The evil that men do…

On January 6, the day after a masked, armed mob ran riot in the JNU campus while its VC instructed the police to stand outside the gates, Arnab Goswami conducted his usual evening debate. This is what he said in his opener — and when reading that, remember that these are merely words on screen; to understand what he chose to emphasise, how he chose to escalate, you have to listen to him via the link above. I have, for convenience, underlined certain statements to more easily catch your eye. Here:

Many of you have been calling Republic and asking to know what my position is on what happened or what has been happening at JNU. And I am glad that I took my time to come up with my view. And ladies and gentlemen, while it is and it was extremely worrying to see the visuals of the masked goons in JNU yesterday, and what happened was terrible, without a doubt, most of the media once again came to a wrong and premature conclusion once again. And now that we have the proof, and now that we have visuals which show the extreme brutality of the Left, and now that we have videographed evidence of the barbaric, monstrous attack by Left student leaders, by Left student unions, leading bloody masked mobs a few days back, and now that we have the truth before us, pictures, of Left student leaders physically assaulting fellow students, whose only fault was that they wanted to appear in the examination, whose only fault is that they had entrance exams to give and they needed to qualify and sit for the examinations, we have pictures of how they were brutalised by the Left student leaders, and now that we have the evidence of how any student in JNU who wanted to be registered for the examination was the subject of bloody attacks by the Left, and now that all this evidence is out, and now that it is absolutely clear that it is the left which has not just been starting, but unleashing relentless violence on all those who want to follow the academic schedule in JNU, and now, now, tonight, this Monday evening, that those coming out in the JNU protests in Mumbai for example, with their own placards have been identified not as students but the pro-Pakistan groups, and now that these groups are also asking at the Gateway of India in Mumbai for Independence for Kashmir, and now that all this evidence is out, I am not just narrating it, I am going to show you the pictures, and now that all this hard-coded evidence is being broadcast on the Republic Media Network, the nation wants to know whether the idle mind called Anurag Kashyap will bother to tweet tonight, or whether once again he and his ilk will pretend like cowards to look the other way.

There it is, the art (if you can call it that) of the demagogue, in one easy lesson. Goswami suggests that the contemporary narrative in the media is wrong; that he has evidence to the contrary, and smoothly segues into a condemnation of the Left students and their unions, accusing them of barbarous physical assault. And not just accusing — he makes you believe that it is proven beyond doubt.

He then seamlessly links it to a Free Kashmir placard held up in Mumbai to drag in that never-failing red herring, Pakistan; from there he targets by name an individual who has been speaking out against the serial atrocities being committed across the nation.

Remember the date of this broadcast: January 6. The day after the murderous attacks on JNU. The day after the nation, in a state of shock, watched an officially-sanctioned and protected mob at work. 24 hours later, Goswami flips the story — while the attack is “extremely worrying, without a doubt”, the Left students and their unions are guilty of … “extreme brutality“… “barbarous, monstrous attack“… “leading bloody masked mobs“… “physically assaulting”… “brutalised“…

Listen to that monologue as a viewer of that channel would — passively, just taking in what is said. And think of what you would take away, what you would conclude:

That while a “worrying” incident did take place, too bad, so sad, the fault, dear Brutus, lies with the barbaric “Left”…

Remember that after Goswami “proved” that the Left had indulged in unimaginable violence prior to the January 5 attack — which was his way of amplifying the then official line that the attacks of January 5 were in response to acts of vandalism by the Left union on January 1 and January 4, an RTI inquiry revealed that in fact there was absolutely no instance of vandalism, by the Left or anyone else, on either of those days.

The RTI story appeared on January 20 — 14 days after Goswami had sowed the fertile minds of his listeners with his own patented brand of poison and moved on. That is how this works — plant the lie, move rapidly on to other things before the truth has a chance to catch up.

In passing, this is your periodic reminder that the police have CCTV footage of the violence (though they claimed otherwise), that leaders of the armed assault have been identified, and the identification acknowledged by the police themselves, and yet there has not been a single arrest in the case thus far.

But Goswami says it was the Left, Goswami says he has proof, and Goswami is an honourable man…

Two Davids, Edwards and Cromwell, founded and run the site Media Lens, which is dedicated to tilting at the Goliath of propaganda in mainstream media (You can follow the site on Twitter). In 2018, they released their third book, Propaganda Blitz, to break down the tools and techniques used by media to sell the official line. They set up the premise of the book thus:

A regular feature of corporate media manipulation involves the launching of what we call a propaganda blitz, attacking and discrediting the ‘Official Enemies’, often preparing the way for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ of some kind. Propaganda blitzes are fast-moving attacks intended to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Here, watch the various stages of a propaganda blitz, as laid out by David Edwards and David Cromwell, in action. The sequential images are courtesy this excellent thread by Vasundhara Singh Sirnate, co-founder and director of research at The Polis Project:

Step 1: A propaganda blitz begins with the propagation of some dramatic new “evidence” to support an oft-touted conclusion. In this instance, the government and its water-carriers in the media have been touting the line that the protests in Jamia, in JNU and Shaheen Bagh are violent and must be ended. Republic starts off with this: a dramatic picture, circling the perpetrator with an arrow ominously pointing to him, and states as fact that a Jamia protestor turned violent, and “uses gun”. Think also of the Goswami “debate” linked to at the start of this post, and how it opens with full-throated claims of new evidence that is going to be shown to prove a falsehood.

Step 2: The tone adopted during a propaganda blitz is always vehement, even hysterical. “Claims of dramatic new evidence of alleged horrors committed by ‘Official Enemies’ are invariably followed by deep moral outrage,” say the authors. “The rationale is clear enough: in ordinary life, outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People do not get angry in the presence of significant doubt. So the message to the public is that there is no doubt. Listen to Aishwarya Kapoor, political editor of the Republic TV channel, in the clip above. Below, the text:

“Will they fire gun? Will they brandish illegal weapons on the streets of the national capital of India? It cannot be allowed and it should not be allowed. That is why I ask those political leaders in this democracy… in this democracy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal should answer how they are supporting. Under which condition, under which kind of pressure are they supporting this kind of violent people? Because in the name of CAA, this is happening….”

There is more, in the same barely literate, hyperventilating vein, including a repeat invoking of Gandhi and Kejriwal, but you get the idea: The ‘Official Enemies’ are called out, to the accompaniment of deep moral outrage, and there is no ambivalence about what the evidence on screen shows.

On similar lines, listen to Goswami’s opener the same evening, where he opens by blaming the “over 40 days of provocation in Shaheen Bagh” for the terrorist’s actions. This is a journalist (allegedly), a man with a powerful megaphone, setting out his evening “debate” program with the suggestion that women peacefully protesting in a corner of Delhi is justification for attempted mass murder. In the interests of “balance” he says he has questions for both sides but then makes clear which side is right:

“Let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation.”

Those are the words that justify murder.

There are other tropes that are used to fan the propaganda fire. As the authors list them, these are: (3) The appearance of informed consensus (Note how convenient sound bytes from friendly politicians are used to further the various conspiracy theories); (4) Damning condemnation of anyone daring to question this consensus (Where is Rahul Gandhi? Will the tukde tukde gang speak up? Anurag Kashyap? Lutyens? The Lobby?); (5) Often generated with fortuitous timing (Remember that a few days before this incident, “dramatic new evidence” had surfaced that the PFI is funding the anti-CAA protests — an evidence, and accusation, that has quietly been buried since, but only after the damage was done); (6) Accompanied by tragi-comic moral dissonance — as, for instance:

See the chyron? “They wanted this to happen”. This is at the start of the “debate”, the screen is frozen at the point where Goswami says “We have questions for both sides tonight, but let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation”

See the whole package. In what is ostensibly the scene-setting for a debate, Goswami starts with his prefabricated conclusion: It is not about the terrorist, it is about the provocateurs — which, by the way, is a vast grab-bag that includes but is not restricted to Shaheen Bagh alone.

