Hard to Believe that the Pakistan Government Did Not Know About Axact

It is hard to believe that the Pakistani government was unaware of a major scam orchestrated by Axact, a software company based in Karachi that operates a global network of fake online schools that sell bogus diplomas.

But ignorant or not, the government, which raided Axact’s offices, had little choice but to act after a report by Declan Walsh in The New York Times disclosed clear connections between Axact and at least 370 education websites, many of which claimed to represent online universities and high schools based in the United States. The scam had existed for years and reaped many millions of dollars.

The problem of bogus degrees and predatory schools goes well beyond one company in Pakistan. Still, the startling revelations that one outfit could cast such a wide net of duplicity give Congress and federal regulators the incentive they need to become much more aggressive at exposing fraudulent companies that pose as legitimate schools for the purpose of selling bogus degrees or luring people into costly but useless courses that lead nowhere.

According to The Times’s account, Axact’s bogus empire consists basically of the online descriptions of elegantly named and beautifully depicted schools with names that sound very much like those of respected American colleges — Columbiana, Barkley and Mount Lincoln.

This is, in fact, an elaborate online confection; behind these names there are no professors, no courses and no campuses that offer degrees with real accreditation. The sites added a further patina of legitimacy by referencing recruitment agencies, language schools, fake accreditation organizations.

Some customers are essentially complicit in the scam, reaching out to Axact for the express purpose of buying fake degrees. But people seeking a legitimate education have been seduced into enrolling in online courses that never materialized or cajoled into believing that their life experiences were sufficient to earn a diploma. In one instance, a woman who called to inquire about a high school diploma was surprised to receive a diploma in the mail after taking a 20-question test online.

The websites linked to Axact provide everything from high school diplomas for about $350, to doctoral degrees for $4,000 and above. Salesmen sometimes impersonate American government officials, then bully customers in buying forged or falsely acquired State Department certification documents for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, the company has denied any wrongdoing.

Axact, however, is hardly the only actor in this arena. In their book titled “Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas,” the former F.B.I. agent Allen Ezell and his co-author, John Bear, set forth staggering statistics about comparable or similar frauds.

They assert that there are 3,300 unrecognized universities worldwide, many of them selling degrees at all levels to anyone willing to pay the price, and that more than 50,000 Ph.D.s are purchased from diploma mills every year — slightly more than are legitimately earned. The fact that fake medical degrees seem particularly easy to come by raises obvious safety concerns.

The US Congress, which has paid only glancing attention to this problem, needs to focus on it in a sustained way. That means getting federal agencies to devise a coherent plan for curbing these kinds of abuses.

Pakistan Engineering Council & Corruption

Clip_2The role of the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) in eradicating corruption and the norm of paying commissions in all the engineering based Government departments has miserably failed.

Since the enactment of PEC Act 1976, the PEC has not punished any of the engineers of mega projects registered with PEC on the basis of corruption, nepotism and for taking commission on each and every bills of the contractors.

Every member of the society and contractors knows that the total commission ranging from overseer, SDO and executive engineer comes in between 10 to 12 percent of the contractors bill amount whereas the Cantonment Executive Officer, who is non-engineer is taking 10 percent commission alone from the contractors. The PEC has closed its eyes and has taken no action against the corruption of the engineers and executive officers so far.

Elections of PEC are held after every three years and the coming PEC elections are scheduled for June 14, 2015. The engineers who contest the PEC Elections always speak too much about corruption and commission and also promise the young graduate engineers for good employments but after winning the elections, the office bearers of the PEC forget each and every promise just like politicians do.

The PEC has a fund of more than one billion but it has never been spent on the welfare of the engineer’s, contractors or on the staff of PEC. The huge funds of PEC are always being spent on the lavish tours and on the other expenditures of the office bearers of the PEC.

Prostitution: The Right to Buy Women

“Do we really want to raise our children in the belief that they have the right to buy women for sex? Won’t we teach them [instead] to have mutually satisfying and consensual sexual relationships? Won’t we teach them that women must be respected and not paid for?” – “Heaven”, sexual abuse survivor, exploited in a brothel from age 14

Clip_13Right now, Italian lawmakers are discussing bills that would undermine efforts to reduce sex trafficking and exploitation, make things worse for people in prostitution and violate their human rights.

Parliament is seriously considering legislation to decriminalize pimping and brothel-keeping; create legal “red light areas”; criminalize those selling sex outside of these areas; and require public registration and exorbitant fees for people in prostitution (Bill No. 1201, the ‘Spilabotte Bill’).

