The Telegraph – Connect Kejri dots: Shaheen, Hanuman, Gita

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing

Pheroze L. Vincent

New Delhi – India, 31 March 2020. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday asked people to read the Bhagavad Gita for half an hour every day over the remaining lockdown period, triggering fears that such advice could alienate sections of the society.

A source in the ruling Aam Aadmi Party said Kejriwal passes on to the public “whatever suggestions” could help ease their fears in this time of crisis, as a family member would.

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text, part of the Mahabharat, came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing. “If you feel good about doing this at home, then there are 18 chapters of the Gita and 18 days of lockdown,” he said.

“Since yesterday, my wife has started reciting the Gita in my house too. Our whole family sits together and reads a chapter. It takes only half an hour. Therefore, if you also feel like, you can… recite the Gita in your home.”

Sunday was the fifth day of the 21-day lockdown the Prime Minister had announced on March 24 as part of concerted efforts to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.

This wasn’t the first time Kejriwal had resorted to religion in recent times. Ahead of the Delhi elections last month, he had invoked Hanuman, a popular deity especially in North India, in what appeared to be an attempt to undercut the BJP’s narrative of projecting the AAP as anti-Hindu for its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Later, after the riots broke out in the capital, the Delhi government had stood aloof. Party leaders said the government’s role as a bystander was a misguided attempt to appease Hindus that affected his credibility as an efficient and secular leader.

“No, this (invocation of the Gita) should not have been done…,” former AAP leader and journalist Ashutosh told The Telegraph.

“Is he claiming that he is only the chief minister of Hindus. I don’t know his intent, but if you connect the dots, he did not meet (the anti-CAA) protesters at Shaheen Bagh, he did not visit Northeast Delhi while the riots were happening, then one can assume that he is trying to cultivate a Hindu vote bank.

There is no problem if he recites the Gita in his personal capacity, but as a chief minister asking everyone to do so is crossing the line.” Ashutosh added: “If it is a mistake, he should correct it. If not, then it is dangerous to alienate sections of society,

This is the danger of getting caught in a narrative that is not your natural narrative. This could be explained as a strategy before elections, but there are no polls now.” The Delhi government is yet to respond to the suspension of two of its senior officers by the Centre, ostensibly for allowing buses to ferry those who wanted to leave Delhi.

Kejriwal’s private secretary Bibhav Kumar and the AAP’s chief spokesman and Delhi MLA, Saurabh Bharadwaj, did not respond to queries on the Gita pitch.

A source in the government, however, said: “It is a bit rich to talk of the Gita when one can’t summon the courage, if not common sense, to defend bureaucrats whose careers could be jeopardised for implementing orders.”

The nature of Delhi’s polity, the source added, is such that the Centre has a greater say than it has in other states.

“In such a situation, if their government does not defend their actions, there is no motivation for public servants to heed lawful directions of the elected government of Delhi rather than toe the line set by North Block (the seat of the Union home ministry).”

An AAP source said it was a “policy decision” not to get into confrontation with the BJP or the Centre at a time of crisis.

“Kejriwal made that clear too at yesterday’s briefing, MLA and senior party leader Raghav Chadha is now set to face harassment as a case has been filed against him for criticizing Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath,” the source said.

“We have taken a conscious decision of focusing on helping those in need. The time to counter the BJP is not now. Whatever suggestions can ease the fears of the public, and help them stay calm, the chief minister passes them on, as a family member would.”

The Telegraph – Home alone: The cultural anxiety about solitariness

Coronasur, Conrad and civilisation’s oldest and deepest paranoia: the fear of isolation

Uddalak Mukherjee

Op/Ed, 25 March 2020. Earlier this month, Mumbai ushered in Holi in a peculiar way. Coronasur, a symbolic effigy of Covid-19 which, the WHO says with good reason, is now a global health emergency, was consigned to the flames on the occasion of Holika Dahan in that city.

