No one knows when the Jammu and Kashmir government will be formed – but citizens no longer care

No one knows when the Jammu and Kashmir government will be formed – but citizens no longer care
Photo Credit: IANS
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It’s been almost a year since the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party came together to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir. The December 2014 Assembly elections threw up a hung house, with the PDP emerging the largest party ahead of the BJP. After 67 days of political poker, the parties finally struck a compromise, agreeing not to rake up their stated political positions and maintain a status quo on all controversial issues. Now, the two parties are it again.

The state has been without an elected government since the death of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in the first week of January. His daughter, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, has delayed the formation of a government, indicating that she wants some “confidence-building measures” for the state from the BJP-ruled government at the Centre. It also wants the BJP to adhere to the Agenda of Alliance, the common minimum programme over which the parties had come together last year. On Monday, the BJP asked the PDP to take a final call on government formation before the Budget Session of Parliament on February 23.

As the deadlock continues, with the PDP trying to gain some semblance of control within the alliance and the BJP adamant on remaining in the driver’s seat, the Kashmiri people are seemingly tired of the games and have lost interest in the outcome. In fact, many have stopped watching altogether.

“It is a fixed match,” said Mohammad Iqbal Khan, a bank employee in Srinagar. “Who wants to watch a fixed match? It’s story whose end we already know. One can’t be fooled by the same trick twice and that too within a year. That would be a shame.”

Khan said he was a first-time voter in the 2014 Assembly elections, and regretted his decision after watching the political drama unfold over the next two months. During that election campaign, he said, the prevailing feeling was that the march of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP into Kashmir needed to be stopped.

“I fell for it, my older brother fell for it, and we voted for the PDP,” said Khan. “And when they allied with the BJP, it was shame to accept that we had been made complete fools. Now, they can marry the devil himself. It doesn’t matter.”

Losing the crowd

Khan’s indifference and disinterest about the government formation appears to be the common sentiment in Kashmir.

At the kandur waans – the bakeries – where the day begins for the typical Kashmiri, the political stalemate hardly evokes a response around the hearths where political gossip is usually the norm.

A man in his late forties waiting for his bread said that the black dog and the white dog are brothers, and only fools and the liars are deceived for the difference in the colour.

“What is the big deal about who will form the government?” he asked. “National Conference can form a government with the BJP, BJP can make government with PDP, they can both make government with Congress, or all of them could hug each other and trample on our lives. Isn’t that what has happened here all along?”

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he had never voted in his life and never would. Sitting cross-legged beside him was 51-year-old Rahman Malik, who admitted to voting for the PDP but now felt compelled not to look their way anymore.

“If it were up to me, I would send a plague their way,” he said. “I believed the PDP’s words when they said that they would fight for our dignity from India, from the Indian army, and I thought that maybe these parties would help us economically and change things politically as well. But Mufti joined the BJP to become the chief minister and did nothing at all.”

Malik said he wouldn’t know whom to vote for should fresh elections be held. “Maybe the National Conference this time,” he laughed.

Historical blunder?

A senior PDP leader and former cabinet minister argued that irrespective of whether the PDP or BJP emerged triumphant, democracy would be the winner. Another PDP leader compared the electoral politics in Kashmir to a game of musical chairs that they would like to keep playing as long it kept out an opposite force that threatened to stop the music and break the chairs.

There is a sound background to this rationale. After the rupture in the established political system in Kashmir following a popular armed uprising in 1989, the pro-India political parties gathered again in a decade’s time and cannily positioned themselves in between the pro-Independence, pro-Pakistan camp and the Indian political and military establishment.

From this seemingly middle ground in which they began to operate, the National Conference passed an Autonomy resolution in the state Assembly (which was summarily rejected without a discussion by New Delhi) and harped on Kashmir’s distinct identity and aspirations within the Indian Union.

The PDP went even further with a self-rule slogan by promising to make the borders irrelevant, creating a mechanism of joint control by India and Pakistan and a dual currency. They began to promise a kind of independence within the boundaries of India. And after a decade of war in Kashmir that witnessed innumerable atrocities, the middle path was sold as the respectable way out. It was touted by PDP loyalists as a case of “choosing the possible over the ideal”.

