Sunday, July 26, 2020

A Timeline of Political Instability in the Indian state of Rajasthan

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Vanshita Banuana

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A Timeline of Political Instability in the Indian state of Rajasthan


Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 26, 2020


Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot after Victory in Rajasthan Elections

Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot after Victory in  Rajasthan Elections | Source: Dushyant Singh via Flickr

A recent political crisis in the Indian state of Rajasthan has brought with it a storm of internal instability. Perhaps the biggest question on the mind of most political analysts and politicians, amidst this, is the anticipation—or hope— that Sachin Pilot, ex-Deputy Chief Minister of Chief Minister in Rajasthan, will announce his departure from the Indian National Congress (INC) and join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The central BJP government has garnered quite a reputation for toppling state governments in regions where the oppositional party Congress forms the majority.

But focusing on the BJP might be taking everyone’s eyes away from the big picture: a story that is, for now, about more than possible BJP interference. Consider what the crisis tells the citizens of India about Congress’ national and state level handling of ‘political drama,’ as the series of events continue to unfold.

July 10, 2020: Pilot is summoned by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Rajasthan Police in regards to an FIR registered against him on an alleged attempt to dislodge the Gehlot government in recent Rajya Sabha polls through horse-trading; however, the root of discord may have been sown long before that.

July 11, 2020: The Chief Minister (CM), Ashok Gehlot claims the BJP is trying to overturn his government by bribing MLAs.

July 12, 2020: The Dy Chief Minister, Sachin Pilot claims 30 MLAs have ‘pledged support’ to him, making the present government a minority. Ashok Gehlot responds by claiming it has 109 MLAs; Pilot seen with BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia in Delhi as he and his supporters move in and around Delhi and Gurgaon.

July 13, 2020: INC issues whip for Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting at CM’s residence where it passes a resolution to support Gehlot and take disciplinary action against MLAs and office-bearers who ‘weakens party’; Congress also says that ‘doors will remain open’ for Pilot and his aides; Pilot does not attend the meeting, and those who do are transported to Fairmont Hotel in Jaipur to avoid any ‘potential crossover.’

July 14, 2020: INC calls for a second CLP meet, which is once again not attended by Pilot; Pilot is removed from his positions as the Deputy Chief Minister and President of State Congress Committee of Rajasthan, along with 18 other MLAs who supported him; a plea is filed in Rajasthan High Court against the disqualification notices; 2 MLAs from Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) withdraw support from Congress, but hand over letters of support to Ghelot four days later on July 18; the BJP demands a floor test, but later denies this claim.

July 15, 2020: Pilot confirms he is not planning to join the BJP.

July 16: News of leaked audio tapes start surfacing, reportedly proving a conspiracy to topple the Gehlot government; FIRs are lodged.

July 17, 2020: Harish Salve, representative of ‘Pilot camp’ in Rajasthan HC, argues that the rebel MLAs have not resigned, yet they were issued disqualification notices under Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule, which is only applicable in case of resignation; 2 rebel MLAs are suspended by Congress over their alleged involvement in leaked audio tapes; an arrest is made by SOG in regards to horse-trading probe and leaked audio tapes.

July 18, 2020: BJP levels allegations of phone tapping and demands Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in relation to leaked audio tapes; two days later the Rajasthan Government notifies via circular that it has revoked general consent to CBI that is needed for investigations, and consent will now be sought on a case by case basis.

July 19, 2020: SOG reaches Manesar to question one of the rebel MLAs claimed to be named in leaked audio tapes; Gehlot forms probe to investigate audio tapes.

July 20, 2020: Giriraj Singh Malinga, a Rajasthan MLA from INC, claims that he was offered Rs. 35 crore by Pilot to join the BJP, Pilot responds by saying he is ‘sad but not surprised’ at what he considers to be fabrications intended to damage his reputation; Ghelot remains convinced that Pilot is ‘hand in glove’ with the BJP; meanwhile in Rajasthan High Court, the judges observe that a whip cannot be issued with respect to a party meeting, but only for an Assembly session.

July 21, 2020: Hearing of petition ends, Rajasthan High Court says it will announce the verdict on July 24 and the Speaker cannot act on the disqualification notices until then; Third Congress Legislature Party begins at Fairmont Hotel.

July 22, 2020: Rajasthan Speaker CP Joshi moves Supreme Court in order to challenge the stay order of the High Court.

July 23, 2020: SC allows Rajasthan HC to continue passing orders as scheduled; says it will begin hearing the Speaker’s plea from July 27.

July 24, 2020: Rajasthan HC orders that a “status quo” be maintained and defers its judgement until SC makes a decision; Speaker will not be allowed to act on disqualification notice until both courts pronounce their verdicts; Rajasthan HC allows the Union of India to be made a party in the case; ‘Gehlot’s camp’ organise a dharna at Raj Bhawan demanding an Assembly session, and Gehlot meets Governor Kalraj Mishra regarding the same.

As the situation gets more complex and drawn-out, the question of the BJP government’s involvement is still up in the air. The crisis currently presents itself as a mishandling on Congress' part at the state and national level, perhaps stemming from younger leaders not seeing eye-to-eye with the veterans.

The insatiable hunger for power by any means displayed by the BJP- despite its claims of non-involvement- in seeing the current government toppled cannot and should not be overlooked. Speculations run abound, and at the end of the day it might just be up to the citizens to peer through the fog and infer for themselves the roles and intentions of the embroiled parties.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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