Cry me a river

In a previous post I wrote of Hitler, of fascism, of the means to the murderous end that was euphemized as “the final solution”. I expected there would be pushback, and I got what I expected. The politest feedback – I had to sift through a lot to find It – suggested that I was using words I had read somewhere without any understanding of their true meaning; that I was egregiously misapplying those pejorative terms to the India of today; that my “screed” was driven by blind hatred of Modi.

The thing is, I am by no stretch the first to use those words for the RSS/BJP machinery – others, with far better knowledge and qualifications, have used these words before. And these terms were used well before Modi even became Chief Minister of Gujarat, let alone Prime Minister of the country.

One such leading light – a Harvard scholar, an educator, a politician, a former Union Law Minister no less, named Subramanian Swamy – wrote this way back in 2000 to warn us of what was coming, and he was prescient. He was also meticulous in outlining the various steps in the RSS process:

(1) Discredit your opponents and protect your friends: (2) “Shake public confidence in every institution that can circumscribe or act as a speed-breaker for the RSS juggernaut; (3) Script new history; ready the blueprint for the coming agenda; (4) Bridle the electoral system.

The RSS game-plan is ready, Swamy wrote then, only the date for the final blitzkrieg remains to be picked.

Think back to those four steps Swamy outlined. I could have linked a few dozen current examples to illustrate each of them, but I’m going to leave it up to you: As you think back over the past six months, as you read the headlines today, how many of those boxes do you think you can tick?

“Of course,” concluded Swamy, “the good news is that the game plan can fail. I live on the hope that in India, no well-laid plan ever works. India, after all, is a functioning anarchy. That has been the undoing of every attempt to straitjacket its society. That is why we are still the longest continuing unbroken civilization of over 10,000 years. The RSS is, luckily, our counter-culture. The vibrations of Mother India will, I hope, be its undoing.”

I share in that pious hope. I cling to it when, after a day spent shuddering at the incessant stream of bad news, I go to bed at night and try to get some sleep. But then I wake up next morning, and this is the world I wake up to:

In Bidar, northern Karnataka, a 11-year-old breaks down in tears over the plight of her mother, who is in police custody, along with the principal of her school, Shaheen Primary and High School, on charges of sedition. For the crime of staging a play that sought to educate the students on the inequities of the CAA. A court decided to defer hearing their bail application by a week.

Meanwhile, also in Karnataka, a court ordered the police to serve notice on Nityananda, who on securing bail in a case of rape had fled the country. The police told the court that Nityananda is on a “spiritual tour”, and hence there was no need to serve notice on him.

In Allahabad, a court has granted bail to rape accused BJP leader Chinmayanand; the court order is, put mildly, problematic. Remember that bit about protecting your friends and discrediting your opponents? While on that, the Income Tax department withdrew tax evasion cases against Tamil superstar Rajnikanth – who, yesterday, came out with a statement supporting the CAA.

But to revert to Bidar, yesterday was the 5th successive day police entered the school and subjected the students – of classes 4, 5 and 6 — to intense interrogation over the play. The police action is based on a complaint lodged by one Nilesh Rakshala, an “activist” of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS.

The “activist” alleged that there was a line in the play about whacking the Prime Minister with a chappal. The police, which has copies of the play, and video, have found no such line. But a mother and a school principal are in custody, the police enter the school every day for extensive interrogations, a chappal is among the “evidence” they have collected, and a 11-year-old wends her way to a neighbor’s home, weeping quietly over the fate of her mother.

In Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital city, BJP workers attempted to put up a pro-CAA banner outside a school, and hassled students who tried to stop them. A BJP MLA led a mob into another school objecting to anti-Modi graffiti on a wall. Also in Bangalore, where a junior BBMP official acting on an unverified complaint by a BJP leader had demolished 200-plus homes and rendered 5000 or more homeless, another shantytown is now being threatened with demolition because, “Bangladeshis”. “Do you decide nationality by looking at a person’s face?”, the court asked the police while hearing petitions relating to that earlier demolition — well, apparently they do, and will continue to do so.

Meanwhile in Punjab, school children were made to sign a pro-CAA banner. A similar attempt to force students to write postcards congratulating the PM was made in Gujarat – it failed only because outraged parents protested. In Ahmedabad, BJP workers are going around collecting postcards in praise of the PM. Praise, even by force, is good; a poster calling for national unity, though, not so much:

In Bombay, 50 people have been charged with sedition over a slogan at a Pride rally, on the basis of a complaint by a BJP leader. Also in Bombay, a cab driver overheard an innocent conversation, drew the wrong conclusions, and all hell broke loose. (Here is an unrolled thread on the incident)

In Delhi, where the campaign is into its final day, the Election Commission has found DCP Rajesh Deo in gross violation of rules by attempting to “adversely affecting the elections” through his press conference where he alleged that Kapil Gujjar, the gunman who fired at Shaheen Bagh the other day, was a member of the Aam Aadmi Party. The allegation is, according to the man’s own father, untrue:

No surprise here, either in the false allegation or in the EC taking note of it (In my post yesterday, I’d made this exact same point); what is surprising though is the punishment handed out, which amounts to a day’s paid leave.

Also in Delhi, also during the campaign, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra put out a tweet suggesting that an AAP leader had called for the establishment of the Shariya nationwide. It is, of course, a lie – the word used was “zariya”, not “shariya”. It is also, of course, extremely inflammatory. And it will, of course, go unpunished. (That Patra lied is not surprising – this is your periodic reminder that it was Patra, aided by Arnab Goswami, who first aired the faked “tukde tukde” video.)

