21 January 2020

A Basic Understanding of NRC and the Assam Accord

A month back I wrote an article on the Citizenship Amendment Act. Today's article is on the NRC and the Assam Accord

What is the National Register of Citizens (NRC)
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has become another political football. The BJP’s decades-old stand on the NRC has remained the same. From the party’s manifesto in the 1996 general election to the 2019 general election, the BJP has remained firm on completing an NRC to curb illegal migration into India, especially in the north-eastern states from Bangladesh.
In the 1996 manifesto, the party articulated three Ds: detection, deletion, and deportation – detection of illegal immigrants, deletion of their names from the electoral rolls, and deportation to the country of their origin.

In the 2019 manifesto, the party declared that: “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country. We will continue to undertake effective steps to prevent illegal immigration in the north-eastern states. For this we will further strengthen our border security.”

What is the Assam Accord?
The reader must note that the NRC idea is not the BJP’s baby. The NRC idea, first proposed in 1951, took root in the 1970s when the All Assam Students Union (AASU) launched a mass movement after its scrutiny of the local electoral rolls revealed names of a large number of illegal Bangladeshis. The AASU protested vehemently with its ‘Ds’ demand: detection, deletion, and deportation – detection of illegal immigrants, deletion of their names from the electoral rolls, and deportation to Bangladesh. The protest gained popular traction as it touched a raw nerve of the locals: they had been impacted adversely, especially demographically and economically, by the presence of illegal Bangladeshis.

However, it was only in August 1985 when the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress Government and the AASU signed the Assam Accord. The central feature of the Assam Accord were the 3 Ds: detection, deletion, and deportation – detection of illegal immigrants, deletion of their names from the electoral rolls, and deportation to Bangladesh.

Under the Assam Accord, the Citizenship Act was amended to include clause 6A that provided for the classification of immigrants in Assam: 
  • those who came before 1966 (including Hindu refugees who fled East Pakistan during the 1965 war); 
  • those who came between 1966 and 24 March 1971 (when war with Pakistan officially commenced); and 
  • those who came after 25 March 1971 (war refugees and later illegal immigrants). 

Citizenship was to be given to all those who migrated before 1966 from east Bengal and east Pakistan. Those who came between 1966 and 1971 were to be disenfranchised and granted citizenship after due process. Those who came after 24 March 1971 were to be detected and deported.

Subsequent governments at both the Centre and in Assam failed to complete the NRC. Fed up with the indifferent attitude of the state government, the AASU knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court, which ruled that the NRC, promised under the Assam Accord, must be completed under its supervision.

Now, it is clear that the NRC in Assam was (i) a provision of the Assam Accord, to which the Congress was a party; (ii) held in the state after the Supreme Court of India called for its implementation and (iii) the central government has had no role in its completion.

The draft NRC in Assam registered 2,89,83,677 out of the state’s 3.3 crore population (census-based). The rest were left out; in other words, they could be classified as ‘illegal immigrants’. It is here that the Bangladesh Government comes in; in case, Bangladesh refuses to acknowledge these four million as its own citizens, they run the risk of being labelled ‘stateless’.

For now, the BJP’s flip-flop has only muddled the NRC debate. Things get murky when the ruling party does not lend clarity on its current stance, especially considering the several misgivings about documentation and proof of citizenship.

Identifying illegal foreigners – whose job is it?
The Central Government is vested with powers to deport a foreign national under section 3(2)(c) of the Foreigners Act, 1946. These powers to identify and deport illegally staying foreign nationals have also been delegated to the State Governments/ Union Territory Administrations and the Bureau of Immigration under the Foreigners Act, 1946. Detection and deportation of such illegal immigrants is a continuous process. Statistical data of cases regarding illegal immigrants is not centrally maintained.

I think the BJP should run a better PR machine with focus on three central aspects of the CAA: 
(a) that the CAA is an amendment to the existing Citizenship Act, 1955, (b) that it only speeds up the process of granting citizenship to members of certain communities, and (c) that it does not relate to the citizens of India.

04 January 2020

Can Iran risk a war against the U.S.?

In this short note, I will focus on two important questions on the fluid situation in West Asia following the killing of Qosem Soleimani, arguably the second most powerful person in Iran and the head of its Quds Force, a special branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The global media is screaming from the roof-top about an impending World War III. Well, I have a contrarian viewpoint. Here it is.

Can Iran risk a full-fledged war?


