Double, double, toil and trouble…

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

2018 is likely to be one long round of electioneering — besides the north-eastern states, assembly elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan where the BJP is incumbent, and in Karnataka that the BJP is trying to wrest from the ruling Congress party. And it is all shaping up into the sort of witches’ brew that Shakespeare provided the recipe for.

2017 ended with the vicious election campaign in Gujarat which, among other things, saw a sitting prime minister accuse his predecessor and others of treason. After the results were out, the RSS reportedly sent a less than complementary message to its political wing, delivered directly to the BJP president:

“Decency of language and behavior and ideological firmness are our identity,” read the curt message sent to BJP president Amit Shah through Ram Lal, the party’s general secretary in charge of organization, the day after the result. “Abrogation of decency is inappropriate and unacceptable, and as such it did not get people’s approval.”

 Maybe not, but “abrogation of decency” appears to be the first, and only, item in the BJP’s election playbook — even when it is warned by its own parent that the ploy is giving diminishing marginal returns, the ruling party knows no other way to play.
Thus, on the first day of the new year, a Rajasthan MP kicked things off with a gratuitous attack on Muslims. The next day, it escalated. A UP MLA said Muslims are a problem in India; a BJP leader said there should be a “mechanism for population control“; and in case there was any doubt about what the reference was to, another senior BJP leader said “The growing population of the country, especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony and social development of the country.”
This is where we usually begin to talk of the “fringe”, and suggest that much is being made of random incendiary remarks by no-count local leaders. Except that the maker of that last statement is Giriraj Singh, Union Minister of State with independent charge for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. A member, that is, of Modi’s council of ministers.
Meanwhile in Rajasthan, where Hindutva elements have begun ramping up the rhetoric (see #4), Shambulal Regar emerges as a new totem for the Right. This, mind you, is the man who brutually murdered a fellow human, videotaped it, popularized the video, and used it as a fund-raising tool. The killing was supposed to be a symbol of a growing Hindu inclination to fight back against the despicable Muslims — only, it turned out Regar had murdered the wrong man, and the motive in any case was rivalry over a girl.

With state assembly elections only a few months away, more such marches are being planned. Social campaigns are busy mobilising people in Regar’s name.

Some political Hindu outfits have meanwhile promised to take care of the educational expenses of Regar’s children, others have assured his family free rations and groceries for a year. Those close to Regar’s family say that privately some lawyers have also volunteered to fight Regar’s case pro bono. And there are already strong rumours that Regar will fight as an independent candidate in the assembly elections, from jail.

“Ye chunaavi varsh hai. Agar chunaav jeetna hai to Hindutva ko laana hi hoga aur Hindutva ko leke aaye to Shambhu ke samarthan mein utarna hi hoga [This is an election year. If we have to win the elections we will have to bring in Hindutva and if we do that then we will have to support Shambhulal Regar],” said a senior member of Bajrang Sena, a right wing Hindu group.

And we are merely into the 3rd day of the New Year.

Elsewhere, the government does things you just can’t make sense out of. As for instance in the realm of healthcare, where a bill was introduced in Parliament to the effect that practitioners of alternative medicine could, by completing a “bridge course”, hang out their shingle as full-fledged allopathic doctors. Think about it: you are unwell, you walk into a doctor’s consulting room, and you have no idea whether the doctor in question actually did the hard yards through medical college and internship, or merely completed a compressed course of some kind.

Doctors are, for obvious reasons, up in arms over this. And faced with the possibility of major all-India strikes by health professionals, the government belatedly decides to send the bill to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for study — which is what it should have done first, before bringing it to the floor of the House. Meanwhile, Gujarat goes one better, instituting what the Times of India calls a “unique concept” — possibly because “bullshit concept” is not acceptable. Briefly, this:


 Gujarat, which has been witnessing a shortage of specialist doctors, especially in rural areas, has come up with a unique concept — ‘Bal doctors (kid doctors)’ will now look after children’s wellness under the state’s school health programme.

The ‘bal doctors’ will be equipped with stethoscopes as well as ayurvedic medicines to be given to their classmates.
They will be given a stock of ayurvedic medicines to deal with any health-related issue, said officials. An order of the health department to primary schools reads: “One ‘bal doctor’ will be appointed in each primary school for which the state education department and the health department will function jointly.”

Each ‘bal doctor’ will be given an apron and a badge to “look like a doctor”. “He will be additionally given a torch, an ayurvedic medicine kit, booklets and posters on health-related problems,” said a health official.

It is for times like this that the internet invented ‘I don’t even‘.

Elsewhere, Arun Jaitley announced the details of an “electoral bond” for political funding, the aim of which — at least, so he says, is to clean up election financing. Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t.

Consider the main ways in which political funding is murky. If I have black/unaccounted money, I can give that as donation to a political party of my choice, and use it to buy influence. Also, a political party can raise money by any illicit means, add it to its coffers, and claim that the money came in as donation from Joe Citizen.

The root of this murkiness is that there is no system to identify who contributed how much to which party — ergo, if you want to introduce transparency, then the only means is to create a system whereby there is a clear identification of the donors in the balance sheets of the various political parties.

Not surprisingly, that is the only thing not present in Jaitley’s latest hare-brained scheme: identification of the donor.

“The donor will know which party he is depositing money. The political party will file return with the election commission. Now, which donor gave to which political party, that is the only thing which will not be known,” he said, adding, “Electoral bonds will ensure clean money and significant transparency against the current system of unclean money”.

So in sum, we now have a new system to do exactly what the old system did. Much smoke and mirrors, no real progress. More on this here.

Meanwhile, remember 2014? When the word ‘intolerance’ was a red rag to the right? Remember the many discussions and debates, all centered around the argument that to say India was becoming more intolerant was merely a left-liberal trope? I was reminded of that period when I saw a few news stories at the start of this year. As for instance: The clashes in Pune and the ongoing protests in Mumbai and elsewhere after clashes broke out in the Bhima Koregaon area of Pune on New year’s Day. Dalit homes are vandalized in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu because they dared celebrate New Year. In Mangalore, Hindu groups attack teens because they — a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim — were picnicking at a water park.

The students were visiting the water park, a popular picnic spot 7 kms away from Mangaluru. The sight of the students from different religious communities co-existing irked members of Hindu Jagrana Vedike who were also at the water park. They attacked them inside the park, following which police intervened.

This is how intolerance gets normalized. Because who in hell has the time, or inclination, to track these increasingly frequent occurrences, and fuss about each of them?

On my way out the door, a few links:

And then there is the book I have just started reading: Imperfect, by Sanjay Manjrekar. I loved watching him bat at his peak, and have often wondered where and why he went off the rails and failed to make the most of his obvious ability. Hopefully, the book will provide some insight.