SACW - 3 April 2018 | Rohingyas / Sri Lanka: Religious Violence / Pakistan: Malala's visit; Left revival / India-Pakistan ties - Indus Water Treaty / India: Foreign hand in the Sangh / Russia: State plus Orthodox Church may produce a monster / Facebook Isn’t Just Violating Our Privacy

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Mon Apr 2 18:26:08 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 3 April 2018 - No. 2980 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Avoiding ‘religious’ violence in Sri Lanka | Asoka Bandarage
2. Rohingyas: Pawns in the geopolitical chessboard | Tapan Bose
3. Ahmed Rashid speaking at Pakistan-Afghanistan Pukhtun Festival 2018
4. Commentary on Malala-hating business in Pakistan
5. Pakistan: Revival of the Left | Rashed Rahman
6. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - Bengal communal clashes: Both Hindus and Muslims find themselves homeless and insecure in Raniganj and Asansol
 - India: How BJP Won Without Winning in staunchly Christian Nagaland
 - India: Hindi belt Hindutva's violent and divisive Ram Naomi - a cultural threat to the Bengali way of life
 - India: As BJP Raises Communal Pitch in Bihar, Nitish is Forced to Play Bystander | Manoj Chaurasia
 - India: Making Postcard News founder’s arrest about fake news rather than communal hatred is risky
 - India: BJP has already appointed RSS 'pracharaks' in key positions in educational institutions, it is now attempting to instal RSS pracharaks
 - India: Foreign hand in the Sangh - RSS has championed chauvinist ideas from Europe | Parnal Chirmuley
 - India: My dear Bihari's please stay away from communal violence - Ravish Kumar
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
7. Sri Lanka: The No Confidence Motion (NCM) and its Political Stakes | Jayadeva Uyangoda
8. India-Pakistan ties: time to reach out across the border | Happymon Jacob
9. Pakistan: Militant threat in Punjab - Editorial, Dawn
10. Pakistan Tests Nuclear-Capable, Submarine-Launched Missile With A Range Of450Km
11. Indus Water Treaty Not A Weapon Against Pakistan |Bharat Bhushan
12. A Mighty Wind | Max Rodenbeck
13. Nonsense to say modern science existed in ancient Greece or India: Steven Weinberg | Subodh Varma
14. Against the law - editorial, The Telegraph
15. Spain's military in row over flags at half mast for Easter | Stephen Burgen in Barcelona
16. It’s about Russia, not God: ‘State plus Orthodox Church may produce a monster’ | Anaïs Llobet
17. Facebook Isn’t Just Violating Our Privacy | Noam Cohen

by Asoka Bandarage
Sinhalese Buddhist extremism has been vehemently condemned for the violence by the United Nations, Western governments, media, academia, and non-governmental organizations and their Sri Lankan counterparts. There is no question that violence by any group against another must be condemned and perpetrators must be held accountable. However, in order to avoid descent into further “religious” violence, it is important to move beyond a simplistic depiction of a majority aggressor and a minority victim and consider the multiple historical and social structural causes of the conflict.

by Tapan Bose
The protracted Rohingya refugee crisis and in particular the latest cycle of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing the massive military crackdown on an un-armed minority community should not be viewed as an isolated event. It should be examined in the context of the rivalry between China and the US, the West and India for control over Myanmar’s economic and mineral resources.

Intervention by Ahmed Rashid at the Panel on Regional Peace on 1 April 2018 as part of Pakistan-Afghanistan Pukhtun Festival 2018 held in Pakistan

Commentary on Malala-hating business in Pakistan. It is a sad reflection on the state of our society that a young woman who is Pakistan’s pride and honour in a global context is despised by such a large number of people in her own country.

by Rashed Rahman
The task of reviving the Left to once again become an effective player in the polity has been exercising minds in the surviving Left parties and groups for long but the achievement of this goal has proved difficult. It is therefore heartening to note the follow-up of the meeting of 10 Left parties and groups in Lahore on December 29, 2017 by the formation of a 17-parties/groups’ platform dubbed Lahore Left Front (LLF)

 - Bengal communal clashes: Both Hindus and Muslims find themselves homeless and insecure in Raniganj and Asansol
 - India - Bihar: With Allies Like These, Nitish Kumar Needs No Enemies
 - India: RSS propagandists claims freedom fighter Rajguru was a swayamsevak . . .
 - India: BJP Dalit leaders stall Amit Shah’s Mysuru speech, ask for Anantkumar Hegde‘s expulsion
 - India: How BJP Won Without Winning in staunchly Christian Nagaland
 - India: Hindi belt Hindutva's violent and divisive Ram Naomi - a cultural threat to the Bengali way of life
 - India: As BJP Raises Communal Pitch in Bihar, Nitish is Forced to Play Bystander | Manoj Chaurasia
 - India: Making Postcard News founder’s arrest about fake news rather than communal hatred is risky
 - India: BJP has already appointed RSS 'pracharaks' in key positions in educational institutions, it is now attempting to instal RSS pracharaks
 - India: Foreign hand in the Sangh - RSS has championed chauvinist ideas from Europe | Parnal Chirmuley
 - India - Ram Navami violence: His son dead, Asansol Imam says if you retaliate, will leave town
 - India: My dear Bihari's please stay away from communal violence - Ravish Kumar
 - India: Ghettoes of the mind - Making several mistakes at once | Mukul Kesavan
 - India: Aurangabad communal clashes of 25-26 March 2018: 148 persons booked; BJP worker behind Ram Navami rally flees
 - India: Mahesh Vikram Hegde, the peddler of communally sensitive rumours and fake news arrested in Karnataka

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
by Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda
April 1, 2018

Is there a low – cost way out from the present crisis boiling within the Maithripala Sirisena- Ranil Wickremasinghe administration? During the past few days, a number of well -wishers of the present government posed this question to me in personal conversations. All of them are people who have contributed in a variety of ways to the political change of January 2015. They are now deeply worried about the inevitable disintegration of the yahapalanaya regime, with two other inevitabilities – rendering irrelevant the reform mandate of 2015 and the returning to power of the unreformed Rajapaksa camp with a plainly authoritarian political agenda. Still there are no signs of a new option emerging, embodying the democratic and humanistic ideal of our society.

In these conversations, I have also been repeatedly reminded of a bitter political truth. We as citizens who are seriously committed to social and political change may bring politicians of various hues into power through the democratic process. That we do with the hope that politicians and their parties would be truthful to the mandate we, and our fellow citizens, frame and give them.  In power, they pay no heed to the concerns of the citizens who authorized them to rule. With scant regard for the popular trust placed on them, the politicians have the habit of running away with political power.  At times, they might even get into self-destructive power fights among themselves, as it is happening now, fully ignoring why the people placed their trust on them. Worst still, they show no understanding of why they have been entrusted with political power to begin with. This is the stuff that causes disillusionment with democracy.

Negotiated Solution?

While I was thinking about this dacoit behavior of our political class, another friend queried whether it would be possible for some prominent sympathizers of the regime to talk to the two leaders, the President and the Prime Minister, and persuade them to work out a negotiated settlement before April 04. That is a proposal coming out of a genuine worry about the consequences of the no confidence motion (NCM) against the prime minister, whether it gets through or not. In whatever way the NCM ends, the ultimate winner would be the joint opposition, as long as Sirisena and Wikremasinghe are locked in their continuing power struggle as adversaries.

Meanwhile, at the risk of giving too much political credit to the Joint Opposition, one has to still acknowledge the plain truth that the JO has succeeded through this NCM to turn the two power centres of the yahapalanayagovernment into enemy camps. They have been working on this strategy for some time and it has succeeded. The JO’s success is due to variety of reasons, both external and internal to the regime. Key among the latter is the fact that neither of our two leaders had a sincere understanding of why the majority of Sri Lankan voters in 2015 gave them a mandate, not just once, but twice. Not being faithful to the popular mandate, they allowed the government to degenerate into what it is now.


