The views in briefs

Very nice — in a ‘can you really fool all the people all the time’ sort of way. Modi is an SPG protectee (in fact, he is the only person covered by the SPG). His life is under constant threat — at least, that is what he says during his campaigns. There is a Khalistani terrorist wandering about the country, and all the king’s asses haven’t been able to locate him. No protective unit worth its FN P90 submachine gun will allow a protectee to go wandering about in areas that have not been thoroughly vetted and secured in advance. Or, simply put, there is no such thing as a “surprise visit” by a top-level protectee — it just won’t be permitted.

This would be laughable, if it weren’t frightening — frightening, as an indicator of how the BJP has figured out, correctly, that its core constituency is so very easy to fool. And how it deploys its army of jobless ministers, compromised media, and paid ‘influencers’ to spread the propaganda far and wide. Like, so:


YESTERDAY was Ram Navami. And the “celebrations” involved thugs wearing saffron markers of identity fishing for trouble outside various mosques and Muslim territories across the land: Surat. Mathura. The Dargah Haji Abdulreham Malang Shah mosque, Maharashtra. Jalgaon, Maharashtra. Mumbai, and one more. Gujarat. Jahangirpuri, New Delhi. Khargone, Madhya Pradesh. Kishanganj, Bihar; and Bihar Sharif, Bihar, where a library with over 4500 books was set ablaze. Bulldozers figured in a Ram Navami procession. Hyderabad, where a ‘Tiger’ whose hate speech forced even the BJP to suspend him led a procession, took an oath to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra, and rubbed it all in by including Nathuram Godse in the iconography. (While on iconography, here you go: Ram, shaded in size by Modi and Shah) And in many other places across the land, including in West Bengal.

So here’s a thought: Maybe we need to build more mosques rather than temples since the regime and its stormtroopers believe that no Hindu festival is complete unless it is “celebrated” with acts of vandalism outside Muslim places of worship.

It’s not just the saffron brigade, though. There is a fish shop a 10-minute stroll away from where I live. Despite the ease of ordering online via Fresh to Home and similar outlets, I prefer to get my fish from this shop. I know everyone there; no matter how busy they are, we take turns to get tea from the neighboring outlet; over tea we catch up on news and gossip — everything from how the fishers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are doing, to the impending elections in Karnataka, to whatever else happens to come up.

This easy camaraderie has unlooked-for advantages. The other day, I was picking out white pomfret while waiting for the usual cup of tea. The guy who cleans the fish caught my eye and discreetly shook his head in a ‘don’t buy’ gesture. Later on, over tea, I asked him why. Not fresh, he said; not good for you. He didn’t seem to have any such qualms when another customer picked out half a dozen of the same fish and asked for them to be cleaned.

Anyway, so I walked over yesterday morning — and found the shop shut. The five men who staff the shop — all Hindus, by the way — were sitting on the step, smoking. Shut today, one of them said. Whyfor? BBMP diktat that no non-veg shops should be open on Ram Navami.

I live in a quiet, secluded neighborhood; I’ve seen such edicts ignored before, without any fuss being made. So what changed now, I asked. I was told that they had opened their shop as usual at 4.30 AM (which is when they take delivery of fresh fish trucked in from the two states to the south). Around six, a group from an apartment complex diagonally across the road had come over and told them to shut down if they didn’t want trouble. Just regular folks, my fisher friends told me, but they were aggressive, they took pictures, they stood there till the shutters were downed.

While walking back home, fish-less, memory threw up something I had read sometime during the Covid lockdown. Here is the passage in full (not from memory; I looked it up):

It doesn’t matter if Trump or Erdogan is brought down tomorrow, or if Nigel Farage had never become a leader of public opinion. The millions of people fired up by their message will still be there, and will still be ready to act on the orders of a similar figure. And unfortunately, as we experienced in Turkey in a very destructive way, even if you are determined to stay away from the world of politics, the minions will find you, even in your personal space, armed with their own set of values and ready to hunt down anybody who doesn’t resemble themselves. It is better to acknowledge — and sooner rather than later — that this is not merely something imposed on societies by their often absurd leaders, or limited to digital covert operations by the Kremlin; it also arises from the grassroots. The malady of our times won’t be restricted to the corridors of power in Washington or Westminster. The horrifying ethics that have risen to the upper echelons of politics will trickle down and multiply, come to your town and even penetrate your gated community. It is a new zeitgeist in the making. This is a historic trend, and it is turning the banality of evil into the evil of banality. For though it appears in different guise in every country, it is time to recognise that what is happening affects us all.

