Sometimes, who says something is as important as what is being said — and the public utterances of former governor of, successively, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa and Meghalaya Satya Pal Malik falls in that category.
Malik, like so many others, has been a political chameleon, changing his colors to suit the landscape he has found himself in. Equally, it is true that while he has sailed across the political spectrum, he has been a member in good standing of the BJP since he joined the party in 2004, and has held a series of important posts in the party hierarchy. So much so, that the ‘high command’ hand-picked him for governor of J&K in the lead-up to the abrogation of Article 370. Having seen the party through the immediate aftermath of the revocation of special status to J&K, he was given the governorships of first Goa, then Meghalaya before eventually quitting public life in October 2022.
In early January 2022, he first blotted his copybook when he took the side of the farmers in the then-ongoing protests, and said that he had gone to see Modi to request him to heed the demands of the farmers. Malik said that when he told Modi over 500 farmers had died, Modi said, Malik quotes, “Did they die for me?”
“He has not appealed to take stay on his conviction. What kind of arrogance is this? You want favour. You want to continue as an MP and will also not go before the court,” he said, adding from where such arrogance comes from.
Amit Shah, speaking at News18’s India Rising program
First: Rahul Gandhi hasn’t said he wants to continue as MP. The BJP colluded with the courts and then used its clout in Parliament to get him (a) sentenced, (b) debarred and (c) kicked out of his allotted MP quarters. At no time during these farcical proceedings did RG say he wanted to continue as an MP.
If Shah, the vaunted BJP strategist, says now that RG should appeal, is he suggesting that the original court decision and the subsequent disqualification were wrong?
From a strategy point of view, if RG doesn’t appeal within the statutory 30 days, the BJP will find itself well and truly behind the eight-ball. Send him to jail, and you make a martyr out of him, plus give the combined opposition a cause to rally behind — a cause sufficiently emotive to draw the aam janta in.
Also, if he doesn’t appeal and the conviction stands, he cannot contest in 2024 — and with that, poof goes the BJP’s main talking point: That RG is an entitled ‘shehzada’ who is desperate to become PM, and that his attacks on Modi are fueled by this ambition.
From a realpolitik point of view, I find myself wishing that RG refrains from appealing, and forces the BJP to either put up — send him to jail — or lose face by not following through on its own strategy.
While on this, much of the commentary around the RG disqualification is that it was done to keep him from raking up the Adani issue in Parliament. An old-school BJP leader from the south, who was part of the Vajpayee-Advani era and who hates what the Modi/Shah combine has done to the party, raised a different point during a chat last evening.
“What is the point in disqualifying Rahul — he will only raise the issue out on the streets,” the leader pointed out. “What the party wanted was ways to stall the Budget Session, ensure that no discussion took place. Have you read the Budget? This is the last one before the elections — and it is so bad that you can’t afford discussion. Have you heard Modi or Shah or any of the others talking up the Budget, like they usually do? No, right? That should tell you what the real goal is — RG just happened to give them an issue; the machinery did the rest, fast-tracking the case through the court, getting the right judgment, and throwing him out of Parliament, knowing that the Opposition would latch on to that, cause a fuss in Parliament, and give the Speaker a chance to stop all proceedings.”
It’s an interesting hypothesis — and the fact that no one in the regime is talking of all the good things in the Budget, even in the midst of a key election campaign, seems to underline the point.
Whatever the reason, the latest masterstroke appears to have boomeranged, big time. And as each day goes by without RG and his lawyers approaching the higher courts, the BJP’s stress levels go up.
Keep an eye on how this plays out — it promises to be illuminating.
PostScript: In the press conference that got this particular ball rolling, RG kept asking the question: Who gave Adani Rs 20,000 crore? I pointed out in an earlier post that all indications are that something big is brewing, and that someone has been whispering in the right ears.
Kejriwal just upped the ante, changing RG’s question into a statement: That Modi is Adani’s financier, and that Adani is merely a front for the prime minister. What is significant is that he didn’t do it during a random media interaction, or on the stump — the Delhi CM’s statement was made in the Assembly, ensuring that it goes straight into the official records.
The silence greeting Kejriwal’s direct accusation speaks volumes. And the recent statements by first RG, then Kejriwal, is the clearest indication yet that someone on the inside is ready to spill the beans.
On 12 March, PM Narendra Modi made his fifth official visit to Karnataka to announce schemes, lay foundation stones, and inaugurate various things. And in course of a public meeting, pulled out one of his greatest hits – to wit, that his life was in danger.
The Congress, he said, is dreaming of digging his grave. Little do they realise, he added, that he has a suraksha kavach of 140 crore people. Which 140 crore people would that be? As per the Election Commission, a total of 22.9 crore people voted for the BJP in the 2019 elections. But then again, small mercies that he only invoked 140 crore people – back in the day, at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, he had claimed that 600 crore people – almost five times the population of India – had voted for him.
That aside, it is odd that the best protected prime minister in Indian history is forever whining about imminent threats to his life – threats that appear to materialise every time there is a major election at the state or central level. He is guarded by a 3000-strong group of well-trained and heavily armed commandos, at a cost to the national exchequer of Rs 433.5 crore as per the latest budget, and yet…
That Sunday, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men saved Modi from a fate worse than death – to wit, the sight of a black T-shirt. The police stopped a mother and her young son from entering the venue of his public meeting because the boy was wearing a black T-shirt. The mother took off her son’s T-shirt, then put it back on once they were within the grounds – only for the police to come rushing up and insist that she take it off again. The mother complied, the son stayed topless throughout the rally, and the delicate sensibilities of this darling of 140 crore people was not bruised. News reports quote the police as saying they “could not take chances with protocol”.
