The Hindustan Times – India’s polity suffers from a strong caste bias

The OBC representation in Parliament has declined in the past decade to pre-Mandal levels of around 20% even as upper caste numbers have sharply risen to 44%.

Rajdeep Sardesai

Op/Ed, 5 January 2018. Caste narratives expose inner fault lines in our hierarchical society and can easily spark off controversy. Last week, when Jai Ram Thakur was selected as the BJP’s Himachal Pradesh chief ministerial candidate, I tweeted about how nine of the 11 BJP chief ministers (excluding the north-east) now belong to upper castes.

Predictably, the tweet raised an avalanche of protest. Since 280 characters on Twitter aren’t enough to make a nuanced argument on the divisive issue of caste, I deleted the tweet.

Thakur, a five-time MLA and the son of a mason and a farmer may be a deserving choice, but is also a beneficiary of Himachal’s ‘Thakur-waad’ dominance with nearly half the ruling party MLAs belonging to the community.

Indeed, my central argument is unshaken: Seventy years after independence, despite the push for a more ‘inclusive’ politics, we remain an upper caste-led polity.

When Narendra Modi became the country’s prime minister, it was seen as a watershed moment, one that would genuinely effect a change in the power pyramid. Until then, the highest executive post in the country was controlled by upper castes (the one exception was Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga from Karnataka, whose brief tenure must be seen as an aberration).

Modi skillfully played up his OBC credentials during the 2014 campaign, especially in the caste cauldron of north India. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s sneeringly snobbish ‘chaiwallah’ comment only gave Modi the space to affirm his credentials as someone who had risen from a low-caste, low-income background to challenge the Brahminical elite.

Three years later, that elite is still very much in power. Just take a look at the senior ministers in the Union cabinet: the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security, for example, is monopolised by Brahmins and Thakurs. The senior bureaucracy is also dominated by the upper castes.

The Opposition is led by a Janeu-Dhari Hindu, as we were firmly reminded by the Congress during the Gujarat campaign. Yes, the President of India is a Dalit, but his tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan is unlikely to lead to greater Dalit empowerment, just as a Pratibha Patil’s nomination hardly promoted women’s emancipation.

Truth is, the ‘Bahujan-isation’ of Indian politics has been an experiment fraught with risk. The rise of the Dravida parties in south India and the Dalit-Bahujan assertion in Maharashtra was preceded by a reformist social revolution that ensured a relatively smooth transition of political power.

By contrast, the Mandal revolution of the late 1980s in north India led to greater Dalit-OBC representation in electoral politics but also witnessed a fierce upper caste backlash.

Statistics now show that OBC representation in parliament has declined in the past decade to pre-Mandal levels of around 20% even as upper caste numbers have sharply risen to 44%.

The manner in which the BJP’s Hindutva wave swept aside narrow caste-based loyalties of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 could be a pointer to the future. Even after courting non-Yadav OBCs and non-Dalit Jatavs during the elections, the BJP chose a saffron-robed upper caste Thakur as its Hindutva mascot to lead the government.

With the Yadav ‘parivar’ of UP and Bihar along with the BSP’s Mayawati typecast as a corrupt, self-aggrandising, family raj leadership, the BJP has tried to co-opt the disenchanted Mandal foot-soldiers, many of them from smaller, poorer communities, within a broader Hindu religious umbrella.

The Congress too, is attempting to build a rival ‘rainbow’ coalition by aligning with a new generation of aggressive and articulate Dalit-Bahujan leaders like Jignesh Mevani while also embracing a Hardik Patel.

Neither the co-option nor the alignment may be smooth in every instance with dominant caste interests often clashing with the rest. The troubling events in Maharashtra this week where there was an attack on Dalits who were marking the 200th anniversary celebrations of a battle in which a British contingent comprising a sizeable number of Mahars (a Dalit sub caste) defeated the Peshwas reflects how old animosities are finding new expressions.

Amid growing rural distress and economic inequities, influential agrarian caste protest movements have also surfaced amongst the Patidars in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra and the Jats in Haryana, each pushing for a share in the reservation pie.

Accommodating these powerful groups without alienating sizeable Dalit-Bahujan interests is now a big challenge for any major political force, one that could shape the future of post-Mandal politics.

Post-script: To those turned off by caste arithmetic in politics, how about a review of the matrimonial columns in newspapers that so glaringly mirror social prejudice? As for us journalists, we too maybe need to look within and ask the inconvenient question: how many Dalit, OBC, Adivasi editors do we have in Indian newsrooms?

Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author

The views expressed are personal


Dawn – Militants’ long and bloody war on education

A look at all major terror attacks targeting educational institutes since 2011

Op/Ed, 01 December 2017. As the shock of the brazen attack on Peshawar’s Agricultural Training Institute subsides, parents across the country face the struggle of coming to terms with yet another terrorist attack targeting students.

