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Indian Press On Blaming The Woman For Her Travails, Different Perceptions of Anti-CAA And Farmers' Agitations, Hindu Consolidation Against Muslims And Assault On US Capitol: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 January 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

19 January 2021

• Quintessential Misogynist Views; Blame The Woman For Her Travails

By N.C. Asthana

•  Why The Anti-CAA And Farmers' Agitations Have Been Perceived Differently

By Ajay Gudavarthy

• Hindu Consolidation Against Muslims Is The Political Equivalent In India For The American Call, Open Or Subtle, For White Supremacy

By Rajmohan Gandhi

• Decoding India’s Move In Kabul

By Avinash Paliwal

• Assault On US Capitol Was Based On White Supremacist Beliefs That Has Marked Trump’s Politics

By Sanjib Baruah

• Biden Moment Offers Delhi An Opportunity To Elevate Defence Cooperation To A Higher Level

By C. Raja Mohan

• Thoughts On Democracy As Trump Exits, Finally…

By Sunanda K Datta Ray


Quintessential Misogynist Views; Blame The Woman For Her Travails

By N.C. Asthana

19 January 2021


Representative image. Photo: Reuters/B Mathur


Recently, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan suggested that the age of marriage for women be increased. On August 15, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech announced that the Central government had set up a committee and a task force to examine the possibility of increasing the age of marriage for women from the present 18 years to 21 years.

Chouhan also said a new system would be put in place, under which any woman moving out of her house for her work will register herself at the local police station, and she will be tracked for her safety. A helpline number will be provided to such women, enabling them to call for help in case of distress. The installation of panic buttons in public transportation will be made compulsory.

The minimum age of marriage as 18 years for women and 21 years for men was prescribed by the 1978 amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (popularly known as the Sarda Act), essentially to curb child marriages and consequent sexual or other abuse of children.

Before the amendment, it was 16 and 18 years for women and men, respectively. Section 5 (iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954 conform to this amendment, whereas, in Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty (defined as 15 years in the case of Muhammad Ibrahim Rashid vs Atkia Begum and Anr.) is considered valid. The Supreme Court has yet to clarify its position on this vis-à-vis the Sarda Act.

The scientific argument

Early pregnancy is generally believed to be associated with increased infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR), etc. However, as most readers would be surprised to learn, how early is “really early” has not been scientifically determined.

A comprehensive study by the National Research Council (US) Panel on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Childbearing involving as many as 53,625 subjects debunks popular ‘governmental’ notions. “Although a relationship between an early first birth and the child’s health at birth has been found, this appears to be a result of less than adequate prenatal and perinatal care rather than biology, since it appears to disappear in special hospital populations that receive excellent health care.”

An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study of adolescent pregnancies in Bangladesh had also found child health to be linked to poverty and malnutrition.

Now, if a girl is malnourished before marriage because of poverty and/or gender-based discrimination in her family, she is likely to remain so after marriage also, unless she happens to get married into a family with greatly different economic status and values, irrespective of her age at the time of marriage.

This means that while there may be valid social reasons to fix a minimum legal age of marriage, from a scientific point of view, it is essentially arbitrary in character.

The logic of economic maturity

Marriage requires three kinds of maturities: biological, psychological and economic. We have already addressed the issue of biological maturity.

As for psychological maturity, if boys and girls of 18 years of age are mature enough to elect the leaders of their country on which the future of millions depends, they must be mature enough to address the issues of their families too on which the future of only a few people depends. Otherwise, the inevitable conclusion will be that voting age had been lowered deliberately to exploit the gullibility of the youth.

That leaves us with the question of the age of economic maturity, which is directly linked with education.

In its Educational Statistics at a Glance, the government itself maintains that on an average, they expect children to finish their senior secondary education (Class IX-X) by 17 years, and higher education by 23 years of age.

The dropout rate for boys and girls at the secondary level (14-15 years) is 20.4% and 19.2%, respectively. Among boys, the dropouts have to enter the job market anyway, even if the pay and growth prospects of their educational level are poor. The job prospects for a child with even senior secondary education (Class XI-XII) are also poor.

This means that economically, they would remain in a bad shape even after attaining 21 years of age. Given the high unemployment rate in the country, even if they marry after 21 years of age, they are likely to continue depending partly on their parents. Thus, there is little to believe that our youth become economically mature by the prescribed minimum age of marriage.

And, trying to link age of marriage with marital rape is fatuous because this could happen anytime, anywhere.

Governments must not control private lives of people

A government must govern, that is, concern itself with larger issues; it should not start micromanaging the private lives of the people or encroach upon their freedom.

