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Indian Press on Both Pakistan and Iran Having Crushed Baloch, and Supreme Court Order on Shaheen Bagh Protest: New Age Islam's Selection, 11 December 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

 11 December 2020


• Pakistan, Iran Both Crushed Baloch. How Has The Equation Changed?

By Francesca Marino

• Sc Order On Shaheen Bagh Protest Introduced Dangerous Constitutional Ideas

By Pratap Bhanu Mehta

• The Contrarian View Of War

By T.C.A. Raghavan  

• Us President-Elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet Nominees And What They Mean For India

The Print Team

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• India's COVID-19 Response Suggests ‘Scientific Superpower’ Status an Impossible Dream

By Vasudevan Mukunth

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Pakistan, Iran Both Crushed Baloch, How Has The Equation Changed?

By Francesca Marino

10 Dec 2020

“The Revolutionary Guards, in an extrajudicial action, together with a special armed unit team, attacked the Siadak-Dezap area and destroyed many residential houses of Baloch citizens. This action was taken while the Islamic Republic had previously intended to occupy the lands of the Baloch people where they lived, under the pretext of national lands. While the Revolutionary Guards is a military body whose job is to provide security in the region, it has deprived the people of Balochistan of security, by providing assistance to other organs and government agencies. The Islamic Republic, under the pretext of ending the occupation of the national lands, is occupying the lands of the Baloch people who have lived there for centuries and belonged to them as heritage and giving them over to non-natives and changing the population structure in different parts of Balochistan”.

These lines, along with a video, were sent via social media and encrypted groups by local activists, as usually happens with news from that part of the world. News is rarely – almost never – carried by official press in the countries of origin, because journalists, if and when they do it, become targets themselves. Because, when the part of the world is called Balochistan, and the countries involved are Iran and Pakistan, the narrative follows more or less along the same lines. Oppression, harassment, cultural, religious and physical genocide.

The story of the Iranian region called Sistan-Balochistan is less known, but no less destructive than the Pakistani one, and Baloch in Iran has been oppressed for the same reasons: exactly as in Pakistan, in fact, the land of Baloch is extremely rich in gas, gold, copper, uranium and oil. Despite this, it has the lowest per capita income in Iran and it is estimated that about 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Infant mortality is the highest in the country in the region, with the lowest literacy rate. According to activists, more than fifty percent of Iranian capital executions take place against the citizens of Baloch-origin. Exactly like in Pakistan, many permanent military bases have been installed in the area, and internal immigration has been encouraged to keep the locals under control, placing the Baloch population among the minority.

The Baloch in Iran are also a religious minority, being Sunni Muslims in a Shia majority country, and the advent of the ayatollahs has only worsened the situation. Shiite missionaries had been sent from Tehran into the region to ‘convert’ people, and job opportunities or schools have been denied to those not converting to Sunnism.

The Revolutionary Guards, born more or less forty years ago to protect the values of revolution and the Shia faith, have become one of the most powerful political and military organisations of the country.

A ruthless one, very closely resembling the Pakistani Army, ISI and all the 'special corps' oppressing Baloch on the eastern side of the border. With a difference: despite some attempts by UK think tanks, the ISI continues to thrive and flourish, and last year, that is 2019, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were declared a terrorist organisation by the US, Saudia Arabia and Bahrain.

The organisation is estimated to have more than 190,000 active personnel and oversees Iran's strategic weapons. It also controls the paramilitary Basij Resistance Force, which has helped suppress domestic dissent, and the powerful bonyads, or charitable foundations, which run a considerable part of the economy.

According to the US and Saudi Arabia, the Revolutionary Guards exert influence in the Middle East – providing money, weapons, technology, training and advice to allied governments and armed groups.

They practically carry out the same terrorist strategies adopted by Pakistan, and the results in Balochistan, with the passing of the years, are in fact the same: the birth of guerrilla groups and of a nationalistic resistance movement. However, while for years, Iran and Pakistan joined hands in crushing Baloch from both sides of the border, things changed in the past few years.

In 2019, for the first time, Pakistan openly accused Iran of supporting Baloch guerrilla in Pakistan, following an attack that killed 14 Pakistani security forces in Ormara.

According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the guerrilla groups umbrella called BRAS, operates from Iran and Teheran, and allows the country to be used as a hub for anti-Pakistan activities, providing support and training facilities to Baloch militants in order to eliminate and fight anti-Shia groups in Pakistan.

While for Saudis and the US the Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organisation, Iran accuses Saudis, Americans and also the Pakistani ISI of financing Baloch to destabilise Tehran, implementing the same strategy successfully adopted in Bangladesh and in Pakistan: funding fundamentalist madrasas that strengthen the Sunni religious identity and serve as outposts for guerrilla groups.

According to Pakistan, the Saudi strategy of using guerrilla groups in Sistan-Balochistan as a proxy – given that the terrorist groups used in Pakistan by ISI to keep Baloch under control also benefit from Riyadh’s funding – may not be a good idea, and threatens to turn into a lethal boomerang for Islamabad – but, above all, for Beijing – which sees the concrete chance of a low-intensity but large-scale ethnic-religious conflict, that would have disruptive consequences for the CPEC, the OBOR and its expansionist and imperialistic strategies.

https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/pakistan-iran-revolutionary-guards-saudi-arabia-balochistan-oppression-threat-united-states#read-more

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SC Order on Shaheen Bagh Protest Introduced Dangerous Constitutional Ideas

By Pratap Bhanu Mehta

11-12-2020


The following is the full text of the Project 39A annual lecture, delivered by Pratap Bhanu Mehta on December 4, transcribed by The Wire.

Good evening! It’s a real honour and pleasure to be here. One, actually, because, of 39A. Project 39A is one of the most interesting, morally relevant, analytically rigorous projects in criminal justice that we have seen in India for a long time. I just want to congratulate Anup Surendranath and all his colleagues for really setting a new benchmark for how you can do meaningful research and advocacy within the academia. So, it’s a real privilege to be speaking under the auspices of Project 39A. I am also little bit intimidated because I am speaking to a group of very accomplished lawyers who know a great deal more about the subject I’m going to speak about than I am.

What I had thought I’d do, over the course of the next 45 minutes or so, just so that we leave time for questions, is to offer some reflections on the paradoxical place of dissent in a society that is supposedly democratic and supposedly marked by the rule of law, or at least has institutions that claim to be furthering the rule of law, however imperfectly that they do so. My motivation for thinking about the subject is obvious. Many would argue that dissent in all its different varieties that I shall talk about briefly in a second, has fallen upon hard times in democracies, not just in India but globally. If you look at the range of laws that have been enacted in the last 35-40 years, whose spirit is incompatible with the spirit of liberal democracy – laws around sedition, laws around preventive detention, laws that prevent protest from taking place, law that allows police to easily arrest protestors, you know, anti-conversion laws, laws that regulate NGOs – the whole panoply, in a sense, of legal instruments that are brought into place by liberal democratic states is actually making dissent much more difficult, paradoxically, even in liberal democracies.

