Anatomy of a pogrom

They say the toll thus far is 13 24, as of 6.30 PM this evening. They whisper that the actual toll is much higher. Maybe we will know in time what the actual human cost is or, as has happened many times before in the course of state-sponsored pogroms, maybe we never will.

Never mind parsing the numbers, though — even one life sacrificed at the altar of the cold-blooded political calculations of those who rule us (rule, not govern, because there is zero sign of governance) and of the unthinking, unfettered hate of their bigoted base would have been one too many.

That hate manifested in scenes such as this, playing out on the streets of the national capital:

Or this incident, one among the many dozens over the past three days that we will never be able to live down:

Call it by its right name — this is a pogrom, not a “riot”. Ashutosh Varshney, who has written the book on the subject, lays it out in a thread in which the money quote is this:

The cap is made to measure. It fits, perfectly. The events in Delhi over the past three days is no “riot” but a systematic campaign of elimination targeting the Muslim community. That it was planned to this end is painfully evident from the reports flooding in — including, but not limited to, this video of stones being brought in by the truckload the night before the violence began:

The Indian Express has a chilling timeline-driven narrative of thugs preparing for the attacks under the unseeing eye of the police. It goes on to document the deliberate targeting of Muslim homes and shops for violence, for arson.

As late as 9.30 last night, with Section 144 and shoot at sight orders in force, a Muslim settlement was torched by a mob acting with impunity. Police were present; they said they were “unable to interfere“.

An 85-year-old woman was burnt to death in her home. A mosque in Ashok Nagar was vandalised and torched, as were homes in the vicinity (See embedded clip earlier in this post), and a Hanuman flag planted atop its dome. 24 hours after the incident, the flag still remains in place. And a clip that has since been verified damns the police as active, willing participants in the mayhem:

The police even colluded with rioters to ensure that ambulances bearing victims were not allowed to enter the Al Hind hospital, as testified to by many including Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti. A 14-year-old boy with a gunshot wound was among those who were denied timely treatment. A doctor’s brother was among those who died while awaiting the treatment that the rioters and police refused them.

It took lawyer Suroor Mander’s midnight knock on the door of the Delhi High Court to produce a court order (the full text) asking that police provide protection to the ambulances. This clip is worth highlighting:

“Highest constitutional functionary move in Z+ security. This is the time to reach out and show that this security is for everyone,” Justice D S Muralidhar said in the matter on Al Hind hospital moved by Suroor Mander. “We can’t let another 1984 scenario happen in this city; not under the watch of this court.”

Serving and retired IPS officers pointed to the Delhi police force’s inexperience in dealing with riots — an experience that starts right at the top.

Inexperience might — might — explain why the police did not take preventive measures in time despite the signs of impending riots being painfully evident (Remember how stones were trucked in on the night before the rioting began). But it does not explain why the police participated in the stone-throwing, why it joined rioters in ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants, why it shielded the rioters, why it indulged in actions such as in the clips above. Or the one below:

Inexperience certainly does not explain the visual below of a policeman in full gear directing rioters who are gathering stones:

Members of a Hindu mob, armed with crude weapons, begged the police to let them attack Muslims. “Give us permission, that’s all you need to do,’’ one mob leader said. “You just stand by and watch. We will make sure you don’t get hurt. We’ll settle the score.’’ Then he used a slur to refer to Muslims.

That reported quote from a New York Times story is telling. Which protestor, if he did not know for sure that the police was on his side, would actually go up to a cop — while armed — and ask for permission to attack Muslims, or anyone for that matter? Any cop worth his uniform and pay check would have immediately arrested the whole sorry lot and thrown them behind bars.

In the heart of Delhi, late night on February 25 while the Home Minister and the state chief minister and the Commissioner of Police were “appealing for peace” and “monitoring the situation”, and while Section 144 was in force, newly-elected BJP MLA Abhay Varma marched through the violence-addled Mangal Bazaar area of Lakshmi Vihar at the head of a band of supporters who chanted ‘goli maro saalon ko‘ (Shoot the bastards, in case it needs translation). Shoot at sight orders were in force at the time, for what that is worth.

The coordinated assaults across multiple locations had one significant feature in common — they were at their most virulent in the areas where the BJP had won seats in the recent assembly elections. Which is to say, where the party had numerical strength — which, in practical terms, means they were reasonably sure, particularly given the backing of the police, that there would be no real organised resistance. See the map below:

Also clear is that the first part of their mission is in a good way to being accomplished, as this video of the Muslims of Mustafabad leaving the area with their belongings shows. The second mission — clearing Jafrabad of the Shaheen Bagh-style protest that had taken root there, which was the thrust of Kapil Mishra’s infamous speech — was also accomplished, with not a little help from the police.

