Empowering the Self: The Khudi movement against extremism in Pakistan

ImageThe nation of Pakistan, a key player in the global war on terror, has suffered the most casualties in the conflict, not only due to militants, but also its allies and its state establishments. Be it suicide bombings, US drone attacks or the blowback from state support to radical outfits, thousands of civilians and soldiers have lost their lives from violence along the tribal Af-Pak border to the major cities of Pakistan. The violence is exasperated by the presence of political wings of terror outfits as well as right wing Islamist parties which try to push draconian political agendas against the pluralistic and liberal elements of Pakistan. They appeal to the fundamentalists, the angry and the downtrodden and sustain grass root support and recruitment.

One movement striving to counter extremist thought and narratives in Pakistan is Khudi. Run by the youth of the nation and geared to counter extremism through the strength of words and vision, Khudi is a rising intellectual movement in Pakistan, asking the tough questions, discussing the delicate issues and demanding action from elected officials. I spoke to Imran Khan, a dear friend and Head of Training and Strategic Communications at Khudi, about the hopes and challenges of countering extremism in his country.                        

AJ: What different ways do you see extremism emerging and spreading in Pakistan?

Imran Khan: We see both non-violent and violent manifestations of religious extremism in Pakistan. Propagation of hatred and discrimination by certain groups against people of different religions and sects is a manifestation of non-violent extremism. However, it has a symbiotic relationship with violent extremists, i.e., terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda which are currently operating inPakistan. Violent extremism gains strength and credibility from the narrative of the non-violent extremists. Both have essentially the same ideology, although their tactics are different.

The spread of religious extremism has now become one of the most important issues facing Pakistan – more than 40,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in the country since 2001, and increasing divisions within society have created a climate of fear and insecurity that ordinary people are suffering from most.

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Supporters of right wing Islam

AJ: Are current political elements complicit in the spread of extremism in Pakistan or is it a byproduct of the dictatorships that have run the country for decades? 

Imran Khan: The current democratic government cannot be held solely responsible for extremism in the country, for it is the result of a domestic policy of Islamization and a foreign policy of supporting militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir which was implemented by Zia ul Haq during the 1980s and carried forward by the military establishment during the 1990s. We know that civilian governments have had little influence over these policies. However, the civilian leadership should have asserted its supremacy over the military and discontinued such policies.

AJ: What campaign strategies does the Khudi movement employ to spread its message in Pakistan and abroad?

Imran Khan: In Pakistan our main focus is on the youth, who constitute more than 60% of the country’s total population. We work to empower young people to challenge extremism on an ideational level and create an understanding and appreciation of democratic values amongst them. We do this through a combination of public speaking, advocacy and grassroots engagement with the youth.

We organize regular training workshops, conferences, dialogues and study circles, deconstructing extremist narratives and promoting democratic culture, pluralism and religiously neutral politics as an antidote. We also have a visible presence on mainstream and social media to spread our message as widely as possible. Our Facebook page has a following of over 59,000 and is a great way to mobilize and engage Pakistani youth. We’re also active on Twitter and YouTube.

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Imran Khan conducting a Khudi workshop

AJ: Have you ever revised campaign strategies for more effective results or due to fear for safety?

Imran Khan: Yes, in the past, we have revised our plans when we have felt there is a need to. We take security considerations very seriously during the course of our work and remain as vigilant as possible. The last thing we want is for people to be harmed because of us. Working on such sensitive issues in Pakistan is very risky. We have received some threats from unidentified individuals, but so far we haven’t faced any major security problems.

AJ: How receptive have Pakistani citizens been to this movement?

Imran Khan: The Pakistani youth – which is our main target audience – has responded very positively. That is why we have been able to work across the length and breadth of the country and have found a keen audience and following for our movement wherever we go. Having said that, sometimes our work can be challenging due to a sense of confusion, suspicion and isolation that people in Pakistan feel today.

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Imran Khan conducting a workshop with youth from the Swat valley

AJ: Do the movement’s aims and narratives sit comfortably with the nation’s media elements?

