Amit Shah and the big lies

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Joseph Goebbels said that. Supposedly. In the recesses of the internet you find sites dedicated to disputing whether the Reich’s Minister for Propaganda actually said or wrote the words ascribed to him.

Leaving aside the provenance of the quote for the moment, the words themselves are an apt, extended summation of the tools and tactics of state propaganda. Here it is, in action at the TimesNow “summit” yesterday (By the way, these “summits” are just another tool by which the government rewards friendly media outlets — big-wig participation is the carrot, withholding it the stick — but that is a subject for another day). Listen:

No such comment was made, says Amit Shah when asked about campaign speeches where the speaker said the protestors of Shaheen Bagh will enter your homes and rape your mothers, sisters and daughters.

Shah was, of course, lying. BJP MP Parvesh Verma, the most offensive campaigner in a criminally offensive BJP campaign, said exactly that:

Having lied about one of the most offensive statements heard during the campaign, Shah then puffs out a word salad about different hierarchical levels within the party, to suggest that some lower level functionaries may have made certain objectionable statements, but the party had distanced itself from such remarks. (This business of the BJP “distancing itself” is beyond ridiculous — I’d done a post on this three years ago; it has only gotten worse since).

Shah was lying, on both counts. Firstly, it was not some low-level functionaries who were responsible for such incendiary statements, but the likes of MP Parvesh Verma, Union Minister Anurag Thakur, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP CM Ajay Singh Bisht, who began his campaign with this:

Shah also deftly avoids mentioning that Kapil Mishra, who takes the “credit” for coming up with the goli maro saalon ko slogan, was given a party ticket after he had premiered that slogan at a pro-CAA rally.

Shah was also lying when he said the party had distanced itself from the more extreme comments: Neither he, nor the Prime Minister, nor BJP’s titular president JP Nadda, had made a single statement condemning those statements. In fact, when Parvesh Verma was banned by the EC for his “rape your mothers…” comment, the BJP gave him a speaking slot during the Lok Sabha’s vote of thanks for the President’s pre-budget speech.

While on the BJP distancing itself from intemperate comments, it is worth noting that OP Sharma, the newly-elected BJP MLA from Vishwas Nagar, continues to claim that Kejriwal is a terrorist. It is also worth mentioning that the media continues to dutifully report and amplify comments that are clearly, and criminally, libellous.

What is noteworthy about the Shah segment is the way the event was used to give Shah — who had gone silent after the announcement of the Delhi results — an opportunity to minimise the fallout of his party’s toxic campaign, and to walk back the more incendiary of the statements.

As you watch that video, keep an eye on TimesNow’s Rahul Shivshankar, in the front row, nodding along in agreement with Shah. See this tweet from Sunil Jain, Managing Editor of the Financial Express, approving Shah’s “maturity” and hoping that this is a “new dawn”; listen to the applause when Shah says maybe the party paid a price for incendiary slogans, but adds that since no one writes down the reasons for their vote on the voting slip, it is hard to tell.

Note also that a vicious communal campaign is being analysed not in terms of the harm it has done to the nation, to the way it has vitiated public discourse and vilified one community — the whole discussion is cynically, solely around the calculus of electoral gains and losses.

In course of the session, Shah also produced jaw-dropping statements such as: (1) Everyone has the right to protest — which of course explains why he has used the full might of his police to unleash violence against protestors at various venues across the national capital while his henchman Bisht has raised state brutality to a whole new level in neighbouring UP; and, (2) That there is no bar on Indian politicians visiting Kashmir and that his ministry will give permission to anyone who wants to go (The obvious question — why is there a situation where an Indian citizen requires official permission to visit Kashmir was neither asked, nor answered).

While Shah used a convenient platform to normalise the abnormal, other worthies continued to sow the seeds of propaganda elsewhere. Thus Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the government, was concerned with the question of why Gandhi had done nothing to save Bhagat Singh — the absolutely most important discussion to have at a time when the economy is imploding across every conceivable sector.