Quoted from How To Lose A Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship by Eve Temelkuran

Hindus vandalizing places of worship belonging to other religions to “celebrate” the birthday of a god they have weaponized. And Muslims are stopped from praying inside their own homes and, worse, fined for doing so.

See what Temelkuran meant by the evil of banality?

“The evil that men do lives after them…”, a half-decent poet once wrote. And that is the crux of this problem: around the world, authoritarians are facing a blowback; several have been forced to flee, while others are facing escalating protests. But it no longer matters whether they are in power or not — the evil they have seeded in society has taken deep root.

Meanwhile, we (myself included) sit on the stoop sipping our tea and smoking our cigarettes. While on which, check this out: a flashback to a time when people with standing, with a voice, used that voice, that influence, to speak out against evil:

PostScript: Arvind Kejriwal keeps upping the ante, with his speeches in the ongoing session of the Delhi assembly. Here is his latest salvo via a Twitter thread:

The allegations are specific; they are — by virtue of being made in the Assembly — part of official records. And noticeably, the government machinery has carefully refrained from responding to the specifics.

On the whole, it is good that Kejriwal is keeping the pressure on the government, more specifically on Modi, despite all the attempts at distraction. But there is also a smart calculus at work here.

Thus far, Rahul Gandhi’s USP — and the point his supporters keep making — is that he is the only one brave enough to directly take on Modi (and the RSS). Kejriwal is now usurping that mantle, and it is a politically shrewd move. He had avoided the Congress last year and earlier this year; he was carefully silent during the Bharat Jodo Yatra; when RG was sentenced by the courts and promptly disbarred from the legislature, he jumped off the fence onto RG’s side — and now he is gradually positioning himself as the alternate RG, with the added advantage that there is no bar on his contesting elections, unlike in the case of the Congress leader.

The Chanakya Gambit

THIS is by a distance the funniest ‘news’ I have read in a long time.

“He has not appealed to take stay on his conviction. What kind of arrogance is this? You want favour. You want to continue as an MP and will also not go before the court,” he said, adding from where such arrogance comes from.

Amit Shah, speaking at News18’s India Rising program

First: Rahul Gandhi hasn’t said he wants to continue as MP. The BJP colluded with the courts and then used its clout in Parliament to get him (a) sentenced, (b) debarred and (c) kicked out of his allotted MP quarters. At no time during these farcical proceedings did RG say he wanted to continue as an MP.

If Shah, the vaunted BJP strategist, says now that RG should appeal, is he suggesting that the original court decision and the subsequent disqualification were wrong?

From a strategy point of view, if RG doesn’t appeal within the statutory 30 days, the BJP will find itself well and truly behind the eight-ball. Send him to jail, and you make a martyr out of him, plus give the combined opposition a cause to rally behind — a cause sufficiently emotive to draw the aam janta in.

Also, if he doesn’t appeal and the conviction stands, he cannot contest in 2024 — and with that, poof goes the BJP’s main talking point: That RG is an entitled ‘shehzada’ who is desperate to become PM, and that his attacks on Modi are fueled by this ambition.

From a realpolitik point of view, I find myself wishing that RG refrains from appealing, and forces the BJP to either put up — send him to jail — or lose face by not following through on its own strategy.

While on this, much of the commentary around the RG disqualification is that it was done to keep him from raking up the Adani issue in Parliament. An old-school BJP leader from the south, who was part of the Vajpayee-Advani era and who hates what the Modi/Shah combine has done to the party, raised a different point during a chat last evening.

“What is the point in disqualifying Rahul — he will only raise the issue out on the streets,” the leader pointed out. “What the party wanted was ways to stall the Budget Session, ensure that no discussion took place. Have you read the Budget? This is the last one before the elections — and it is so bad that you can’t afford discussion. Have you heard Modi or Shah or any of the others talking up the Budget, like they usually do? No, right? That should tell you what the real goal is — RG just happened to give them an issue; the machinery did the rest, fast-tracking the case through the court, getting the right judgment, and throwing him out of Parliament, knowing that the Opposition would latch on to that, cause a fuss in Parliament, and give the Speaker a chance to stop all proceedings.”

It’s an interesting hypothesis — and the fact that no one in the regime is talking of all the good things in the Budget, even in the midst of a key election campaign, seems to underline the point.