Delhi, however, chose to be different, fighting the contagion with fluid, not flames. The Hindu Mahasabha poured gaumutra down the throats of the faithful to appease the virus-demon.

The elevation of a virus to the stature of a mythical, malevolent figure in 21st-century India chimes well with a nation that has chosen for prime minister a man who has unshakeable belief in Ancient India’s monopoly on cosmetic surgery.

But the fear of Coronasur is not unwarranted; the pathogen has infected more than 383,944 people around the world, killing at least 16,595 among them. The planet, however, has survived worse.

Between 75-200 million people perished during the Bubonic plague in the Middle Ages; influenza snuffed out around 50 million lives a little over one hundred years ago; tuberculosis, diarrhoea, cardiac conditions and cancer cull great many humans even today.

What has made the coronavirus singular, though, is its ability to stoke interest, plebeian and intellectual, in one of civilization’s oldest, deepest paranoias, the fear of isolation.

The transformation of eremophobia, the fear of being alone, into a mass phenomenon has been augmented by the lockdowns, or social distancing if you will, that governments, in Italy, Spain, England, the United States of America and, now, India, have implemented as policy.

Enforced periods of isolation and restricted access to public spaces, it is being hoped, would halt the march of the infection. The consequences of this besiegement have been varied, but instructive. Bengal became the 14th state in India to invoke the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to prevent patients or those under surveillance from fleeing isolation wards.

New York Magazine, meanwhile, interviewed Carlo, a Florentine, who, too, spoke of fear while looking at his deserted, lonely city as well as of the sadness that he felt when he heard, in the course of a telephone conversation with a friend, the sounds of the street, the rumble of traffic, the low hum of human voices and the melody of music, in faraway Vancouver.

There is a touch of the Conradian horror about Carlo’s dread of isolation, even though he, unlike some of Joseph Conrad’s flawed men, Almayer (Almayer’s Folly) and Kurtz (Heart of Darkness) come readily to mind, has not been banished to an outpost of civilization.

Civilization, in fact, seems to have been transformed into an isolated outpost, turning Carlo into one of Conrad’s ‘solitaries’, psychologically scarred, spiritually wounded beings, consumed slowly by the terror of the unfamiliar, the unknown.

But eremophobia has not been the only consequence of our fallibility in our confrontations with incognita. The moral quandaries of isolation-estrangement-loneliness and its impact on the body politic of a nation have led to cerebral pursuits that have often yielded remarkable inferences.

For instance, the purest kind of loneliness born of some forms of isolation, Hannah Arendt argued in her seminal work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, stems from the loss of the ability to empathize, to hold a dialogue with the self, a failure that led the fictional Kurtz, and could lead socially isolated Carlo, to conclude that they are outcasts from the human commonality.

This rootlessness, the persistent sense of unbelonging, Arendt argues, was complemented by the hollowness of modernity and, eventually, crystallized in a great contemporary peril, the now all-pervasive condition that has stripped societies of the energy and the imagination to reflect on, and appreciate, the ambiguities of reality.

The resultant attraction for simple, the Final? solution for complex problems, for binaries, Us versus Them, augments the genesis of the totalitarian ethic.

Public unwillingness to engage with nuanced thinking, with the complex history of the Republic, has been discernible in Narendra Modi’s India too. The consequences are revealing. Take the case of the massive endorsement of the revocation of Article 370.

That Kashmir’s ‘special’ status, apparently inimical to the spirit of national integration, is not quite an aberration, Article 371F vests Sikkim with similar special provisos; Nagaland’s customs, land and resources are inoculated against encroachment by Article 371A; the inner-line permit for the Northeast stems from the need to protect indigenous interests, eludes a nation that is being taught to hate, what Nabeelah Jaffer, writing in Aeon, says is ‘two-sided thinking’, “the kind of thought that involves weighing competing imperatives and empathising with a range of people”.

And Kashmir has been punished for its rights.

Interestingly, the punishment chosen was an extreme, unwarranted form of isolation. 05 August onwards, India put Kashmir in lockdown, almost the kind that the coronavirus has now forced upon the nation.