Given the intensity with which the conflict between the two camps of the government has been escalating during the past few days, there is hardly any political space for a third party – even that of a group of sympathizers — to intervene and de-escalate the unfolding power struggle.

What we are witnessing in Sri Lanka at present is an unusual power struggle. It is one between two centers of power within the same government that are elected on the same popular mandate and therefore are expected to work in cooperation and mutual trust. With all its shortcomings that are coming to the surface now, the spirit of the 19thAmendment to the Constitution also expected the President and the Prime Minister to work in unison.

Some conflicts have a tendency to develop slowly over a time and then escalate rapidly and end in a big-bang type finale, with destructive consequences for all. The present conflict within the yahapalanayaregime seems to be of that type. Its intensity and escalation seem to rest on two dimensions of the conflict –political and personal.

The minds of both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe seem to be so closed on each other that the political rivalry and personal bitterness between them are closely intertwined. It is quite revealing that in this simmering crisis, neither of them has so far uttered a single word of support or sympathy for the other that could have made de-escalation of their rivalry even faintly possible.

Thus, this is such an unusual instance of political and personal betrayal and enmity being played out in the public arena, and at the level of state power, that one has to turn to Roman history or feudal monarchies to see some parallels. It is a modern version of the conflict between the King and his Prime Minister, with courtiers poisoning the mind of the King to serve their own agendas.

Meanwhile, the NCM is scheduled for April 04. There is hardly any time now for the two leaders to realize that their on-going power struggle will only devour them.

Choices Made

The conflict between the President and the Prime Minister has some specific features. The behavior of the two sides so far suggests that the conflict has been maturing over a period of two years. Its transition to an open power struggle probably occurred towards the end of last year and it exploded openly during the local government election.

Meanwhile, the escalation of the conflict and setting up the goal of a unilateral outcome appeared to be the strategic choice first made by President Sirisena and his team. In contrast, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s response during the local government election campaign has been a low-key and measured one, probably expecting a turn towards de-escalation. However, the intervention made by the JO through its NCM altered the conflict trajectory, redrawing the battle lines. Now, the whole conflict revolves around, and is reduced to, a singe issue: Should or shouldn’t Ranil Wickremasinghe continue as the Prime Minister? President Sirisena’s stand seems to be very firm that Wickremasinghe should not.

Consequences of NCM

What will happen if the NCM is passed by a majority of MPs on the day of its debate and voting? Still we don’t know whether the NCM is against both the Prime Minister and the government.  The constitution does not provide for a NCM in the prime minister as such. Thus, if an NCM were passed against a PM, it would not have constitutionally binding consequences. Nevertheless, it would be difficult, politically and ethically, for a PM who has lost the confidence of the majority of members of parliament, to continue.

In such a scenario, Mr. Wickremasinghe would be forced to resign due to political and ethical reasons, rather than mandatory constitutional consequences.

Only an NCM in the government will have constitutionally binding outcomes. Once a majority of MPs passed such an NCM, then, the consequences can be gleaned from Clause 48 (2) of the Constitution.  It says that “the Cabinet of Ministers shall stand dissolved” and “the President shall …  appoint a Prime Minister, Ministers of the cabinet of Ministers, Ministers who are not members of the Cabinet of Ministers, and Deputy Ministers.”  Then, the Cabinet being automatically dissolved, the Prime Minister can only be deemed to have resigned too.

With regard to the Prime Minister, there seems to be some ambiguity in this clause.  Perhaps, in order to avoid this legal ambiguity, the JO may have drafted the NCM as one against both the Prime Minister and the government.

In the event of passing of the NCM in the government and the PM, and if the NCM drafted as one directed against both the PM and the government, it will have some drastic political consequences. The President would be under pressure to appoint a new PM from the SLFP, and that is most likely to be his first choice too. That will alter the balance of power between the UNP and SLFP in the coalition government decisively in favour of the President. If the President wants to play a slightly Machiavellian game, he can even appoint a UNP frontrunner as the replacement for Mr. Wickremasinghe.

In such an eventuality, President Sirisena’s own political project, which suffered a setback at the local government elections in January, will get a new boost too. A bruised and weakened UNP will certainly see an escalation of its internal power struggle. Thus, a successful NCM will herald a new phase for (a) the yahapalanayaregime with the UNP as a chastised partner, and (b) the UNP as a political party without Ranil Wickremasinghe as its leader.

If NCM Defeated

Now, what would be the consequences if this NCM was defeated? The scenarios would be more than interesting, because of the fact that President Sirisena appears to be backing the NCM proposed by the JO.   Several SLFP ministers who are close to President Sirisena have already stated that they would vote in favor of the NCM. They have also indicated, without being contradicted, that they represent President Sirisena’s position.

Thus, if the NCM, backed by the President’s SLFP, was to be defeated, it would certainly weaken the position of President Sirisena within the coalition government and bring the UNP back to the reckoning as the key power center of the government. President Sirisena’ s bargaining power with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the breakaway party of the SLFP, will also diminish

It would also be a serious setback to President Sirisena’s new project of emerging as the new ‘national leader’ of the country with a new political vision different from that of both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremasinghe.  Meanwhile, if there is cross voting in favour of the Prime Minister, another internal division within the he SLFP led by President Sirisena cannot be ruled out either.  A few UNP MPs might also opt for cross voting.


Even if Prime Minister Wickremasinghe escapes parliamentary censure, his position as the UNP leader does not seem to remain secure any longer. Many disgruntled UNP MPs might still vote against the NCM on condition that Wickremasinghe would give way to a new leader and a new set of party managers immediately. His old practice of procrastination by appointing party committees in times of crisis and then waiting for committee reports until he could reconsolidate his position is not likely to work this time around.

What is likely to be most significant is that whatever the outcome of the NCM, the class and cultural character of the UNP leadership is set to change, and change decisively. The Royal College old boys will be forced to take a backseat in the party affairs.

Given these discernible political consequences, we can assume with confidence that the stakes on the No Confidence Motion are quite high.  Therefore, many surprises can spring up during the next three days, and three days could prove be a long time in politics.
by Happymon Jacob
The Hindu
March 30, 2018

India and Pakistan must seize the resolution of the diplomatic spat to normalise bilateral ties

Islamabad’s decision to send High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood back to India just in time to host the Pakistan National Day reception in New Delhi, and New Delhi’s decision to send the Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, to attend the reception indicate that good sense may have prevailed on both sides. More pertinently, since the 19th of this month, India and Pakistan have not fired at each other across the border in Jammu and Kashmir barring one exception, a welcome calm after several weeks of incessant ceasefire violations.

And yet, unless the two governments are willing to discuss and resolve the triggers that may have led to a series of incidents of harassment of diplomatic personnel, we may see a repeat of such incidents. Harassment of High Commission personnel requires critical attention because maintenance of diplomatic courtesies is not just a matter of instrumentality and convenience, but also represents the civility of the host state and its people. Put differently, how we, and Pakistan, treat the representatives of each other reflects what we essentially are as nations. Waylaying a diplomat’s vehicle carrying young children is disgraceful.

Disruption of utilities

Reports indicate that there were two proximate causes behind the recent diplomatic stand off. The first one appears to be the disruption of utilities to the under-construction residential complex of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, a property adjacent to the present High Commission building. Pakistani authorities also raided the complex and expelled Pakistani service providers. India termed this unjustifiable given that the complex, duly authorised by the Pakistani authorities, was being constructed to house its diplomatic personnel. Pakistan responded that while the Indian housing complex in Islamabad is at an advanced stage of construction, a request by Pakistan to allow construction of a housing complex within its High Commission premises in New Delhi has not yet been approved by the authorities, despite reminders.