Whatever the reason, the latest masterstroke appears to have boomeranged, big time. And as each day goes by without RG and his lawyers approaching the higher courts, the BJP’s stress levels go up.

Keep an eye on how this plays out — it promises to be illuminating.

PostScript: In the press conference that got this particular ball rolling, RG kept asking the question: Who gave Adani Rs 20,000 crore? I pointed out in an earlier post that all indications are that something big is brewing, and that someone has been whispering in the right ears.

Kejriwal just upped the ante, changing RG’s question into a statement: That Modi is Adani’s financier, and that Adani is merely a front for the prime minister. What is significant is that he didn’t do it during a random media interaction, or on the stump — the Delhi CM’s statement was made in the Assembly, ensuring that it goes straight into the official records.

The silence greeting Kejriwal’s direct accusation speaks volumes. And the recent statements by first RG, then Kejriwal, is the clearest indication yet that someone on the inside is ready to spill the beans.

Interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.

STFU about Savarkar already

On the 4th and 5th of February, I was at the Vidharbha Literary Festival, held at the Chitnavis Centre in Nagpur — on the metaphorical doorstep of the RSS headquarters.

There was, I learned after reaching the city the night before, considerable right-wing angst about some of the invited speakers — people like Aakar Patel, Josy Joseph etc. Indirect pressure was applied on the organizers. Four speakers who were on the RSS shit list dropped out at the request of the organizers (which meant that I had to do a couple of impromptu sessions to fill gaps in the schedule, but that is a different story for another time).

More recently, I learned that the RSS had planted people at the event to monitor the sessions and report on the content. A contact sent me a smuggled copy of the report. It is an interesting document if only because it shows that the right wing does not want any discussion at all about almost anything at all — the report criticizes every single session from a right wing/Hindutva lens.

One line in the report jumped out at me:

Offensive and derogatory statements for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by Prem Panickar (my surname is spelt with an ‘e’, but never mind that) as he stated the term ‘Sanghi Chaddiwale’ for Swayamsewaks.

From a report submitted to RSS HQ on the Vidharba Lit Fest

As an example of how the right-wing ecosystem will twist anything to its own advantage, I’ve never seen a better. (Actually, I have, but I haven’t experienced it personally). Here’s what actually happened: There was a panel discussion on why the left and right have drifted so far apart, and whether we would ever be able to bridge the gap.

At one point, I said that we had to stop talking past each other and start talking to each other. And that becomes impossible if we stick labels on each other, call each other names.

I asked the audience for a show of hands: How many like jam on their toast? A few hands went up. I picked one and asked him whether he makes jam at home or buys it off the shelf. When he said he usually bought jam from the store and named his favorite flavor, I asked him if he could list all the ingredients. He couldn’t.

That, I argued, was the crux of the problem. Labels obviate the need for you to think for yourself. Thus, if you stick labels like ‘liberandu’ or ‘pseudo-intellectual’ or ‘commie’, whatever, on the left, or ‘sanghi’, ‘chaddiwala’ and such on the right, you don’t see an individual as a human being, but as a type; you put him or her in a box that suits you. And you can’t have a conversation with a ‘type’. So, I argued, the first step towards bridging the gap is to see each human being as an individual in his or her own right. (The audience — in Nagpur — applauded, to my considerable surprise and delight.)

That was what actually happened. In light of that, see how the report — written, my source tells me, by a ‘journalist’ — frames it.

In passing, think for a moment of the RSS plants in the audience, and the journalist who compiled that report. You know what the organization you work for wants and what its mindset is (In this case, lit fest equals right-bashing). So you provide what your org needs — reasons to take offense. And you pocket your two pieces of silver…

And all of that brings me to Savarkar, and to Rahul Gandhi’s recent press conference. “My name is not Savarkar, it is Gandhi — and a Gandhi does not apologize” might get him plaudits from the peanut gallery, but it is just bad strategy.

Firstly, to say you will never apologize smacks of arrogance — we are all human, prone to mistakes. When you make one, you apologize and, if possible, try to put it right.

More importantly from a realpolitik angle, you don’t go out of your way to give your opponent a chance to take back the conversation.

Throughout the 40-odd minutes that interaction lasted, RG kept turning every question back to his main point: Who gave Adani the Rs 20,000 crore. Perfect — that is what you do, stay on message. But he lapsed twice, and lost most of what he had gained.

