WTF Just Happened: November 29

#1. To live where I please, to do as I wish, to believe as I wish, to love as I like — these are my fundamental rights as a free citizen of a free country. The rights to equality, to freedom of thought and expression, to freedom of religion — these are guaranteed by the state. It says so, right here.

And yet, lo these many years after the state was formed and the constitution was formalized, we have the ongoing spectacle of a young woman, an adult, having to go all the way to the Supreme Court to get these rights for herself. ‘I want my freedom,’ she tells the court — and it is telling that she actually has to go to court to ask for it. We have, too, the spectacle of the Supreme Court doling out these rights to her piecemeal, a little bit at a time — while the state, which (constitutionally) guarantees her inalienable rights, is busy opposing, in the apex court, her right to live and to love as she pleases. What country, what century, are we living in, again?

Meanwhile, we have the National Intelligence Agency — which has been systematically weaponized by the ruling party — saying that it has proof Hadiya’s husband is a recruiter for the ISIS.

Hadiya is back in college, and the authorities are busy arguing that she cannot meet her lawfully wedded husband — in other words, confirming Hadiya’s fear that college will be her new prison. They are also busy debating whether women students need cellphones and if so, for how many hours in a day and why isn’t a phone in the custody of the warden enough. She says she was tortured to re-convert (in a yoga center that was recently shut down following other reports of torture); meanwhile, the girl’s father “believes” that the man his daughter loved and married is a “terrorist”, though of course he adds that it is for the court to finally pronounce on that, for which small mercy, praise the lord and pass the potatoes.

Supreme Court advocate Gautam Bhatia in a must-read oped nails the most bizarre aspect of how the Hadiya affair is playing out in the highest court of this land:

For this reason, there was a sense of unreality this Monday at the Supreme Court, especially when, after two hours of argument, the Court finally asked Hadiya what she wanted. Her answer was clear: to be free and to live with her husband. Here then, was the replication of the old colonial dilemma: once, a nation had spoken against those who claimed the right to speak for it. Now, a citizen spoke against those who claimed a right to speak for her.

Under our Constitution, there could be only one answer. It was an answer that the Supreme Court provided only partially. It freed Hadiya from her parents’ custody and sent her to finish her studies. But the equally fundamental questions – regarding her choice to marry and to live with her husband – remain in the balance, and will be heard in January. When that happens, the Court must remember that “the Constitution [having] adopted the individual as its unit” means nothing if an individual must prove to the satisfaction of the State she possesses the agency to decide for herself.

All of this because a political grouping cynically, in a bid to win power, came up with the bogey of “love jihad” — supposedly this deep-rooted conspiracy where Muslim men entice Hindu women, marry them, and convert them into the Islamic fold. That this is selectively applied should be obvious from the fact that ex-India cricketer Zaheer Khan’s recent marriage to Chak De actress Sagarika Ghatge passed without comment or, to cite an earlier but pertinent instance, that Subramanian Swamy, one of the vocal proponents of love jihad as a thing, exists in perfect amity with his Muslim son-in-law Nadeem, son of former Foreign Secretary Salman Haider.

That is what is truly appalling about this “love jihad” obsession — not the batshit insanity of it, but the cold, calculating cynicism underpinning it. It is patently a political tool intended to demonize one community in order to unite the other and thus gain electorally and no one, not the political parties, not the electorate, not even the highest court in the land, seems to give a flying fuck for the lives that are ruined in the process.

Meanwhile, a quasi-religious group, named for Hanuman — the most famous bachelor in Indian religious iconography — threatens to send its army of young men to seduce Muslim women in retaliation for this so-called love jihad — and we don’t bat an eyelid. It’s not that the lunatics have taken over the asylum — what should really bother us is that we, supposedly sentient, rational human beings, are perfectly okay with this.

#2. While on lunatics and asylums, the government of Madhya Pradesh has announced that it will provide one-year diploma courses in astrology, Vaastu and priesthood. Because, among other things, ancient Indian culture. Also, ahem, because we need good astrologers to understand issues such as climate change.

It is appropriate, I guess, that under an antediluvian ruling party, the biggest scams are in the name of “ancient Indian culture”. If you can somehow work “cows” into that, so much better. One of the stories I missed during my time away, and with which I caught up on recently, is this detailed Reuters investigation into Ramdev’s many land deals, some of which — as for example the case of Noida — have landed up in court. Meanwhile, earlier this month in Maharashtra, this:

Union minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari had on Friday requested Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to consider providing 1,000 acres of land to Yoga guru Ramdev for a cow-based project in Vidarbha. On Sunday, Gadkari announced that the state government would raise a Rs 25,000-crore project on 800 acres at Heti (Kundi) village in Vidarbha, to be carried forward with the help of Ramdev’s Patanjali group.