In Bihar, where student leader turned politician Kanhaiyya Kumar has been leading a ‘Jan Gan Man’ rally across the state, his car was attacked and damaged; the driver and Kumar have reportedly been injured, the former badly.

Kumar launched his month-long rally on January 30 at Champaran; it moved to Gopalganj and Siwan on day two; to Chapra and Muzzafarpur on day 3; to Sitamandi on day four; to Madhubani on day 5; and to Dharbanga yesterday, day six. The crowds have been phenomenal, and they have been growing; the pressure is correspondingly greater on the BJP which shares the government in Bihar.

In the dead of night in Azamgarh, UP, police threw stones, fired teargas shells, and flooded a site where women have been holding a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in protest. Several women are reportedly injured, some seriously.

Also in UP, police uprooted a wedding pandal because they thought it was erected for an anti-CAA protest. Elsewhere, India Today pointed to a series of discrepancies in data in the Budget presented by Nirmala Sitharaman (who apparently had time to decipher the Harappan script but not to run the numbers); the ministry without acknowledging the error quietly corrects it. In Goa, an NCP MLA demanded on the floor of the assembly that tigers who eat cows should be punished, just like humans. Air India cancelled the ticket of a man who was flying to the US because his name happened to be Kunal Kamra. Not THE Kunal Kamra, just A Kunal Kamra. Do you laugh? Do you weep? Do you “laugh, that you may not weep”? Do you, even as you weep, cling on to the few remaining shards of hope, if you can find them?

I wrote about that hope in a recent piece for The Wire. As the headlines pile one on the other in an endless cascade of misery, the combined weight pushing me into a dark, dank, dismal place, I think of Vaclav Havel’s question:

“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope…”

Perhaps.

I hope the “vibrations of Mother India” – vibrations you can feel as you approach any protest site, anywhere in the country, and there are plenty for you to choose from – will save us. But I also hope she’d buck up about it, because time is running out. And time is running out not because Modi and Shah are rushing to implement the CAA/NPR-NRC, but because the RSS has been prepping the soil for a very long time now, and they are nearly done.

It is not what you see – the shakas, the drills, the flag marches, the occasional shows of strength. It is what you don’t see: that for decades now, the RSS has been quietly insinuating itself into the institutions that prop up India’s democracy.

It has pushed its brightest minds into academics, had them write the prescribed exams and enter the civil services – the IFS, the IAS, the IPS; it has pushed some of its best and brightest into the armed forces and into the media. And over the years, over the decades, these seeds planted have taken root, and grown; these recruits have steadily climbed the promotion ladders and are now increasingly in places of influence.

Swamy’s piece dates back to 2000; the process was in place well before that. With apologies for the length, here is an extended quote from an interview I did with NCP chief Sharad Pawar back in 1998:

Talking of mistakes, a very senior BJP leader said that the Congress made a big one when it didn’t allow the Vajpayee government to survive the vote of confidence… Why?

The argument I heard was that if the Congress had abstained, the Vajpayee government would have survived the vote of confidence. But being in a minority, it would not have been able to achieve anything at all, and in time it would have fallen. And with its fall, the stability plank would have been lost to the party for ever…. The BJP should never be allowed to rule, it is too dangerous. For instance, Advani was a minister during the Janata government — and in his short tenure, he managed to fill his ministry with RSS people, and that gave us a headache when we came back to power.

The BJP and the RSS practise the politics of infiltration. I’ll give you an example. Before the fall of the Babri Masjid, Bhairon Singh Shekawat and I were negotiating with the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Ram Janambhoomi people, for three days we had intense negotiations. We reached a stage where, in one more day or maybe two, we could have come to an agreement. But at that time, the senior RSS person involved in the discussions said he had to leave for three days.

I asked him why, I argued with him, told him nothing could be more important, but he was adamant. So finally I asked him where he was going, and he said Hyderabad, to attend the seminar of the Indian History Congress. I was quite shocked that he thought a seminar was more important that this.

That is when he explained. The IHC controls the way Indian history is written and studied, it approves syllabus and textbooks, it has total control. And the key weapon of the RSS is education, its goal is to rewrite Indian history to suit its agenda. In fact, the RSS is already doing it — the portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as anti-Muslim is only one example, they talk of how Afzal Khan tried to trick him and how Shivaji killed Afzal Khan, that is the story the kids read about, but conveniently, no one menions that Shivaji’s chief army commander was a Muslim, that he personally constructed three mosques for Muslims… one of my candidates in the state is a direct descendant of Shivaji Maharaj, and his family still pays money for the upkeep of these mosques, but this is never mentioned. Shivaji maintained that all communities and religions should live in harmony, but look how that is being distorted today!

Sorry, but how does all this tie up with the IHC?

To be a member, you have to do post graduation, and masters, in Indian history. So over the years, the RSS has been systematically selecting students, instructing them to study history, and getting them into the IHC, at last count the RSS-oriented students are 46 per cent of the society. Another five per cent, and the RSS will control it, and then it will write Indian history to suit its own ends. That body is like that, it plans ahead, and works systematically to achieve its goals. In fact, I must say that though the RSS and the BJP are my political enemies, I admire this quality in them, they plan for the future and they work steadily towards a goal.

Think of all that as you go through the stories linked above; think of it when you next read of an inexplicably wrong court judgment or hear of an unjustifiable police action. It is not that they are following the orders from Modi and Shah – their mission predates those two, and will continue after those two.