It is equally clear that the BJP-led thugs were aware of the illegality, the criminality, of their actions. Thus the systematic assaults on journalists who, at considerable risk to life and limb, covered the riots. One was shot; four others were brutally assaulted; rioters checked the religion of journalists they caught before assaulting them.

Ayush Tiwari of Newslaundry posted a contemporaneous account on Twitter. TOI photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has a chilling first-person account, which starts with the rioter who offered to put a tilak on his forehead to ensure his safety as he headed into the midst of the riots.

“We were not allowed to shoot or record any of what was happening,” writes Runjhun Sharma of CNN-News18, adding that she and other journalists were told “Don’t take your phones out of your pockets, just enjoy the view.”

And here, with horrifying detail, is Ismat Ara, of FirstPost:

‘I was scared they would catch me for being a journalist, molest me for being a girl, lynch me for being a Muslim’

Rioters — and the brain-dead apologists that infest social media — argued that Hindus were retaliating for the killing of their own. “What about Rahul Solanki?”, several asked on my timeline. It is an age-old tactic of the Hindutva terrorists — instigate violence, then claim that it was a spontaneous reaction to the other side’s violence.

Well, what about Rahul Solanki? His father Hari Singh Solanki, sitting in the hospital beside the body of the son who died when he stepped out of his home to buy groceries, blamed Kapil Mishra — not the Muslims — and demanded that action be taken against the BJP “leader”.

“Kapil Mishra set Delhi on fire and then hid in his home. Our children paying the price, getting killed” — Hari Singh Solanki, father of the murdered Rahul.

A mob burned down a shop belonging to a Hindu that was being run by a Muslim. Here is what a trader, also a Hindu, from the area had to say about the incident, about who was responsible, about the role of the police. Also read what the Hindus of Ashok Nagar had to say about the mosque that was destroyed in their area. Elsewhere, a Sikh — a Supreme Court lawyer, no less — asks members of his faith to form peace committees, to set up langars for the victims. Hindus sheltered 25 Muslim families all through yesterday and today, until the police could rescue them and take them to a nearby hospital. And then there was this:

There is humanity still in our minds and our hearts, despite the BJP’s best efforts to stamp out all vestiges.

At the end of the Delhi election campaign, Amit Shah said hate speech maybe — maybe — cost his party. And yet, just yesterday, BJP Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jairam Thakur says only those who chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ have the right to remain in India.

While BJP leaders continued to pour fuel onto the raging flames, while the PM after three days of rioting contented himself with a word salad about the “immense warmth” — presumably emanating from a burning city — with which India had greeted Trump, and an anodyne appeal for peace; while politicians either went missing in action or busied themselves with photo-ops (like Arvind Kejriwal’s dharna at Raj Ghat, or his visit to victims in various hospitals, or his statement of a “positive meeting” with Amit Shah), or actively turned against those seeking help (as Kejriwal himself did when, late night last night, he had water cannons sweep his street clear of protestors even as thugs owing allegiance to his own party unleashed violence on the protestors at Jafrabad), it was left to the people to step up, to speak out.

There was a joint Hindu-Muslim peace march in the Brij Puri area; elsewhere people formed a human chain to ensure that schoolchildren could return home in safety. Hindus went around reassuring their Muslim neighbours that they were not alone; gurudwaras opened their doors to Muslims who were fleeing from their torched homes and the Jathedar of the Akhal Takht has asked all gurudwaras in the capital to offer all possible help to victims..

On the fringes of the cataclysm the BJP has visited on the national capital, this also happened: In Bihar the government voted unanimously in favour of an anti-NRC resolution. 70 MLAs belong to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U); the next largest group in the ruling coalition is the BJP with 54 MLAs. All of whom voted in favour of the anti-NRC resolution.

The next major election is in Bihar, in October this year, and this vote is a clear indication that even the local BJP leaders are aware of — wary of — the public sentiment, which has been gathering a head of steam thanks largely to the efforts of Kanhaiya Kumar who, as I write this, is into the 26th day of his 30-day road trip across the state and drawing enormous crowds.