Imran Khan: Elements of the media support our work and have been instrumental in promoting our message domestically, but a significant section of the media has right-wing tendencies and does not necessarily identify with the things we say. However, this has not resulted in any kind of backlash and has not obstructed our work in any way.

AJ: What nature of international support does Khudi get?

Imran Khan: Apart from the international grants that we receive for some of our projects, Khudi has built a great network of global activists who are working on various issues around the world. Contacts with these activists have been established partly through Khudi founder Maajid Nawaz’s international work (e.g. his talk at the TEDGlobal conference in 2011) and partly through Khudi’s annual International Youth Conference and Festival, which brings activists, entrepreneurs and changemakers from around the world to Islamabad every year. These impassioned people have become international supporters of Khudi who spread the world about us in their own countries and lend us a hand in whatever capacity they can.

Maajid Nawaz, founder of the Khudi movement

AJ: Do you see any evident socio-political effects of the movement in Pakistan?

Imran Khan: We are very realistic about the results of our work as we are fully aware that the change we hope to see in society will take decades to become visible. It is however very heartening to already see positive effects in some of the areas where we work. We find that the young people we engage with have more confidence and knowledge to stand up against discrimination and hate, and there is a greater level of enthusiasm to take an active role in solving our society’s ills.

AJ: What legal reforms in Pakistan can significantly help Khudi achieve its goals?

Imran Khan: The legal framework to prosecute and punish those guilty of terrorist acts and those inciting violence needs to be strengthened a great deal. There is a lot of work to be done here. Laws discriminating against religious minorities need to be repealed. Also, a national counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategy with the input of the civil society, academics and experts needs to be urgently drawn up and implemented.

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Abolish Blasphemy law campaign

AJ: What foreign policy reforms are required to help Khudi achieve its goals?

Imran Khan: Most importantly, the Pakistani state needs to work towards normalizing relations with its neighbors, India and Afghanistan in particular. Our foreign policy needs an overhaul so that it can reflect the interests of its citizens rather than being based on a superficial notion of ‘national ideology’. Any remaining support for the use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy should be completely abandoned. This policy has not only damaged our relations with the rest of the world but has also caused mayhem at home.

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Imran Khan: Indo-Pak amity a necessity

There is also a need to amend the increasingly fractured relationship with the US in a way that mutual suspicion and duplicity are abandoned for more constructive approaches to areas of mutual concern. Lastly, Pakistan needs to re-orient its foreign policy focus on attracting more trade than aid.

AJ: Are such reforms possible in the near future?

Imran Khan: Given the current circumstances, it doesn’t look like this will be possible anytime soon. Although the incumbent government has taken some steps in the right direction, especially in improving relations with India through trade liberalization, there is still a long way to go. Given that the Pakistani army wields a disproportionate influence on foreign policy and tends to view everything through a security lens, such a policy shift is going to be hard work indeed. It is therefore imperative that civilian rule prevails, elections are held in a free and fair manner and civil society continues to raise awareness on these issues, so that the gains made in the last 4 years can be augmented.

AJ: What criticisms does Khudi face from Pakistani citizens, the media and political personnel?

Imran Khan: Since Khudi receives international grants for some of its projects, people are sometimes suspicious that we may be backed by a “foreign agenda”. We counter this by asking people to focus on the substance of our message and ideas and decide for themselves whether they agree with us or not. We are also very open in our discussions with the youth and invite them to share whatever concerns or apprehensions they may have.

AJ: Does international campaigning affect Khudi’s results in Pakistan?

Imran Khan: We feel that our international campaigning actually benefits our work in Pakistan as the issues that we raise internationally are the ones that bring the Pakistani people’s perspectives to the fore. When we talk to people about the work that we are doing internationally they appreciate it as they recognize that we are trying to promote the interests of Pakistani people on the international stage and trying to foster better relations between Pakistan and the world.

AJ: Where do you see your movement in the next five years?

