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No-confidence motion: No confidence within the opposition

Shehzad Poonawalla

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The No Confidence motion was meant to be an attack against the Modi government instead it ended up looking more like a motion of no confidence in the idea of a larger opposition unity against the prime minister! Nobody doubted that the Modi government would win the vote ( the BJP had 273 and NDA including Shiv Sena had 312 odd votes in a House that has 533 members with the halfway mark pegged at 267) but the final numbers ( 325 against the motion and only 126 for it )reveal how floor managers of the Modi government managed to outwit and outsmart the opposition strategists! To have managed to surpass the tally of NDA (312 including Shiv Sena) despite the Shiv Sena abstaining was certainly no mean feat!

The No Confidence motion that was aimed at showcasing opposition unity ended up displaying opposition disunity! It was expected that they would muster at least 140 votes but ended up with merely 126!  Instead of putting the Modi government on test it ended up like a political “Sanjeevni booṭi” that now provides an already popular PM Modi with a cloak of immunity to carry out his agenda inside and outside Parliament as we head into election year 2019! This leads me to ask whether the opposition read too much into the results of a few bypolls and the friction between allies within the NDA? Did it miscalculate both the political mood and political maths by pushing for this Trust vote? What does the result mean for the larger opposition unity? What does it mean for the final showdown in 2019? And how does this translate in terms of leadership and popularity quotient for the possible principal protagonists of 2019 namely Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?

Political Harakiri

In April 1999 Sonia Gandhi had declared ‘We have 272 and we hope to get more,” outside Rashtrapati Bhavan as she attempted to dislodge the Vajpayee government.

She was unsuccessful in that attempt! Nineteen years later both her words and fate sound eerily similar! “Who said we don’t have the numbers” she asked rhetorically two days before the crucial floor test! As the day unfolded, it was clear that she had miscalculated. By raising expectations on this front Mrs Gandhi missed an opportunity to turn this battle into one between “majority and morality”. Had her articulation laid more emphasis on eroding the moral authority of the government rather than challenging its numerical strength, at the end of the No Confidence exercise, she and the Congress could have drawn some “moral victory” despite the defeat. Clearly, it is not just Rahul Gandhi but perhaps even Sonia Gandhi who seems to have lost her innate political instincts. This reflects at the very least political disconnect and perhaps at the very worst a sense of political delusion.

Modi government’s floor managers also outwitted the opposition by calling their bluff and immediately going in for the Trust Vote. Nobody in the opposition was expecting the motion to be admitted so quickly. They were banking on playing up the rhetoric that the Modi government was running away from a No Confidence motion! Buoyed by the results of the by-polls in Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana the wider opposition seemed to have a spring in its step and had found its voice! Little did they expect that the tables would turn so quickly! In the hurly-burly of TV sound bites and political rhetoric, often dominated by disgruntled NDA allies voicing their angst against the BJP, the opposition forgot that usually what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, especially in politics! They seriously underrated the ability of BJP President Amit Shah in bringing and keeping the NDA allies together on the same page when push comes to shove!

 

Rahul’s Hug-plomacy 

Rahul Gandhi’s almost hour-long speech ended with him giving PM Modi an unsolicited hug! Many thought it was a smart move to garner much-needed media attention but serious questions on jobs and agriculture raised by Rahul lost out due to his histrionics. The Speaker too disapproved of his behaviour. What made it worse is that Rahul returned to his seat and winked to a colleague which was captured by all the cameras and gave an impression that his entire antics were pre-planned and scripted! Another gaffe committed was him quoting out of his private meeting with the French President while speaking on the Rafale deal! Rahul accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying when she said a “secret pact” existed between India and France! Rahul claimed the French President had told him personally that no such pact existed! The Foreign Office of France immediately clarified that Rahul’s claims were not accurate! This left the 48-year-old looking like he was misleading Parliament and also attracted a Privilege Motion against him! Eventually, that entire exchange with Nirmala Sitharaman dented the credibility of his claims. It also gave the BJP and the PM to launch a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi projecting him as “arrogant” and “untruthful”.

Modi’s Point by Point rebuttal 

The PM speaking last delivered a detailed almost two-hour presentation on jobs, agriculture, his government’s commitment against corruption and spiced it up with his rhetorical and oratory skills! His digs were primarily aimed at Sonia and Rahul Gandhi even as the dismantled the shaky project of “opposition unity” trying to be forged against him. By the time his speech ended, not only did he manage the numbers in Loksabha he also managed to garner back all the media attention and more importantly moral and political authority entering into the countdown for 2019! Whatever little symbolic value it could have had in reducing the Modi government into a defacto lame duck administration was lost in the comfortable manner in which the treasury benches managed to sail through the floor test!