The rally will culminate in Patna in five days with a public meeting demanding that the state government block the NPR/NRC; this resolution is likely an attempt to take the wind out of Kumar’s sails. From what I’ve been seeing, and from the clips of his speeches I’ve been following on his timeline, I suspect though that it is not going to be that easy — the Patna rally, unless I’ve totally misread the signs, is going to be a clear indication to the ruling dispensation that there is a right side and a wrong side to this argument, and that the people will be unforgiving of those who pick the wrong side. But we’ll see…

Elsewhere, the Supreme Court — which a wag on Twitter renamed the Supine Court recently — has yet again postponed a hearing it had scheduled in the issue of the Shaheen Bagh protests, saying “Let everything cool down first”.

Remember that when the SC was approached to intervene following the December 15 violence at JMI, its response was that it would listen to such pleas after the violence had stopped — analogous to a fire brigade responding to a four-alarm fire by saying it would wait for the flames to die down before responding.

And it is worth saying, in so many words, that the SC’s serial abdications of responsibility in cases ranging from the lockdown of Kashmir to the state-sponsored violence in JMI is a major contributing factor to why we are where we are today.

It is left, then, to the lower courts to stand up for what is right. A Division Bench comprising Justice Muralidhar and Justice Talwant Singh of the Delhi High Court heard a Harsh Mander plea into the ongoing violence in the national capital, and it was quite something (Read the blow by blow account by LiveLaw via the link).

In a cringe-worthy performance, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he had not seen the video of the Kapil Mishra hate speech that was the proximate cause of the hearing (Begs the question: If the SG hadn’t seen the video that was central to the case before he appeared in court to respond to the petition, how incompetent is he?). He asked what the urgency was, and suggested that the hearing be postponed.

Judge Muralidhar wasn’t having any of it — after first castigating the SG, the judge ordered the video to be played in court, then asked the SG and the officer representing the police, Deputy Commissioner Rajesh Deo, to watch it, read the transcript, and respond after a break. Read the proceedings — here is a minute by minute account on Scroll, as does Live Law; it is a handy reminder of how judges function when they remember that they are there to protect the Constitution, the rule of law.

In late-breaking news just as I was writing this:

And in response to that, the Solicitor General of India, no less, argues that this might not be the best time to be filing FIRs against those BJP leaders. Painful as it is, try and wrap your head around that argument from the lawyer representing the government of India.

“They beat me till they broke me. I begged them and they beat me some more, viciously. They made communally charged slurs and took (BJP leader) Kapil Mishra’s name. I don’t remember much. I just hoped my children were safe. I can’t bear to look at my photograph, my legs shiver with pain.”

They took Kapil Mishra’s name, says the victim of the gruesome assault that is captured in the lead photo of this post. Kapil Mishra, banned twice for hate speech during the Delhi campaign. Kapil Mishra, who made the hate speech the SG and DCP haven’t had time to listen to yet. Kapil Mishra, against whom the SG is in no hurry to instruct that an FIR be filed. And again, the SG got spanked by the judge:

“You showed alacrity in registering FIRs for damages to property and arson. Why aren’t you registering it for these speeches? Don’t you even want to acknowledge the presence of a crime? Just register FIRs!”

Worth pointing out here that despite a full-scale pogrom in the national capital for three days and counting, the police has not seen fit to take one single individual into preventive custody. Unlike, say, in Kashmir where hundreds remain in custody, some under the draconian PSA, despite there having been no trouble of any kind in the lead-up to the abrogation of Article 370.

Also, in context, work mentioning that the Supreme Court collegium has recommended the transfer of the widely respected Justice Muralidhar, provoking a protest by lawyers.

It is ironic, meanwhile, that the rioting, the mayhem and all these stories on the fringes happened precisely when dozens of crores of rupees were pumped into a spectacle that was supposed to showcase the bonhomie between the world’s largest and oldest democracies.

It is typical of Modi that he skipped the press conference at the end of Donald Trump’s tour, leaving it to the US president to take questions on the CAA.

It is symptomatic of the ineptitude of this government’s foreign outreach that all that effort and money went into an event that produced nothing in the way of a substantive trade deal, or in fact a deal of any kind whatsoever.

And while on irony, the expensive spectacle staged by Modi and his minions not only failed to attract positive notice within the country and around the world, global media — both print and television — focussed on the riots that were tearing the capital apart (and more than one commentator pointed to the tone deaf nature of Trump’s statement that the US and India were committed to fight global Islamic terror, at the precise moment, and in the precise place, where Muslims were being targeted for annihilation).