Imran Khan: Bigger, stronger, more vocal, more organized and more determined than ever!

AJ: What message do you have for the people of Pakistan?

Imran Khan: We would tell the people of Pakistan to stay strong. As a nation, we have been through massive upheavals, crippling conditions and a lot of despair, but the only way we can hope to heal these wounds is to raise our voices for peace, pluralism and our right to determine the future of our country.  It is hard and it is daunting, and it is very often thankless, but it is the only way we can hope for a more peaceful, progressive and prosperous Pakistan.

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Aspiration for peace in Pakistan

AJ: What message do you have for people fighting extremism across the globe?

Imran Khan: Extremism is a destructive and divisive force, no matter what form it takes or wherever it rears its ugly head. More and more we see extremists taking advantage of globalization to spread their messages of hate. It has thus become crucial for those who wish to fight this menace to also join hands, learn from each other’s experiences and draw inspiration from each other. After all, the only way to fight darkness is with light.

The Indian Railways bear the brunt of Congress politics

Ayushman Jamwal

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Dinesh Trivedi presenting the Rail Budget in Parliament

On the 14th of March when the Railway budget was put in front of Parliament, the then Union Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi announced an increase in fares for all passenger classes. The move led to mixed reactions from across the political spectrum. The Railway unionists lauded Trivedi for progressive steps to finance a cash strapped and crumbling Railway sector. For years, despite a regular rise in the budget, the Indian railways have suffered from poor infrastructure, a dismal safety record and lack of security. A think tank titled, The Expert Group for Modernisation of Indian Railways submitted a report of the 27th of February 2012 arguing that the sector requires 5.6 lakh crores worth of investment for modernization. Regarding safety, under developed manned and unmanned level crossings have led to numerous deaths across the country.  According to a high level safety committee headed by former Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar, between 2007 and 2011 accidents at level crossings have led to over 700 deaths and 600 injuries. The committee estimated the cost of removing the country’s 6500 level crossings at 50,000 crores over five years.

Beyond the government, such essential finances require additional inputs from the consumer for better travel services. The conundrum is that rail fares have not risen since 2002, while the cost of services and maintenance have gone up. Additionally, railway unions have claimed that allowances to employees for travel and medical purposes have been delayed while overtime payments have been restricted due to poor finances. The government has been subsidizing fares for the past decade, causing the railways to lose 25,000 crores annually. With such a shortfall in revenue it’s not hard to believe the current state of the sector. Thus, Trivedi’s announcement was welcomed by railway workers as well as by customers who largely don’t mind paying extra fares for better services and safety. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised Trivedi, hailing his budget as ‘forward looking’.

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Mamata Banerjee

However, Trivedi was from the Trinamool Congress, and the matriarch of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee  did not like the fare hike, especially coming from a member of her own party. While Trivedi did his media rounds talking about his proposed budget, the TMC chief sacked him from the party and sent a message to New Delhi demanding the PM remove him from the post of Railways minister. The UPA government’s immediate reaction was silence. Many political pundits speculated that the government feared that Mamata Banerjee would pull out her nine ministers from the Centre. The situation would leave the government with the difficult task of proving a majority namely after the dismal performance by the Congress party in the recent state elections. For days, the Prime Minister stood silent on the issue, and the government position remained unclear. Meanwhile, the Opposition and the media expressed their outrage as national interests became second fiddle to politics.

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Mukul Roy in Parliament

After days of ‘who blinks first’, the pundits were proven right. Dinesh Trivedi resigned as Railway Minister and all the way from Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee appointed Mukul Roy, a TMC cadre to the post of Railway Minister in New Delhi. This was an unprecedented situation in Indian politics, where even before the Railway budget was passed, the office of the Rail minister changed hands. Today in Parliament Roy revoked Trivedi’s fare hike, except for AC-II tier and first class. Even such a compromise is a fry cry from a ‘progressive’ step. Reflecting on the incident Dinesh Trivedi gave a statement, “There is too much of politics in India and it cannot survive with too much of politics on a day-to-day basis. System should be above politics and it is applicable to every ministry.”