According to Gadkari, Patanjali will purchase 10,000 cows to develop a breeding centre and to carry out dairy and allied activities at the site.

Gadkari’s corruption was a sub-topic in my post yesterday; reading this one made me wonder: Why is the minister for road transport so proactive in pushing what, even assuming for argument that this must be pushed, is more properly the remit of the Ministry of Agriculture, which is fully staffed with one Cabinet Minister and three ministers of state?

#3. Still on the subject of lunatics, TimesNow had a “big question” yesterday. The fact that the Kerala government had already provided police protection to the advocate, and registered a case against the thuggish “leader” who threatened him with death, is of course neither here nor there — any stick, no matter how flimsy, will do to beat the Kerala government with. And while on Kerala, six workers of the BJP-RSS combine have just been sentenced to life terms for the 2002 murder of a CPM activist. Why, at a time when the BJP’s topmost brass howls about how it is the victim of organized violence in the state, saffron activists are repeatedly found guilty of murder is a small question, not to be confused with the “big question” our media channels chase.

Also in Kerala, the High Court ruled that documentaries relating to recent events in various universities can, and should, be screened; possible law and order issues, the court ruled, are not a reason to block a film’s release. Contrast that with the Padmavati row, which is essentially about state governments effectively blocking the release of a film based on objections by those who haven’t seen it, to contents that it may or may not contain; contrast, too, with the fuss over showing the film Sexy Durga, Sanal Kumar Shashidharan’s take on patriarchy, at IFFI.

And to round off this bit about TimesNow and lunacy, there is this. Seriously, this is what we get in ‘prime time’?

#4. Note the hashtag in that TimesNow link above: #Ivankacheerschaiwala, it seems. Its symbiotic twin, Republic, meanwhile has a running update on the PM’s ‘back to back responses’. Which brings me to my pet peeve — what the actual fuck is it with this “chaiwala” meme inflicted on us every time there is an election somewhere in this country? I was so fed up with this trivialization of political debate that I once did a rant on it. That was back in March 2016 — so here we are at the fag end of 2017 and it is still a thing?! To repeat the salient point I made then:

Firstly, to say that a chai-wallah became PM is as simplistic as to say that a drug addict and college dropout (which I was) became a journalist (which I am). It skips several important steps. The chai-wallah became a mediocre student and gifted orator and stage actor. He then became a wanderer across the country, soaking in experiences (the lost years, of which nothing much is known). The wanderer then became an RSS worker, who became a regional organizer and in-charge of the ABVP. The ABVP activist became an anti-Emergency activist. The activist became organizing secretary of the BJP’s Gujarat unit. The party official became the organizing force behind LK Advani’s Rath Yatra. The organizer became the national secretary of the BJP. The national political leader was installed as chief minister of Gujarat (because of the many allegations against incumbent Keshubhai Patel). And then, he became PM.

That is to say, the chief minister of Gujarat became the prime minister of India — the climax of a prolonged career in politics. To keep harping on ‘chai-wallah became prime minister’ is insulting to those who hold down menial jobs all their lives with no hope in hell of any form of advancement.

Further, it is as silly as to say that an ice-cream seller (Barack Obama, Baskin Robbins) and a man who flipped hamburgers in a local restaurant (Gerald Ford) became presidents of the United States; that a busboy at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant became president of France (Jacques Chirac); that a hotel maid became a Senator (Pat Spearman, Nevada) and that a one-time babysitter became, in turn, First Lady of the United States, then Secretary of State and now the Democratic front-runner for president of the USA (Hillary Rodham Clinton). Or, for that matter, that an au pair became president of a national party in India — which statement is a refrain of the right wing.

Seriously, how ludicrous is it for a man clad in bespoke tailoring, accessorized with ultra-expensive spectacles and pens, to hop into a luxurious private jet in Delhi, land at an airport in Gujarat, hop into a private helicopter, turn up at a rally someplace in the hinterlands of the state, and bang on about how the Opposition has a down on him because he is a poor man? (In passing, I haven’t held down a full-time job in three years; despite that I am not — yet — below the poverty line, but damned if I can afford Bulgari spectacle frames and Mont Blanc limited edition pens, not to mention a specially tailored suit of clothes for every public occasion. How does Modi?)

And to go back to what I was saying before I interrupted myself with that personal aside, how ridiculous is it when a newly-arrived national news website actually has a five-member panel debating whether the Congress party is “making a mistake” with the chaiwala meme? Don’t these guys — two national spokespersons of political parties, a Dalit rights activist, a very senior journalist, not to mention the editor of the site and whichever staffer edited and put these things up — have anything better to do with their time?