Karan Thapar

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir

Karan Thapar

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The people of Kashmir believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them.

 

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir. I won’t use the word ignored because that implies a deliberate decision to disregard developments in the state. The truth is we appear to be simply unconcerned about what’s happening. It’s as if it doesn’t matter.

Yet in almost all respects the situation is deteriorating. First, internally. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society estimates that 472 people have died in encounters and clashes in the initial ten months of this year. This, I presume, includes their figure for casualties from terrorist incidents. That compares to 379 deaths for the whole of 2017. This is a 24 percent increase and suggests that a civilian and a security force personnel lost their lives every second day. In October alone there were 59 deaths, the worst month since July 2016 when Burhan Wani was killed and 62 people died in clashes.

When you look at the break-up of the deaths, no doubt militant causalities are increasing but so too are those of civilians and security personnel. Between 2016 and 2017 the former went up by 28 percent and the latter by 32 percent. Those are very substantial increases.

kashmir

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The situation on the border is no different. Government figures revealed in Parliament show that ceasefire violations almost doubled from 2016 to 2017 and so far in 2018 the figure is already 62 percent higher than last year’s total. According to the Defence Minister, from 881 in 2017, the figure by August of this year had shot up to 1432.

You get the same story when you look at the statistics of infiltration. Kiren Rijiju has reported that between 2016 and 2017 instances of infiltration attempts increased by 10 percent. This year, according to the Chinar Corps Commander, 3 to 4 infiltration attempts are foiled daily whilst nearly 100 terrorists have entered the state.

The only area where the situation has improved is in terms of incidents of stone pelting. After a peak in 2016, they have fallen steadily. However, for the first time in a decade, an army soldier was killed by stone pelters last month. That was an ominous development.

kashmir

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In contrast to the improvement in stone pelting, the number of state policemen losing their lives to militant firing has doubled. At least 40 have died this year compared to 20 in 2017. Some of them were victims of sniper attacks, a new and worrying innovation in the Valley’s jihadi tactics which has taken the authorities by surprise. Meanwhile, the army believes that 140 local Kashmiris have joined militancy in the first ten months of this year, the highest militant recruitment in a decade.

So, clearly, the tough posture adopted by the Modi government has not worked. With each month the violence and killings are escalating whilst the number taking up militancy is increasing. The more the security forces go on the offensive the more worrisome the problem seems to become.

Beyond these sorry statistics is the impact of it all on the Kashmiri people who, after all, we look upon as fellow citizens and claim to respect and love. Has the government asked itself what this is doing to their morale and to the way they view their status as Indian citizens? Certainly, the turnout figures in the Valley for the recent urban local body elections show that commitment to democratic voting is at an all-time low. The figure not only suggests that a preponderant majority heeded the boycott call but perhaps also feel there’s no point in voting.

kashmir

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This raises the question do we realize we’re pushing the Kashmiri people further and further away? They believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them – but rather than resolve and ameliorate the hurt of the past we’re adding fresh injury to previous insults. In other words, we’re making things worse.

The truly depressing bit is with elections just five months away I cannot see the government accepting its error and changing track. The present tough stance is likely to continue unmitigatedly and the situation will correspondingly deteriorate. The dark night that’s fallen on Kashmir is not going to loosen its grip anytime soon.

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Preeti Sharma Menon

Activists and AAP demand rescue of tigress Avni’s cubs and a judicial probe

Preeti Sharma Menon

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Avni

Avni’s Cubs

It’s been 8 days since Avni was killed. Post mortem shows she hadn’t eaten for 5 days. That means her cubs have not eaten since 13 days. We have come together to demand the immediate rescue of the cubs. We demand that since Maharashtra Forest Department has shown lack of capability as well as empathy, a team be called from another state of India to complete this mission.

Fake Encounter

According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). a Tiger has to come out of its own territory into human settlements and lurk on humans as its own prey and kill and eat the flesh of humans habitually to be labeled as a man-eater. Avni never left her own territory, the alleged kills had long gaps ruling out habitual behavior. There are 7 tigers in this zone and all the killings appear to be chance encounters. The foolish use of hand-gliders, dogs, perfumes, other animals as bait defies all norms. The night hunting, that too without a veterinarian is a clear case of hunting and poaching and cannot be termed as a government’s effort.

