Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Start of something extraordinary in India

Two years ago, India witnessed its version of the Arab spring in the fiercest extra-parliamentary movement against corruption in its history as an independent nation. We are now seeing the electoral dividends of the movement that many had begun to write off as yet another failed attempt at reforming a robust but increasingly tainted political system.

The Aam Aadmi (ordinary man's) Party, a by-product of the protests of 2011, has emerged as the second-largest party in the state elections in the capital, Delhi, and could potentially break the mould of Indian electoral politics. India's noisy and resilient democracy does not need a revolution, but, for many, the Aam Aadmi victory is the sign of great hope at the end of a year in which the nation's political and economic stock reached a nadir. Using a broom as its symbol, Aam Aadmi promises to clean Indian public life of its muck and has injected the capital's voters with new energy and enthusiasm.

In April 2011, Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old follower of Mohandas Gandhi who was known for his work for rural empowerment, led the protests against the corruption that is almost endemic in Indian public life, and particularly entrenched in traditional political parties. The demand was for the appointment of a constitutionally empowered ombudsman who would have extraordinary powers to deliver swift justice.

While the demand was never fulfilled and Hazare all but retreated to his rural haven, the need for more honest politics became the zeitgeist of an anti-establishment political culture among India's growing middle class. Led by a Hazare protege and former civil servant, the 45-year-old Arvind Kejriwal, Aam Aadmi has defied all odds by emerging as the second-largest party in Delhi and holds the balance of power in the state's legislature.

Few believed the party would do so well, with Kejriwal defeating the capital's most recognised face, its thrice-elected chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, by more than 22,000 votes.
In India belonging to a political family and having huge financial backing were seen as critical requirements in the electoral system. Many parliamentarians belong to political families, many are millionaires, and political parties are widely seen as dependent on ''shady'' or ''black'' money on which no taxes are paid.

Aam Aadmi, by contrast, had no political lineage, raised money transparently, was driven by a spirit of volunteerism, and relied on the social media for political mobilisation. It refused to have any truck with either of the main parties, the ruling Congress or the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and has now declared its preference to sit in opposition rather than form a coalition with either party in a hung legislature.

Many view Aam Aadmi as a sign of middle-class radicalism, which has captured the imagination of the people in a city-state that represents, more than any other part of the country, a middle-class sensibility and middle-class aspirations. In the past few years, while the capital's infrastructure has improved beyond recognition, it has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons: the rape of a college student in a moving bus; the scam involving the Commonwealth Games; and the evidence of crony capitalism with lobbyists making deals to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers. Ironically, the government is led by unarguably one of the most honest political leaders in Indian public life. And yet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has an Oxford doctorate in economics, in public perceptions, is seen as having presided over the most corrupt government in recent years.

While Aam Aadmi has been a game-changer in Delhi, the capital is not India and the party barely has a presence elsewhere in the country. In other states that went to the polls the mood against the Congress was clearly in evidence with the BJP gaining significantly. Caste, religion and traditional political loyalties a well as big money have traditionally played a significant role in elections. But these differences may be less important now than in the past. The internet, mobile phones and television may be building a pan-India spirit against outdated politics and traditional parties. In a country of 1.2 billion, with nearly 500 million aged under 25, there seems to be a new awakening, new aspirations and anger towards a system that fails to deliver. Aam Aadmi in Delhi may hence be just the beginning of new politics in India.

A few months ago, it invited me to join its policy group to prepare a policy document, ''A New Agenda for India'' that would offer ethical policy alternatives. I dismissed this as yet another maverick attempt at taking on the impossible and did not respond with much enthusiasm. It is time to review that decision as India prepares for change.

(Source: The Age)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Understanding Article 370

At the Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent Lalkar rally in Jammu, its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, called for a debate on Article 370. This is encouraging and suggests that the BJP may be willing to review its absolutist stance on the Article that defines the provisions of the Constitution of India with respect to Jammu and Kashmir. Any meaningful debate on Article 370 must, however, separate myth from reality and fact from fiction. My purpose here is to respond to the five main questions that have already been raised in the incipient debate.

Why it was incorporated
First, why was Article 370 inserted in the Constitution? Or as the great poet and thinker, Maulana Hasrat Mohini, asked in the Constituent Assembly on October 17, 1949: “Why this discrimination please?” The answer was given by Nehru’s confidant, the wise but misunderstood Thanjavur Brahmin, Gopalaswami Ayyangar (Minister without portfolio in the first Union Cabinet, a former Diwan to Maharajah Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, and the principal drafter of Article 370). Ayyangar argued that for a variety of reasons Kashmir, unlike other princely states, was not yet ripe for integration. India had been at war with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir and while there was a ceasefire, the conditions were still “unusual and abnormal.” Part of the State’s territory was in the hands of “rebels and enemies.”

The involvement of the United Nations brought an international dimension to this conflict, an “entanglement” which would end only when the “Kashmir problem is satisfactorily resolved.” Finally, Ayyangar argued that the “will of the people through the instrument of the [J&K] Constituent Assembly will determine the constitution of the State as well as the sphere of Union jurisdiction over the State.” In sum, there was hope that J&K would one day integrate like other States of the Union (hence the use of the term “temporary provisions” in the title of the Article), but this could happen only when there was real peace and only when the people of the State acquiesced to such an arrangement.

Second, did Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel oppose Article 370? To reduce the Nehru-Patel relationship to Manichean terms is to caricature history, and this is equally true of their attitude towards Jammu and Kashmir. Nehru was undoubtedly idealistic and romantic about Kashmir. He wrote: “Like some supremely beautiful woman, whose beauty is almost impersonal and above human desire, such was Kashmir in all its feminine beauty of river and valley...” Patel had a much more earthy and pragmatic view and — as his masterly integration of princely states demonstrated — little time for capricious state leaders or their separatist tendencies.