On that same day, Modi held a “road show”, featuring enthusiastic crowds in serried ranks throwing handfuls of flower petals on the dearly beloved leader. Colour me cynical, but I find it odd that hundreds of people brought the exact same flowers to shower on their idol. And, odder still, that the SPG walked along quite calmly beside Modi’s Mercedes Maybatch, both they and the otherwise paranoid Modi seemingly sanguine about unvetted crowds in such close proximity to the protectee and worse, blithely chucking stuff at him.
Anyway. During this latest trip to Karnataka, Modi “inaugurated” the Mysore-Bangalore highway. Which surprised me somewhat, because back in January I had taken that same highway – which begins immediately after the metro terminal at Peenya (Correction: The wife pointed out that it was at Kengeri, not Peenya, that we took the highway) – while traveling by road to Kozhikode via Mysore.
It wasn’t complete then – and this incompleteness causes problems, because one minute you are blithely driving along at about 100k and the next, you are squeezed off the highway at a point where work is still on, and funnelled into a narrow service road further choked by parked JCBs and other paraphernalia of the work in progress. When complete, it has the potential to cut travel times to Mysore – not from four hours to one hour as Nitin Gadkari, in an excess of enthusiasm, claims but at least by half, because it allows you to avoid the various smaller towns that dot the Mysore-Bangalore stretch. But it wasn’t complete then, so it took me a little over three hours, and it isn’t complete now, when Modi decided to “inaugurate” it and “dedicate it to the nation” (while on which, how many national highways are there that are not for the nation?).
Almost immediately after the “inauguration”, the highway has run into problems. Locals find that they have to pay toll, to the tune of Rs 135, to access the highway to go to their nearby offices – and they need to access the highway because the service road is non-existent in parts, and choked in other parts. The state road transport corporation has hiked passenger fares by Rs 15-17 on that stretch to recover the toll charges. And chunks of the newly built highway have cracked, creating an obstacle course for vehicular traffic.
But Modi got to “inaugurate” it at the country’s expense, and to make a pitch for why the BJP should be voted to power in the upcoming Karnataka elections – which was the objective anyway. And that reminds me of Judge Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court.
On 12 June 1975, Judge Sinha found Indira Gandhi guilty of election malpractice, and set aside her election to the Lok Sabha from the Rae Bareili constituency (Text of the judgment here). The losing candidate Raj Narain, who had petitioned the court, had included a laundry list of complaints, of which the judge found just cause in two line items. The first of these is relevant to Modi’s shenanigans:
The court found that the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police of Rae Bareili and the Home Secretary of the government of Uttar Pradesh had arranged for a dais, loudspeakers, and barricades to be set up for Indira Gandhi’s public meeting, and also arranged for the police force to be deployed on security duty in connection with her election campaign on February 1, and again on February 25, of 1971. The use of public servants for party propaganda purposes, the court found, amounts to corrupt practice under Section 123(7) of the Representation of the People Act.
The judgment, read today, sounds so quaint – because for the last nine years, Narendra Modi has been perpetuating one blatant, never-ending corrupt practice on the people of India, and on its laws. Wearing his prime minister’s hat, he flies every other day to whichever part of the country where an election is imminent and, in the guise of announcing schemes (Rs 10,863 crore worth on January 21; Rs 16,000 crore worth on March 12) and laying foundation stones for projects that never see the light of day and inaugurating half-complete public works, does party propaganda – in the process deploying all the resources of the respective state administrations and the police force in service of his party. And the national exchequer – which cannot find money to pay teachers, doctors, MNREGA workers, farmers and such their dues — pays for all of this.
This is Modi’s singular achievement: he has so industrialized, so normalized corrupt practices that we can no longer smell it even when he rubs our collective nose in it.
IN November last year, a couple wrote to the President of India seeking permission to commit suicide because they were fed up of paying bribes.
Onthe last day of December 2022, Karnataka contractor TN Prasad killed himself. He had been contracted to complete a smart city project; the government didn’t release his dues; he had to take loans to keep the project going and was being hard-pressed by loan sharks.
His death was in vain — as recently as this week, the contractors’ association was threatening a mass protest, alleging that the government had not yet cleared a sum of around Rs 22,000 crore owed to them as dues.
On January 2, a businessman shot himself dead in his car on the outskirts of Bangalore, leaving behind a suicide note blaming BJP MLA Aravind Limbavali and five others.
On March 12, a farmer who was fed up with the incessant demands for commissions brought his cattle to offer up as bribe in lieu of the money he did not have.
Two days earlier, on March 10, a bank manager in Udipi district of Karnataka hanged himself. In his suicide note, he named BJP leader Yashpal Suvarna and other officials and said they had been pressurizing him to recover a loan given to a certain Riyaz.
Contractors who win public works tenders tend to be affiliated to the ruling party of the day. Karnataka’s contractors’ association is, thus, packed with BJP supporters. And yet, as far back as November 2021, the association wrote an official letter to PM Modi, alleging that various ministers were demanding extortionate bribes. In April 2022, they reiterated these charges and threatened to stop work if their complaints were not addressed.
On April 12, 2022, contractor Santosh K Patil, who had accused Karnataka minister KS Eshwarappa of demanding 40% commission for a contract, was found dead in a hotel room. In his suicide note, Patil named Eashwarappa as being solely responsible for his death.