The incident is a poor reflection of the central government. The UPA government needed to call Mamata Banerjee’s bluff. Even if she pulled her ministers from the Centre, there would be other regional parties like the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party who would have taken the TMC’s place. New deals and affiliations would have had to be made, but at least the government would look strong and would effectively counter Mamata Banerjee’s rebellious behavior, which has been ignored by the Centre for too long. However, in addition to the TMC pressure, the DMK party in the South had also threatened to pull its ministers from the Centre if the UPA government did not support a UN resolution for an independent investigation into war crimes by the Sri Lankan army against Tamils. India voted in favour of the UN Resolution in Geneva today, even though its original stance was a unanimous support for Human rights without taking a country specific position.

Its ironic that the steps taken by the Congress party to remain in power have led to a significant decline in voter confidence. In the age of information explosion, the Indian public has become politically aware and active. In that scenario, the Congress party is foolish to think it can attract votes when it takes decisions that make it look weak and most importantly, which sidetrack national interests. In this day and age, if the government takes the right decisions and upholds the interests of the nation, it will not need to fight, capitulate or bribe for survival. The people will give the government their vote of confidence. The Congress party needs to revise its tact of sycophantic and appeasement politics. With an enlightened and aware electorate, only progressive, responsible and visionary decisions can bring parties to power and secure their places.

The time for the Congress party to revise its image is rapidly closing with the approach of the 2014 union elections. The recent state elections gave evidence to its political weakness but only the union elections can seal the UPA government’s fate with that image.

India and Pakistan: The hope for amity from the ties that bind

Ayushman Jamwal

Growing up in India, a typical youth’s perception of the world is framed primarily by family, popular culture and the news media. A family’s reflection of the past, their perception of society, the media’s framing of culture and history through music and films, and the news media’s portrayal of events, all filters into how the youth perceives the nation and the world. I grew up in India during the 1990’s, an era of regular violence in Kashmir, bombings in Mumbai and to top it all off, the Kargil war. The intellectual and emotional environment in India was marked with a sharp animosity for Pakistan. Families across the nation mobilised narratives of past wars and the Kashmir dispute, and the news media complied. Popular culture thrived on nationalistic imagery creating empathy for frontline soldiers while painting the Pakistani state and its people as the ‘others’, bent on subduing the Indian military and holding an alien right to the land of Kashmir. At a very young age, my generation interpreted the reality of our two countries in such a binary frame.

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Indo-Pak amity

When the 21st century kicked off, India was put on the fast track of becoming a success story of globalisation. As the Indian economy opened up and western consumer culture flowed in, Indian culture deviated from a binary vision of the world to a sense of cultural solidarity with the West. Pakistan has become a fringe actor in the view of Indians, as aspirations to study and live in the West and adhere to its cultural standards have overrun the nation. Pakistan’s image only flares once India is rocked by violence in Kashmir or terrorism, when the old binary sentiments come into play. It remains in our subconscious even as we have grown as a nation, sustained by a resilient yet negative image held by older generations.

Yet, when Indian students come abroad, they are exposed to a harmonious multicultural society. In a foreign land when searching for company and common connections in a global mix of students, Indian and Pakistani students become the best of friends. We speak the same language, enjoy the same food, films, music, and share the same traditions, customs and the aspirations to succeed through our studies to make a name for ourselves. In my four years studying at Cardiff University, I have enjoyed the friendship of many students from Pakistan, interacting with them during lectures and seminars, at cultural events, sharing meals or a shisha, or going on trips to see different parts of the UK. We share our memories of family, school life and popular culture, as well as our experiences interacting with people from different countries and adjusting to a new way of life, be it buying groceries, paying bills or the self-study culture the university thrusts upon us. While sharing the cultural diversity of India, I have learnt much about Pakistan. From the regional cultures of Sindh and Punjab to the differing norms, customs and communities in the cities of Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi, I have gained a deep understanding of the complex social make up of the country. I have also gained an insight into what Islam means to the people of Pakistan, how their tumultuous history has shaped their way of life, and how they just like Indians yearn to live in peace and strive in hopes to rid their society of corruption and the perverse brand of terrorism. Living in India one cannot see or understand life on the other side of the Line of Control. It is only when we come abroad that we can keenly look into each other’s worlds with a sense of ease and comfort. While as a journalist it’s an informative experience to learn of Pakistan in such an in-depth manner, as an Indian it is enriching to understand my neighbour’s culture through the bonds of friendship.