Alarmingly, it also proposes secondary school lessons for young men and boys on how to “safely” use people in prostitution — essentially teaching young people that it is ‘ok’ to buy sexual access to another person if you have the money for it, and normalizing the objectification of women and girls.

Essentially, the bill would stigmatize people in prostitution, normalize exploitation, and allow the Italian government to promote and profit from trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

In Italy, the vast majority of those in prostitution are women and girls, primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds and poorer countries. Many have been trafficked, and they are constantly exposed to serious safety and health risks.

Please join Resistenza Femminista and IROKO in calling on the Italian government to #ListenToSurvivors and reject the Spilabotte Bill and similar proposals. Rather than criminalizing people in prostitution and profiting from their exploitation, the government should enact legislation that protects their human rights and reduces exploitation in the commercial sex industry.

How Much the Developed World Wastes?

  • Clip_9There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them.
  • The irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 litres per person per day) of 9 billion people – the number expected on the planet by 2050.
  • If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
  • 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten.
  • The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people’s mouths.
  • UK Households waste around 20% of all the food they buy – but the good news is that this suggests a 17% reduction since 2007. We’re improving.
  • All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.
  • A third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste – or enough to feed 3 billion people; and this would still leave enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130 per cent of their nutritional requirements.
  • 2.3 million tonnes of fish discarded in the North Atlantic and the North Sea each year; 40 to 60% of all fish caught in Europe are discarded – either because they are the wrong size, species, or because of the ill-governed European quota system.
  • An estimated 20 to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards. 8.3 million hectares of land required to produce just the meat and dairy products wasted in UK homes and in US homes, shops and restaurants. That is 7 times the amount of Amazon rainforest destroyed in Brazil in one year, largely for cattle grazing and soy production to export for livestock feed.The bread and other cereal products thrown away in UK households alone would have been enough to lift 30 million of the world’s hungry people out of malnourishment4600 kilocalories per day of food are harvested for every person on the planet; of these, only around 2000 on average are eaten – more than half of it is lost on the way.24 to 35% of school lunches end up in the bin.
  • An estimated 15 million tonnes of food wasted in Britain from the plough to the plate.

Osama bin Laden’s Inner Thoughts on Charitable Aid

226342_10150153845301116_683106115_7149489_417527_nThe US government in May 2015 released a tranche of declassified documents revealing some of Osama bin Laden’s inner thoughts, including on climate change and aid.

His views on humanitarianism have attracted a fair degree of mockery; few will look for advice on compassion from a man who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that killed more than 3,000 people in New York.

Yet for humanitarian organisations seeking to deliver aid to needy people in areas where Islamist militants hold sway, there are lessons to learn.

Even militant Islam acknowledges aid 

Humanitarianism is an inherent part of Islamic laws and traditions. Annual alms-giving is a religious obligation, and the Quran gives the needy a right to aid.

Bin Laden’s writings reflect this understanding. In an undated document, possibly drafted after the 2010 Pakistan floods, the former al-Qaeda leader was not inherently hostile to aid; in fact, he stressed its importance. While he deemed the “secularist” belief that disasters could be prevented arrogant (because, in his view, disasters are the will of God), he described relief efforts as insufficient, and said that aid “will always be crucial” and that its quality, method and timing needed improvement.

For Bin Laden, aid agencies clearly supported one side of the conflict despite their obligations. And in some cases, International Humanitarian Law would agree with him.

Some scholars of Islam see the centrality of the poor’s right to assistance under Islamic law as imposing a requirement on Muslim fighters in conflict situations to either provide aid themselves or allow others to do so – presumably paving the way for acceptable international aid work. The Islamic tradition of safe passage or aman allows aid workers to negotiate pledges of security in territory controlled by Muslim groups.

Bin Laden called for the establishment of a relief organisation that would go beyond temporary assistance to deal with the “frequent, diverse and massive consequences of climate change” – what the aid industry might call building “resilience”. But while he did not explicitly say so, the tone throughout his text suggested this organisation would not only have to be Muslim but meet further criteria to be legitimate in his eyes.

Aid delivered by Muslims is not immune 

Aware of the need for local legitimacy and acceptance, many aid agencies working in contexts where Islamist militants are present have hired Muslim staff who speak the language and understand local culture and dynamics. But bin Laden’s text suggests that even Muslims can be treated with disdain and suspicion.