In August 2022, they said that the PM had not taken any action and that they would be writing to him again to remind him of his promise to root out corruption. The working president of the association came out in public to say that he had documents and audio tapes as proof that the government was demanding bribes; he even released one such audio tape.
As recently as January 2023, the contractors’ body staged a protest against the “40% commission” they accused the government of taking from them and demanded a judicial probe. Meanwhile, a body representing 13000 schools in the state openly accused the state government of wholesale corruption.
The ‘Karnataka corruption’ folder in my Evernote is crammed with similar clips, but you get the point – there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there is a raging fire under all that smoke. You don’t write to the Prime Minister accusing members of his own party of corruption unless you can back up your words.
The only surprising element in this story is the contractors’ naïve belief that writing to Modi would bring an end to corruption. This is the BJP Mark II – and it is common knowledge that under Modi and Shah, every BJP-led state government has fiscal targets to meet, a fixed percentage of which has to be sent to the party’s main coffers, which Shah manages.
Given the serious nature of the charges, though, and given too that the charges were being brought against the government by people supportive of the party in power, you would expect at least a token inquiry, a mandatory ‘clean chit’. But no – all that happened was that the president of the contractors’ association, and four senior office-bearers, were arrested on the basis of a complaint lodged by Karnataka minister Munirathna Naidu, who filed both civil and criminal defamation cases against the contractors.
Out on bail and nothing fazed, association president Kempanna said he had a letter signed by over 200 contractors from Kolar, containing specifics of bribes sought and received by Munirathna – the district-in-charge of Kolar — and his agents.
Munirathna is an interesting case study of how the BJP operates. In March 2018 – in the run-up to the state assembly elections of that year – the CID named Munirathna, the then-sitting MLA, and others in a chargesheet relating to fake BBMP bills amounting to Rs 1500 crore. As per the chargesheet Munirathna, a civil contractor back in 2008-09, was found to have colluded with BBMP officials to swindle money for non-existent, or sub-standard, road work. (Here, note that the case relates to a period 10 years before the elections – a classic BJP technique).
On May 11, 2018, just days before the state assembly elections, Karnataka police registered a criminal case against 14 people, including Munirathna, in connection with the recovery of over 10,000 fake voter ID cards. The election in his constituency was postponed; when it was finally held, Munirathna won anyway – as a Congress candidate.
Remember that in 2018, the BJP fell short of a majority by 8 seats; the JDS and Congress came together to form a government and, a little under a year later, the BJP engineered the mass defection of 17 Congress MLAs that resulted in the collapse of the Congress-JDS government and the formation of a BJP government under BS Yediyurappa? Munirathna was one of the 17 Congress MLAs who turned coat and was rewarded with a ministry (of horticulture) – and lo, not only have the pending cases against him vanished, he remains untouched despite repeated, public, accusations of rampant corruption.
It is the standard BJP playbook – use investigating agencies against Opposition MLAs and MPs as the stick, hold out the carrot of ministerial berths if they change sides, and when they do, make the previous criminal activities vanish.
It is not that corruption did not exist prior to Modi taking charge at the Centre — I’ve been a journalist for 33 years now and I can’t recall a single government, at the Centre or in the states, that was totally free from corruption.
The difference, today, is that corruption has not just been industrialized, it has even been normalized.
As recently as 2014, public charges of corruption were enough to turn the electorate away from the Dr Manmohan Singh-led government and vote for Modi on the basis of his promise that he would rid the country of corruption.
And today? The Madal Virupakshappa story is illuminative. The MLA’s son is caught red-handed taking a bribe of Rs 40 lakh; a subsequent raid unearths around Rs 9 crore in cash from the MLA’s home. And what results? First, the MLA goes “missing”. He surfaces after five days with an anticipatory bail order — and BJP workers take him home in celebratory procession, with garlands and fireworks and slogans, as if he were a conquering hero back from the wars. Meanwhile, the concerned investigating officer has been abruptly changed, and a court has handed down a gag order barring the media from publishing “defamatory content”.
The satirical Twitter handle Dr Medusa recently produced this brilliant take on the old Nirma washing powder ad that summarises the BJP modus operandi. The BRS and the Congress latched on and have taken to greeting Amit Shah with Nirma posters.
And that brings us to Amit Shah – who, shortly before Modi’s March 12 visit to Karnataka, was in Bangalore to address a rally (It was his fourth visit to the poll-bound state since December last year).
At the rally, he produced this gem: Put your trust in Modi and Yediyurappa, he said, because only a BJP government can rid the state of corruption. (He also loudly accused Congress and JDS of being responsible for the rampant corruption in the state).
The BJP has been ruling the state since 2019; the serial accusations of corruption against the Basavaraj Bommai government have been constant and deafeningly loud – and Shah in one breath accepts that there is corruption, blames the opposition for it, and promises that his party, which is currently in power, will clean up the state of the corruption of his party.
The breathtaking audacity of the man is matched only by the cupidity of the faithful who, for whatever inducement, flock to these rallies and cheer such idiocies to the echo.
AND that brings us to the strange case of Lingayat icon BS Yediyurappa, who after the 2018 elections had served as chief minister for a grand total of two and a half days and, a year later, orchestrated the defections from the Congress that saw the BJP topple the Congress-JDS government and assume power. (In an interview at the time, he said ‘Operation Kamala’, the name given to the toppling project, was not wrong; that it was a part of the democratic process.)