The initial findings of the post mortem report clearly show that the needle of the tranquilizing dart was in sub cutaneous region. If indeed it was fired it at the alleged range of 8 to 10 metres it would have nestled deep into the muscles. And this precarious dart continued to hang from her skin during her supposed attack is stuff that even children will not believe. The conversation of two forest officials that it was cosmetically added later seems to ring true. Then comes the gunshot, which was cardocranial, that is she was shot laterally and the bullet propelled from behind towards the face. It clearly contradicts the theory that she was shot when she was attacking the team. The hunting is in complete violation of the Indian Forest Laws, Wildlife Protection Act, National Tiger Conservation Authority Rules, Rules of the Veterinarian Council of India, and the Drugs and Cosmetic Act.

Inquiry Commission a Farce

The Inquiry Committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forest is unacceptable as it strangely included a member of an NGO – the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). WTI was completely complicit in the killing of Avni and it is ludicrous that they will investigate their own operation. There are no subject matter experts or judicial members in this farcical committee.

Even worse is the Inquiry Committee appointed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis – firstly it has very junior members from PCCF’s office who are in no position to conduct an inquiry on the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) A K Misra and on Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. More over all the members are administrative staff and have no veterinary, ballistic, and other relevant expertise. The most unacceptable is inclusion of Anish Andheria President of the NGO Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT). WCT’s role is dubious in this whole episode. They set up camera traps in 2015, even before Avni had allegedly killed – did they have premonition that there was going to be a man-eater on the prowl or were they setting the stage to kill Avni? Anish Andheria is also a part of State Wildlife Board, the same Board which decides to change land use of forests, the same board that would have given away the land to Reliance Cement. There is photographic proof the WCT vehicles were used by the hunter Shafath Ali and his gang of killers, when they went on their late night illegal hunts – illegal because our laws only allow for a man-eater to be tranquilized, captured or killed between sunrise to sunset.

All activists who have fought for Avni and the Aam Aadmi party jointly demand that there should be one Inquiry Committee and it should be led by a Judge, (not from Maharashtra) it should include veterinary and other subject matter experts of a stature that can opine on Ministerial oversight.

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Abhinav Pandya

A Brief Overview of Counter-Terrorism Operations in India- Challenges and the Way Ahead

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India has been at the receiving end of the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan based actors since 1990s. However, the world community realized the intensity of our pains only after September 11 which made the phenomenon of terrorism, genuinely global. Transnational terrorist organizations shook the world with the well-coordinated network and worldwide operations. The western world, though a late starter took prompt and multifarious measures to tackle the menace of terrorism after September 11. Their response regarding research on the diverse aspects of terrorism, counter-terror operations, technological know-how needed and the smart combing operations was undoubtedly prompt and effective. However,  India despite being at the receiving end of terrorism for almost three decades and even after facing the horrors of 26/11, has not been able to come up with a robust response mechanism and, a long-range counter-terrorism policy. In this essay, the author will discuss the significant shortcomings of India’s counterterrorism (CT) policy, challenges faced by India’s CT forces and policy interventions needed to address the deficiencies.

India’s counter-terrorism approach has mostly been an ad-hoc, operational and reactionary one primarily focusing on the use of force. It has lacked a wide-ranging vision.  This lacuna comes from the fact that there was hardly a serious and systematic effort to understand the phenomenon of terrorism intellectually.  One wonders as to why the majority of the reputed think-tanks and publications on terrorism have originated in the western world. Moreover, even now it is scarce to find a quality study on terrorism issues emanating from India. Terrorism is a very complex phenomenon and entirely different from a conventional security threat; therefore, it needs a nuanced understanding of the problem.

First and foremost,  there has been a tendency among the academic and strategic community to analyze diverse security threats like LWE, the ethnic insurgency in NE, proxy-war in J&K and the incidents of jihadi terrorism through one broad prism of terrorism. Mostly, it has happened for the reasons of political convenience. Especially among the academicians in India, one finds an attitude hesitant to study the issues of Islamic extremism in detail. The problem of jihadi terrorism is a politically sensitive issue, and one finds himself in an uncomfortable zone of being branded a communal if he studies Islamic extremism in India’s socio-political milieu that dwells upon a highly delicate and dangerous interpretation of secularism, driven by petty electoral concerns.  However, an efficient policy mechanism to address these challenges needs a detailed and differentiated analysis. The various security threats mentioned above are very different from each other, though one cannot rule out the convergences and overlapping. Hence, the “one-size-fits-all” approach is highly fallacious.