He cited a charity headquartered in London and “calling itself ‘Islamic Relief’,” whose female staff in Pakistan worked side by side with men in tight pants and full make-up, and which was forced by UN standards to distribute aid to non-Muslims.

“Neither could the principles of the relief organization possibly be Islamic nor could the services it provides possibly be good for Muslims,” he concluded.

This singling out challenges assumptions about which NGOs have better access to areas controlled by Islamist militants.

There’s a common argument that Islamic organisations are more likely to be accepted. Actually, we don’t see too much evidence of that in Somalia or Afghanistan anyway – a little but not much. And they may actually be subject to more scrutiny or different expectations, which bin Laden’s comments fall into line with.

Aid agencies are seen as partial

Part of bin Laden’s frustration with Islamic Relief was its alignment with standards and principles he saw as partial. He claimed NGOs were too close to the United Nations and failed to stand by their own stated objective of neutrality.

He recounted asking the charity to provide aid to injured Islamist fighters or mujahidin in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. He was told by a senior employee that it would be “next to impossible, as they are watched by the intelligence and governments, and without recognition and facilitation they could not even breathe.”

For bin Laden, this was clear support for one side of the conflict – “the Mujahidin are also victims and they have both sick and wounded families” – and in this case, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) would concur.

This is ingrained in IHL – that once a person is wounded, or a prisoner, then he ceases to be a combatant and is deserving of humanitarian assistance. We need to remain neutral at all times. Once a person is wounded they are not anything. They don’t belong to any party. They are just war wounded, so you treat them.

The Taliban wrote an open letter to the UN in 2012 arguing that Afghan government bureaucrats – with whom the UN works closely – could not be considered innocent civilians, but rather participants in the conflict.

The perception that NGOs are in favor of one side often hinders their ability to reach hundreds of thousands of Afghans in need. As just one example, hospitals in Afghanistan’s Helmand province faced protests a number of years ago after they allegedly treated wounded Taliban fighters.

It’s a question of terminology 

In a rather frank assessment of international NGOs, Bin Laden accused them of “outside” speech.

“The expressions used – such as… field studies, the development projects, the food-security and the establishment of pipes’ networks… – in their entirety are expressions used by the West, and bear certain or special understandings.”

This is a common criticism of traditional NGOs: the “professionalized” terms used by the sector make it seem a Western import. But in some cases, it’s just a matter of using the right terminology.

The Western terminology puts people off… For example, humanitarian is a Western term; people relate to the word charity better…

So you’re just talking in the language that people talk, but it is the same concept.

Aid agencies are increasingly trying to position their arguments for access and the protection of civilians within an Islamic context, sometimes using religious figures as liaison with Islamist armed groups. But the trend has been slow to develop because resorting to religious justifications can be seen as a slippery slope – somehow indicating that the purportedly universal principles of IHL are not enough.

Militants may be radical; they’re not necessarily irrational

While bin Laden’s positions may not be popular, they reflect a meticulous rationalisation process, in keeping with the traditions of Islamic theology. The credibility of a Muslim leader’s position on any given question is determined by the Muslim community or ummah based on the reasoning provided to justify the answer. Even within jihadist groups, fierce, detailed debate takes place about acceptable behaviour in war.

Bin Laden’s interpretation appears out of step with mainstream Islamist thought when he implies, for example, that non-Muslims should not receive aid. But his theological interpretations may well be moderate compared to positions adopted by the so-called Islamic State, which just this week, for example, has kicked international NGOs out of areas it controls, according to unconfirmed reports.

This is relevant for aid agencies because it opens up room for negotiation. And aid agencies are increasingly investing in understanding Islamic law in order to be able to influence the decision-making of militants, including bringing theological expertise onto their staff.

Talibanization of Sindh

100-0065_IMGSuicide attack on Imam Bargah in Shikarpur shook rural Sindh that had remained immune to such scale of savagery to a large extent. Portentous developments during recent years were alarming enough to take a critical stock of affairs in the Province but who would take notice of such developments in the Province, and for that matter, in the whole country.

The Shikarpur carnage affected the liberal image of rural Sindh. Traumatized Sindhis drew complacency from the fact that the suicide bomber was not a native as Sindhis try to find anything positive about themselves in almost everything.

Rural Sindh had once a rich tradition of tolerance and respect for plurality. At the time of partition when communal riots engulfed the country, Sindh did not witness horror scenes of communal violence. There were sporadic incidents, yet the fabric of society generally remained intact.