For a social issue like child marriage with girls as young as four to seven years of age, as it was prevalent in our country in the colonial era and earlier, the government’s duty ended with making a point that it was inherently a bad thing (malum in se) and hence needed to be outlawed.

However, governments should not start dictating personal choices beyond a point. In Lata Singh vs State of U.P. & Another (2006), the Supreme Court had held that once a person became a major he or she could marry whosoever he/she liked. The Karnataka high court recently reiterated it.

The situation for every family is different and applying the same yardstick for all of them is irrational. In a traditional business family, for example, if a boy is not obliged to seek any job but will certainly take care of his family business/shop, higher education is not relevant for him because his economic security is guaranteed anyway.

If he marries a girl who is not interested in pursuing higher education or working, it does not matter even if both are married at 18. It is their choice, so be it. On the other hand, there are boys without any family support who are able to land a decent job only at the age of 30, marry at 32 and produce a child at 36.

Moreover, “prescribing” different age of marriages for boys and girls is inherently discriminatory and patriarchal in character. Since they complete their education in the same age bracket, there is no reason to differentiate. In 2018, the Law Commission had also suggested making it 18 for both sexes and argued that that the unequal age prescribed for marriage has no basis and it “contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands.”

In view of the above, there is no good reason for increasing the minimum legal age for marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. While the Supreme Court has yet to clarify on how can the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 be reconciled with the Muslim Personal Law, it is apprehended that the ultimate target of this exercise could be the Muslim community and their bête noire, the Uniform Civil Code.

Instead of unnecessarily raking up fresh controversies, it would be better if the government focused on enforcing the existing law to curb child marriages in states like Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The absurd idea of ‘tracking working women’

A state which fails to provide security to women by striking the fear of the law in the minds of criminals and potential criminals keeps on indulging in such gimmicks as face-saving devices. That the police’s top brass agreed to such a hare-brained idea is alarming.

First, in the name of trying to provide security to women, they cannot commit an illegal act. Asking a working woman to register at the local police station does not have any sanction in law and is a blatant violation of her right to privacy. For example, in the name of protecting women from domestic violence, the state cannot deploy cops in their bedrooms!

Second, the idea fails to understand the mechanics of crimes against women. Working women are not the preferred target of sexual offenders.

Third, given the myriad statutory commitments of the police and their limited workforce, it is simply not feasible to keep track of so many working women. Madhya Pradesh has just about 125 cops per lakh population against a national average of 147 and a very high crime rate.

Fourth, how would they do it, even if by some miracle, the scheme were held to be legally valid? Can they waste the already stretched workforce to do it? There are no technical means of doing it. They cannot use GPS monitors of the type they use in the US for sex offenders, for that would be utterly illegal.

Fifth, in spite of several apps like Himmat having been launched, their efficacy is yet to be proven. There is little to believe that MP’s panic buttons and helpline numbers would accomplish what the already existing systems could not.

This scheme of the Madhya Pradesh government reflects their quintessential misogynist views; blame the woman for her travails; blame her for everything she does; and if nothing works, shackle her. The desire to keep a woman in her place is commonly reflected in two things. The first is to restrict what she wears; the second is to restrict her movements.

They want that women should not be found at any place other than her home and workplace, thereby imposing illegal restrictions on her. The ulterior motive of such an idea is to blame the woman if anything untoward happens to her at any place, which is not the shortest path connecting her place of work to her home. They will say that she had “strayed” (indirectly casting aspersions on her character) and hence she was subjected to a crime – so convenient!


N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal.


Why the Anti-CAA and Farmers' Agitations Have Been Perceived Differently

By Ajay Gudavarthy

19 January 2021


Farmers' protest and the anti-CAA movement. Photo: Reuters Illustration: The Wire


 India has been witnessing street protests after the ‘awe and shock’ that the current regime pursued in its first few years during which mass protests were almost non-existent.

Beginning with the students of various universities, lead by those in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) against fee hikes, and then followed by massive protests against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), we have seen mass action accelerate. Neither of them, however, were able to push the Narendra Modi government on to the backfoot as the current farmers’ movement has managed to. It has forced the government into holding talks, which has not happened before. Though the talks could merely be a delaying tactic, the farmers are also playing along and using the optics to further expose the pro-corporate bias of the BJP.

Initially, the BJP tried the same tricks that it usually does. Speaking at cross purposes, and then branding the farmers as Khalistanis and worse, the BJP tried to undermine and ridicule them; none of this worked. Farmers have managed to gain larger support from the society at large, including the urban middle classes. In a sense, this is unprecedented. In Punjab, the support came from across classes: film stars, bureaucrats and Sikh Diaspora. This gave the farmers’ movement a new moral valency.