But while Ayyangar negotiated — with Nehru’s backing — the substance and scope of Article 370 with Sheikh Abdullah and other members from J&K in the Constituent Assembly (including Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi), Patel was very much in the loop. And while Patel was deeply sceptical of a “state becoming part of India” and not “recognising ... [India’s] fundamental rights and directive principles of State policy,” he was aware of, and a party to, the final outcome on Article 370.

Indeed, the synergy that Patel and Nehru brought to governing India is evident in the negotiations over Article 370. Consider this. In October 1949, there was a tense standoff between Sheikh Abdullah and Ayyangar over parts of Article 370 (or Article 306A as it was known during the drafting stage). Nehru was in the United States, where — addressing members of the U.S. Congress — he said: “Where freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.” Meanwhile, Ayyangar was struggling with the Sheikh, and later even threatened to resign from the Constituent Assembly. “You have left me even more distressed than I have been since I received your last letter … I feel weighted with the responsibility of finding a solution for the difficulties that, after Panditji left for America ... have been created … without adequate excuse,” he wrote to the Sheikh on October 15. And who did Ayyangar turn to, in this crisis with the Sheikh, while Nehru was abroad? None other than the Sardar himself. Patel, of course, was not enamoured by the Sheikh, who he thought kept changing course. He wrote to Ayyangar: “Whenever Sheikh Sahib wishes to back out, he always confronts us with his duty to the people.” But it was Patel finally who managed the crisis and navigated most of the amendments sought of the Sheikh through the Congress party and the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Article 370 became part of the Indian Constitution.

Third, is Article 370 still intact in its original form? One of the biggest myths is the belief that the “autonomy” as envisaged in the Constituent Assembly is intact. A series of Presidential Orders has eroded Article 370 substantially. While the 1950 Presidential Order and the Delhi Agreement of 1952 defined the scope and substance of the relationship between the Centre and the State with the support of the Sheikh, the subsequent series of Presidential Orders have made most Union laws applicable to the State. In fact today the autonomy enjoyed by the State is a shadow of its former self, and there is virtually no institution of the Republic of India that does not include J&K within its scope and jurisdiction. The only substantial differences from many other States relate to permanent residents and their rights; the non-applicability of Emergency provisions on the grounds of “internal disturbance” without the concurrence of the State; and the name and boundaries of the State, which cannot be altered without the consent of its legislature. Remember J&K is not unique; there are special provisions for several States which are listed in Article 371 and Articles 371-A to 371-I.

Fourth, can Article 370 be revoked unilaterally? Clause 3 of Article 370 is clear. The President may, by public notification, declare that this Article shall cease to be operative but only on the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State. In other words, Article 370 can be revoked only if a new Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir is convened and is willing to recommend its revocation. Of course, Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution to change this provision. But this could be subject to a judicial review which may find that this clause is a basic feature of the relationship between the State and the Centre and cannot, therefore, be amended.

Gender bias?
Fifth, is Article 370 a source of gender bias in disqualifying women from the State of property rights? Article 370 itself is gender neutral, but the definition of Permanent Residents in the State Constitution — based on the notifications issued in April 1927 and June 1932 during the Maharajah’s rule — was thought to be discriminatory. The 1927 notification included an explanatory note which said: “The wife or a widow of the State Subject … shall acquire the status of her husband as State Subject of the same Class as her Husband, so long as she resides in the State and does not leave the State for permanent residence outside the State.” This was widely interpreted as suggesting also that a woman from the State who marries outside the State would lose her status as a State subject. However, in a landmark judgement, in October 2002, the full bench of J&K High Court, with one judge dissenting, held that the daughter of a permanent resident of the State will not lose her permanent resident status on marrying a person who is not a permanent resident, and will enjoy all rights, including property rights.

Finally, has Article 370 strengthened separatist tendencies in J&K? Article 370 was and is about providing space, in matters of governance, to the people of a State who felt deeply vulnerable about their identity and insecure about the future. It was about empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. Article 370 is synonymous with decentralisation and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. There is no contradiction between wanting J&K to be part of the national mainstream and the State’s desire for self-governance as envisioned in the Article.

Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. It can be reasonably argued that it is the erosion of Article 370 and not its creation which has aggravated separatist tendencies in the State. Not surprisingly, at the opposition conclave in Srinagar in 1982, leaders of virtually all national parties, including past and present allies of the BJP, declared that the “special constitutional status of J&K under Article 370 should be preserved and protected in letter and spirit.” A review of its policy on Article 370, through an informed debate, would align today’s BJP with the considered and reflective approach on J&K articulated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Only then would the slogans of Jhumuriyat , Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat make real sense.

(Source: The Hindu)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Masked men of Kishtwar

Known in the past as the land of sapphires and saffron, Kishtwar today is a metaphor for the larger collapse of the idea of Jammu and Kashmir. Once, the state's greatest strength was its rich cultural, linguistic, religious and geographical diversity. Today, as most of these identities have morphed into shrill, polarised and communally charged monsters, the real danger to J&K is from within. Unless the nation acts today, the state is sure to implode tomorrow. For, much of what we are witnessing is a consequence of the warped and short-sighted policies of the Centre and the state.