However, if there is one drawback I have consistently seen to relations between Indian and Pakistani students, it is when discussing Indo-Pak history or issues, both sets of students refrain from being candid with each other. Be it politics, poverty or conflicts, both groups of students are broadly unable to discuss them without drawing comparisons between the countries. They indulge in a limited debate even though it’s no secret that both nations suffer from similar problems. When Indian and Pakistani students discuss common problems, there is a persistent culture of ‘one- upmanship’ where both aim to frame the other nation’s situation as worse. It is essential that we address this attitude. We need to be able to honestly discuss and understand each other’s situation because we are neighbours with common roots and because it is the only means by which we can rid our societies of the animosity that has thrived for too long. Be it in a simple discussion, a high profile debate or just through writing, an honest discussion of the situations and issues in our nations will filter into our perceptions, our conversations, and discourses back home. As the future of our nations, the change in attitude can be the stepping stones to achieve a revision of national sentiments, a challenge to the apathy surrounding India-Pakistan relations, and hopefully one day a change in the political perceptions of our countries.

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Jinnah and Gandhi

Gandhi once said that anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding. The emotional environments in our nations do not support the discussion required to intellectually chart a way to harmonious relations. Yet, we are the future generation of our nations and looking into ourselves we understand that we do not deserve the anger and hatred of the past. We deserve to live in peace as friends and aid each other in attaining prosperity. To achieve that vision, we must take up the opportunities foreign education and foreign societies offer us to fearlessly peer across the border even when a hundred miles away.

The cruelty of war and the rhetoric of justice

Ayushman Jamwal

The DMK party

The DMK leadership in Tamil Nadu has warned the government that it will pull its ministers from the Centre if it does not back a US sponsored UN resolution calling for an independent investigation into war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government against Tamil civilians. As the UPA government maneuvers to maintain stability, pandering to the whims of Mamta Banerjee over the Railway budget and courting other state powers for assurances of support, it seems the direction of India’s foreign policy has also fallen to the self serving push and pull of regional politics.

CNN IBN panel on Sri Lanka

In a campaign for hearts and minds, many media elements have come to serve the agenda of the DMK. The news in the past few days have featured endless loops of videos showcasing atrocities of Sri Lankan army personnel against suspected LTTE members, the shelling of LTTE strongholds, and famously the death of Prabhakaran’s young son. With interviews from international human rights advocates and lawyers, they have effectively become mouthpieces of the transnational groups condemning the Rajapaksa government. It’s no surprise that after years of battling the US government over its role in international wars, these groups have been gifted a political opening to vent their anger in a different direction.

Sri Lankan supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa

The DMK is campaigning for justice for Sri Lankan Tamils primarily to consolidate their vote bank of  Indian Tamils. But we the citizenry should seek a balanced picture. If an investigation is launched into war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government then every Sri Lankan who voted for Rajapaksa is complicit in those crimes. The war with the LTTE was no covert affair. It raged for decades and killed thousands. During his political campaign Rajapaksa promised the people that he would subdue the Tamil Tigers to end the war. He was sworn in as President in November 2005 and re-elected for a second term in January 2010 after defeating the LTTE. Rajapaksa came and delivered, and the international community wants to punish him for that. Let’s not forget that the LTTE was a terrorist organization that killed thousands of innocent civilians including the former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. They chose to wage war against a superior military force without robust international support, and sidelined a peaceful political campaign for the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils. They did no favours to the community they were supposedly fighting for. In fact, the LTTE sealed their fate to be maligned by the Sinhalese population and become targets in a brutal war.