The narrative was about food security of India. It was not about Sikhs or Jats or the interests of privileged farmers, but also farm workers who belong to the Dalit community. Perhaps, the symbolism of being the annadata can only be paralleled by Gandhi’s salt satyagraha, which utilised the symbolism of use of salt across castes and classes. Today, the uniting symbolism is of farmers as producers of food.

It has also brought back the old binary of ‘Bharat versus India’, and it is very clear to which side the government’s bias tilts. It appears that in the popular consciousness, nationalism continues to have its original roots in the country’s agrarian cultural ethos. One cannot be against the farmer and pro-Bharat Mata. The BJP built its narrative on local cultural idiom but at the same time, remained steadfastly pro-corporate. This combination worked as long as the interests of the local did not directly clash with those of the big corporates. Nationalist discourse could also not be turned against the farmers as many of the soldiers on the front come from the same farming families. What is even more intriguing was that the farmers did not hesitate to call for the release of all political prisoners, including those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Neither the student protests nor the anti-CAA agitation could gain this kind of widespread moral acceptability. The current regime did not hesitate to use force against the students and anti-CAA activists in Jamia. A series of arrests followed but there was less than anticipated public response against that action.

The larger appeal of the farmers’ protest

While the anti-CAA activists too drew on protecting democracy and constitution, it did not evoke widespread sympathy and trust from the non-Muslim population. It could well be argued that there has been sustained propaganda against the Muslim community and with them being singled out, how could they produce a discourse that has a larger appeal?

But is that also not true of the farmers’ movement? That it was being led by Jat Sikhs from Punjab? The government did try branding them as Khalistanis, and Sikhs too have a history of demanding a separate nation, yet the regime did not succeed in isolating them the way the anti-CAA protests got reduced to the question of citizenship for the Muslims.

The anti-CAA protests began with a wider agenda but got gradually reduced to the issue of citizenship of the Muslims. The farmers’ movement, on the other hand, began as an exclusive issue of the farmers and has expanded to include a range of activists, including the Left unions, Dalits, women and other political organisations. It looks likely that the farmers’ movement will reach out to even larger social groups and will remain committed to their demands against the big corporates.

Why is it so that while larger and differentiated social groups and organisations are able to read their demands alongside the farmers?

The anti-CAA protests began to be perceived differently the moment Muslim women, children and elderly were on the streets. Bilkis Dadi emerged as the face and message of the movement, as did the elderly Sikh men out in the cold. One cannot totally rule out latent anger or discomfort of the RSS-BJP combine with a Sikh majority state and protest, but try as they did, the ruling dispensation could not create a binary of “national and anti-national” or between Hindus and Sikhs. What succeeded in the context of the anti-CAA protests did not in the context of the Sikh farmers who are participating in the protest.

Farmers refused to be read in the singular, while the anti-CAA movement failed to prevent the protests from being read as those led by and for Muslims. Singularity is always prone to be read in popular consciousness as closer to sectarian claims. There are Muslims too in the farmers’ protest but they are farmers first and Muslims later.

This does leave us with the difficult question of Muslim identity and their legitimate aspirations for representation. Such demands have to be forged in more universal registers, alongside other social demands and in joining organisations fighting for such demands. Minority Muslim politics needs to be part of movements for universal education for all, in the fight for welfare demands and work. In forging such demands, they do this as Muslims but also stand for others and not Muslims alone.

If anti-CAA protests were to be re-ignited after the pandemic, they may have to be different in light of the farmers’ protest. It is in moving beyond this singularity that the anti-CAA protests can avoid the isolation that is sought to be imposed on the movement. This might provide us with a fresh opportunity to reimagine minority politics in India.


Ajay Gudavarthy is an associate professor at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU.


Hindu Consolidation Against Muslims Is The Political Equivalent In India For The American Call, Open Or Subtle, For White Supremacy

By Rajmohan Gandhi

January 19, 2021

Important American events were pushed off stage by videos of the hideous January 6 bid to prevent the US Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. America’s response will be watched with interest, but a focus on what was removed from view is also called for.

Only an hour or so before the Trump-incited attack occurred, Democrats had wrested control of the US Senate: Their nominee, Jon Ossoff, was projected as the winner in the final Georgia runoff. Then, a few hours after the attack, top Republicans in the Senate openly broke with Trump. Enlisting most of their party colleagues, they ensured certification.

Both Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s veteran leader, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, until that moment Trump’s most persuasive ally, told the Senate that the Congress was obligated, by law and the facts, to certify Biden’s win.

Frontally addressing Trump’s repeated falsehood that “thousands of dead men” and “thousands of felons” had voted for Biden, Graham said he had asked to see just 10 Biden votes from dead men or criminals. He hadn’t been shown even one.