Kishtwar, contrary to the instant commentaries that have appeared in the press, was not always a communal cauldron. I went there first as a child, only a few months old, in 1962, and stayed on till 1964. My father was posted as a divisional forest officer and as a young married couple, some of my parents' best memories are from their time in Kishtwar: picnics in the great meadow, the chowgan, driving along the mighty Chenab and the warmth and simplicity of the Kishtwari people. Every year, they went on horseback for the two-day yatra of Sri Sarthal Deviji, 30 kilometres from Kishtwar, and all the logistics — from the horses and the tents to the food — were arranged by the Kishtwari Muslims. Unlike the adjoining (the more developed and literate) Bhaderwah, there was virtually no communal tension, and as the sun set, everyone would rush home, lest the mythical dayans (witches with twisted feet) of the town preyed on them. There was harmony, a gentle togetherness and a resilience that prevailed until militancy overwhelmed the state in the 1990s. Indeed, in the 1960s, Kishtwar's greatest singer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Doolwal (Jaanbaaz) wrote what was his most popular song: "Maanun tse peyee, sahib chhu kunuyee, yaa yetti maanun yaa taetti maanun (Accept you must that the lord is the same, whether you accept it here or you accept it there)."

What we are witnessing across the state today is the ugliest form of regional and sub-regional chauvinism and sectarianism. And this is being articulated through what the Italian anthropologist Simone Mestroni describes as an assertion of "masculinity", which seems to define the culture of protests in the state. The masked men of Kishtwar, the arsonists of Jammu and the stone pelters of the Valley are the angry young men of a lost generation.

Is there a way forward? Yes, if there is an-all party national consensus on the following minimum agenda.
First, recognise that a J&K fragmented by sharp, conflicting identities is not in anyone's interest. There is a misperceived and dangerous idea, floating as a doctrine within the Indian establishment, that the less united the people, the easier it will be to manage them. This policy of divide and rule led to the partition of the country, and has accelerated demands for a trifurcation of the state.

Second, admit that there are deeply alienated young men across the state whose anger needs to be addressed through multiple initiatives. Jason Burke recently wrote in The Guardian of the possible emergence of a militancy led by educated young men in the Valley, and this anger is by no means restricted to Kashmir.
Third, do not reward chauvinism. Chauvinism is contagious, as we saw during the Amarnath land row controversy, and appeasement of chauvinists is a short-sighted policy fraught with dangerous consequences.
To give you a personal, anecdotal example. In 2010, Kapil Sibal, then HRD minister, asked me to be the first vice chancellor of the Central University of Jammu. I was reluctant to go in the first place, but as the news spread, there were protests in Jammu on the grounds that I was Kashmiri and pro-Kashmiri, despite having served as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu for six years. While I had no intention of going, I was still personally advised by the political leadership in the country to turn down the offer, as it could lead to instability in the state. Subsequently, a retired IAS officer from Jammu was appointed. If the republic of India is ready to compromise even on the appointment of a vice chancellor, will this not give a fillip to regional chauvinism?
Fourth, restore faith in the process of dialogue. Few people have any faith left in the dialogue after being repeatedly let down, and especially after the report of the three interlocutors was given short shrift by the home ministry. It will take time, effort and a national consensus before the people of the state regain trust in the intentions of New Delhi, but the investment is well worth it.

Finally, make the state government accountable. The impression being created is that the coalition government has been given a carte blanche; this is deeply counter-productive in a state like J&K.

In 2005, the prime minister made one of his finest speeches. He said: "Jammu and Kashmir is the finest expression of the idea of India. Diversity of faith, culture, geography and language has traditionally never been a source of conflict. In fact, the people of this state celebrated diversity and lived in harmony for most of the time. We now need to revive those bonds and that spirit of accommodation and mutual respect, even while we sit down, in good faith, to resolve many of our genuine differences. My vision, I have stated many times before, is to build a Naya Jammu and Kashmir which is symbolised by peace, prosperity and people's power. As I have often said, real empowerment is not about slogans. Only when every man, woman and child, from Ladakh to Lakhanpur and from Kargil to Kathua through Kashmir, feels secure, in every sense of the word, can we truly say that people have been empowered."

There is still time, even in the final months of his government, for Manmohan Singh to redeem that pledge, even if partially.

I returned to Kishtwar only in 2003, as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu, and the town had bounced back to harmony and relative prosperity due to the ongoing Dulhasti hydel project. I went for the Urs of the patron saint of the region, Hazrat Shah Asraruddin Baghdadi, and praying for peace in the state, I tied a thread at his shrine. I am looking forward to the day I can go back to untie that thread.

(Source: The Indian Express)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unless India acts today, J&K will implode tomorrow

Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir remains on the edge, four days after the outbreak of communal violence that left three persons dead. Is a dangerous mix of religion and terror at work? Is one of the most sensitive regions in the country being polarised on religious lines? Prof. Mattoo joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the issue. 