Districts of north Sindh are home to a sizeable population of Hindu community. Local communities respected each other’s faith and social norms. These areas, however, faced a spate of delinquency of all kinds during recent decades such as tribal feuds, kidnapping for ransom, abduction of Hindu girls, honor killings, murders, road robberies, rise of religious groups and sprawl of completely unchecked madrassa network.

During past two decades, successive governments, for their vested political interests, have virtually fragmented Sindh into feudal fiefdoms. Tribal lords in these districts are known patrons of hardened criminals. Their fiefs straddle adjacent provinces that provide safe havens to criminals from both sides. Once they cross the provincial boundary, local police ensconce with ease.

The districts of north Sindh flanked by east Balochistan and south Punjab, namely Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur, Shikarpur, Kashmore, Jacobabad and Kambar-Shahdadkot have emerged as dens of notorious criminals. Their proximity to the two provinces provides a safe corridor to hardened goons who rule the triangle without any interference of otherwise jealously guarded writ of law.

Administrative machinery inter alia the police department has been made subservient to the whims of chieftains as a reward for their allegiance to the incumbent governments. Rule of law has been fettered by moribund tribal courts. A subjugated administration fortifies the clenched fist of tribal chiefs. In spite of Supreme Courts decree against tribal courts, they operated with complete impunity.

In cahoots with sitting ministers and high level police officials, tribal lords brazenly run this illegal and atrocious archaic justice system and openly deride formal judicial system. May it be a martial law or an elected regime; tribal oligarchy enjoyed its uninterrupted hegemony. Routine administrative machinery is preoccupied with servility and no honest official is allowed to function in these areas.

This tyrannical rule of lawlessness provided fertile ground to extremist forces to sneak into these areas. Their pernicious entry manifested through a fast unwinding chain of seminaries, targeting of Hindu community and parental refusals of polio vaccine.

In 2013, Health Department of Sindh reported an alarming 23,723 refusals during polio vaccination campaign. Most of these refusals were noticed in the districts of upper Sindh, mainly Shikarpur and Kashmore. Refusals were also reported from Pakhtun community enclaves of Karachi and Jamshoro districts.

Whereas refusal by Pakhtun communities followed an understandable pattern, much baffling was permeation of this alarming trend among native Sindhi families. Refusing parents were never dealt with due seriousness and the ominously changing complexion of society was completely ignored by the provincial government and other relevant entities. A timely action could have forestalled perilous designs of terrorists and had potentially stymied the gruesome consequences.

In the aftermath of Swat operation of 2009, Sindh witnessed a major influx of internally displaced people from the upcountry. Political parties and civil society of Sindh forewarned that terrorists evading army operation would have sneaked in the guise of affectees. The government, however, dismissed the demands for a mechanism to sift out heinous elements from the real affectees.

Terrorist outfits fully exploited this heaven sent opportunity to find a toehold in Karachi. The city thus plunged into a new wave of chaos. In addition to ever bleeding wounds of ethnic warfare and inexorable street crime, the city has been brought to its knees by sectarian violence and suicide attackers. In 2010, a suicide bomber blew up himself at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, killing eight persons. It was followed by a series of incidents of terrorism targeting devotees and caretakers of shrine, polio vaccination teams, police personnel guarding vaccinators, doctors, traders and Shia community.

Terrorist groups also made Karachi a new base to mobilise finances through kidnappings for ransom, extortion and bank heists. Concurrently, terrorist also nestled in the towns and villages of north Sindh.

Infestation of extremists in rural Sindh made itself conspicuous through a series of incidents. Shrines of Hajan Shah and Pir Hussain Shah were targeted in Shikarpur and Jacobabad in 2013. In 2013, a suicide bomber attempted to kill a tribal and political leader Ibrahim Jatoi in Shikarpur. In 2010, more than two dozen NATO trucks and tankers were torched in Shikarpur. Polio vaccination teams were roughed up in Khairpur district. Last year, two Ahmadi community men were killed in Nawabshah. Ahmadis were also targeted in Tando Allahyar, Badin and some other towns of Sindh. Hindu girls were abducted and forcibly converted. Temples of Hindu community were vandalised and torched in various towns.

Toxic graffiti started appearing in various towns including Khairpur, the home constituency of the Chief Minister of Sindh. Clerics openly thundered during religious congregations and pronounced sectarian minorities to be apostate, infidel and liable to be assassinated.