With the wounds of the 2014 Army Public School tragedy still fresh, and later attacks on the Bacha Khan University and Quetta’s Police Academy branded painfully on our collective memory, they have suffered tragic reminders time and again that their children’s future in a Pakistan free of extremist and radical ideologies is far from secure.

Both civilian and military authority’s continue to insist, quite depressingly, that such attacks are actually a sign that violent extremism is on the retreat in the country.

In this worldview, educational institutions are described as ‘soft targets’; hence, an attack on them is somehow not an alarming security failure, but evidence that the enemy cannot touch ‘real’, ‘hard’ targets.

With no visible signs that this deeply problematic approach to the security of Pakistan’s most vulnerable citizens has changed or will change, here’s a look back at all the attacks targeting students and educational institutions that have continued unabated since 2011.

Dawn – No trace of the missing

Op/Ed, 15 November 2017. Missing persons continue to remain undocumented and missing, and it appears that the courts and parliament are powerless to do anything about this terrible blot on Pakistan’s human rights record.

On Monday, seemingly helpless representatives of the federal and KP governments appeared in the Supreme Court empty-handed; they had been required by a special bench to present basic data on the country’s 45 declared internment centres.

The information that had been demanded included up-to-date lists of detainees, the offences they have been charged with, whether or not they had faced trial and the length of their incarceration, in sum, the bare minimum information the state should have for any individual in its custody.

But the court simply gave the representatives another fortnight to produce the data.

Meanwhile, following a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, Senator Farhatullah Babar has called for setting up a new commission on enforced disappearances because the existing one has failed to produce results and to publish a six-year-old report on missing persons.

Taken together, the events suggest a defiance of the law by some elements within the state and an abdication of duty by other parts of the state to ensure that citizens have their rights and institutions act according to the law.

What is particularly dispiriting is that despite the passage of several years and facilitation by the law, the state appears unwilling to take a reasonable position on the issue.

The first military operations in the country are now more than a decade old, while the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations, 2011, provided a legal framework to bring missing persons within the ambit of the law.

Surely, by now a reasonable solution to what is admittedly a vexing problem ought to have been found.

The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn at this stage, however, is that there are some state elements that reject the notion that accountability and transparency ought to apply to at least some security issues.

The public, the courts, parliament, the governments and, indeed, the families of the suspects, simply have to trust the judgement of nameless and faceless figures wielding great power over the lives of alleged terrorism, militancy and extremism suspects.

Certainly, the long fight against militancy calls for special measures and greater flexibility in dealing with an internal threat that is shadowy and evolving.

But the state’s duty is to progressively bring its actions within the ambit of the law, that is what separates the justness of the fight by the state from the terrorists, militants and extremists who seek to inflict harm on the country and its people.

Today, there is no justification for defiance of the law, just as there is no rationale for the continuing phenomenon of missing persons.

Dawn – An inevitable crisis

Umair Javed

Op/Ed, 6 November 2017. Headlines from these last four months suggest Pakistan is experiencing a serious political crisis. Television talk shows and newspapers are referring to the permanent precariousness of democracy. The military is heard making periodic references to political and economic stability.

Opposition parties want an early election to resolve an as yet unstated problem, while the ruling party is sending out reminders of why technocratic rule and dictatorships are never a solution.

The nature of the conversation in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and other seats of power is a bit confusing given the reality elsewhere. Unlike previous instances of political unrest, existing conditions in the country appear to be fairly stable.

Contrary to what we saw in 2014 or 1977 or 1968, there’s no mass mobilisation by the political opposition, nor are there any spontaneous protests against the government. While there might be one in the near future, there’s no major macroeconomic crisis unfolding in the present, as was the case in 1999.

Unlike in 2007, there are no major food shortages (except tomatoes) and inflationary pressures on household expenditure appear relatively muted. Finally, the energy crisis is no worse than it was in 2013, while violence by non-state actors of any shade is at its lowest in a decade.

And yet, because the elite who matter, politicians, judges, generals, are positioning themselves as if navigating a crisis, the country dutifully finds itself in one.

The PML-N has been around for three decades, and this is the first time it’s been forced to think about a leader other than Nawaz Sharif.

The headline narrative is that this impasse was triggered by the Panama Papers. It is now escalating due to the attempts of a disqualified and under-trial prime minister (and his daughter) to stay in power, both in their party and, by corollary, in the country.

In this version of the story, there is nothing inevitable about the crisis. It’s simply been made worse by the confrontational rhetoric being pushed by Nawaz and his team, and the strains his brand of politics is placing both within the ruling party, and between the ruling party and other institutions.

There are a few things this version of the story gets right. The Panama leak was indeed an exogenous event. It is also true that Nawaz’s personal agency does matter here. He believes his disqualification was a larger conspiracy, and his ensuing politics, which includes positioning his daughter in the party, is creating pressures on the system.