Sections of the Indian media desperately kept the focus on Trump at the Taj, and Melania attending “happiness school”, and what the menu was at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan reception (more irony: the star was biriyani, the very dish the Shaheen Bagh protestors have been demonised for eating), global media was unsparing. Chris Hayles of MSNBC in fact pointed to the fact that Trump was silent about the riots:

And that comment was a gentle prelude to Hayes’ show last night, where he tore into the two leaders. Watch:

The POTUS press conference didn’t go that well, and an incident also served up a reminder of why Modi refuses to meet the press (and also makes you wish that India had the kind of media the US still has, despite Trump’s best efforts). Here:

It is easy enough for the likes of Piyush Goyal, on behalf of the government, to call publishers and editors and browbeat them into tamping down on negative comment about Modi and his minions. It is not for want of trying, though — yesterday, the government pressured Hotstar and Disney India into deleting a John Oliver segment on Modi, that had aired on the eve of Trump’s visit. The outcome? On YouTube, the video has over 5.3 million views at the time of writing this.

I’ll leave you with Oliver’s famous last words here:

It is incredibly depressing to see India heading in this direction…. Because India, the home of this enduring symbol of love (the Taj Mahal) frankly deserves more than this temporary symbol of hate (Modi).

PostScript: Events are happening at too great a pace just now to make sense of; I’ll leave this round-up here, as a document of the major events of the past 48 hours, and write around it later, once things have simmered down somewhat and there is room for meditation, for thinking it all through.

Credit: The lead image, emblematic of everything that is wrong with India today, was shot by Praveen Khan of Indian Express. And below, a little reminder of our times, for our times.

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?:

DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT

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.

News, views: April 8 edition

Kalpana Sharma, readers’ editor of Scroll.in, asks the media to go beyond the usual ‘Who will you vote for?’ type questions when out in the field. A clip from Sharma’s piece:

Elections give journalists a great chance to step outside their usual beats and get a sense of what is going on in the country. In the days before the internet, 24-hour television news and polls, print journalists were sent out to cover key constituencies as also the poorer regions of India, where politicians only appear before elections.


The exchanges with ordinary people recharged our batteries, gave us precious insights into and understanding about how people live and survive, and provided us the tools to separate the reality from the political bombast. Not all that we gathered featured in our stories. But we came back from our election journeys wiser and better informed about the state of the nation.

These epiphanies are becoming more frequent — and I suspect that one reason is the growing realisation that the view from the media bubbles of Delhi and Mumbai are not indicative of the thinking of the vast majority of the population. Here is Shekhar Gupta striking a similar note:

You have to get out of Delhi often if you want to understand that there are two ways of looking at India: Inside-out, that is, from Delhi and the heartland at the rest of the country; or outside-in, which is, looking at the heartland from beyond.


Essentially, when you look inside-out, it brainwashes you into seeing the picture purely in national party-national leader terms. If you give yourselves the gift of distance and an open mind, you might see the change in this new India. 

Well, duh!

To this, I’d add a couple of suggestions: One, don’t wait for elections to go out in the field — a periodic trip outside the confines of the newsroom will alter the way you see the events unfolding around you. And two, don’t go flashing the paraphernalia of the journalist: the car and driver, the fixer, the translator, the recording equipment, the notebook… If you go festooned with those appurtenances, you get canned answers; you never get to have free-wheeling conversations with the people you meet.

Around this time last year, I happened to spend some time in Punjab, then Rajasthan, as part of two-time Pulitzer-winner Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk. Early days, I did exactly what I just cautioned against: The moment I met someone I took out my notebook and pen, opened up a fresh page… I was the stereotypical journalist. It took a while before I caught on; once I did, I learned to put the notebook away, to relax, to chat, to let the people I was meeting guide the conversation, and suddenly a whole new way of seeing opened up.

Kalpana’s piece came apropos: During my time on the road I was reading as much of election coverage as I could find, and was appalled by how much of it was framed from a Delhi-centric point of view. It is all about alliances, and caste equations, and whose zinger/slogan/poll promise is better… I am not saying these and similar factors won’t make any difference: Of course they will, they always have. But there is a whole lot more to how India votes than just these transactional elements, and barring a few honourable exceptions (Scroll is one such), there is lamentably little effort to get beneath the skin of the electorate.

If the results of elections both at the national and state level constantly surprise us, this is a large part of the reason why: Every result tells us that what we thought were the issues that would determine the outcome has no co-relation with what the actual voters are thinking about when they step into that booth and hit that button.