The first was when he needled a reporter about being a BJP shill. He was right, as far as that goes — “insulted OBCs”, the BJP talking point, kept getting thrown at him. But what his irritated response did was give the media an excuse to take the high ground, such as it is. ‘Reporters will ask questions, you cannot insult them’ became the talking point — not merely for the captive sections of the media, but also for the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai, whose striving for “balance” only ends up with him doing awkward splits while straddling a barbed wire fence topped with broken glass.

The second was the Savarkar reference. What did he accomplish? The BJP latched on to it; sundry trolls with Cabinet posts hammered away at him over it; Eknath Shinde says the party will launch a state-wide yatra to celebrate ‘Maharashtra’s hero’; Savarkar’s grandson threatens to file an FIR… (Um, while on that, someone tell him it is the police that files FIRs.)

The net result is that in the days following the press conference, not a single media report or social media ‘influencer’ needed to mention the Adani question — they had two handy distractions handed to them, gift-wrapped. Pity.

The Opposition needs to keep the conversation in the here and now, stay focussed on the questions of today. Stay on message. And they need to decide what that message is that they all agree on, first.

PS: This Twitter thread is… everything.

The views, in briefs

THE Greek fabulist Aesop told the story of a horse that once quarreled with a stag. The horse approached a hunter and asked for his help. The Hunter agreed. “But,” he said, “if you desire to conquer the stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may sit steadily on your back as we follow the enemy.” The horse readily agreed, and the hunter saddled and bridled him.

With the hunter’s help, the horse chased down and overcame the stag. Having thanked the hunter, the horse said “Now please get off my back and remove these things from my mouth and my back — they hurt me.”

“Not so fast, friend,” said the hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present.”

The moral of the story: If you allow tyrants to use you for your own purposes, they will end up using you for theirs.

I was reminded of this story (which, IIRC, I first read as preface to one of the many books on authoritarianism in my collection) while reading Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s latest essay. PBM argues that Modi is showing all the signs of a tyrant; that he is bent on not merely decimating, but totally obliterating, all traces of opposition by whatever means necessary.

Took him — us — long enough to realize that, didn’t it? When Modi first made his bid for national power, various Opposition parties made common cause with him because they believed he would help them vanquish their enemy (the Congress, Muslims and other minorities, the “Lutyens’ gang”, whatever). And now they are busy in meetings — in Kharge’s chambers, in Sharad Pawar’s home, wherever — to try and figure out how to get rid of the bit Modi has lodged firmly between their teeth, and the spurs he is using to rake their sides with till he draws blood.

“Better late than never” doesn’t work in this context — what we have in India now is a case of the horse having well and truly bolted.

The BJP is well aware that the Opposition has finally woken up and is attempting to cobble together some sort of alliance that will create a joint front to oppose Modi and his basket of deplorables (thank you Hillary Clinton) in 2024. And if anything is certain, it is that the regime has already begun work in the background to divide, so they can continue to rule — and they have both the carrot and the stick at their disposal.

PBM is right when he says tyrants have an existential fear of losing power — what he forgot to add is the ‘why’. For Modi and gang, power was initially necessary for its own sake — an extended ego trip at the exchequer’s expense. But now it is about survival, pure and simple — they know that once they lose control, there is no counting the number of skeletons that will come tumbling out of various cupboards.

Holding meetings over samosas and tea, and then going back to business as usual is not going to help, though. For instance, a day after the Opposition meeting at Kharge’s place to chalk out a combined plan, Uddhav Thackeray was slamming Rahul Gandhi for criticizing Savarkar — a face-palm moment if ever there was one.

Non sequitur: The one thing anyone opposing the BJP can count on is that the party is predictable in its actions. In a post on March 25, I had inter alia suggested that the regime will lose no time in asking Rahul Gandhi to vacate his official premises and that RG can seize the initiative by immediately vacating it himself. Two days later, sure enough along comes the official notification to that effect (Gandhi’s response here).


THE last one month has been a fairly difficult time thanks to health issues (first me, then more seriously, the wife). What kept me going through it all was the Women’s Premier League, and now that it is over I find myself going back to watch random clips.

There is one aspect of the inaugural tournament that I intend to write about for my upcoming column in The Morning Context (which I will link to here when it goes up this coming Tuesday). In the meantime, a few random thoughts in no particular order:

When will the Indian media take women’s cricket seriously? I went to Cricinfo the morning after to read the match report — and wished I hadn’t; it was, not to mince words, a pathetic example of a scoreboard rendered in prose.