In his worldview, the terrorist has no agency — “They”, the ‘official enemies’, wanted this to happen, the terrorist was a helpless leaf swept along in the murky currents of a deep conspiracy.

The authors refer to this as “tragi-comic moral dissonance” — but when weaponised to the extent that Goswami and his ilk have done, it is neither comic nor even tragic; it is, pure and simple, the criminally irresponsible, deadly dangerous language of genocide.

The whole is overlaid with calculated cynicism; with the belief, based on the channel’s experience, that people can be fooled all the time. Having run with their prefabricated storyline for most of the evening (Vasundhara Srinate meticulously tracks the channel’s criminal distortions here), they then reclaim the high moral ground with an apology (Except there is no suggestion of an apology, merely a claim that it was “immediately” corrected):

In the heat of the moment, anyone can make a mistake, no? Anyone can, in the rush of events, mistake a terrorist for a protestor. Anyone can, when the adrenalin is flowing and lives are at risk, mistake the terrorist for someone who was sent on the mission with the personal blessings of Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, no? Oops!

The terrorist named himself as he was being taken into custody. Within minutes of that, his full identity was revealed. Yet, as Vasundhara Srinate outlines, Republic continued with their tissue of lies for over two hours before issuing an “apology”, the effect of which is nullified by the continued insistence — repeated in both header and chyron — that the terrorist was operating under extreme provocation.

In a thoughtful piece on Goswami, Kunal Kamra, and what contemporary incidents are telling us, Pragya Tiwari (follow) cites the German writer and playwright Bertolt Brecht — who, it is worth noting, had fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution for his views — on art and propaganda:

“Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions” and warned against the dangers of art that enables this…”

“Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” said Brecht.

That is what Goswami’s dark arts of demagoguery are all about — a hammer he wields every night to shape reality to the needs of his political masters. Here is the sad part, though: The damage he has done, and continues to do each night, is not restricted to the effect his diatribes have on his audience, but reaches far deeper.

An editor sets the tone of the newsroom he heads; whether they admit it or not, the rest of the editorial staff take their cues from the editor and, consciously or unconsciously, shape their work to fit the editor’s worldview. (It is one of the biggest challenges for an editor — to free the staff of this Pavlovian reflex, to ensure that individuality is not erased, because you have to fight human nature, the worker’s basic survival instinct).

Consider that piece-to-camera where Aishwarya Kapoor rants about the Jamia protestor having a gun, and drags in Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal — what is that but a manifestation of the Goswami influence on the next generation of newsroom leaders?

Consider Deepti (I am not sure of her surname; Goswami introduces her as his news editor at the start of the clip above), and her behaviour with Tejaswi Yadav. What is that but a direct consequence of the hectoring, heckling, privacy-invading, obnoxious style of “journalism” Goswami has instituted as the gold standard?

Consider too that in the intro Goswami refers to a politician as “Lalu’s brat”, and imagine the influence on impressionable young journalists when a newsroom leader institutionalises such language, not only in the privacy of the newsroom where it would be bad enough, but when facing the camera.

Consider the pressures on other channels — as, for instance, TimesNow. When Republic surged ahead in the ratings immediately after launch, TN was forced (not in the journalistic sense so much as in the financial sense) to follow suit, to mimic Goswami’s motormouth hectoring. And then to try and go one better: Thus, they split Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, giving them individual, back to back slots and thus managing to extend the chosen propaganda of the day; then they elevated Padmaja Joshi to get a third bite of the cherry.

See how the virus spreads?

Finally, consider this: Sooner or later (and it looks like it will be later), this circle has to end. This bigoted government will come to the end of its life cycle. And these channels and their reprehensible anchors will have to reshape themselves to fit whatever the new political ethos turns out to be. But it is not going to be easy to turn this ship around. A whole generation of young men and women are growing up in newsrooms shaped by the venomous propagandists who lead them; a generation that thinks this is the way journalism is done; a generation that knows no better.

They will in turn grow into the next lot of newsroom leaders and, knowing no better, will pass on this poison to the young ones who come to work with them.

That, in the ultimate analysis, is the damage the bigot, the fascist, does: He poisons not merely the air he breathes, but the atmosphere future generations have to grow up in; the damage he inflicts is lasting, and well nigh irreversible.

That damage, this image: A young man, part of a group of students commemorating the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, wounded by a terrorist empowered and egged on by the hate-spewing men who run this country and by apologists and enablers like Goswami, having to clamber over a police barricade so that he can get a gunshot wound treated.

Via a Faye D’Souza tweet

What do they — Modi, Shah, Thakur, Bisht and others of this hate-filled lot, and the likes of Goswami, Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Sudhir Chaudhary, hope to gain? What in this world do they think is worth infecting a nation, particularly its young, with murderous hate?

The nation wants to know.

A thought for our times

This morning, the first thing I did (after making myself a cup of coffee) was to put on my earphones and listen to Ravish Kumar of NDTV reflect on the events of yesterday.

Those events in their red hot immediacy fuel rage and despair in equal measure but, as Ravish says, they also merit — demand — a period of calm reflection. Ravish reflects so we don’t have to. Please take the time out to listen till the very end.

A personal note: In the midst of all this I managed to do my back some damage, so I’ll be resting it today. My next blogpost will therefore be tomorrow — and maybe it is a good thing, maybe this time is best used reflecting not on the immediate events, but on what lies beneath, and what looms ahead.

Take care, be well, stay safe.

This is an Emergency

Courtesy Nikhil Taneja on Twitter.

We live at a time when the government, the ruling party, and its adherents have institutionalised, and weaponised, intolerance. We live, therefore, in an age where every citizen who believes in the Constitution and the fundamental values it enshrines must resist, by any and all means; an age where zero tolerance of intolerance should be the norm.

I agree. The tricky part is not in accepting that resistance is vital, it is necessary, even mandatory; the tricky part is when we begin considering what means we will adopt, and what we will not. “By any and all means” seems fair enough, until we consider the implications of those words. And the episode involving comedian Kunal Kamra and that alleged journalist, Arnab Goswami, is a good lens for such consideration.

Briefly, for the record, on January 25 Kamra found himself on the same flight as Goswami, and did this. As Kamra says in a statement — which no member of the airline staff has denied — he questioned a TV anchor who has, repeatedly, demonized him in absentia as part of some mythical ‘tukde tukde gang’; he obeyed existing rules; he returned to his seat when he was asked to do so.

What Kamra did is a mild version of a tactic Goswami and his channel’s reporters have repeatedly done to others — invading their privacy, ignoring repeated requests that they be left alone, using their victims’ unwillingness to talk to further vilify them. As for example, this clip, which is absolutely on point with what Kamra did (except that here, the reporter ignores not only her victim’s request to be left alone, but also repeatedly ignores the airline staff telling her to go back to her seat, and even ignores an announcement made on the PA system):

Before going further, pause a moment to consider the language used by the anchor — who, incidentally, is not merely the head of his channel, but the elected president of the governing board of the News Broadcasters Federation, the body that sets and enforces standards for television. Note that he is talking about a politician, a former deputy chief minister of a state, and the son of a very senior politician who has been both chief minister and union minister.