I’VE been collating and posting water-related links fairly frequently, because to my mind this is going to be the critical issue, affecting all segments of the population, in the years to come. On that note, a story in ToI says that water in the seven lakes supplying to the city is down to just 26% of capacity.

In its 2014 manifesto, the BJP promised to provide safe drinking water for all rural households. However, says this story in LiveMint, the BJP government has not only slashed funding for the scheme, it has also reduced the amounts actually released.

Now, in its 2019 manifesto, Modi has provided for a Jal Shakti Ministry to deal with the problem. That seems to be the go-to solution for any issue the BJP faces and doesn’t know how to deal with: create a ministry. (While on which, I heard Rahul Gandhi the other day say that he would create a ministry just for fishermen — and that is equally pointless). And while on this, we do have a ministry for water resources. It is currently headed by Nitin Gadkari. What exactly is another ministry going to accomplish, that this one couldn’t? (It creates a few more posts that can be given as reward to those outfits that cross the floor, certainly). Modi also had some boilerplate about ‘Jal se nal’ – but bottomline, the manifesto is as vague on the subject this time as it was last time.

Water, like employment, is a political tripwire lying in wait for the government during this election cycle. While pundits endlessly handicap elections in terms of personalities, alliances, slogans and such, people outside of the metros and cities vote on gut issues – and lack of water hits as close to the gut as it is possible to get.

Here is an incident that should serve as a warning: In Maharashtra’s gathering when a boy yelled out that water had come – and the crowd emptied at once leaving the party, which has been trying to downplay the severe drought conditions in the state, red-faced. Elsewhere, in Marathwada, the situation is equally dire.

Related, in 2014 the BJP had promised 99 new irrigation projects.

Keep an eye on this: The extended election season takes us into peak summer, and things are only going to get worse. Five years later, “74 are still waiting for the construction of field canals and command area development. Other targets are also unachieved; the budget allocations, too, are less than originally planned.”

I’VE only glanced through the BJP manifesto (I need to find the time to read it in detail, and to compare it with its 2014 antecedent), released this morning in typical BJP fashion: Lots of breathless television coverage, lots of speeches by the top leadership, but not a single leader willing to take questions. Later this evening and in the days to come, various BJP worthies will appear on the usual channels to talk up the manifesto and respond to prefabricated questions — but the party leadership consistently ducks anything in the nature of unscripted interactions, and today was no exception.

But – admittedly based on that cursory speed-read — the impression I got was that the BJP doesn’t really take the exercise seriously. There is a palpable lack of thought; the document feels like the work of a kid rushing through his homework so he can go out and play. Not kidding — back in the day, one of the things we quickly figured out was that the more pages we filled in our ‘essays’ notebook for each assignment, the happier our teachers were. So we took to writing something on page one that we would repeat verbatim on page three and five and… Here is the BJP’s version of padding:

In its manifesto, the BJP says the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN), initially supposed to benefit 12 crore farming families, has been extended to all farmers. Clearly, the Congress party’s NYAY scheme is resonating, forcing the BJP to up the ante.

Here’s the thing, though: when Congress announced its scheme for the poorest of farmers the BJP, led by Arun Jaitley, and the friendly channels became economists overnight, angrily asking where the money would come from. The original PM-KISAN was budgeted at Rs 75,000 crore. To cover all farmers – almost half the population – will take at least four times that amount. Where is the money going to come from?

And while speaking of friendly channels and comments about the Congress manifesto, I happened to come across this earlier today:

This is a classic example of what is happening to those tasked with toeing the BJP line: You merely repeat anything that emanates from Modi, without pause for thought. Seriously, what does this even mean? How is the “common Indian”, whose plight occupied Modi’s sleepless nights these past five years, different from the “average Indian”, whose aspirations Modi hopes to fulfil in the next five? File this under #kuchbhi

IF you haven’t heard of the Kuki National Army, it is time you did. The armed insurgent group has threatened wholesale violence if 90% of the votes in the state don’t go to the BJP. Also:

Previously, two Manipur insurgent groups— Zomi Re-unification Organisation (ZRO) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) (KNA is the armed wing of KNO) — in separate letters had requested the BJP party president Amit Shah to give its tickets to the insurgents’ favoured candidate HS Benjamin Mate for the outer Manipur parliamentary seat. The BJP had obliged the request, News18 reported.