To read the transcript of the chat, click on the link below:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Seizing the opportunity

As co-chairs of the Chaophraya Dialogue between opinion makers from India and Pakistan, we are encouraged by reports of resumption of the official dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi, and of a possible meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this September.
We believe, however, that it is also time for important gestures by the political leadership of the two countries to inject fresh momentum into the fragile peace process. An early visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, would be one such gesture. While such a visit should not be burdened with the expectation of a grand strategic bargain at this point, as many summits tend to be, it should signal the need for genuine reconciliation. Dr. Singh’s visit to Islamabad should then be followed by a summit between the two heads of government meeting in New Delhi.
Both visits can be preceded or followed by a meeting in Islamabad of the Indian External Affairs Minister with his Pakistani counterpart. This would provide space for confidence-building between the two countries and allow them to frame a working agenda for ongoing talks on a calendar of unresolved and upcoming issues. There is a small window of opportunity in bilateral relations — the leadership of the two countries must seize this opening.
The power of democracy
India prides itself as the world’s largest democracy, while the people of Pakistan recently affirmed their thumping support for democracy in the face of terrorist threats. An elected government has handed over power to a new one in Islamabad after a national election. A resumption of official visits at this historic moment would signal the triumph of democracy in the region.
Unlike in the past, there is consensus among most major political parties in Pakistan on the need for improving relations with India. The outgoing federal government in Islamabad which leads the parliamentary opposition today, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is a strong proponent for talks. This gives Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opportune space to consult other political parties (including the PPP, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement) to forge a national consensus on the need for reconciliation with India, and the leadership of key parties in settling on a viable timeline of confidence building measures. To build support for an ongoing dialogue that pivots to peace, Dr. Singh must also lead an all-party leaders’ delegation to Pakistan. The principal opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will likely not oppose such a move. Some of the boldest initiatives towards building peace in the region were supported by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his term as leader of the previous BJP-led coalition government.
Checking a drift
Indian concerns about the lack of progress regarding the trial in Pakistan of the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai mirror worries in Pakistan over the lack of progress over several bilateral issues. Many issues seemed to have been agreed upon, yet have defied closure. Clearly, the current strategic stalemate has gone past its function of calming down post-crisis turbulence; instead, it has begun to reinforce a dangerous drift away from the will and momentum needed for peace.
The view that these issues should not stand in the way of sustained dialogue is widely shared among Track II interlocutors between India and Pakistan. In fact, last month, at the 12th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue which brought together parliamentarians, former government officials, generals, diplomats, academia and journalists from both our countries, the joint view was to press for moving away from the “pause” button and look for a new normal.
Moving forward
The menu for action forward on a reset does not need any reinvention. The recommendations from this round of the dialogue included the need to resume the back-channel dialogue on Kashmir; active, not pro forma, revival of the ministerial level India-Pakistan joint commission created in 1983, which should become a mandated official space for old and new problems to be cleared, such as visa, travel and communication, and the need for periodic dialogue between the two ministries of defence.
Leaps of faith have played a great role in building peace throughout history. Conservative and risk-averse bureaucracies have, however, systematically and deliberately underplayed the importance of such exchanges. After nearly 66 years of bilateral conflict, the resumption of dialogue at multiple levels, from the top to the joint secretary level, could have a tremendous impact on a region bracing for multiple transitions.
Islamabad has signalled more than once its interest in taking visits and negotiations forward. New Delhi has reciprocated but stopped short. It is time Dr. Singh moved away from the Cold War straitjacket India-Pakistan relations have fallen into, and infused a new sense of hope to the people of the subcontinent.
For real reconciliation between the people of both countries, gestures are critically important. Indeed, contrary to orthodox wisdom in India, unilateral overtures towards Pakistan need not be a political liability. The recent India Poll conducted jointly by the Australia India Institute and the Lowy Institute for International Policy revealed that while an overwhelming majority of Indians identify Pakistan as a threat, nearly 90 per cent agree that ordinary people in both countries want peace, and a similar number believe that a real improvement in relations requires courageous leadership in both countries. More important, nearly 80 per cent felt India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan.
The findings suggested that if Dr. Singh were to visit Pakistan and take the lead on a dialogue, he would have popular support at home.
We believe that the time has come for the political class in both countries to make important choices that will spur peace for both India and Pakistan.
- Co-authored with Sherry Rehman
(Source: The Hindu)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Of three crucial elections and a withdrawal

The region is headed for either a phase of unprecedented violence and conflict, or the crises that we see unfolding could become an opportunity.

THE next 16 months will be critical for South Asia. We could see the region descend into chaos, or it could prove to be a turning point in the history of the region. Much will depend on the India-Pakistan dialogue and whether Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif are able to arrive at a modus vivendi when they meet in September on the sidelines of the meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Three critical elections and one withdrawal are slated to happen next year and they will all impact on the region decisively. The most inclusive and least controversial will be the Indian general election, sometime in the spring of 2014. It is all but certain that Narendra Modi will be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, and the election potentially the most polarising in India’s history. While there is a robust debate on the Gujarat model of development (particularly invigorated by the recent exchanges between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati), few have any idea on what would be Modi’s foreign policy were he to become the Prime Minister.

Will the foreign policy be driven by primarily his economic agenda of accelerating growth, or will it propelled by a fierce nationalistic weltanschauung? Or will it be a combination thereof? How would a Modi government relate to India’s smaller neighbours, and what view would it take of Pakistan and Afghanistan? Clearly, Modi has made some pronouncements, and even written a letter to Dr Manmohan Singh on the Sir Creek dispute, where he said: “I would earnestly request you to stop this dialogue with Pakistan at once and Sir Creek should not be handed over to Pakistan.”

But there is a difference between being a Chief Minister of a state and being the Prime Minister of the Republic of India. Even the most hardline leaders have had their policies tempered after assuming power, and I have even heard many Pakistanis suggest that only a BJP Prime Minister, whose nationalism would not be in doubt, would be able to make peace with their country. Recall too Modi’s first public speech, after being elevated as the BJP’s election campaign committee chief at Madhopur in Punjab — on Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's death anniversary — where he invoked Atal Behari Vajpayee and talked about the need to heal Kashmir’s wounds.