Club membership

The second issue was of club memberships for diplomats. Pakistan has refused to admit Indian diplomats to the Islamabad Club in retaliation for corresponding Indian clubs charging what it considers exorbitant amounts for membership. India points out that the government cannot interfere with how private clubs manage their membership procedures. Pakistan, however, argues that there should be a Memorandum of Understanding for reciprocal club memberships for each other’s diplomats. While letting the other side carry out construction of their respective residential complexes can be worked out at the government-to-government level, the membership of private clubs is a more complicated issue.

Disagreements and spats stemming from these issues, in the generally tense atmosphere of ceasefire violations and the resultant political rhetoric, have led to highly undesirable acts of harassing diplomatic personnel who are protected under the 1961 Vienna Convention. It is also of concern that the two establishments allowed routine disagreements to become a major diplomatic stand off at a time when relations are so tense.

Aggressive surveillance of each other’s diplomatic personnel is nothing new in the India-Pakistan context. Back in 1990, during the initial years of the insurgency in Kashmir and the heightened fears of an India-Pakistan military escalation, it had become particularly difficult for diplomats to work in each other’s countries. The situation was far worse than it is today, and yet the two Foreign Secretaries were able to reach an agreement on the treatment of diplomatic personnel. They agreed to a code of conduct by August 1992 that year “to protect diplomatic personnel, guaranteeing them freedom from harassment”.

Over and above the political sanction given to such harassment of diplomatic personnel, there was also a feeling at the time that much of the harassment happened because the local authorities were not properly informed about how to deal with the High Commission staff of the ‘enemy’ country. Hence the two sides further decided to translate the code of conduct into Hindi and Urdu and make it available to local police stations and lower-ranking officials. However, such thoughtful measures never stopped the habitual mistreatment of the ‘rival’ state’s diplomats.

This brings us to an indirectly related topic — of dealing with each other’s spies. How should India treat Pakistani spies caught in India and vice versa? For the record, both countries have claimed that they do not carry out espionage in each other’s countries. When their operatives get caught, they routinely feign ignorance even though when released from the captor’s custody, the former spies cross over to their own country to claim that they were indeed engaged in espionage on the other side. What is worse is that undercover operatives are often subjected to the most inhumane forms of torture by the captors if they happen to get caught.

Dealing with spies

Moving forward, we must admit and acknowledge that first, our countries spy. Second, that espionage is very much part of statecraft that all modern states engage in, as do India and Pakistan. To claim otherwise would be no less than laughable hypocrisy masquerading as pious platitudes. Third, that those engaged in espionage should be expelled rather than tortured or killed. As a matter of fact, the Cold War was replete with instances of spy exchanges with or without the general public knowing about it. As recently as in 2010, Russia and the U.S. exchanged spies in the city of Vienna. 

India and Pakistan should also, therefore, look at the issue of espionage as part of essential statecraft and deal with spies in a professional and humane manner. Hypernationalism and grandstanding can make professional handling of these issues difficult.

Sorry state of contact

The state of communication between India and Pakistan is at its lowest ebb in more than a decade: the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) have not considered it appropriate to meet despite constant firing across the J&K border; contacts between the respective High Commissions and the host governments have been reduced to ‘demarches’, ‘summons’, ‘notes verbale’ and stern warnings; and high-level political contacts, such as the visit of Pakistan's Commerce Minister Pervaiz Malik to India, have been called off. While the discreet meetings of the National Security Advisors are welcome, they have hardly achieved anything. Given that the year ahead is critical for India and Pakistan and the bilateral relationship, the focus should be on enhancing and improving communication.

On the positive side, however, there has been some subtle messaging from the Pakistani side about its desire to normalise ties with India. In a rare interaction with a group of Pakistani journalists, Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, laid out his view of the country’s future course. A close reading of his recent and earlier statements suggests that there is a desire on the part of the Pakistan army to normalise relations with India, something decision-makers in New Delhi should capitalise on. Clearly, for this to happen, Pakistan should also initiate tough action against anti-India terrorist groups based in Pakistan. The fact that the Indian High Commissioner and the defence attaché were in attendance at the military parade to mark Pakistan Day in Islamabad indicates that the channels of communication have begun to open up. The two sides must build on it.

Happymon Jacob teaches Indian Foreign Policy at JNU and curates an online archive on the India-Pakistan conflict, Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor

March 31, 2018

IT is a reality check and a warning against complacency. The recent arrest of members of a ‘group of terrorists’ linked with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan from Lahore, Gujranwala and some other districts in Punjab is a grim reminder of the widespread threat that continues to persist in the province in spite of a considerable decrease in militant violence over the last couple of years.

The suspects were said to be responsible for launching at least two suicide attacks from a madressah in Lahore last year against army personnel on Bedian Road and policemen on Ferozepur Road.

The provincial counterterrorism department claimed that the militants had planned to target the Pakistan Super League matches in Lahore this month.

They also had plans to hit politicians and imambargahs just before their network was busted by the department in a joint operation with the Intelligence Bureau.

The capture of these militants indicates that Punjab has still to come out of a phase in which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, besides being viewed as a nursery of terrorism.

It appears that all the calls to the people to celebrate victory against terrorism outfits have been premature. The so-called intelligence-based crackdown on militants including sectarian groups in the province, launched as part of a nationwide operation in the aftermath of the 2014 APS attack in Peshawar, has succeeded only to a point in the effort to secure the people — even those living in major cities where the law-enforcement agencies carry out stronger checks.

Indeed, the agencies have hunted down a number of militants over the last few years, averting several potential terrorist attacks. The perpetrators of several sectarian and terrorist strikes across the province have also been captured, killed or convicted.

But the fact remains that the government has not been able to completely dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Much deradicalisation also needs to be carried out at various levels. Politicians, including those belonging to the ruling PML-N, openly associate themselves with one extremist group or the other if that can help prop up their electoral chances.

It is well known that a majority of militant attacks in Pakistan are ordered, planned and financed by the TTP leadership based in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The state has provided Kabul with strong evidence about the existence of sanctuaries of the banned TTP and Jamaatul Ahrar in that country, and has asked the Afghan government to take effective action against them.

It is important to sever the links that sustain terrorist networks — including the sponsors of terrorism and its local facilitators.

This, however, doesn’t mean that we neglect the task of monitoring our own territory while concentrating obsessively on the threat emanating from across the border. There must be no hesitation in dismantling militant infrastructure across the country.


Bharat Bhushan
Bloomberg | Quint
29 March 2018

Time and again, hawks in India have threatened to ‘weaponise’ the waters of the Indus River basin to teach Pakistan a lesson. This often happens on the eve of a meeting of the Indus Water Commissioners or whenever hostilities escalate.

After a gap of a year, the Permanent Indus Commission is meeting in Delhi on March 29 and 30. Barely days before the meeting, Union Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari, has threatened to reduce the flow of water to Pakistan. Although he was speaking at an agricultural leadership summit in Rohtak and his statements may have been aimed at assuaging farmers of water-starved Haryana, coming on the eve of the PIC meeting, Gadkari’s statement is likely to be misunderstood.

Pakistani paranoia about water makes it a barometer of hostility with India. Pakistan receives most of its waters from the Indus basin.

    Of late, some in Pakistan have come to believe that India may control its dams to either deny water or create floods downstream.

The Indus Waters Treaty divides the six major rivers of the basin between India and Pakistan. The three western rivers—Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum—are allocated to Pakistan and the three eastern ones—Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas—to India. Referring to the three eastern rivers of the Indus Basin, Gadkari said that three dams would be built in Uttarakhand to prevent the unutilised share of India in the river waters from flowing to Pakistan. As none of the rivers of the Indus Basin flow through Uttarakhand, Gadkari probably meant Himachal Pradesh.

