Weekly Update: Pantomime Theatre At UNGA 76; Sikh Supermen

With a name like UNGA UNGA… UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly is a true near end of year pantomime theatre of world leaders in all their glory of eccentricities, clownish performances and national dresses attempting to give a memorable speech and also slipping in a bit of Shakespearean act worthy of Lago’s irrational hate in Othello.

Time was when UNGA was even more entertaining. Cuba’s Castro could mesmerise the world leaders with his 5 hour long speeches that he started by saying he will be brief. For those with nothing less to do, read Fidel the Great.

However the longest speech at a UN session is held by no other than our own Krishna Menon in 1957 when he rambled on for 8 hours at the Security Council, even collapsing in the bargain as he put his audience to sleep. For those with even more time read here.

These days diplomats have TikTok attention spans, so speeches are short. It started with Pakistan’s Imran Khan who went full frontal with words such as ‘The worst and most pervasive form of Islamophobia now rules India. The hate-filled ‘Hindutva’ ideology, propagated by the fascist RSS-BJP regime, has unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million strong Muslim community’

Khan raised the evil of Islamophobia around the world. Out of some 200 countries at the UN, the biggest single block in the world united by ideology is the Islamic block with 52 countries. And they can’t persuade a single country, India, to push back on alleged Islamophobia!

It would have been better for Khan to make the speech at OIC, the Islamic world’s forum than to developing countries at the UN or capitalist minded western countries at UNGA. All Khan’s speech did was portray a sense of weakness.

Modi couldn’t be upstaged. He went into the West and claimed India is the mother of ‘democracy’. Move over Greece. Did anyone know that Indians have been secretly holding majoritarian elections for thousands of years? 1947 Independence really was when India ‘came out’. Historians at JNU have their work cut out as todate they have failed to unearth ballot papers from Ashoka’s time in their research. It wont be long.

‘Mother of democracy’ was in the same realm as Modi’s great claim to the Indian Medical Fraternity when he cited Lord Ganesha as undisputable scientific ‘evidence’, “There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

Unfortunately there were no farmers at UNGA to point out the dictatorial way he pushed farm laws in Parliament against democratic norms.

Coming from a country that has the world’s ten most polluting cities, Modiji even made a fantastical claim to be the country leading in tackling climate change. Gandhi who can be elastically stretched to any good cause in the world was used as an example of India’s commitment to environment saying, Gandhi highlighted the doctrine of trusteeship “where we all are trustees of the planet with a duty of caring for it”.

Some Vedic scholar should have told him that ‘trusteeship of planet’ concept is an Abrahamic philosophy whereas Vedic thinking is cosmic, that humans are just one of the thousands of lifeforms with no greater claim to earth than a fly or a bee.

Being at UNGA, he couldn’t resist from retaliating at Imran Khan with the ubiquitous ‘terrorist’ label. It’s the MEA’s constant mantra at every international forum, ‘terrorism, terrorism, terrorism… we must unite against terrorism’, conveniently forgetting the terrorism from Bhakts who terrorise any Muslim who dares to look at a cow in the eye.

Yet, Modi said, ‘Countries with regressive thinking that are using terrorism as a political tool have to understand that terrorism is an equally big threat to them’, clearly aimed at Pakistan. He forgot to outbid Imran Khan’s promise to plant 10 billion trees which got praise from Britain’s Boris.

Modi even took a swipe at China, for its expansionism and referring to the Quad strategy to make Indo Pacific peaceful. At the same time he is hoping to get China’s support for expansion of the UN Security Council. Difficult to understand the diplomatic finesse in this.

Giving the whole speech in Hindi, he also referred to Oceans, saying “Humare samandar bhi humari sajha virasat hai. Hume dhyaan rakhna hoga ki ocean resources ko hum use kare, abuse nahi”. (Our oceans are also our shared heritage. That’s why we have to keep in mind that we use ocean resources, not abuse). Did none of his speech writers have Hindi translation of word Ocean? Isn’t it mahasaagar?

So UNGA UNGA, with Pakistan and India each exchanging neighbourly barbs all the way in New York. But there was more UNGA UNGA.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris, who has a long history of a wannabe Churchill but with gaffes that make a manager on meths seem more with it, decided the whole world needs to become Kermit the frogs. Saying “And when Kermit the frog sang It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green, I want you to know he was wrong – and he was also unnecessarily rude to Miss Piggy.” Few if any of the gathered Prima Dona leaders got the joke.