His administration wasn’t bad, as state governments go – though he pandered to the base with the draconian cow-slaughter bill his party pushed through, he was quick off the blocks during the pandemic, setting up a 10,000 bed Covid hospital in Bangalore and smaller such centers elsewhere – the first state to do so. He announced – and delivered – compensation to BPL families that had lost a member to Covid; Karnataka also became the first state in India to reserve positions in government service for transgender communities.
The problem was, he was no fan of the more extreme avatars of Hindutva, and had no patience with Pramod Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene and other “fringe” outfits that sought to keep the communal pot on a constant boil. Also, while being no saint as far as institutionalized corruption goes, BSY took care to ensure that rent-seeking was neither excessive nor overt.
Predictably, this led to dissension – and also to pronounced irritation in Delhi, particularly felt by the Modi-Shah combine. The playbook kicked in – party members were encouraged to voice their dissent openly; the Income Tax department carried out raids against members of his family and close aides including his personal assistant; as per usual, unnamed sources told the media that Rs 750 crore had been recovered; Modi and Shah kept summoning him to Delhi to “discuss” affairs in the state… until it all got too much for the aging leader who, in a tearful speech, resigned on 26 July 2021.
A year later, he announced that he was retiring from electoral politics and that his son BY Vijayendra would contest the Shikaripura assembly constituency that had been a BSY bastion until then.
The BJP “high command” wasn’t having any of this. The main reason for turning up the heat on BSY, in the first place, was that Modi and Shah are extremely uncomfortable with any regional leader who is popular in his own right – and BSY is an icon for the influential Lingayat community in Karnataka. They prefer non-entities who depend on Modi to win elections and are beholden to him for their positions in power. They calculated that BSY’s successor Basavaraj Bommai, also a Lingayat and far more pliant, would seamlessly assume leadership of the community.
So they kept up the pressure on BSY – as recently as September 2022, the Karnataka High Court restored a complaint of corruption against BSY, his son and other family members – a complaint that had been made earlier, too, only for the governor to refuse sanction to prosecute.
And then, as the election cycle neared, reality bit the reigning duo in Delhi. The thing about Modi and Shah is that they are clueless when it comes to regional politics, and adamant in their belief that the first item in their playbook – communalism – is a ‘one size fits all states’ tactic.
In this connection, recall that Bommai’s tenure has been marked by the furor over schoolgirls wearing hijabs – we recently learned that the Bommai government has spent Rs 88 lakh on two lawyers defending the ban in the courts; by a BJP MP getting offended by dome-shaped structures on top of a Mysore bus stand which, he said, reminded him of mosques; that right-wing groups protested in Kalaburgi, their sentiments reportedly hurt by the fact that the railway station there had been painted green; by various groups that want the name ‘Salaam Aarti’, which refers to a practise initiated by Tipu Sultan, changed; by MP and terror convict Pragya Singh Thakur, out on bail for reasons of “ill health” being well enough to come down to the state the day after Christmas last year and exhort her audience to keep their knives sharpened so they can chop vegetables and heads with equal felicity…
So yeah, keeping the communal pot boiling is the only ‘strategy’ the BJP leadership knows – and this is just the beginning; the coming weeks and months will see much more of the same, only more vicious.
While they don’t know any other way to do realpolitik, there is however an increasing awareness in the BJP leadership – read Modi/Shah – that their tactic of trying to make the pliant Bommai the new Lingayat icon is not working. The influential Lingayat seers have made no secret of their continued support for BSY and their indifference, even contempt, for Bommai.
And so Modi and Shah did what they always do – a sharp U-turn. At a rally in Lingayat stronghold Bidar earlier this month, Amit Shah said with a total absence of irony that the Congress had disrespected various of their leaders from the state, and that the party should learn from Modi’s treatment of BSY how to treat senior leaders.
This reminds me – a friend on Twitter recently said, in response to a post of mine, that “When the BJP leaders are accusing, they are actually confessing”; he was bang on the money.
The lesson everyone is supposed to learn likely derives from a Modi rally in late February where, in Shivamogga, where he gushed about BSY, asked the crowd to flash their mobile phone lights in honor of the former CM, and actually stood up to applaud when BSY, celebrating his 80th birthday, finished his speech. It was, according to all published reports, quite a love fest – and it was very clear who was doing the wooing, and who was being wooed. And then there is this image, snapped as the two leaders arrived for the inauguration of Shivamogga airport:
This is the same Modi who, during the Independence Day celebrations earlier this year, forgot – or more likely, ignored – protocol and walked down the red carpet ahead of President Draupadi Murmu; he was about to climb the steps to the dais, still leading from the front, when a protocol officer stopped him and gestured to the President to take rightful precedence.
The internet is replete with images and videos of him pushing others — including Bill Gates on one occasion — out of the frame so he can hog the limelight. But now he needs Yediyurappa’s help to try and win Karnataka, where the party is buffeted by multiple issues including — surprisingly for a party that prides itself on discipline — a groundswell of dissent. Earlier this week, thus, the BJP canceled its planned ‘Sankalp Yatra’ and roadshow in the face of protests by its own party workers.
Hence Modi’s refurbished affection for the Lingayat leader. Modi will hold his hand, walk with him, applaud him — until the elections are over and the results are in.
That is Modi for you. He will kowtow to anyone, abase himself before anyone if he needs that person to help keep him in power (In course of a trip to Mandya earlier this month Modi greeted, with folded hands, a gent by the name of Mallikarjun who is better known under his professional sobriquet, ‘Fighter Ravi’).