The hydroelectric power potential of the three eastern rivers is estimated to be 18,600 Megawatt. Of this, only 11,406 Megawatt is either being used or is part of plans for usage. Constructing more dams and further diversion of water for irrigation could reduce the flow to Pakistan.

This is not the first time that India has threatened to throttle water supply in the Indus Basin. In the wake of a terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri in September 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proclaimed that “blood and water and cannot flow together.” He threatened to “review” the IWT and “exploit to the maximum” the waters of the western rivers allocated to Pakistan.
India is allowed 20 percent non-consumptive water use in these rivers but uses much less.

In the aftermath of the Uri attack, India suspended the meeting of the PIC. Eventually, the meeting took place in March 2017. Then again, after a Pakistani army court sentenced an alleged Indian spy, Kulbhushan Jadhav, to death, India cancelled the meeting of the Water Secretaries of the two countries.

India as the upper riparian has positional advantage in controlling the flow of the Indus Basin Rivers. But it lacks the hydrological infrastructure to misuse this advantage. That, however, does not prevent a water-scarce Pakistan from hyping India’s advantages and intentions. Aware of this, Indian leaders have tended to feed that fear.

The IWT, however, has survived several wars and upheavals in bilateral relations.

    There is little reason to convert a successful treaty into a liability for it has both an interesting history and an exemplary dispute resolution mechanism.

It is an unusual treaty as it does not divide the waters of a river between an upper riparian and a lower riparian country. Instead, it divides the six major rivers of the basin between the two. Although it is a bilateral treaty, it also has the World Bank as a signatory to certain specified provisions.

Anticipating differences between the two countries, the IWT also provides for a three-level escalation for dispute resolution. The IWT disputes between India and Pakistan arise because of different interpretations of the treaty provisions for constructing run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects by India on the rivers allotted to Pakistan.

While not all run-of-the-river projects require water storage as the name itself suggests, some of them do. After the stored water is used to run turbines it flows back into the main river course. Whenever India initiates a run-of-the-river project on the western rivers, it has to get PIC approval.

    Irrespective of the outcome of the PIC meeting and the India factor, Pakistan is moving towards a water crisis.

In the early 1950s, Pakistan was a water abundant economy with a per capita water availability of 5,260 cubic metres per annum. By 2013 this had gone down to 964 cubic metres and by 2035, Pakistan is expected to become an ‘absolute water-scarce country’ with less than 500 cubic metres per capita per annum water availability.

Pakistan’s water woes are intensified by its high population growth rate, poor water utilisation, inadequate investment in dams, existing big dams like Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma Barrage losing storage capacity due to silting and huge conveyance losses in canals and urban municipal pipelines.

That India is not to blame for the water woes of Pakistan was settled by Pakistan Senate’s Standing Committee on Water and Power in July 2015. It held that India was using less than its allocated share in the western rivers under the IWT and was therefore not responsible for Pakistan’s water shortage.
There is no reason, therefore, for India to deliberately portray itself as a villain in Pakistan’s water woes.

If it cannot help the people of Pakistan, then it should not unnecessarily alienate them while taking on the Pakistani State. That only takes the public pressure away from the mismanagement of water by the State to wrongly shift the blame onto India.

Bharat Bhushan is a journalist based in Delhi.

Max Rodenbeck
The New York Review of Books
April 19, 2018 Issue

How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine	
by Prashant Jha
New Delhi: Juggernaut, 235 pp., $25.50
When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics	
by Milan Vaishnav
Yale University Press, 410 pp., $40.00

Hawa, a Hindi word for wind or air, carries a subtler meaning in Indian politics. A politician’s hawa is the tailwind that propels him to victory; it is the superior momentum that comes with being on a roll.

For the past five years in the world’s biggest democracy, one man, one party, and one ideological current have pretty much cornered all the hawa. A puffing guardian spirit tangibly energizes Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; despite his modest stature, the bearded sixty-seven-year-old can fill a room with a swirling air of quiet purpose or, some would say, menace. All across the country hawa can be felt ruffling the ubiquitous orange flags of his Bharatiya Janata, or Indian People’s Party (BJP), and stirring the long-suppressed ambitions of the Sangh Parivar, the “family” of Hindu nationalist groups that is the party’s ideological home.

Modi, his party, and the Sangh have made remarkable gains since he assumed the BJP leadership in 2013. Before his rise, the party in various avatars had at times won power in some of India’s thirty-six states and territories. It had even led coalition governments in the capital, Delhi. Ideologically the BJP had long been the strongest challenger to the Indian National Congress, the legacy party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru’s freedom struggle: since before independence in 1947, the Sangh’s dream of a muscular Hindu rashtra, or nation, has stood in contrast to the Congress’s vision of a secular India that gains strength from diversity.

Yet before Modi was plucked from his post as chief minister of the state of Gujarat (roughly equivalent to an American governor) and made the party’s candidate for prime minister, the BJP had seldom excelled outside the “cow belt,” a socially conservative and largely Hindi-speaking northwestern wedge of the Indian diamond. Other Indians, whether minority Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, or just differently observant Hindus, generally shunned the Sangh “family”: they were earnest and devoted, yes, but also frightening; it was an extreme Hindu nationalist, after all, who shot Gandhi in 1948. The BJP could raise an occasional clamor, but the actual agenda of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism—demands such as banning beef, ending the alleged “appeasement” of minorities by politicians seeking their votes, building a temple to the god Ram on the ruins of a mosque at his supposed birthplace, being extra-tough on Pakistan, or replacing “Western” modes of thinking and behaving with ostensibly “authentic” Indian ones like Ayurvedic medicine or rather vague notions of “Indian” economics—gained only slow and uneven traction in practice.

Modi has changed all that. In 2014 he led the BJP to one of the most dramatic electoral upsets in India’s seventy years as a democracy. The party not only captured 282 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament—the first time in thirty years that any party had won a full majority without the need for a coalition. It scored a record “strike rate,” winning two of every three constituencies its candidates contested. The BJP more than doubled the number of its own MPs. It humiliated Congress, slashing the outgoing party’s seats by nearly four fifths to a paltry forty-four.

More political triumphs have followed. Having started with just seven in January 2014, the party and smaller allies now control nineteen states and territories that together account for nearly two thirds of India’s people—a feat not paralleled since Congress’s heyday in the 1960s. In March 2017 the BJP captured the biggest prize, Uttar Pradesh, a state with 220 million people, winning a stunning three quarters of all seats in the state legislature. In December it won an unprecedented sixth term in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, despite furious efforts by Congress to rally what has traditionally proven to be India’s most reliable political force, anti-incumbency. And in March the BJP captured three small states in the remote, ethnically complex northeast, proving its growing strength beyond the Hindi-speaking heartland.

The state votes carry more than local significance. Under India’s singularly elaborate constitution, state legislators hold a crucial body of votes in indirect elections for members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the national parliament. This means it is merely a matter of time, as more Rajya Sabha members’ six-year terms expire at intervals over the coming months and more state elections are held, until the party gains an outright majority in India’s equivalent of the US Senate, too. The country’s titular but not altogether toothless president and vice-president are also indirectly elected; when these offices opened up last summer the BJP deftly engineered the installation of two stalwarts for five-year terms.

Both men happen to be, like Modi himself, former pracharaks, or “apostles,” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organizational mother ship of the Hindu-nationalist family. In other words, India’s three top-ranking public officials have all served as unpaid foot soldiers in an organization that was once banned for alleged links to violent extremism. Modi’s choice for chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is equally telling. He is not just another gray, reliable RSS graduate. Yogi Adityanath is a forty-five-year-old Hindu priest and the founder of his own extreme-right Hindutva youth group with a penchant for bigoted vigilantism. His most vigorous initiative so far: repainting public buildings, walls, and highway medians in bright, pious orange.