Some of this is specific to particular ideological formations. But, one of the claims that I want to make today – and it is the spirit in which these reflections are offered – is that this contemporary moment of this suspicion of dissent, this crackdown on dissent, a subterfuge, in a sense, about managing and crushing dissent, and in particular, dealing with dissenters almost as if they were criminals. This particular tendency is not just a characteristic of particular political parties being in power or particular regimes being in power, even though those regimes might actually, deeply exacerbate them. I think what this moment throws up fundamentally, and that’s what I’ll be talking about today, is something about the nature of liberal democracy itself. Is there something inevitable in the form in which we have conceived of liberal democracy that it will, more and more, construe the dissenter as a figure of criminality? That it has no other language in which to understand the figure of a dissenter. An Anand Teltumbde, a Sudha Bharadwaj – just to take two obvious examples – of people who are being treated as criminals, unjustifiably. That it has no other language in which to understand dissent and protest.

So, that’s the question I’ve set myself. I’ll be talking theoretically. I dabble in political theory so, that’s my field; that’s my route into this subject. It’s not going to be the details of the law, which most of you know better. It’s not even going to be the details of the cases that are, in a sense, currently being litigated.  Partly because it would be inappropriate to talk about them, partly because, again, you know those details better. But I’ll just try and lay down a conceptual framework about why is it that again and again, in contemporary democracy the dissenter is being constructed as figure of criminality; is being increasingly dealt with through laws that have the character of criminal laws.

Today’s dissenters may, in turn, also fear other dissenters. It’s often true of dissenting groups. They fear internal dissent. Or they, in a sense, turn out to be those people who clampdown on dissent when they themselves come into power. So, there’s a kind of perpetual anxiety around dissent. But as I said, this is a self-serving anxiety. It is an understandable one but a self-serving one. They uncannily see that dissent is about altering structures of power, let’s make no two bones about it. That’s what is significant about it. And in some senses, you have to say that those who crush dissent at least have the decency of taking it seriously! They do understand what it is about. Unlike, I think, sometimes many liberal defenders of dissent who actually think dissent is important but it will change nothing.

A different kind of worry about dissent, which is somewhat less self-serving but it’s also still psychological, is that dissent as a word almost seems too negative. Dissent is against something. I actually think George Eliot was right when she said that if you’re looking for the right to rebellion – rebellion in the broadest sense, dissent – that the right to rebellion of any kind is the right to seek a higher rule, not wander in lawlessness. And the word ‘dissent’ or the activity of dissent often conjures up the spectre of negativity. ‘I know what I am against’ but ‘what is the higher rule I am invoking’ is actually not clear.

And I think, critics of dissent are right, that dissent itself is not a freestanding value. To construct dissent as a freestanding value is to conjure up the image of somebody who simply says, “whatever you are for, I am against it”. Dissent is not a freestanding value because it is grounded in moral judgement. It has, as George Elliot said, to speak in the name of a higher rule; it has to speak in the name of a common good; it has to be reaching for something better. Otherwise it simply is a disposition to subvert, where the means become the ends.

In this sense, the Gandhian idea of dissent, which is grounded in satyagraha – a rebellion grounded in truth – I think, had more going to it than the mere word dissent does. So, just as a discursive point, when we say that space for dissent is shrinking, we have to recognise the ambiguity of that claim. We often mean that the space for seeking something better; the space for seeking justice; the space for expanding our moral horizons; the space for imagining an alternative and better future might be shrinking. Or it can be taken in a different sense, which is often done in politics, that the space for opposition for opposition’s sake is shrinking.

Now, even opposition for opposition’s sake might be valuable. There is, sometimes, an inherent value to, you might say combating docility – just for its own sake. But simply saying ‘I am a dissenter’ or ‘I have a right to dissent’ or ‘I dissent’, without specifying the normative context in which that dissent is being articulated – that higher rule that George Elliot was referring to – can be a double-edged sword. It even allows fascists, actually, sometimes to claim the mantle of dissent. They are also always dissenting against something. So, I think we should be careful in acknowledging that sometimes the discursive rhetoric of dissent forgets that it’s not a normatively freestanding value. It is in a sense grounded – it has to be grounded – in some higher truth. So, while we recognise the importance and value of dissent in a liberal democracy, dissent does have this uneasy place.

What I want to do is reflect on an even deeper paradox. This stuff that I’ve just outlined is a prolegomena; it’s very familiar. And my starting point is an observation in this rather troubling judgment that was passed in the Shaheen Bagh protest case. This was the order that the Supreme Court passed recently.

The judgement was troubling in more ways, more levels than one can list. First of all, passing an order when it has…when the matter has become kind of  irrelevant; been shut down anyway. The order engaged in a kind of needless pontification in the morality of protest. It introduced novel and, to my mind, dangerous constitutional ideas, that the exercise of rights – if protesting is a right – is somehow subject to the performance of duties irrelevant to that right. It’s an order that completely whitewashed the court’s own role in producing a crisis of legitimacy.

Why were there protests in the first place? In part because of the court’s role in producing both, a constitutional doctrine and then in not actually giving protesters a genuine hearing on the substantive matter at hand, namely: is the CAA discriminatory? So, for all those reasons it’s a strange order. But I want to give the court due respect. Take them seriously as a political theorist and pick up one sentence in that order which said…the claim was that “erstwhile mood and manner of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy”, almost suggesting that there are forms of dissent that might be appropriate to colonial rule, maybe in authoritarian state, but these forms of dissent are not appropriate in self-ruled democracy. In fact, you can extend the point further, dissent in the form that was being enacted in Shaheen Bagh, might have been a mode of activity more suitable to a colonial and authoritarian regime, not to democracy.

Now, why is this claim important? Maybe it’s just a throwaway remark. Maybe the justices had not meant anything considered and  serious by it. But it is a remark that captures a lot of common sense views people have about democracy. It’s quite an intuitive and widespread and appealing idea actually. After all, you might say, in democracy you might have the freedom of expression. Words and argument, deliberation and rhetoric is the currency in which we express views and differences in a democracy.

Now, of course this claim would be helped a great deal if the courts protected freedom of expression and freedom of expression of all forms, including expression of contempt, which is also a form of legitimate criticism. But let’s for a moment grant this point. Look, you have the freedom of expression in democracy, huge words! Write, petition, make arguments. If words work, if the logic of arguments work, protest should not be necessary. Moreover, in a democracy we can supposedly cashier the rulers for misconduct. We can throw them out in the next election.

