Saturday (April 13) scratchpad

Call Them By Their True Names is the title of one of Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful collections of essays. In the foreword, Solnit reminds us of the fable of Rumpelstiltskin, and uses it to set up this thought:

One of the folktale archetypes, according to the Aarne-Thompson classification of these stories, tells of how “a mysterious or threatening helper is defeated when the hero or the heroine discovers his name.” In the deep past, people knew names had power. Some still do. Calling things by their true names cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness. It’s not all there is to changing the world, but it is a key step.

With that thought front and centre, here are a few news items. Sakshi ‘Maharaj’, whose chequered past includes everything from corruption, to rape and murder with a leavening of naked political opportunism, says that he will curse those who do not vote for him. Maneka Gandhi tells Muslims to vote for her; failing that, she says, don’t expect her help in future. (In an election season where notices are flying in every direction, Maneka has gotten one for this statement). Amit Shah says “illegal immigrants” are “termites” and says the BJP will throw them all out if it comes back to power — barring, of course, Hindus and Buddhists. Shah also says that it is hard to make out whether Wayanad is in India or Pakistan. Narendra Modi repeats the tired lie of a “break India” gang, and says the Karnataka government has money for a “festival for Sultan” but not for Hampi. Oh, and Modi then goes to Kerala and says that the BJP is “an inclusive, democratic, compassionate alternative” to the LDF and UDF.

What the right names for such? In passing, note: One person was beaten to death and three others were injured by a mob which suspected them of slaughtering a cow and cutting its flesh in Jharkhand’s Gumla district. “Suspected them”, note. That is all it takes.

WHY, though, are the leading lights of the ruling party going around the country fanning hate? Because what else is there? The ‘Gujarat Model’ of prosperity is in shambles, as is the economy. Here is the latest bad news on that front: Industrial production has slowed to a 20-month low of 0.1%. Yeah, that is zero point one per cent. And that is not all: The claimed IIP for November 2018, not too hot to begin with, has been further revised downwards. Capital goods output is down 8.8 per cent. Consider the implications on GDP, on employment. In the quarter ending December, the Indian economy grew at its lowest pace across the last five quarters. Oh, and inflation hit a five-month high. And there is more: Remember FDI? Which, thanks to Modi’s globetrotting, was supposed to be pouring into India?

Meanwhile, banks have in the last five years written off Rs five lakh fifty-five thousand, six hundred and three crore in bad loans. Do we know who the “beneficiaries” are? No. What we know is that banks have been handing out loans without proper due diligence; the loans go bad; the banks get in financial trouble; the government recapitalises them using taxpayer money; rinse, repeat. And then there is MUDRA — Modi’s famous self-employment scheme. Modi claimed that millions were getting jobs under Mudra. Where is the data? Oops — no, you don’t need to know that until voting is over, says the government as it deep-sixes the report. But we do know this: thanks to Modi pushing his “scheme” hard, bad loans registered a 53% jump in just the first nine months of the current financial year.

Why do the BJP bigwigs go around peddling hate? Because inflammatory rhetoric — which invariably gets the “liberal media” steamed up, which in turn is the cue for “right wing media” to use its prime time to “debate” and normalise the behaviour — distracts from all of this. And at the rate bad news is piling up, the BJP needs all the distractions it can get.

SPEAKING of prime time normalisation: Smriti Irani lied about her educational qualifications. Nothing to see here, we’ve known this all along. Lying under oath, which is what an affidavit is, is a punishable offence — but then again, her boss Modi was going around touting his degree in “entire political science”, and both Modi and Irani have used their government clout to ensure that copies of their actual certificates are not revealed to public scrutiny. Here’s the thing, though: Republic TV, which along with Times Now has taken on the onus for shielding the government, deflecting from its wrongdoing, and turning everything around into an attack on the opposition, came up with this bizarre spin:

Prime time last evening was devoted to selling this narrative: Irani is being mocked because she is a self-made woman; her candidature is sending shivers down the Gandhi spines; the Gandhis are scared; that is why they raising such issues; now she is more determined to fight for Amethi

Anything at all about her lying in an affidavit? Yeah, sure, this one line:

Yes the website is public, as are her affidavits, and that is exactly why she is being accused of lying under oath. Talk of non-responsive responses! And while we are on normalising, remember the Maneka Gandhi speech I linked to earlier? Republic, again, to the rescue:

There was lots more, on the lines of ‘No, Maneka did not say what you actually saw her open her mouth and say on video’, but I’ll spare you. And leave you with some reads for the weekend:

  • Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma has made available for free his award-winning documentary on Godhra, The Final Solution. Watch it here.
  • Around the time the Rafale deal was being negotiated, the French government waived approximately Rs 1,125 crore in taxes owed by an Anil Ambani subsidiary. Why? One logical answer that suggests itself is, Dassault could not have entered into an agreement with Ambani if his company was a tax defaulter.
  • Prem Shankar Jha sees parallels between Godhra 2002 and Pulwama 2019.
  • On a Muslim-majority village in Kerala that grows the lotuses used in Hindu temples.
  • Vice has a longish read on the BJP’s troll army.
  • A BJP candidate seeking votes says he is God. Makes sense — why waste time being a middleman, the sants and the maharajs and yogis and such?
  • On a Kerala potter who distributes for free mud pots worth Rs six lakh so birds can get water to drink.
  • Shiv Sena advises its ally the BJP to shut the hell up about Rafale, because the motormouth defence minister and others are only increasing the problems for the party with their statements. I wonder what the ground troops make of all this: The Sena, even after signing up for the alliance, has been sniping more at the BJP than at the opposition. And to add to the fun, Raj Thackeray has hit the campaign trail with a vengeance. Here is his Gudi Padwa speech, with English subtitles; yesterday he was in Nanded addressing a full house, and Marathi channels carried the event live.
  • Around the time the Rafale deal was being negotiated, the French government waived approximately Rs 1,125 crore in taxes owed by an Anil Ambani subsidiary. Why? One logical answer that suggests itself is, Dassault could not have entered into an agreement with Ambani if his company was a tax defaulter.
  • Prem Shankar Jha sees parallels between Godhra 2002 and Pulwama 2019.
  • On a Muslim-majority village in Kerala that grows the lotuses used in Hindu temples.
  • Vice has a longish read on the BJP’s troll army.
  • A BJP candidate seeking votes says he is God. Makes sense — why waste time being a middleman, the sants and the maharajs and yogis and such?
  • On a Kerala potter who distributes for free mud pots worth Rs six lakh so birds can get water to drink.
  • Shiv Sena advises its ally the BJP to shut the hell up about Rafale, because the motormouth defence minister and others are only increasing the problems for the party with their statements. I wonder what the ground troops make of all this: The Sena, even after signing up for the alliance, has been sniping more at the BJP than at the opposition. And to add to the fun, Raj Thackeray has hit the campaign trail with a vengeance. Here is his Gudi Padwa speech, with English subtitles; yesterday he was in Nanded addressing a full house, and Marathi channels carried the event live.