The Hindutva agenda is advancing in other ways, not as fast as some might like, but the RSS knows the value of patience. Founded in 1925 and now with some 60,000 branches, the brotherhood is not about to blow its best chance yet of transforming India into the proud Hindu nation that its founding ideologues, who were contemporaries and admirers of European fascism, long dreamed of. The RSS can see that BJP governments, both local and national, still face strong resistance when they try such things as imposing stricter bans on beef or “reforming” school curricula to downplay India’s millennium of rule by Muslim dynasties, so it instead spotlights romantic tales of Hindu resistance and Indian preeminence in philosophy, art, and science. The Sangh “family” appreciates Modi’s blend of tactically nimble political instinct with strategic commitment to their cause.

While Modi’s benign fatherly image has raised respect for the movement at home and abroad, his government has quietly inserted loyalists wherever possible in India’s establishment, from the boards of state-owned companies to top posts in state universities and research institutes. It has also aggressively—and quite effectively—bullied much of India’s mainstream press into toeing the party line. The Fox News–like stridency of Modi’s media claque does not seem to bother most voters, and many have also cheered what amounts to a quiet purge of the Congress-era mandarins who have long occupied the commanding heights in public life. Yet even among those who welcomed the BJP’s 2014 promise to make India “Congress-free,” some have begun to suspect that team Modi’s aim may be not merely to overcome but rather to destroy the once-dominant rival party, and not just to guide the national agenda but to capture the Indian state and hold it for keeps.

Modi and his men are happy to encourage assumptions that the current political trend represents some kind of natural and permanent “return” to Hindu roots. Despairing opponents, for their part, tend to consider Modi’s success part of an equally inexorable global wave of strongman populism: from his appeal to voter anger, to his accusations of enemies, to his televisual talent for sound bites and gestures, he much resembles Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Rodrigo Duterte. With dreary regularity in Delhi as much as in London or New York, shoulders shrug and palms spread as it is explained that witless Indian voters have succumbed to some kind of wicked zeitgeist.

Yet as Prashant Jha makes very clear in his concise and persuasively researched How the BJP Wins, the combination of hawa, personal charisma, and revived Hindu spirit cannot adequately explain the Modi phenomenon. Jha, a Nepalese reporter who has covered numerous Indian elections for the Hindustan Times, an English-language daily, does not downplay Modi’s wizardry as a politician. Nor does he underestimate the accelerating social churn that has made many Indians, especially the young and upwardly mobile, impatient for the kind of sweeping change that the BJP promises—shedding shop-worn terms like “secular” and “liberal,” replacing effete cosmopolitans with proud Hindus, and tossing out the whole tired Nehru-Gandhi dynasty whose grasp on the rusty old Congress lingers now into a fourth post-independence generation. (Rahul Gandhi, the current party head, inherited the post from his mother, Sonia, his father, Rajiv, his grandmother Indira, and his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru—whose father had also twice been Congress party president.)

Even so, Jha, a sharp and experienced observer of Indian electoral mechanics, is more disposed to ascribe the BJP’s success to prose than to poetry, to hard work, not luck. The party’s repeated victories, in this telling, are a result not of favorable hawa or of Congress fatigue but of discipline, focused leadership, consistent messaging, deep pockets, ruthless tactics, and fancy footwork. By carefully unpacking factors that have propelled the Modi wave, Jha usefully demystifies its power.

Modi’s fabled charisma, for instance, turns out to be less a product of visionary statesmanship than of such political advantages as modest origins and a lack of family encumbrances (he abandoned a first wife early in his career and remains unattached and childless), combined with an actor’s skills: a command of poise and delivery, a professional feel for favorable colors and light and camera angles, and an ability to sense, embody, and channel an audience’s feelings—particularly resentment. Observing a speech of Modi’s in last year’s Uttar Pradesh campaign, Jha writes:

    He projects himself as the man fighting the good battle, on the side of the people, victimized by the bad guys. But while willing to fight, he also positions himself as a leader who can throw it all away, for he has no vested interests, nothing to lose. He also acknowledges the pain, but taps into the sense of righteousness, the sense of sacrifice and makes citizens feel they are participants in a great national mission, distinct from the prosaic and the banal. 

Last year’s election in Uttar Pradesh, a poor and unruly state, came as Indians were struggling to recover from a sudden, controversial move by the national government to scrap all large-denomination banknotes. Modi had billed the drastic policy as hard medicine to purge the economy of so-called black money in the hands of criminals and corrupt people, although, given that there were not enough small-denomination notes to replace high-value ones and the central bank could not print new bills fast enough, its main effect was to squeeze hundreds of millions of day laborers and small traders and anyone with even modest savings in cash, which is to say, the poor.

Yet Modi’s ability to tap into class envy had the magical effect of displacing any blame for the pain that he had so obviously and directly caused. On stage, Jha observes, the prime minister gloated over the imagined suffering of the rich. At one rally he jauntily demanded to know, “What can they do to me? I am a fakir; I will take my bag and leave.” He then laughed and shared his satisfaction that the rich used to say “money, money, money.” “Now, they only say Modi, Modi, Modi.”
Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images
BJP leader Amit Shah arriving at a press conference at party headquarters, New Delhi, December 2017

His skill at stoking resentment is at its most subtle when it comes to chronic tensions between India’s 80 percent Hindu majority and 15 percent Muslim minority. Lower-ranking party members may resort to bluntly sectarian language or outright lies to stir up crowds. Jha quotes one party official admitting that the whole point is to unite Hindus by making them feel like victims. Another confesses to him, “We want anti-Muslim polarization. Why pretend otherwise?” Unlike when he was a state official, Modi as prime minister no longer stoops to undiluted Islamophobia. But with his trademark upheld wagging finger, he is a master of insinuation, with much the same effect.

On the stump in Uttar Pradesh, Modi pledged that every town with a Muslim cemetery should also have a Hindu crematorium, and every village that got electricity in Ramadan must get it for Hindu festivals, too. He did not need to cite any particular places where such conjectural disparities actually exist. They very likely do not: Muslims in the state are generally worse off than Hindus. But the very suggestion that Muslims might be favored fell on ground fertilized by generations of Hindutva activists blaming Congress for allegedly “appeasing” the minority with sweeteners as part of its unseemly “vote bank” politics. Congress is hardly alone among Indian parties in pitching sops to particular interest groups, but constant hammering by the BJP has succeeded in making its rival look particularly “soft” on Muslims.

Although many in the BJP bear no personal animosity to Muslims, the party has long found that chauvinism wins more votes than it loses. It is not by chance that its fortunes have risen since the 1980s in tandem with the level of menace felt from global jihadism and from India’s perpetually hostile and increasingly Islamized neighbor Pakistan. In election after election, large numbers of Hindus have indeed responded to alarm about such things as “love jihad”—an imagined campaign by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women—by voting for the BJP.

Under Modi the party has also adopted more sophisticated tactics to appeal to its Hindu vote bank. Given the elaborate social hierarchy that conservative Hinduism enshrines, it is not surprising that the BJP has traditionally been associated with higher-ranking castes. Modi has changed that. Not only has he fully exploited his own lower-caste origins to widen the party’s appeal, and even made efforts to woo Dalits—the bottom-rung outcastes who make up some 17 percent of India’s population.* As Jha shows, the BJP has also forged powerful constituencies by skillfully exploiting the mutual resentments of rich and poor toward rising middle-class groups.