So, what more do you want by way of dissent? You can speak what you want, you can vote what you want. And, in a sense, the bounds of legitimate activity are, in a sense, governed or enabled by these modes of expression. Add on to this, a further point, which is often made by invoking Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent Assembly on the grammar of anarchy, in which the problem of dissent in a democracy is compounded even further. On this view, the problem with the dissenter in a democracy is the dissenter claims unilateralism. The dissenter sets themselves up as a final judge and arbiter against the court, against parliament and sometimes even against public opinion.

So, people are protesting because they are not satisfied with parliament decision, they are not satisfied with the court’s decision or rather the court’s non-decision. Sometimes they’re against even protesting against public opinion. Now, in a democracy, this form of dissent is kind of hard to understand and explain. Ambedkar was too good a political theorist and of course, recognises the danger in unilateralism of dissent. After all Gandhi’s big sun, in his eyes, was not just that Gandhi was patronising about caste but Gandhi was completely unilateral in the way in which he understood the rightness of his views. It’s Gandhi, right or wrong.

‘Ekla Chalo Re’ may be a good inspiring call for claims of conscience. It may be a good inspiring call for protesters standing valiantly against public opinion. But surely it can’t be the basis for settling legitimate claims. The dissenters’ seeming unilateralism, their sovereign pronouncement over the sovereign, as it were – ‘my way or the highway’ – seems to be part of the problem. And the one thing we do do when we enter civil society; when we leave the state of nature, as it were – I have a picture of Hobbes behind me and I think, on this, Hobbes was right, as it were – is we do see, in part the right of unilateral judgement of what is right. In fact, political equality demands that we see that. If I can unilaterally decide what is right, then in a sense, I’m not granting you equal political standing. And so, this idea of unilateralism also makes the figure of the dissenter a pretty suspicious figure in a liberal democracy. ‘What are they claiming?’, you know.

So, here is the paradox that the honourable justices might be hinting at when they say ‘certain forms of protest are not appropriate to liberal democracy’; when they say, ‘in a democracy you don’t need protest and dissent in quite the same way’. The thought is in a perfectly functioning democracy, all relevant moral considerations have been taken into the account. All discussions have taken place. Respect due to all persons, free and equal, has been granted. Why would you need dissent?

Now, you might be tempted to respond but that’s exactly the point! Our democracy is deeply flawed! The representative process is not a responsive process. The rule of law is intermittent and, by God, the Supreme Court is making sure it is intermittent. And, at best often our democracy does little to protect the vulnerable and the marginalised. It’s a perfectly good response to make to this worry.  You might go further. You might say the court wants us to, in protesting, abide by our civic obligations. But, you might say, are these civic obligations binding on people who do not have a fair share in the scheme of cooperation.

If the basic scheme of social cooperation itself does not respect freedom, equality and dignity of persons, why should the onus of cooperating on civic obligations  fall on those protesting. Think of innocent adivasis, the group that, in a sense, has got the worst end of every state – colonial state, democratic state, authoritarian state. Why should the burden of abiding by these civic obligations fall only on them in the absence of a framework that grants them minimal standing and reciprocity. Why are courts and parliament so keen to remind us of our duties only when there is a protest. What about reminding those who have the power to draw the larger social contract? Does not protest serve as an epistemic function of drawing attention to the problems that might otherwise go unnoticed in a democracy? Do we still have an obligation, civic obligations, if the social contract does not recognise us as free and equal?

So, this is a pushback you can give against the court. You are assuming these institutions are working well. What if they are not? This is a common sense answer and I think, empirically and descriptively, a very, very powerful answer. Rule of law and democratic process can often be an abstraction. We throw in, as it were, a fight over relationships of power that do not describe the existing realities of our institutions. And so we want to say, look, protest is important. These are people, these are our fellow citizens protesting in the name of a higher order rule. Allow them to redeem the promise of democracy by bringing neglected concerns to your attention. This is a perfectly sensible answer to give. Why won’t we give this answer?

Now, it turns out, the problem is more complicated. It’s not an easy answer to give. It sounds easy to give, that’s what we always say: “But ours is not a perfect democracy. It needs a safety valve.” Why is it not an easy answer? It’s not an easy answer for some, again, basic political reasons. No settled democratic processes like to admit that they are illegitimate in this way. No Supreme Court can admit that there is no rule of law in India in parts. No Parliament can admit that we are not a deeply representative democracy. So, in a sense, giving this answer – that our formal institutions are imperfect, it is already in some senses putting a question mark over the legitimacy, which they cannot accept.

Sometimes you don’t concede to this answer because politics is a partisan game and you do not want to concede to the other side. Whether we are right or wrong, whether the protesters are right or wrong is immaterial, what is important is that they be defeated. So, you see protest only in the framework of a kind of tactical negotiation. But there is an even deeper conceptual challenge – why a democracy might look at suspicion and look askance at protest and dissent. And I’ll be very crude about this, just to concentrate on our mind; it’s a bit simpleminded but hopefully, heuristically it will work.

So, suppose you protest. The Shaheen Bagh protesters protested, Punjab farmers are protesting. If the protest and dissent is expressed before all other formal means of redress – elections maybe, courts of law maybe, petitioning your MP maybe, using the public sphere in writing maybe – whatever. If you protest before all other formal means of redressing your problem have been exhausted, then the court will say,”well, isn’t this protest unfair?” “Why don’t you use these settled means to convey what you want to convey”.

https://thewire.in/rights/dissent-protest-democracy-supreme-court

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The Contrarian View of War

By T.C.A. Raghavan 

11.12.20,

A retired Pakistani general and one-time director-general of its Inter-Services Intelligence has recently written a novel, Honour Among Spies, a thinly-veiled depiction of contemporary Pakistan politics, civil-military tensions, India-Pakistan relations, the war on terror and so on. The author, Asad Durrani, had acquired some notoriety in Pakistan when he co-authored The Spy Chronicles with A.S. Dulat, the former head of India’s external intelligence. This book was a series of conversations between the two on India-Pakistan conflicts and on Kashmir. This public act of intellectual cooperation of a Pakistani general with an Indian spymaster was unusual, as was a frank discussion on Kashmir with an Indian. The fact that the book was published in India muddied waters further in Pakistan and in the resulting dust-up General Asad Durrani was investigated and his pension temporarily stopped (he had retired in the mid-1990s). General Durrani followed up with a second book, Pakistan Adrift — in part autobiographical and covering Pakistan’s political and military history post 1989. His treatment was critical of the army brass, Pakistan’s political class and of the army’s political role in general.

The latest foray is in a different genre — being a novel. Yet, for observers of Pakistan, its central characters are close enough to real-life figures — Indians and Pakistanis, generals and politicians alike. While General Durrani’s opinions and motives have been debated, his books, especially the latest novel, mark him out as a contrarian — although perhaps one who has come to contrarian positions much after he left the army.