“Enough is enough,” Graham shouted in videos anyone can access, “Joe Biden will be the president and Kamala Harris the vice-president.” Possessing no role in auditing the vote, the Senate did not need this assertion. But, bombarded by Trump’s falsehoods, everyday Republicans across America required it.

For true believers in Trump’s infallibility, men like Graham and McConnell no longer matter. They merely join those who should be “hanged”, a list that already includes vice-president Pence. However, frank reiteration of electoral facts helps others who voted Republican to accept the result and move on.

Some Republicans are starting to express another political fact: Their party cannot expect to win future nationwide elections with only the white vote, which in percentage terms is steadily shrinking. In many individual constituencies, on the other hand, as also in several states taken as a whole, white supremacy remains an appealing message, and one which can be conveyed without using precise words.

Like most other states of the American south, Georgia thus far was reliably “Red” (the Republican colour). Currently, the state’s electorate is 52 per cent white, 32 per cent Black, 10 percent Latino and 4.4 percent Asian. Jon Ossoff, a Jew, and Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Black preacher, defeated their Republican rivals because a crucial slice of the white vote plus an overwhelming share of the Black vote came to them.

Black percentages are distinctly larger in the American South, which means that their political future should be bright if, while retaining Black support, Democrats can modestly widen their appeal among Whites and Latinos. Such a goal may not be beyond reach for people like Warnock, Ossoff and Stacey Abrams, the remarkable woman who has steadily bolstered Black voting and the Democratic Party in Georgia.

The state has other strengths. For 33 years until his death last July, John Lewis, the civil rights hero possessing numerous white fans, represented a Georgia constituency in Washington. His autobiography reveals that Lewis had closely studied Gandhi and satyagraha in the 1950s and 1960s. Also closely connected to Georgia and its largest city, Atlanta, were Martin Luther King Jr. and his father. In fact, Warnock, the new senator, is the pastor at the Atlanta church where “Daddy” King and his more famous son had both served.

In any long-term contest in the US between white supremacy and what King saw as his “beloved”, multiracial America, most observers would pick the latter to win. Still, the attack on the Capitol exposed an ugly reality, which is that some or many of the 74 million who voted for Trump (as against the 81 million for Biden) believe that whites own America.

“This is our house,” attackers told the police as they forced their way into the Capitol with Confederate flags, Trump banners, guns, explosives, at least one noose, and “Jesus” placards. Without their permission, Blacks and other non-Whites should not enter or inhabit this house of theirs. Persons like Speaker Nancy Pelosi were trespassers.

In India, Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis, taken together, form the equivalent of America’s Blacks. Counting Dalits and Adivasis in the Hindu fold, Hindu radicals reserve their public ire for Muslims. “Hindu consolidation” against Muslims is the political equivalent in India for the American call, open or subtle, for white supremacy.

Who are the Hindu leaders who will speak frankly to India’s cow vigilantes or “love jihad” militants the way Pence, McConnell and Graham finally spoke on January 6 to America’s Trump backers? If “enough is enough” will not escape the lips of a Narendra Modi, an Amit Shah, an Adityanath or any principal colleague, everyday Hindus must utter the words, in their homes to kith and kin, outside their homes to fellow citizens.

“India belongs as much to her Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Jews, atheists or others as to her Hindus.” With such words, Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar inspired free India to commence an impressive journey. Hindus unable or unwilling today to utter these words are India’s counterparts of the enablers of the January 6 attack on America’s core and constitutional meaning.

But Kamala Harris, Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff and Stacey Abrams too have their Indian counterparts: Leaders from minority communities, and weaker castes, who feel connected also to other Indians, including caste Hindus and high-caste Hindus. When their voices ring out without fear, as also the voices of everyday Hindus offended by the coerciveness of Hindu supremacy, Indian Trumpism will find its nemesis.


Decoding India’s Move In Kabul

By Avinash Paliwal

JAN 19, 2021

India’s powerful national security adviser, Ajit Doval, undertook a long-overdue visit to Kabul last week. It took place soon after external affairs minister S Jaishankar promised more military support to Afghanistan. Though the specifics of such support are unclear, whatever India offers is unlikely to tilt the military balance in Kabul’s favour after the withdrawal of the United States (US). Why, then, is India opting to intensify support for the Afghan government when the world is hedging its bets and engaging with the Taliban?

With negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban in Doha gridlocked, intensification of fighting on the ground, including targeted assassinations of civilians, flourishing factionalism within Kabul, lack of clarity on how US President-elect Joe Biden will proceed with the withdrawal, and an assertive Pakistan, the main question facing India is how long can President Ashraf Ghani withstand these pressures, and what next?