During the 1980s, India widely adopted policies of affirmative action that in many northern states had the effect of empowering the mid-ranking castes that proved most socially mobile. In the intervening decades, groups traditionally associated with proud rural small-holdings, such as the Marathas in Maharashtra, the Jats in Haryana, and the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, have gained outsize political clout in state capitals, winning jobs and contracts and influence. Precisely because of this, says Jha,

    a range of other castes—both the traditionally powerful and the more marginalized—feel alienated. And thus, the trick is to mobilize these castes and construct a coalition against the dominant caste. 

In many of the BJP’s most successful campaigns, this politics of intercaste resentment has proved just as crucial as the party’s carefully cultivated grudge against “nonindigenous” religious minorities. (Hindutva ideologues make a pointed distinction between Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, who are considered properly Indian, and Muslims and Christians, who are somewhat suspect—regardless of the fact that these big monotheistic faiths reached the subcontinent 1400 and 1900 years ago, respectively.)

The man often credited as the brains behind the Modi-era BJP’s electoral engineering is Amit Shah, a tough fellow Gujarati who outdoes his master in Stakhanovite devotion to the cause. According to Jha, the prime minister’s consigliere began working on last year’s Uttar Pradesh election in 2014, with a plan to extensively expand the party’s organizational base. Within just four months, Shah’s recruitment drive, largely run using cell phone message services that also created a useful database for quick mobilization at election time, multiplied party membership in the state by more than ten times. Expanded across India, Shah’s registration effort soon brought the BJP’s rolls to over 100 million members, making it the world’s biggest political party.

The surge did not just mean more bodies for rallies and door-to-door canvasing. Jha points out two important side effects. The huge new numbers quietly but radically changed the party’s demographics, tilting its base away from upper castes to reflect a broader appeal. They also allowed for a stealthy purge of the party’s former leaders, who found themselves outflanked by a new generation marked more by loyalty to Modi than by ideological affinity. Among the party’s old guard, many disdain Modi as a dangerous upstart; L.K. Advani, a former party grandee, once damned the ambitious Gujarati with faint praise as “a brilliant events manager.” But such opinions now carry no weight.

Apart from its huge size, Shah’s organizational genius, and Modi’s drawing power, the daunting political machine that Shah has built enjoys another asset. Wary of being tainted by extremist tendencies that have often surfaced on the fringes of the Sangh, the BJP has traditionally preferred to keep the RSS at arm’s length. Not so Modi. Jha informs us that the future prime minister’s own personal mentor in the Hindutva group in the 1980s, during his long years as a low-level pracharak in Gujarat, was none other than the father of the current RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat. Born only six days apart in September 1950, Modi and the Sangh patriarch have brought their organizations into a much tighter alliance.

The support staff of every major BJP leader, from Amit Shah downward, is made up of Sangh alumni, says Jha. At Bhagwat’s call, the RSS’s estimated five million highly disciplined acolytes can deploy wherever needed to bolster the BJP’s own ground forces. Bhagwat recently boasted that he could mobilize his entire following in just three days, whereas the Indian army would take six months. Spokesmen quickly explained that he intended no insult to India’s fighting men, but the remark nevertheless made clear that the RSS sees itself as being more true to the Indian nation than the state itself.

The BJP’s own superior discipline and tight chain of command may explain why, in recent years, the party has made surprising gains simply by catching Congress asleep at the wheel. In the state of Assam the BJP cleverly convinced a talented young Congress leader to defect, shifting a crucial number of votes. In both Manipur and Goa last year the party actually won fewer seats than Congress, but so swiftly wooed coalition partners that it had cobbled together governments and gotten them sworn into office before Congress realized what had happened.

In indirect voting to fill a vacant Rajya Sabha seat from the state of Haryana in 2016, a dozen Congress members of the state assembly inadvertently betrayed their own candidate by using the wrong pen to mark their ballots. India’s powerful election commission had stipulated the use of violet ink, but enough Congress votes to turn the result were nullified for being in the wrong color to allow the BJP’s man to scamper off with the seat. Whether someone had switched the pen in the booth or persuaded the Congress deputies to make a “mistake” has not been established.

Indian democracy is not a dainty game. In all the cases just cited, money is likely to have had a part. Just as India’s first-past-the-post rules mean that an advantage of just a few points in voting share may translate into an outsize gain in seats, political funding has a tendency to slosh disproportionately to the winners, to people who can “get things done” for donors.

In recent years the BJP has mopped up an ever-growing share of this pool; the election commission says that 80 percent of all corporate political funding in Gujarat in the three years before November’s election went to Modi’s party. As Milan Vaishnav points out in When Crime Pays, a thorough, disturbing, and often amusing scholarly analysis of the seamy side of Indian politics, this imbalance may be seen as payback. In the 1960s, Congress received as much as thirty times more in corporate donations than any other party.

Such advantages can be critical in districts where vote-buying is the norm. Vaishnav, who runs the Carnegie Endowment’s South Asia program, follows a campaign in the state of Andhra Pradesh; a candidate who happens to be a friend revealed that three quarters of his budget was earmarked for buying votes. In recent reporting from northeast India, where three small states voted this winter, Jha discovered that virtually all votes in Nagaland are paid for, sometimes several times over as voters accept handouts from all and sundry. Not surprisingly the BJP and its allies handily captured Nagaland, as well as the two other states in play.

This is an expensive business. Vaishnav cites one study that puts the overall cost of India’s 2014 national election at $5 billion, in the same ballpark as the $6.5 billion that the US—a country whose GDP is almost ten times greater than India’s—spent on presidential and congressional elections in 2016. His candidate friend personally shelled out close to $2 million in a race for the Andhra Pradesh state assembly. That is more than thirty times the legal limit, yet Vaishnav was laughingly told that other candidates spent far more. In some states, inducements are paid in kind rather than cash. Kitchen appliances are the favored payoff in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Election officials in Gujarat, an officially dry state, seized 500,000 bottles of liquor during its 2012 state elections—most of this presumably intended as sweeteners for voters.

Small wonder that a very large proportion of candidates, for the BJP as well as other parties, tend to be either scions of political dynasties, very wealthy, or criminals. Of the BJP’s 285 incoming members of parliament in 2014, Vaishnav observes, a third had been charged in ongoing criminal cases and a fifth were facing prosecution for jailable offenses, up to and including rape and murder. More shockingly, a ten-year database of state and national elections compiled by Vaishnav showed that candidates with criminal cases were three times more likely to win than others. This suggests that they are more skilled either at buying or intimidating voters or at persuading them that they are better placed to “get things done” than law-abiding rivals.

Why go into politics? It appears to be a sound investment. Despite India’s relative economic liberalization since the suffocating, regulation-heavy “License Raj” of the post-independence period, the crankiness of its bureaucracy and the trickiness of its laws still offer immense opportunity for agents, such as politicians, who can steer clients toward safety or profit. A 2013 study cited by Vaishnav shows that the declared wealth of sitting legislators after a single term in office rose by an average of 222 percent.

Modi himself has maintained an unusually clean record and, at least for its first few years, his administration has been relatively free of the odors that clung to the last Congress coalition. At a lower level, however, there is little difference between the two parties on this score. Tellingly, they recently collaborated to insert an unobtrusive clause in the latest annual budget that has the effect of absolving both from any prior violations of rules restricting foreign political donations. Having promised to clean up the system, Modi’s government has also pushed through campaign finance “reforms” that actually make it easier for Indian donors to remain anonymous.

Until very recently, Delhi pundits were virtually unanimous in tipping Modi as a shoo-in to win the next national elections, scheduled for the spring of 2019. Given all his party’s strengths and the weakness of Congress, many predicted that the BJP would again secure a full majority on its own. This would keep Modi in power, and likely controlling both houses of parliament, through 2024.