And by the same token, once he has no further use for you, he will dump you – brutally, publicly, without a qualm. (And as is the case with BSY, if he dumps you and then finds a use for you, he will whip out the pom-poms and be your most ardent cheerleader – till his need is fulfilled). Ask LK Advani.
PostScript: My “silence” of the last few days prompted a couple of friends to write in, asking if all was well and why I hadn’t written anything lately.
The ‘blog’, in its original avatar, used to be a place to capture thoughts in the moment; short posts were the way to go. (And I think it still is).
But I restarted this in order to be able to write what I want to; more importantly, to write thoughts that I know will not be published in mainstream media. So for now, most posts will be in essay format — and I can’t be doing an essay a day; not if I have to earn a living.
The idea is to write an essay at roughly about once a week, each dedicated to a particular theme. And once done, to follow up with short posts and the occasional smaller essay on the same theme.
For instance, this one is on the Karnataka elections, and the fun and games have just gotten underway. So from here on, when news items on the impending elections surface, I’ll do shorter round-ups and even the occasional short take. And so on, using the long essay to set a theme up, and then following through with shorter posts.
So that is that. See you in a week or so; take care, stay safe.
We live at a time when the government, the ruling party, and its adherents have institutionalised, and weaponised, intolerance. We live, therefore, in an age where every citizen who believes in the Constitution and the fundamental values it enshrines must resist, by any and all means; an age where zero tolerance of intolerance should be the norm.
I agree. The tricky part is not in accepting that resistance is vital, it is necessary, even mandatory; the tricky part is when we begin considering what means we will adopt, and what we will not. “By any and all means” seems fair enough, until we consider the implications of those words. And the episode involving comedian Kunal Kamra and that alleged journalist, Arnab Goswami, is a good lens for such consideration.
Briefly, for the record, on January 25 Kamra found himself on the same flight as Goswami, and did this. As Kamra says in a statement — which no member of the airline staff has denied — he questioned a TV anchor who has, repeatedly, demonized him in absentia as part of some mythical ‘tukde tukde gang’; he obeyed existing rules; he returned to his seat when he was asked to do so.
What Kamra did is a mild version of a tactic Goswami and his channel’s reporters have repeatedly done to others — invading their privacy, ignoring repeated requests that they be left alone, using their victims’ unwillingness to talk to further vilify them. As for example, this clip, which is absolutely on point with what Kamra did (except that here, the reporter ignores not only her victim’s request to be left alone, but also repeatedly ignores the airline staff telling her to go back to her seat, and even ignores an announcement made on the PA system):
Before going further, pause a moment to consider the language used by the anchor — who, incidentally, is not merely the head of his channel, but the elected president of the governing board of the News Broadcasters Federation, the body that sets and enforces standards for television. Note that he is talking about a politician, a former deputy chief minister of a state, and the son of a very senior politician who has been both chief minister and union minister.
That is how a journalist, an editor, the head of the broadcaster’s association, refers to Tejaswi Yadav. “Lalu’s brat”.
Anyway. Kamra’s post went viral. At the time, I said on Twitter that I disagreed with the tactic — my reasoning being that if you descend to the levels of Goswami and his ilk, you legitimise behaviour that you consider obnoxious in others.
Others — including many who I respect — however argued that Goswami only got what was coming to him; that it was absolutely fair to use his own tactics against him. Anivar Aravind even mapped it to the use of the technique known in protest circles as counter-speech, which the Dangerous Speech Project defines as “any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it”.
But then, where does that stop? The BJP employs thugs armed with iron rods and bottles of acid to assault students who are peacefully protesting — do we get to do the same? I am no “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” Gandhian — far from it. Nor am I staking out a “holier than thou” moral high ground — in fact, several of the people who have held that Goswami got what was coming to him are people I look up to, admire, and try to emulate.
Yet, something within me rebels at the thought of descending to the depths the likes of Goswami have plumbed. I guess this is one of those situations where we each of us do what we can, how we must — and if we don’t agree with each other’s tactics, we at the least refrain from taking each other on and in the process, losing sight of the common enemy.
Kamra subsequently put out an extended video explaining his stand, and providing context. It is worth watching for the way it calls out Goswami’s many acts of omission and commission:
The ban is illegal, said Arun Kumar, director General of the DGCA in an interview to Huffington Post. Shortly thereafter, the DGCA via its official social media handle issued a “clarification” stating that the ban was kosher. What is worth noting about this clarification is that it is not on the letterhead of the governing body, nor is it signed by any identified official — in other words, it is not worth the paper it is printed on.
In any case, this is not a ‘he said/the other guy said’ situation. The DGCA’s rules relating to the process to be followed in cases of misbehaviour by passengers is clear; Indian Express has an explainer; it was posted on social media by several people, including Gul Panag, herself a certified pilot. Even a cursory reading shows that due process has been ignored right down the line, that the action taken against Kamra is in complete violation of the norms.
Breaking, at 5:50 PM: The IndiGo pilot in charge of the plane where the incident took place says he did not find the incident reportable in any way. Remember, action against a passenger has to be taken on the basis of a complaint by the staff.
And yet, IndiGo suspended Kamra from flying for six months. And, more bizarrely, GoAir, SpiceJet and Air India followed suit — though there is no provision in the DGCA rules permitting an airline to ban a passenger for a misdemeanor, assuming it was one, committed on another airline.