“Lalu’s brat”.

That is how a journalist, an editor, the head of the broadcaster’s association, refers to Tejaswi Yadav. “Lalu’s brat”.

Anyway. Kamra’s post went viral. At the time, I said on Twitter that I disagreed with the tactic — my reasoning being that if you descend to the levels of Goswami and his ilk, you legitimise behaviour that you consider obnoxious in others.

Others — including many who I respect — however argued that Goswami only got what was coming to him; that it was absolutely fair to use his own tactics against him. Anivar Aravind even mapped it to the use of the technique known in protest circles as counter-speech, which the Dangerous Speech Project defines as “any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it”.

But then, where does that stop? The BJP employs thugs armed with iron rods and bottles of acid to assault students who are peacefully protesting — do we get to do the same? I am no “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” Gandhian — far from it. Nor am I staking out a “holier than thou” moral high ground — in fact, several of the people who have held that Goswami got what was coming to him are people I look up to, admire, and try to emulate.

Yet, something within me rebels at the thought of descending to the depths the likes of Goswami have plumbed. I guess this is one of those situations where we each of us do what we can, how we must — and if we don’t agree with each other’s tactics, we at the least refrain from taking each other on and in the process, losing sight of the common enemy.

Kamra subsequently put out an extended video explaining his stand, and providing context. It is worth watching for the way it calls out Goswami’s many acts of omission and commission:

The ban is illegal, said Arun Kumar, director General of the DGCA in an interview to Huffington Post. Shortly thereafter, the DGCA via its official social media handle issued a “clarification” stating that the ban was kosher. What is worth noting about this clarification is that it is not on the letterhead of the governing body, nor is it signed by any identified official — in other words, it is not worth the paper it is printed on.

In any case, this is not a ‘he said/the other guy said’ situation. The DGCA’s rules relating to the process to be followed in cases of misbehaviour by passengers is clear; Indian Express has an explainer; it was posted on social media by several people, including Gul Panag, herself a certified pilot. Even a cursory reading shows that due process has been ignored right down the line, that the action taken against Kamra is in complete violation of the norms.

Breaking, at 5:50 PM: The IndiGo pilot in charge of the plane where the incident took place says he did not find the incident reportable in any way. Remember, action against a passenger has to be taken on the basis of a complaint by the staff.

And yet, IndiGo suspended Kamra from flying for six months. And, more bizarrely, GoAir, SpiceJet and Air India followed suit — though there is no provision in the DGCA rules permitting an airline to ban a passenger for a misdemeanor, assuming it was one, committed on another airline.

Which brings up the biggest issue with this incident. This:

That is the minister for civil aviation “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban for an incident that happened on an IndiGo flight. It is worth noting that GoAir, SpiceJet (which took absolutely no action when Pragya Thakur, MP and an undertrial in the 2008 Malegaon bombings where 10 people were killed and 82 injured, did this) and Air India, while announcing their own bans, dutifully tagged the minister on their announcements.

In how many ways is this ridiculous? Firstly, a Union minister actively, publicly involving himself in a disciplinary matter that is merely the concern of the airline in question. Secondly, the minister “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban — which is clearly illegal. Most importantly, the alacrity with which a central minister jumps to the defence of a television anchor — proof, if proof were in fact needed, that Goswami is not a journalist, but an important cog in the government’s propaganda machine.

The story, which began as a question of whether it is legitimate to use on Goswami the same weapons he has used on so many others, has now morphed into a much larger issue: It is not about the incident so much as it is about the patently illegal, clearly dictatorial abuse of state power.

And it will likely blow up. Activist Saket Gokhale has already — smartly — filed an RTI petition demanding that Air India show the documentation based on which it imposed a ban on Kamra. This will put the airline in a legal bind; I will be surprised if it does not end up as a court case, where Kamra is in a position to claim damages.

Ironically, this morning I woke up to the news that IndiGo, the airline where all this started, suffered its 22nd mid-air snag in two years. The story, which details the mechanics behind why such incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency, also says this: The DGCA, which had earlier given a January 2020 deadline for making the necessary technical corrections, has extended the deadline to end-May.

In other words the DGCA knows of the issue, it has prescribed the corrective, it has given the airline time for remedial action, and it has with no reason ascribed further extended that deadline, in the process risking the lives of passengers. While the same DGCA is scrambling to justify the same airline taking punitive action against a comedian on the grounds of putting passengers’ lives at risk.

In passing, the tactics used repeatedly by Goswami, and other propaganda channels, merits a closer look. And that will be my post for tomorrow. For now, a quick round up of some other issues that are worth recording, if only to maintain this chronicle of our daily descent into a state of undeclared, but very real, Emergency.

The Election Commission, which is mandated among other things to monitor and enforce the Model Code of Conduct governing election campaigns, has examined the case of Union Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP Member of Parliament Parvesh Verma, both of whom indulged in documented hate speech and calls for violence, and decided that they can continue to campaign.

That is not how the EC puts it. Per its statement, Thakur and Verma have been “removed from the list of star campaigners” — which on the face of it seems to indicate action has been taken, but in fact means nothing. A designated “star campaigner” has his expenses borne by the party; if you are not on the list, you can still campaign, provided the expense is borne by the candidate himself.

Hate speech has consequences. Here is one such: A young man from Gujarat says that if he is asked to shoot the anti-nationals at JNU, he will not hesitate. Goli maro saalon ko, goes the chant led by a Union minister, with absolutely no consequences. Happy to oblige, says a bigoted young man who, in a better-ordered world, would have been a well-educated, productive member of society.

On the subject of candidates having to pay for Thakur to campaign, remember, this is the BJP — by a distance the richest party in the country, with more than enough funds to underwrite each of its candidates in an election it is desperately trying to win. Sure, there are caps on the expense an individual candidate can incur, but how hard is it to work around that? Not very.

And that brings us to how the BJP got rich in the first place. Nitin Sethi, one of the pitifully few remaining journalists with a spine, a conscience, and the skill to dig deep and hard, is in the middle of a brilliant series of articles examining the colossal scam that is the government’s electoral bonds scheme (which, in passing, the SC has been consistently delaying petitions challenging it). The series in its entirety is here; below is a shortened list of the stories that are central to the scam. They are not just worth reading, they are stories you must read, because these are the stories the noise surrounding us is meant to distract from:

  • The Finance Ministry allowed anonymous donors to donate expired political bonds to an unnamed party in May 2018, against the background of the Karnataka elections, and in the process violated rules relating to money laundering. Remember this is a government that made its anti-corruption crusade a central plank of its electoral strategy, and continues to rail against money-laundering while promising to bring back funds stashed abroad.
  • An extensively documented, and well explained, story centering on various documents obtained by transparency activist Lokesh Batra, that chronicles the lies and deceit practised at the very highest levels of this government.
  • A story that details how the Law Ministry, no less, told the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office that the electoral bonds scheme was illegal, and how that advice was ignored while the FM and PM went ahead with the scheme anyway.
  • The electoral bonds scheme is supposed to allow individuals and institutions to contribute funds to political parties under conditions of strict anonymity. This story details how the State Bank of India, through which electoral bonds are sold, violated the anonymity clause, routinely funneled information to the government about who was purchasing bonds, and repeatedly obfuscated or downright lied about it in response to RTI inquiries.
  • Corruption on a colossal scale is bad enough; this story takes it one notch higher to show you that you — the taxpayer — is the one paying for all this. That is, a government we elected almost entirely based on its promise to end the “endemic corruption of the Congress” (none of those charges have been proved, by the way) has not only institutionalized corruption, it has done so in such a way that it enjoys the loot, and you pay to facilitate the government’s corruption. (This tweet shows you what it means)
  • I’ll end this round up with an old Nitin Sethi thread that explains how dangerous this scheme is, over and above the obvious corruption it facilitates.