The central driver of India’s Afghanistan policy is its desire to ensure a strategic balance between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given the power asymmetry between these two countries, such a balance, from an Indian viewpoint, then, is to enable Kabul to influence the terms of talks with Pakistan-supported forces such as the Taliban. To that effect, New Delhi has found determined, if embattled, allies in Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh.

But there is no guarantee that New Delhi’s approach will yield results. In fact, given India’s mounting security challenges with both Pakistan and China, there are valid concerns about India losing ground entirely if Kabul collapses. So why intensify support for Kabul even if India is unwilling to overtly engage with the Taliban? After all, there is no need to bind itself further to the Ghani government. History offers clues to better understand India’s decision.

In February 1989, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dispatched AK Verma, the then chief of India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), to assess the longevity of the Najibullah government, which was under pressure from Mujahideen attacks. Verma returned upbeat and said Najibullah can last “indefinitely” with Soviet support. Parallel to Verma’s visit, India had begun outreach to different Mujahideen factions and found a surprising convergence of interest.

Successful outreach to the Mujahideen, hidden from public view and held anathema till that moment, helped India embrace the new realities after Najibullah’s ouster in 1992 when Soviet support ended. For now, there is no evidence that India’s unofficial outreach to the Taliban and vice-versa has generated an understanding of that sort. But even if such an understanding exists, it is unlikely to be made public by either side — similar to what happened with the Mujahideen.

Overt engagement with India will complicate the Taliban’s relations with Pakistan when it can least afford this. For India, overt diversification risks expediting Ghani’s political collapse instead of ensuring an internal balance within Afghanistan. Both New Delhi and the Taliban know that they can’t remain aloof forever, especially if the latter comes to power. India’s decision to support Ghani, then, is a sign that there are no endgames for India in Afghanistan. Thus, it would rather accept a setback in its pursuit of a balance between Kabul and Islamabad and securing the few gains that Afghanistan has made over the last two decades, instead of coming across as an opportunistic.

The other aspect of India’s decision has a sharper edge. On August 15, 1975, India received a strategic shock in the form Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in Bangladesh. The rise of the pro-Pakistan army chief Ziaur Rahman as president in Dhaka generated tremendous anxiety in New Delhi. In a now-declassified top-secret report, R&AW assessed that Pakistan would “exercise a pervasive influence in various ministries and departments of the Govt of Bangla Desh, especially in the foreign office [and] … would widen the differences between India and Bangla Desh”.

In response (in first of its kind archival evidence seen by this author), R&AW recommended that the political leadership take all feasible measure to “soften up areas which are contiguous to Indian territories where we are especially vulnerable” and sought re-appraisal of relations with Pakistan. As a first step, it wanted Indira Gandhi to seriously consider the “idea of providing strong support to anti-Pakistani activities in NWFP, and Baluchistan now being carried on from bases in Afghanistan”. To relieve Pakistani pressure on India through Bangladesh, R&AW thought it was necessary “to intensify pressure on Pakistan through Afghanistan”.

Given India’s security challenges today, it is entirely possible that Doval’s visit is a signal to Pakistan that the latter is likely to inherit a costly, violent, and ultimately digressionary mess in Afghanistan if it continues to pursue revisionism. Such signalling is buttressed by India’s belief that even if the US leaves lock stock and barrel, neither Iran nor Russia, despite their alliance with China and engagement with the Taliban, would prefer an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan — offering India space to manoeuvre, and influence the outcome of the Afghan war(s) over the next six-to-12 months.

Saleh’s unsubtle tweet: “Had a pleasant meeting with NSA Ajit Doval of India. We discussed the enemy. It was an in-depth discussion”, therefore, must be read for what it is, ie, a real, continuing, challenge to Pakistan.


Avinash Paliwal teaches at SOAS, University of London and is the author of My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal.


Assault On US Capitol Was Based On White Supremacist Beliefs That Has Marked Trump’s Politics

By Sanjib Baruah

January 18, 2021

With the approval of the impeachment resolution by the US House of Representatives last Wednesday, Donald Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached twice. But since the Senate is not scheduled to meet till January 19 — the day before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated — the impeachment will not cut short Trump’s term in office. Its effects will be mostly symbolic. But Senate action on the resolution even after he leaves office could disqualify him from the presidency and preclude another presidential run.

The charge made against President Trump in the impeachment resolution is mind-boggling — the incitement of insurrection. The resolution refers to the false statements that he has made repeatedly about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential elections and the suggestion that the results “should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials”, and to his role in encouraging the January 6 siege of the Capitol.