However, what existing analysis gets wrong is on the question of inevitability. Because everyone’s hung up on the completely exogenous nature of the Panama Papers leak, they miss out on the fact that at its heart, the current crisis is about the strength of the PML-N as an organisation, and the ongoing tussle for its control.

Think about it this way: the PML-N has been around for three decades, and this is the first time it’s been forced to think about a leader other than Nawaz Sharif. There are quite a few people (including his own brother and nephew) who think they deserve a shot at something bigger.

There are others who think their proximity to the disqualified prime minister makes them better candidates for a leadership position. Everyone else in the party is busy hedging their bets.

Some want Nawaz to stay away from Pakistan, as a distant figurehead, so they can garner votes in his name, without having to deal with the mess that comes with his confrontational politics. Others have privately hitched their cart to Shahbaz’s horse, thinking that the powers that be are inclined to look favourably upon him.

This is what a first-time leadership transition looks like in a weak organisation. Put simply, there is no blueprint or tested mechanism in place to select the next leader. Since most of this is happening within a family, we have to bear the ignominy of a slow-moving, passive-aggressive pantomime, complete with conspiracy and fratricide.

What’s made this worse is that over these last three decades, the party’s MNAs and MPAs have been more than willing to sustain this weak organisation. They saw little need to invest in the party structure because they felt the gravy train of votes, access and a permanent majority in Punjab under Nawaz would continue indefinitely.

So confronting a situation without Nawaz, and with family tensions on the rise, there’s no existing mechanism that can amplify their voice in the leadership transition. All they’re left with is charting out different escape routes.

The reason why there’s a degree of inevitability to this is because the PML-N falls short of the two dominant models of party structure in South Asia.

Unlike the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan or the BJP and the left in India, it doesn’t possess a well-built organisation or strong internal democracy that can push out an old leader and elect a new leader based on his or her political performance and commitment to party ideology.

It has also fallen short of the PPP and Indian National Congress model, where one family (and, more importantly, one leader in that family) exercises complete control over the party elite, possesses a direct connection with its support base, and is able to control a leadership transition.

So regardless of two enterprising German journalists and the weakly secured IT system of a big law firm, the crisis that we’re witnessing would have taken place at some point in the near future. Maybe not before 2018, but certainly within the next five years as age and family ambition would have undercut Nawaz’s grip on the party.

Unfortunately for those who are tired of political bickering and internecine fighting, this state of affairs will continue till a stable status quo emerges within the PML-N. And then a few years down the line, much of this will likely be replicated once the PTI attempts to move past Imran Khan.

The writer is a freelance columnist

Published in: on November 7, 2017 at 5:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dawn – More space

Owen Bennett-Jones

Op/Ed, 28 September 2017. The case for mainstreaming is attractive. Groups that have for decades relied on violence, the argument goes, could be persuaded to take a growing interest in the democratic process.

By being allowed to participate in polls, violent jihadists might come to see that power does not come only through the barrel of a gun but also by winning public support in a democratic way. Slowly, they could be turned into more centrist Islamists committed to the parliamentary process.

The NA-120 by-election result encouraged those who hold these arguments. The Milli Muslim League won 5,822 votes. It was enough to keep the Jamaatud Dawa interested in the electoral process but not so much to worry those who fear violent jihadists winning power.

Some supporters of mainstreaming say that even if violent jihadists win a few seats, in southern Punjab perhaps, there would be nothing to worry about. ‘Let them!’ the argument goes, ‘they still won’t have any real power?’

There was a time when Nawaz Sharif might have been expected to support these arguments. But his third removal from prime ministerial office seems to have edged him towards ever more liberal positions. He recently said in London that the participation of banned groups in NA-120 was a cause of concern for democratic forces.

Supporters of mainstreaming contend that this amounts to nothing more than the PML-N trying to ensure that a competitor with the potential to split the party’s conservative vote bank doesn’t even get the chance to stand.

As for other political leaders Imran Khan says he supports mainstreaming “on balance”. But even if privately they oppose mainstreaming, in public politicians are unlikely to go much further than Sharif.

History shows that civilian leaders are so afraid of the violent jihadis’ capacity to assassinate them, they tend towards a policy of appeasement.

What will happen when extremists enter the mainstream?

As the NA-120 campaigning showed, violent jihadists have formidable organisational capacity. Few doubt that when it comes to running disciplined social media campaigns, their highly committed activists will do a more effective job than those in the traditional parties.

But the main point of the opponents of mainstreaming is that violent jihadists should be forced to make a choice, support the parliamentary process or continue down the road of violence. Being allowed to hold a gun whilst simultaneously running in an election gives them an unfair advantage.