We have a more striking example of another dissident general from the 1950s. This was the famous ‘General Tariq’ who was responsible for Pakistan’s failed attempt to nullify the Maharaja of Kashmir’s accession to India decision by capturing Srinagar. ‘Tariq’, named after a famous Islamic military hero credited with the conquest of Spain, was the self-styled name of Akbar Khan, the planner of the strategy of tribal raiders backed by Pakistan army personnel infiltrating the Kashmir Valley in October 1947. The strategy failed but enabled Pakistan to gain a toehold in Mirpur and Muzaffarabad, which it retains. General Akbar Khan’s book, Raiders in Kashmir, was published originally about half a century ago and was clear proof of the planning and high-level government involvement that were behind the raids that led to the first India-Pakistan war.

In the aftermath of the war, Akbar Khan was an embittered and ambitious man blaming the government for not committing fully to the Kashmir struggle. In 1951, he along with many others were accused and tried for mounting a military coup. This was the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, which included, among the conspirators, the poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Their sentences for lengthy prison terms were subsequently reduced or pardons given. Akbar Khan found himself a free man by the mid-50s although he was dismissed from the army. He was back as a minister post 1971 in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government. His Raiders in Kashmir is a bitter diatribe against Pakistan’s government and the army chief, General Ayub Khan, and others for their failure to pursue the Kashmir cause with greater vigour. “Ayub Khan”, he wrote, “could give Pakistan the world’s first Field Marshal without even being in the field.” He went on to cite Ayub’s successor thus: “Yahya could top it by giving India the world’s second one!” — referring, no doubt, to General Sam Manekshaw being designated as Field Marshal for his role in the 1971 operations and military victory. Akbar Khan’s fanciful claims about Kashmir and his giant-sized ego earned him a large share of detractors. Ayub Khan was dismissive of him and those of that ilk, attributing rapid promotions in the new Pakistan army as having raised unwarranted expectations and created a number of ‘Unhappy Bonapartes’.

The 1965 war also generated, although much after the event, a few contrarian views. The idea of a glorious victory against a larger army is jealously preserved in Pakistan. In 2002, Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed published a detailed history of the 1965 war tellingly entitled Illusion of Victory. This remains possibly the most detailed military history of the 1965 war written in either country. It was, however, never ever distributed or sold in any significant numbers basically because the Pakistan army bought up all its copies to prevent its distribution. The author was also a former DG, ISI and, in fact, held that post when the 9/11 attacks took place in the United States of America. He was to be replaced soon thereafter because of his perceived Islamist leanings and Taliban sympathies. His treatment of 1965 was a realistic, if unwelcome, assessment of Pakistan’s strategic failures: “The greatest casualty of the 1965 War was perhaps our modesty. We prided ourselves over achievements which were doctored for public consumption to boost the national morale. We began to believe what was meant only for the sake of propaganda... The price of undeserved glory was paid barely six years after the 1965 war [when] the bitter harvest of humiliation was reaped in East Pakistan in December 1971.”

Relating the 1965 war — to many a high watermark in Pakistan’s history — with the depths of 1971 was a contrarian perspective and marks the author as a dissentient. Incidentally, he was one of the ‘Kargil clique’ — the generals around Pervez Musharraf when that misadventure was planned and executed. General Mahmud Ahmed went on, post retirement, to become a preacher consolidating his reputation as an Islamist general.

The 1971 war has been a fertile terrain for literary activity especially from Pakistani military officers. Over the years, most of the principal actors have written their accounts. One of the generals who did so wryly noted, “History, it is often said, ‘is written by victors’. In the case of East Pakistan, it has been written by the losers.” On the whole, however, these are not in the nature of dissident views so much as exculpatory.

While there are some others, dissentient narratives from senior military officers in Pakistan have remained relatively rare. This is especially so in the context of the vast literature that the study of the Pakistan army has generated. In large part, this is obviously because the regimen of the military ensures that public articulation of dissidence is rare even long after retirement. Yet, each such contrarian view has generated enormous attention even in the cases when the protagonist is writing a very long time after he had a substantive role as a participant in events. In some significant part, this is because the role of the military in politics in Pakistan and all of its consequences has a timeless quality to it. It is like an endless loop that repeats its crests and troughs. Each high and each low may appear momentarily like a beginning or an end but, in fact, is only one more moment in a rhythmic sequence in some obscure metre. Another well-known military dissentient, Asghar Khan, not a general but an air marshal, gave a title to one of his books that summed it up: We’ve Learnt Nothing From History.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/the-contrarian-view-pakistans-dissentient-generals/cid/1800166

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US President-Elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet Nominees And What They Mean For India

The Print Team

10 December, 2020

New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden has started nominating members to his new Cabinet and White House team and if approved by the Senate, many of them will be making history such as the country’s first Black Secretary of Defense.

In episode 636 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta analysed Biden’s choices and also explained why they were important to India.

According to Gupta, the positions that really matter to India were Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Intelligence Director of CIA, head of Homeland Security (which is like India’s Home Minister) and the Head of Treasury, which was like India’s finance minister.

Gupta said that the nominations were awaiting congressional approval and are likely to get it — with the possible exception of Neera Tanden. Tanden has been nominated as the director of the office of management and budget.

Gupta explained that the most important of these appointments, from India’s point of view, was the Secretary of State. Antony Blinken has been nominated for the post and he is someone familiar to India since he was also part of the Obama administration.

Gupta noted that unlike his predecessor Mike Pompeo, who was a domestic politician, Blinken is a diplomat and a “genuine internationalist”. He is expected to be tough on China and also knows India is a vital US ally.

However, he will also not have the same view as the previous administration on some of India’s internal changes such as the new citizenship law and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. According to Gupta, he will also not be silent on them.

Gupta also said that Blinken would re-engage with Iran, which would be a positive for India as heavy sanctions against Iran had resulted in India not buying oil from them.

He noted that Blinken also has a strong liberal streak, as his stepfather was a survivor of concentration camps, in Auschwitz and Dachau during Nazi Germany and therefore, will be more forthcoming on issues of human rights.

Other nominations include Jake Sullivan, former chief of staff for Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state in the Obama administration, as the new National Security Advisor.

John Kerry has been nominated as Biden’s Ambassador for Climate Change and it is his job to put the Paris Accord back on track, which outgoing president Donald Trump had pulled out of.

He noted that Austin was also a surprise appointment as there is a seven-year cooling period from the armed forces to be Secretary of Defence in the US. And General Austin retired in 2016 and has only spent four years in retirement. Therefore, the Biden administration will have to approach the Congress for a special waiver in this case.

Speaking about the new Secretary of the Treasury — Janet Yellen — Gupta said that she was a scholar, an economist and a labour wage economist.

“She will bring about the balance between the Left and the Right and the Centre,” said Gupta, adding that the markets were happy with her appointment.

