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Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014

What Events in Iraq Show

Saturday 21 June 2014, by SC


As in his pronouncements last week in both Houses of Parliament where he struck a bipartisan note, PM Narendra Modi’s statements in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, which he chose as his first foreign trip after assuming the prime ministerial office, were bereft of any partisan approach. While in his banquet speech on June 15 he reassured the Himalayan Kingdom steadily marching towards a democratic set-up that India would, despite the government change in New Delhi, continue to accord special treatment to Bhutan as it was committed to the nation’s happiness and progress, the following day he told the Bhutanese National Assembly that a strong India was in the interest of a neighbour like Bhutan. The upshot of the two-day visit was the decision of the two states to scale up their multifaceted ties—from those related to security isses to cooperation in wide areas of development. Bhutan also promised not to allow its territory to be used against India—something vital in the light of confirmed reports that the North-East militants have taken shelter in that country.

Nevertheless, at home the new government of Narendra Modi is pursuing a different course. First, the Intelligence Bureau’s confidential report on foreign-funded NGOs was leaked out in the press; in it the IB damned these NGOs for stalling development and playing into the hands of Western powers to weaken India. These NGOs, and in a broad sense the civil society as a whole, have played a critical role in strengthening grassroots democracy aimed at resisting corporate takeover of tribals’ land in the name of “industrialisation”. The Modi Government is deadset on crushing this resistance, in fact stamping out dissent. As two noted figures in the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Delhi—Maja Daruwala and Venkatesh Nayak—pointed out in an article in The Indian Express,

...Name-calling in the press has a ready audience, and insults like “anti-national” stick even when there is no evidence. It is unfair. It forebodes an intolerance that calls to mind Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. To see dissent, debate and critique as anti-national is too petty, especially for a new government that is powerful and unassailable...

Suppression of legitimate voices and activities creates the space for underground and violent actors when this is the last thing a “civil” society wants or identifies with. To hold that a cry for justice is anti-development or anti-national is an affront to the mass of people who only want to be part of the benefits and not lose out into destitution.

Then came what The Times of India described as “unsubtle attempts to remove a few Governors”, that is, those appointed by UPA-II and with whom the present powers-that-be in South Block are uncomfortable. Two such Governors have identified the Union Home Secretary as the person who insisted that they demit their offices. And one of them, Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan, said he would consider quitting his post only if asked to do so by “an appropriate decision-making authority”.

In this context what is being recalled is a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2010. In it the SC had asserted that a Governor “cannot be removed on the ground that he is out of sync with the policies and ideologies of the Union Government or the party in power at the Centre”; the Apex Court’s Constitution Bench, headed by the then Chief Justice of India, had also ruled that “change of government at the Centre is not a ground for removal of Governors holding office to make way for others favoured by the new government”.

Commenting on this seemingly unnecessary exercise, stoutly defended by some BJP leaders like Rajiv Pratap Rudy, The Times of India has aptly underscored:

It’s true that some of UPA’s appointees to Governors’ posts were not the best choices available. But the political cost of removing them may end up being too high. Given how weak the economy is and a looming crisis in the Middle East, which has already affected India, Modi’s government cannot afford gratuitous distractions.

This brings us to the severe crisis that has already engulfed Iraq and is engulfing it further with every passing day. What is the genesis of this crisis? While referring to the primary faultline of deepening Shia-Sunni conflict, The Indian Express underlines the irrefutable fact that the “2003 US-led invasion widenened the sectarian divide, as the Sunni minority—dominant under Saddam Hussein—faced a new Shia triumphalism encouraged by a Shia Iran emboldened by Iraq’s weakening”. Following the US withdrawal in 2011, the Iraqi security forces increasingly victimised the Sunnis and the Sunni areas became a fertile recruiting ground for the ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) spearheading the Sunni fundamentalist onslaught.

Meanwhile India too is feeling the heat. Forty Indian construction workers, mostly from the northern parts of the country, have been supposedly kidnapped near the city of Mosul by the ISIS and whereas the Government of India has confirmed their abduction, their fate is still unknown.

As for the overall situation, the Sunni militants have reportedly taken control of Iraq’s biggest oil refinery at Baiji, 210 km north of Baghdad.

The Iraqi security forces are now engaged in a ‘do or die’ battle to push back the ISIS so as to prevent them from entering Baghdad. But, as The Indian Express highlights, the “only means of preserving the state of Iraq is through a wider, more inclusive and representative government” and “there cannot be a renewed and more virulent Shia triumphalism targeting Iraq’s Sunni minority”.

The price to pay for resorting to sectarian strife can be exorbitant, as the events in Iraq show. Are the activists responsible for Narendra Modi‘s extra-ordinary success at the hustings and the enthu-siastic supporters of the Modi-led BJP dispensation at the Centre listening?

June 19 S.C.

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