The heavy deployment of boots on the ground, the paralysing of communication networks and the incarceration of the state’s political leadership were some of the special provisions of the social distancing that Kashmir, unlike India, was made to endure.

The State’s weaponization of isolation, be it for Kashmiris, the Uighurs interned in China, or, earlier, for the ones who perished in the Siberian labour camps, is contingent upon the preservation of the cultural anxiety about solitariness.

Coronavirus is not merely a yet-to-be-resolved health affliction. It is also a stubborn stain, emblematic of humanity’s failure to master isolation, the kind that metastasizes within and without.

The Telegraph – Cops bow to hawks, re-arrest students

The police summoned them on Monday morning amid protests by Hindutva groups

Hubli – Karnataka – India, 18 February 2020. Three Kashmiri students of an engineering college in Hubli – Karnataka, facing sedition charges have been arrested again after being released a day earlier.

The police summoned them on Monday morning amid protests by Hindutva groups.

Members of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad staged a protest outside the Gokul police station soon after the students’ release.

Hubli police commissioner R Dilip on Monday said: “We summoned them again today (Monday) after we found incriminating evidence and subsequently arrested them.”

But he did not dwell into why they were arrested after being released just hours earlier. Police had arrested them on Saturday after a purported video clip they had recorded showed them chanting “Pakistan zindabad”.

The police released them on Sunday citing Section 169 of CrPc that permits any person to be released for want of proper evidence. They were produced before a court that remanded them for 14 days in judicial custody.

The Telegraph – Goa church appeal to government to revoke CAA

Reverend Filipe also appealed to the government not to implement the NRC and NPR

Panaji – Goa – India, 10 February 2020. The Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Reverend Filipe Neri Ferrao, has urged the Centre to “immediately and unconditionally revoke the Citizenship (Amendment) Act” and stop quashing the “right to dissent”. He also appealed to the government not to implement the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.

Diocesan Centre for Social Communications Media, a wing of the Goa Church, in a statement on Saturday said: “The Archbishop and the Catholic community of Goa would like to appeal to the government to listen to the voice of millions in India, to stop quashing the right to dissent and, above all, to immediately and unconditionally revoke the CAA and desist from implementing the NRC and the NPR.”

The CAA, NRC and NPR are “divisive and discriminatory”, the church said. “We have always taken great pride that our beloved country is a secular, sovereign, socialist, pluralistic and democratic republic.” The fact that the CAA uses religion goes against the secular fabric, it said.

“It goes against the spirit and heritage of our land which, since times immemorial, has been a welcoming home to all, founded on the belief that the whole world is one big family,” the church said.

The Telegraph – Bring Ambedkar & Gandhi together

‘To overcome the massed, malign, forces of Hindutva, we need them on the same side’

Ramachandra Guha

Op/Ed, 01 February 2020. In an interview that he gave last year, the Kannada writer (and activist), Devanur Mahadeva, urged democrats not to view Ambedkar and Gandhi as rivals and adversaries. In the journey towards true equality, he said, they should rather be seen as colleagues and co-workers. Thus, as Mahadeva remarked: “Ambedkar had to awaken the sleeping Dalits and then make the journey.

Gandhi had to make the immense effort of uplifting, correcting, changing those who were drowned in Hindu caste religion, in caste wells, to take a step forward. When you see all this, maybe Gandhi would not have traversed far without the presence of Ambedkar.

Similarly, I feel that without the liberal tolerant atmosphere created by Gandhi in the wells of Hindu caste religion, then this cruel Savarna society may not have tolerated Ambedkar as much as it did then.”

Mahadeva continued: “If it is our understanding that it is the Savarnas who need to change if India has to liberate itself from caste, then Gandhi is necessary. In the fight for Dalit civil rights, Ambedkar is absolutely necessary. Hence, I say that both should be brought together.”