He then turned to Neera Tanden, who has been nominated as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. This makes her the senior-most official of Indian origin in the Biden administration after Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Gupta explained that she was self-made and was brought up by a single mother on food stamps and rented housing. However, it is believed that she will have the toughest time passing congressional approval because the Republicans really dislike her.

https://theprint.in/opinion/us-president-elect-joe-bidens-cabinet-nominees-and-what-they-mean-for-india/564148/

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India's COVID-19 Response Suggests ‘Scientific Superpower’ Status an Impossible Dream

By Vasudevan Mukunth

10/DEC/2020

The novel coronavirus showed, pretty quickly, that even though it spreads through people and even though people are often constrained by borders, it would not be. China’s COVID-19 epidemic quickly became the world’s COVID-19 pandemic.

In much the same way, there may not be much sense in talking about the pandemic as an event confined to an arbitrarily defined unit of time, in this case 2020. The name of the virus’s disease attests to this view: COVID-19 was discovered in 2019, but it wreaked most of its havoc in 2020, and will continue for months to come.

However, while the virus effortlessly transcends space and time, it may be useful to divvy up its effects into pieces of space and pieces of time. This way, we give ourselves an opportunity to compare the effects across these pieces and pick up on anomalies. Because to be sure, India was an anomaly in so many ways.

For example, the first thought in my head when I heard that a participant of the Serum Institute’s trial of the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine candidate had sued the company for Rs 5 crore was, “Why can’t just one thing go as planned in India? Why does everything have to get messed up?”

Journalists have been on their toes, at the edge of their seats and in various other awkward positions throughout India’s COVID-19 epidemic – and more often than not because they have been brought there by inept governance. It was very heartening through the last ten months to witness many reporters and editors rise to the unfortunate occasion, intelligently covering a panoply of stories that located scientific ideas and decisions in their right social and political contexts in the face of acrimonious resistance from the ruling party and its foot-soldiers.

In the face of their work, the government’s attempts to wield the epidemic as an excuse for its failures quickly came unstuck. However, many of these stories ought not to have been needed in the first place – in that they were the result of actions and policies that are easily fixed, but weren’t, often because government officials had lied. The Serum Institute case is one of the latest examples of such a fiasco, especially now that other trial participants are contemplating legal action against the company as well as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for not being told of a severe adverse event that may have been related to the vaccine.

Other examples include the shutting down of the Manipal Institute of Virology, the initial seroprevalence survey results, the validation of antibody testing kits, details regarding drug and vaccine clinical trials, ignoring epidemiologists’ advice, decisions about lockdowns and containment, various notices issued by the AYUSH ministry, confusion over ‘red’ and ‘orange’ zones, ridiculous statements at press conferences including a crude attempt at communalising the pandemic, and, unforgettably, the approval of hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, favipiravir, itolizumab and tocilizumab without sufficient evidence of their efficacy.

To get to the hearts of these stories, journalists have had to wade through a swamp of lies and deceit. The Wire wrote in its July 1 editorial: “Today, no one expects ICMR to contradict the Centre’s COVID-19 response strategy on any count, irrespective of the enormity of a transgression.”

The council has since been joined by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). On December 4, the incumbent DCGI, Dr V.G. Somani, spoke about India’s drug approval and quality rules during a webinar. He meticulously went through various provisions of the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules 2019 vis-à-vis vaccine trials. It may have been evident to all viewers that Dr Somani had been drawn out by the Serum Institute fracas, but at the end of his talk, he refused to answer any questions about the incident and the government’s position on it.

He was followed by Dr Sheela Godbole of ICMR, who spoke about the connections between clinical-trial design and drug safety. Was she aware that only two days prior, Biocon Ltd.’s researchers had uploaded the preprint paper corresponding to their controversial itolizumab trial earlier in 2020? And that the paper clearly shows how the trial design didn’t at all support the conclusion – made by many company members, including MD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, on primetime TV debates – that itolizumab was efficacious?

In the words of Dr Jammi Nagaraj Rao, “The 41-page preprint paper leaves us precisely where we were back in July with respect to the evidence – or lack of it – for itolizumab’s efficacy”. Like a loop in the news cycle opened out of thin air, and now being closed as if it didn’t matter.

It’s baffling as to how a country can be – or even aspire to be – a ‘scientific superpower’ if its political leadership grossly and perhaps deliberately misunderstands what ‘science’ is. Nothing bears this out more than the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s intention to roll out a form of medicine that the Indian Medical Association calls ‘mixopathy’ – a mix of Ayurvedic and allopathic ideas, techniques and methods.

The party’s intention here is for Ayurveda – or their idea of Ayurveda – to piggyback on science’s legitimacy into mainstream medical practice. But what it really is is a Frankenstein’s monster, an inexplicable thing sown together and brought to life by right-wing propaganda.

Ayurveda suffering due to the BJP’s reverse-Midas touch is not unique. Many other things this party’s governments have touched during the COVID-19 epidemic have turned into a mess. A prominent case is that of Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company making a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called Covaxin, with ICMR’s help.

In late July, ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava announced shortly before the commencement of Covaxin’s phase 3 clinical trials that the trials will have to wrap up by Independence Day – or face the government’s music. ICMR later withdrew the statement, closing the loop on another unnecessary news cycle – although it opened up a few times more, as recently as last week.

Haryana home minister Anil Vij announced on Thursday that he had tested positive for COVID-19, two weeks after he had received either a shot of the Covaxin candidate or a placebo candidate, as part of its clinical trials. However, after Vij’s tweet, the Union health ministry shared a strange note with reporters: “The antibodies against the infection build up only after a specific number of days pass after the second dose is taken. Since this is a two-dose vaccine. (sic) [The] minister in question has taken only one dose of the vaccine.”

G.S. Mudur subsequently wrote in The Telegraph, “A Haryana minister’s tweet two weeks ago and a Union health ministry message on Saturday identifying him as a recipient of a candidate Covid-19 vaccine has puzzled experts who described them as possibly irresponsible statements or breaches in clinical trial protocols.”

The current Government of India is clearly determined to constantly be right and constantly on higher ground, nothing less. To realise these conditions, it lies, evades, deceives and hides when a time comes for it to say it was wrong. When there is a mistake, or even when something entirely out of its control happens, it tries to lie the problem away, either to give the impression that the problem didn’t exist in the first place or that it has found a solution against all odds. And the government has always been found out. A rare occasion when it actually apologised was when it acknowledged that it had made “irresponsible submissions” about Aarogya Setu before the Central Information Commission.

This year, India’s ‘scientific superpower’ aspirations were centered on its pharmaceutical and biomedical research sectors. Sadly, based on what was put on display, the country doesn’t look like it is even on the right path.