On that day, Trump told his supporters that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide”. There is no evidence to back his claim; multiple legal challenges to the election results in various states had failed for lack of credible evidence. He encouraged his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol”, falsely suggesting that the election results could still be overturned by the Congress, which was meeting that day for ceremonially counting the Electoral College votes and certifying the winner. But the Senate majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell — a staunch Trump ally till recently — reminded his colleagues that the constitution gave Congress only a limited role. Since the “voters, courts, states have all spoken”, overruling them would “damage our republic forever”.

There is little doubt that the angry mobs at the Capitol posed a direct threat to the lives of elected representatives — especially those demonised by Trump. Quite a few of the Trump loyalists wore military uniforms and were armed — members of neo-fascist and white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys. It is hard not to see the siege of the Capitol as an act of insurrection incited by a sitting president and a stunning assault on American democracy.

Trump’s base is, of course, convinced that there was widespread voter fraud in the elections. The narrative of a stolen election has a racial subtext that has long roots in American history. The focus of his allegations is the so-called “Democrat-run cities” of Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta, where African-Americans constitute a majority or a plurality. They overwhelmingly voted Democratic tipping the balance for Biden in those battleground states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. “Democrat-run cities, like Detroit and Philadelphia, two of the most politically corrupt places in America”, he said in a Facebook post, “cannot be responsible for deciding the outcome of this race”. The terms “Democrat-run” and “politically corrupt” are codewords for Black areas. The notion that it is illegitimate for the outcome of the presidential election to be decided by cities with large African-American populations resonates with America’s dismal history of opposition to Black suffrage.

An explicit appeal to racial resentment has been the foundation of Trump’s support among the white working class. It was by embracing the fringe conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and thus ineligible to serve as president that Trump first made a mark among the largely white base of the Republican Party. It was a way of challenging the legitimacy of America’s first Black president without using overtly racist language. Many of Trump’s decisions on admission into the country by foreigners — the border wall, the travel bans, cuts in legal immigration, limiting refugee admissions, immigration-enforcement raids, family-splitting deportations, crackdown on sanctuary cities and pushing back asylum seekers — to use the words of political analyst Ronald Brownstein, “preponderantly tilted toward the white voters most hostile to immigration and most uneasy about demographic change overall”.

The Capitol-storming Trump supporters were overwhelmingly white. Pictures and videos taken during the siege and shared on social media have received much attention. The restraint and amiability of some police officers towards the intruders surprised many. In a widely circulated image, a police officer posed for a selfie with a protester. There were also shots of police officers politely escorting rioters out of the building. The Capitol Police has been criticised for failing to anticipate the breach and the potential for violence despite the fact that Trump supporters openly discussed their plans on online forums.

The contrast with the police response to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer couldn’t be more revealing. Had Black and brown BLM protesters tried to enter the Capitol instead of predominantly white Trump supporters, says Washington D.C. area BLM organiser Anthony Lorenzo Green, “we would be shackled, we would be carried away, we would be shot, we would be dead”.

President-elect Biden has promised to appoint “the single most diverse Cabinet based on race, colour, based on gender, that’s ever existed in the United States of America”. He is on track to deliver on that promise. Biden introduced his nominees to lead the Justice Department at a press conference held a day after the siege of the Capitol. The nominees for the three top positions at the Justice Department below the attorney general are women. If confirmed by the Senate, Indian-American civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta will be the first woman of colour to serve as associate attorney general.

It is likely that while half of America will welcome Biden’s choices and his decision as a sign of social progress, the other half will take a dim view of it. If Trump’s 2016 election victory was partly the result of a racial backlash against the Obama presidency, Biden’s public embrace of diversity and inclusion is sure to reinforce white resentment and disaffection. Unfortunately, such emotions, says African-American scholar Carol Anderson, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, have “long thrived on the fantasy of being under siege and having to fight back”.


Biden Moment Offers Delhi An Opportunity To Elevate Defence Cooperation To A Higher Level

By C. Raja Mohan

January 19, 2021

Any idea or policy associated with Donald Trump might be too toxic for the political class in Washington, at least for some time, after the failed insurrection incited by Trump earlier this month and his impeachment in the Congress a few days later. But one idea that defined Trump’s worldview — putting “America First” — has already had a considerable impact on the agenda of his successor, Joe Biden. Understanding this continuity could help India productively engage with the new American administration.

Immediately after he is sworn in amidst unprecedented security arrangements in Washington on Wednesday, Biden is expected to issue a series of executive orders (much like our ordinances) in a decisive break from the Trump era. The new President’s decrees are expected to take the US back to the 2015 Paris Agreement on mitigating climate change, reverse some of Trump’s sweeping restrictions on immigration, extend pandemic-related limits on evictions and student debt payment, and make it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask on federal government properties.