The uncertainties of the region are compounded by the rather dark future of Afghanistan, which could witness a civil war even before the next election slated for April 2014 and before the withdrawal of the forces by NATO and other partner countries later next year. Afghanistan is being seen in zero-sum terms by India and Pakistan, and this could become a dangerous theatre for their rivalry. Even now the signs are ominous. The US is trying to cobble a deal with the Taliban with the assistance of Pakistan, while President Hamid Karzai views this, not without reason, as a plot to undermine him and sees India as probably his only remaining ally. And remember that Karzai, who is often vilified in the Pakistani and American media, is one of the shrewdest politicians that I have met, and may spring a surprise by hastening the withdrawal of the NATO forces before the elections and by implementing his own succession plan.

And finally we have the elections in Jammu and Kashmir towards the end of 2014. There is no doubt in my mind that these elections too will be a turning point. The bleak scenario is of increased militancy aided by an unstable Pakistan, a chaotic Afghanistan and increasingly alienated young people of the state, in which the elections are reduced to a farce with no one outside the mainstream participating and with a very low voter turnout. The state could then witness another decade or so of grave violent conflict. Or the elections could become the most inclusive in the history of the state and lead to enduring peace and stability.

In sum, the region is headed for either a phase of unprecedented violence and conflict or the crises that we see unfolding could become an opportunity. If the latter is what we want to see, it is critical for New Delhi and Islamabad to immediately resume the official dialogue, and strengthen the back channel through the two designated interlocutors: Shayryar Khan and Satish Lambha. This dialogue must include sustained discussions on the future of Afghanistan. In addition, as the Chaophraya Track II dialogue recommended recently, it is important to revive the ministerial level India-Pakistan joint commission created in 1983; and there is urgent need for a dialogue between the two Ministries of Defence with adequate military representation.

Simultaneously, there is critical need to address the continuing trust deficit between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi. Not through tactical diversionary measures, but through substantive peace-building measures. Indeed, if and when they meet in New York, the two Prime Ministers must recognise that any further drift in bilateral relations will be dangerous for the future of the entire region.

(Source: The Tribune)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Story of Telegana: Why India Needs Smaller States

Despite protests, India is right to create smaller states like the new state of Telegana. Speaking on ABC Radio National, Professor Mattoo said the decision to carve out a new state of Telegana from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh could be seen as a political maneuver by India’s ruling Congress Party to win votes in areas that would come under the new state. However, he told Radio National’s Waleed Aly that the principle that smaller states can be better managed than massive ones is a sound one.

You can hear Professor Mattoo’s views on the issue on ABC Radio National’s website at: 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How the world looks from India

The Government of India may have rolled out the red carpet for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who arrived in New Delhi yesterday, but popular opinion in India is deeply sceptical of Chinese ambitions in Asia and its policy towards India. This is the clear verdict of arguably the most comprehensive survey of Indian public opinion in recent years. But while there is great warmth for the United States, and discomfort at China’s rise, the percentage of Indians who believe India should cooperate with China at the global level equals those who support plans to contain China. India Poll 2013, the findings of which are being released today, was carried out late last year, much before last month’s incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh.
Predictably, there continues to be deep concern within India about possible terrorist attacks from Pakistan as well as the motives of the Pakistan Army, but a courageous, reconciliatory move towards Islamabad by the Indian Prime Minister would invite widespread domestic support.
India Poll 2013: Facing the Future is a survey of opinion of 1,233 adults, a representative cross-section of Indians from all sectors of society; interviews were conducted face-to-face in India between August 30 and October 15, 2012. The poll was commissioned by the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne and the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and the fieldwork conducted by a reputable international polling company.
China and threat factors
Not surprisingly, Indians see Pakistan and China as the biggest foreign threats to their nation. Only nine per cent of Indians believe China does not pose a threat, while 84 per cent believe it does, with 60 per cent identifying it as a major threat. Seventy per cent of the respondents agreed that China’s aim is to dominate Asia. The responses were roughly equal, however, between those who believed that India should join with other countries to limit China’s influence (65 per cent), and those who believed India should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world together (64 per cent). In fact, some Indians clearly hold both views at once, an interesting sign of the tensions or indeed duality within Indian foreign policy expectations.
From all those who had identified China as a threat, over 80 per cent agreed that threat was for the following reasons: China possesses nuclear weapons, it was competing with India for resources in other countries, it was strengthening its relations with other countries in the Indian Ocean Region, and it was claiming sovereignty on parts of India’s territory. Only a slightly smaller number believed that the threat was because of China’s stronger military, its bigger economy, its military assistance to Pakistan, and because it does not “show respect” to India.
On a scale
This does not mean, however, that Indians do not want better relations with China; 63 per cent of the respondents want bilateral ties to be stronger. On a scale of 0 to 100, in terms of feelings towards a country (with 100 meaning very warm, and 0 very cold) of the 22 countries listed, China ranked right in the middle along with Brazil, at 44 degrees; the United States, Singapore, Japan, Australia, France, Nepal, Russia, Great Britain, Sri Lanka and South Africa ranked higher.
While the findings may suggest a schizophrenic Indian attitude towards China, the message is relatively straightforward. Indians are deeply apprehensive about what they perceive as China’s assertive or even aggressive attitude towards India, fearful of its policies in the region and anxious of its growing capabilities. And yet, while Indians generally hope that relations with China will become better and with little ill feeling towards the Chinese people, there is a lack of clarity on how India should respond to a Rising China. Should India partner with China to create a united front among Asia’s rising giants, if possible? Or be part of a balancing coalition to ensure that China’s rise remains peaceful and not destabilising at a time when there are widespread concerns that Beijing is aspiring for a dominant role in Asia? It is this policy dilemma which New Delhi needs to resolve. Likewise, Chinese diplomacy clearly faces a major challenge in terms of Indian public perceptions.
On Pakistan, the findings are along predictable lines, but with a significant counter-intuitive finding. Ninety-four per cent of Indians believe Pakistan is a threat, of which 78 per cent consider it a major threat. Of all those who identified Pakistan as a threat, over 90 per cent did so because of the possibility of terrorist attacks from Pakistan, the Pakistan military’s animosity to India, its possession of nuclear weapons, and because it claims sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan ranks lowest in terms of warmth of feeling in the list of 22 countries.
And yet, despite great scepticism about Pakistan, 89 per cent of Indians agree that ordinary people in both India and Pakistan want peace. Eighty-seven per cent agreed that a big improvement in India-Pakistan relations requires courageous leadership in both countries and 76 per cent felt that India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan. Seventy-two per cent felt that trade and economic cooperation would bring peace between the two countries, while 67 per cent felt that without an agreement on Kashmir, peace would not be possible
In sum, the findings suggest that if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were to have a summit meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and take the lead on a dialogue with Pakistan, he would have popular support. While a grand reconciliation with Pakistan had been central to Dr. Singh’s vision of South Asia, he seems to have abandoned the goal for fear of a political backlash. India Poll 2013indicates that even in the last year of the present government, peace with Pakistan is an opportunity worth pursuing.
Ties with U.S.
At 62 degrees, Indians feel most warmly towards the U.S. in the list of 22 countries surveyed. Eighty-three per cent feel that India’s relations with the U.S. are strong, while only four per cent think they are weak, 75 per cent want them even stronger and only one per cent want them weaker.
During most of the Cold War and beyond, suspicion of America was a striking feature of Indian, particularly elite, opinion, even while the U.S. became a “land of opportunity” for Indian professionals. American sanctions after the 1998 nuclear tests further compounded this feeling. In January 2009, however, after the U.S.-India nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh surprised many by telling President George W. Bush: “The people of India deeply love you.” India Poll 2013 confirms the affection the people of India have for the United States, if not for a single President.
-Co-written with Rory Medcalf
Source: The Hindu