And the Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar took time off to peddle the old fable that Nehru did not want Patel in his Cabinet — a statement that led to an online spat between him and historian Ramchandra Guha. Jaishankar was, of course, lying, as Jairam Ramesh (thread) and others were quick to point out:

Think of all this, and then go back and read that possibly apocryphal Goebbels quote, and this actual passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (in the James Murphy translation):, where he accuses the Jews of inventing the “big lie” (projecting onto the “other” that which you yourself are guilty of is yet another tried and tested weapon of propaganda):

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Finally, ask yourself why a government, with an unprecedented mandate and facing unparalleled crises across multiple fronts, finds the need to spend so much of its time lying about things big and small.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in our country:

In Goa, a district magistrate imposed Section 144 citing intelligence inputs of possible terrorist threats, only for the baffled police to respond that there was no such intelligence. Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court ruled yesterday that the imposition of Section 144 in Bangalore was illegal. The section was imposed, for three days, on December 18. It took till February 13 to correct that injustice — and that is precisely what the government counts on when it acts in draconian fashion.

In UP, a 15-year-old was raped by a 30 year old man last August. Since then, her family has reportedly been facing threats and harassment, asking that they “compromise”. Her father had been threatened; the family had filed an official complaint to the office of the CM, which was ignored. Two days ago, the father was shot dead.

AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, in the wake of his stunning victory from the Okhla constituency, asked his supporters not to celebrate his victory because of the ongoing protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere. Meanwhile in UP, his family alleged that police had entered their home, abused and assaulted family members, and misbehaved with the women. And the troll factory continues to demonise the MLA — the most recent items in the vilification campaign include an allegation that Khan said Islam will triumph all across India, which maps to Sambit Patra’s earlier allegation that Khan wants to “create Shariya“, whatever that means. Remember Shah talking about party hierarchy, and how the party has official leaders and spokespersons while suggesting that the statements of others don’t count? Sambit Patra is the official spokesperson for the BJP, and the party is yet to “distance itself” from him.

Also in UP, Dr Kafeel Khan, who was arrested for making a speech during an anti-CAA rally at Aligarh Muslim University and subsequently given bail, had not been released as of last night in a clear case of contempt of court. The chief judicial magistrate has therefore sent the bail order to the jail by special messenger, with orders to the authorities to expedite the release. Khan, you will recall, had been arrested and charged with neglect of duty by the Bisht government in the wake of the death of dozens of children in a Gorakhpur hospital, only for the courts to find no evidence against him.

Still in UP, “An air of despondency hung over the defence manufacturers expo in Lucknow last week,” says a Bloomberg report on the defence expo in Lucknow last week, and mapping this despondency to a crippling funding crunch that has impacted the government’s $250 billion defense modernization program.

In the wake of the BJP’s defeat in the Delhi elections, the GoI has decided to step up its ad blitz highlighting its achievements, such as they are. As of December 2018, when this question was last raised in Parliament, the government in a written response said it had spent over Rs 5000 crore in the period 2014-2018. Note that this is government money — to wit, taxpayer money — spent to aid the political party’s campaigning. Note too that giving or withholding advertisements is how the government both entices and coerces the media into toeing its line.

Which reminds me: Donald Trump is coming to India, and expects to see between five and seven million people lining the road from the airport to receive him in Ahmedabad. Where the civic body is busy building a high wall to ensure that Trump and Modi will not see slums en route. That is the Gujarat Model in action — remember what happened earlier, when Xi Jinping visited Gujarat’s capital city, which under Modi is the preferred destination for all visiting dignitaries?

It was tarpaulin then; it is a wall now, which is appropriate since it is Trump who is visiting this time, and Trump is a big fan of walls that someone else pays for. The entire city is getting a makeover — Indian Express has an entire image gallery devoted to this, while ANI has images of the wall being built. Imagine the money being spent, and ask yourself why similar urgency and similar amounts of money never seem to be expended on improving the actual living conditions of the poor, rather than on hiding their plight from VIP eyes.

The irony is that the single biggest sticking point between the two countries is the trade deal, which has been the subject of much backstage diplomacy for close to two years now. The deal was supposed to be — hyped to be — signed during the earlier Howdy Modi event in Houston; now Trump is coming and the hypemeisters are holding out hope that the deal will be signed this time.