An indolent, corrupt, incompetent and self-indulgent government of Sindh remained indifferent and turned a deaf ear to alarms raised by civil society and political parties of Sindh. It simply shrugged off every criticism and termed it an anti-democracy campaign. State of denial persisted within official corridors that paved way for proliferation of extremist groups in the province. This is how north Sindh gradually transformed into a microcosm of FATA.

This changing complexion of Sindhi society has emerged as a major challenge for political and civil society of Sindh. Attempts for penetration of religiosity in rural Sindh met tough resistance in the past.

A deep-rooted nationalist and cultural movement had been a bulwark against invasion of religious elements in the province. Iconic nationalist leaders like GM Syed, Haider Bakhsh Jatoi, Rasool Bakhsh Palijo and others led a strong secular Sindhi nationalist movement. The PPP that dominated political landscape of rural Sindh had also been a relatively progressive and liberal party. Sindhi literature, poetry, music and media promoted strong secular values. Because of this societal outlook, Islamabad-based establishment often purported Sindhis to be lesser Muslims and non-patriotic.

Nationalist and secular movements in Sindh restricted religious parties to Karachi who could not find any space in rural Sindh. Sentiment against religious political groups further sharpened when a conglomerate of religious parties launched movement against a much revered Sindhi leader Z.A Bhutto. His execution not only alienated Sindhis from the state affairs but also deepened abhorrence among them for religious parties, whom they considered responsible for bolstering Gen. Zia’s xenophobia. The trend persisted till Musharraf’s regime.

However, since 2008 when the PPP assumed power in Sindh after 12 years, it invested all its energies in land grabbing, money minting and trading jobs and contracts. As against all aspirations of Sindhis, corruption, nepotism and lack of merit have gripped the province. On the other hand nationalist parties also lost their luster due to weak leadership and opaque character.

Failure of governance, discredited opposition parties and listless nationalist movement together created a vacuum that is being fully exploited by extremist elements to make inroads in an unwelcoming territory. In addition to these factors, spiraling extremism in Sindh also enjoys patronage of a sections of security establishment. In some of the high security border districts, security apparatus monitor all developments with an eagle eye, yet seminaries flourished unhindered in those areas.

Vanguards of proscribed religious groups conveniently frequented these areas to carry out proselytisation campaigns. Their network sprawled and activities gained momentum during recent years. A flippant attitude of government will let the extremism fester in Sindh. Exorcising the ghost of extremism will be an excruciating process.

Aam Aadmi Victory in Delhi is a Disaster Message for Modi

Siddharth Varadarajan on what has driven voters from BJP to AAP.

IMG_0683Narendra Modi, as the saying goes, should have been careful about what he wished for. “Jo desh ka mood hai,” he declared during the election campaign for the Delhi assembly, “wahi Dilli ka mood hai.” Now that Delhi has given the Aam Aadmi Party 67 out of 70 seats and 54 percent of the popular vote, the PM must be wondering what this means for the emerging mood elsewhere in the country.

To understand the scale of the defeat that Modi – who was not just the face and voice of his party’s campaign but its totem as well – has just led his party to, consider this simple statistic: the 3 seats the BJP managed to win under his leadership this time represent  a massive 95 percent drop from the 60 assembly segments he delivered in the 2014 general election, and a 78 percent fall from what the party’s local leadership managed on its own in December 2013.

In that election, Rahul Gandhi, by contrast, had at least managed 20 per cent of the Congress party’s 2009 Lok Sabha tally. His MPs would fit in a bus, people joked at the time. Modi’s MLAs can get around Delhi in an auto-rickshaw.

Had the BJP won, the party would have exulted in the potency of the Modi wave and the master strategizing of  its president, Amit Shah. But now that the Great Leader has failed to get even the meagre  waters of the Yamuna to make way for his juggernaut, this defeat will be pinned not on his “56-inch chest”, or even on Shah, but on the drooping shoulders of Kiran Bedi and the party’s city leadership. Success in the BJP has not many but only one father; failure, on the other hand, can never be his fault.

The scale of AAP’s victory — and the BJP’s defeat — suggests some fundamental shifts in the political tectonics of Delhi, and perhaps even of India as a whole.