Which brings up the biggest issue with this incident. This:
That is the minister for civil aviation “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban for an incident that happened on an IndiGo flight. It is worth noting that GoAir, SpiceJet (which took absolutely no action when Pragya Thakur, MP and an undertrial in the 2008 Malegaon bombings where 10 people were killed and 82 injured, did this) and Air India, while announcing their own bans, dutifully tagged the minister on their announcements.
In how many ways is this ridiculous? Firstly, a Union minister actively, publicly involving himself in a disciplinary matter that is merely the concern of the airline in question. Secondly, the minister “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban — which is clearly illegal. Most importantly, the alacrity with which a central minister jumps to the defence of a television anchor — proof, if proof were in fact needed, that Goswami is not a journalist, but an important cog in the government’s propaganda machine.
The story, which began as a question of whether it is legitimate to use on Goswami the same weapons he has used on so many others, has now morphed into a much larger issue: It is not about the incident so much as it is about the patently illegal, clearly dictatorial abuse of state power.
And it will likely blow up. Activist Saket Gokhale has already — smartly — filed an RTI petition demanding that Air India show the documentation based on which it imposed a ban on Kamra. This will put the airline in a legal bind; I will be surprised if it does not end up as a court case, where Kamra is in a position to claim damages.
Ironically, this morning I woke up to the news that IndiGo, the airline where all this started, suffered its 22nd mid-air snag in two years. The story, which details the mechanics behind why such incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency, also says this: The DGCA, which had earlier given a January 2020 deadline for making the necessary technical corrections, has extended the deadline to end-May.
In other words the DGCA knows of the issue, it has prescribed the corrective, it has given the airline time for remedial action, and it has with no reason ascribed further extended that deadline, in the process risking the lives of passengers. While the same DGCA is scrambling to justify the same airline taking punitive action against a comedian on the grounds of putting passengers’ lives at risk.
In passing, the tactics used repeatedly by Goswami, and other propaganda channels, merits a closer look. And that will be my post for tomorrow. For now, a quick round up of some other issues that are worth recording, if only to maintain this chronicle of our daily descent into a state of undeclared, but very real, Emergency.
The Election Commission, which is mandated among other things to monitor and enforce the Model Code of Conduct governing election campaigns, has examined the case of Union Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP Member of Parliament Parvesh Verma, both of whom indulged in documented hate speech and calls for violence, and decided that they can continue to campaign.
That is not how the EC puts it. Per its statement, Thakur and Verma have been “removed from the list of star campaigners” — which on the face of it seems to indicate action has been taken, but in fact means nothing. A designated “star campaigner” has his expenses borne by the party; if you are not on the list, you can still campaign, provided the expense is borne by the candidate himself.
Hate speech has consequences. Here is one such: A young man from Gujarat says that if he is asked to shoot the anti-nationals at JNU, he will not hesitate. Goli maro saalon ko, goes the chant led by a Union minister, with absolutely no consequences. Happy to oblige, says a bigoted young man who, in a better-ordered world, would have been a well-educated, productive member of society.
On the subject of candidates having to pay for Thakur to campaign, remember, this is the BJP — by a distance the richest party in the country, with more than enough funds to underwrite each of its candidates in an election it is desperately trying to win. Sure, there are caps on the expense an individual candidate can incur, but how hard is it to work around that? Not very.
And that brings us to how the BJP got rich in the first place. Nitin Sethi, one of the pitifully few remaining journalists with a spine, a conscience, and the skill to dig deep and hard, is in the middle of a brilliant series of articles examining the colossal scam that is the government’s electoral bonds scheme (which, in passing, the SC has been consistently delaying petitions challenging it). The series in its entirety is here; below is a shortened list of the stories that are central to the scam. They are not just worth reading, they are stories you must read, because these are the stories the noise surrounding us is meant to distract from:
The Finance Ministry allowed anonymous donors to donate expired political bonds to an unnamed party in May 2018, against the background of the Karnataka elections, and in the process violated rules relating to money laundering. Remember this is a government that made its anti-corruption crusade a central plank of its electoral strategy, and continues to rail against money-laundering while promising to bring back funds stashed abroad.
An extensively documented, and well explained, story centering on various documents obtained by transparency activist Lokesh Batra, that chronicles the lies and deceit practised at the very highest levels of this government.
A story that details how the Law Ministry, no less, told the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office that the electoral bonds scheme was illegal, and how that advice was ignored while the FM and PM went ahead with the scheme anyway.
The electoral bonds scheme is supposed to allow individuals and institutions to contribute funds to political parties under conditions of strict anonymity. This story details how the State Bank of India, through which electoral bonds are sold, violated the anonymity clause, routinely funneled information to the government about who was purchasing bonds, and repeatedly obfuscated or downright lied about it in response to RTI inquiries.
Corruption on a colossal scale is bad enough; this story takes it one notch higher to show you that you — the taxpayer — is the one paying for all this. That is, a government we elected almost entirely based on its promise to end the “endemic corruption of the Congress” (none of those charges have been proved, by the way) has not only institutionalized corruption, it has done so in such a way that it enjoys the loot, and you pay to facilitate the government’s corruption. (This tweet shows you what it means)
I’ll end this round up with an old Nitin Sethi thread that explains how dangerous this scheme is, over and above the obvious corruption it facilitates.