It won’t. Here is just one more indication why:

In a notice issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this week, India has been removed from the list of ‘developing’ countries and instead will now be considered a ‘developed’ nation.

Ram Madhav of the BJP was among the first to tweet out the news, to a chorus of congratulatory chest-thumping by the faithful. Neither Madhav nor his chorus appear to have realised that in actual fact, this means India is no longer eligible for benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) governing US trade deals. Elsewhere, in the build-up to the Trump visit, four US Senators have written to the US Secretary of State expressing their concerns about the situation in Kashmir, and also on the CAA/NRC. A resolution on similar lines, moved by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, is meanwhile gathering steam and at last count had 49 co-sponsors.

None of this will impact the Trump-Modi love fest, episode 2, because Trump is way too dumb to grasp such issues, and way too narcissistic to care. But it is still worth noting, because for all the hype that is being drummed up around the Trump visit, India’s international image is taking a godawful beating.

In this connection, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the book A Very Stable Genius, by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker (emphasis mine):

The second week of November, President Trump took his first trip to Asia, a five-country, ten-day journey that concluded in the Philippines, where he attended a global summit of leaders.

On November 13, Trump sat down with Modi in Manila on the sidelines of the summit. Tillerson had high hopes for the meeting—even though, back at the White House, Trump was known to have affected an Indian accent to imitate Modi, a sign of disrespect for the prime minister.

As with most of his foreign leader meetings, Trump had been briefed but didn’t appear to have retained the material and instead tried to wing it. He took a hard right turn into a nitpicky complaint about trade imbalances. Modi tried to refocus on the threats India faced from Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan. His mention of Afghanistan led Trump off into a lengthy tangent about how stupid it had been for the United States to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan for so many years.

When Modi mentioned his concern about China’s ambitions and aggression in the region, Trump revealed a stunning ignorance about geography. “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border,” Trump said, seeming to dismiss the threat to India. Modi’s eyes bulged out in surprise. Aides noticed him giving a sidelong glance at Tillerson, who accompanied Trump as part of the U.S. delegation.

The Indian prime minister considered Tillerson among the best-versed Americans on the region’s security challenges, and together they had been plotting a new partnership. Tillerson’s eyes flashed open wide at Trump’s comment, but he quickly put his hand to his brow, appearing to the Indian delegation to attempt not to offend the president as well as to signal to Modi that he knew this statement was nuts.

Trump did not appear to notice their silent exchange. He just kept rolling, droning on about unrelated topics. Modi tried to keep the conversation on an elevated plane, hoping to follow the path Tillerson had laid out for them in the previous weeks to work together to protect India and fend off China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

But each time Modi tried to get Trump to engage on the substance of U.S.-India relations, the American president veered off on another non sequitur about trade deficits and the endless war in Afghanistan. Those who witnessed the meeting that day in Manila were disheartened.

Modi’s expression gradually shifted, from shock and concern to resignation. “I think he left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner,’ ” one Trump aide recalled. After that meeting, the Indians took a step back” in their diplomatic relations with the United States.

Sure, let’s hide our slums and smooth out our roads and truck in “millions” of people to give Trump (and Modi) a right royal photo-op.

PS: In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the BJP had secured 36 million votes in Delhi. The actual number is around 3.6 million; my apologies for mistyping. (Just another reminder to myself that I either need an editor to go through my copy, or I need to be a whole lot more careful and do a re-read before posting.) Thanks to the readers who pointed this out.

Update, 2.30 PM: Refer to the Dr Kafeel Khan segment earlier in this post. Now this: Even as the chief judicial magistrate personally intervenes to secure Khan’s release, the UP government has charged him under the draconian provisions of the NSA. What exactly did he say?:

That is it. That is the case.

One incident in which you have it all: Total contempt for the rule of law and of the courts; absolute intolerance for any form of dissent; brazen misuse of power in the firm belief that there will be no retribution — all totalling up into a state, larger than many nations, that has totally, possibly irrevocably, failed.