Iran cannot risk a full-scale war against the United States.

Its economy is tottering, especially in light of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S.; here's a short note.

(a) Iran's GDP is likely to contract by 9.5 per cent, i.e., produce a tenth less than the previous year. 

(b) Sanctions, imposed by the U.S. for Iran’s pursuit of nuke weapons, have
dragged the budget revenue down, which has squeezed the money available for welfare schemes;

(c) oil production has fallen by nearly 90 per cent;

(d) exchange value of the currency (Rial) has dropped significantly (one American dollar gets you 1,40,000 rials at the current exchange value); and

(d) the country is rationing petrol at 60 litres per person at 15,000 rials per litre (anything above is sold at 30,000 rials).

It is true that Iran has developed a large arsenal of missiles and other weapons despite being under the burden of debilitating sanctions. Its missiles can reach Israel, an arch-foe. However, Iran may not enjoy a first-strike capability as Israel has the highly effective Iron Dome anti-missile interceptor.

Even if Iran does strike Israel with a missile first, it would have to bear the brunt of a sustained barrage of missile strikes from Israel.

Iran knows that it does not have the military capability to engage in direct confrontation with the U.S.; its conventional decades-old military machine is no match for the world’s most advanced weapons system of the U.S..

Also, almost all of the oil and gas plants of Iran are on its coast in the Gulf. In the event of a full-scale war, it is likely that the U.S. will seek to destroy these strategic assets, which are at the heart of the Iranian economy.

Once destroyed, there is precious little the Iranians can do fuel their war effort; no money will flow from the destroyed energy assets.

What is the most likely way for Iran to respond?

As Iran cannot risk a full-scale direct military confrontation against the U.S. and Israel, it will most likely resort to ‘asymmetric warfare’, an idea pioneered and built by Qosem Soleimani.

In the last two decades or so, Soleimani raised, nurtured, armed, funded and guided several Shia militia groups across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The most popular of these militias is the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

It is most likely that Iran will attack the U.S. and Israel using these militias as proxies to advance its interests. Considering that most of the militias are disparate groups, it may become greatly difficult for the Americans and the Israelis to defeat them.

In the fast-developing scenario enveloping West Asia, Iran might scream itself hoarse, but it knows that its best bet to hurt its biggest enemies is by using asymmetric warfare through its proxies.

22 December 2019

The CAA, Demographics, & Identity

Note: Dear Reader, please ignore the alignment and other issues related to this post; with great difficulty I could publish this post.

he Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 has become a new rallying point for the detractors – both in the political and non-political fields. 

The liberal cabal, also called the ‘secular brigade’, were stunned with the abrogation of Article 370 and the Supreme Court’s judgment on the Ram Mandir issue. The BJP-led NDA has been accused of anti-Muslim bias. Now they are frothing at the mouth, again.

Highlights of the CAA

The below listed important provisions are excerpted from the ‘The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which is an act further to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. 
  • Persons belonging to the faiths of Hinduism (Hindus), Jainism (Jains), Sikhism (Sikhs), Buddhism (Buddhists), Zoroastrianism (Parsis), and Christianity (Christian) who entered India on or before 31 December 2014 will not be treated as illegal migrant.

  • Such person shall be deemed to be a citizen of India from the date of their entry into India.
  • Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, the most important requirement for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 years of the previous 14 years. The CAA relaxes this 11-year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the above-mentioned religions and three countries.

  • Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under 'The Inner Line' notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

  • The Inner Line Permit allows an Indian citizen to visit or stay in a state that is protected under the ILP system. The system is in force today in the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya (notification issues recently), Nagaland and Mizoram; no Indian citizen can visit any of these states without an ILP unless he or she belongs to that state, nor can he or she (over)stay beyond the period specified in the ILP.

As you see, there is nothing anti-Muslim here. Also, it has nothing to do with Indian citizens.

A Muslim from any country, including from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, can apply for Indian citizenship. However, she will have to come through the normal process, and not through the expedited process that will be available to non-Muslims from these countries.

The three countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have been explicitly mentioned because they are avowedly Muslim, with Islam as a state religion. It is an open secret that religious minorities of Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis are greatly discriminated against, persecuted in every way possible, and denied basic freedoms.

Forced conversions to Islam are an ugly fact of life while blasphemy laws are routinely used to harass and intimidate religious minorities in these countries.

Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka

A moot question that many people have raised relates to the Hindu Tamils of Sri Lanka. Why haven’t they been included in the CAA?

It is true that the Tamil speaking Hindus in Sri Lanka were, for decades, severely discriminated against, on the basis of their ethnicity, by the majority community of Sinhala-speaking Buddhists. In fact, such discrimination was the fundamental reason behind the rise of Tamil separatism, spearheaded by the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

However, ever since the end of the war that effectively smashed the LTTE out of existence, the Sri Lankan government has ended decades-old discriminatory practices against the Tamil Hindus. Today, Hindus are not discriminated against in Sri Lanka like they were in the past.

NE India: Identity Crisis & Changing Demographics

A social group may fear that its identity and culture would be swamped, whether within a state or in the country at large. Smaller groups within a state or province may have legitimate fears of being overridden by larger or more powerful groups.

he idea of difference, or strangeness, dominates the human psyche. As a species, we believe that we are ‘different’ from animals (though science would classify us as mammals, and therefore an animal species). Even as individuals, we believe that we are different from ‘the others’. This belief, the outcome of social, cultural, and religious moorings, shapes our identity. It also develops our perspective, shapes our attitude, and defines our understanding of the world around us.

In a multi-cultural and multi-religious country like India, the interests of various groups tend to diverge, which, unfortunately, has engendered a divisive nature in us. Concerns, arising from threats to one’s distinct identity, often precipitate the process of transformation of a religious or ethnic or linguistic or cultural identity into a political movement designed to ‘protect’ the so-called distinct identity.

India’s NE states are characterized by great religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland are Christian majority states; Sikkim has a Buddhist majority; Tripura has a Hindu majority; Arunachal Pradesh has a Buddhist and Christian majority, while Manipur has a Christian and Hindu majority (in equal measure).

The 'Outsiders' in NE

The native people of Assam have, for long, resented the presence of outsiders amidst them. By ‘outsiders’, we mean the illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who have poured into Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, and Tripura.
The Assamese accuse the Bangla-speaking illegal Muslim migrants of grabbing the local economic resources, grabbing land, and imposing their way of life on the hapless natives. In some parts of Assam, illegal Bangladeshi migrants constitute nearly 40 per cent of the population.

In her incisive monograph titled, ‘Illegal Migration from Bangladesh’, for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Pushpita Das, writes that:

  • The unrelenting migration from East Bengal/East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) into Assam, Tripura and West Bengal was clearly brought out in the census data on population growth of these bordering states. For example, in the first three decades after independence, Assam registered an overall population growth of around 35–36 per cent, way ahead of the national average of around 21–25 per cent, indicating a rise of population through migration.
  • The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 triggered yet another massive inflow of refugees into India. It was estimated that close to 10 million people from East Pakistan had entered India.
  • To make matters worse, most of the migrants who were deported from Assam in the 1960s re-entered the country. The steady rise of Muslim population in the state from 24.68 per cent in 1951 to 28.43 per cent in 1991 to 34.2 per cent in 2011 is also taken as an indication of large-scale migration from Bangladesh, an assertion further reinforced by the increase of Muslim population in the bordering districts of Goalpara, Nowgong and Cachar, from 42.94 per cent, 34.18 per cent and 38.49 per cent in 1951 to 51.31 per cent, 38.42 per cent and 45.47 per cent respectively in 2001.
  • Post-independence, Tripura also witnessed massive inflow of people from East Pakistan, a majority of whom were Hindus. As a result, in the first decade after independence, the state’s population increased by 78.71 per cent, which was highest in the country. In the subsequent three decades, the population growth rate continued to hover around 30–35 per cent. The share of tribal population in the state, on the other hand, decreased from 53.16 per cent in 1941 to 31.50 per cent in 1961, which further decreased to 28 per cent in 1981. (end of excerpt)

In this context it is pertinent to know that perhaps the bloodiest fight over resources between the natives and the illegal migrants took place in Nellie in Assam’s Nagaon district in 1983, when over 2,000 migrant Muslims, including women and children, were killed in attacks by local tribals.

An Aside on Demographics of Bengali Speakers in NE India

The total number of Bengali speakers in India, as per Census 2011, is 9,72,37,669 (9.72 crore approx.). Of these 7,86,98,852 (7.86 crore approx.) reside in West Bengal. A total of 1,85,38,817 (1.85 crore approx.) Bengali speakers reside outside WB.