I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again: Journalists like Nitin Sethi, who have both the ability and the courage to report and write, in such detail, stories that expose corruption leading all the way up the ladder to Narendra Modi himself — and to write such stories at a time when any questioning of this government is met with retributive action — are national treasures we should value and cherish. And if and when it becomes necessary, protect.

It should be painfully obvious by now that the government is unraveling. It has ruined the economy. It has weaponised corruption on a scale previously unimaginable. It has vitiated the social/cultural fabric of the country. It has corrupted beyond redemption our main sources of information. It has waged and continues to wage war on various blocks of citizens: Muslims, yes, but also tribals, Dalits, the student community, women… on virtually every single group other than its core base of bloodthirsty bigots.

Meanwhile, in Bidar, eastern Karnataka, a charge of sedition has been filed against a school that attempted to teach young children the law, and related issues, about the CAA. Read that again — a school attempted to educate young children on the issue roiling the country today, and is therefore facing punitive action.

Look at the image fronting this story: Minors, being interrogated by the police, without their parents being present. That is a Muslim school. In Karnataka. Where, elsewhere, a Karnataka BJP MLA – a man elected, and sworn, to represent all his constituents – says he will cut off all facilities for Muslims.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court, no less, has granted bail to 17 persons convicted in the burning alive of 33 Muslims in Sardarpura, as part of the post-Godhra riots. The SC has asked moved them from Gujarat to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. The SC has asked local authorities to ensure that the convicts now out on bail engage in “spiritual works”. The SC has asked Madhya Pradesh authorities to finding them jobs! Even Kafka’s imagination never stretched this far.

The vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha has called for the forced sterilisation of Christians and Muslims. The lunatic fringe? Think again. Remember that the RSS has called for a law on population control. Remember too that Narendra Modi, soon after taking office for a second term, called for population control as an “act of patriotism”. And captive media channels and their propagandist anchors helped maintain the drumbeat. What Bhagwat and Modi did was float early trial balloons. Then the stormtroopers take over and up the ante — that is how fascism always works.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has this for his “Muslim brothers”:

Bloody hypocrite.

In my previous post, I had detailed my belief that we have officially become a fascist state, and listed the symptoms. Revisit it now, and see how many boxes we have ticked in just the last 48 hours or so.

The one silver lining in all of this is the resistance. People’s protests, yes, but also official resistance. As for example: In Kerala, Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan provided a lesson in the value of knowing your Constitution, and the obligations it imposes on various branches of the government, when he made Governor Arif Mohammed Khan read out, in course of his pre-Budget exercise, a segment that expressed the government’s opposition to the CAA. I noticed that when the news broke, the usual suspects condemned it as yet another example of Kerala’s lawlessness.

Try harder. A governor’s pre-budget speech is a Constitutional obligation wherein he announces the policies, and intent, of the government. He is, in other words, speaking on behalf of the state government. If the state government is opposed to a particular policy — in this case, the CAA — and has decided to resist it as part of its official policy, then the Governor in his address is duty-bound to say so.

It’s an object lesson in the value of knowing the Constitution, of being aware of the rules, and of using these to resist egregiously iniquitous policies the Centre seeks to impose.

Another state government, another act of resistance: The Pune police has refused to hand over to the NIA papers relating to the Bhima-Koregaon violence of January 2, 2018. Remember that no sooner had NCP chief Sharad Pawar written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackery asking that the case be reopened, Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah passed orders transferring the case to the NIA. This, then, is the state’s pushback.

I had intended, today, to do a post on Goswami, and by extension on the techniques of propaganda being used at industrial strength by this government. But this post has already become too long; I’ll leave that theme for tomorrow.

Update, 3:10 PM: About an hour earlier, a man who is yet to be identified fired on Jamia Milia Islamia students, shouting ‘Yeh lo azaadi’ and other slogans. One student was injured. The injured student had to jump over the barricade on his way to get treated, because the Delhi police would not open it to let him pass.

It is worth mentioning, in this context, that today the JMI students had gathered outside Gate No: 7 to remember Gandhi, and to mourn his martyrdom.

The man, who says his name is ‘Rambakht Gopal’ — he has since been identified, and is believed to be a member of the Bajrang Dal — held the gun, he held the trigger — but Modi, Shah, Thakur, Verma and the rest of the hate-filled lot that seek to ruin this country put that gun there, and should be called out for it. Below, a longer video of the arrest:

Watch how unruffled he is, how brazenly he fires with police barely 20 meters away (one of his slogans is ‘Delhi Police Zindabad’) and how calmly he gives himself up to the police finally. The body language spells out one thing, and one thing only: a sense of impunity, a knowledge that he will be taken care of.

He was apparently live-streaming the whole thing, and had announced his intent. (The comments below his stream are vomit-inducing. A fuller thread). Makes sense, with this kind of advertising he is a shoo-in for a BJP ticket to contest the next election. The picture of the day, though, is this:

Update 5:30 PM: The terrorist’s Facebook page has been abruptly deleted (Archive here). Begs the question — how? He is currently in police custody. So either the police are allowing him internet access to erase his tracks, or he has someone on the outside prepped to cover his tracks for him.

Here is a Scroll report digging into his identity.

Fascism in the works

The Auschwitz Memorial twitter handle last evening posted two images, taken less than 12 years apart:

One of the posts on that stream deserves particular mention. Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski advises her daughter and granddaughter: “DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT”. Words that resonate — or should — with every one of us today.

As it happens, I am reading a book called Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, by Stephen Greenblatt. And what he says in the preface to set up his book is worth noting (emphasis mine):

“A king rules over willing subjects,” wrote the influential sixteenth century Scottish scholar George Buchanan, “a tyrant over the unwilling.” The institutions of a free society are designed to ward off those who would govern, as Buchanan put it, “not for their country but for themselves, who take account not of the public interest but of their own pleasure.” Under what circumstances, Shakespeare asked himself, do such cherished institutions, seemingly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile? Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being lied to?

Such a disaster, Shakespeare suggested, could not happen without widespread complicity. His plays probe the psychological mechanisms that lead a nation to abandon its ideals and even its self-interest. Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?

How much of what Greenblatt writes about do we recognise in ourselves, our leaders, and our country, today?

Interestingly, the official handle of the Shaheen Bagh protestors (which is worth following — there are some smart minds at work) was quick off the mark to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz, and use it to reiterate the vow that gross inhumanity will not be allowed to recur, thus linking the excesses of Nazi Germany to the current repressive policies of the Modi regime in India.

All of this is beginning to get under the collective skin of the ruling party. Home Minister Amit Shah addressed an election rally in the Babarpur area of Delhi yesterday and inter alia, said: “Your vote to the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh.”

Think about it — the home minister is publicly, falsely, implying that Shaheen Bagh — an “incident” — is somehow making the country unsafe. (It was in course of this speech that a young man, who had the courage to shout an anti-CAA slogan at an Amit Shah rally, was hit with chairs while the HM waved his hands around feebly, then continued with his speech).