But last year, the PDP’s embrace of the BJP and its complete silence on the rhetoric that brought it to power has brought great disillusionment among people who had voted for the PDP. “Earlier I did feel that PDP was different than the NC, the Congress and the BJP, and that is why I had some hopes from the PDP, and not only did I vote for them but also campaigned for them in my extended family,” said Khurram Ahmad Handoo, who works at a pharmaceutical company. “But they joined the BJP once, they can join the BJP again, if not today then tomorrow.”

Handoo said that he wouldn’t vote again because he no longer saw the purpose of the exercise.

“What they are doing now is another game,” he said. “It is not for us but their own political space and fortune that the PDP is playing now, and now I am not interested in their lies. I swear that last year I was obsessed with whether or not they would join BJP and I would argue with everyone that they would not, but this time they don’t matter at all to me. In a way, I feel free.”


India vs Sri Lanka: Boys in Blue aim to bolster credentials ahead of World T20

India vs Sri Lanka: Boys in Blue aim to bolster credentials ahead of World T20
Photo Credit: Craig Golding/AFP
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After the convincing 3-0 win in last month’s Twenty20 series in Australia, the home series against Sri Lanka that starts on Tuesday must seem like a mere formality for an Indian side high on confidence. However, if history suggests anything at all, this series will be anything but a stroll for the home side.

India have a 3-3 record against Sri Lanka in this format, but it is their World Cup record against the islanders that will prove worrisome for MS Dhoni’s men. Rewind to the 2014 World T20 final – it was Lasith Malinga’s men who broke their final hoodoo to triumph over Dhoni’s boys in Dhaka.

The Indians did not fare much better in the 2010 World T20 when they succumbed to a last-ball finish in Gros Islet, St. Lucia in a group stage match. Being played a mere month before the World T20, this series against the world’s No 3 T20 side is a good chance for the home side to prove their title credentials, especially considering that they have been drafted into a tough group alongside Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

For one man in particular, this series will be more about redemption than anything else. Yuvraj Singh endured a horror show against the Lankans in the 2014 final, eking out a 21-ball 11 during the most crucial part of the innings, leading to India sub-par total.

Back in the squad and having had a fairly decent series against Australia, the Punjab left-hander will look to settle scores once and for all. The 33-year-old looks like he has got a new lease of life but he will still have to perform to retain hopes of getting into the final World Cup T20 squad. Fail to do so, and no doubt, the vultures will start circling again.

Finding the right combination

India’s best player in Australia, Virat Kohli, has been given a well-deserved rest. This will give captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni the chance to tinker with his middle-order to find his best combination. Although Suresh Raina, Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Dhoni pick themselves in the squad based on past exploits and current form, India’s middle order still remains a worry with the finisher’s positions – numbers five, six and seven far from settled.

Shikhar Dhawan for one will be looking to cement his place in the final XI for the World Twenty20. The opener has had an up-and-down season so far. With Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and new boy Hardik Pandya all jostling for places, the competition is fierce.

Pawan Negi, the 23-year-old rookie who was selected for this series in place of Kohli, must be feeling confident after being sold for a whopping Rs 8.5 crore at the Indian Premier League auction on Saturday. Negi did well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, where he scored 173 runs for Delhi and bagged six wickets in nine matches. Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Man and Umesh Yadav miss out, while Manish Pandey and Bhuvneshwar Kumar get a look in.

A return of two veterans

This will also be an intriguing tale of two returning 36-year-old pacers. While Ashish Nehra played all the three T20 matches against Australia, Dilhara Fernando will return to the Sri Lankan squad after almost two years on the back of his performances in the domestic Premier T20 tournament. Fernando finished as the third highest wicket-taker with 11 wickets at an economy rate of 8.40.

His experience will be key considering that Malinga and Mathews are out owing to injuries and the Lankans just lost a recent T20 series to New Zealand 2-0. Leading the side in Malinga’s absence will be Dinesh Chandimal. An injury to Tillakaratne Dilshan also means that wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella has been called up to the squad and most probably will play the first match.