I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if there is a solution at all. Maybe these nationwide protests are the first faint signs of those vibrations Swamy talked about. You can only hope — so I’ll leave you with an image gallery of what hope looks like:

Lies, damned lies, and then there’s the BJP…

This story opens with the line “The Shaheen Bagh shooter Kapil Gujjar admitted to the Delhi Police that he joined the Aam Aadmi Party in early 2019.” It goes on to talk of photos being recovered showing him and his father with various AAP leaders.

The story was first flashed by ANI, immediately picked up by other agencies, then flashed on TV channels, and later made the subject of much red-eyed “debates” by the likes of Arnab Goswami, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar et al.

The father and other family members have since denied any connection with the party and explained how the supposedly incriminating photos came to be – but that is neither here nor there; it is now “established” that AAP is behind the Shaheen Bagh violence. Or, as DCP Rajesh Dev says, “We have him in remand for two days and we will establish the conspiracy”. Not “we will investigate”, mind. (The earlier shooting at Jamia has been conveniently pushed off the radar by calling him out as a minor; two men on a scooter who then fired a gun at the Jamia protestors are yet to be traced, though witnesses gave the police the number of the vehicle).

So it is a he said/he denied story, right? Except for the timing – conveniently just ahead of polling date, to further underline the BJP’s argument that AAP is responsible for the violence in Delhi. (While on this, the BJP needs to make up its mind – is AAP supporting Shaheen Bagh and feeding the protestors biriyani, as Ajay Singh Bisht keeps complaining, or is it behind the violence intended to disrupt those protests? Which is it?).

But taking the story at face value, here is the problem: As per the rules governing election campaigns, official bodies are not allowed, during the period of a campaign, to name any party in connection with alleged acts of criminality. This rule is precisely to prevent parties from floating incendiary allegations against each other.

The Delhi Police – which spoke not officially, but through anonymous and therefore subsequently deniable “sources” – is in flagrant breach of that provision. The Delhi police reports to the Home Minister (NB: During an election campaign the police is officially under the control of the Election Commission – in the current dispensation, how much that is true in practise I’ll leave for you to judge); there is only one party that gains by muddying the waters, so draw what inferences you will.

Interestingly, the Delhi police report was released – or at least, leaked by “sources” – to the media in the evening. However, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari was already talking about it, officially, earlier that morning.

Speaking of probes, it is now a month since 100 or more masked thugs entered the Jamia Milia Islamia JNU complex (apologies, I mistyped, thanks all who caught it and alerted me), armed with iron rods, hammers, and bottles of acid and unleashed unhinged mayhem. Judging by this report, the special investigation team set up to inquire into the attack seems to work thus: It summons someone – actually, someone who had in a sting actually admitted his role in the attack and asks, son, what is this, why did you do this? And the youngster goes who, me, I was fast asleep at the time. To which the SIT goes, all right then, off you go.

I mean, the SIT is yet to even question Komal Sharma, the ABVP member who was identified as being part of the attack by the police themselves – “because her phone is switched off”. So now you know — if you do something criminal and find yourself the target of an investigation, switch off your phone. Problem solved.

While progress is slow to none on actual, serious, cases, the concerted attempts to demonise Shaheen Bagh continue – the latest instalment being the allegation, doing the rounds of social media and WhatsApp, that the protestors burned the national flag. Which, predictably, is a lie.

As was the earlier one – a ‘sting video’ released by BJP IT Cell chief Amit Malaviya that purported to prove that the protestors were being paid Rs 500 per day. The story was picked up by TV channels, “debated” with much heat on TimesNow and Republic, and further amplified by various official and unofficial BJP leaders. (And the BJP has a lot of amplifiers – 18,000 at the least, as per this story). Again, predictably, the video was faked.

If you are even mildly surprised/shocked, you have been living under a rock. Remember the BJP is led by Amit Shah, who as far back as 2018 had with a nudge and a wink asked his “social media warriors” to use fake news to spread the “message”:

Related, remember how Shaheen Bagh is just a bunch of pesky Muslims holding the country to ransom by blocking a major road? Women with nothing to do, just sitting there and being fed biriyani by the chief minister of Delhi? So yesterday this happened: Eight busloads of Sikhs travelled all the way from Punjab to Shaheen Bagh to stand in solidarity with them. (An open, 24/7 langar has been set up, also by the Sikh community, and has been running for the past several days and no, they don’t serve biriyani).

So, the Sikhs came, of their own volition, yesterday, and this happened:

Why? Under what law, on whose authority, on what grounds did the police prevent the group from going to Shaheen Bagh? In whose interest is it to show that the protest there is driven only by one community? And while on that, note what is now becoming a usual occurrence: “Police without name tags”.

Update, 1.20 PM: The delegation of Punjab farmers, after overnight drama and considerable negotiations with the cops for safe passage, have reached Shaheen Bagh.

In the stream of news about protests in various parts, way too numerous now to keep track of, there was this item that stood out – not for the locale, not for the turnout, but for how the Indian Embassy, located in the capital of the United States, responded:

Author and environmentalist Edward Abbey said it best:

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government.

Yesterday was a “big news day” in more ways than one. In Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs made an important announcement:

The framing of the story is interesting: “MHA makes it official: No plans of NRC”. Whereas in actual fact, what the MHA said in Parliament is (Emphasis mine): Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) at the National level.”