At the same time, Biden is expected to reaffirm an important theme in his inaugural address — that he will reunite the nation and redress the multiple economic and political challenges confronting the US. Throughout his campaign, which took place amidst the devastating impact of the COVID crisis, and in his victory speech after the election results came in the first week of November, Biden stuck to one important political message — “to restore the soul of America” and “rebuild the backbone of the nation, the middle class”.

At its core, Biden’s emphasis on the middle class is not very different from Trump’s emphasis on America First. It is not a term that Biden will use, given the historic political baggage associated with it. For the internationalist establishment, “America First” has come to represent the negative forces of narrow nationalism, isolationism, and populism. But Joe Biden and his team have been smart enough to recognise the enormous political appeal it has acquired in recent years and prepare to address its consequences effectively. America’s key interlocutors will be wise to see this important common thread running from Trump to Biden. To be sure, there will be much difference in the style between the two leaders and major differences on policy issues like climate change and immigration, but both Trump and Biden are under pressure to reorient American foreign policy in response to changing domestic imperatives.

Trump challenged the traditional notions of America’s global leadership, international military interventions, and the pursuit of free trade and globalisation. If Trump’s contestation of the traditional American post-war foreign policy was crude and chaotic, the Biden team is making a more sophisticated case for change in the way America deals with the world.

The new approach to foreign policy was articulated most consistently over the last year and more by Jake Sullivan, one of Biden’s closest associates, who has been designated as the new national security adviser. A report issued by Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last fall, which was co-authored by Sullivan, gives some insights into the thinking that has gone into making Biden a champion of the American middle class. Titled “Making US Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class”, the report notes the deepening economic anxiety and discontent in the American heartland. It underlines the proposition that trade liberalisation has not worked for everyone in the US. This is not very different from Trump’s view on free trade.

But unlike Trump, the report suggests that trade is only one part of the problem. It calls for policies to address the deepening income inequality at home and a domestic investment and industrial strategy that will allow America to become more competitive in the world.

The report also points to the overreach of American foreign policy in recent decades and proposes a “less ambitious” foreign policy. The Carnegie report notes that “There is no evidence America’s middle class will rally behind efforts aimed at restoring US primacy in a unipolar world, escalating a new Cold War with China, or waging a cosmic struggle between the world’s democracies and authoritarian governments.”

That this was not merely campaign rhetoric has been seen in some of the appointments. In introducing Sullivan as his NSA to the press corps last month, Biden said: “Jake understands my vision that economic security is national security, and it helps steer what I call a foreign policy for the middle class.”

As part of the effort to integrate the conduct of the foreign and domestic policies, Biden has appointed Susan Rice, who served President Barack Obama as the UN Envoy and the National Security Adviser, as the Director of his Domestic Policy Council. Announcing her appointment last month, Biden said Rice will work closely with Sullivan and senior economic officials to “align domestic policy, economic policy and national security unlike ever before”. The incoming president emphasised the same theme when announcing his nominee for US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, a position that has become critical for America’s foreign economic policy.

Tai, an experienced trade negotiator, is expected to be as tough as Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s USTR. In her first speech earlier this month, Tai expanded on Biden’s trade policy. “The president-elect’s vision is to implement a worker-centred trade policy”. “What it means in practice is that US trade policy must benefit regular Americans, communities and workers. And that starts with recognising that people are not just consumers. They are also workers and wage earners.”

Biden’s team takes charge with the recognition that the expansive globalist ambitions of the American foreign policy establishment have lost much domestic political support. Tempering the gospel of globalisation, resisting knee-jerk interventionism, and avoiding ideological crusades are likely to be some of the political impulses that Biden’s team brings to Washington.

While Biden brings a very experienced team to implement his vision, he will inevitably confront significant divisions on all these issues within the Administration, between competing interests in the Democratic Party, and between Democrats and Republicans.

The Trump years have seen two important developments in India-US relations. One is the sharpening tensions on trade and the other is the deepening defence and security cooperation. The Biden moment offers the opportunity for Delhi to overcome the bilateral differences on trade and elevate defence cooperation to a higher level.

India’s own attitudes to trade and globalisation have evolved under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A pragmatic international orientation to the Atmanirbhar strategy could open some space for working with Biden on reforming the global trading system and make it more politically sustainable.

An America that moves towards doing less on the global security front will need strong partners like India who can contribute more. A political understanding on strategic burden-sharing would help Delhi and Washington develop deeper military cooperation and more intensive diplomatic coordination in the Indo-Pacific.


Thoughts On Democracy As Trump Exits, Finally…

By Sunanda K Datta Ray

Jan 19, 2021

Not long before Donald Trump became the first-ever American President to be impeached for a second time — this time with a real possibility of conviction — his daughter Ivanka chose to remind the world of the close ties between her father and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The opening and closure in record time of a study centre in Gwalior that exalted Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also occurred almost simultaneously.