The Rastafarian philosopher Haile Sallassie once said, “Death takes what it wants indiscriminately in peace time and in war.” Being ‘civilised’ is not in the nature of the beast as history would tell. There will never be no code of conduct during a conflict.  Yet, for political convenience leaders initiate investigations after hostilities are over. The LTTE lost the war with the Sri Lankan government. It’s that simple. Assuming the Rajapaksa government agrees to an investigation, the most it can produce is a scapegoat.  Some wounds may heal but no true justice will be served.

But we can change by striving tirelessly to prevent war. That is where investigations by national and transnational bodies alike needs to be directed in the future – to prevent warfare rather than vainly blaming someone for it in the aftermath.

When Pakistan’s lion yelped

Ayushman Jamwal

Imran Khan shies away from a battle of wits with Salman Rushdie

During my time at Cardiff University, I interacted with many students from Pakistan to understand life and aspirations across the border. We would spend endless hours discussing the pragmatic steps to peace between our nations, the unfortunate institutionalization of corrupt and criminal politics in our systems of governance, and the necessity for responsible reforms to address them. Through our many talks, I realized that both our countries lacked leaders who could rally such aspirations and spearhead a democratic solution to the problems. In the past few years, one unanimous leader for young Pakistanis around the world has been their nation’s favoured son –Imran Khan.

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They would recall how he gave the country its first cricket World Cup, set up the its first free cancer hospital, and leads a small yet morally potent political force called the Tehreek-e-Insaf. They would swell with pride talking of his charm, humility and reiterate his eloquent vision to establish peace in Pakistan, crackdown on corruption, tackle social evils and strengthen democracy. In a political system marred by kleptocracy, Imran Khan to them is a hope for a better future. I myself was enamoured with such a man of conviction in Pakistani politics as opposed to the run of the mill survivalist politicians.

However, recent events have made me question my leap of faith. At a recent conference in New Delhi Imran Khan refused to share the stage with Salman Rushdie, an author most famous for his novel, The Satanic Verses which raised a storm of retribution across the Muslim world. An official statement from Khan’s party said, “He [Khan] could not even think of participating in any program that included Rushdie who has caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims around the globe.”

I have attempted to read The Satanic Verses, but to me it is nothing more than the ambiguous ramblings of an inebriated and angry mind. Yet I am not a Muslim, so I will never know why millions hold such animosity towards the book and its author. But Imran Khan is campaigning for a better Pakistan and aims to inspire the youth with his vision. A leader with his cause and caliber cannot be seen running away from a discussion or debate no matter how delicate the issue. It is easy to talk of principles than to live up to them, and that is a clear distinction between followers and leaders. Imran Khan may very well believe that Rushdie has caused offence to Muslims across the world, but he would be worth his mettle if he shared that stage, looked him in the eye and told him so.

ImageWhen The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, the narratives from the Muslim world were not debates or discussions to intellectually criticize Rushdie but angry protests and calls for his death.  This did no favours to Muslim citizens across the world. Imran Khan had this chance to exemplify the sanctity of his faith through reasoned, responsible and composed discussion and debate, yet he refused to take it.

Rushdie had the last laugh pulling no punches when criticizing Khan.  A few Pakistani citizens may have enjoyed how Imran Khan killed two birds with one stone by snubbing him in New Delhi. But I hope many Pakistani citizens, especially the youth are disappointed by his action. Cynics may argue that political pressures compelled him to retreat from the conclave, and they may be right. But Imran Khan’s actions and words have time and again defied the cynics. He has distinguished himself as a leader of principle. The true reason he lost faith in his ability to face Rushdie I guess no one will know. But his action is a disservice to those Pakistanis around the world who place their faith in him in hope for a stronger, progressive and enlightened nation. I hope he realizes that in retrospect.

