By Amulya Ganguli


It isn’t only the economic slump which is a cause of concern, there is also reason to be worried about how India’s diplomatic ties with countries far and near are deteriorating.


To take our neighbours first, the chances of a rapprochement with Pakistan as when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore in 2015 have receded into the distance. Instead, India’s approach is currently more militaristic than ever before in peace time with its articulated intention of incorporating Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) into Jammu and Kashmir.


While relations with Pakistan have generally been unfriendly, this wasn’t so with Bangladesh, especially when Sheikh Hasina Wajed has been the prime minister. But ever since the passage of the amended citizenship law, there has been a cooling off of the ties, with Bangladeshi ministers cancelling their trips to India and Sheikh Hasina saying that the new law was not necessary.  


Given New Delhi’s insistence on enforcing the law despite the protests against it and the refusal of several non-BJP state governments to implement it, few will expect a turnaround in Indo-Bangladeshi relations in the near future.


Apart from anything else, this decline will weaken Sheikh Hasina’s position in domestic politics with her political opponents driving home the point that her “pro-India” stance did not help her by befriending India.


For the sake of implementing an item on the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, the government has soured India’s friendship with Bangladesh, perhaps enabling China to make inroads into that country.


It isn’t only Dhaka which is unhappy despite New Delhi’s laboured explanation that the persecution of Hindus there took place before Sheikh Hasina assumed charge, Kabul, too, will be displeased with its bracketing with Pakistan by India in the matter of the ill-treatment of minorities.


India’s friendship with Afghanistan is likely to come under strain, therefore, at a time when there is a possibility of the Taliban striking a deal with the US with Pakistan’s assistance and returning to power in Afghanistan. The RSS-driven citizenship law can be said to have driven a wedge between India all of our three neighbours in the west and east.


If India is on a tricky wicket with countries in its vicinity, it is the same with those in Europe as well as the US. Even before the disquiet over the Kashmir situation has subsided in America and Europe, the citizenship law has been seen by them as a negation of Modi’s earlier image as a business-friendly modernizer and an affirmation of India’s intolerance towards the Muslims as the British magazine, The Economist has said.


It can be safely assumed that this damaging perception of those who earlier lauded India’s multicultural democracy will not change as long as three former chief ministers remain under detention in Kashmir and the protests by students and Muslim women continue against the  citizenship law and the national population register (NPR), which is seen, along with the national register for citizens (NRC), as the means to hound the Muslims even if all the “termites” (illegal immigrants) cannot be evicted.


India may have been pleased with the partial success of a guided tour of Kashmir by several East European members of the European parliament notwithstanding their reputation as fascists and Islamophobes. But it will now have to take into account the resolution moved by a group of socialists and democrats in the parliament which has described the citizenship law as “discriminatory” and “dangerously divisive”.


If the BJP thought that the citizenship-NPR-NRC roadmap will divert attention from the economic difficulties, the tactic has misfired. Saving the constitution is not the only reason why the universities are astir with protests. The students are also worried about their future because of the dire employment situation. Moreover, the police highhandedness in dealing with them has possibly made them more determined to carry on their protests.


The politicians have so far taken a back seat which is just as well because the BJP would have otherwise taken advantage of their involvement to brand the protests by students for being politically motivated and the Muslim women for being in the grip of Islamic extremists. The BJP spokespersons have already latched on to an intemperate speech by a Muslim student to malign the Shaheen Bagh gathering of Muslim women.


It is possible that the politicians will come to the fore after February 11 when the Delhi assembly election results will be announced. If the BJP fares poorly, the emboldened protesters will feel that half their battle has been won. Otherwise, they will have to brace themselves for a crackdown.


However, the protests appear to have reached a stage where the politicians will generally have to follow in their wake and not play a leading role. One reason why they are likely to remain in the background is that there are no charismatic personalities in the non-BJP camp who can be a galvanizing factor.


The other reason is that there is a likelihood of articulate individuals with innate organizing skills emerging from the amorphous groups who have taken to the streets as during Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in the 1970s.(IPA Service)


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