I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again: Journalists like Nitin Sethi, who have both the ability and the courage to report and write, in such detail, stories that expose corruption leading all the way up the ladder to Narendra Modi himself — and to write such stories at a time when any questioning of this government is met with retributive action — are national treasures we should value and cherish. And if and when it becomes necessary, protect.
It should be painfully obvious by now that the government is unraveling. It has ruined the economy. It has weaponised corruption on a scale previously unimaginable. It has vitiated the social/cultural fabric of the country. It has corrupted beyond redemption our main sources of information. It has waged and continues to wage war on various blocks of citizens: Muslims, yes, but also tribals, Dalits, the student community, women… on virtually every single group other than its core base of bloodthirsty bigots.
Meanwhile, in Bidar, eastern Karnataka, a charge of sedition has been filed against a school that attempted to teach young children the law, and related issues, about the CAA. Read that again — a school attempted to educate young children on the issue roiling the country today, and is therefore facing punitive action.
Look at the image fronting this story: Minors, being interrogated by the police, without their parents being present. That is a Muslim school. In Karnataka. Where, elsewhere, a Karnataka BJP MLA – a man elected, and sworn, to represent all his constituents – says he will cut off all facilities for Muslims.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court, no less, has granted bail to 17 persons convicted in the burning alive of 33 Muslims in Sardarpura, as part of the post-Godhra riots. The SC has asked moved them from Gujarat to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. The SC has asked local authorities to ensure that the convicts now out on bail engage in “spiritual works”. The SC has asked Madhya Pradesh authorities to finding them jobs! Even Kafka’s imagination never stretched this far.
The vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha has called for the forced sterilisation of Christians and Muslims. The lunatic fringe? Think again. Remember that the RSS has called for a law on population control. Remember too that Narendra Modi, soon after taking office for a second term, called for population control as an “act of patriotism”. And captive media channels and their propagandist anchors helped maintain the drumbeat. What Bhagwat and Modi did was float early trial balloons. Then the stormtroopers take over and up the ante — that is how fascism always works.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has this for his “Muslim brothers”:
In my previous post, I had detailed my belief that we have officially become a fascist state, and listed the symptoms. Revisit it now, and see how many boxes we have ticked in just the last 48 hours or so.
The one silver lining in all of this is the resistance. People’s protests, yes, but also official resistance. As for example: In Kerala, Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan provided a lesson in the value of knowing your Constitution, and the obligations it imposes on various branches of the government, when he made Governor Arif Mohammed Khan read out, in course of his pre-Budget exercise, a segment that expressed the government’s opposition to the CAA. I noticed that when the news broke, the usual suspects condemned it as yet another example of Kerala’s lawlessness.
Try harder. A governor’s pre-budget speech is a Constitutional obligation wherein he announces the policies, and intent, of the government. He is, in other words, speaking on behalf of the state government. If the state government is opposed to a particular policy — in this case, the CAA — and has decided to resist it as part of its official policy, then the Governor in his address is duty-bound to say so.
It’s an object lesson in the value of knowing the Constitution, of being aware of the rules, and of using these to resist egregiously iniquitous policies the Centre seeks to impose.
Another state government, another act of resistance: The Pune police has refused to hand over to the NIA papers relating to the Bhima-Koregaon violence of January 2, 2018. Remember that no sooner had NCP chief Sharad Pawar written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackery asking that the case be reopened, Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah passed orders transferring the case to the NIA. This, then, is the state’s pushback.
I had intended, today, to do a post on Goswami, and by extension on the techniques of propaganda being used at industrial strength by this government. But this post has already become too long; I’ll leave that theme for tomorrow.
It is worth mentioning, in this context, that today the JMI students had gathered outside Gate No: 7 to remember Gandhi, and to mourn his martyrdom.
The man, who says his name is ‘Rambakht Gopal’ — he has since been identified, and is believed to be a member of the Bajrang Dal — held the gun, he held the trigger — but Modi, Shah, Thakur, Verma and the rest of the hate-filled lot that seek to ruin this country put that gun there, and should be called out for it. Below, a longer video of the arrest:
Watch how unruffled he is, how brazenly he fires with police barely 20 meters away (one of his slogans is ‘Delhi Police Zindabad’) and how calmly he gives himself up to the police finally. The body language spells out one thing, and one thing only: a sense of impunity, a knowledge that he will be taken care of.
Update 5:30 PM: The terrorist’s Facebook page has been abruptly deleted (Archive here). Begs the question — how? He is currently in police custody. So either the police are allowing him internet access to erase his tracks, or he has someone on the outside prepped to cover his tracks for him.
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.
“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.
There are times when I suspect that more people cite Orwell than have actually read Orwell. (One of those times occurred during my recent trip, which is what put me in mind of this). Anyway. Consider this post the Cliffs Notes edition of Orwell’s 1984. And it begins with an extended passage that should remind you of a bitter, angry old man and his myriad minions currently going around the country making sulphurous speeches.
On a scarlet-draped platform an orator of the Inner Party, a small lean man with disproportionately long arms and a large bald skull over which a few lank locks straggled, was haranguing the crowd. A little Rumpeltstiltskin figure, contorted with hatred, he gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other, enormous at the end of a bony arm, clawed the air menacingly above his head.
His voice, made metallic by the amplifiers, boomed forth an endless catalog of atrocities, massacres, deportations, lootings, rapings, torture of prisoners, bombing of civilians, lying propaganda, unjust aggressions, broken treaties.