A campaign of hate

This morning, I saw a startling thread on my Twitter timeline. Joe Walsh, a Republican candidate for the 2020 Presidential elections in the United States, went for a Donald Trump rally in Iowa and asked some questions of those waiting in line to enter.

Does Trump lie, Walsh asked. “No”, was the answer. It was the wrong answer — as of mid-December, Trump has made 15,413 “false or misleading claims” — Newspeak for “lie”. That is an average of 14.6 lies for each day in office. He has lied more often in 2019 than in the previous two years put together.

Has Trump played golf while in office? No, Walsh was told, unlike Obama, Trump has never played golf while at work. Again, wrong answer. Trump has played golf so often, so visibly, that there is an actual site dedicated to tracking his golfing days, and what it is costing the taxpayers (a small matter of $125 million and counting). His last golfing day was February 2nd — literally two days before this Iowa rally.

Nobody knew, or cared, that the US fiscal deficit now exceeds $1 trillion. Nobody thought Trump had done something bad — impeachably bad — in Ukraine. Everyone thought it was China, not the US, suffering because of his trade tariffs.

Where do you get your news from? How aware are you of the vast gulf between what is happening and what you think is happening? How do you know what is real, any more? What, today, is “news”, anyway?

Back in the day, when JNU boiled over with the fabricated ‘tukde tukde‘ allegations, I started writing a series of posts on what ‘media’ is today, and how we got here. I started with Rajeev Chandrasekhar — who at the time was the primary investor in then then fledgling Republic TV channel — and his definition of news, and how to measure it.

The second piece in the series looks at how we got to this place, where we don’t even have a clear definition of news anymore. “We live,” I wrote at the outset, “in a world where it is increasingly impossible to differentiate between news and noise, to distinguish signal from surround sound, to differentiate real events from manufactured ones. And we did not get here overnight.”

The third in the series explores the question of when and how the deterioration accelerated — with the downgrading of the role of the editor, and the entry of excel jockeys who would hold newsrooms accountable not for facts, for truth, for deep reporting but for clicks, and page views, and unique users.

The fourth, borrowing from Daniel Boorstin’s seminal — and still relevant — book The Image, looked at how the media manufactures the things we unquestioningly believe are true. Then I looked at a discrete incident of how the media pushed a fake story — and how it triggered a tragedy. And at an egregious breach of journalistic norms and ethics from nearer home, centering on Kulbhushan Yadav (anyone remember him?). Also at a case study of how poison spreads, involving India Today and its much-feted anchor Shiv Aroor.

These pieces are long, your time is short, and I am not even sure if any of this matters any more. But these last 24 hours I — as a journalist now 32 years in the profession — have been thinking of the role of the journalist, of the media, in helping to create this dystopian world we live in today. And it seems others are, too: It came up in a totally unrelated phone call with a friend, and it came up right at the outset of a lunch yesterday with another friend, and that is just in the last 24 hours. It occurs to me that it is time to put the news back in “news”, and I intend to try. Finding people who see the need and are willing to back it is a challenge but what the hell, if not now, then when?

Are you following the Delhi election campaign at all? If you are, yesterday would have struck you as a particularly memorable day — in a Hall of Shame sort of way — in what has been a particularly execrable campaign. And that is only partly because the Prime Minister personally entered the fray, and through what he spoke about and what he refrained from speaking about clearly indicated the mindset of his party.

What he chose to speak about is, mostly, Shaheen Bagh which he characterised as vote bank politics. He said:

It begins with a blatant lie: There has not been a single “assurance” of substance from this government, barring sweeping declarations that “no one will be affected”. It then morphs — without any relevance whatsoever — into his much-touted, and ultimately ineffective, “surgical strikes” and makes “these people” the anti-national enemies who question him. And then, there it comes, the clear dog-whistle: He mentions three particular protests and sites to raise the bogey of some dark, shadowy, dangerous “politics behind this” — without specifying what it is that is dark and dangerous about it.

