India: the Reality and the Blob

India: the Reality and the Blob
South Asia is facing a crisis. No, not Covid-19. While the virus is a challenge and requires global and regional cooperative strategies, the bigger challenge is a government in India whose irresponsible, ideology-driven policies at home and in the region threaten peace in the region and beyond.

Let’s consider some facts, beginning with the current Bharatiya Janata Party government’s internal policies that also have regional implications.

As noted by several Indian and foreign rights organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, since the first tenure of Narendra Modi (2014-19), India has seen social ostracisation and persecution of minorities, especially Muslims. This effort is, by all available evidence, incited and supported by BJP and RSS elements in the government, now in its second tenure.

Cow vigilantism, Ghar Waapsi (forcibly converting Muslims to Hinduism), Love Jihad (lynching Muslims for marrying any Hindu girl) et cetera are movements whose impact has been well-recorded, as are the lynchings that inevitably follow. Recently, Muslim traders and shopkeepers have been economically isolated through a campaign that wrongfully attributes the spread of Coronavirus to the Muslim community. This, too, is a matter of record.

These movements, overtly and covertly sponsored by BJP-RSS cadres are bad enough. But this government has also embarked upon legislative moves like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that have become highly controversial because they aim to identify, isolate and persecute Muslims.

While the NRC exercise in Assam was rooted in local issues and communal violence against Muslims, BJP is using the concept of citizenship as a tool for political mobilisation. The BJP leaders across India have been calling for citizenship drive everywhere. Astute commentators have also noted that in combination with the CAA, which again excludes Muslims, these legislative moves are racist and discriminatory against Muslims.

The Indian judiciary, including India’s Supreme Court, has shown itself to be biased in its verdicts. India’s SC’s verdict in the Babari Mosque case is an example of the approach to placate Hindutva rightwing. The decision has been criticised by many jurists within India.

Bangladesh, a country with the most friendly government towards India, has already strongly objected to the NRC/CAA and the language used by Amit Shah, India’s home minister, who called Bangladeshi migrants ‘termites’.

As an Indian writer has noted: “India’s NRC process has also yielded criticism and concern internationally. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has stated that the NRC process was akin to a ‘religious test’ meant to push out Muslims. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called on the [Indian] government to refrain from stripping the nationality of individuals as it would be ‘an enormous blow to global efforts at eradicating statelessness.’”

In another illegal legislative move on 5 August 2019, India amended arts. 370 and 35a of the Indian constitution to revoke the special status of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh. This move not only violates the constitution of the State of J&K bequeathed to it by its constituent assembly, it also contravenes bilateral agreements and UN Security Council Resolutions that identify the State of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh as a disputed and occupied territory.

Indian argument that it was an internal move is patently self-serving and threatens the basic reality and understanding of the nature of the dispute and its status as occupied territory whose population still awaits the right to self-determination.

Further, India issued official maps that not only show J&K and Ladakh as two new Union Territories, they also show the liberated areas of Asad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as part of India. The maps also lay claim to Aksai Chin.

The move has external security dimensions in India’s relations with Pakistan and China.

On May 8, India’s defence minister, Rajnath Singh, inaugurated an 80 km-long road that connects to China at what is called the Lipulekh pass. Kathmandu sent protest notes to both India and China. Nepal contends that the road crosses territory that it claims and has accused India of trying to change the status quo without diplomatic consultations under the mechanisms available for it. Nepal has not taken kindly to the Indian move: it has deployed armed police in the area, issued a démarche to India and undertaken a constitutional move to formalise maps that show its disputed territories with India as part of Nepal.

Nepal is too small to challenge India beyond a certain point. But that’s precisely the point. Nepal provides India with its famed Gorkha regiments. Nepalese soldiers have shed blood for India. And yet, India lacks the desire to settle minor territorial disputes with its small neighbour, relying instead on mendacious arguments to put across its case.

Let’s recap: Indian forces are exchanging fire with Pakistani troops at the Line of Control every day; Indian forces have clashed with People’s Liberation Army troops in Eastern Ladakh, suffering casualties; Nepal is feeling tetchy because of Indian hegemony; Dhaka, while being friendly towards Delhi, is sulking over NRC and CAA; Sri Lanka has had its own nightmarish experience with India with the latter supporting the Tamil insurgency there.

This is the region India inhabits. From how it behaves towards China, the much-stronger adversary, to how it treats other neighbours, is a classic example of a kiss-up, kick-down approach.

So, how does Washington look at what’s happening here? Unfortunately, through the jaundiced eyes of the Blob, the derisive term coined for the Beltway policy community by Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s speechwriter and Deputy National Security Advisor. And no, the idea that Donald Trump has successfully kicked the Blob in the shin is only partially right. The Blob may be down but its tentacles are spread through Washington’s think tanks.

Reason: Rhodes defined the Blob as the bipartisan class of foreign policy elites who backed the 2003 Iraq War but “now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.”

The Blob looks at India as the strategic partner, as a democracy with great market potential. It is woefully unprepared to appreciate the appalling rights conditions in India  and the Occupied J&K; it thinks, as mendaciously as India does, that New Delhi’s annexation of J&K is India’s internal matter; at the most it would voice feeble disapproval of the rights situation but refuse, almost criminally, to voice the real problem in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The Blob’s esteemed members bring far-fetched reasons to “analyse” Sino-Indian tensions in Ladakh to give India a free pass.

They voice each other, quite often, like the Algonquin Round Tablers, except that one can nary find a Thruber or a Mencken to puncture the Blob’s ideas of how best to serve US national interests and by extension, appreciate the rest of the world. No one can survive in the Beltway if (s)he veers too much from the entrenched ideas of the Blob. It is an interesting exercise to read what the members of this bipartisan club put out and see the motifs that run through those writings.

But the world outside has many surprises, as multiple foreign policy failures should have taught the Blob by now. It will be instructive for them to start appreciating the situation (what’s happening in South Asia and the threat posed by India) rather than situating the appreciation.

The writer is a former News Editor of The Friday Times and has had the opportunity of witnessing the Blob from close quarters! He reluctantly tweets @ejazhaider 

The writer has an abiding interest in foreign and security policies and life’s ironies.