If the violent jihadists can use both violence and parliamentary tactics they will become stronger. Let’s suppose that at the height of its power 10 years ago, the TTP had been able to stand in elections. It would, no doubt, have intimidated the people in Swat into voting for them.

How much more difficult would it then have been for the army to remove the violent jihadists from Swat? Elections confer legitimacy. Why on earth, critics of mainstreaming ask, allow violent jihadists in banned groups to become more legitimate? Just look, they say, at how others around the world have handled similar situations.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the key sticking point in the peace process was the British and Irish governments’ insistence that the IRA disarm before it could participate in the political system. It took several years for agreement on that point to be achieved but, eventually, the IRA did decommission its weapons.

There are also pragmatic political considerations. The Israeli system has shown what can happen when religious extremists with a small number of seats hold the balance of power.

Vital partners with the capacity to make or break ruling coalitions, they wield disproportionate influence and are able to force through policies which have very little public support.

Many liberals believe that senior military officers support mainstreaming. They fear that by allowing mainstreaming to happen, or even quietly encouraging it, the army is trying to build the case for backing the ‘good Taliban’.

After all, it is much easier to argue that it is too difficult to confront the LeT and the SSP if they have an electoral base.

It has long been the case that many Pakistanis, military and civilian, have downplayed the fundamental contest between the violent jihadists and what General Musharraf used to call ‘the silent majority’.

Even after the gruelling confrontation between the army and TTP made the nature and depth of that clash blindingly obvious, there is an unwillingness to face up to the fact that the violent jihadists are fundamentally opposed to the interests of most Pakistanis and are prepared to use force to impose their ideas on the rest of society.

Mainstreaming, its critics argue, is the latest example of that disastrous ambivalence.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

Dawn – 70 years on, India and Pakistan have successfully de-humanised each other in popular imagination

Anam Zakaria

Op/Ed, 14 August 2017. On the 70th anniversary of Partition, intellectuals, analysts, writers, artists and engaged citizens seem driven to try to understand 1947, to make sense of the bloodshed and trauma, to explore the legacy of Partition, and to uncover the personal stories that were far too often sidelined in favour of grand state narratives on both sides of the border.

The first Partition Museum is being inaugurated in Amritsar this month while the 1947 Partition Archive, the largest repository of Partition interviews, has just moved forward to release the narratives for public consumption.

This is indeed imperative, 70 years on, we are on the brink of losing the Partition generation and there is an urgency to record their stories, to understand history more holistically, to uncover the nuanced experiences Partition survivors had, and to try and challenge one-sided jingoistic state narratives.

This is even more important because Partition is not just a static event that took place in 1947 that we can move on from.

Even as we lose the Partition generation, Partition will remain a centrepiece in our history and in our present day discourse, it will continue to inform our politics, our media debates, our nationalism, our external affairs and most importantly our identity formation.

Partition is very much an ongoing process, its journey after 1947 only becoming more complex. The residue of Partition is perhaps most acutely felt by divided families, separated by hostile politics, visa hurdles, wars and mounting India-Pakistan antagonism.

A couple of years ago, I had interviewed two sisters in Lahore. One held an Indian nationality while the other was Pakistani.

They spoke to me about not being able to meet each other for years, of missing out on special occasions, of the blackouts during war, and of the breakdown in communication channels. They spoke of the pain of being kept away from the countries they saw as home, from their family and their friends.

Another man I interviewed told me of how he’d opted to move to Pakistan when he was barely 18-years-old even though his family supported the Congress and decided to stay back in Nagina, Uttar Pradesh.

He spoke of how much independence meant to him, of the freedom Pakistan symbolised, and of how he thought he’d continue to have two homes, one in Nagina and the other in Lahore. And for many years, it stayed that way. He could easily travel back and forth and felt that he really belonged to both worlds.

But over the years, wars, terrorism and growing animosity between India and Pakistan left imprints on his life. When his parents passed away, he was unable to get a visa to attend their funeral. Such was the price he had to pay for his country.

He told me, “You have to fight a constant struggle every day, to visit, to be one with them. I don’t regret my decision [of moving to Pakistan] but I had never realised how much I would have to give up for Pakistan.

I had no idea that things would ever become so bad… I was unable to make it for my parents’ funerals. I didn’t have the visa to go. I was their son and I couldn’t go…”

However, the impact of Partition and its ongoing journey doesn’t only affect Partition survivors and their families. The communal identities and resulting communal tensions, which were crystalised at Partition, have penetrated deep into the fabric of society today.

Both India and Pakistan currently define nationalism in terms of religious identity. To be Pakistani has become synonymous with being Muslim, ideally Sunni Muslim, and even more ideally Sunni Muslim hailing from Punjab.

In India, religious nationalism is also on the rise, with extremist Hindutva ideology making inroads into all segments of society.

Textbooks are hence revised on both sides of the border in an effort to purge Muslim and Hindu influences respectively, trying to carve out national identity premised on religious fervour, teaching children that a particular religion or civilisation has always been superior to the other.

Hindus are cast away as deceitful and treacherous in Pakistan and Muslims as barbaric and savage in India. Mob lynchings become increasingly common, whether on blasphemy allegations or in the name of gau raksha.

Patriotism is questioned at whim and it becomes all too easy to be charged with the anti-national label. Cricket matches become a war of civilisations, people feeling dishonoured and resorting to burning posters and pelting stones after losing at the hands of the enemy nation.

In short, Pakistan and India define themselves in opposition to each other, both nations determined to justify that they are better than the other: they insist they are more pious, more righteous, more prosperous, mightier and stronger than the enemy lurking across the border.

Not only is the Two-nation Theory still endorsed at the state level in Pakistan, the rise of the Hindutva movement in India is also premised on a similar idea that to be Hindu is somewhat superior, and distinct to Islam.

Both countries are clinging on to Partition to convince their citizens that they are indeed better off than the other, and without the other.

Over the years, the consequences of this rhetoric have been felt by millions of people on both sides. The same narrative of otherisation was used to demonise the Bengali Hindus and their influence over the Muslim population of East Pakistan after the creation of Pakistan.

The indigenous resistance movement was sidelined in favour of grand narratives of Indian-funded separatism, encouraging the public in West Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the civil unrest and violence brewing in the other part of the country.

Today, the war is taught as an Indian conspiracy, with Pakistan refusing to introspect upon its own unjust policies that may have led to 1971. This holds an eerie resemblance to India’s narrative in Kashmir, which dismisses local grievances and struggles and labels the movement for freedom as Pakistan-funded terrorism.

By blaming the other both states are able to shrug off any responsibility for their own actions and inactions.

Today, minorities on both sides have to constantly prove their patriotism, the vulnerability they face palpable. The Gujarat riots of 2002, the recent lynchings of Muslims in India and attacks on Hindu temples and forced conversions in Pakistan are all residues of Partition.

Children in Pakistan today openly call Indians infidels and demons. In India, students have come to believe that all Pakistanis are savages and fanatics. Many of them even refuse to talk to each other, holding their biased textbook curriculum and media reports as sacred opinions of the other.

70 years later, both nation-states are holding onto Partition like an existential imperative; it helps them define national identity, lead antagonistic state policies, and instill patriotism in citizens – patriotism based on the hostility of the other.

The pity is that the Partition narratives they cling onto are myopic and simplistic understandings of a complicated past. These metanarratives are bent upon juxtaposing one religious community as triumphant and humane over the other.

Nowhere in these narratives do we find the possibility of understanding the complexities of Partition, the diversity of experiences, the coexistence of fault lines and inter-communal harmony, of violence and rescue stories.

Linear, simplistic versions of 1947 are promoted on both sides, with clear lines between victims and perpetrators. And these versions are here to stay for they serve as the raison d’être of both nations, instilling hostile and jingoistic ‘national spirit’ in post-Partition generations.

70 years later, Partition lingers on, its shadow deformed and distorted but stubbornly looming over us for the years to come.

Did you, or anyone in your family, have to leave home due to Partition? Share your story with us at

Anam Zakaria is the author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians and an upcoming book on Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Dawn – End of Sharif dynasty?

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 29 July 2017. The inglorious exit of Nawaz Sharif may have come as a serious blow to the country’s most powerful political dynasty.

The devastating ruling by the five-member Supreme Court bench has not only seen the former prime minister disqualified for life but has also indicted almost all the Sharifs who have dominated the country’s political scene for more than three decades, whether in or out of power.

But one is not sure if it marks the end of the family’s political legacy. It is evident that the baton of leadership will now be passed on to Shahbaz Sharif, thus maintaining the dynastic hold over power at least for now.

Indeed, the unprecedented judicial action against a sitting prime minister is a watershed moment for the country’s democratic evaluation and has been described as a step forward in efforts towards establishing the rule of law.

Notwithstanding the scepticism over the judgement perceived as radical, the action came from within the system and not outside the constitutional framework. It also signifies a milestone in the development of an independent judiciary not subservient to the executive, though the perceived harshness of the ruling can rightly be disputed.

For sure, the ruling appears to have generated an upheaval and a period of political uncertainty, that is bound to happen when any entrenched political dynastic order is shaken.

It also appears that the ruling has further deepened political polarisation in the country. But it certainly does not threaten the democratic political process as speculated by Sharif’s supporters.

In fact, it is a serious blow to dynastic politics that has been the biggest impediment to the development of democratic institutions and values in the country.

The Panama ruling has also broken the widespread perception that Sharif being a Punjabi leader was untouchable while leaders from Sindh and the other smaller provinces could easily be dispensed with.