Here is the PM, in his own voice (and to large swathes of empty seats). Listen to him, and to how the crowd reacts as he hits the high spots:

Seelampur. Jamia. Shaheen Bagh. What is the commonality? See the map below:

Map courtesy

An incomplete, crowd-sourced map of protests countrywide (one which does not even list the over sixty 24/7 non-stop, Shaheen Bagh-style protests across the country) shows, at last count, 458 anti-CAA protests in the country. It lists 17 in his home state of Gujarat. Hell, it lists 34 in Delhi alone. The map in its entirety — and again, remember this is incomplete — is a graphic, stunning indicator that what began as a protest has morphed into a revolution that encompasses the entire country in its sweep, leaving no corner untouched.

But: Seelampur. Jamia. Shaheen Bagh. A clear dog-whistle for the dogs of war primed to listen, and to act — as three men with guns have acted thus far; as a Hindu Sabha mob, held back by a three-layered barricade and a very strong police contingent, acted. And as, even as I was writing this, a crowd at Jamia acted:

Modi’s appearance on the campaign trail was in the role of accelerant; his job was both to give official imprimatur to the intense communal rhetoric that has characterised this election cycle, and to kick it into a higher gear.

The program of incitement was premiered as early as December 20, when Kapil Mishra led a pro-CAA rally in dally to the chants of goli maro saalon ko. That first appearance of the slogan prompted considerable outrage — except within the BJP, which rewarded Mishra with a ticket to contest the Delhi elections. (That is how the BJP finds its candidates — from the dregs. Remember Tajinder Bagga?)

It was Home Minister Amit Shah — the man, in case it needs reminding, who is responsible for the maintenance of law and order in this country — who kicked it off with his February 26 rally, where the goli maro saalon ko slogan was raised and where Shah turned the heat on Shaheen Bagh. Buses were burnt, cars were burnt, if “these people” come back Delhi will not be safe, the always fact-free Shah told the crowd.

Something happened that day that we neither noticed, nor remember today:

However, the party has distanced itself from such sloganeering. The party president in Delhi, Manoj Tiwari said that neither he or BJP supports such remarks. He also asserted that BJP was contesting elections along the lines of developmental issues like health, water, and cleanliness of Yamuna.

On the very next day, February 27, Union minister Anurag Thakur — in a vivid demonstration of just how far the party had “distanced itself” from that murderous slogan — actually led the crowd in the chant.

Did the party “distance itself” from Thakur? No. Despite the fact that no less than three former chief election commissioners pointing out that his actions were deserving of criminal proceedings. In fact, the party upped the ante the very next day:

In one of the most brazen acts even by the standards of a party that has taken brazenness to unimagined levels, when the EC banned Verma from campaigning for his incendiary remarks, the BJP promptly nominated him to speak on the motion of thanks for the President’s pre-Budget address. And Verma used his speech not to talk of the budget, but to do this:

“Shaheen Bagh protest against the CAA is anti-national as the protesters demand for separation of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir from India. They want Jinnah’s azadi… This is not Rajiv Feroze Khan’s government. It is Narendra Modi’s government… CAA will not be rolled back.”

That is a Parliamentarian, son of a former chief minister of Delhi and also a minister in the Union cabinet, referring to a fellow Parliamentarian, tainting his parentage, and implying that his father was a Muslim. (Which, even granting for the sake of argument is true, which it isn’t, is not a crime or a fault — at least, not yet.)

Another Union minister, Prakash Javadekar, calls Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. Kejriwal walks straight into the unsubtle trap and in course of a town hall, talks of how he has built schools, tell me, am I a terrorist?; how he has built mohalla clinics, tell me, am I a terrorist?, and so on in that vein.

Rookie mistake, because he merely amplified an allegation so ridiculous it deserved to be mocked, not taken seriously and responded to. And that sprung the trap — Javadekar got to expand on his earlier throwaway statement, to run with it (while flanked by the state BJP chief and the sloganeering Thakur):

TimesNow, one of the BJP’s leading propaganda channels, was outraged by the use of the word “terrorist”. Not over Javadekar, though:

We have “proof”, says Javadekar, secure in the knowledge even in what is ostensibly a press conference, no one will ask him why in that case the Central government has taken no action, why it is allowing a proven terrorist to occupy the office of chief minister of the national capital. Not one reporter asked that blindingly obvious question — the statement, however, was carried in every paper, every site, on every channel.