One player to watch out for will be middle-order batsman Dasun Shanaka, who set the domestic T20 tournament alight with his performances. Spinner Ajantha Mendis still does not find a place despite a good show with the ball (12 wickets) in the same tournament.

In comparison with the World Twenty20 and the Asia Cup thereafter, this may look like a low-key series. But, Dhoni will not mind – it gives him an opportunity to play around with his team and figure out his winning combination. In many ways, this will be the perfect starter for the delectable main course that is coming up next month.


Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdogan’s militarised politics

Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdogan’s militarised politics
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

Academics targeted

Following this, Turkish federal prosecutors have investigated 1,128 of the signatories with33 academics from three Turkish universities in Bolu, Kocaeli and Bursa being detained because of their alleged propaganda for a terrorist organisation and insulting the Turkish nation, state, government and institutions.

Turkey’s top higher education body, the Higher Education Board (YÖK), has called for university administrators to impose disciplinary sanctions against the academics. Subsequently, 109 academics from 42 Turkish universities were subjected to dismissal, discharge, suspension, termination and forced resignation.

A government-backed counter-petition, Academics Against Terror, has also been organised. The Grey Wolves, also known as Idealist Hearts, a formal youth organisation of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the Turkish parliament, has even marked the office doors of signatories and left written threats.

Despite this, immediately after the government’s response, the number of academics participating in the campaign increased from 1,128 to 4,491. There has also been a public reaction against the government’s tactics.

Within just two weeks, independent petition campaigns organised by a variety of civic and professional organisations have collected more than 60,000 signatories, and supporting statements have been released by 65 organisations that have millions of members across the country.

The original petition has also created much-needed international solidarity with more than 60 international institutions, organisations, leading academics and politicians issuing messages of support and ten international petition campaigns being organised worldwide.

The recent clampdown on academics characterises the scope of the new “counterterrorism” strategy of the Turkish state. This “new” doctrine is again promoting a military solution to the Kurdish question by concentrating state violence against the Kurds and supporters of Kurdish rights.

Political plotting

After a period of fragile negotiations with the hope of ending the decades-long conflict, the new doctrine has emerged since the June 2015 Turkish general elections, when Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win a majority in parliament for a single-party government.

The government introduced the strategy after the June elections in an attempt to win back the votes of Turkish nationalists in the MHP, a long standing ultra-nationalist political party, and the “borrowed votes” of Turkish dissidents who temporarily collaborated with the HDP, a pro-Kurdish and pro-minority political party.

The Turkish state is also using the Syrian refugee crisis and military intervention against the so-called Islamic State to gain international support from the EU and the US.

In line with the “new” doctrine, the ongoing ceasefire agreement and peace negotiations between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) were officially suspended in July, with a state of emergency and curfew declared in Kurdish territories by the AKP government.

According to a report in Turkish by the Human Rights Association in Turkey, between June and November, 602 people (including 41 children) were killed, 1,300 people were injured, 1,004 people were jailed and 5,713 people were taken into custody during the military operations in Kurdish towns. There were also 134 people killed and 564 injured in two suicide bombings in Suruç and Ankara.

This campaign seemed to pay off for the AKP, with a significant increase in support within the six-month period. The AKP won 49.50% in a second parliamentary election called on November 1 2015, returning their single party majority.

Entrenching positions

It seems that Turkey’s “new” anti-Kurdish doctrine is a strategic, precautionary manoeuvre to maintain the popularity of Erdoğan’s regime. The government is aiming to avoid potential resistance, such as that experienced in the Gezi Park uprising in 2013, which unified a wide range of dissidents including leftists, Turkish nationalists, capitalists from the upper classes and religious groups.

Through its anti-Kurd strategy, the government is simultaneously deepening localised political and social tensions in Kurdish regions and reunifying right-wing nationalist civil society and political organisations under the flag of Turkish chauvinism.

In this light, the petition by Academicians for Peace is not only a revolt against the government’s Kurdish policy, but also a very effective swipe at the crucial point of the “new” strategy. It draws academics, students, intellectuals and other urban professionals together throughout the country, sending a wake-up call to the international public that Erdoğan’s new political and military strategy cannot be tolerated.