It is the legal action against Mr Trump by America’s senators and congressmen that grips the world’s attention. The impeachment proceedings threaten to overwhelm President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan to end “a crisis of deep human suffering” by speeding up the supply of coronavirus vaccines and financially helping Americans who are still struggling with the economic disaster caused by the grim pandemic. It even distracts notice from the contradictions, if not crisis, of democracy that Mr Trump’s rantings and ravings have unwittingly highlighted. For it should never be forgotten that 74 million Americans voted for the man who now seems bent on destroying the edifice on which he stood.

While he is believed to have broken many constitutional norms during his four years in the White House — including trying desperately hard to thwart the peaceful transition of power to his legitimately elected successor — millions of Americans had endorsed his excesses. The January 6 rioters who stormed the US Capitol building in Washington chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and “Where’s Nancy?” clearly saw both the Republican vice-president and the Speaker of the House — the first and second in the line of presidential succession — as national enemies.

There is footage available of the rioters beating a police officer with a flagpole as the crowd chanted “USA” and crushing another officer repeatedly in a door. The violence resulted in five deaths; more might have perished if the police hadn’t distracted the mob from breaching the debating chambers long enough to whisk every legislator away to safety. The outrage to civilised governance was infinitely worse. Some Repub-licans, after encouraging or standing by mute as the President attacked the democratic process for months, have shaken consciences. Ten of them joined all 222 Democrats in the House vote accusing Mr Trump of “incitement of insurrection” that was passed on January 13, a week after the attack.

Even those who concede that Mr Biden obtained more votes can ask if that invalidates the views of 74 million Americans.

A similar question arose in 2000 when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by winning 271 electoral votes, one more than a majority, despite Mr Gore receiving 543,895 more votes nationally. Many Americans did not regard it as a satisfactory outcome, but they accepted it without protest.

The flaw goes back to 507 BC when the Athenian Cleisthenes introduced demokratia, or “rule by the people”, from demos, “the people,” and kratos, or “power”. Setting aside the claims of Vaishali, Athens was the first democracy for the Western world. But it was a far cry from the universal adult suffrage which we identify with democracy today, and which can be indistinguishable from mob rule. In the middle of the 4th century, for instance, Athens boasted about 100,000 citizens (sons and daughters of citizens), some 10,000 metoikoi, or “resident foreigners”, and 150,000 slaves. Only male citizens above 18 were a part of the demos, meaning only about 40,000 people could participate in the democratic process.

Around 460 BC, under the rule of the general Pericles (generals were among the only public officials who were elected, not appointed), Athenian democracy began to evolve into an autocracy (Herodotus’ “the one man, the best”) which eventually led to Mao Zedong’s concept of “people’s democratic dictatorship”. The premise was that the party and the State represented the people and acted on their behalf to preserve the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, and save the government from collapsing into a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, or liberal democracy. Mao famously used the term on June 30, 1949, commemorating the 28th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.

However, not all democracies are killed by Army coups or declarations of emergency. Many are destroyed from within. The urge to perpetuate a particular group’s stranglehold on power or the plea that a mere head count does not adequately reflect the mood and temper of the people explains opportunistic devices like Gen. Ayub Khan’s “basic democracy” (Pakistan), King Mahendra’s “panchayati democracy” (Nepal) or “guided democracy” (Indonesia). Mr Trump’s “America First” slogan is strongly echoed in the implicit argument that India’s majority feels disenfranchised unless it enjoys special privileges. Hence the Hindu Mahasabha’s attempt to propagate the “true nationalism which Godse stood for” through an eponymous library.

Three years ago, the Mahasabha installed a statue of Godse and was about to organise prayer meetings there, but the statue was removed. This second try has to be seen in the context of the constitutional dismemberment and demotion of Jammu and Kashmir, motivated tinkering with academic curriculums, triumphalism over the new Ram temple in Ayodhya, Hindutva trolls, opposition to inter-faith marriages and attacks on Muslims in the name of cow protection. WhatsApp and Twitter are said to be the main instruments for hounding the community.

In view of such similar populist moves, it was not surprising that 39-year-old Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, should choose this moment to recall her 2017 visit when she led a high-powered delegation to the Global Entrepreneur Summit in Hyderabad. “As the world continues to battle Covid-19, our countries’ strong friendship in promoting global security, stability, and economic prosperity is more important than ever,” she tweeted, paying particular tribute to Mr Modi by name.

Given the association with a man who is widely accused of desperate attempts to subvert democracy, it’s a compliment the Prime Minister of an India that is still proud of being the world’s largest democracy could have done without.



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