On the other hand, you can have another scenario, where you have engaged all of these means: you have knocked at the door of the Supreme Court, you have knocked at the door of Parliament, you have petitioned every politician, you have got, you know, every useless columnist to write an op-ed – everything that a democracy allows you under free expression. And yet the outcome is something that is deeply, deeply detrimental to the principles of liberal democracy, maybe it’s discriminatory. In which case, if you protest after the fact the retort is, “But look! You’re engaging in unilateralism”. How can you set yourself as sovereign over what is right, after parliament has pronounced, after the court has pronounced.

So, here, in a sense, is the paradox: if you dissent and protest before all the remedies are exhausted, you are a troublemaker. If you dissent and protest after all remedies, [you’re engaging in unilateralism]. This is the bare simple logic of how a dissenter is viewed in a democracy. So, how do you then deal with this figure of a dissenter. What you then have to do, is…you have to deny them legitimacy. The issue is not whether they are right or wrong – that’s a second order issue, that already grants them standing. The issue is to trap them in the catch-22 of dissent. If you prematurely dissent, you don’t believe in democracy. If you dissent after democracy has pronounced its verdict, you are this sovereign unilateralist.

So, if you follow this logic, you can see why the problem…the dissenter is a figure who is a permanent threat to the logic of democracy. Premature protest is not abiding by the process.  Protest after the process, is not abiding by the decision of the process. Either way, the dissenter is putting a question mark over the legitimacy of the state. Dissent, therefore on this view – not serious dissent – cannot have any place in a democracy. This is the sense in which a democracy can force us to be free. If one of the conditions of freedom is that we don’t exercise unilateral judgement, democracy can force us to be free.

But you might say, “hang on, this is a bizarre view. Does not democracy require tolerating a variety of views. Doesn’t it require pluralism – of views, interests and so forth?” Of course, yes. But remember, there is a historical specificity to the idea of dissent. Dissent is not just about a society having a variety of viewpoints or different points of view. We often use dissent capaciously, in that sense. Dissent becomes a synonym for toleration, for pluralism. Tolerate dissenters, tolerate different points of view etc. This is the sense, for example, we invoke when we say ‘India has a long tradition of dissent’. What we are saying is ‘India has always had a variety of views; different world views, ideologies, religions have always contended’. But you know, pluralism and toleration is not dissent. Because dissent, in political terms, has a more specific meaning, namely dissent implies a withdrawal of consent.

So, let me take a very simple example. I may think, the tax rate, top tax rate should be 45%. The government may think it should be 30%. It’s a genuine difference of opinion, for whatever reason. We might both think we have good arguments on our side. The government’s position wins. I still have the right to express my view; I still hold on to my view that a higher tax rate would be preferable but I don’t, in some senses, withdraw my consent from whatever the tax rate that government, in a sense…This is legitimate disagreement in a democracy. I live another day to have my viewpoint heard, persuade my fellow citizens and so forth. And still, as it were, within the logic of arguments and counter-arguments, election cycles, procedural, as it were, ways of reconciling this dissent.

When I express a difference of opinion. But the act of a protester, a dissenter, is actually something deeper and rightly so. It is a refusal of consent or rather, they want to be seen, in a sense, to be refusing consent. So, when we say a law is discriminatory; it is targeting a group for who they are, that’s not exactly the same kind of disagreement that you might have over a tax rate. In protesting against a law of that kind, you are, in some senses, performing  a kind of refusal of assent to that law. Dissent, in this sense, always carries a taint of disobedience with it, and rightly so.

So, one way of thinking of dissent is that dissent is, literally speaking, the opposite of consent. That’s what it is the opposite of. You might say dissent is to consent what falsehood is to truth, heresy is to faith. So, just like truth will always find falsehood a threat, faith cannot tolerate heresy, the logic of consent by itself, cannot tolerate dissent. So, here’s the paradox: the more a government claims dissent as the basis of its own legitimacy, the more dissent is a conceptual threat. Who are these people who are refusing consent? And that’s, I think, what the justices seem to be referring to. I think they capture the paradox quite rightly. Of course, we’re in democracy now, why do we even need dissent now, right?

Now, if what I have argued – albeit a little crudely – is correct, there is a kind of anti-dissent logic that is inherent in democracy. When democracy mobilises consent as a legitimising principle, because what does dissent do? It punctures the myth of consent. When people come out to the streets; when protesters come out, what are they saying, what are they performing, what are they enacting? They are actually puncturing the myth of consent. They’re saying ‘this law is not something that we think is legitimate’. They’re not simply saying ‘we have disagreement’. Disagreement is easy; that’s within the logic of democratic process. And for a democracy; for a regime in a democracy, for a ruling party in democracy, it is actually the preservation of the myth of consent that is itself important. Which is why they see dissent as always the foundational attack on the very basis of the state.

So, how do you deal with dissent, if dissent has this logic. And by the way, every single democracy faces this problem. You can’t just deal with it within the simple logic of disagreement. That’s easy, I can just choose to ignore you. You can say whatever you want, so long as you’re not being able to persuade other people it’s perfectly fine. So, when faced with genuine dissent, in a sense, this prospect of withdrawal of consent or this puncturing of the myth of consent; this puncturing of the legitimacy that the state is claiming in respect to that matter, the states option that becomes is you want to deny those who are dissenting this way, their standing. You want to say that their seeming performance or threat of a withdrawal of consent; their enacting a refusal to recognise the legitimacy of a law does not count because they are violating some basic civic obligations. And the only way in which you can do this is by de-facto criminalising them.

The attack on dissent is not so much an attack on particular ideas – often it is, the government just doesn’t like those ideas – but what makes the attack on the dissenter – why you need to criminalise them – is you have to, in a sense, deny them standing as citizens. Because only by denying them that can you say “look, our myth of consent has not been punctured or questioned”.

Now, this rather obvious truth – that the crushing of dissent in a democracy; the crushing of that refusal is about preserving the legitimacy of the myth of consent – explains two things. One, it explains the logic of laws that actually regulate dissent and convert dissent into criminal crimes. Think of all the laws through which dissent is criminalised – sedition, terrorism, public order provisions, regulation of public protest, the ban on strikes, in a sense, the regulation of speech that expresses contempt of court sometimes. What is the common thread in all of these laws? In sedition and suspicion of terrorism charges, the claim is express: that these are groups that are withdrawing their consent from the state and that is manifest in the fact that they committed to the violent overthrow of the state. And of course, sometimes there are groups like that, let’s not underplay that fact. But the criminalisation – the process of criminalisation of dissent is the idea that more and more groups should be treated not just as expressing a different opinion but as different ways of withholding consent. This is exactly the strategy that is being,  for example, deployed in two of the major protests of our times. The targeting of CAA protestors – why are they being tried under UAPA, which is a law expressly designed for those whom you don’t want to give standing as reasonable citizens.