It was almost impossible to listen to him without being first convinced and then maddened. At every few moments the fury of the crowd boiled over and the voice of the speaker was drowned by a wild beast-like roaring that rose uncontrollably from thousands of throats. The most savage yells of all came from the schoolchildren. The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand.
He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous confusion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work!
There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.
That is a detailed description of the climax of Hate WeekOn March 13, 2019, what the Election Commission of India announced was not an election schedule, but a 72-day-long Hate Week led by a man who, five years ago, sold a message of hope, of rejuvenation, of regeneration and today, after five years in office, has nothing left to sell but hate; a man who has no snake oil left to offer, only distilled venom.
I met with a few folks during my travels. It was supposed to be down-time, after a hectic schedule and very little sleep: Just a group of friendly acquaintances drawn from diverse backgrounds, getting together over chilled beer in a cool, dark bar while outside, Bombay baked. And for about 20 minutes, that is exactly what it was: a refreshing interlude, a chance to catch up, to exchange notes on what we each had been up to. And then one asked, “So what do you make of the elections? Who do you think will win?” And with that, the evening turned poisonous.
The horrible thing abut the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion that could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.
In the earlier segment from 1984, note the reference to Goldstein? Orwell created, in Emmanuel Goldstein, the prototypical, infinitely malleable strawman for all seasons, for all reasons. Here he is:
As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed onto the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counterrevolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding place in Oceania itself.
We have our ‘Party’ — it is called Hindutva. We have our Two Minutes Hate — the speeches of Modi and Shah and the channels that relentlessly broadcast them; the ‘Prime Time’ hate fest underwritten by members of the ‘Party’ and carried out by the loyal foot soldiers.
And we have our own Emmanuel Goldstein, plural — a revolving cast of characters who sometimes wear the Muslim skull cap and at other times the ‘Nehru cap’; who are rumoured to be lurking in ‘Lutyens’ and at other times can be found in the ‘lobby’. They shape-shift endlessly, sometimes appearing on your screens during prime Hate Hour as pseudo-intellectuals, sometimes as ‘sickulars’ or ‘urban naxals’, and when passion needs to be raised to fever pitch, as anti-nationals, traitors, the award wapsi gang, intolerance brigade,tukde-tukde gang…
The ‘master’ will not tell you what, if anything, is wrong with contesting from a constituency with a particular demographic, assuming that is true and also assuming that is the intent. His ‘voice’ is ignorant that the flags in the image are those of the Indian Union Muslim League, an officially recognised party that spun off from the All India Muslim League at the time of Partition, and has existed as IUML since 1947. Who cares for facts, when the intent is to throw petrol and strike a match?
The Indian Express asked Arun Jaitley about hateful remarks by a BJP minister. This is what he had to say:
Was he referring to Modi, to Adityanath, when he regretted people speaking “out of turn”?
An aside on this ‘tukde tukde gang‘. Just in time for the election cycle, the Delhi police filed an FIR naming Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid etc in the JNU incident. That FIR was “accessed” by Republic TV which, it is no secret, is just another version of NaMo TV, and splattered all over Hate Hour. Now the Delhi government tells the court that the chargesheet has been filed in “a hasty and secretive manner” without taking proper sanctions. And here are former ABVP office bearers from JNU saying what has been whispered around for a long time: that the whole thing was a set up, that the slogans were shouted by ABVP members in order to cause a controversy that would distract from the Rohit Vemula suicide. No surprise really, when you consider that it was Smriti Irani at the centre of the Vemula case, and that an aide of Irani’s was found sharing fake videos of the JNU incident. Also consider that Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami, then with TimesNow, was the one who first aired the fake videos and gave it the oxygen of publicity.
See how it works? You create the JNU version of Goldstein; conspire to make it appear as though they had asked for the dismemberment of the country, use state machinery to hound them with charges, use the publicity machinery to amplify those charges, and then the PM and his henchmen use those fake charges to smear anyone and everyone as being part of this mythical, seditionist, gang. The Delhi government meanwhile has sought a month’s time to decide on whether to file charges; it says it needs to determine whether the speeches were in fact seditious. If even that basic determination has not yet been made, then why is the charge of sedition hanging over the heads of those students? What tukde-tukde gang, when the government is not even sure whether anything happened? The incident happened in 2016 — why does it take more time? Because that is one more month they can extend this fake story, and provide ammunition for Modi and his cohort to continue rabble-rousing in the name of a case they know is a fake.
To return to that list of the PM and his henchmen going around with a forked tongue, here is the PM listing the many scams of the TMC regime in Bengal. Then TMC leader Mukul Roy, under CBI investigation in the Saradha scam, joined the BJP and the investigation eased off. Himanta Biswa Sarma, accused in the Saradha Chit Fund case, joined the BJP and, presto, the probe eased off.
Here is the PM… no, never mind. Roughly six months ago, as an experiment, I began saving string from the Twitter accounts of Modi, Jaitley, Irani and other prominent members of this government, as also from TimesNow, the Republic, ANI and suchlike amplifiers of government propaganda. Try it for yourself. Start now. Do it for just a week. Then step back and see what you have collected, what picture it forms.
We’ve had contentious, polarising, deeply divisive elections before — but we’ve never had one like this: an election where pretenders to high office go around the country spreading poison with a flamethrower. Yeah, I know, the imagery is a bit garbled — but then, we never needed a word for the mass dissemination of poison, before, so the vocabulary tends to be a bit handicapped.
I’ll leave these thoughts here for now, and be back later in the day. In passing, I have an image to leave you with: