Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 2
The importance of Sultanpur Lodhi in the life & work of Guru Nanak Dev
A sleepy town in Punjab’s Kapurthala district, Sultanpur Lodhi, is at the centrestage of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of the Sikh religion. It is here that the main anniversary programme will be held on November 12, with the Prime Minister expected to attend.
The Guru Nanak Dev link
- It was in Sultanpur Lodhi that the Sikhism founder is believed to have attained enlightenment. The janamsakhis — birth stories or biographies of Guru Nanak Dev written towards the end of the 16th century — say he was a changed man after he took a dip in the rivulet Kali Bein that flowed through the middle of the town, and disappeared for three days.
- Prof J S Grewal, historian and former vice-chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, said when the Guru resurfaced after three days, he uttered the seminal words, “Na koi Hindu, Na koi Mussalman (People are neither Hindu nor Muslim)’’.
- The Guru also said he had seen the “navkhand”. Those days, geographers had divided the earth into nine continents. It is after this episode in Kali Bein that Guru Nanak said he had seen all the nine continents.
The duration of his stay
- Guru Nanak was born at Rai-Bhoi-Di Talwandi in Sheikhupura district (now in Pakistan) in 1469. His father Mehta Kalyan Das is variously described as a revenue officer (patwari) or a chief accountant.
- He moved to Sultanpur Lodhi between late 1480 and 1490 at the invitation of his elder sister Nanaki and her husband Jai Ram, who was in charge of the grain storage depot (Modikhana) of Daulat Khan Lodhi, the then shiqqdar (commissioner) of Sultanpur Lodhi, who later rose to become the governor of Lahore.
- Since the revenue from 40-odd villages in Daulat Khan’s jagir was collected in the form of grains, Modikhana was akin to a treasury. Nanak also started working there.
Legacy of Sultanpur Lodhi
- Historians say it was in Sultanpur Lodhi that Guru Nanak came into intimate contact with Islam.
- The janamsakhis depict the tension between a section of the clergy and Guru Nanak following his enlightenment.
- His utterances were not received kindly by the qazi. He complained to Daulat Khan Lodhi that Nanak was being blasphemous. Daulat Khan Lodhi also challenged Guru Nanak Dev to say the namaaz with him.
- “Lore has it that after the namaaz, Nanak told him your prayers will not be accepted because all along you were worried about your foal falling into an open well in your courtyard.’’
- It is here that he said what you say is not as important as what you do.
- Janamsakhis claim Daulat Khan Lodhi became very fond of Nanak and defended him against critics. When Nanak decided to leave the town in 1500, he is said to have urged him to stay. But Nanak said it was a call from the supreme being and not his decision.
- Over time, Bhai Mardana, who accompanied Nanak on all his travels, and Daulat Khan, came to be considered among his two principal Muslim followers.
- Today the town is home to several gurdwaras in the memory of Guru Nanak. Most of them were commissioned during the Khalsa empire when the Sikh rulers staked out the places associated with Guru Nanak and built gurdwaras there.
- Gurdwara Ber Sahib, built by the side of an old ber tree that is believed to be the one under which Guru Nanak would sit in meditation along the Kali Bein, was commissioned by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.
- The cornerstone was laid by Bhai Arjan Singh of Bagarian in 1937, and Maharaja Yadavinder Singh of Patiala presided over its completion in 1941.
- Vikas Chand Sharma, an assistant professor of architecture at Chandigarh University, who has researched the architectural history of Sultanpur Lodhi, said it was a major centre of Buddhism from the first century to the sixth century when it was called Sarwmanpur.
- In the 11th century, the town was founded by Sultan Khan Lodhi, a general of Mohammad Ghaznavi. Sikander Lodhi, assigned the construction of Sultanpur to Daulat Khan in the 15th century.
- It was the central point in the trade route between Delhi and Lahore. Grewal said a footnote in Babarnama, the autobiography of Mughal emperor Babur, mentions Daulat Khan Lodhi as the founder of the town.
How will purchases from Russia affect India-U.S. ties?
The story so far: Exactly a year ago, on October 5, 2018, India and Russia signed a contract to buy the Russian Triumf missile system, concluding negotiations that began in 2015. During that time, however, a new U.S. law, called “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” or CAATSA was passed by the U.S. Congress, which transformed what should have been a straightforward bilateral deal into a complex trilateral balancing game for India.
Significance of the Russian Deal
- A year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement for the $5.4 billion S-400 Triumf missile system (picture), the deal continues to cast a cloud over India-U.S. ties.
- Earlier this week, even as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was meeting his American counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington, a U.S. official reminded India of the “risks” attached to the deal.
Why is the S-400 deal important?