The four tropes that are used in, in a sense, criminalising these protests – whether it’s the Delhi riots cases or the Bhima Koregaon cases. The first will be the government’s claim, ‘you know, this protest seems to be public’ – remember civil disobedience used to say that always carry out your act publicly because what you are trying to do is you are trying to justify your acts at the tribunal of public justification. That’s the Gandhian logic of public satyagraha. But the government will almost always want to show that these acts actually have a secret conspiracy behind them. By the way, every single democratic government employs the same logic.

One of the striking things if you look at, for example, the recently released FBI files on the Occupy Wall Street protest, it’s exactly the same logic. They seem to be carrying it out in public, they seem to abide by the Constitution. In India’s case, they seem to be carrying pictures of Gandhi and Ambedkar and enacting the grammar of higher constitutionalism but at the heart of this protest is a secret conspiracy. The public avowal of constitutional values masks the fact that they are secret conspirators. Who tells us that? A secret intelligence service, like the FBI or the CBI or something like that.

This is a very controversial right in many constitutional jurisdictions but it is fair to say that this is a right that has been significantly eroded in all democratic jurisdictions in the last couple of decades. In part because the balance of power between labour and capital has shifted, as manufacturing declined. And India’s new labour laws completely shift this power in favour of capital. Those laws might as well be meaningless for the most part, at least the operative ones that deal with the balance of power between the two. Our new labour laws are designed to accelerate this trend by making strikes almost impossible. The ratio of strikes to lockout has long been tilted in favour of lockouts. Unions have generally been weakening in India.

There was a lot of support for these kinds of anti-labour dissent measures. Particularly those who lived in Mumbai and Kolkata, have long memories of labour issues in the 1970s and to be fair, often that kind of labour unrest did have serious consequences. The scholars who have calculated that Bengal probably lost a tenth of its GDP in a decade due to those hartals and strikes. But at the core of diminishing the right to strike is not this empirical fact which is often invoked. That’s a judgement call you can make. It is a fear. What does the strike do? It explodes the myth of consent. The legitimacy of the labour contract is founded on the claim that the contract is made freely and with some reciprocal obligations – both for the employer and the employee.

The right to strike, in its core, is not just about maintaining the relative bargaining power between labour and capital. It, in a sense, is also underwriting the myth of free consent in labour relations. And the big change in global attitudes to strikes has been about what does the strike demonstrate – it punctures the myth that an employee-employer relationship is a free and reciprocal relationship. The fact that you need a strike, that fact itself is the objectionable fact. Not the moral substance of the claims there might be advanced.

Intelligence evidence tells you there are secret political groupings. The thing you want to do is impugn the standing of the protester. You don’t want to, in a sense, engage with the substance of the moral claims. But this continuity – that this is about state repression – should not blind us to what is more problematic about criminalising dissent in modern democracies. It is the fact that the language of consent in democracy is also being mobilised in blurring this line. The claim is being made is not so much that it is a state repressing citizens without rights, as in a colonial setting, but it is a democracy that is denying standing to those who want to gain democratic citizenship. The democratic imprimatur behind blurring the lines between the criminal and the dissenter is also as serious as the imprimatur of the state and that is what makes it combating harder.

The charge is made that the dissenter is subverting democracy, not the state, and he or she has to be represented as such. So, that’s why. In a sense, this criminalisation of dissent has a pattern. These are not people who are part of democratic discourse, they don’t believe in it. That’s the only way in which you can respond to dissent – they’re Khalistani, they’re jhadi, something like that. But what I am suggesting to you that the uncomfortable thought is that you are pushed into this by the founding myth of consent – democratic legitimacy as the basis of the state. Of course, there are lots of other things that have also facilitated this dilution between dissent and criminality – expansion of terrorism related discourses in law is a very important facet of that.

The crucial play in laws relating to terrorism UAPA, TADA, POTA – and by the way, this is true of all jurisdictions in the world, whether it is United States, Canada, United Kingdom. In normal criminal law, the focus of criminal law typically is on post-facto punishment. That is supposed to be the deterrent; that is supposed to be the occasion on which society expresses its normative disapproval for crime committed against society. But terrorism involves the idea of preemption and preemption changes the nature of state power irrevocably. First, it changes the nature of the social contract which the state is expected to discharge. The state is now dealing with an enemy that does not fit into the usual logic of post-facto punishment.

We sleep well at night because we know that if somebody assaults us the state might capture them and punish them. This is the second-strike capacity that Hobbes talked about. But the logic of dealing with terrorism is supposedly different – it’s preemption. The state does not say ‘we have the power to make a criminal feel sorry’, whatever that might be. The state now wants to say ‘it is better to be safe than sorry’, you know, a very reasonable sentiment on the face of it. But the state has to preempt the act and in preemption it can license, in a sense, the most invasive intrusion into our right imaginable – surveillance, preventive detention, even assessment of intention.

When you are talking about preemption, the causal connection between ideology and the act is always necessarily conjectural. ‘I was carrying Mao’s little red book in my bag’. On the logic of preemption it is understandable why you might think ‘hey, is he a Maoist?’ It’s not a logic that would apply to normal criminal law but the shift in the nature of the social contract towards preemption, again, done with our agreement in our connivance, in a sense licenses this expansion of invasion into our rights. In the logic of preemption, by definition a political position becomes a criminal one. Because the connection is necessarily much more conjectural. But now that is the charge we have given the state – prevent terrorism at all costs.

The third feature – so, there’s democracy, there’s preemption – the next feature of contemporary politics that pushes towards the criminalising of dissent has to do with the mediatised and spectacular nature of protest and dissent. As I said, part of the fascination of political protest and dissent; the real, you might say, fun – the real political act in it ≠ is when it is a refusal of consent. It’s not just about disagreement. Disagreement is a kind of garden variety, nothing might be at stake in that disagreement. Protest gets serious when there is a matter of deep principle at stake and the matter is so deep that, in some sense, you want to express your refusal of consent.

Now, in a social media environment, in a highly mediatised environment, this refusal of consent can be played out spectacularly and often decontextualised. The meaning of a protest in India might be something very different when it’s seen halfway across the world in the US or vice versa. The problem with a mediatised environment is that you have to enact…you know, [Ernest] Renan said that the nation is a daily plebiscite. The claim to legitimacy and the claim to that legitimacy being founded on consent is also something you have to perform daily. You often perform it through formal processes – elections and so forth, that’s what make governments legitimate. But remember, in the act of refusal of dissent, what is being called into question in part is the legitimacy of the outcome of that very process. We are in part saying, ‘elections are not enough, the Supreme Court is not enough sometimes, if the Supreme Court does hear us in the first place’.

So, the fear is that…if the enactment of consent requires a daily performance, protest by its very nature punctures that very performance. Like with terrorism, a state may lose its battle of legitimacy if it deals with protest post-facto, once the crowd has gathered, once the TV cameras have come in, once, as it were, the poetry of the protest has been written. So, in some senses, what modern states have realised, to preserve the myth of their own legitimacy and consent, they have to make sure that protest is not a spectacular performance. And it is for this reason that all democratic states are making protest more difficult, denying permissions, not making protest grounds available, using police power, Section 144.

The ostensible worry is protest might lead to violence, protest might inconvenience other fellow citizens. But the underlying logic is deeper. The Supreme Court can says “make the Ramleela Grounds available”. the fact is the state doesn’t have an interest in making that available because the thing you don’t want is a spectacular enactment of that refusal to consent. So, what you want to do is you want to preempt protest, just as in some senses censorship is often a means of drawing attention, marking the dissenter as a criminal is a means of drawing attention to the fact that you want to deny them standing altogether. Which leaves you in this convenient position of not having to deal with the substance of that moral claim.

Now, there’s another paradox that comes out of this attempt to pre-empt. And by the way, this is true of all jurisdictions. If you look at the New York State Supreme Court’s ruling in the Zuccotti Park case, initially the courts were very supportive – there’s a right to protest, you can occupy public spaces, et cetera et cetera. But as the protest became more significant, the courts in a sense, also began to backtrack. And you’re reminded of …you know, Mark Twain once [apparently] said that they won’t let you vote if it actually made a difference. They won’t let you dissent if it actually made a difference.

In this, I think, the court in the Shaheen Bagh case and India are not, as it were, alone. But here is the added Catch-22 or paradox of this position – the more rules you have preempting protest, you can’t protest in the parks, there is section 144 here – the more you are putting the protester in the position of disobeying the law formally.  But that’s exactly what you want because what you want to show is that this protester is not motivated by George Eliot’s higher rule, this protester is motivated by simply the refusal to consent and this is actually how it plays out. Now, this is exactly the logic that plays out in bail hearings, for example. There’s been a lot of discussion about discretion in bail hearings and I was actually surprised to find – maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find – that even in other jurisdictions like the United States, Canada, very significantly, there’s a vast literature on the political weaponisation of bail as an instrument. Jackie Esmode, for example, has a classic paper on the use of bail as a political weapon in dealing with protest in Canada.

Jackie Esmode’s paper actually showed that in part what determined the grant of bail was not that bail was a right, will leaving a person be a threat to the community, can they interfere with the course of justice – all the basic kinds of things you ask when you grant bail. Actually what was operative under there was this construction of that dissenter as a particular kind of criminal whose crime is not that they say ‘I am against globalisation’; whose crime is not that they want to question a trade agreement; whose crime is not that they want to question a discriminatory law like the CAA or they want to protest atrocities against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon – that’s not the crime. The crime is that in the act to protest they were enacting that refusal to consent on which the legitimacy of the state is founded. So, this construction…the dissenter, as I’m trying to argue, is like the person in the informal sector in India; they’re always in the zone of illegality that is created by the discursive structures of the state itself.

Finally, of course, this line, the pressure to blur the line between the protester and criminal, the dissenter and criminal is of course, buttressed greatly by nationalism – the one ideology that requires an undifferentiated myth of consent and unity. Why is almost always nationalism, let’s say, in tension with or hostile to civil liberties and the one ideology that justifies being hostile to civil liberties almost whole scale. Because the raison d’être, the guiding principle of nationalism is, in a sense, the myth of…the undifferentiated myth of consent and unity which a protest, a dissent, a plebiscite…it punctures that plebiscitary claim to legitimacy that nationalism has.

You might actually think of these ‘love jihad’ legislations not just as legislations about regulating the freedom of conscience but also, in a sense, enacting the logic of a particular kind of national…nationalist plebiscite. Our nationalist imagination is now becoming ethnonational; it is becoming demographic; this is a Hindu country, in some ways, it’s founded by a demographic anxiety that Hindus’ political power by sheer weight of their numbers should always remain hegemonic in every single respect. The love jihad legislation is actually an enactment of that nationalist unity. The act of conversion – this is not about religion, that’s an act of civil disobedience. That’s in a sense refusing consent to this undifferentiated myth of unity that nationalism requires.

And finally, as I said, no court, no Parliament…they have such an investment in this myth of consent because otherwise their own legitimacy comes into question. So, their inclination will always be to say ‘the potential naxal sympathisers’ – so-called Urban Naxals, a figment of their imagination – ‘is dangerous to the polity because they’re refusing consent’. What they will never question, what they cannot question is Parliament’s and the court’s own complicity in bringing about the state of affairs where so many citizens, in a sense, feel outside of the social contract.

So, what I’ve been suggesting to you is that we have to face this uncomfortable thought. The state is not treating the dissenter as a state of exception, as many people like to think. This is not also the dual state where there’s a normative order for few people and the exercise of prerogative for others. Actually, the figure of the dissenter is always being construed as a threat to the logic of democratic legitimation itself. What can change this?

I’m not a big fan of courts, as has been apparent. I think courts are important but I don’t think courts can be relied upon to do the work of politics. There are some brave high court judges giving extraordinary decisions even in these times but mostly the courts have internalised the logic of the figure of the dissenter as a threat, as, in a sense, a criminal. The courts also are too invested in their own mythology. We are a republic of the rule of law and democracy. If you are dissenting, you must be either prematurely dissenting – in which care you’re wrong, go to the processes – or if you’re post-facto dissenting, you’re just this unilateral sovereign, questioning our authority. The courts are too invested in their own mythology and they will maintain it by evasion, even suspending the habeas corpus, political reading of bail, you know, all of these things.

The judicialisation of politics is always dangerous, in part because it always puts you in this corner solution – is dissent a right or  not? As I said, you actually can’t answer this question without looking at the normative content of dissent.

So, if you want to further dissent, protect dissent, you will have to imagine democracy differently. And that imagination will require two things: one, it’ll require solidarity because what protects the dissenter from this charge that the court always foists on them, the state always foists on them – these are unilateral sovereigns, refusing consent of proper procedure. That charge of unilateralism can, in a sense, be negotiated only if there is widespread solidarity with that cause. I’m afraid, I think the CAA movement, as promising as it was, I think, failed in that sense. Not enough Hindus joined it, let’s put it bluntly.

And the second thing you need, apart from solidarity, is an imagination of democracy where democracy is understood to be a process of negotiation. It’s always a work in progress where you don’t say of a dissenter, they are, in some ways, subverting the logic of democracy. As Frederick Douglass once put it – it was a wonderful quotation – “those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening, they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one or it may be both but it must be a struggle. Power never concedes nothing without demand; it never did and it never will.”

https://thewire.in/rights/dissent-protest-democracy-supreme-court

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