Why Dr. Karan Singh should be the next President of India

Dr. Karan Singh

India is a land of diverse faiths, philosophies, communities, aspirations and struggles. It is an eclectic mix of existence and imagination that has endured and upheld the sanctity of democracy in our modern world.   The office of the President of India requires an individual who can channel this represent this cultural to the world and attract people, institutions and nations with the promise of opportunity, exposure, solidarity and friendship.  India is brimming with intellectual leaders who have done great service to this country in various fields. One individual who stands out with the vision of an India as a cultural beacon, who has the eloquence to inspire the youth of India for the future, and a firm grasp of the fabric of the nation, is the former Prince and Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and Chairman of the AICC Foreign department, Dr. Karan Singh. As Pratibha Patil takes her leave in July, I believe he is the ideal candidate for the office of the President of India

Dr. Singh has a distinguished political and social service career. From 1967 to 1980 as well as in 1990, he served as a Lok Sabha MP and since 1996 he has been a Rajya Sabha MP. He has held Union Minister posts for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Health and Family Planning, Education and Culture, and served as the Indian ambassador to the United States.  As Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr. Singh dedicated himself to the advancement and internationalization of Indian higher education. He has also actively steered the work of several cultural boards, organizations, and foundations, including the Author’s Guild of India, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Auroville Foundation, and the Indian Board of Wildlife.

The image of Indian politics unfortunately is marred by cases of corruption and criminality. Dr. Singh has had an unblemished career of civil service, carrying out all of his duties with responsibility and honour. As President, his image and eloquence can deliver a bright image of India attracting respect, cooperation and amity from the rest of the world.        Dr. Singh cherishes India’s cultural links across the world and believes it to be a powerful diplomatic tool.  According to him, “We should be proud that we share Urdu with Pakistan, Nepali with Nepal, Bengali with Bangladesh, Tamil with Sri Lanka and English with the rest of the world!” As the  President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Dr. Singh has done great service to India spreading its dynamic culture abroad.  From under his leadership, the ICCR now runs 20 cultural centres aboard and supports 24 Chairs of Indian Studies in Universities around the world.  It offers over 2000 scholarships every year to foreign students including 675 scholarships to Afghan students in accordance with the Prime Minister’s commitment during his last visit to Afghanistan. In addition, Dr. Singh spearheaded cultural festivals – promoting Indian art, music, theatre, films and dance in nations across the world including European Union countries, China and Japan.

Political opponents namely the Communists argue that Dr. Singh’s royal background makes him an inappropriate candidate to be the President of the  Indian Republic. For the 21st century Indian, it isn’t the title of a person but the actions that emphasize the content of his or her character. For decades, Dr. Singh has immersed himself into various responsibilities in the service of India. His wisdom and sense of duty have guided him as a model minister steering important policies and his deep knowledge of Indian traditions and philosophy has made him a torch bearer for Indian across the world.

The great poet Iqbal once said, “a lofty vision, a voice which touches the heart, a consciousness suffused with compassion, these are the only real requirements for the leader of the caravan.” In this spirit, Dr. Singh’s dedication to service, his vision to strengthen the foundations of Indian society, and his character to deliver India abroad make him a model Indian citizen.  He is apt  for the office of the President of India.

The lasting political effect of Anna Hazare

Ayushman Jamwal

Last year, veteran Indian activist Anna Hazare went on an indefinite hunger strike in protest against a string of corruption scandals involving members of the Congress party led UPA central government. Hazare and his colleagues demanded the revision and passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) which has been stagnant in the Indian Parliament since 1969. The original Jan Lokpal Bill was geared to create only an advisory body for corruption investigations. Team Hazare demanded the creation of an independent watchdog to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption with administrative offices including the judiciary and the office of the Prime Minister within its ambit. The campaign received resounding support from across India, offline and online, as people vented their frustration with corruption. The Congress party met significant electoral setbacks. Following four days of sustained protest, the government capitulated to Team Hazare and agreed to set up a committee to draft a stronger Jan Lokpal bill.