- The agreement to purchase the Triumf missile system boosted India-Russia defence ties at a point of inflection last year.
- Russia has traditionally been India’s biggest defence supplier, but was surpassed by the U.S. in the last few years, a fact that had added to a perceptible drift in bilateral ties. Mr. Putin and Mr. Modi addressed this drift with a special “reset” summit in Sochi last May, which was followed by Mr. Putin’s visit to Delhi on October 5, 2018, when the deal was announced.
- The Indian Air Force has also backed the superior air defence system in that it will fill the gap in India’s particular needs: countering its main adversaries and neighbours, China and Pakistan’s growing air power, while dealing with a depleting stock of fighter aircraft.
Is India the only country facing CAATSA sanctions?
- By coincidence, CAATSA has now been invoked by the United States twice already, and both times for countries buying the Triumf system from Russia.
- In September 2018, the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department announced sanctions on China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD), the military branch responsible for weapons and equipment, for the procurement of the S-400 Triumf air defence system and Sukhoi S-35 fighter aircraft.
- The sanctions were triggered when the People’s Liberation Army’s took delivery of the systems. Washington expelled Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme in July this year after the first delivery of S-400s was received, and says sanctions are still under consideration unless Turkey reverses its deal with Russia.
- India is neither like China, which has an inimical relationship with the U.S., and hence not bound by its diktats, nor like Turkey which is a NATO ally of the U.S. and expected to comply with Washington’s demands, and hence hopes to escape CAATSA sanctions.
Possibility of Sanctions Waiver for India
- Written into the CAATSA language is also an exit clause, which states that “The [US] President may waive the application of [CAATSA] sanctions if the President determines that such a waiver is in the national security interest of the United States.”
- In August 2018, the U.S. Congress also modified the waiver clause to allow the President to certify that a country is “cooperating with the United States Government on other matters that are critical to United States’ strategic national security interests”.
- Government officials including Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Jaishankar have all expressed the hope that the U.S. will exercise this waiver for the S-400 deal to India for a number of reasons: that a militarily stronger India is in the U.S.’s interests, and that India cannot completely drop its traditional dependence on Russian defence equipment without being weakened.
- In addition, it is no secret that U.S. President Donald Trump has misgivings about the CAATSA sanctions, which he said were meant to curtail his own powers to deal with Russia, and the other countries included in the act — Iran and North Korea.
- It is hoped that Mr. Trump will grant India a waiver on the deal, thanks to good bilateral relations with India and the fact that it is a “major defence partner” of the U.S.
What happens if a waiver is not granted?
- Section 235 of the CAATSA legislation stipulates 12 kinds of punitive sanctions that the U.S. could place on a country conducting significant transactions in defence, energy, oil pipelines and cybersecurity technology with any of the U.S.’s “adversaries”, and according to the Act, the U.S. President may impose “five or more of the sanctions described”.
- These measures include export sanctions, cancellation of loans from U.S. and international financial institutions, ban on investments and procurement, restrictions on foreign exchange and banking transactions, and a visa and travel ban on officials associated with any entity carrying out the sanctioned transactions.
- None of these is expected to go into process until India takes delivery of the five S-400 systems it has paid an advance on, which are expected to begin in about 20 months and conclude by 2023.
Has India given the U.S. a fait accompli on the S-400?
- India’s firm-footed response to the U.S. threat of sanctions on the Russian S-400 is in sharp contrast to its decision to “zero out” oil purchases from Iran, which were sanctioned by the U.S. last year, and denotes that while the government is prepared to diversify its energy sources, it will not be bullied on its defence security options.
- Given the stakes involved, the government hopes that the U.S. will put its burgeoning strategic, defence and business bilateral relationship with India above its rancour with Russia. If not, however, officials say they are prepared to ride out the storm.
A Bill that undercuts key constitutional values
- Recently, while speaking about implementing a National Register of Citizens in West Bengal, Home Minister Amit Shah said, “I want to assure Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees, you will not be forced to leave India by the Centre.” These words sparked an immediate backlash as Mr. Shah had evidently omitted one religious community, Muslims, from his statement.
- But his statement was not merely a communal dog-whistle: he was echoing the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the previous National Democratic Alliance government introduced in Parliament before the last election, but was unable to enact because of widespread protests in the North-east Indian States.
- Shah made it clear, however, that the new government would re-introduce, and pass, the Bill in the next parliamentary session, or soon thereafter.
- So, what is the Citizenship Amendment Bill? As its name suggests, it makes an amendment to the Citizenship Act, the umbrella law that sets out the elements of Indian citizenship. The Amendment stipulates that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”.