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I found my place in Tihar Jail

Thirty years ago, in May 1983, I spent nearly 10 days at Delhi’s Tihar jail for the first and, till now, the only time in my life. With me were several hundred young men and women, many of whom are today leaders across the globe: including diplomats, professors, Members of Parliament, scientists, and editors. The Tihar experience was transformational. My daughter’s school in Melbourne advertises itself to current and potential students with a pithy slogan: “I found my place in Methodist Ladies College.” Thirty years later, I can rightfully say: I found my place in Tihar jail!

I was 20, at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University studying for a Masters in International Studies. Like hundreds of others, JNU was our first exposure to the “real” India. JNU had a comprehensive policy of affirmative action that allowed students from all over India to be admitted, especially those who came from socially or economically challenged backgrounds. Deprivation Points, they were called, in an age of less politically correct vocabulary. Even those like me, who came from relatively affluent backgrounds, had a better chance of getting in because I came from Srinagar, cocooned in the Kashmir valley, and not from a public school in an urban metropolis.

Imagine then a university campus in the early 1980s, almost in the centre of New Delhi, inhabiting thousands of acres of land within the folds of the oldest mountain ranges in India: the Aravallis (and its beautifully wild flora and fauna), with just a few thousand students drawn from virtually the length and breadth of India, and with very little in common except a thirst for knowledge and for change. And almost completely isolated from the city and the world outside. A recipe for disaster, you might say, a Lord of the Flies in-the-making. And yet the outcome was anything but dysfunctional.

As Pushpesh Pant, one of our most inspiring teachers, was to later write:
“Excitement was palpable and infectious in the air. The milieu was open, hierarchies were abhorred and the team at the helm was a perfect one. Handpicked bright youngsters were invited to join interdisciplinary departments and the semester system adopted was refreshingly different from the end of the term all-important exams guaranteed to stifle originality and cripple the spirit.”

And much of the idealism of the faculty — the quest for excellence blended with social relevance — was transmitted to the students, who believed that they could change the world: democratically, non-violently and together. This was post-Emergency India, and even though Indira Gandhi had returned as Prime Minister, the power of ideas and the power of the people seemed unstoppable. The nights were long: as General Body Meetings flowed into informal discussions over endless cups of chai at Ganga or Nilgiri dhabha on issues that really mattered: Was there really an “epistemological rupture” in Marx’s thought? Did Utsa Patnaik get the “mode of production” debate right or was it Jairus Banaji, and, in any case, wasn’t he the only Indian who really understood Marxism? Wasn’t John Rawls just a liberal reactionary thinker? And could anyone really understand Gayatri Spivak, and did Deconstruction really matter?

Everyone who had a heart fell in love, and out of it, over readings of the romantic-revolutionary poet Pablo Neruda at Parthasarthy Rock, or singing Sahir’s songs from Pyasa.Student violence was unknown, gender sensitivity was an absolute axiom with women confident to walk alone at any time of the day or night.

The Soviet Union had intervened in Afghanistan but the walls mostly said “Down with American Imperialism”. The National Students Union of India (the student wing of the Congress) and the Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad (affiliated to the RSS) had barely a presence, although the Students Federation of India (SFI) and the All India Students Federation (AISF) — student wings of the CPI (M) and the CPI — had suffered a major jolt with the Lohiaite Samata Yuvajan Sabha (SYS) and the Free Thinkers winning the 1982 elections. “Study and Struggle”, was the guiding mantra even for non-Marxists, with everyone being reminding constantly: “If politics decides your future, you must decide what your politics should be.”