So this hue and cry over the fall from grace of Sharif and describing the events as a setback to democracy is beyond comprehension. The case against Sharif went through a whole legal process and cannot be described as part of a conspiracy or a judicial coup.

It became quite apparent that the prime minister was in deep trouble after the JIT report came out with a damning indictment of him and his family.

It went beyond the family’s failure to provide a money trail for the London properties and included charges of perjury and non-disclosure of some foreign financial assets. But such extreme action against the entire family and a consensus ruling came as a shock not only to the government but also to those outside.

Indeed, indictment of other family members and sending corruption cases against them to NAB has disrupted the dynasty’s succession plan.

While the court ruling against Maryam Sharif was expected after the allegation of forged documents, the inclusion of Shahbaz Sharif in the list was unexpected. That has exacerbated the PML-N’s leadership predicament.

But many in the party appear confident that the junior Sharif can still lead them despite facing charges in NAB. There is a move by the PML-N to play the victimhood card and project the ousted prime minister as a ‘political martyr’.

But one is not sure that will work in the present situation. Sharif’s influence over the party has become limited with his moral and political position weakened.

A child of the establishment Nawaz Sharif was politically baptised by Gen Zia’s military government in the early 1980s as part of the plan to prop up an alternative leader to challenge Benazir Bhutto.

His trajectory from Punjab chief minister to prime minister in the 1990s owed to the backing of the military and the powerful civil establishment of Punjab.

That political power also saw a massive rise in the family’s business fortunes. That financial scandal continued to dog him throughout his political career particularly after his ascent to the country’s top position. It finally caught up with him after the Panama Papers named his family, and caused his downfall.

With his rise to the pinnacle of political power, Nawaz Sharif tried to break away from the influence of the military establishment that also brought him down in his previous terms.

The former protégé turned into the nemesis of the military establishment. It is not surprising that he remained locked in perpetual conflict with the military leadership throughout his third term in office.

Although the Muslim League has historically remained close to the military establishment, Nawaz Sharif tried to transform it into a mass populist party, though he may not have been fully successful in his endeavour.

Still, over the years, despite ups and downs, Sharif developed a popular mass base that elected him to a record third term in office. The backing of the powerful Punjabi civil establishment, including the bureaucracy and sections of the judiciary, also appeared to have helped his family’s stranglehold over Punjab.

A big question is whether a disgraced Nawaz Sharif will be able to keep the party united. More importantly, will the Punjab establishment continue to back the PML-N under the younger Sharif’s leadership after the damning indictment of the family?

Previously, cracks showed up in adverse situations. The biggest example was the formation of the PML-Q after Musharraf’s coup. Interestingly, many defectors returned to the ranks with a sizeable number on the treasury benches, even in the cabinet.

That will be the most serious challenge to the Sharif family. Party unity will also depend on the ability of the PPP and PTI to make inroads in the PML-N stronghold in Punjab that remains the main political battlefield. The other provinces are not affected by Nawaz Sharif’s downfall.

There doesn’t seem much chance of his return to power, but one is not sure if the family rule is over.

The writer is an author and journalist

The Times of India – The immigrant swansong: New Delhi must tactfully seek to expand freedom of movement for trade and commerce

Chidanand Rajghatta

Op/Ed, 19 June 2017. There’s an old joke about the scene that greeted Neil Armstrong and co when they stepped on the moon: They saw an auto garage shop manned by an Indian Sikh; they drank chai at a tea stall run by a Keralite Malayali; and finally they checked into a motel managed by a Gujarati Patel.

Advancing the script, the first person to travel to Mars in the near future, who may well be of Indian origin, would apocryphally meet a ‘sardar’ managing the Martian branch of Tesla, a ‘Mallu’ (or Goan) running Mars’s first Michelin-star restaurant, and a ‘Gujju’ managing a five-star hotel.

Ethnic stereotyping aside, the legend of the Indian diaspora is immense. There are more than 30 million people of Indian origin across the globe, a population almost the size of Canada’s. There is no country where they are not present, including remote island states such as Nauru in the Pacific and isolated outposts such as Barrow, Alaska.
Their expansive emigration has allowed India to build bridges with countries and communities across the globe, giving New Delhi economic openings, a stake in the political stability and prosperity of resident countries, and geopolitical heft.

Such is the allure of its diaspora for India, in no small measure because of the nearly $70 billion they remit annually, that New Delhi has now developed a template for community outreach whenever the prime minister travels abroad.

Over the years, such community events have become bigger, brighter and more boisterous, as the Indian immigrants have found their voice on the strength of sweat and toil, smarts and savvy, embracing success like few other ethnicities have managed.

Slogans and cries of Bharat Mata ki jai now rend the air in arenas across the globe, from New York’s Madison Square Garden to Sydney’s Super Dome to Dubai’s cricket stadium. (Even in as politically restrictive a country as Saudi Arabia, temporary home to an estimated three million Indian workers, the Indian prime minister recently reached out to the country’s toiling expats.)

