By Shashi Malla
Terrorism Jeopardy in the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’
Early on Easter Sunday, out of the blue, simultaneous bomb blasts in Sri Lanka killed nearly 290 and injured more than 400 people. The attack was carried out by Sri Lankan suicide bombers of the domestic National Thowfeek Jamaath Islamic group [most probably radicalized] targeting Christian churches and luxury hotels in Colombo and elsewhere in the country.
With the defeat of the separatist “Tamil Tigers” militants in 2009 [with the help of crucial Chinese military hardware], it had been hoped that Sri Lanka had managed to rein in domestic violence. However, low-level localized conflicts continued to plague the country, and these could have been exploited by external forces to trigger the Easter explosions.
There is no doubt that there is an upsurge of radical and militant Islamist groups in various parts of the world. These take their cue from the extremist Islamic binary view of ‘us and them’, whereby everything is allowed for the greater glory of Islam. Suicidal attacks resulting in widespread death and destruction leads to exalted martyrdom for the perpetrator(s).
However, terrorist attacks have also been carried out in North Ireland by Christians, by Hindus in India and Buddhists in Myanmar. Secular terrorism has taken place in many parts of the world, not least in Kampuchea where the Khmer Rouge exterminated more than a million of their own countrywomen (-men). In Nepal, the Maoist insurgency resulted in more than 17,000 innocent deaths.
With regard to the latest incidents in Sri Lanka, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the heinous attacks, but the well-coordinated bombings are indeed the hallmark of an organized militant group. The religious affiliation of the arrested suspects point to a radical Islamist group – an offshoot of the Islamic State (ISIS) or Al-Qaida.
In Sri Lanka, Theravada Buddhism [or Hinayana] is the religion of the Sinhalese majority, comprising 70.2 percent of the population. Hindus [mostly of Tamil origin] constitute 12.6 percent and Muslims 9.7 percent of the population respectively. The country is also home to about 1.5 million Christians, the vast majority of them Roman Catholic.
It is most unfortunate that Sri Lankan officials failed to heed warnings from domestic and external intelligence agencies about the threat of an imminent attack from a domestic radical Muslim group. The lack of coordination in information and communication can be attributed to the acute dysfunction in the highest echelons of the government. The President Maithrela Sirisena and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are from different political parties and are at daggers drawn. It can be said that Sri Lanka’s current political system – borrowed from France — has not at all served the people, and failed miserably. The division and sharing of powers between two executives at the apex has not functioned at all. Unlike in France, the so-called “cohabitation” has been a non-starter. The death toll of 290 and more than 500 injured should be a wake-up call for the country at large.
Indonesia: Wahabi Islamism Rears its Ugly Head
Incumbent President Joko Widodo, also known as “Jokowi” seems to have won a second term and also a parliamentary majority for his coalition in elections last week. His victory, if confirmed it would signify that he would continue to stimulate economic reforms. It would also mean that political Islam would be further emboldened and possibly also that liberal democracy would be weakened. In external affairs, he could also be strengthened to take a more robust stand vis-à-vis China.
The elections were free and fair. The final results will be announced only in the beginning of May, but early counts showed definitely that Jokowi had defeated his rival, former army general PrabowoSubianto by a clear 10 percent margin. Despite the unofficial results, Prabawo tried to delegitimize the elections by a farcical attempt to claim victory. However, if he persists, the constitutional court in the capital Jakarta will probably resolve the unnecessary challenge.
Indonesia’s experience with electoral democracy is a welcome fresh wind in the region. After all, the military junta in Thailand made a hotchpotch of the recent parliamentary elections there, and it is not yet clear who or which parties will take over the reigns of government, or whether the junta will continue their rule in some form or other. In Cambodia last year, the leader made a travesty of elections.
This time around, Jokowi is said to have compromised his values in order to counter widespread accusations that he is not Islamist enough. He thus chose the Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, the same man who was instrumental in sending his friend, former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, to prison on trumped up charges for blasphemy in 2017. This was in stark contrast to his reformist agenda and his stance on advocating religious freedom. However, by taking a realistic and tactical hard-line on Islamism, he did outwit his antagonist.
In his first term, he did initiate several infrastructure projects and this year he opened Jakarta’s first subway line. He also started health care programs. He now has five years to achieve much more. According to the constitution, this is his second and final term.
India’s Elections: Rise of Hindu Nationalism
India has now completed the first stage of its parliamentary elections on the 18th April when 97 constituencies in 13 states went to the polls. The second stage was on the 23rd April with 115 constituencies in 14 states voting. Next week on the 29th April, another 71 constituencies in 9 states will vote. Further stages will be on May 6 (51 constituencies/7 states), May 12 (59/7), and finally May 19 (59/8). The results are expected on May 23.
For Nepal, the results of the elections in the Indian states bordering/surrounding the country will be especially important, from west to east, anti-clockwise: Uttarkhand [west, bordering the Far Western state], Uttar Pradesh [UP/ bordering the Far Western state, state number 5, Gandaki, states 3 and 2], Bihar [proximate to states 2 and 1], West Bengal [bordering state 1], and Sikkim [near also to state 1]. In Uttarkhand, the main rivals are Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress.
In UP, the allied Bahujan and Samajwadi Parties are expected to give the BJP a run for their money. In Bihar it is a contest between the Janata Dal led coalition (in which the BJP is a junior partner) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led grand alliance that also includes the Congress. In West Bengal, the opposition Trinamul Congress which dominates state politics, is expected to trump both the BJP and the Congress. Sikkim has only one seat in the lower house or Lok Sabha and the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) is highly expected to win.
In practice, the Nepalese government has concentrated its relations with the central government in New Delhi, and has usually ignored relations with the Indian state governments – mostly to its detriment. However, with the federal structure now in place, this may change and the Nepalese state governments may now cultivate relations with their Indian counterparts for their mutual benefit.
Five years back, Narendra Modi achieved an astounding victory promising sweeping economic reforms: creating millions of new jobs, double digit economic growth, and an end to endemic corruption, and a sweeping commitment to far better days for everyone. After five years, he has only been partially successful. As before, he is promoting a lot of economic populism, but this time he is bringing more controversial set of priorities, such as “zero tolerance” on national security, and supporting a ‘Hindu nationalism’, which should appeal to more than 80 percent of India’s population, especially the uneducated. Previously he had engaged with all and promised progress and development to all – so to speak a PM of all Indians. But now he is taking a more divisive approach and supporting a ‘Hindu state’ – not an united and secular India or ‘Bharat’, but ‘Hindustan’. This does not augur well for the stability and domestic security of the country.
Congress, the main opposition at the national level under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi [not related to Mahatma Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation”] political aristocracy [Jawaharlal Nehru – Indira Gandhi – Rajiv Gandhi], has also offered some extraordinary economic populism. If elected, it will double the income of the poorest 20 percent of families by offering an annual grant of 72,000 rupees (or US Dollar 1,000) per household.
According to opinion polls, the BJP is expected to lose its parliamentary majority, but remain the strongest party and form a coalition government with allies. After condemning the series of deadly bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, PM Narendra Modi has now been telling voters that they needed to elect him to a second term as only he could beat the “terrorists” threatening India. He conveniently forgets the acute dangers of domestic radical Hindu nationalism – which he and the BJP are relentlessly propagating and promoting –to national security and stability. It is a long shot that Congress together with allied parties form the government.
The writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org