It is not Modi’s ludicrous posing that really bothers me. It is not even that the president of the ruling party and the Finance Minister of the Union Cabinet organized a tea-party to listen to the latest Mann ki Baat episode — though this did make me re-examine my previously irreverent opinion of the Mad Hatter, and to view that eccentric tea-party organizer in a more respectful light. No, what really bugs me is the infantilization of the political process.

We are into the business end of an important election in one of the most politically and economically important states in the country — and this is what our politicians think is important to discuss on the stump, and our media thinks fit to feature in prime time/space? Our Election Commission, meanwhile, has reportedly sent a notice to a Church leader who asked his followers to vote for ‘secularism’ — though what exactly is wrong with that, I couldn’t tell you; just as I couldn’t tell you why it is okay for godmen of various types to go around the country asking Hindus to vote for a particular party, without attracting the EC’s notice in any way.

Elections are a time for raising issues crucial to the state and to the nation; by focusing on irrelevancies, all concerned political parties and their water-carriers in the media do us a tremendous disservice. And the prime culprit is the prime minister — who never yet saw an election, even at the municipal-level, that he didn’t find some way to make about himself and his humble origins. Check out the ‘top ten quotes‘ by the PM in his campaign kick-off and ask yourself this: how many of these ‘quotes’ address issues of substance, matters that are relevant to the lives you lead? Check out, also, the latest rabbithole being prepared for the compliant media to dive into: the pressing question of who built Somnath Temple.  Then ask yourself — if the PM of the country does not set the political and economic agenda, if his discourse is limited to litigating history when he is not climbing on the ‘poor me’ cross, then who will? (Meanwhile on behalf of the Congress, Tehseen Poonawala, idiotically, files an RTI actually asking the Railways if it has any record of Modi selling tea on any of its platforms!)

While our politicians make sipping tea a thing, we are treated elsewhere to the ludicrous (sorry, I keep using this word, don’t I? Sign of the times) spectacle of the police getting its knickers in a knot over a bunch of adults playing dress-up. On ‘laugh that you may not weep’ lines, hold in your mind the election-defining image of a vegetable vendor with thespian ambitions, all dressed up as the late Amjad Khan’s most iconic on-screen character, fleeing from the bumbling police on horseback after “striking fear in the public” with a fake gun.

Yahan se pachaas pachaas kos dur gaon mein jab bachcha raat ko rota hai to maa kehti hai bete so ja — so ja nahin tho tarkari bechnewala Umar Shaikh aa jayega 

#5. Harking back to Ivanka Trump for a moment, the ‘aide’ to the US President is currently the headliner at an investment summit that has women’s empowerment as its theme. In a detailed piece, The Ladies Finger site argues that Ms Trump — who, strangely given that her non-governmental status is so obvious Trump’s own Secretary of State refused to send his department officials with her, was received by the PM himself and given all the trappings of a state visit — has as much to do with women’s empowerment as Hannibal Lecter had to do with vegetarianism. More on Ivanka, women’s empowerment and the hoopla around her visit here.

#6. In other news, the Supreme Court warned political leaders to refrain from stoking the Padmavati controversy and thereby influencing the Censor Board. Nitish Kumar, nothing fazed, promptly says Padmavati won’t be screened in Bihar until Sanjay Leela Bhansali has “clarified his stance” about objections raised in “several quarters” by people who haven’t seen the film and have no idea what is in it. Arun Jaitley says the Congress regime crippled our banks, but in a rare show of forbearance refrains from informing us what he has been doing about it for the past three and a half years aside from sipping tea while listening to his master’s voice. (Read this, too, while we are on banks)

Amit Shah says the Rafale deal was done in a transparent manner. Shah, who looks like a scruffy version of Humpty Dumpty, apparently also uses language like him, in the sense that the words he uses means precisely what he wants them to mean — after all, how transparent can a deal be when the government neither can nor will release any details about it? (For more on the whys and wherefores, refer to yesterday’s post). Also, NK Singh has been named chairman of the 15th Planning Commission, which makes for a nice change from the kind of headlines he attracted for his starring part in the Niraa Radia podcasts. Can’t be too harsh on him for his chat with Radia, though — it was all in the interests of ensuring India’s energy security, remember?


Journalism can never be silent. That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air: Henry Anatole Grunwald

I found that quote in this Twitter thread by advocate Dushyant Dave, who has been almost single-handedly trying to get the media to report on the mystery surrounding the death of Judge BH Loya. (And moments after I uploaded this post I found this: The Mumbai Additional Sessions Judge S J Sharma has ordered that proceedings in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case cannot be reported on “till further orders”. When judges themselves curtail the media’s right to report, where does one go?)

In passing, had you seen this? It feels like a metaphor — though for what, my mind is too weary to figure out just now:


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