Nowhere has the Indian diaspora grown and thrived as much as in America, home to nearly four million People of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians, now chronicled extensively as the wealthiest and best-educated community not just in the US, but arguably anywhere in the world.

From architects to astronauts, from yoga instructors to zoo keepers, from law and politics to acting and entertainment, there is not a sphere of activity they haven’t broken into.

With a median family household income of over $1,00,000 and 70% of its adult population holding at least a master’s degree (both way above the US average), this ‘model minority’ is the envy of other nations and, till recently at least, pride of the host country in showcasing its diversity and openness.

Indeed, no country on earth has taken in as many Indians as its citizens as the United States.

There is a growing sense, and a few small indicators, that the historical mandate for openness and acceptance in what is fundamentally an immigrant society is being altered, if not subverted.

Next week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the US capital, he will meet the Indian community at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner in neighbouring Virginia, in a modest ballroom of 14,000 square feet that can accommodate some 1,500 people.

This is a far cry from the 15,000 plus people who stampeded into New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2014 and Silicon Valley’s SAP Center in 2015, two events that set the tempo and provided the template for similar prime ministerial outreach across the world.

Of course, it is possible that availability and security issues may have resulted in a distant venue, but scuttlebutt suggests there is more to this.

Mind you, the capital area’s Indian-origin population is large enough to have merited the Walter E Washington Convention Center (which offers the city’s largest ballroom at 52,000 square feet), or at least the Washington Marriott Wardman Park or Omni Shoreham, venues where Modi’s predecessors Manmohan Singh and AB Vajpayee respectively addressed the community.

But this is not the time, nor the dispensation, with which you share or showcase the strength of the diaspora.

In as much as previous administration officials and US lawmakers were awed by the Madison Square Garden spectacle (and said so publicly), and saw it as a celebration of the country’s diversity, this regime is more likely to see it as a threat.

Already, the signs are not propitious, not just in the US but in many immigrant destinations abroad, including the UK and Australia.

From proposing ideological tests for potential immigrants to shutting down guest worker visas (which have led to US citizenship for many Indians) on the pretext of misuse, nativist boffins have begun to curtail immigration, initiating steps that have also put a hex on Indian students who venture abroad to study, on tourists, and indeed on businesses.

Of course, no country can afford to have open borders and every country needs to regulate inflow of immigrants; New Delhi shouldn’t mind that.

But what India should aim for is to secure and expand the facility of its people to freely travel for education and entertainment, trade and commerce, India’s great strengths, while hoping both for its and America’s sake that the nativist mood against globalisation is a temporary aberration.

Immigration is not the issue; trade and commerce are.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own. – Op/Ed: The dangers of a schism in Sikhism

Dr Gurnam Singh, Coventry University, UK

Coventry, 18 May 2017. Like many 1000’s of Sikhs across the world, I am saddened by the recent clashes between different Sikh groups in Italy and Germany. These follow a worrying pattern, where a Sikh preacher is accused of distorting Sikh traditions and is ordered to stop his preaching.

This produces a reaction and before we know it, two camps emerge, each upping the anti and the result is not dialogue but physical threats and violence. There is nothing Sikhi like in this and it is the innocent on both sides that suffer.

The sentiments of ordinary, impressionable individuals are manipulated by much bigger fish that hide in the shadows.

Sikh teachings are very clear, opposition to anything should be proportionate. So, if you disagree with somebody you make your case in a reasoned and polite way.

If you are physically attacked then you have the right to defend yourself. There is no justification for acting in any offensive manner and violence should always be an absolute last resort.

To understand the pattern of events and violent incidents, it is necessary to stand back and take in a broader perspective. The tragedy is unfolding before our very eyes is not just about a few skirmishes in particular Gurdwaras but the crushing of a nation.

It is nothing less that an attempt to destroy a revolutionary movement commenced by Guru Nanak. A movement that sought to fuse social justice with human rights and spiritual consciousness. An ideology that rejected the authority of the priestly class and a force that took on imperialists and tyrants like Aurangzeb and the East India Company.

The dreams of ‘Heleimi raj’ (Just rule) or Begampura, (classless society) that are captured in the Guru Granth Sahib and form the basis for Sikh political ideology are evaporating and the saffron fascists are asserting themselves.

Today the ‘Godmen’ and their foot soldiers have become the defenders of Santana Hindu ideology.

Today whilst some Sikhs seek political office and awards, OBE’s, MBE’s, etc a revolutionary sprit in Punjab is being crushed, today a generation of youth has been sedated on drugs, peasant farmers are choosing suicide than living an undignified life of debt, violence against women and girls is rampant and an egalitarian spirit of the essential oneness of all is slowly being forgotten.