Begs the question: Is the BJP ok with working hand in glove with insurgents, even as it accuses everyone else of tukde tukde intentions? Speaking of which (there is more on the tukde tukde gang in my previous post), even when participating in the release of the party manifesto Arun Jaitley — who, frankly, is becoming a total bore — couldn’t resist invoking that strawman:

I’ll likely have more thoughts on the BJP manifesto in the coming days (Mandir kab banaoge? Oh, and whatever happened to the 100 smart cities idea so grandly touted in 2014?) Meanwhile, some reading material, in no particular order:

THE Election Commission Sunday “strongly advised” the Finance Ministry that any action by its enforcement agencies during election time should be “neutral” and “non-discriminatory” and officials of the poll panel should be kept in loop about such actions. The EC’s advice came against the backdrop of Income Tax Department’s raids in Madhya Pradesh Sunday and in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the recent past on politicians and people connected to them. That would be this EC, right? That shining model of impartiality? I mean, how bad does something — in this case, the government’s use of enforcement agencies to bully its political opponents — have to be for even the EC to express concern?

WHILE the EC is issue its “strong” advisory, the Supreme Court has asked it to take strict action against political party representatives and spokespersons who make speeches or remarks on religious or caste lines. Good luck with that — what is the EC supposed to do to, say, the poisonous Adityanath? Or Modi, for that matter?

IN the ongoing series of links to schemes that Modi and his minions talk up on the stump, but which when examined appear to have no substance, here is one more:

A new study from the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e) shows that 85% of Ujjwala beneficiaries in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan still use solid fuels for cooking, due to financial reasons as well as gender inequalities. The resultant indoor air pollution can lead to infant deaths and harm child development, as well as contribute to heart and lung disease among adults, especially the women, cooking on these chulhas.

MUKUL Kesavan is one of our sharpest, most eloquent columnists — a delight to read, on any subject he choses to write about. Here he is, on Advani’s recent epiphany:

No, the real lesson of Advani’s post and his political career isn’t his hypocrisy about civility and diversity, the real lesson is twofold. First, that there is no floor to the pit of majoritarian politics: there are lower depths to its lower depths.

CARAVAN does a deep dive into the violence that has roiled Kerala politics. It resonates — and goes deep into — a problem I had pointed to in this post. And this follow up.

SCHEMES“, redux: Remember One District One Product? Chittoor, in AP, was one of the districts picked for this project. The situation on the ground is not good.

IF you are looking for a metaphor for government (actually, any government), here it is: The PM Matru Vandana Yojana spent about five times more money distributing largesse to the beneficiaries, than the actual beneficiaries got.

I happened to read this piece in LiveMint, and now I wish I hadn’t. It’s on Modi’s poetry.

In one of his poems, Narendra Modi is a kite, who is soaring with “the grace of the sky”, towards the sun, held back “only by the string”. In another poem, he is a honeybee who is very busy, joyful, free, and his life a burst of colours. In his poems, he is often happy and in good places. Also, he is an energetic lover, “an ocean that leaps with energy”, a man who is as “upright as a mountain” and as “pure as the river”.

It set my mind wandering through promising fields of speculation, until I got to the point where I wondered how Modi, who according to all accounts abandoned his wife without ever consummating their marriage, and has spent his lifetime in a kind of sanyas, discovered his energetic properties as a lover. ‘Upright as a mountain…’ — at that point, I had to disengage my mind from its wanderings, and call it back to order.

Update, 10.00 PM: That point I was making earlier, about there being a kid-rushing-homework feel to this BJP manifesto? Here you go (emphasis mine):

“We have constituted the Women’s Security Division in the Home Ministry, and have made strict provisions for transferring the laws in order to commit crimes against women.”

On the surface, one of those ha-ha moments, and social media is having the predictable ball at the BJP’s expense. But what bugs me is how very lackadaisical the BJP is about its manifestos, both for state and national level elections. Like it is just one of those formalities to be completed, not the one single document that allows the voter to know what they are getting in terms of governance.

So what’s your beef?

IF Kerala has a focal point for the Hindu faith it has to be Thrissur — home to the Vadukkunathan temple complex that hosts the annual Pooram; to other storied temples such as Thiruvambady, Paramekavu, Koodalmanikyam, Arattupuzha, Kodungalur, and Ponkunnam to name just the most obvious of dozens of pilgrim centres, and a way station for Guruvayur and for Sabarimala, epicentre of the women’s entry storm earlier this year and, in the minds of political pundits, the wedge the BJP will use to prise open the hitherto inhospitable state. With that background, read this news report:

The Thrissur district unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has launched a co-operative society to produce, process and market meat and fish. The venture – Thrissur, Fish and Meat Producing, Processing and Marketing Society – had received approval from the registrar of co-operative societies six months ago.