But the days were too short! Almost everything changed in 1983. The journey to Tihar began as a protest by students at a perceived injustice, but transformed into an aggressive movement which led to an unprecedented divide between the faculty and the student body. Everyone has his or her version of 1983, much like Kurosowa’s Rashomon. And you can trivialise it or philosophise it, but you cannot easily forget those days in Delhi’s scorching summer. A student had been suspended from the hostel without a proper inquiry; the students’ union restored the room to him, after breaking the “official” lock. Two of the office bearers were rusticated, as a consequence. The “inhumane” gherao of the Vice Chancellor and the Rector that followed was difficult to justify. But when the police entered campus on that fateful night, the ceremony of innocence, as they say, was truly drowned. JNU was no longer the sanctuary where every idea, every thought, every identity could find a place.

We thought we were voluntarily “courting arrest” as a symbol of protest, and believed totally in the righteousness of our cause, only to wake up next morning in the jail to the news that we were charged for “attempt to murder” and “rioting” by a Delhi government wanting to “clean up” the campus of “romantic revolutionaries”.

The experience of Tihar was itself life-changing. It was as much about recognising the virtues of idealism, as well as its limits. About recognising the importance of freedom, as well as its limits. About recognising the power of the Indian state, and the limits of resistance. And, above all, about how confinement can, initially, cripple you psychologically, but once the initial distress has been overcome, it can be truly liberating and can help you to come to terms with your inner self. We were all bailed out, the charges dropped in a few years, and most of us went on to return to our petit bourgeois world of careers, and families and ambition. But who could ever forget May 1983? You can take me out of Tihar, but not the Tihar out of me.

(Source: The Hindu)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New poll finds Australia well liked in India - Prof. Mattoo's take on the poll in this ABC Radio National interview

The spate of violent attacks on Indian students in 2009 and 2010 greatly affected Australia's reputation in India at the time.
Since then, efforts have been made by government, tourist and cultural bodies to repair the damage, and some new research appears to show it's having an effect.
The India-Australia Poll, a collaboration between the Lowy Institute and the Australia-India Institute, surveyed over 1200 Indian adults and found that despite bad press over student issues, Australia is well liked in India.

Prof. Mattoo speaks to ABC Radio National's Fran Kelly about the crucial findings of this ground breaking poll. To listen in, click on the link below:

It’s not that complicated, mate

What do Indians think of the world outside their borders? How safe do they feel? How seriously do they take the challenges from the neighbourhood and beyond, especially from China and Pakistan?
Late last year, The Lowy Institute for International Policy and the Australia-India Institute commissioned one of the most comprehensive surveys of Indian public opinion on key foreign policy issues and critical challenges of governance. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 1,233 adults, and questions asked in seven languages in cities, towns and villages throughout most of India and at all levels of society.
Today we are releasing, in Sydney, the first part of those findings, relating to how Indians view Australia. On May 20, we will release, in New Delhi, the rest of the startling findings of this ground-breaking poll.
Getting over past
The most important message from today’s initial poll results is that the Australia-India relationship is an idea whose time has arrived. That there was strong convergence of values and interests between the two countries had been intuitively obvious, but the bad press that Australia received over student safety and Canberra’s refusal to export uranium to India (a decision now overturned) had strained ties.
That chapter seems almost over, but there is no room for complacency. Findings of the poll suggest that Canberra and New Delhi need to continue investing in the relationship, especially in correcting popular perceptions amongst Indians about how they are treated in Australia.
Overall, the survey reveals strongly positive perceptions of Australia in India. Indians ranked Australia in the top four nations towards which they feel most warmly. Only the United States, Japan and Singapore ranked more highly. Today, Indians feel warmer towards Australia than towards countries in Europe, including Britain or India’s fellow so-called BRICS.
No less importantly, Australia is seen as a country that functions well and is worth emulating. Sixty per cent of Indians think it would be better if India’s government and society worked more like Australia’s. Japan and Singapore rank roughly equal to Australia. Only the United States ranks better at 78 per cent. Other countries, including Britain, China and Germany, do not fare as well as governance models for India.
A majority of Indians also see many good qualities in Australia and appreciate Australian values. This suggests some reassuring resilience to Australia’s reputation based on its core strengths as a developed, democratic, multicultural and egalitarian nation.
But it would be a grave mistake for the Australian and indeed the Indian Government to interpret these results as reason to relax about the bilateral relationship. For the poll also shows lingering concerns about the kind of welcome Indians receive Down Under.
Most disturbingly, 61 per cent of Indians still think the attacks against their countrymen here in 2009 and 2010 were driven mainly by racism — even though it’s likely this was an element in only a small proportion of those crimes. Sixty-two per cent still consider Australia a dangerous place for Indian students, although 53 per cent say it is safer than it was a few years ago, and 49 per cent regard Australia as generally a safe country.
Trade links
Of course, there is much to celebrate. Relations between India and Australia have deepened dramatically over the past decade. India’s economic growth and its burgeoning demand for energy, resources and education have propelled India to become Australia’s fourth-largest export market.
People of Indian origin have become one of its largest migrant communities. Both governments have stressed common security interests and now recognise a shared Indo-Pacific destiny.
And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hard-fought victory in December 2011 reversing Labour’s uranium ban has removed a barrier of mistrust. Incidentally, 70 per cent Indians think selling uranium is important to Australia’s relations with India, while only five per cent think it is not important.
There is bipartisan Australian support for engaging India. The Liberal Party, under Tony Abbott, is committed to pursuing an even more robust relationship.
The poll data suggests a healthy pragmatism among Indians, as well as respect for a fellow democracy, which Australia and India ought to harness. More than half of Indians believe Australia is a good place to live and to get work. About the same proportion see Australia as a country well-disposed to India; while 59 per cent agree that the two countries have similar national security interests and 56 per cent go a step further to agree we could be good security partners in the Indian Ocean.
And ordinary Indians seem to understand that Australia is becoming indispensable for their country’s development: 60 per cent see Australia as a good supplier of energy and other resources, 57 per cent think it supplies good agricultural produce, and 61 per cent agree it is a country known for excellence in science.
But there remains work to be done is in correcting Indian perceptions about what Australians think of them. Indians are divided on this front: 51 per cent agree that Australia is a country with welcoming people, while 26 per cent disagree. Indians from large cities are more positive, with 71 per cent agreeing that Australia is a country with welcoming people.
One promising discovery is that young and urban Indians tend to be more positive about Australia, and in a nation with more than 600 million people under the age of 25, that remains an enormous opportunity.
With this poll, there is now a measurable scorecard to help political leaders and diplomats in New Delhi and Canberra, along with universities, business and civil society keep lifting their game in a crucial bilateral relationship.
 - Co authored with Rory Medcalf

