Political Line | Of citizens and refugees

(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

The Government of India is collecting more information about the alleged kidnapping of Afghan Hindu Bansri Lal Arendeh in Kabul. He was noted for his medicine business in Kabul, and had perhaps become an Indian citizen. Any government trying to help its citizens in distress in a foreign country is understandable; largehearted countries also welcome refugees who may be citizens of other countries. India has welcomed people who wanted refuge, at various points in history. However, India’s declared policy of giving priority to Hindu and Sikh asylum seekers from Afghanistan raises curious questions regarding identity, citizenship and the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect—whom to protect and under what circumstances? Under the Narendra Modi government, India has written into law what was practised by earlier governments too -- the priority accorded to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, in the granting of citizenship, on grounds of religious persecution. The continuing violence in Afghanistan, where most victims are Muslims, makes these questions extremely pertinent. The rationale for giving refuge to Sikhs and Hindus is incontestable -- they are facing ethnic cleansing under Islamists in Afghanistan. When Islamists kills Muslims, as they do the world over, does the world have no responsibility at all?

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Russian voting in India


A Russian citizen casts her vote for the elections to the State Duma at the polling station at the Honorary Consulate of Russia in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.

A Russian citizen casts her vote for the elections to the State Duma at the polling station at the Honorary Consulate of Russia in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.  


Movement of people across national boundaries, involuntary as in the case of Afghanistan, but voluntary in many cases, throws up many challenges to democratic governance. There is an ongoing case in the Supreme Court of India on granting voting rights to Indians living abroad. There are more than 13 million Indian citizens living in other countries -- from Vanuatu to Tonga and Vietnam to the U.S. There are around five million U.S. citizens who live in a foreign country. The U.S. citizens abroad can use mail-in ballots. This week, 15 Russian citizens in the southern State of Kerala voted for the State Duma elections, at a polling booth. Several such booths were in operation in India to facilitate voting

The Pandit and the real Hindu party?

“I am also a Kashmiri Pandit,” said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during a visit to Jammu. At another event, in Delhi, he called the Bharatiya Janata Party a “fake Hindu party.”  There appears to be a rethink -- yet another -- in the self-awareness of the Congress party and its supreme leader, Mr. Gandhi. In the 2017 Gujarat elections and 2018 Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Gandhi wore his Hindu identity on his sleeve, and wrist and forehead. By 2019, under attack by secular fundamentalists that he was peddling soft Hindutva, he backtracked. Randeep Surjewala, a Congress leader considered close to Mr. Gandhi had described him as a “janeu-dhari Hindu [one who wears the Brahminical thread]” in 2017 after a row erupted over his religion followings his visit to the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. Before that, in 2008 at the Hyderabad AICC session, he had said the Indian national flag was his religion. By claiming Kashmiri pandit lineage and accusing the BJP of being a fake Hindu party, is he suggesting that he is the Brahmin leader of the real Hindu party?

Wooing Brahmins, Maya style

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati during the 'Vichhar Sangosthi' of Prabudh Sammelan at party office in Lucknow, on September 7, 2021

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati during the 'Vichhar Sangosthi' of Prabudh Sammelan at party office in Lucknow, on September 7, 2021   | Photo Credit: PTI


Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh, the Dalit leader of the Dalit party – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — is trying to woo Brahmins of the State. All is not maya, and what is at stake is political power in India’s biggest State, that is going to polls next year. Brahmins are above 10% of the population and they punch far above their weight. In 2007, they supported the BSP which won, in 2012 they supported the Samajwadi Party that won, and in 2017 they supported the BJP that is in power today.

Hindi on the ascent, but Tamil chants too

Promotion of Hindi has been part of India’s state policy for long, and it got an additional boost after the Narendra Modi government came to power. Speaking at the Hindi Diwas Samaroh to celebrate Hindi Day this week, Home Minister Amit Shah said Hindi was a friend to all the other Indian languages and they complemented each other, but not everyone agrees. Several Kannada groups and Janata Dal (S) Party workers staged protests against the “Hindi imposition” across the State on the occasion of Hindi Diwas

Meanwhile in Tamil Nadu, a new government scheme is promoting the use of Tamil instead of Sanskrit in temple chants. In 47 prominent temples, at the request of devotees, priests will chant the ‘potri’ (archanai) in Tamil. The government has promised to expand the use of Tamil to more temples, depending on the response of devotees.

A new high command culture in BJP? Not really

Political Line | Of citizens and refugees

The BJP has changed chief ministers four times in three States, over the last seven months. This week in Gujarat, Vijay Rupani made way for Bhupendra Patel as Chief Minister. Before this, the BJP changed the Karnataka Chief Minister in July, and the Uttarakhand Chief Minister was changed twice, in March and again in July. Though not mid-term, the party also changed its leader in Assam, by handing over the baton to Himanta Biswa Sarma, after winning power for a second consecutive term in May.

But this is nothing new, or connected with a new high command culture that is uniquely attributable to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I argue in this podcast, In Focus. Mr. Modi follows the footsteps of ‘high commands’ that came before him, in the BJP and the Congress. Moreover, then and now, there are Chief Ministers whom the high command cannot push around at will. Mr. Modi himself survived an attempt by the then Prime Minister Vajpayee to replace him. You can listen to my take, in conversation with G. Sampath, here.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:41:04 AM |

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