Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

Highlights of February 2024


Developments in Russia and Ukraine

Even as the Russia-Ukraine war continues, the death of Russian opposition figure and anti-Putin crusader, Alexei Navalny, in an isolated, high-security prison in Russia, has re-cast fresh global aspersion on the Russian regime, with world leaders directly blaming Putin for his death. Navalny had been persecuted by the Russian regime for over a decade, with another previous attempt at killing him through a nerve agent in 2020. Despite such persistent persecution, Navalny continued to fight relentlessly against Putin. His resilience and endurance had made him a symbol of popular inspiration around the world. In the wake of his murder, Western attitudes have further hardened towards Russia.

While the state-directed murder of Navalny betrays the desperation of the Russian regime, Russia is also facing increasing disappointment on the war front. While there has been a marked increase in Ukrainian attacks on critical Russian infrastructure, Russia has not been able to make any significant headway in the war, with the war of attrition leading to persistent war fatigue and acting as a persistent drain on national resources. This military fatigue has been further exacerbated by the long anticipation addition of Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO, thereby ending its 200-year-old policy of neutrality and further consolidating the expansion of NATO eastward.

Failures on military and political front, combined with the murder of Navalny just before the facile Russian national elections have provided an opportunity to Putin to attempt to mobilize the country around worn-out war narratives. The latest such narrative was the threat issued by Russia to deploy nuclear weapons in space, using its Strategic Rocket Forces. Such threats betray Russian weakness, as Moscow is aware that it cannot compete with the West in space technologies. Therefore, it assumes that the threat to use asymmetric means – such as nuclear weapons – to force the West onto the negotiating table might work.

Besides such baseless military rhetoric directed towards signaling purposes, the country continues to witness a steady decline on the domestic front. In the latest surveys, the number of people identifying as ethnic Russians has reduced to nearly 71%, even as the latest attempt by the Russian state to impose ethnic Russian linguistic terminology in a multinational country is aggravating other multiple ethnicities in Russia. A sign of this was the mass protests in Bashkortostan, few weeks ago, over the sentencing of an environmental and ethnic activist, and in general, over the state policy of Russification of ethnic non-Russians. There has also been widespread migration of people from Siberia and Russian Far east towards Mongolia. As the war progresses, these domestic fault lines are also widening.

Developments in Science and Technology

Even as artificial intelligence continues to dominate the field of technology, regulation and investments in the area are steadily increasing. Recently, the Indian government launched the India AI Mission, allocating a substantial budget of Rs 10,372 crore over five years. This mission aims to foster the growth of artificial intelligence in the country by establishing a robust AI ecosystem. To facilitate AI development, the government will provide access to supercomputing capacity comprising over 10,000 Graphic Processing Units. This high-performance computing infrastructure will enable stakeholders to process data at higher speeds and create innovative AI applications.

The push comes amidst increasing applications of AI systems to everyday lives. The government has also issued notifications regarding the use of deepfake and other manipulative AI technologies. In addition to this, the government is also attempting to regulate the digital space and social media companies as digital markets play an increasingly important role in the economy.

Sandeshkhali Trauma

Located in North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, Sandeshkhali has stirred national emotions in the wake of women-led protests against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The sociopolitical upheaval in Sandeshkhali has not been witnessed in the state over many years. Alleging years of oppression, sexual offences, and harassment, the women of Sandeshkhali turned against the local representatives of the ruling Trinamool Congress: Sheikh Shahjahan and his henchmen. They have now been arrested. The events in Sandeshkhali show that the village is a microcosm of what has been happening in Bengal for a long time, first under the Left and then under TMC.

Bengal politics – pervaded by violence – has, for decades, been based on the primitive party-society model, thanks to its Communist legacy. The tentacles of the ruling party are so steeped in society that the entire local economy is controlled by them. The relationship between the citizen and the state under such a model is based on patron-client hierarchy, wherein toeing the line of local ruling party leaders and providing them with cut money and other such favors is pervasive. This model has precipitated dark developments in Sandeshkhali, where the TMC local henchmen have been accused of land grabs and of calling local women in the area into their offices at odd hours to sexually assault them.

The events were set in motion in early January this year, when a mob of TMC goons thrashed and chased away Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials who had gone to Sandeshkhali to interrogate Shahjahan Sheikh in an alleged ration distribution scam, after which Sheikh had been absconding till his recent arrest. After that incident, local women came out in large numbers alleging that Shahjahan and his men had usurped their lands to set up prawn farms and had been sexually harassing local women for years. These accusations sparked protests across the state.

The darker side of the events in Sandeshkhali also shed light on the exploitation of Dalit Hindu women who were the targets of gangrape by Shahjahan and his men. The presence of police officers during the alleged rapes further shatters the basis on which the government is being run in Bengal. With the police in cahoots with the accused and supporting the state policy of minority appeasement, the question of law-and-order situation in Bengal becomes moot. The events have rightly led to calls for the imposition of Presidential Rule given the barbaric situation in the state. The issue – widely being perceived as the Waterloo of Mamata Bannerjee government – has become particularly sensitive as it comes right before the General Election, with a desperate TMC resorting to threatening tactics to force people to vote for it.

Implementation of Uniform Civil Code

The Uttarakhand government recently took the historic decision to pass its landmark legislation on Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The legislation seeks to consolidate laws regarding marriage and property inheritance. It aims to replace distinct personal laws of every religion, focusing on marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance, guided by Article 44 of the Constitution. This code would be a single set of personal laws that would apply to all citizens, regardless of religion.

Some of its key features are as follows:

  • The UCC Act, 2024 aims to focus on gender equality by treating men and women equally in matters such as inheritance and marriage.
  • The Code will extend an equal property share to Muslim women against the existing 25% share accorded under Muslim personal laws.
  • Scheduled tribes (STs) have been exempted from the purview of the Act. The tribal population in the state, which is around 3%, had been voicing its dissent against UCC in the wake of the special status accorded to them.
  • Minimum age of marriage remains the same viz. 18 years for women and 21 years for men.
  • Mandatory registration of marriages within 60 days.
  • Prohibition on dissolution of marriage in contravention of UCC rules.
  • Polygamy, bigamy, halala, iddat and triple talaq have been prohibited.
  • In a landmark move, the legislation mandates that live-in relationships need to be registered with the state, which will undertake verification to establish the authenticity of the relationship.
  • Renting or buying property without such registration will not be permitted.
  • Child born out of registered relationships will be considered legitimate.
  • The State should be informed after the dissolution of relationship.
  • Women will be entitled to maintenance after dissolution of relationship.

While enforcing uniformity in religious personal laws has been a key feature of the Act, the interesting provisions related to live-in relationships have attracted much debate. With state regulation and oversight of such relationships and making some aspects of these relationships equivalent to marriage (child legitimacy, maintenance etc.), it is widely expected to act as a deterrent to pursuit of such relationships. Particularly, men who enter casually into such relationships will avoid doing so, while women and men, both, will also want to avoid the social scrutiny that comes with public disclosure of such relationships.

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