Anna Hazare during his hunger strike in April 2011

After the committee meetings, Hazare started another campaign to push the new Bill through Parliament. The campaign received limited public support and the Congress was able to pass the old and weak version of the Bill through the Lower House of Parliament in December last year. However, it met stiff opposition in the Upper House, which was adjourned without passing the Bill. The Speaker adjourned the session on the grounds that there was no order in the House. The government argued that it would consider the amendments to strengthen the Bill and address them in the next session of Parliament in 2012. Criticising the move, SS Ahluwalia, the deputy leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party), a major Opposition party in the Upper House, told the IBN live news channel, “On December 29, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned abruptly at 12 midnight and the government maintained that there were so many amendments moved by the members and it would have to go through them…. I can show you several precedents where the House has continued to function till it completes its business.”  Since then the Bill has been on the back burner as Budget season kicks in on the 16th of March this year.

Even though Anna Hazare was adjudged ‘Newsmaker of the year’ for 2011, the main question the Indian media asked at the beginning of 2012 was – What has been the effect of Anna Hazare?

The state elections last month were an apt test of Hazare’s political effect. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Punjab and Goa went to the polls late last month, with the Congress battling national and regional parties to strengthen its position at the Centre. Team Hazare stepped back from the limelight during the elections, yet the spectre of corruption was drummed up by every competing political party. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi party (Socialist Party) came to power with a majority of 225 seats with the Congress trailing with a meager 37 seats of the 424 seat assembly. In fact, the party lost its core constituencies of Amethi and Raebareli in the state, seats it had held for the past three decades. In Punjab, electoral history was created after the coalition of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP became the first political entity to win a second term in the state with a majority of 61 seats with the Congress behind with 43 seats of the 117 seat assembly. Out of the 40 seats in the state of Goa, the BJP and its allies steered to victory with 21 seats with the Congress bagging only 9. The BJP changed tact in Goa by setting aside its Hindi nationalist image, fielding seven Christian candidates and aiding them all to victory. In Uttarakhand, the Congress won the most seats but came short of a majority with 32 seats of the 70 assembly seats. However, the BJP came a close second with 31 seats, making the state’s independent seat holders the king makers. Even though the Congress has created the government, with the division of seats it operates an unstable government in Uttarakhand. The poaching of few seats here and there and the Congress government can fall. In Manipur, with no significant regional or national opposition in the state, the Congress breezed towards victory with 42 seats of the state‘s 60 assembly seats.

Rahul Gandhi after election defeat in UP

Team Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign had a great hand in placing the issue at the centre of the state elections. The involvement of the Congress led UPA government in billion dollar corruption scandals dealt the party heavy losses in states where it faced stiff competition. The results bear significant evidence that the Congress party has lost its regional prowess and become weak in the Centre. The pressure on the government is evident in their announcement that the Jan Lokpal Bill will be discussed in the budget session of Parliament. Anna Hazare may have retreated from frontline activism, yet his campaign to pass the Jan Lokpal bill has been taken up by Opposition groups at the Centre. On Tuesday, the leader of the BJP in the Upper House, Arun Jaitley gave notice to exercise his right to suspend Question Hour and make the Jan Lokpal debate the first order of business of the Upper House during the budget session. Jaitley told IBN Live on Monday, “The reason government gave then is that it wants more time to go through those amendments moved by the members. By now, it has had enough time to study them.”

The movement sparked by Hazare has been criticized as a showboat campaign against corruption, ample with shows of public mobilization but lacking legislative strategy and tangible results. The political class criticized his movement as a campaign to circumvent Parliament while the government dubbed it as ‘outsourced politics’ by Opposition parties. However, the political effect of the anti-corruption campaign is evident. By championing the Jan Lokpal Bill not only do Opposition parties wish to critique the government, they aim to look electable and mirror public sentiment against corruption for the upcoming General elections in 2014. As a damage control exercise, the government has placed the Bill in the Budget agenda. Even when away from the public eye, Hazare’s actions still resonate in the hearts and minds of the Indian people. They have and will play a decisive role in the state and general elections to come.