But all is not lost; each and everyone of us needs to reflect, how true are we to the tenants of Sikhi and the revolutionary spirit of our Gurus?

Today we must look beyond the bricks and mortar of ornate Gurdwaras and take our struggles into the political mainstream. Today Modi is the new Aurangzeb and he is busy recruiting his storm troopers from the various sects in Punjab and elsewhere.

Today we need to step outside of the narrow confines of jathebandis and like the missal period, unite to defeat the saffron fascists. Anybody that advocates violence to stop anybody expressing their ideas is a fascist. So we need to decide which side of the line and of history we stand; simple as that!

BBC News – How India’s currency ban is hurting the poor

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 12 November 2016. India’s latest crackdown on black money is turning out to be a nightmare for the poor and the middle class.

Three days after 500 ($7) and 1,000 rupee notes were withdrawn as part of anti-corruption measures, hordes of panicky people are thronging banks and ATMS to deposit expired money and withdraw lower denominations to run their lives.

The queues are getting longer and angrier, and despite the government’s loud promises, banks and ATMs are quickly running out of cash. Limits on cash withdrawals are not helping matters much.

There are stories of desperate people burning sacks of illegal cash and of people unable to pay for cremations and hospital admissions. Wherever I go, my workplace, the community park, the local market- people are fretting over ways to get some of their own hard-earned money to run their lives.


A kind neighbour swiped his card to take 400 rupees out of a groaning cash machine and give it to me when he saw my crestfallen face after the machine rejected my card.

Friends and co-workers are generously lending from their own limited stocks of small cash. After several unsuccessful visits to overcrowded banks and empty cash machines, many ordinary people are living on a wing and a prayer.

Outside the chaos inflicted upon honest, tax-paying and low-income Indians, a burlesque of sorts is playing out as others try to game the system and convert hordes of scrapped illegal cash into gold and goods, which they can then hoard or sell. For a country inured to corruption and illegal money, there’s no dearth of ideas.

A salesman of a shop selling mobile phones in an upscale Delhi suburb told me that a man walked up to his shop on Wednesday with 3 million rupees in cash and offered to buy up his entire stock of iPhones. (He said the owner balked, and shut shop.)

A politician in Bihar walked into a jewellery shop and bought gold ornaments worth 20 million rupees. In Kolkata, a dengue patient reportedly settled his 40,000 rupees hospital bills in coins.

There is also what is being called a thriving ‘discount scam’: people are offering to buy stocks of scrapped notes at a premium, before laundering the expired money.

A builder in the capital has apparently paid his daily wage workers two years of advance salaries with the expired cash, leaving his workers to exchange the money. Relatives with expired money at home are calling friends and relatives and asking if they can deposit some of their money into their accounts.

Then there’s my favourite story of a doctor who had some cash at home which he planned to turn over to the bank, and then discovered to his dismay that his wife had squirreled away six times the amount in her cupboard.

Desperate times

These are desperate times which require desperate measures. Last week, the central bank assured Indians that production of new notes had been “ramped up” to meet requirement, but banks are running out of cash very quickly. What is happening in far-flung villages at this point is anybody’s guess.

If the banks are unable to ease cash supplies soon, the reported goodwill for prime minister Narendra Modi’s so-called game-changing, path-breaking crackdown on illegal, or black, money could easily lead to an angry backlash.

What is being also described as his political masterstroke, key state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are due early next year and his government’s “war on black money” could be an effective campaign slogan, could also backfire.

At the root of this chaos is the fact that India is an overwhelmingly paper currency country: some 90% of the transactions are done with cash. India’s cash-to-GDP ratio is 12%, some four times that of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

More than half of Indians still don’t have a bank account, and some 300 million have no government identification. The two scrapped denominations – 500 and 1,000 rupees – account for more than 85% of the value of cash in circulation.

Shadow economy

Some of the cash is stashed and transacted in what is a booming “black economy” to evade taxes, politicians, property developers and dealers, traders, doctors, lawyers and sundry white-collar professionals are some of the biggest hoarders. A lot of the illegal cash is actually held in assets, real estate, jewellery, and in banks outside the country.

The size of India’s shadow economy is estimated at more than 20% of its GDP, and nobody quite knows how much of it is in cash and assets.

However millions of low income working class people, poor and roadside small businesses and traders hoard cash because they need the liquidity to run their lives and also, because there is no bank where they live.

Supporters of the move say Indians will suffer some short-term disruption to make a dent in the shadow economy, but many are asking why the honest taxpayer and the poor should suffer most.

Demonetisation of currency, India’s third after two previous exercises in 1946 and 1978, has predictably turned into an administrative nightmare, as a commentator feared, in a country with a strained state and creaky services.

It has also opened a Pandora’s box, bringing out the worst, and occasionally, the best, in Indians. It also reminds me of Groucho Marx, who said  :

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”