(Source: The Hindu)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

India beyond the clichés: we've got some catching up to do

As Canberra begins to translate its vision of “Australia in the Asian Century” into reality, it is reassuring that a renewed focus on the continent has bipartisan support. Last week, the government announced its implementation plan to act on the recommendations of the White Paper released by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in October 2012.

While the Significant Investor Visa Scheme has attracted some controversy, the plan is – for the most part – thoughtful. For instance, the AsiaBound grants program and the proposal to further assist university students wanting to study in Asia, as well as the Asian Century Business Engagement Plan to assist businesses to “harness the opportunities emerging in the region” are commendable initiatives.

Earlier, on March 22, the Menzies Research Centre hosted a policy roundtable at Parliament House, Canberra, on the Coalition's proposed New Colombo Plan. This plan is, inter alia, an ambitious initiative to encourage Australian students to undertake study in universities in the Asia-Pacific region.

On the occasion of the round-table  the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, signalled an unusual consensus on the new engagement with Asia, even in these otherwise Manichean political times: “[S]o much that happens in this building is fierce and partisan. So much that happens in this building is all about the large egos of the people who strut and fret their hour upon the stage but hopefully what we do today is about the 'better angels of our nature', it is about things that will make a lasting difference to our country and our world.”

These initiatives are undoubtedly encouraging and do suggest that no matter who is in government in September, Asia will firmly remain at the centre of the policy radar screen. What is critical, however, is to recognise that the real promise of the Asian Century will be realised only if Australia shows patience and a readiness to provide the substantial budgetary support necessary to build the capability to engage with the main protagonists of the Asian century.

This is particularly true of India: the world's largest democracy and federation; the third largest global economy (by gross domestic product in purchasing power parity terms) with a growing and almost insatiable appetite for natural resources; home to over a billion people with the largest pool of young human capital needing to be trained, skilled and educated; one of the biggest markets across segments and a hub of research and “frugal” innovation; and yet continuing to be the land of the starkest contradictions and diversity on the planet.

Doing business with India, political or economic, eludes any quick fix or magic mantra (as Australian governments and businesses know only too well from present and past experience) and it requires, at the very least, a sustained and long-term commitment to creating a cadre of India specialists – in the public services, universities, in business and the workforce – who can interpret the country, work as a bridge to what should be one of the most important objectives for Australia in the Asian Century.

For make no mistake, Commonwealth, curry, cricket and the English language are red herrings. These commonalities will do little to help businesses, political leaders or even academics engage meaningfully with India.

Australia's understanding of India today, with all its complexities, is severely limited. Until about three decades ago, Australia could claim to be one of the principal centres in the world for the study of India, in various disciplines, and some of the most exciting work on India came from Australian universities. Australia would have already been India-capable if that had been sustained. That, however, did not happen as departments were closed and academics retrenched.

There are signs of a renaissance in Indian studies, particularly in Victoria. The Australia India Institute, funded by both Canberra and the state government and based at the University of Melbourne, is a concrete expression of this trend, with its teaching, research, public policy and outreach programs. Building an India-capable Australia requires more states, territories, businesses and universities to come together to forge new partnerships on India.

There are already some good examples. Victoria has developed a well thought out and nuanced strategy of long-term engagement with India; it has provided doctoral scholarships to the best and brightest of Indian students; its annual trade missions expose Victorian businesses to the opportunities India offers; it convenes an annual roundtable of vice-chancellors from India and the state to promote research collaboration; it has partnered the University of Melbourne in sponsoring a professorial chair in contemporary Indian studies; and, together with the federal government, it has provided significant support to the Australia India Institute. This model of partnership must cut across states and territories if we are to create an India-capable Australia.

In a recent interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industry, the vice- president of the ruling Congress party, and a likely candidate for the prime ministership, Rahul Gandhi, described India as resembling a “beehive”; complex, decentralised, noisy but bustling with energy and determination. The world – he suggested – expects simple answers from India, which will never happen.

But India, he argued, is a training ground of tomorrow's complex networked world. Anyone who succeeds there will acquire a competitive advantage because the business practices that emerge from the complexities of India will have a global robustness.

This is the Indian reality that Australia has to cope with in the Asian century, and it demands a systematic, long-term investment. “India”, one of Australia's most formidable diplomats once said, “tests your patience”. But as he wisely concluded, “it always rewards the patient”.

(Source: The Canberra Times)