Secondly, in the policy response to address the challenge of Islamic extremism, the phenomenon of radicalization has not received the much-needed attention. The issue of jihadi terrorism is profound, widespread and multidimensional in nature. In India, mostly we have focused on the military aspects of counter-terror operations. The approach is to wait until someone becomes a terrorist and then neutralize him. Moreover, this narrow approach is amply reflected in the terminology used which mostly hovers around the militant count; weaponry seized, quality of weapons and the encounter deaths. One hardly finds any systematic effort to understand the pre-militancy phases of radicalization that are long-drawn and complex. After one joins a militant group, the only option left is the use of force in the majority of the cases, and it often becomes counter-productive. The security forces kill one terrorist in the Kashmir valley in an encounter, and ten others get inspired and join. What is needed is a rigorous effort to identify the radicalization pathways, the organizations involved, their modus-operandi and the funding channels which all constitute the infrastructure or congenial launching pads for a terrorist organization to emerge, sustain and conduct operations. For example, in J&K mostly the focus is on the activities (primarily clandestine) of Hizbul Mujahiddin such as its recruitment drive, hide-outs and finally the encounters. However, one hardly comes across a robust mechanism to understand and curb the activities of Jamaat-i-Islami which are in open and legal and flourish in the garb of religion. Jamaat-i-Islami provides the necessary cover in which the HM cadres easily move, operate and continue to bleed India. Jamaat-i-Islami provides a ready supply of recruits through its rigorous education system. Jamaat is firmly entrenched in rural areas, and its activities in the rural areas are highly sophisticated. South Kashmir districts such as Pulwama and Shopiyan are hotbeds of terrorism, and they have a strong presence of Jamaat-i-Islami. Jamaat caders function as OGWs(over ground workers) for terrorist organizations and Pak-based ISI handlers. Their activities include spying, providing shelter, food and other logistics assistance to terrorists. Also, with their threatening presence in the village, they intimidate the residents to fall in line with their agenda and not cooperate with Indian security forces. They freely distribute the distorted and violent interpretations of the literature of  extremist scholars such as Syed Qutb, Hasan Banna, Maulana Maududi and Ibn Tamiya in universities, colleges, and other socio-cultural platforms. The extreme radicalization as a result of their activities has almost finished the Sufi Islam of Kashmiris.

Similarly, over the last eight years, Salafis have become very active in Kashmir. Their mosques number more than 700 and are heavily funded by petrodollars. Though they are silent on political issues, it is not without reason that their rise has strongly coincided with the rise of Islamism in Kashmir. Today Islamic state is firmly establishing its footprint in Kashmir. A large number of the followers of Zakir Musa (he raised the idea of Caliphate in Kashmir, and his group Ansaar Ghazwat ul Hind (affiliated to Al Qaida) believes in the ideology of Ahle-Hadith/Salafi. One can find the ISJK (Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir) graffiti on the walls in 90 feets area which has a large concentration of Salafi mosques.

Similarly, in Kerala, Wahhabi proselytization and the resultant radicalization has been going on for last four decades. Malayali diaspora working in the Middle East and charity organizations based in the Gulf have been the primary funders. Over the years, oil money and intense religious propaganda have entrenched a radical and fundamentalist version of Islam in Kerala, that is at odds with India’s indigenous Sufi Islam. Radical Islamist parties like the Popular Front of India have been running conversion camps, terror camps and openly talk of political Islam.  No wonder that Kerala has supplied the largest contingent of ISIS foreign fighters from India. In 2013, IB had released a report that informed that there are 1.8 million Wahhabi followers in India. There is a robust funding channel from Saudi Arabia. USD 124 million was earmarked for setting up four Wahhabi universities, USD 62 million for building 40 mosques, USD 46.5 million for madrasas and USD 15.5 million for the upkeep of existing mosques.

However, such reports have hardly been able to generate any stir at the top echelons of national security. The local police are more incentivized to turn a blind eye to the activities of PFI because pandering such extremist organizations suits the electoral interest of the dominant political parties of Kerala. PFI has also penetrated into the colleges and universities through its affiliate Campus Front of India and in politics through its political front Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). Not only this, PFI is expanding into the northern hinterlands of India and the North Eastern states too.

The examples cited above are to convey the gravity of the threat to the readers. However, they are only the tips of the icebergs. This author believes that a robust counterterrorism strategy needs honest and urgent thinking on the issue of radicalization exploring radicalization pathways, funding networks, cross-border connections, its religious and non-religious factors and the role of social media. Also, indeed a robust mechanism to counter the forces of radicalization is also the need of the hour.

Continued in the next part…

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