The dilution of nuclear liability by the Modi government that nobody is talking about

The dilution of nuclear liability by the Modi government that nobody is talking aboutPhoto Credit: India Water Portal
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Once in power, opposition parties rarely retain their dogmas. When the Bharatiya Janata Party occupied the opposition benches in the Parliament, it agitated bitterly on the issue of nuclear liability, maintaining that the United Progressive Alliance’s position on compensation in case of a nuclear accident placed all the burden on the taxpayer. Now that it is in power, it exhibits none of that resolve.

The international convention requires that in case of a nuclear accident, the liability of paying compensation to the victims falls on the operator of the facility. In India’s case, this is the government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.

But on February 4, Narendra Modi’s government ratified a global regime called the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, giving a free pass to nuclear suppliers in India.

The previous Congress-led Central government had removed all references to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation from the draft of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, after it met with resistance from the opposition parties, including the BJP. The 2010 Act simultaneously included a provision to hold suppliers (both domestic and foreign vendors of reactor equipment) indirectly liable – its clause 17(b) specifically allowed the operator a “right of recourse” against the suppliers. But within weeks of this, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government hastily signed the CSC, withprovisions contrary to the domestic law.

Since then, the US and other nuclear suppliers have been insisting that India harmonises its domestic law with the global convention, and do away with suppliers’ liability. The Indian government and its nuclear establishment have also been citing CSC as a reason to amend the liability law.

Their arguments have been a farce.

American exceptions

The Convention on Supplementary Compensation did not come into force in 2010 when India signed it. Indeed, at that time, India had an opening to press for progressive changes in the CSC to ensure suppliers’ liability – since India is among the few countries in the post-Fukushima world still importing nuclear reactors, it could have used its attractive market to affect pro-people revisions in the CSC template. Obviously, it did not, and India’s unconditional accession ended up enhancing CSC’s standing. The regime finally entered into force in 2015 following Japan’s accession. But all this didn’t stop foreign suppliers from asking India to do away with its liability clause beginning 2010.

The United States, in particular, has always preferred the CSC over other conventions addressing nuclear liability, such as the Paris Convention of 1960 or the Vienna Conventionof 1963. This is because CSC has a grandfather clause in its annexure 2 that provides an exemption for American domestic laws to supersede in case of an accident on its soil. As a result, in the US, criminal liability lawsuits can be initiated against nuclear corporations. The same CSC, however, requires its other signatories to enact domestic laws as per its annexure and strictly limit it to civil liability.

Though eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee has maintained that India’s domestic law would prevail over CSC, it is certain that, in a conflict, foreign suppliers would try their best to walk away without paying damages.

The Modi government had an opportunity to refuse ratifying the CSC, especially since acase is pending in the Supreme Court on the issue of nuclear liability. Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, eminent scientist PM Bhargava, Former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas, Former Union Power Secretary EAS Sarma and other eminent Indians are party in this case, which urges strengthening of the provisions of the 2010 Act and removal of the liability cap. Ratifying an international convention on an issue which is sub judice is also an attempt to influence the Supreme Court by turning the matter into a fait accompli.

BJP’s U-turn

While in opposition, the BJP was fiercely opposed to any dilution of nuclear liability. Noting the shortcomings of the bill presented by the UPA government, it alleged that “the bill was being brought under US pressure mainly to keep the two American multinationals – Westinghouse and General Electric – from paying any liability and making the Indian government liable to pay in case of an accident”.

Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had said at the time: “Clearly, the life of an Indian is only worth a dime compared to the life of an American.” His colleague Sushma Swaraj had called for an India-specific liability law, while likening the Indo-US nuclear deal to Jehangir who allowed the British East India Company to do business in India. Swaraj is now the External Affairs Minister in the Modi government.

Despite the previous government being a coalition and despite its willingness to serve the interests of the US nuclear lobby, it was the strength of Indian democracy that public pressure ensured enactment of a law safeguarding the interests of citizens. The BJP government, failing Indian interests, has resorted to a perverted twist to effectively undermine a law passed by India’s sovereign parliament.