This may have been a Boris type dig at the French. The French are called ‘frogs’ by xenophobic Brits, because the French eat frogs although many a British tourist goes to France to eat them. Or Boris wants the whole world to become Kermit the frogs, green in colour not necessarily in nature.

He then said, “Daily, weekly, we are doing such irreversible damage that long before a million years are up, we will have made this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable – not just for us but for many other species.”

Boris doesn’t always confess but here he spoke the truth as concurrently his government is investing in a coal mine! A lot of the irreversible damage is also done by Boris Govt policies or lack of them. United Kingdom has the most number, some 30 million, of poorly insulated houses that lose energy at high rate into the atmosphere making it worse. Insulate Britain, a campaign group is now being put in prisons for asking Boris to stand by his words.

Perhaps the prize of UNGA UNGA goes to the American President, Joe Biden. Biden, still not being able to explain his sudden Afghan exit, has started saying, ‘peace, man, peace’. He is of that generation that came out from Hippiedom and went on to become rich self-serving grown-ups but continue to say ‘peace, man, peace, share’.

At UNGA 76, Biden said, “We have ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. And we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy: of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world; of renewing and defending democracy; of proving that no matter how challenging or how complex the problems we’re going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all our people”.

Problem is that all American presidents have been on an evangelic mission to prove that democracy is the best form of governance for all the world. So they have been invading and toppling governments that are not democratic.

The clever among the UNGA crowd will notice nothing has changed. Biden has set up AUKUS, a lethal nuclear arsenal against China and the Quad, a group of 4 countries to ‘tackle’ China yet saying, ‘peace, man, peace’, but preparing for war!

UNGA UNGA UNGA… UNGA, the word itself seems like some primitive war ritual song with a number at the end. This time it was UNGA 76

NIA Meets Sikh Nationalism

The Sikh nationalist movement is desperate for some successes. So they fell over each other to claim great victory at the Britain’s Westminster Magistrates Court, giving the impression that they were each responsible for the failure of Indian government NIA (National Investigation Agency) to bring evidence at the court.

At stake were three Sikhs accused remotely by NIA of having been involved in terrorism and particularly the death of a mediator Rulda Singh. NIA wanted them extradited to India.

NIA is used to Indian judicial systems and management of ‘terrorism’. It has a habit of awarding the label of ‘terrorism’ at the same speed as gulping a ‘gol gappa’. And it does with the belief that like the Pontif at Vatican, the NIA word is infallible.

In India, courts are used to pressures. NIA normally banks on the strategy that when a person is accused of ‘terrorism’, the court conveniently hands over the legal documents to the Delhi Indian Railway lost counter, never to be found again. One can make numerous visits only to be met with a blank, ‘not found yet sir’. So the accused sits in prison for decades making hundreds of visits to court dates, which amounts to an Indian judicial form of sentence without trial.

NIA was banking on the same happening in UK. After all the Indian judicial system was set up by the British in their image of justice system. It probably relied on a bit of a nod and a wink from MEA to British Foreign Office in exchange for lush contracts. It hoped the ‘3 dreaded terrorists’ (they are all usually dreaded according to NIA) will be detained until lost legal key could be retrieved from Delhi railway Lost Items counter five decades later.

Unfortunately, the British legal system has not become corrupted yet by politics or diplomacy.

The Brits are a bit savvy at these sort of pressures. They did a bit of drama of detaining NIA-labelled three ‘dreaded terrorists’. They pushed the extradition request into the legal system and released them with some restrictions.

Normally if Britain really believes in the request, it detains the person and keeps him/her in until the case is heard. Not this time. One can imagine the weary civil servants at Home Office going, ‘not again, do we have to go through this charade again’. Yes, probably said FCO (Foreign Ministry in UK), there is a few billion at stake post Brexit.

So the case came up. NIA had no evidence, not expecting it would be called to give evidence! Evidence is a bit of a novelty in Indian anti-terrorism approach! There is poor Jaggi Johal in long detention in India without any evidence.

The British magistrate threw the case out. No evidence, no extradition.

The Sikh nationalists claimed this a great victory. Having hired and taken coaches to ‘persuade’ the magistrate, they claimed their tactics had achieved results. They had lobbied MPs too.

Now British courts never listen to MPs or crowds. Simple fact was there was no evidence presented to court to consider whether to grant extradition hearing or not. However NIA got one bit of victory. The magistrate did say that when and if ever the evidence is available, he personally is willing to look at the extradition request again. That’s a Damocles sword hanging on these poor chaps.