- These individuals are made eligible for naturalisation as Indian citizens, and furthermore, the normal precondition for naturalisation — having spent 12 years in the country — is halved to six years. In simple language, therefore, the Citizenship Amendment Bill does two things:
- it shields a set of individuals from being declared illegal migrants (and, by extension, shields them from detention or deportation);
- and it creates a fast-track to citizenship for these individuals.
- The problem, of course, is that it does so on an explicitly communal basis: it categorically excludes Muslims from its ambit.
- The implications are clear: if the government goes ahead with its plan of implementing a nation-wide National Register of Citizens, then those who find themselves excluded from it will be divided into two categories: (predominantly) Muslims, who will now be deemed illegal migrants, and all others, who would have been deemed illegal migrants, but are now immunised by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, if they can show that their country of origin is Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
- The last bit is important, because it shows that non-Muslims who are left out of a hypothetical nation-wide NRC will not immediately receive legal immunity, but will have to jump through further hoops before they are protected.
- That apart, however, the fact remains that by dividing (alleged) migrants into Muslims (but also, as we shall see below, Jews and atheists) and non-Muslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill explicitly, and blatantly, seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos.
- Of course, neither the Bill nor the government directly admits that it is targeting Muslims. Both the text of the Bill and its ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ refers to “minority communities” from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- The logic appears to be that as these three countries are Muslim-majority, they may be subject to persecution on account of their faith, and, therefore, need refuge in a country such as India.
- If that is the logic of the Bill, however, then it is so evidently flawed that it borders on irrationality.
- First, as the PRS Legislative Research website points out, if the objective is the protection of minorities, then there is no explanation for why Jews and atheists (to take just two examples) have been left out.
- Second — and more importantly — there are Muslim religious minorities within these countries who are subjected to grave and serious persecution: the classic example is that of the Ahmadis in Pakistan.
- And third, there is no explanation for why only these three countries have been singled out. Lately, the Rohingya community in Myanmar, another neighbouring country, has been subjected to prolonged persecution, ethnic cleansing, and potentially genocide.
- However, the government has been openly hostile towards the Rohingyas and has even argued for their deportation before the Supreme Court.
- It is therefore evident that the protection of minorities is not the genuine objective of the Citizenship Amendment Bill: the gap between that stated objective and the actual text of the Bill is wide enough that a ship can sail through it.
- But if that is not the objective, then there remains no conceivable justification for the language of the Bill: it is religious discrimination, plain and simple.
Violating the Constitution
- Now, some people have argued that even if this is true, Article 15 of the Constitution — that bars religious discrimination — applies only to citizens.
- But what these arguments forget is Article 14 of the same Constitution, which guarantees to all persons equality before the law, and the equal protection of law.
- Discriminatory treatment and especially, discrimination that is arbitrary, and classifications that are unreasonable violate the essence of the equal treatment clause.
- A state that separates individuals and treats them unequally on palpably arbitrary grounds violates the prescription of Article 14, and the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution: respecting the dignity of all.
- Beyond issues of strict constitutionality, there are other disturbing issues raised by the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
- The first is how it dramatically seeks to alter the basis of citizenship in India. During the framing of the Indian Constitution, it was agreed that the primary basis for Indian citizenship would be jus soli — or, citizenship by birth (in the territory of India).
- Over the years this principle has been diluted to an extent, with citizenship by descent replacing jus soli in certain respects.
- The Bill, however, will be the first time that religion or ethnicity will be made the basis of citizenship. That would do grave damage to the very idea of India as an inclusive and diverse polity, where religion has no bearing on who can become a full member of society.
- Second, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is closely linked to plans for a nationwide National Register of Citizens. The link was explicitly drawn by the Home Minister: that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is required to protect (predominantly) non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC.
Argument and reality
- However, apart from the now-public knowledge of how flawed the NRC process has been in Assam, there is a key question: why do we need to have a national NRC?
- Shah has stated that it is required for national security, and that India cannot “run smoothly under the weight of so many intruders”.
- However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is a huge influx of illegal migrants into India: in fact, recent evidence suggests that the rate of migration has been declining.
- The Assam NRC arose out of a very specific historical experience, and Assam’s own position as a border State; however, for the rest of India, Assam’s own experience shows that an exercise such as this — flawed and riddled with errors as it is — will only lead to misery and exclusion on a national scale, with no reason whatsoever to justify it.
- The coming months, therefore, will present a serious challenge to fundamental constitutional values.
- A nationwide NRC will replicate the flaws of the Assam NRC on a much larger scale; and for those who find themselves on its wrong side, the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect some — but only some — based on their religion.
- Both exercises, therefore, need to be urgently challenged, at the level of popular movements, in the domain of Parliament, and of course, before the sentinels charged with guarding our fundamental rights — the courts.
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