Mahadeva further observed: “Gandhi calls untouchability a ‘sin’. Ambedkar calls it a ‘crime’. Why are we seeing these as opposites? It is wise to understand both of these as necessary.” (Mahadeva’s words have been translated into English by Rashmi Munikempanna).

I recalled Devanur Mahadeva’s remarks when seeing posters of Ambedkar and Gandhi being displayed together at student protests in Delhi. This was rare, if not unprecedented. For it is much more common to see Gandhi and Ambedkar being celebrated separately. Indeed quite often they are placed in opposition to one another.

In the past, it was usually admirers of Gandhi who saw these two great Indians in adversarial terms. In the 1930s and 1940s, Ambedkar had often used polemical language to attack Gandhi and his ideas.

This outraged Congressmen, who could not countenance any criticism of their beloved Bapu. They responded by characterizing Ambedkar as an apologist for British rule, damned him for serving on the Viceroy’s Executive Council during the Quit India movement of 1942 and so on.

In recent decades, it has more often been Ambedkarites who have critiqued Gandhi. They have seen his attempts at reforming the caste system as weak-kneed and half-hearted.

They have charged him with patronizing their hero (during the Poona Pact and after), and criticized Gandhi‘s political heir, Jawaharlal Nehru, for not using Ambedkar’s talents and abilities adequately in the years that the two served together in the first cabinet of free India.

In states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, attacks on Gandhi by Dalit intellectuals have been intense and unrelenting. In Karnataka, however, subaltern writers have taken a broader view. In his superb book, The Flaming Feet, the late D R Nagaraj urged us to see the work of Ambedkar and Gandhi as complementary.

The work of undermining the caste system and of delegitimizing untouchability required both pressure from Dalits themselves, which Ambedkar provided, and from upper-caste reformers, which is what Gandhi represented. Nagaraj was a friend of Devanur Mahadeva’s, and the two must surely have exercised a reciprocal influence on one another.

Whether or not they know of their work, the students of Jamia and the women of Shaheen Bagh substantiate the large-hearted analysis of Nagaraj and Devanur Mahadeva. Like those two thinkers of Karnataka, these brave protesters of Delhi admirably urge us not to posit Ambedkar and Gandhi as rivals.

Rather, they urge us to view them instead as colleagues, whose legacies need to be brought together in the struggle for democracy and pluralism.

After a recent visit to Shaheen Bagh, the Delhi-based writer, Omair Ahmad, noted, in a long and most interesting Twitter thread, that among the reasons that there were more posters of Ambedkar than Gandhi on display was that, as he put it, “people have moved from thanking a leader for winning freedom, to thanking a leader who gave them tools to assert their own rights as free citizens”.

On reading this, I wrote to Omair Ahmad saying: “I agree (and retweeted) but with one caveat, that when it came to the promotion of Hindu-Muslim harmony, no Indian (not even Nehru) matched Gandhi. But that is a point of detail. More broadly, it is wonderful to see Ambedkar and Gandhi invoked together, rather (as we have become accustomed to seeing) than being placed in opposition.”

To this Ahmad responded: “I very much agree, and deliberately phrased it in that way not only to contrast the contributions, but also to show that they were complementary.”

Ahmad further observed: “The leaders of that time had their differences (and failings), and it’s okay for people to choose which appeals more to them personally, but this necessity to pull down one in order to praise another doesn’t appeal to me very much.”

The countrywide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have been impressive in many ways, not least in the mass participation and leadership role of women. In this respect, too, the invocation of both Ambedkar and Gandhi, together, is apposite. Ambedkar in particular had a thoroughgoing commitment to gender equality, as reflected not just in the Constitution whose drafting he oversaw, but also in the reform of Hindu personal laws that he pursued so vigorously.

While in private life, as in the treatment of his wife, Gandhi could be a traditional Indian patriarch, in the public sphere he contributed substantially to the emancipation of women. Thus Gandhi was instrumental in Sarojini Naidu being made president of the Indian National Congress in 1925, at a time when it was not remotely conceivable that a major political party in the supposedly advanced democracies of the West could have a female leader.