Never mind that this has been the official line of the government — “Till now” – all along. Never mind that when introducing the CAB in the Rajya Sabha the Home Minister categorically, and to considerable applause from his side of the aisle, said NRC will be rolled out countrywide. This latest “official” statement was promptly used by various media channels to ask what the protestors were still going on about, since the government has, you know…

AltNews has a fact-check connecting the various dots. A related point needs to be made: Right from the outset, the nationwide protests have always been about the deadly dangerous trifecta: the CAA plus the NPR plus the NRC. The CAA is now a law, therefore a fact of life. The NPR process is ongoing, and has in fact been further funded in the latest Budget. To say the NRC has not been thought through, or to stall with weasel words like “not yet”, is disingenuous, for the simple reason that the NPR is the natural pipeline for the NRC. If there is no move towards the NRC – which makes Shah not merely a liar, it also means he breached Parliamentary privilege by lying on the floor of the House – then the NPR does not need the 11 additional questions that have been tacked on to the previous version.

But hey, the MHA released a sufficiently vague “clarification”, the media seized on it to justify the government’s stand that the protests are misguided; that narrative fills the TV channels and the media space, mission accomplished.

While on the MHA, note that both activists without, and Parliamentarians within, have begun to systematically question the government, officially, about the gaslighting it does unofficially. Thus, in Parliament yesterday, the junior minister in the MHA clarified that “no such case of Love Jihad has been reported by any of the central agencies. In fact, he pointed out that the term love jihad is not defined under the current laws.” Read this story.

Remember that no less than the Supreme Court asked that ‘love jihad’ be probed – that is to say, the top court in the country asked for a probe into an act that has not even been defined in law. Remember that the National Commission on Minorities also demanded a probe. Remember the stream of sensational stories emerging from the probe, such as this one which brought up an ISIS connection.

And finally, remember that the MHA yesterday only said what the NIA had said – after wasting money and manpower on a “probe” – back in 2018 itself: That there is no such thing as love jihad. Now ask yourself, who is responsible for so many damaged lives and reputations, for so much distress? Who pays the price?

NDTV, supposedly one of the last surviving bastions of both liberalism and good journalism among the English language channels, decided to host BJP MP Parvesh Verma on prime time. It is worth noting that the Election Commission has banned him from campaigning following a speech in which he claimed the people of Shaheen Bagh will enter “your homes” to “rape and kill your wives and daughters” – a fact the NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan is perfectly well aware of, as this segment shows.

The BJP found a workaround by getting Verma to speak in Parliament in support of the President’s pre-Budget speech – an opportunity the MP used to make a no-holds barred campaign speech in which, among other things, he called a leading opposition MP ‘Rahul Firoz Khan’. And now a leading TV channel gives him, gratis, another platform to campaign from because that is what the show amounted to – all in the name of ‘balance’.

See how the media enables those who traffic in hate? In a stirring speech in Parliament the previous day, TMC MP Mahua Moitra had referred to Verma being asked to speak in the Lok Sabha. “You may have the constitutional authority to do so,” she told the BJP, “but what about the higher authority, the moral authority..?”

Even this may be overstated,” says the Wall Street Journal in a scathing indictment of India’s latest budget, “as the country’s official economic data has become more politicized and less reliable.” Business Standard, in a strong editorial, says the Budget – remember that, according to the hype machine, the PM had taken personal charge of the process and “big, bold decisions were expected” – echoes the WSJ line when it says the budget should have been fact-checked, and also tells you why this lack of credibility is critical:

This is, in effect, a recognition that the credibility associated with official pronouncements has been undermined, and there is a need to recover it. Such an effort is particularly important at a time when India is increasingly depending upon foreign capital to fill the gap caused by a collapse in private investment and overspending by the government.

While reading budget-related news, I came across this item: In July, the President, Vice President and Prime Minister will get to travel in spanking new special planes procured from Boeing. This story puts the estimated cost at Rs 8,458 crore.

In the run up to the Budget, I recall reading stories such as this one, which said that all three wings of the armed forces were delaying much-needed procurements because of a fiscal crunch, and hoping the former defence minister, now the finance minister, would do better this time round. It was not an alarmist piece — the CAG, no less, had in a scathing indictment questioned the government’s inability to provide proper boots and prescribed nutrition to the soldiers fighting in the Kargil sector, pointed at delayed payments to soldiers, and to other anomalies.

The same defence correspondent, writing after the Budget was presented, said the budgetary provisions were inadequate. Not enough to meet defence needs, says Business Insider. The defence budget belies all expectations, said the Financial Express. On the same site, another piece actually calls out this budget as “a dampener for national security“. Remember “national security”? The central plank of Modi and the BJP? Remember the jawans fighting on the border, who are regularly recalled to the public conversation whenever an election is imminent? Or used as props in a photo op with the PM in designer gear?

But it’s okay, says General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff. Can’t pay pensions? We’ll just up the retirement age, he says, seemingly unmindful of the fact that he is actually saying he expects soldiers to fight on to the age of 58. Can’t buy the equipment we need to get up to speed? No problem, we will find “alternate sources” of money. And so on. Where do you even begin to point out that the financial mismanagement of the government is severely compromising not merely the education, the health, the employment opportunities of the lay citizen, but also the nation’s security — at a time when the government, through its intemperate rabble-rousing, has actually managed to make enemies out of even erstwhile friends?

On January 22nd, the SC heard the combined petitions against the CAA. It needs to be remembered that dozens of petitions had been filed in various courts around the country; the government argued that the SC should take over and hear them all and the SC agreed. And it “gave the government four weeks to answer”.

Why the government, which presumably thought it through before bringing the bill to Parliament and getting it passed, needs time to explain why it brought the bill is neither here nor there – the fact is, the SC not only gave the government oodles of time, it also refused to impose an interim stay while the case is being heard.

And so, yesterday, this happened: dozens of Supreme Court lawyers, no less, marched through the streets of Delhi protesting against the CAA, and the SC’s dereliction of duty. All this, while the BJP goes around claiming that the protests are politically motivated, and the work of “one community”.

There is so much more that is happening, and needs to be documented, but time is in short supply so I’ll leave you, for the day, with just this one story which is illustrative of so much that is wrong about the way our country is now run:

Remember how, a few weeks back, a BJP MLA posted a video of a shantytown that, he claimed, was a den of illegal Bangladeshis? Remember how, on the basis of that video, a junior official in the BBMP — with the police guarding the operation — demolished some 200 huts in the shantytown, making approximately 5000 people homeless, in an operation the BBMP claimed had no official sanction? The case was heard in the Karnataka High Court yesterday. This is what the court said:

However, the court observed that the complaints were general in nature and did not specifically point to the property. “There is nothing on file to indicate that police inspector visited the site to verify if there are Bangladeshi immigrants,” the division bench observed on Monday.

“It began with the letter of the police to the land owner to remove structures and in this situation we are of the view that the state will have to rehabilitate those who have been dispossessed,” court said in an interim order while seeking the government’s response on February 10.

The court asked the state advocate general how the police could act on mere suspicion. It said that strict action must be taken against the police inspector who issued the notice since the police had assumed the power of a civil court to issue the order.

That is all it takes today. A video making random, unsubstantiated allegations is all it takes to destroy lives and livelihoods.

I don’t have a link for this, but I remember about a month or so ago coming across a Kanhaiyya Kumar interaction in course of which he was asked the question: Why are students protesting, when they should be studying? His response, in translation, ran thus:

Education is not merely about memorising how 6 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Education is also about understanding how normal people, an entire country, stood by and watched it happen. Education is about learning the signs, and ensuring that it does not happen in your country. And that is why the students are out on the streets today — because of education.

How did we stand by, and watch this systematic deterioration, all these years?

PostScript, at 1.14 PM: On January 1, Gunja Kapoor got a New Year guest — she was “honoured” by a follow from Narendra Modi. Earlier today, she wore a burqa and infiltrated Shaheen Bagh. What she intended to do is unclear.

People versus the State

Earlier today there was a hearing at the Tis Hazari court in Delhi, where Judge Kamini Lau sat on a petition reviewing the conditions under which Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad had been given bail on January 15. Below, a clip from the proceedings:

The above is a sample; the hearing itself, as reflected in live updates by the LiveLaw Twitter account (here is the full thread), is surreal. Basically, the police had no grounds to arrest him; the state has no case to make against him; but despite that, the police, the state, want him kept in jail (the PP was making a plea for revoking the bail, remember) or at the least, kept out of Delhi and not allowed to engage in any political activity there for the duration of the polls.

Think about that for a moment. About a state that incarcerates a citizen without due cause, simply because it does not suit the ruling dispensation to have a hugely followed leader taking part in an election campaign. As Judge Law points out during the hearing, the only thing Azad did that the police can prove is that he arrived at a public meeting and held up a copy of the Constitution.

Judge Lau has relaxed the original bail conditions, and permitted Azad to visit, to stay in, Delhi whenever he wants and for whatever purpose; the only proviso being that the DCP is kept informed. And sadly, that is the one silver lining in the dark clouds overhead — it is all downhill from here.

Another day, another BJP bigot. “You are deshdrohis,” says BJP’s Karnataka MLA Renukacharya. “You sit in mosques and issue fatwas. You don’t pray but collect weapons inside mosques. Is this why you need mosques?”

Read that in tandem with the news that mosques in the Hassan area of Karnataka have been receiving threatening letters questioning their loyalty and asking them to convert to Hinduism.

Idiots being idiots, right? No point getting fussed? A few days earlier, Karnataka BJP MLA Arvind Limbavalli tweeted a video of shantytowns in North Bengaluru that, he claimed, harboured thousands of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Just another example of the nonsense that, thanks to social media, BJP lawmakers and their amplifiers spread in order to keep the base happy. Only, there are consequences. On January 20, the BBMP razed the settlements to the ground, leaving thousands homeless.

“Bangladeshis have set up sheds next to Mantri Espa Apartment in Kariyammana Agrahara and other places in Bellandur ward. They have converted these areas into slums. This office received oral complaints that this has vitiated the environment. There is a need to evacuate the residents of the sheds. To ensure no untoward incident takes place, we are requesting police protection,” the assistant executive engineer of Marathahalli Subdivision wrote to the police inspector of Marathahalli station.”

Read that carefully. An assistant executive engineer — which is about as low as you can get on the hierarchical chart — writes to the police. He asserts that Bangladeshis have set up sheds. He asserts that the residents need to be evacuated. And all this is on the basis of oral complaints — of which, of course, there is no record.

The BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar had no clue; on being made aware of the damage — after the demolition was complete — he says the demolition was unauthorised, and action will be taken against the engineer responsible.

What action? Suspension? Dismissal? How does any of that make up for the sufferings of the people who, already eking out a living on the extreme edge of poverty, have had their shelters, their belongings, destroyed? And while on that, who will question the role of the police? What action will anyone take against the MLA whose allegation started all this?

Because, see, it appears that I can give an “oral complaint” to a junior engineer in a municipal corporation that residents, say you for example, adjoining my land are illegal, and you will find your dwelling razed while you watch. Can’t happen to us, right? Because we are privileged; we live in housing societies…? Says who? What guarantee does anyone have any more?

And to add a sorry coda to a sordid story: Those evicted are Indian citizens with proper identification, and have nothing to do with Bangladesh.

Which brings us to Uttar Pradesh and its police force. Which, having arrested over 1000 protestors in the wake of the ongoing anti-CAA protests, is now struggling to make those arrests stand up in court. Across UP, while granting bail to some of those arrested, judges have said the photos the police submitted in evidence show no evidence of culpability, that the police have not been able to produce the videos they claimed they had.

And now the same police, which is unable to justify charges filed against protestors earlier, have charged the women, who have mounted a Shaheen Bagh-style protest at Lucknow’s Ghanta Ghar, with – wait for it – rioting. (A story on the protest itself, here)

I don’t get why it is not possible to file cases against the police on the grounds of wrongful arrest (and defamation of character, come to think of it. You call me a rioter, then go into court and say oops, and that is it — there are no consequences? No recompense for those people who were put in jail on false charges — and even now, are merely out on bail, with their cases yet to be finally decided?

Still sticking with UP, Scroll’s ace reporter Supriya Sharma (who you really should be following) has a story on the ‘friends of UP Police’ – which is the Ajay Singh Bisht-ruled state’s backdoor entry for thugs into the police ranks.

Basically, you join the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the thuggish private army founded by Bisht back in 2002 and which, since then, has earned itself an unsavoury reputation even by UP standards for general mayhem. This in turn gets you accreditation as a ‘police mitr’. And this allows you to beat up peaceful protestors under the guise of helping the police.

Thuggery is, today, the shortest and most direct route to political prominence. Bisht rode the muscle of the HYV to power; now we hear that Tejinder Bagga, who once openly admitted to assaulting a senior Supreme Court lawyer in his chambers, has been given a ticket to contest the Delhi elections. Modi likes him – but then he would, wouldn’t he?

To round off this look at false cases, remember JNU? Where, in response to state-backed violence by ABVP thugs and outsiders on January 5, the police filed cases against JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and others for vandalism on January 1?

What vandalism? An RTI inquiry reveals there was none. It also shows that the Vice Chancellor, and the police, have lied about a whole lot of things.

Enough bad news, now for some worse news: The International Monetary Fund, which had earlier revised India’s growth rate to 4.8%, has revised downwards its estimate of global growth, and said “the growth markdown largely reflects a downward revision to India’s projection, where domestic demand has slowed more sharply than expected amid stress in the nonbank financial sector and a decline in credit growth.”

Which is to say, the IMF has said India’s economic slowdown is so bad, it is dragging the rest of the world down with it. (In a face, meet palm outcome, Modi cheerleaders on social media are arguing that this shows India’s importance in the world.)

It’s worth noting – and mentioning, since “What does IMF know?” is the tenor of the pushback – that the IMF makes its projections based on data it receives from the governments themselves. In other words, it is GoI data that is showing the Indian economy in such a parlous state as to drag down the world economy with it.

Apropos, there’s a budget coming up. And India’s best option, given the intensifying economic slowdown, is to quit worrying about the fiscal deficit and focus on pushing growth. Only, it can’t – because the GoI has been cooking the books; its real fiscal deficit is much higher than its projections, and it really has little or no room to push the envelope on stimulus at the expense of deficit. Nikita Kwatra of Livemint lays out the problem:.

As India’s economic slowdown has intensified, so has the debate on whether the government should stick to fiscal consolidation or run a higher deficit to push growth in the upcoming budget, due on 1 February.

However, data on revenue available so far suggests that the government has very little fiscal space for any significant growth stimulus. If the government’s off-budget liabilities (or withheld payments) are taken into account, the central government’s real fiscal deficit could end up being as high as 5.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the current fiscal year, a Mint analysis of public accounts suggests.

Elsewhere, the World Economic Forum has placed India at a low 76th, out of 82 countries, on its Social Mobility Index.

Measuring countries across five key dimensions distributed over 10 pillars health; education (access, quality and equity); technology; work (opportunities, wages, conditions); and protections and institutions (social protection and inclusive institutions) shows that fair wages, social protection and lifelong learning are the biggest drags on social mobility globally.

Basically, you need upward social mobility to ensure continuing economic growth. And judged by that yardstick, India ranks, you know…

The Indian Railways announced that various items of Keralite cuisine would be taken off the menu on long-distance trains running through the state, and would be replaced with various north Indian foods. None of the replacement food items are popular with Malayalis; the only foreseeable outcome of the move would have been that travellers would buy their preferred food outside and carry it onto the train with them — thus depriving the Railways in that sector of revenues it would otherwise earn. And then, last evening, the IRCTC announced that the food items would be restored.

In context of all that is going on, this might seem like a little enough thing; just a Mallu fussing because he can’t have his pazham pori and porotta. But think about it for a moment: there is a whole bloated bureaucracy out there making up these stupid rules, and printing them up and distributing them, and then in the face of the inevitable outcry walking the original decision back, reverting to the status quo ante, printing that up, distributing…

What was that Modi promise of 2014 again? “Less government, more governance”? Here it is, in action.

Now for some odds and ends:

  • In response to an RTI request, the Ministry of Home Affairs says it has no information about any “tukde tukde gang”. And yet the Home Minister of the country alleges that aforesaid “gang” is responsible for violence in Delhi and should be “punished”; that the Congress is leading this gang; that Arvind Kejriwal is shielding this “gang”; that somehow Akhilesh Yadav is responsible… The Home Minister of the country. Who swore an oath on the Constitution to protect the Constitution and to abide by the rule of law. Who is directly responsible for internal peace and security. Gaslighting in the name of a fictitious “gang” and calling for “punishment” — in other words, both justifying and enabling the violence unleashed by police in various parts of the country. How do you sink lower than this?
  • The Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, has come out in support of the ‘deradicalisation camps’ mooted earlier by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in course of his Raisina Dialogues speech. The trial balloon Rawat floated is now starting to really soar.
  • Former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar points out that India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy – a pillar of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy – is crumbling, in context of recent anti-CAA statements by both Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh.
  • Jakob Lidenthal, the German exchange student who was expelled from the country for taking part in one of the early anti-CAA protests, talks at length on his interactions with Indian authorities, and his view on the injustice of it all.
  • In Bangalore, the Azadi slogan has been transcreated in Kannada, and sounds just as compelling as the Hindi version. Listen.
  • Farah Farooqi, writing for Caravan magazine, places the Shaheen Bagh protests in context of the locality. Worth reading to get a sense of the place, and the people, and to understand the source of the power that has enabled them, in defiance of the state, to keep this protest going for well over a month now.

On the last day of February 1976 P Rajan, a student of what was then Regional Engineering College, Calicut, was participating in an inter-collegiate cultural festival. That year, REC won second prize in the drama competition, which traditionally brings the three-day event to a close; we — the Malabar Christian College group of which I was a part — won the first prize.

We celebrated hard, that night. And in the early hours of March 1, we hitched a ride on the REC college bus, which dropped us off in front of our college. Rajan and the rest of the REC boys continued on to their college — and he had barely entered his hostel room when police picked him up, on the suspicion that he was complicit in a Naxal attack on a police station.

He was tortured by the police; he died under the prolonged torture; his body has never been recovered. His father, Eechara Warrier, went from pillar to post to receive news of his son; the story of that search was turned into a national award-winning movie by cinematographer/director Shaji Karun. (You can see the movie in full here).

The news that Rajan had been killed was what turned me — and hundreds of young students like me — into hardcore, driven political activists who worked unremittingly towards the single goal of ending Congress rule. In North India, the anti-Congress movement had big-name leaders: Jayaprakash Narayan was the totem; the likes of AB Vajpayee, LK Advani, George Fernandes etc were the stars who drew crowds in their thousands and around whom the anti-Congress sentiment coalesced.

Kerala did not have any such big names, we did not have star politicians to pull the resistance together. But we had the students — the story of Rajan, which spread out from Calicut to the rest of the state, was the fuel that kept the fires of resistance burning white-hot; students who went door to door campaigning, and turned the crowds out when the political stars from up North came visiting…

Ningal enne Communist aaki — You Made me a Communist — is a movie written and directed by Thoppil Bhasi, based on his play of the same name, and it shows how the quotidian injustices of agrarian life turns a regular guy into a violent, hardcore communist. Ningal enne political aaki, you made me political, would be the name for a story on a generation, my generation, of young Keralite students who walked out of their classrooms and out onto the streets.

I was reminded of all this while reading Annie Zaidi’s lovely, topical essay on how she first developed political inclinations. You should read it.

And, if you feel up to it, head to the comments section and tell me this: What, if any, was the trigger that first turned you political?

Odds and trends: March 21 edition

RAVISH Kumar of NDTV reports that Modi’s “massive outreach” to chowkidars via an audio bridge (the point of which is not clear to me) was a bit of a sham – the people he was addressing were security staff drawn from the firm of RK Sinha, a BJP MLA. Meanwhile in Jharkhand, 10,000 actual chowkidars have not been paid:

For the past four months, these chowkidars across 24 districts — each of who monitors 10 villagers under one thana — have not been paid their salaries. Each chowkidar gets a salary of Rs 20,000.

The Wire, by the way, has been monitoring how our media treats various issues. Here is the roundup of how the “chowkidar” non-issue was covered. And here is Modi playing an oft-used, tired card: Pretending that the opposition wasn’t questioning him, but in actual fact questioning the integrity of actual security guards.

And in a facepalm moment there is this (just one example of the many such comments by journalists and opinion makers I could spam you with). Modi points to a rabbithole marked ‘chowkidar’; the entire media dives down it and can talk of nothing else; and the same media says Modi has succeeded in setting the agenda and the opposition is helpless to change it.  (And while on rabbitholes, TimesNow spent a precious half hour of prime time yesterday with this high-decibel “coverage”, complete with flashing graphics and pointing arrows, of how Priyanka Gandhi supposedly insulted Lal Bahadur Shastri.

ALL accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case have been acquitted. And the noise-making is well underway: the right wing argues that the charges were part of a bogus “Hindu terror” allegation floated by the Congress; the opposition’s line is that the acquittal is part of the BJP’s protective shield thrown over its own. And in the process, the real issue is given a go-by. To my mind, the question we should be asking is this:

A terrorist attack occurred in 2007. Twelve years down the line, we are back where we started; we are saying we have no idea who committed the terrorist act. What does this say to the world about our own will, and ability, to take action on terrorism on our soil? Now that we are back to square one in a case that involved the death of 60-plus Pakistan citizens twelve years ago, how do we insist that Pakistan carry out investigations and follow up action on terrorist acts committed on India by their nationals? (Predictably, Pakistan has already gone to town on the “travesty of justice”, and the volume will only increase. Why should we worry what Pakistan says? Because it weakens our case in international forums.)

From the archives of Caravan, this profile of main accused Aseemanand is mandatory reading – if only to understand what “travesty of justice” means.

EMPLOYMENT has been a recurring theme of these posts – and it will continue to be, through the elections and beyond. For reasons that should be obvious: the much-hyped demographic dividend is India’s opportunity to take its economy to the next level – and that “dividend” means nothing if (a) We are not providing proper education to our young and (b) If there are no jobs for those who are fortunate enough to actually get to study.

On that front, stories worth noting from the last 24 hours:

  • Hindustan Lever has begun to feel the heat of the GDP slowdown (which, potentially, translates into reduced investment, which in turn impacts on job creation).
  • Over 82 lakh people, a large majority of them hugely overqualified, have applied for 62,907 jobs as track maintenance staff and helpers in the Indian Railways.
  • IndiaSpend, one of the very few media outlets that seem to understand that coverage of issues, to be meaningful, cannot be a mile wide and a millimetre deep, is in the middle of a series on employment. Their stories thus far: On post demonetisation slow-down and how it affects Kerala’s labour hub; the growing death of jobs in Jaipur’s informal economy; the steadily worsening job crisis in Indore; the crippling lack of jobs in Ahmedabad. Read, because other than our growing scarcity of water, there is no issue as likely to impact our medium/long term future. Oh, and it matters from the point of view of the imminent elections, too: An opinion piece in The Print points to why employment is the silent killer of electoral prospects.

Reading List:

  • Rukmini S, one of the very few journalists in India capable of doing nuanced data-driven pieces, on why a prolonged, multi-phase election hurts the Congress
  • A recent report spoke of the Modi government’s proposed overhaul of the Indian Forest Act of 1927, and how the proposal will strip the commons of the very few protections that still remain. In that connection, IndiaSpend’s analysis of how tribal voters can affect electoral outcomes in 133 constituencies is worth reading.
  • Predictably, television channels toed the line that Nirav Modi’s arrest in London yesterday is tantamount to India getting him back and hopefully, recovering the money he looted. Not so fast, though – if Modi has applied for asylum, as is the understanding, then the extradition process, already long drawn out, is likely to be further delayed.
  • A story on how UIADI’s plan to link voter IDs and Aadhar likely cost millions their right to vote.
  • The NDA has firmed up its seat sharing agreements in Kerala, where there are 20 seats on offer.

NB: To be updated as and when something comes up. Happy Holi, everybody, play safe.

Yeh lo ji, 2G

FIVE years ago, the 2G scam was the centrepiece of the Modi-led BJP’s relentless campaign against the Congress – a campaign that received initial propulsion courtesy the combination of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Those guilty will be behind bars within six months of our coming to power, Modi promised then.

In the intervening period, the story line has morphed; contemporary mythology says that it was the efforts of Modi and the BJP that put the culprits in the dock. The story ignores the fact that the charges were first framed, and some of the main actors arrested, way back in 2011, three years before the BJP even came to power – just another example of how perception always trumps facts. (This timeline might help to refresh fading memories).

But never mind that, focus instead on the campaign promise of bringing the culprits to book. On December 21, 2017, Judge OP Saini of the CBI Special Court acquitted all accused and, inter alia, said:

I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any of the accused, made in its well-choreographed charge sheet.

On LiveLaw, find the full judgment, and an explainer for how the judge ruled on the various charges, and reached the conclusions set out in his judgment.

The CBI appealed, and then dragged its feet until, in March 2018, a miffed Supreme Court directed the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to complete the probe within six months.

The (Supreme Court) bench observed that the investigation had been going on for a long time, and (the) people of this country cannot be kept in the dark on a sensitive matter like this.

Six months, the Supreme Court said — twelve months ago. In October, the Delhi High Court said it would hear the CBI’s appeal against the acquittals on a daily basis. Since then, all that has emerged is some guff about the number of trees to be planted as punishment for being late with a response.

There is no sign of closure; the people of the country remain in the dark. And the real tragedy here is this: there is little doubt that there were procedural irregularities. What is in dispute is the nature of these irregularities and the damage they caused. By blowing it up into something it wasn’t, the investigative machinery and the politicians have effectively ensured that we will likely never get to the bottom of what it really is.  (In this connection, an excerpt from Vinod Rai’s book is worth your time).

Significantly, where the BJP’s diatribes about Congress corruption used to be about specifics – 2G, CWG, Aadhar – the party and its leader have now steered clear of itemizing and speak in general terms about “corruption”, hoping the muck of 2014 will resurface in the voter’s mind.

Meanwhile, there is this: UPA-II earned Rs 1,31,712 crore through the sale of mobile spectrum. Against that, NDA-II has earned Rs 64,811 crore – that is, less than half.

These are government figures, accessed by one Renjith Thomas through an RTI application.

Let that sink in. Also note that in 2017 and 2018 the government held no auctions at all – and ask yourself why.

WTF Just Happened: December 24

#1. In Uttar Pradesh, the always-innovative Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — who, last month, came up with the Kamadhenu model to kickstart the state’s economy — has solved the problem of backlog in the state courts. His government will soon withdraw nearly 20,000 cases against politicians.

The move is aimed at reducing the pendency of cases. Yogi said that the police usually registers petty cases against people’s representatives staging dharna or protesting on some issue. “These cases should be closed.”

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