The bylaw of the society said it will rear and sell cattle and fish products. “We haven’t started processing or selling of meat,” BJP Thrissur district president A Nagesh, who has also been elected the president of the society, told Scroll.in. “But I cannot say whether we will venture into the meat processing market or not.”

But then there is this: In the 2017 Assembly elections, a BJP candidate promised to set up quality abattoirs and ensure good quality beef if he was elected. Elsewhere, RSS and BJP functionaries formed a cooperative to sell beef. On his first day as a BJP minister, KJ Alphons said:

On the first day in his new office as tourism minister, bureaucrat-turned-politician Alphons Kannanthanam touched upon the controversial issue of beef, saying it would continue to be consumed in Kerala.

“The BJP does not mandate that beef cannot be eaten. We don’t dictate food habits in any place. It is for the people to decide,” he said.

The various affiliates of the BJP also said that Kerala should receive no help in the aftermath of the the 2018 floods; that the flood was a sign of god punishing Kerala because the state consumes beef; a ‘sadhvi’ called for the killing of those who kill cows and eat beef and, to crown the hypocrisy, Modi — who has the right wing leader’s habit of accusing others of exactly what he is guilty of — said this:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said cheating was in the blood of the Congress party.

….

“Is it the same Congress which praises the cow in Madhya Pradesh and mentions some schemes in its poll manifesto, but slaughters calves on the streets of Kerala and eats beef?” Modi asked the crowd.

It is a different matter that for all of Modi’s gaslighting, the voters of MP dumped the BJP in the Assembly elections. To go back to the point of the BJP’s hypocrisy when it comes to its signature issue: In 2017, then Goa CM Manohar Parikkar was assuring the state assembly that he will ensure there is no shortage of beef in the state; said that over 2000 kg of beef was being slaughtered in the state’s legal abattoir and that any shortfall would be made up by importing beef from Karnataka; and in January 2018, warned that anyone interfering with the import of beef would be punished. (Here’s a detailed, and more recent, story on the ongoing tug of war between gau rakshaks and the beef industry in the state).

Also in 2017 ahead of Assembly polls in the north-east, the BJP not only asserted that there would be no beef ban in Meghalaya if the party came to power, beef would actually be cheaper under the BJP rule. Last year the CM of Manipur was assuring his people that the BJP had never asked for a beef ban and never would, and that the BJP had no problem with the people eating beef. A senior BJP leader last year said there would be no beef ban in Tripura or any of the other states in the north-east.

That is the BJP. Led by the man who, during the 2014 campaign, repeatedly raised the bogey of a “pink revolution” if the Congress came to power. The man, and the party, that has stood by and, by their silence, given the nod to “cow vigilantes” — murderers, to call things as they are — to run riot across the Hindi heartland and, where necessary, to actively provide aid and comfort to the murderers; a party whose minister garlanded accused lynchers who were let out on bail and senior leaders condoled the death of a jailed lyncher, promised compensation to the family of the dead man, and stood by as, in violation of all norms, the coffin was draped with the national flag… And, in areas where they know their “gaumata” BS won’t work, a party that will, without the slightest twitch of hesitation, guarantee you the very beef they talk of banning.

I believe that people should have the right to eat what they want; that it is not the business of polity or the government to interfere in an individual’s private life. That said, I’d appreciate a party that, at the least, had the courage of its own convictions. The BJP — and this is true for the entirety of its existence — is a party of, and for, hypocrites who will do anything, say anything, be anything as long as it leads to power.

It’s Sunday. For reasons of work, I have to watch, and make notes on, the two IPL games scheduled today. So I’ll leave you with this post — and this topical, timely musical comment:

News clips: Feb 13 edition

With the model code of conduct kicking in, attention turns to enforcement-related questions: Does the EC have the manpower to monitor the various parties and their proxies and detect violations? If it does detect something that is not kosher, what can it do about it if anything? On that note, the EC advised all political parties to desist from using images of serving army personnel in propaganda material; a day later, it has asked Facebook to delete two posts bearing images of Wing Commander Abhinandan posted by a BJP MLA from Delhi.