And among the women activists inspired by Gandhi were such exemplary figures as Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Usha Mehta, Mridula Sarabhai, Anis Kidwai, Subhadra Joshi, Aruna Asaf Ali, and Hansa Mehta.

Ambedkar famously asked oppressed Indians to “educate, organize, and agitate”. The agency and courage which students and women have displayed in the protests against the CAA is entirely in the spirit of Ambedkar’s call. Meanwhile, the defence of democracy and pluralism against Hindu majoritarianism resonates strongly with Gandhi’s lifelong struggle for inter-religious harmony.

That the threat posed by Hindutva compels us to bring Ambedkar and Gandhi together is also underlined by Devanur Mahadeva. Thus, in his interview Mahadeva had remarked: “We should also listen to the words of Varanasi’s 16-year-old boy: ‘I will stand with Gandhi in Godse’s country.’ Otherwise, any kind of fundamentalism will first pluck out the eyes of one’s own, making them blind.

After that, brains are ripped out depriving one of any rationality. Later, the heart is taken out making one monstrous. And then a sacrifice will be asked for. This is increasing today. We have to save our children’s eyes, their hearts and their brains from the jaws of fundamentalism immediately.

It is better if young Dalit women take Gandhi to task after the wandering Gandhi-killer Godse’s ghost has achieved moksha. If this awareness is not there, I worry that the danger will hit at the very roots of the Dalits.”

To be sure, neither Ambedkar nor Gandhi were infallible. They made mistakes, harboured animosities and prejudices. One must not invoke them mechanically, nor follow them blindly. We live in a radically different world from the one they inhabited.

The political and technological challenges of the third decade of the 21st century are very different from the political and technological challenges of the middle decades of the 20th century. However, the moral and social challenges remain broadly the same.

The battle for caste and gender equality is unfinished. The struggle for inter-faith harmony remains vital and urgent. To overcome the massed, malign, forces of Hindutva, we need Ambedkar and Gandhi on the same side.

The Telegraph – States can’t say no to CAA but can go against NRC, NPR: Shashi Tharoor

He said that states have hardly any role in granting citizenship as it is given by the federal government

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 23 January 2020. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said that bringing in resolutions against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is more of a “political gesture” by the states as they hardly have any role in granting citizenships.

In an interview to PTI, the lawmaker said that in the implementation of the National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), the states will play a vital part as it will be their officials who will conduct the exercise because the Centre doesn’t have the required manpower.

“That’s more of a political gesture. The citizenship is given by the federal government only and obviously no states can give citizenship, so it has nothing for them to implement or not implement,” Tharoor said.

“They (the states) can pass a resolution or go to the court but in practice what can they do? The state governments can’t say they won’t implement CAA, what they can say is they will not implement NPR-NRC as they will have a crucial role in it,” he added.

Tharoor’s party colleague Kapil Sibal raised a storm last week by saying there is no way a state can deny the implementation of the CAA when it has already been passed by Parliament. Later, he termed it “unconstitutional” and clarified there was no change in his stance.

Panjab, where the Congress is in power, passed a resolution against the CAA last week. It also supported a similar move by the Left government in Kerala. In West Bengal as well, Tharoor’s party has been demanding an anti-CAA resolution, which will be brought in by Mamata Banerjee’s government on January 27.

The Congress has hinted that it may pass similar resolutions in other states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh where it is in power.

Maintaining that the Supreme Court not directing a stay on the Citizenship Amendment Act has “not at all diluted” the protests against it, Tharoor welcomed the top court’s decision to set up a five-judge constitution bench.

“This Act by naming religions in relation to citizenship has violated the Constitution. But at least the five-judge constitution bench will hear all the arguments and look into the merits of it. That’s the only way we can resolve the fundamental disagreement,” he said.

“There are only two ways this law can be struck down, one, if the Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional and strikes it down and second, if the government itself revokes it. Now, the second option is not viable as the BJP would never accept its mistakes,” said the Thiruvananthapuram MP who was in the city to take part in the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.