Who will come to watch women playing?, has been the BCCI counter ever since at least 2017, when the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj publicly asked for a women’s edition of the IPL. Jay Shah, who heads the BCCI, and Brijesh Patel, who is the figurehead, along with sundry other dignitaries got their answer — the crowds have been fantastic, not just numerically but in how engaged they were in the action, in how vibrant the atmosphere (a favorite buzzword when the male version is on) was at both stadiums. But it is really all about this mini-Jemi (in the screen grab below), and all the other kids like her who came to watch, and to cheer, and who will hopefully be inspired to emulate their idols.

Was Shefali Varma out to that Issy Wong full toss? My take is, yes. The rule is that the ball has to be above waist high when the batter is upright for it to be ruled a no-ball, and in real-time and in slow motion, the ball was at — not above — Varma’s waist. My problem is not with the decision itself, but the way it was given. There was one slow-mo replay, then a long lag, then one static ball-tracking image, and that’s all there was. Worse, throughout the decision-making process, the third umpire’s mike was mute. So none of us — the players, the spectators at the ground, those of us watching at home — had any inkling into the third umpire’s interpretation of what he was seeing. Why on earth can’t we get the little things right?

What was the idea of playing the national anthem before the start? The two teams feature players of mixed nationalities, no?

I found this scribble in my running notes taken during the tournament: “Over 12, Sophie/Parshavi”. Cue the real reason so many of us have been rooting for a women’s IPL for so long now. Parshavi Chopra, all of 16 years old, was bowling just her second over (having taken out Hayley Mathews with the first ball of her first over). Facing her was Natalie Sciver-Brunt, arguably one of the best all-rounders in the women’s game in this or any era. NSB pulled the first ball from Parshavi for four; followed it up with a loft over long-off, against the turn, for a six, and then stepped back and square-cut the third ball for four. Parshavi’s head visibly dropped; she looked lost — understandably, because she had tried three different lengths and been punished thrice in a row. Sophie Ecclestone was waiting for her near the bowling crease; the senior pro put an arm around the teenager’s shoulder and spoke to her earnestly. The stump mike picked it up clearly: Slow it down, Sophie told the youngster; pitch it further up; rip it. Still talking, Sophie walked Parshavi back to her mark. Ball four was fuller, around off, turning away. NSB was forced into an ungainly pull for a single to midwicket. Ball five — the googly. Harmanpreet Kaur, no less, stepped back to cut, misread the wrong ‘un totally, and saw it turn back in and hit her in the box. Ball six, full again and with flight and loop and dip; Kaur managed to eke out a single. Parshavi was smiling again as she collected her cap; Ecclestone had an even bigger smile on her face when she went up to pat the youngster on the back. This is the real value of the WPL — the opportunity for talented youngsters to learn from seasoned pros, to accelerate the learning curve.

The final was both low-scoring and enthralling — but I’ll save those thoughts for my column. My favorite part, though? Someone had the brilliant idea of doing away with all the male commentators and putting an all-woman team to both call the play and analyze it. Such joy — no high-decibel hype; just clear, calm commentary and superb insights.

My pet peeve about commentators is that they describe exactly what we are seeing: “Aaaand that has been smashed to the extra cover boundary, GLORIOUS shot!!!!!” Contrast that with — to note just one example out of many — a moment in the sixth over of the Mumbai Indians’ innings, Rajeswari Gayakwad to Hayley Mathews. On length, just outside off. Mathews went deep in her crease to shorten the length, and hit it over extra cover for four. Kate Cross, calling the play: “Such good use of the depth of the crease to create the length she wanted — but what I liked is how she opened her left shoulder up to access the extra cover region.”

If you want to hit through the point-cover region, you need to close the left shoulder to give you traction; if you are targeting anywhere from extra-cover to mid-off, you open up to get the leverage you need. That is what good commentators do — they don’t describe what you can very well see for yourself; instead, they provide the nuance that helps you understand better what you just saw.

Right, that’s that from me for today. Be well all.

WTF Just Happened?

To start off on a tangent, wildlife conservationist Dr Samir Kumar Sinha learned that the Sarus crane was under threat in parts of Uttar Pradesh, and began working with local farmers to help revive the bird population. Worth noting here that it was an individual — not a government organization — who saw the problem and set out to solve it. This is his story.