In order to make the process of spotting violations easier, the EC has launched a cVigil app that enables the lay citizen to report violations. ToI has a list of 15 types of violations that the citizen can report, and how; more details via The Hindu. So, since this service is now available, a hypothetical for you: Would you report this?

The Index of Industrial Production has bad news for the government just as it was beginning to talk up productivity and employment as major achievements of the last five years: Manufacturing plummeted from 8.7 in January 2018 to 1.3 in January 2019. The Telegraph story details those areas that are doing well, and those that are showing signs of being on life support.

The government’s attempts to suppress, or obfuscate, data that does not fit with its narrative will form the subject for a larger essay later. But for now, a few recent pieces are worth reading/re-visiting in context of the IIP figures: RTI Venkatesh Nayak, in HuffPost, talks of his efforts to use RTI to get behind the scenes of the key RBI board meeting where the demonetisation decision was supposedly taken (Hint: It wasn’t). The article links profusely to the actual minutes of the board meeting, and related stories.

While on demonetisation, here’s a link from the past: Modi’s smoke and mirrors act

Economic growth for the period October-December 2018 fell to its lowest mark across the last six quarters, and early indications are that the first quarter of 2019 continues to see decline. Author and commentator Vivek Kaul explains, via four charts, the key indicators that point at this slowdown. Elsewhere Scroll, also through charts, has more bad news: GDP is down, the government is unable to rein in the fiscal deficit, there is decline in investments in new projects, foreign investors are leaving the country and inevitably, as corollary to all of the above, the unemployment rate continues to climb. And to round it all off (for now), there’s this from HuffPost:

Desperate to show progress in the poorly defined, but much-ballyhooed, Digital India initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government inflated e-governance data by designating previously uncategorized services such as railway bookings, debit card and credit card transactions, NEFT, RTGS bank transfers, Aadhar authentication and e-KYC transactions with private vendors as “e-governance”.
 
The government also massively ramped up the weather and crop updates delivered over SMS to millions of farmers in a bid to show rural Indians were embracing so-called digital services.

In political news the AGP, which had earlier cut ties with the NDA over the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, has returned to the government fold. In Kerala, the Left Front has announced candidates for all 20 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress and the BJP are still sharpening their pencils.

Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, wants an alliance with the Congress in Haryana. The commentariat was all sneer-y when the Congress “contemptuously” turned down an alliance with AAP in Delhi — and I am not sure I get why. AAP came into being on the wings of the Anna Hazare/Kejriwal-led agitation against Congress corruption; that agitation in turn provided the BJP the talking points, and the oxygen, for the 2014 campaign. Why would the Congress go out of its way to ally with the AAP now? If it did, both parties would have their previous accusations about each other hanging around their neck. (Not that such considerations have stopped various parties allying with erstwhile enemies, but still.)

The LDF has named only two women, however, with its spokespersons arguing that the focus was on winnability rather than gender. The Front has made a big punt with CPM state executive member C Divakaran named for the Thiruvananthapuram seat against, in all likelihood, Shashi Tharoor for the Congress and whoever the BJP choses to name. Equally, it has named film actor and sitting MP Innocent to the Chalakudy  seat – which, as Scroll points out, is problematic.

NB: As elections kick into high gear, the clips will become more comprehensive and be updated more frequently. Meanwhile, readers, help: Ping links to interesting news stories/analysis via comments, please?

Addendum: One reason I like to collate links whenever I blog is that over time, isolated stories begin to add up, linkages become visible and bigger pictures emerge.

On that note, a story that caught my eye during a surf-break just now:

On March 8, the government approved a Bulk Data Sharing policy, enabling it to monetise a database of vehicle registration certificates, citing benefits to the “transport and automobile industry”, even as the issue of privacy and data protection looms large over such sharing.

Basically, the government here finds another way of making money off of your personal data, never mind consent.

The data shared will be the vehicle’s registration number and other details (including financing and insurance), and will not have the owner’s name. In all, 28 fields of data for each vehicle will be shared.

That’s all right, then — your name, and therefore details linked to your name, is not being sold. But then again:

However, the policy itself admits that “there is a possibility of triangulation” or matching the data with other publicly available databases to identify. That’s because the Vahan app, also run by the ministry, maps registration details against names.

I’ll leave this here for now and link it up in a subsequent post.

Elsewhere, the Times of India confidently says Twitter executives could face jail time, forcing the government to scramble to clarify.

The report, as published, appears to be exaggerated, stemming from a misunderstanding of the established legal procedure.

Double, double, toil and trouble…

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

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

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