He said the protests are largely spontaneous and if the government makes it clear that no religion is being targeted then many would lose their reason for protesting. However, the diplomat-turned-politician said the government needs to do much more than just removing the religion clause in the CAA.

“It needs to say we will not ask questions about place of birth and citizenship and will not prepare the NRC,” he said. On the country’s Opposition, Tharoor said their unity has never been easy in Indian politics as many parties may have a similar stand at the Centre but may differ in the states.

“In my opinion, it would be simply better to present a united front to the nation rather than a divided front,” he said, asserting that no one should feel threatened by the Congress.

Asked about the Gandhi family and the role of the present leadership in reviving the party, Tharoor said the Congress is more than a family, and it is not only a major mass movement but also a set of coherent ideas.

“Yes, when we ask people to vote for Congress, some vote for the family, some vote for individuals, but above all they vote for a certain set of principles and convictions,” he said. Tharoor said the Congress stands for inclusiveness and is the only viable and reliable alternative to the “divisive politics” of the BJP.

“We have just lost the national elections. We have a four-and-quarter year to go before we can prove our qualities on the national stage. In the meantime, there are state elections. So there will be a constant opportunity for referendum against the BJP’s non-performance,” he said.

The Telegraph – Anti-CAA protests: Amartya Sen lays stress on the importance of opposition unity

He further said that even in the absence of opposition unity, protests can continue

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 14 January 2020. Days after demanding that the amended citizenship act be scrapped, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has stressed the importance of opposition unity to carry out any protest for a cause. However, he said even in the absence of opposition unity, protests can continue.

The economist was talking to journalists in Kolkata over the countrywide CAA-NPR-NRC protests. “For any kind of protest, opposition unity is important. Then protests become easier. Unity is important if the protest is for a proper cause,” Sen told journalists on Monday night.

“But even if unity is not there, then that doesn’t mean we will stop protesting. As I said, unity makes protest easier but if unity is not there still we have to move on and do whatever is necessary,” Sen said. Earlier, speaking at Nabanita Deb Sen Memorial Lecture, the economist said viewing oppositional reasoning as quarrelsome would be a big mistake.

“It is necessary to emphasise the subtleties of the innovative forces of the opposition… We need to know more about what I am protesting about. The head must also join with the heart in protest,” Sen said in his speech. “When there seems to be a big mistake in the Constitution or human rights, there will surely be reasons to protest,” Sen said.

Deb Sen, who passed away at her Kolkata residence last November, was the economist’s first wife. A few days ago, Sen, who has been critical of the Narendra Modi-led Union government, said the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act should be scrapped.

“I think the CAA must be scrapped because it cannot be an act. That’s the job of the Supreme Court to see whether what was passed in Parliament can be legally attached to the Constitution,” the Nobel laureate had said.

The Telegraph – Kerala CM Vijayan writes to 11 Chief Ministers on CAA

‘We are sure that our unity in diversity, which has stood the test of time, will ultimately emerge stronger.’

Kerala – Thiruvananthapuram – India, 04 January 2020. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday wrote to his counterparts in 11 states on the need to “protect” secularism and democracy, days after the Assembly in the southern state passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

In a letter to the chief ministers, including Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, Vijayan said: “Apprehensions have arisen among large sections of our society consequent to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

“The need of the hour is unity among all Indians who wish to protect and preserve our cherished values of democracy and secularism.”

Vijayan continued: “People from various cross sections of the society irrespective of any difference they might have, need to stand united in preserving the basic tenets of our polity that form the cornerstone of Indian democracy.

“We are sure that our unity in diversity, which has stood the test of time, will ultimately emerge stronger.”

Vijayan informed the chief ministers that Kerala had “decided to address the apprehensions” about the National Register of Citizens and that the National Population Register could be a precursor to the NRC by stalling all activities related to the NPR.