Fast forward to last week, when the story of Amethi resident Mohammed Arif went viral on the internet. With good reason — heartwarming stories are hard to find in these dark days and when one comes along, it is worth celebrating. Many celebrated, including Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who went to meet Arif and his friend. Here is the story:

Now for the sequel: Arif has been booked under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. Irony wept bitter tears, because Arif’s original sin was protecting wildlife, to wit, a bird (the state bird of Uttar Pradesh) in distress. As for the bird — it is now in a cage in where there is barely enough room to stand, and none at all to spread its now-healed wings and fly free.

This feels like a metaphor for something that cuts to the heart of who, and what, we are as a country, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it.

PS: It is Sunday. And since morning, I have been racing through work — both housework and the other kind that pays my rent — for one reason: To totally free up my time so I can watch the final of the Women’s Premier League, between Meg Lanning’s Delhi Capitals and Harmanpreet Kaur’s Mumbai Indians.

I’ve only missed two games in the entire league; I must prefer watching the women’s version of cricket, for multiple reasons: The standard of play is high, the skills on display are excellent, and it comes without the inevitable hype that is a component of the men’s game. There is passion on display, without the testosterone-riddled theatrics the men indulge in. And, glory be, the commentary is excellent — if you tune out the men who call the play and listen to the likes of Natalie Germanos, Anjum Chopra, Mel Jones and Kate Cross analyzing the play and providing the sort of nuance and insight you don’t get when the BCCI’s cheerleaders call the men’s game.

Tune in. It’s really worth your while.

A Rahul Gandhi round-up

(The above image courtesy Shashi Tharoor on Twitter)

The ruling dispensation may claim, loudly and often, that it does not care for the world’s opinion; that in all matters it will act as it sees fit.

That stance plays well to the domestic gallery — but is far from the truth. Modi cares; he wants the world to look up to him, to give him the adoration he thinks he is due; he wants to be feted by world leaders. Which is why the media coverage of Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and immediate expulsion from Parliament — both acts done so ham-handedly that even the dimmest of dim bulbs can see it for the vendetta politics it is — is causing some internal heartburn and, the way I hear it, orders sent to the usual loudmouths in the Union Cabinet to go easy with their comments. The reason is obvious — the BJP noise-makers are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier; when they open their mouths, they tend to stick both feet in it. As for example Ramdas Athavale (can you, without googling, tell what ministry he holds?) who said that if Gandhi had apologized for his UK remarks he would not have been disqualified by Parliament. Oh? So it is not about the court judgment, then?

(One of the loudest mouths, Himanta Biswa Sharma of Assam, did open his mouth and stick his foot right in it when he told the media today that Gandhi was convicted by the court for using unparliamentary language against an OBC community. In Mumbai, BJP leaders and workers took out a procession asking Gandhi to apologize to the OBCs. While that is not what the court adjudged, the broad framing tells you this: The BJP is not sure the “entire community defamed” charge that was upheld by the Surat court will hold up on appeal, so they are floating various trial balloons to see which will work.)

More than media coverage, though, it is this kind of reaction that is going to raise internal alarms:

Ro Khanna is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, the most influential group in Congress when it comes to India affairs. It is the Caucus that MEA S Jaishankar goes to when he wants to pull strings in Congress and the White House; for its co-chair to put Modi in the spot like this is an indication that the regime’s latest actions have not gone down well with India’s well-wishers in Congress.

Given the delicate — admittedly a euphemism for dangerous — situation along the border with China, India needs the US like never before; the stakes have been raised even higher in recent times thanks to Xi traveling to Russia to cozy up with Putin.

That is why the recent report released by the US State Department on human rights, which excoriates India in no uncertain terms, has been met with studied silence. The usual practice, when negative reports surface, is to diss them on the grounds of erroneous data, or label them as part of a global conspiracy to undermine the India growth story, such as it is. And it is MEA S Jaishankar who leads the charge.

Not this time, though. Jaishankar is silent; the only reaction from the MEA is spokesperson Arindam Bagchi’s totally risible comment that “We have not yet received the report”.

The silence is understandable — what, they are going to accuse the US State Department of being part of a global conspiracy to undermine India? For once, the strategy seems to be to stay silent and hope no one notices (which is not a bad strategy, really — how many voters are likely to read it, let alone be influenced by it?)