Amit Shah is wrong, of course. On two counts. Firstly, as anyone who has spent even a few minutes at Shaheen Bagh will tell you, that protest is the most remarkable sign of a people’s awakening even in these fraught times, when every day brings a dozen stories about abuse of power and twice as many stories about resistance. And secondly, because repressing Shaheen Bagh will not “prevent” more such “incidents” — the protest has already inspired a legion of similar protests around the country, as this incredible thread collating sit-ins countrywide should indicate.

Shah should study this thread; it will tell him, if he doesn’t know it already, that the day he uses force against Shaheen Bagh — and that day is coming, sadly — he will unleash forces that will destroy him. In which connection, Shah might also benefit from reading this piece by Ashutosh Varshney, which lays out the current dilemma for the government: damned if you attack, doomed if you don’t.

Despite logic and common-sense dictating otherwise, why do I believe that Shaheen Bagh will see violent reprisals sooner than later? Because the growing drumbeat of propaganda against the protestors there indicates official orchestration and planning. Check out the language — of an elected member of the Lok Sabha, no less. Check out the vicious gaslighting, the open call for mass murder.

Why is this man — this genocidal maniac, son of BJP politician, former Chief Minister of Delhi and former Labour Minister of India the late Sahib Singh Verma — not facing immediate arrest, and action under the most stringent provisions of the law?

Now consider the latest example: the other day, alleged journalist Deepak Chaurasia, who on his TV program has systematically demonised the protestors, went with his entourage to the site, and was driven back. There was some jostling, shoving, pushing — which was promptly amplified into a “lynching”.

Shaheen Bagh on its official handle almost immediately put out a statement condemning the incident, but that was ignored by the media, which went into paroxysms of self-pity about journalists not being allowed to function. Arnab Goswami in his official capacity as president of the National Broadcasting Federation (the fact that he was elected to this post by his peers in the television media is in itself a comment on the state of the media) issued a lengthy condemnation.

Then, yesterday, Sudhir Chaudhary the editor in chief of Zee News landed up, escorted by a strong contingent of police (Why police? And what business does the police have, provided an escort to a journalist ostensibly going someplace to report? Who gave them the orders?). And with him was Deepak Chaurasia.

This time, Shaheen Bagh protestors changed tactics — they chanted, shouted slogans, refused to talk to the two “journalists”. And Chaudhary spun it as an indication of how riotous the Shaheen Bagh protestors are. They pushed women to the front and the men hid behind, he said — echoing, precisely, the words of Ajay Singh Bisht the other day. See how the propaganda machine works, smoothly and in tandem?

Chaudhary, it might be worth pointing out, is one of two senior “journalists” arrested by the Delhi crime branch on the charge of blackmailing industrialist and MP Naveen Jindal. Following the BJP’s rise to power, the charges have been allowed to lapse through lack of follow-up; meanwhile, the government provided him X Category protection.

PostScript to the above, added at 5.45 PM: This happened. Two men brandishing pistols intruded in Shaheen Bagh and threatened that lashein girenge. There you have it, the direct consequence of Shah talking of “shocks” while demonising Shaheen Bagh, Thakur (see below) leading hate-filled chants, the BJP hate machine including journalists getting into overdrive. Indian Express has a story.

Elsewhere, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur attended an election rally yesterday afternoon. With the critical 2020-’21 budget due for presentation in just five days. This happened:

That is a Union minister, calling for mass murder. And not just indiscriminate, either — in his speech leading up to this volley of sloganeering, he explicitly mentioned Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal as the gadaars. A Union minister. Naming “traitors”. And leading a chant that traitors should be shot dead.

In tandem with the above, read about Nalini Balakumar, who was arrested for the ‘crime’ of holding up a ‘Free Kashmir’ banner and who has just received bail. She was booked under Section 124 A (Sedition) and Section 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code. This, remember, is the incident that prompted the Mysore Bar Association to declare that none of its members would defend her case — an egregious instance of lawyers sworn to defend the law violating its most basic principle, that every person is entitled to a defence. Here is the bit, though, that should really give you pause:

The government counsel noted that by opposing the CAA, Nalini held an anti-government view. 

That is the India of today — it is ‘seditious’ to hold an ‘anti-government view’. Presumably it is neither seditious, nor criminal, for a federal minister to call for mass murder, as Thakur did the very same day.

India Today “debated” this. Amit Malaviya, speaking in defence of Thakur, said it was the crowd that had chanted the goli maro line — a defence as risible as it is reprehensible.

But you expect that from Malaviya and his ilk, who are officially appointed and paid to defend the actions of the party. What is indefensible is that Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the seniormost journalists in the country, and a celebrated icon of the profession, sat in the host’s chair and listened po-faced to Malaviya’s ridiculous defence, without a single attempt at push-back. Martin Luther King said it best:

“When all this is over, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

The sheer insanity of this incident — Thakur leading a chant that calls for murder, the police doing nothing about it, the media enabling it — is best underlined by activist Saket Gokhale (who has been brilliant during these dark days, and is someone you should follow), who did this (He explains his line of reasoning in this thread):

Speaking of whether it is ok to chant that slogan, it might be worth mentioning that the man “credited” with coining it has been given a BJP ticket to contest the Delhi elections.

More from the chamber of horrors that this country is turning into. Remember, when you see such instances, that it is hate-sodden rants of the BJP leaders, the ministers, the TV anchors and Amit Shah’s “internet yodhao” that both permit and enable such vile behaviour. Remember that every single one of them has blood on his hands.

They said that the JNU servers had been vandalised. They filed FIRs against JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and 17 others for this act. They said that because of the vandalism, CCTV footage of the masked thugs, armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid, who entered the campus and for three hours unleashed hell, was not available.

Wait, unpack that. The charge of vandalism was used by mass media — particularly the two leading English news channels, and the leading Hindi channels — to suggest that the horrific attacks of January 5 was retaliation, and therefore somehow justifiable. The vandalism itself was used to justify the inability of the police to track down the culprits — never mind that social media did a great job of tracking several of the ring leaders down within 48 hours; never mind that a senior ABVP leader said on TV that they had taken bottles of acid with them for “self defence”.

The story has since unravelled. An RTI inquiry revealed that there was no vandalism. And now, another RTI inquiry indicates that there is in fact CCTV footage — which won’t be released because it has been “withheld by law enforcement agencies”.

Which is to say, the police filed false charges; the police know the identity of the attackers; the police were culpable in allowing the attacks to go on unhindered; the police have all the evidence they need — and, as of today, 23 days after the attack, there has not been a single arrest.

However, Bhim Army chief Chandra Sekhar Azad was arrested in Hyderabad two days ago — for the crime of arriving in the city to attend a rally that had already been announced, and had all the requisite permissions. Now this: A group of Hyderabad University students were detained for about eight hours while police “investigated” whether they had any “connection” to Azad.

For a moment, assume they had. So? What is the crime? Under what statute of the IPC is it prohibited for me, or you, or those students, to know Azad?

Alongside this, read this deeply reported piece by Anoo Bhuyan detailing how the government and the police actively prevent hospitals from treating those wounded in police actions against protestors. The police actions are illegal in themselves; the state machinery then compounds it by blocking treatment to the victims — just another artefact of this sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas regime this country voted for.