Pointing to the Kerala Assembly resolution against the citizenship law, he wrote: “States which have the opinion that the CAA should be repealed can also consider similar steps so that it will be an eye-opener to the proponents of the CAA and the NRC.”

The ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front and the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front united in supporting the resolution. The sole vote against the resolution was cast by the lone BJP lawmaker, O. Rajagopal.

The Telegraph – Surprises in Pakistan

The skeleton of internal contradictions tumbles out of the cupboard, once again

T C A Raghavan

Op/Ed, 18 December 2019. Just when Pakistan seemed set on a linear course, it surprises you once again. The linear path appeared to have consolidated further when in August this year the prime minister, Imran Khan, gave a three-year extension of tenure to the incumbent chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

At the time, it seemed unsurprising. The explanation given was geopolitical: the situation in Afghanistan and the legislative changes made in India with reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370. The notification issued on 19 August, personally signed by Khan, thus cited ‘regional security environment’ as the reason.

But for many others, the reasons were more direct. Khan was elected in July 2018 through an election, which was, or so it appeared, the last act of the process of a ‘creeping coup’ where the higher judiciary acting in concert with the military high command sought to ensure that the incumbent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, did not secure another term.

The preferred candidate was Khan, charismatic and at the head of a political party in his own right. What titled the scales in his favour were the military and the judiciary. Sharif’s tenure as prime minister from 2013 to 2017 had been marked by a series of frictions with the army through three chiefs of staff, Ashfaq Kayani, Raheel Sharif and Bajwa.

When he was finally ousted and debarred from holding office in the future by a Supreme Court order, it was evident that regardless of the reasons given by the court, Sharif had run his course in trying to assert civilian supremacy in Pakistan.

In terms of prevalent jargon, the Pakistani ‘Deep State’ had acted against him. An older vocabulary would have used the term, ‘Establishment’. In the longer view of Pakistan’s history, the outcome was the same: the ‘twenty year coup cycle’ of Pakistan had asserted itself, 1958, 1977, 1999 and 2018.

The difference in Sharif’s unseating was that it left his party, which was greatly weakened, in charge and kept the path open for Khan to win the general election and form the government.

To many, it seemed that a better civilian-military equation that would result from this was perhaps what Pakistan really needed.

As Khan completed his first year in office in August 2019, the event coinciding with the notification of Bajwa’s three-year extension, most would grant that this was easily the most friction free civil-military interface since a new phase began in Pakistan’s political history post Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.

So the extension seemed to be in the natural order of things for Pakistan, a civilian government with a popular mandate but a government with which the military was comfortable. For many Pakistan watchers, this hybrid was the holy grail that had long eluded the country and the nectar of internal stability, regardless of the manner in which it was extracted, seemed within reach.

A series of hearings late last month in the Supreme Court upset this trend. Apart from finding procedural deficiencies in the order granting Bajwa a three-year extension, the court raised more fundamental questions about the legal and constitutional provisions by which the extension to the army chief was being granted.

These hearings were conducted within days of Bajwa’s impending retirement and when the Supreme Court struck down the August notification of a three-year extension, many Pakistanis did feel that another phase of their country’s history may well be beginning.

Technicalities apart, the Supreme Court’s point was that in the extant regulations, there was no specific provision providing for the reappointment or extension of the army chief’s service tenure.

The court’s final order, giving Bajwa a six-month extension, avoided precipitating an immediate crisis. The government was also directed to pass legislation to govern tenure and extensions of the army chief within this six-month period.

Given the long tenures in post-1971 Pakistan of Zia-ul-Haq (1976-88), Pervez Musharraf (1998-2007) and Kayani (2007-2013), it is legitimate to wonder what was being missed here. Evidently, the court is now a different institution and the old civil-military tangles thus have a new ingredient in them.

Numerous explanations, including conspiracy theories, have emerged to unveil the rationale for this chain of events. Was it no more than a case of friction between the chief justice and the prime minister in which the extension issue proved of utility to embarrass the latter?