Ironically, Modi’s victory in 2014 was meant to represent that fundamental shift — the arrival of a new “aspirational” India that wanted economic betterment and did not trust the “handout” politics of the past. When the voters of Delhi were exhorted to “move ahead with Modi”, the BJP was trying once again to hold out the same promise of inclusive development that allowed it to increase its vote share in the capital from 33 to 46 percent in 2014. The fact that the BJP’s popular vote has fallen back to 32  percent suggests the “aspirational” section of the electorate deserted it this time.

Why did these voters leave the BJP and go over to the AAP? Because eight months of Modi rule at the Centre have made it clear that while the BJP makes vague announcements for the poor, it delivers concrete results for the corporate sector.

Like the ordinance which makes it easier for the land of farmers and adivasis to be acquired and made over to industry. Like labour laws and environmental reform which make  it easier for industry to violate existing standards. The citizens of Delhi may not have experienced what these changes mean, but they are clever enough to realise the development being pursued isn’t quite inclusive.

The aspirational voter also aspires to her vision of modernity, to a life in which the individual’s right to live, dress, work, travel,  love and enjoy life as she likes is as important as economic progress. For young voters, the Sangh Parivar’s cretinous attempts to dictate cultural and lifestyle choices are completely unacceptable; and while they are not moved by the traditional politics over “secularism”, they are smart enough to see the dangers that the RSS’s divisive sectarian agenda holds out for their city and country.

Modi’s complicity-by-silence with the book burners, film vandals and religious hate-mongers has not gone unnoticed among the swing voters he attracted just one year ago.

The BJP’s ‘3 M strategy’ – Modi, Money and Mud-slinging – failed to cut any ice with Delhi’s voters. One day before votes were cast, the party played a fourth M card, majoritarianism, by trying to whip up hysteria over the unsolicited  support declared by the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid for AAP. No less a leader than Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was deployed in a last-ditch attempt to inject religious polarization, but the strategy failed when Aam Aadmi leaders rejected the Imam’s offer and accused the BJP of activating him in order to communalise the campaign.

As we look beyond Delhi for the national implications of the BJP’s spectacular defeat, two questions loom large: one for the BJP, the other for the opposition.

First, will Modi and the BJP learn from the Delhi result and put an end to the divisive politics of the Sangh Parivar? And will the PM realise he cannot carry the electorate on announcements alone, that sooner rather later he must deliver on the promises he made of mass employment, growth, sanitation and infrastructure? A rational leadership would read the Delhi result as a small-sample expression of the emerging national mood and put in place a major course correction. But my sense is that Modi and Amit Shah are not likely to act rationally. Already we see attempts to ring-fence the “national government” and its policies. In the absence of any change, there is also the danger that the BJP’s negative, sectarian impulses may actually sharpen.

As for the opposition, the question on everyone’s mind today is how easily can the AAP’s act of stopping the Modi wave be replicated elsewhere. The short answer, of course, is “not very easily”. Looking at the 2014 general election and all the major state elections we have seen so far — Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Delhi — this “wave” needs two conditions in order to prevail. First, a ruling party discredited by corruption, poor governance and anti-incumbency. And second, the lack of a strong, clear alternative to the BJP.

In 2014, the UPA was discredited and there was no real ‘national’ alternative to the BJP. The same was true of Haryana, where the Hooda government was swept aside by the Modi wave. But the Modi factor showed its limits in Maharashtra because of the Shiv Sena, and in Jharkhand, where an alliance with the All-Jharkhand Students Union was needed to push the BJP over the finishing line. In Delhi, the AAP was unencumbered by negativity and was the obvious choice for anyone unhappy with the BJP. That is why the Modi machine was stopped in its track.

Can these circumstances be replicated in Bihar? Perhaps, if Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal and Lalu Yadav’s RJD stay united and strong, and remedy the poor governance record of the past year. But in West Bengal, it is the BJP that is looking to play the same ‘third alternative’ role to the Trinamool and the Left that the AAP played in Delhi, and there it is likely to meet a measure of success.

The victory of AAP has galvanised non-BJP parties everywhere.  In Jammu and Kashmir, the Peoples Democratic Party may feel tempted to drive a harder bargain with the BJP now about a coalition government. However, in its most essential sense, what has defeated the BJP in Delhi is not some tactical alignment of political forces, but the emergence of New Politics. Only if this New Politics — whether under the leadership of the AAP or of other kindred forces — begins to take hold elsewhere, will Modi’s national supremacy come under serious strain.

Siddharth Varadarajan
Senior Fellow, Center for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, SNU, New Delhi, India


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