Meanwhile, for ‘new’ evidence the NIA may have to ‘persuade’ some witnesses to give statements that these three hapless Sikhs were part of a big conspiracy to mount a coup d’etat and throw out the elected Government in India. Imagine being compared to the Superman.

Are India’s Probing Agencies Becoming Political Puppets?

Last month the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the Centre was “weaponising” central investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) by using them to probe and harass her, her friends and family, and her party leaders. She scathingly remarked that the ruling regime, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was using these agencies as its “mistresses” to target her and her party.

Jammu and Kashmir is now administered as a Union Territory under the terms of Article 239A (which was initially applied to Puducherry is now also applicable to the Union Territory as per The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019) of the Constitution of India. Before that Act was passed, J&K was administered by a coalition government that was formed by an alliance of the PDP and the BJP. That alliance was ill-fated and in June 2018, it broke down, leading J&K back to Governor’s Rule.

Ms Mufti’s remarks alleging that the Centre is using the government’s investigation agencies to target the ruling regime’s political opponents is not an isolated one. This is not the first time that CBI, NIA, ED, and other central investigative agencies have been accused of being used politically by ruling regimes in India. The CBI is India’s premier investigating agency and functions as a national investigating and security organisation as well as an intelligence agency; the NIA acts as the Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency; and the ED is a law enforcement agency and economic intelligence agency that is responsible for enforcing economic laws and fighting economic crime in India.

Targeting political rivals or opposition leaders by using the services of such agencies is not new in India. Successive ruling regimes have been observed to have done it. However, the rising concerns are about the alleged spread of the practice since 2014 when the incumbent BJP-led coalition came to power at the Centre and, subsequently, was re-elected in 2019. The BJP’s clearly-stated objective is not only to make India emerge as a country “freed of the Congress” (Congress mukt Bharat, in Hindi) but also to wrest control in as many of the Indian states as it can. So, its political rivals include, not only a national party such as the Congress, but also several regional parties that hold sway in the states.

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The first of the apparently politically-motivated actions by investigating agencies during the BJP-ruled regime began early. Soon after the BJP-led coalition came to power in 2014, investigative agencies swung into action. There were raids at the Delhi chief minister (and vocal opponent of the BJP) Arvind Kejriwal’s office; and old cases against Uttar Pradesh’s Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati were revived. In 2019, just before the general elections, the CBI raided the Kolkata police commissioner’s office without a warrant in what was an action quite clearly directed at undermining the Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee who is the chief minister of West Bengal and also a huge critic of the ruling regime at the Centre.

The list of such political targeting by investigative agencies is long. In 2019, former Haryana chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, faced raids in connection to old cases of alleged corruption in land deals; Congress MP and political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel (who passed away in 2020) was linked to a money-laundering scheme in Gujarat; and the homes of leaders close to the Biju Janata Dal leader and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik were raided before panchayat elections in that state. These are only a few examples of what Indian political parties, particularly those who oppose the BJP, call “political vendetta” against them. Last month, when the ED summoned a Shiv Sena leader’s wife in Mumbai for questioning in connection with a bank fraud, the party’s workers put up a banner in front of the city’s ED office, which proclaimed that it was a BJP office.

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It should not be anybody’s case the charges that are levelled by the investigating agencies against opposition politicians are rigged or false. Some (or perhaps, even all) of them may have some basis for investigation. But it is the concerted manner in which the agencies are used that is of concern because it smacks of government interference in the role of the agencies that are supposed to be autonomous and apolitical.

One of the most high-profile cases was the one involving former finance minister P Chidambaram in 2019. He was accused of being involved in the INX Media scandal. Chidambaram was charged with allowing an irregular transfer of overseas funds to the media company. Chidambaram was arrested and the CBI tried to extend his custody many times. But that case has now gone nowhere.

That is the other thing. Many of the cases on which investigative agencies have based their actions against opposition political leaders have either died down, reached a dead-end, or not been pursued after the initial raids, arrests, and so on. While that could reinforce the opposition parties’ allegations that the ruling regime is using the agencies for political vendetta, the more serious issue is about what such a practice could do to the reputation and autonomy of India’s central investigating agencies, which are, by law, meant to be non-partisan, apolitical, unbiased, and independent. If these institutions and their functioning are prone to political interference, not only will their functioning be eroded but Indians will lose their faith in the establishment and its ability to function without fear and favour.