Or did the tussle represent, in fact, rumblings and unhappiness within the army hierarchy, extensions to the top gun hold up promotions down the line. In between, there were other variations including speculation on whether this episode has weakened the COAS and affected his interface with the prime minister and the government. As always, such questions have no clear answers.

However, we can see these developments in the longer span of Pakistan’s history. The Supreme Court has historically acted as an adjunct to Pakistan’s bureaucratic and military elite from the 1950s. Its legitimization of different spells of military rule using dubious legal principles from ancient Rome and English common law had facilitated multiple dictatorships.

One chief justice had thus cited the maxim, “that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity”. Other principles invoked included salus populi suprema lex esto (the health, welfare, good, salvation, felicity of the people should be the supreme law) and salus republica est suprema lex (the safety (or welfare) of the state is the supreme law).

The long ‘doctrine of necessity’ phase of Pakistan’s legal history ended amidst much drama in 2008 when an unseated chief justice led a movement of lawyers to effectively put an end to Musharraf’s dictatorship.

In the crucible of numerous contradictions that Pakistan faced then, there were other forces that worked to usher in a new democratic phase in Pakistan’s history. Yet it was the lawyers’ and the judges’ movement that tipped the balance.

The judicial process that finally catapulted Khan to electoral victory seemed to be a setback to the political activism by the bar and the bench. The latest fracas over the army chief’s extension now suggests that the churn in Pakistan is still active. Clearly, the higher judiciary should not be taken for granted.

Secondly, it underwrites that a balance among different institutions, the elixir that has for so long eluded Pakistan, remains distant. The next stage in this may well be the treason trial of Musharraf. The death penalty announced yesterday by a special court gives this issue extra drama and the matter will certainly go all the way to the Supreme Court.

What do we make of all this in the light of our own predicaments with Pakistan? It is four years now since the downswing in relations after the Pathankot attack. The Kartarpur opening provides a balance but it is a small one given the high tensions, terrorist attacks and our own robust countermeasures.

One point that does stand out is that the prolonged period of tension has camouflaged Pakistan’s internal tensions. Nevertheless, the tussle over the army chief’s extension shows that the many internal contradictions remain and will continue to rise to the surface.

The author is a retired diplomat and currently Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs

The Telegraph – CBI registered 14 cases of economic offences against 18 serving, former lawmakers

The ED has registered 82 cases against the public representatives, he added

New Delhi – India, 09 December 2019. The CBI has registered 14 cases of economic offences against 18 serving and former lawmakers, minister of state for finance Anurag Singh Thakur informed the Lok Sabha on Monday.

“Out of these 18 persons, two are sitting members of Parliament; nine ex members of Parliament; five members of Legislative Assemblies and 2 ex members of Legislative Assemblies,” he said in a written reply.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has registered 82 cases against public representatives, including former public representatives across the country, under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, and Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999, he said.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) (CBIC) has registered three cases of economic offences across the country against public representatives, he said. Of these cases, two cases have been registered against a former MP and one case againsta former MLA, he added.

He further said that these cases presently are at various stages of investigation and the probes are conducted on the merits of cases without any fear or favour.

“Disclosure of details of these cases at this juncture may not be in larger public interest as the same may hamper the ongoing investigations. Further, disclosure of information in respect of specific assesses is prohibited except as provided under Section 138 of the Income Tax Act, 1961,” he said.

In another reply, Thakur said 15th Finance Commission chairman has presented the first report pertaining to financial year 2020-21 to the President of India on 05 December.

“The recommendations made by the finance commission will be examined in the ministry in consultation with various departments and approval of the cabinet will be sought,” he said.

In accordance with the approval of the cabinet, an explanatory memorandum as to the action taken on the recommendations made by the 15th finance commission will be laid on the floor of both the Houses in Parliament during the Budget Session, he said.

Replying to another question, Thakur said against the Budget estimate of Rs 6.63 lakh crore, the net GST collection between April and November is Rs 3.98 lakh crore.