The thuggery of the police is exceeded only by the thuggery of the ruling party — and, not for the first time, the police comes off worse for wear when uniformed thuggery collides with political thuggery. Here is the latest instance:

Beaten up by lawyers owing allegiance to the BJP, and not a yip. Beaten by random MLAs in Bihar, in Gujarat, in Uttar Pradesh, and not a yip. Given half a chance, though, only too happy to beat up women, children, students. This is the state of the law and order machinery under this regime. And then there is this:

And this latest example comes from a state where, according to India Today — remember, a channel whose star anchors are Rahul Kanwal and Rajdeep Sardesai — a poll has shown that Ajay Singh Bisht is, for the second year in succession, the best performing chief minister in the country.

“When you were merely asked to bend, you crawled,” said LK Advani in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency. He hadn’t seen nothing yet, then — this is what conscienceless crawling looks like. And this is how hate is enabled, normalised, in this country.

BJP IT cell head Amit Malaviya posted a video clip suggesting that journalist Arfa Khanum had called for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. It was picked up by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and by the serried ranks of blue-tick propagandists owing allegiance to the party (the list is contained in the story linked to). It was a classic case of suggestio falsi, a clip mischievously edited to suggest that Khanum said something she did not.

A viral video clip purportedly shows a woman protestor in Lucknow — a Muslim — complaining that the Rs 500 per day the Congress pays those who attend protests is pitifully little. It is, in case it needs mentioning, misleading.

Then there is the other kind of propaganda — suppressio veri. Back in December there was a news story about the felling of over 40,000 trees in the Talabira forest in Odisha to facilitate the expansion of an Adani mine. Shortly thereafter, Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar released the latest edition of the India State of Forest Report, and said forest cover in the country had increased by 30%.

Aap chronology samjhiye — the good news comes as narrative-reshaping palliative shortly after the bad news hit the headlines. And now it turns out, according to a researched story in Scroll, that 29.5% of land claimed as forest does not in fact have any trees. See how this government works?

It is regular, predictable. It lies — even in Parliament, which is an offence in itself. It obfuscates. It fudges data. As for instance Minister for Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel did in Parliament when he claimed that the abrogation of Article 370 and the clampdown on Kashmir did not have a quantifiable impact on tourism in the Valley (a laughable claim even on the face of it — I mean, how on earth do you with a straight face say that blocking public movement does not affect tourism?)

An RTI inquiry now reveals not only that the minister was lying, but that the impact of the hit is much greater than even the pessimists had imagined. The ministry’s own figures show a 71% decline in tourism revenues. For the BJP via its official handle in Tamil Nadu, Kashmir’s plight — with its livelihood ruined, its politicians jailed, its voices silenced — which should be a matter of national concern, is a joke.

But why is any of this a surprise? In 2018, the Supreme Court castigated the real estate firm Goel Ganga for blatant violation of environmental laws and for wreaking massive environmental damage, and fined it Rs 105 crore. Almost immediately, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari — who, they say, is one of the better, more efficient ministers in a Cabinet clearly starved of talent — did this (Emphasis mine; read this slowly, the sheer scale of the effrontery, the casual disregard for even the highest court in the land, takes some getting used to):

Eight days later, Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport and highways, wrote to the then environment minister, Dr. Harshvardhan, asking him to consider Goel Ganga Group’s request to effectively undo part of the Supreme Court’s judgment by reinstating an office memorandum issued by the environment ministry on 7 July 2017. 

The Supreme Court had struck down that particular Office Memorandum terming it “totally illegal”. Government departments use office memoranda, or OMs, to clarify specific laws or policies.

That, in one sordid example, is the government we have, the one we re-elected recently with an even greater majority. A government where one minister tells another to reinstate an order that the Supreme Court, no less, had declared “totally illegal”.

Anti-corruption — the biggest electoral plank of the BJP — has been repeatedly shown to be a sham. Here is yet another example: the opaque electoral bonds scheme cooked up by the late Arun Jaitley. This is the scheme activists have been opposing in court ever since it was first introduced; the scheme Modi’s own law ministry said was illegal but he decided to go ahead with it anyway; the scheme the Supreme Court has enabled through the ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ route; the scheme the BJP has been by far the principal beneficiary of since the beginning. Here is the brilliant Nitin Sethi, cutting through the opacity, showing us the light — take the time out to watch, to listen. Because “You cannot be indifferent”:

That is enough corruption for the day. How about competence? The MGNREGA, a scheme to provide at least partial employment to the poorest and the most disadvantaged, is facing a severe funds crunch. Funds have run out, fifteen states “are already in the red” — that, at least, is the language of this report; what it actually means is that in fifteen states, the poorest of the poor have not been paid for work they have done. (Note: jargon obfuscates meaning.)

Elsewhere, only three in ten farmers have received actual benefits from the Pradhan Mantri Kisan scheme the government spent tons of money publicising, per another RTI request.

Last September, there was uproar when the news broke that the government had not been able to pay the CRPF its ration allowance. It is now the turn of the Border Security Force to announce that the cash crunch is so severe it is unable to pay salaries for January and February.

Or how about this? The Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar, no less, claimed in December that the uproar over pollution was unnecessary; that “no Indian studies” had shown any causal link between pollution and people’s health. He was wrong — actually, he was lying — then. Here is more news: An IndiaSpend deep dive not only causes premature death, but also infertility, birth complications, defects in newborn children, and still births. Read that, keeping in mind that 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.

In this parade of grim news, I actively went searching for rays of light. And I found one such in this thread by Surekha Pillai, where she chronicles instances of regular, ordinary folk doing extraordinary things to help heal our wounds. Check out those individual stories, those people Surekha chronicles — when the history of this period is written, it is the names of such that will be starred.

In Kerala’s temple town Thrissur, this happened:

“Nearly one thousand people (Muslims protesting the CAA) who had turned up for the protest transformed into volunteers to clear traffic and crowds so that the procession could move through Thrissur town without any hurdles.”

Read the story; it is just one of thousands of reasons why I am proud of my home state, which resolutely refuses to be tainted by communal poison despite the desperate efforts of the saffron brigade.

I began this post with a mention of Auschwitz and, by extent, of fascism. These days, that word is thrown around a lot, as are comparisons between the BJP and the Nazi regime of Hitler. How valid is the comparison? How much of it follows from what is happening around us, and how much of it is knee-jerk, alarmist, exaggeration?

To even begin to think of such questions, it is necessary first to wrap our heads around what fascism means, and how it differs from your common, garden variety bigotry. Given the cataclysmic nature of the Holocaust, there are literally thousands of books that examine fascism, in theory and practise; there is so much literature on the subject you could spend a lifetime reading, and still merely scratch the surface.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale, and the author of several books, at least three of which are must-reads for our times: How Language Works, How Propaganda Works, and How Fascism Works. What follows is an abridged, edited (in the sense that I skip paragraphs now and again, so do note that the paras are not contiguous) extract from his foundational text on fascism (Emphasis is Stanley’s):

I have chosen the label “fascism” for ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural), with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.

Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.

The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. By excluding these groups, it limits the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination.

Fascist politics can dehumanize minority groups even when an explicitly fascist state does not arise. By some measures, Myanmar is transitioning to democracy. But five years of brutal rhetoric directed against the Rohingaya Muslim population has nevertheless resulted in one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing since the Second World War.

The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an “us” and a “them”…. appealing to ethnic, religious or racial distinctions…

Fascist politicians justify their ideas by breaking down a common sense of history by creating a mythic past to support their vision for the present. They rewrite the population’s shared understanding of reality by twisting the language of ideals through propaganda and promoting anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas. Eventually, with these techniques, fascist politics creates a state of unreality, in which conspiracy theories and fake news replace reasoned debate.