All told the regime has, with its precipitate action against Rahul Gandhi, bitten off more than it can chew. And I suspect this will ramify over the coming weeks and months, to the detriment of the BJP’s prospects in some key state elections. Worse, it will cast a shadow on Modi’s pet project — to use the G20 Summit to showcase his ‘vishwaguru’ credentials.

Much depends on how the Congress party plays the next few moves. Any halfway decent strategist with a grasp of realpolitik will advise Gandhi to immediately do two things: (1) Hold a public meeting in Wayanad where he apologizes to the people for no longer being able to represent their interests in Parliament — and segues into an attack on Adani, with the problem-riddled Vizhinjam port project as his peg, linking it to Adani’s indiscriminate rock mining in the Wayanad region that has been triggering serial landslides these past few years and (2) Move out of the bungalow allotted to him, taking the high moral ground that as Parliament has seen fit to throw him out, he is no longer entitled to live on those premises. (This, because you can be sure the regime will, when it wants to claim the headlines, serve notice asking Gandhi to vacate — the smart play is to pre-empt.)

Those are merely preliminary steps — the BJP has handed the Congress an opportunity to invert the narrative and to put the ruling duo on the defensive; the coming days and weeks will show whether the party leadership has the wit, and the will, to seize the opportunity.

One way or another, this is a story that will continue to develop over time. So, for convenience, find below a round-up of the most interesting commentary on the issue that I have found thus far:

A starting point is this round-up, by Splainer, that recaps the issue.

For Scroll, Samar Halarnkar’s furious piece connecting up various dots to cast light on the vertiginous decline of democratic norms in recent times. Scroll also talks to various experts about the legalities involved (In sum, how does Gandhi’s statement defame the complainant, Purnesh Modi?)

Gilles Vernier, in The Wire, provides context and nuance.

Harish Khare on how the action against Rahul Gandhi is likely to realign the political landscape. While on which, worth noting that all major opposition parties have rallied behind Rahul Gandhi — and that the first one off the blocks was Mamta Bannerjee of the TMC, the same leader who a year ago was openly saying that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress had become irrelevant.

Suhas Palsikar on why Rahul Gandhi acts as a red rag to the BJP brass.

If you come across informative, well-written pieces on the issue, do point me to them in the comments.

Update, 6.30 PM: Rahul Gandhi held a press conference earlier today. The first question this begs is, why does he even bother? The media gathers such strength that it is standing room only, as seen here. Do they broadcast live? No. (If this were Modi, we would have had a pre-show, then the interaction, then post-show ‘analysis’, then shabashis masquerading as debates — come to think of it, good thing Modi hasn’t held a press conference in his entire tenure as PM).

So, no, none of this is given significant airtime or major coverage in print and mainstream digital. So why bother to turn up? Simple — in the hope that Rahul Gandhi will trip up, say something that can be twisted around and used as yet another stick to beat him with. Yes?

Update, 9.30 AM, March 25: I spent some time this morning checking to see how the Gandhi press conference was covered, and what the talking points were. Turns out I was right — it is not the question of where Adani got Rs 20,000 crore that is the subject of hot debate; what a sizeable chunk of the media is talking about is how Gandhi “insulted” a journalist by saying if you want to do the BJP’s work, at least do it openly. QED.

Here is the PC. Watch:

Interestingly, twice in the course of one media interaction, shills masquerading as reporters asked Rahul Gandhi about his “insulting OBCs”. At one point, Gandhi hits back, telling the reporter that if he is a BJP worker, he should at the least wear a badge as a token of his affiliation.

But the most on-point response to this latest BJP allegation distraction came from the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. Asked about Gandhi’s supposed insult to the OBC community, Yadav came up with this:

The SP leader’s reference is to an incident dating back to 2017, when the BJP defeated the Samajwadi Party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and the Modi/Shah duo plucked Adityanath out of nowhere and made him the chief minister.

Before Adityanath moved into 5 Kalidas Marg in Lucknow, the official residence of the UP CM, a bevy of seers and priests were pressed into service to undertake rituals — shudhikaran — to remove any impurities attaching to the premises because it was occupied by a person of a lower caste. The climax of the ritual was the sprinkling of Gangajal all over the house and grounds. And this is the party that accuses others of insulting those of “lesser” caste?

BTW, an amusing sidelight of the Rahul Gandhi presser came when Rajdeep Sardesai, as is his wont, both asked and answered his own question. “Let me speak, Rajdeep,” Gandhi said. “Sometimes you answer for me.”

I will only cavil at the use of the qualifying “sometimes”.