It shouldn’t surprise you, though. Remember this? At a 2017 election rally in Palanpur, Gujarat, the Prime Minister of this country no less accused his predecessor of participating in a shadowy meeting with various senior Pakistani officials, and raised the bogey of a conspiracy. And Amit Shah promptly upped the ante and named Hamid Ansari — see the unsubtle dog whistle there? — as the vice president the PM did not name.

The sequel is equally worth recalling. The Congress raised its customary “uproar” in Parliament. The PM chose not to attend. And the speaker said this:

“All elections are over, the things that are said on the roads shall not come to Parliament…I am not allowing you to raise the issue,” Mahajan said

Yeah, sure, the PM said something that falls squarely within the definition of criminal defamation of a former PM, but hey, raat gayi baat gayi, come on now.

Meanwhile the party which, its chief claimed, was fighting on the planks of development, and security, and education, and health, kicked off February with the release of its second campaign video — one that raises, through clever juxtaposition of words and images, all the old bogeys: urban Naxals, rioting by Muslims, Pakistan… Scroll breaks it down for you frame by frame to underline the hate, the incitement.

“Teach a lesson to those who fear the rise of India,” the song says. “Give an answer, Delhi, to those who love Shaheen Bagh.”

The local unit of the BJP added another layer of vilification:

Consider those lines: “Why are the rapist-killers of Nirbhaya smiling/Who is it who is saving them?” Consider the calculated cynicism of a party that, knowing fully well that the rapists are running out the clock with appeal after appeal, and that the state government and its CM Kejriwal have no role to play in the process, still chose to peddle that line. (You could argue that the words don’t explicitly point to Kejriwal — they don’t have to, the always reliable, and reliably insane, Javadekar already made the connection:

And here, in the final lap of the election campaign, is the BJP’s ultimate weapon — a man who rose to power on the back of riots, a man whose first act on being gifted the chief minister’s post by Modi himself was to cancel approximately 20,000 criminal cases against himself and his fellow travellers, has entered the field to connect the dots: Shaheen Bagh. Biriyani (What on earth is Bisht’s obsession with biriyani anyway?). Riots. Rahul Gandhi. Pakistan. Terrorism. (All spliced in with misquotations and lies about what Dr Ambedkar said, and lies about what Modi’s government has accomplished):

Pakistan, which for the BJP is a much more reliable vote-getter than “development”, “education”, “health”, “peace” and all the rest of it, gets 7 mentions in the space of just 44 seconds (and then gets linked to Shaheen Bagh, and Kejriwal):

‘Is this the most communal campaign ever?’ is the theme of several editorials and opeds in the last few days. No. Every single campaign run by this party has been on these same, predictable lines: ratchet up the fear of some unnamed “others”; invoke a grab-bag of “enemies” including but not restricted to Muslims, urban Naxals and Pakistan; slander the opposition with allegations up to and including treason, all supposedly backed by “proof”…

What does it tell you about a party that, just three days after presenting a budget in the midst of a failing economy, has nothing to say about its plans to reverse the slowdown, its plans to create employment, to promote health and education, to raise farmers’ incomes, to address any of the multitude of ills the country faces today? What does it tell you of a party whose only message, its singular appeal to voters, rests on hate of some unnamed but terrifying “other”?

Speaking of journalism, here is an outstanding example of what depths it has sunk to. At a town hall, a journalist actually thinks this is worth asking. And — what is even worse — a politician, a sitting chief minister, instead of asking the journalist what this has to do with his fitness as a candidate and telling him that religion should not be misused for performative politics, actually obliges:

Remember how Modi and the rest keep harping on how the protests are “despite the government’s assurances”? Here is the latest: In Parliament today, the Home Ministry announced that there are no plans for a nationwide NRC till now. Watch Amit Shah, introducing the CAB, on the floor of the Rajya Sabha:

It will come, he says here. Not yet, says his ministry today — an assurance that means absolutely nothing because the NPR, with the additional questions as distinct from the 2011 form has already been rolled out (and the budget presented on February 1 has set aside Rs 4,568 crore for the exercise. And the NPR is the precursor of the NRC, vide the Citizenship Act of 2003, and vide Shah himself.