Any progress for a minority group stokes feelings of victimhood among the dominant population. Law and order politics has mass appeal, casting “us” as lawful citizens and “them”, by contrast, as lawless criminals whose behavior poses an existential threat to the manhood of the nation. Sexual anxiety is also typical of fascist politics as the patriarchal hierarchy is threatened by growing gender equity.

As the fear of “them” grows, “we” come to represent everything virtuous. … “We” are hardworking and have earned our pride of place by struggle and merit. “They” are lazy, surviving off the goods we produce by exploiting the generosity of our welfare systems, or employing corrupt institutions, such as labor unions, meant to separate honest, hardworking citizens from their pay. “We” are makers; “they” are takers.

Done? Ok — as you read that abridged list of the symptoms of fascism, how many times did you find yourself nodding and thinking, yeah, I recognise this? How many times, as you read, did you find yourself thinking of some contemporary headline (as, to cite just one example, the bit about the attack on universities, or to cite another, sexual anxiety as exemplified by the growing pushbacks against women-led protests in the country today?)

How many times in your reading did you find yourself thinking, yeah, this is us?

If the answer is “a lot” or “all the time”, congratulations — 75 years after the horrors of Auschwitz, we have jumped out of the pages of the horrific past and, having failed to learn from our shared history, have begun to repeat it.

Here is a handy checklist of symptoms:

Remember the quote from the beginning?:


PS: I will not be updating this tomorrow due to some personal work that takes me away from the desk. Be well, see you Thursday.

Democracy is not a free ride

A plate of upma and a banana. If in a game of word association you said “Republic Day”, that is what I’d come up with in response: upma and a banana. That is what came to mind when, yesterday, I tried to mine my memory: Going to school, taking my place in the serried ranks of boys in their pressed uniforms and shined shoes, standing at attention while the principal unfurled the flag and made a pompous speech, then trooping off to the demarcated area to wolf down upma and a banana, and rushing back home to play cricket with friends.

Rinse, repeat right through my school years and yet, for the life of me, I can’t remember a single thing that was said; not a word, a phrase, a line that meant something, a thought I could enshrine in my mind and carry with me as a guiding light through life. Republic Day for me and my generation was dried upma and over-ripe bananas. Oh, and the horrors of the Bhuj earthquake of January 26, 2001 which, as a journalist, I helped cover for

It never occurred to me to think there must be more; that there should surely be more to this foundational day of our nation than that. And then, on July 4, 2002, I attended my first Independence Day celebration in New York City. I knew there would be fireworks on barges lining the East River, so in order to get a good vantage point, I set out early from my apartment on the corner of 9th and 34th, and walked down to First. Only, I never got there. The streets from, if I remember correctly, the 4th had been blocked to traffic, and a block party was in progress.

People came with their boom boxes and beer coolers and barbecue kits and they spread blankets in the middle of the street and settled in to party. Little groups at first, but as more people flooded in and the boundaries between your blanket and mine blurred, it grew into a communal event. We shared each other’s food, went on beer runs when the supply ran out, squabbled over which group’s turn it was to play music; we laughed and sang and danced. The official fireworks after dusk was a brief interlude, after which we got back to the serious business of partying through most of the night.

It occurred to me then that this was what I was missing: this sense of joy, of celebration. Of meaning.

To be able to decide what sort of people we would be, and to write that formally down as a Constitution, to become a free country and a free people owing allegiance to none, to be able to chart our own destiny — that is no small thing; it is — or should be — a matter of national celebration. And yet here we are, making boring speeches to bored young people and eating upma. (You even have media houses and sites offering helpful ideas and tips about how to make a Republic Day speech.) “Words, words, words, no matter from the heart,” Shakespeare wrote with characteristic prescience about our prosy, preachy, po-faced ideas of “celebration”. And then yesterday, this:

They read the Preamble at midnight, and they sang songs far into the night. Come the dawn, the mothers of two promising young men, one of whom was lost to institutionalised prejudice and the other to the mindless fury of a mob, joined the now-iconic dadis of Shaheen Bagh to hoist the national flag. Two grief-stricken women who have every reason to hate the state and none to love it saluted the flag while thousands cheered, and clapped, and danced. And then they just kept at it, through the day and into the a night lit by cellphone torches and hope.

Shaheen Bagh celebrated with pride in what our ancestors had wrought, with joy for the gift that we had got that day 71 years ago.

It is this Shaheen Bagh, and all that it stands for, that Home Minister Amit Shah wants to get rid of. He wants to be rid of it so badly, he is going around Delhi asking voters to press the button on the voting machine so hard, the shock will be felt in Shaheen Bagh.

That is the language of the Home Minister of the country, and that is no surprise, because this is the same Shah whose actions, as Home Minister of Gujarat, were so egregious that the Supreme Court, no less, ordered him to stay out of his own home state. It is this language that enables — at his own rally, no less — thugs to beat up a naysayer in his presence (with metal chairs); it is in this rally, as in so many others, that you hear the hate-filled goli maaro saalon ko slogan, a direct outcome of his incessant gaslighting, his othering, his pointing to “enemies of the nation”.

This is the lawless, irresponsible man responsible for law and order in the capital of this country, and indeed across the country. And he — and the incompetent, bigoted, extremist party he represents — is the reason thugs mark our founding day by attacking and vandalising a Republic Day celebration.

Pause a moment to consider the politics, though. Here is a man, and a party, going around asking for votes to validate his intent to end a peaceful protest. A man who is asking for votes in the name of ‘deteriorating law and order’ — hoping, even as he speaks, that no one will remember that law and order in Delhi is his direct responsibility, since the police reports to him and not to the chief minister. Notwithstanding, Shah goes around gaslighting Shaheen Bagh and by extension all protestors while his stormtroopers turn up for ‘pro-CAA protests’ armed with naked swords and hate-filled slogans.

So, to the politics: can we now take it that the Delhi elections are a referendum on the Shaheen Bagh protests — since that is what Shah has chosen to campaign on? And if on February 8 the BJP loses, as every indication says it will, will Shah admit that Shaheen Bagh has been validated, or will he hide behind weasel words such as “local issues”, “not a referendum on Modi” etc, which he has been forced to do through successive electoral defeats last year?

Yesterday, I watched from a distance as Dalits in their numbers added their signature blue to the tiranga in Bangalore — another visible manifestation of the growing socio-political coalition of the disaffected: the women, the students, the unemployed, the farmers, the Dalits, the Sikhs… an emerging coalition that is finally shifting the political emphasis from tribal loyalties and from jingoism and caste divisions, towards an inclusive affiliation of the oppressed, the disenchanted.

Back home, I saw and heard on Twitter about Ranchi celebrating the day as Ek Shaam, Samvidhan Ke Naam, with poetry and song and dance. I read of how, on the eve of Republic Day, people in the hundreds of thousands turned up in Hyderabad to herald the birthing of our Republic with the poetry of Shabeena Adeeb and Manzar Bhopali; Sampat Saral and Hussain Haidry and Aamir Aziz and Rahat Indori and others, and I teared up with a desperate, futile longing to be young again, to be a teenager again, to be able to celebrate the day with poetry, with words I could hold deep in my heart; words of flame that could light me, warm me, through a long life ahead.

