biggest “game changer”. But if the services have their way then this will be just another gloried post, without much effective powers.
•Finally, an important aspect of any reorganisation should look at the inter-se relations between the military and the Ministry of Defence. This needs to focus on capacity, expertise, decision-making powers and aligning responsibility and accountability. The relations between the civilian bureaucracy and the military are among the biggest fault-lines in the defence apparatus and remedial actions are required, on both sides, to create a professional, well-developed and qualified bureaucracy which integrates both civilian-military expertise.
•With this announcement, Mr. Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have an opportunity to finish a project which Lord Mountbatten was so passionate about. But this is not just about dead Englishmen. Arun Singh, one of the most forward looking quasi-defence ministers, was, according to those who worked closely with him (Mr. Singh), was keen to establish theatre commands back in 2001. However, he was unsure if political leaders at that time would fully support such a transformation. Eventually they did not and the Indian strategic community has been complaining about reforms which “failed to deliver”. Over the next few months, this government has an opportunity to usher in a revolution in defence management — whether they realise this dream or not is up to question.
•Anit Mukherjee is Assistant Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and the author of the forthcoming book, ‘The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Military in India’
Assam’s NRC: time limit to appeal before Foreigners Tribunal increased to 120 days
Assam’s NRC: time limit to appeal before Foreigners Tribunal increased to 120 days
Non-inclusion does not by itself amount to person being declared a foreigner, says MHA
•As the August 31 deadline for the final publication of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) nears, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Tuesday that “non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner” as they would be given adequate opportunity to present their case before the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs). The time limit to appeal before the FTs is also being increased from 60 to 120 days.
•Home Minister Amit Shah had reviewed the NRC process with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and other senior officials on Monday.
•The Ministry in its statement said, “It was decided that in order to facilitate the persons excluded from the NRC, adequate arrangements will be made by the State government to provide full opportunity to appeal against their non-inclusion. Every individual, whose name does not figure in the final NRC, can represent his/her case in front of the appellate authority, i.e. Foreigners Tribunals. Under the provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964, only Foreigners Tribunals are empowered to declare a person as a foreigner. Thus, non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner.”
•It said that State government would also “make arrangements to provide legal aid to the needy people amongst those excluded from the NRC.” Adequate number of such tribunals was being established at convenient locations.
•“As it may not be possible for all those excluded from final NRC to file the appeal within the prescribed time, MHA will amend the rules to increase the present time limit of filing of appeals in FTs from 60 days to 120 days regarding exclusion from final NRC. The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 are also being amended accordingly,” the statement said.