The only reason for this seeming “clarification” just now is to buttress the government’s claims that the concerns have been addressed, and also, importantly, because Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have already announced that they will not permit NPR within those states, and other states are also preparing similar announcements.

A government that does not know how to admit, let alone correct, an error is using the Delhi election campaign for two interconnected reasons: To use the smoke and mirrors of multiple statements to somehow validate its intentions, and by demonising the opponents of the CAA/NPR/NRC, to polarise the electorate and somehow hope that this polarisation will crystallise into success at the polls.

Will it work? I don’t know. I’d hope not — because “working”, in the sense of translating polarisation into electoral success, will mean a validation of the tactic, and we have far too many examples already of the immense harm such polarisation, industrialised and weaponised — as it is, and will continue to be — has caused.

I want to end this, though, with some things I found. Like this moment at Shaheen Bagh, when a Sikh group that has been actively engaged in helping the people of Kashmir showed up at the protest site in solidarity:

Or this enormous, response crowd at a rally in Madhubani, in Bihar, that turned out to protest the CAA/NPR/NRC:

Or this crowd that turned up at Kodungallur, a temple town in the Thrissur District of Kerala, to hear Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad speak (in Hindi, a language largely alien to the average Malayali, thus necessitating translation):

And then this speech, by TMC MP Mahua Moitra, in Parliament yesterday where she opposed the motion of thanks for the president’s pre-Budget speech. Click on the link, listen to the speech, it is worth your while:

I’ll leave you with this thought from Moitra’s speech:

“…because the people of India are on the streets today, and they are beyond your ability to silence”

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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Anatomy of an ‘unrest’

During my time away, a story that fascinated me — in a train-wreck kind of way, and as a cautionary tale of the danger of the media disseminating half-baked news — relates to the murder of one Paresh Mesta. The India Today channel and its consulting editor Shiv Aroor played a lead role in propagating the story; social media backlash then prompted Aroor to write an extended defense of his actions. Here it is, and it is worth reading in full as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the media in general, and TV news in particular.

The first four paras are an extended ‘woe is me’ pity-party aiming to paint himself as the victim, and an attempt to stake out the high moral ground. Skip lightly over those, and consider the real story, which begins with paragraph five and the tweet that started it all:

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WTFJH: Random links and an open thread

Today’s post is not thematic, but more in the nature of a scratch-pad, a compilation of stories that caught my eye over the past 24 hours.

#1. Muslims in Hyderabad set a temple on fire; dead cows were later found on the floor. The whole was captured on video, which was spread widely through social media channels. Only, none of this happened — the video, says Hyderabad police, is a fake. Ask yourself why this keeps happening. In this connection, here is a story out of West Bengal that talks of systematic plans to spread terror during the Navratri season. I haven’t seen this on other media platforms yet, and I can’t vouch for its accuracy — I saved it to my files only because the broad outlines seem familiar, part of a well-thumbed playbook.

#2. Bofors, that periodic preoccupation of the media, is back in the headlines at least in certain quarters. The latest on this is that the PAC has asked the Defense Ministry to trace and share all missing files related to the case. I just set a reminder on my calendar to check back on this in a month, the reminder to recur monthly, because for a long time now Bofors has felt to me more like a red herring to be kept on ice and periodically dragged across the media space whenever the narrative needs to be changed, whenever a distraction feels necessary. Like most people who have followed this story since 1990, I think it is time for some kind of closure. And what better time than now — the government, after all, has no stake in a cover-up; in fact, the reverse is true. So the case should move forward to a conclusion fairly soon. No?

And while on that, big news: the ED says it will summon Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and others on some unspecified date to probe their involvement in what is known as the Panama Papers scandal (A Guardian backgrounder, for those who came in late). It is good to see the ED move lightning fast on a major scam — after all, the story only broke in April 2016, and if some backward nations (Pakistan, to name one) have completed their probe and even sacked some of their highest office-bearers/politicians, what of that?

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