In Chennai, the city I grew up in, people with disabilities gathered for a midnight reading of the Preamble. In Jaipur, outside the premises of the Lit Fest, young people joyfully marked their protest with slogans set to music, to a pulsing beat (and were manhandled for their pains). In Bangalore, I watched from a distance as the Dalits added a fourth rang, electric blue, to the tiranga.

And I thought of how very lucky today’s young, who turned out at Shaheen Bagh, at Hyderabad, and around the country are. So very lucky that they have been guided, enabled, to reclaim with joy and pride the meaning of Republic Day, the essence of the Constitution and what it stands for — and therefore what we should stand for. As they stood in Kolkata, and in my home state of Kerala, where they came in their multitudes to build human walls of resistance.

To the strains of Faiz translated and sung in Malayalam, the chief minister of the state – not barricaded by a wall of security but standing shoulder to shoulder with lay citizens, affirmed the foundational tenets of equality, of secularism, vowing to stand firm in defence of those values.

Newlyweds of various denominations, handicapped persons, young mothers with babies in their arms, they all turned out and stood, not spaced out as I expected in order to make a 620-km chain, but actually three or four deep, to the point where the final estimate is that around 70 lakh people turned up in that tiny state — a tribute both to the determination of the people and their investment in this struggle, as to an incredible feat of mass mobilisation and organisation. And somewhere in there, I went back and listened to this:

“We are strong,” the Sean Penn character in the movie Fair Game reminds us, “and we are free from tyranny, as long as each one of us remembers his or her duty, as a citizen… Ask those questions. Demand the truth. Democracy is not a free ride.”

I listened to the brilliant and brave Ravish Kumar reminding us that we are voters only on one day in every five years; the rest of the time, we are citizens, and as citizens we have the duty to question, to demand better of our leaders.

It was not all joy. I read that the PM, in his Republic Day Mann ki Baat, spoke of the peace that had come to the North East — on the very day that five blasts rocked Assam, a state that has born the brunt of the CAA/NPR/NRC trifecta for far longer than the rest of us. I read that Chandra Shekhar Azad had been arrested, again, this time in Hyderabad — not because he had done something wrong, but because the state is afraid of the power of his voice, of his presence.I saw this image of the historic Lal Chowk — a symbol of a Kashmir where communications were cut to “ensure a peaceful, smooth Republic Day”, oh the irony; a Kashmir that is empty, deserted, desolate, on what should have been a day of celebration.

But still, it is those images of joy and of celebration that remained with me as I drifted off to sleep on the first Republic Day, in my 62-year memory, where millions of us showed up on the streets and in front of historic monuments or thronged town squares to celebrate, and to recommit to protecting the Constitution we were gifted this day 71 years ago. I was happy because what I saw was an affirmation of what I believe — that this Republic is strong enough, despite the best efforts of the divisive group that rules us, to protect us if we, in turn, realise the need to protect it, to stand up for it.

I’ll leave you with this reminder:

Tu hi meri aarzoo…

A protest march in Bangalore; a terrace meeting; a rally. Tumkur, Karnataka. Azamgarh, UP. Vijayawada. Pune. Ranchi. Mysore. Hyderabad, and another one, and another one, plus an innovative blood donation protest. Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. Delhi again, and again. A 620 km people’s wall along the length of Kerala; a Preamble reading in Kochi. A 11 km people’s wall in Kolkata. Mumbai: One; two; three; four; five. Atlanta. Berlin. Munich. Hamburg. Krakow, Poland. Finland. Melbourne. Toronto, and three other centres in Canada. Brussels. Place Stalingrad, Paris. New York’s iconic Times Square. Also in the US: Harvard Square; outside the Indian Embassy in NYC; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Pittsburg; Austin. Not counting the over 50 Shaheen Bagh-style 24/7 sit-ins across the country. Not counting every Catholic Church across the country. Not counting, also, the number of small, but significant, protests happening in the hinterlands of this vast country, which with the best will in the world is becoming impossible to document, even by someone as dedicated as Seher.

India’s iconic democracy feels like it is under siege, says The Washington Post, seemingly not chastened by the Indian government’s ham-handed attempt to muzzle its criticisms by treating its owner Jeff Bezos shabbily.

Sure, WaPo has a point — the ruling dispensation has been systematically undermining all the pillars that hold a democratic structure in place. But if India’s democracy is under siege, then the list above also makes clear that the barricades are well manned, not merely in India but across the world wherever there are Indians.

Across the world. Indians, many of them doing well in the lands they have chosen to migrate to, turning out in defence of India’s Constitution, in defence of the ideal of the Republic.

I don’t know that I am a patriot, in what seems to be the generally accepted sense of being proud of my country and everything in it simply because I happened to be born here. I don’t subscribe to Stephan Decatur’s “My country, right or wrong” brand of blind patriotism (this link tells you the story of the evolution of the definition); as a one-time student activist turned journalist (the latter being a profession that mandates the use of your critical faculties), I lean more towards the definition put forward by US Senator Carl Schurz:

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

That definition should, IMO, be read out at protest meetings across the country, alongside the Preamble. Because it is what patriotism is, or should be. To say I was born in this country and therefore everything about it is flawless, the best that could possibly be, is jingoism; to say that I was born in this country and it is my responsibility, along with that of my fellow citizens, to ensure that any wrongs are righted and the country is, through constant scrutiny and criticism, kept on the right track is patriotism.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself thinking of patriotism. And of my country. And of the millions of people here, and around the world, who on what should be a day of national celebration are turning out in protest. And then I realised why I have for the past month and more been feeling so disoriented, and simultaneously so shackled by an inchoate rage.

Never mind the CAA/NPR/NRC alphabet soup the government has been foisting on us in order to sow discord, to divide. The issue cuts far deeper than that. Until now it is was just a vague question about patriotism: Am I one? By what definition? Who decides? Why do I have to prove it over and over again?

But now the question — one raised by this government that was elected by us — is far more fundamental: Am I a citizen of this country?

Do I belong? Does this country accept me as a citizen, as one of its own? I don’t know, any more. I don’t know if I can pass this government’s test of citizenship, and if I don’t, then I don’t know who I am and where I belong.

And that reminded me of dad — who, in his time, was an activist himself, during the freedom struggle. And of Manna Dey, whose fan dad was till the day he died. And of this one song.

Back in the day when you had no tape recorders or other devices that permitted you to listen to what you wanted and were left to the tender mercies of whoever decided the radio playlist, dad would stop in the middle of whatever he was doing, when this one particular song played, and he would stand rooted to the spot, and he would listen, and when it was over he would surreptitiously swipe at his eyes — No I am not crying — and he would get back to whatever he was doing. But slowly, as in a dream.

It is a song of yearning for a lost land, a song of great love and great loss. I was walking along Bangalore’s MG Road this morning, with all these thoughts in my head, and on impulse I pulled up the song on YouTube and listened to it, and when it ended I hit replay, and for the rest of my walk I played that song on loop… and it is playing as I write this…

As I listened to the evocative lyrics of Prem Dhawan, it occurred to me that what I have been feeling all these days is a sense of not belonging. A sense that this government has erected a wall, an impassable barrier, between my country and me. That I now have to prove — PROVE — that the country I was born in, the country I have lived in for 62 years and counting, is no longer mine by right; that I am here only on sufferance.

This government has made me an alien in my own land.

And as these thoughts ricocheted through my mind and slowed my footsteps, I hit replay again, and listened to dad’s favourite song again.

I’m not crying.