But Indian politics are unusually volatile and fickle. As more stories of corruption have inevitably begun to stick and loudly touted policies have mired in Indian realities, the hawa seems to be slowly dying down. Congress remains a weak and wobbly opponent, but it is gathering strength and purpose as Modi’s many critics begin to see India’s grand old party as the only force capable of stopping the BJP juggernaut. The smart money is still on Modi, but recent trends suggest that he would be wise to call an early election, or he may see himself returned to power with a reduced majority, dependent on coalition allies. That might at least crimp his style.

* See Pankaj Mishra, “God’s Oppressed Children,” The New York Review, December 21, 2017. 

Subodh Varma
The Times of India
March 22, 2015

Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg is often called one of the most influential living scientists in the world. Besides his seminal work on particle physics and several other books on science, the 82-year-old American has just come out with an account of the birth of modern science titled 'To Explain the World'. He talks to Subodh Varma about the tension that exists between religious belief and science:
Many people believe that much of modern science already exists in ancient texts or teachings of their respective religions. In India, for example, the Hindu rightwing claims that many scientific and technological achievements of modern times like the aircraft, nuclear bombs, plastic surgery, etc were discovered 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. Is that possible?

It is nonsense to suppose that modern scientific and technological knowledge was already in the hands of people thousands of years ago. Though much has been lost, we have enough ancient texts from Greece, Babylon, India, etc to show not only that early philosophers did not know these things, but that they had no opportunity to learn them.

What is the difference in the 'science' of ancient times and modern times?

We have learned to keep questioning past ideas, formulate general principles on the basis of observation and experiment, and then to test these principles by further observation and experiment. In this way, modern physical science (and to an increasing extent, biological science as well) has been able to find mathematical laws of great generality and predictive power. Our predecessors in the ancient and medieval world often believed that scientific knowledge could be obtained by pure reason, and where they understood the importance of observation, it was passive, not the active manipulation of nature that is characteristic of modern experiment.

Further, their theories of the physical world were often muddled with human values or religious belief, which have been expunged from modern physical science.

Why did modern science arise in the 17th century? Why not earlier or later?

It is impossible to say why the scientific revolution occurred precisely when and where it did. Still, we can point to several developments in former centuries that prepared the ground for the scientific revolution.

One was the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, which led to an increased concern with the real world and a turning away from scholastic theology. Another was the invention of printing with moveable type, which made it possible for the books of scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo to circulate rapidly throughout Europe.

Looking further back, we can point to the growth of universities from the 13th century onward. Although these grew out of schools associated with Christian cathedrals, they became havens for secular scientific research, for Buridan and Oresme at Paris, for Galileo at Padua and Pisa, and for Newton at Cambridge.

Despite stupendous advances in science, its acceptance still seems to be limited in society. In fact, you have publicly taken on antiscience lobbyists like climate change deniers or anti-evolutionists...

There are few people today who will deny the value of science, but there are many who are terribly confused about the content of scientific knowledge. They doubt the conclusions of geophysicists regarding global warming, and they think that it is still an open question whether evolution through natural selection is responsible for the origin of species. It is good to keep an open mind, even about the conclusions of experts, but there comes a point at which issues become settled. It is silly to keep an open mind about whether the Earth is flat.

Does a person have to abandon religion in order to become a scientist?

Certainly not. There are fine scientists (though not many) who are quite religious. But there is a tension between science and religious belief. It is not just that scientific discoveries contradict some religious beliefs. More importantly, when one experiences the care and open-mindedness with which scientists seek truth, one may lose some respect for the pretensions of religion to certain knowledge.

You have earlier written about the 'beauty' of science. What does that mean?

By seeking scientific knowledge over many centuries, we have developed a sense of the sort of scientific principle that is likely to describe nature, and we have come to think of such principles as beautiful, in the same way that a designer of sailboats develops a sense of the sort of design that will sail well, and comes to think of such sailboats as beautiful. There is no simple prescription for the beauty of a scientific theory, but it surely includes rigidity, the property that the details of the theory cannot easily be altered without destroying the consistency of the theory. 

The Telegraph
March 30, 2018


Icons can serve as a means of intimation. The Hindu right-wing seems to be creating its own pantheon of heroes to convey a rather chilling message to the nation. On the occasion of Ram Navami in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Hindutva outfits took out a tableau in praise of Shambhulal Regar. The irony is palpable. Regar is accused of murdering a Muslim man who, the killer alleged, was involved in love jihad — one of the most polarizing campaigns that Hindutva's legions have come up with to sow the seeds of discord among communities. The murder-accused was being feted on the occasion of a birth of a mythical king, who is known for upholding the principles of justice and inclusion. The propensity to transform villains into heroes is noticeable not only among the fringe but also in the centre. In recent times, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Bihar denounced the first information report issued against his son for incitement as a "piece of garbage". Again, in Jammu, a BJP functionary had participated in a march — the tri-colour was taken out during the procession — to protest against the arrest of a man who has been accused of raping and killing an eight-year-old girl from a nomadic group. Of course, it is not the BJP alone that is guilty of endorsing criminals. This kind of pandering to offenders seems to be endemic to India's political culture. What else can explain the fact that over 30 per cent of the elected members of the current Lok Sabha have criminal records?

What is interesting is that the criminalization of politics continues in violation of the laws that are meant to check such a malaise. Five years ago, the Supreme Court had ruled that holders of public office penalized with a prison sentence of over two years would be disqualified automatically. In recent times, the apex court has also wondered whether convicted criminals can head political parties, a practice that reportedly finds favour with the Centre. Political patronage of criminals leads to serious lapses. Bona fide institutions, such as the police, are brought under pressure to go easy on the lawless. Weak evidence, resulting in poor conviction rates, is the fruit of such intimidation. But institutional lapses offer a partial explanation for the deification of criminals. In a deeply iniquitous society, these figures are seen as legitimate conduits between resources and the people's rights over them. This purported image of benevolence is the key to the public acceptance of leaders with chequered records.

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona
The Guardian
29 March 2018

National ombudsman criticises ruling at all military installations as country is constitutionally a secular state

All Spanish military installations have been ordered to fly the flag at half mast over Easter. Photograph: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP

A constitutional row has broken out after Spain’s ministry of defence ordered all military installations to fly the flag at half mast over Easter to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ.

It is the second year running that the defence ministry has issued an order to the effect that “from 14.00 on Holy Thursday until 00.01 on Resurrection Sunday the national flag must be flown at half mast at all military units, bases, centres and barracks, as well as the ministry of defence and its regional departments”.

A defence ministry spokesman said that flying the flag at half mast for religious reasons was “in keeping with tradition” and was “part of the secular tradition of the armed forces”.

But Francisco Fernández Marugán, the national ombudsman, criticised the move on the grounds that Spain is constitutionally a secular state. Article 16.3 of the 1978 Spanish constitution states: “No religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic church and other confessions.”

In a study carried out in 2018 by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, 68.5% of Spaniards identified themselves as Catholics and 26.4% as atheists. There are approximately 2 million Muslims and 50,000 Jews in Spain. Fewer than half of Spanish Catholics ever attend mass.

Fernández Marugán rejected the argument put forward by the ministry, led by María Dolores de Cospedal, based on a 2017 ruling that members of the armed forces are authorised “to take part in celebrations of a religious nature in which the military traditionally takes part”.

He argued that the ruling did not anticipate “military funeral honours for religious motives, such as the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

The ombudsman said that “even if this tradition has acquired a ‘secular’ connotation over the years there is no doubt that it also has a religious one”, adding that “these practices could lead people to think that the state was more inclined to honour one religion than another” and that a non-confessional state had to demonstrate neutrality in regard to the various religions.

by Anaïs Llobet
Le Monde Diplomatique
April 2018

Putin and his government have built a mutually beneficial relationship with the resurgent Orthodox Church, a key element of the country’s new nationalism.

When Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, consecrated the new church of the Sretensky monastery last May, President Vladimir Putin was there. Afterwards he presented the patriarch with a 400-year-old icon of John the Baptist, which had hung in his office at the Kremlin; it now graces the altar of the church. This would have seemed odd a few decades ago: the church is not far from the Lubyanka, headquarters of the FSB and a symbol of the heavy repression of the 1930s, and is dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of anti-religious persecution.

The decision to consecrate it in the centennial year of the February and October revolutions was ‘deeply symbolic,’ Putin said after the ceremony. ‘We know how fragile civil peace is [and] we must not forget how hard it is to heal the wounds born of schisms. Therefore it is our common duty to do all that we can to preserve the unity of the Russian nation.’

The Orthodox Church did not disappear entirely during the Communist era, but it was a difficult time: the Bolsheviks violently persecuted the clergy, who had close links to the autocracy they were fighting, and by the second world war only 250 parishes remained active, compared with 54,000 in 1914. When Nazi Germany invaded, Stalin rehabilitated the Church to support mobilisation, in the long tradition of Russian holy wars against barbarian invaders.

The reinstatement of the clergy in 1943 was under the close supervision of the secret police and the Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, and though discreet worship was tolerated, the Church was prohibited from taking any part in public life. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, more Russians have turned to God: in 1991, only a third described themselves as Orthodox, but by 2012 that figure was almost three-quarters; Muslims were just a small minority (7%).


by Noam Cohen
The New York Times
March 29, 2018

Even as it issues full-page apologies in print newspapers promising ritualistically “to do better,” Facebook and its allies have minimized the importance of the seismic revelation that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked on behalf of the Trump campaign in 2016, had gained access to the private information of about 50 million Facebook users.

Some executives have pointed out that the mechanism that until a few years ago allowed a researcher with 270,000 app downloads to have access to 50 million profiles wasn’t exactly a secret, and, besides, Facebook users nominally agreed to the sharing of these profiles so that apps would perform better. The company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, took to Twitter to complain that Facebook and other “platforms” were being held to a double standard concerning the profiles, since they may well “have been criticized as monopolists for locking them down.”

Others poured cold water on the idea that Cambridge Analytica was able to use these profiles as grist for its research on swaying voters by cracking the code of human intention. Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist and a Facebook board member, doesn’t tweet anymore, but he “likes” hundreds of tweets a week, a group that recently included a string that mocked the public’s fear that new media forms can be turned into “weapons of total mind control.”

Perhaps these are the wrong reasons for outrage, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged. What Facebook is selling to political campaigns is the same thing Uber is selling to its drivers and customers and what YouTube is selling to advertisers who hope to reach an audience of children — namely, the right to bypass longstanding rules and regulations in order to act with impunity.

When you look at the Facebook data leak scandal this way, you realize that Facebook’s irresponsibility isn’t merely an abuse of a personal relationship — what its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, called “a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us” — but also an abuse of a civic relationship.

Selling relief from government scrutiny of elections is a different kind of threat to the social fabric than selling relief from government scrutiny of commerce, especially in light of our country’s record of denying voting rights to African-Americans. Facebook can’t be allowed to be a tool for enemies of democracy because it fears that regulation could hurt its bottom line.

What was valuable about allowing a presidential campaign to evade regulation? Well, to start, we know that Facebook, unlike a small-market TV station, didn’t care about Russians buying political ads, even when they paid in rubles. That’s a shock to our political system, which is meant to protect against foreign interference. But more menacing is the prospect that the Trump campaign and its allies may have been given free license by Facebook to suppress African-American turnout through “dark ad posts” that disappeared after viewing.

Shortly before the election, a senior official with the Trump campaign bragged to the Bloomberg reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg, “We have three major voter suppression operations underway,” which the article described as targeting “idealistic white liberals, young women, and African-Americans.” Brad Parscale, who ran the Trump campaign’s digital advertising, is quoted in the same piece discussing his plan to use dark ad posts of an animation of Hillary Clinton referring in 1996 to some African-Americans as “super predators.” Parscale suggested that the campaign would use this image to discourage a demographic category described by the reporters as infrequent black voters in Florida. “Only the people we want to see it, see it,” he explained. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

Some of the dark Facebook ads, bought by suspected Russian fronts, have been released as part of congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and these include an ad meant to depress black support for Hillary Clinton by referring to conspiracy theories involving her husband. What other dark Facebook ads might have been placed on behalf of the Trump campaign to suppress black turnout? Were there classic examples of voter suppression, like publishing the wrong Election Day date or falsely warning that you can be arrested at your polling place if you owe payment on a traffic ticket? We don’t know — the dark ads have disappeared and Facebook won’t release them, citing the privacy of its advertisers.
Facebook’s vast and well-designed platform offered the Trump campaign and its supporters cheap, direct access to African-American voters — and along with this the chance to mislead and intimidate. In the past, candidates intent on suppressing the black vote ran up against technological barriers. They had to work with fliers and obscure radio ads, since reputable media outlets, unlike Facebook, tended to push back against racially inflammatory, untrue political advertising. Fliers and radio ads leave a public residue, too.

The election of 2016, the first after Barack Obama’s presidency, was notable for a seven-percentage-point decrease in African-American turnout, from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. This was the first decline in 20 years in a presidential election and the largest ever recorded. The 2016 turnout rate was also below even the rate for the 2004 election, when John Kerry was the Democratic candidate.

At a hearing with the top lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota began by emphasizing the stakes involved. “I come at this with the simple idea that our democracy was formed to be self-governing,” she said, adding that American citizens have “a right of freedom to make their own decisions — and I think that was interfered with by Russians and also others.”

This simple idea of the United States as a self-governing community wasn’t the focus of the many mea culpa interviews Mr. Zuckerberg gave after reports of the data breach. He was focused on the individual. “A lot of the most sensitive issues that we faced today are conflicts between our real values, right?” he said in an interview with Recode. “Freedom of speech and hate speech and offensive content. Where is the line, right?”

Todd A. Cox, the director of policy of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, sees the question of our “real values” a bit differently. “There has been a lot of agonizing and struggling over the place of First Amendment,” he told me. “I would like the discussion to turn on what role does the 14th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, 15th Amendment play” — the guarantees of equal protection under the law and of the right of African-Americans to vote. That is, in addition to Facebook’s libertarian, Silicon Valley perspective that sees only the personal questions — my right to say what I want, my privacy — we must consider the collective questions: How do we protect historically discriminated groups? How do first we make sure everyone is able to speak through free, fair elections before we argue about what they can say?

This week, Facebook delayed the release of its home assistant devices and unveiled yet another attempt to make its privacy settings clear and easy to use. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must do more to keep people informed,” Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, and deputy general counsel, Ashlie Beringer, said in a statement announcing the new privacy system.

Facebook is insistent on seeing its failures as harming individuals, never society as a whole. The legal scholar Alexander Bickel was fond of saying, “No answer is what the wrong question begets.” Facebook has been asking the wrong question consistently for more than a decade, which is why its privacy scandals can seem like the longest running show in Silicon Valley. Recent events have offered us a chance to reframe the question about how to fix Facebook. It is one that all Americans should have a voice in answering.

Noam Cohen (@noamcohen) is the author of “The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball.”


South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. Newsletter of South Asia Citizens Web:

    #### _\_  ________
    ##=-[.].]| \      \
    #(    _\ |  |------|
     #   __| |  ||||||||
      \  _/  |  ||||||||
   .--'--'-. |  | ____ |
  / __      `|__|[o__o]|
_(____nm_______ /____\____ 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.

More information about the SACW mailing list