Where does most of the 1.85 crore Bengali speakers reside? The table below lists the absolute number of Bengali speakers in NE states, most of which are predominantly tribal.  

Source: Census 2011
Most importantly, large-scale illegal migration into West Bengal and NE states has led to a sharp fall in the availability of land for cultivation and great scrambling for mostly unskilled jobs. The native folks residing in various NE states deeply resented (and continue to resent) the presence of illegal migrants who were not taking away their sources of livelihood but were also, in some places, imposing their way of life on the natives.

As you can see, the people of Assam and NE states are protesting not just against people of a particular religion, but against all ‘outsiders’ who they accuse of nibbling away at economic opportunities and swamping their way of life.
As for the CAA in general, all it has done is to reduce the window of waiting period for the persecuted minorities in three countries to get Indian citizenship from 11 years to five years.

Last Word

As you must have observed, most of the ‘violent’ anti-CAA protests are taking place in BJP-ruled states. In states ruled by the Congress or where the Congress is in power via coalition, no violent protests have taken place. Even in Hyderabad’s Old City area, a stronghold of the AIMIM, a staunch Muslim party, there have been no violent protests. 
What this tells us is that the protests by the Muslim community in BJP-ruled states are politically sponsored by anti-BJP forces.

I think a great failing of the BJP has been ‘communication’. The party has several effective public speakers, yet they have failed miserably in communicating to the public, especially Muslims, that the CAA has nothing to do with Indian citizens.

It is pertinent that the Central Government carefully manages the aspirations of distinct groups, as this is critical to ensuring social stability and maintenance of peace and order. Also, it would be great if the BJP runs an effective information campaign about the CAA to counter the misinformation and malacious propaganda about the CAA.

28 November 2019

$543 Billion!

According to India’s Ministry of Finance’s report on external debt, India's external debt was at around $543 billion as at end-March 2019. In terms of external debt ranking, India ranks 24th in the world.

External debt of India is the money owed by India to foreign creditors. In simple words, it is the money we have borrowed which we have to pay back (along with the interest on it).

World’s Most Indebted Nations
With a debt of $20,263 billion, the United States is the world’s most indebted country, i.e., it has the highest external debt. In fact, the U.S.’ external debt is a tad lower than the combined external debt of the three next ranked countries: the United Kingdom (second rank at $8,491 billion), France ($6,470 billion), and Germany ($5,800 billion).

Types of Debts
As you know, based on maturity (when it becomes due for payment), there are two kinds of debts: long-term and short-term.

A loan with a maturity period of more than one year is termed long-term debt.

A loan with a maturity period of less than one year, i.e., this debt would become due for repayment in the next twelve months, is called short-term debt.

Short-term debt includes both the principal and the interest on such loans. In other words, short term external debt includes short term debt by original maturity as well as long term debt (that has become due for maturity).

A government (just about any authority) prefers long-term debt for a fundamental reason: the longer the maturity period of the debt the lower the pressure on repayment.

In this context, it is pertinent to cite the breakdown of India’s external debt by maturity: about 80 per cent of the total external debt is long-term (i.e., about $434 bn of $543 bn). It is a no-brainer to say that the lower short-term debt works in the country’s favour.

Components of External Debt
There are several components of India’s external debt. However, for the common person to understand something as complex as external debt, the following are the main components of India’s external debt:

Multilateral credit – borrowed by the Government of India from institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank;

Bilateral credit – borrowed by the Government of India from other countries (like Japan);

External commercial borrowings (ECBs) – these are the borrowings of companies like Bharti Airtel from abroad;

Deposits of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). NRI deposits are treated as liabilities as they have to be repaid to the depositors, and

Foreign Institutional Investment (FII) – investment by foreign fund houses (like mutual funds) in India’s stock markets and government securities.

Sources of the external debt of $543 bn
The Reserve Bank of India has a lowdown on the debt mix of the Government of India.  

 As you deduce from the source mix, just about 19 per cent of the total external debt is owed by the Government of India. This government debt is also called ‘Sovereign’ debt. The remaining part of the external debt is non-government debt. 

Vulnerability of the Indian economy
India is not vulnerable to any major or minor problem arising on the external debt front. The World Bank’s SDDS says that there is no vulnerability of the Indian economy to external shocks on the debt front. India’s foreign exchange reserves (of around $447 billion in November 2019) to external debt is around 82 per cent is within manageable limits. 

That's all folks!