The Auschwitz Memorial twitter handle last evening posted two images, taken less than 12 years apart:
One of the posts on that stream deserves particular mention. Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski advises her daughter and granddaughter: “DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT”. Words that resonate — or should — with every one of us today.
As it happens, I am reading a book called Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, by Stephen Greenblatt. And what he says in the preface to set up his book is worth noting (emphasis mine):
“A king rules over willing subjects,” wrote the influential sixteenth century Scottish scholar George Buchanan, “a tyrant over the unwilling.” The institutions of a free society are designed to ward off those who would govern, as Buchanan put it, “not for their country but for themselves, who take account not of the public interest but of their own pleasure.” Under what circumstances, Shakespeare asked himself, do such cherished institutions, seemingly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile? Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being lied to? …
Such a disaster, Shakespeare suggested, could not happen without widespread complicity. His plays probe the psychological mechanisms that lead a nation to abandon its ideals and even its self-interest. Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?
How much of what Greenblatt writes about do we recognise in ourselves, our leaders, and our country, today?
Interestingly, the official handle of the Shaheen Bagh protestors (which is worth following — there are some smart minds at work) was quick off the mark to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz, and use it to reiterate the vow that gross inhumanity will not be allowed to recur, thus linking the excesses of Nazi Germany to the current repressive policies of the Modi regime in India.
All of this is beginning to get under the collective skin of the ruling party. Home Minister Amit Shah addressed an election rally in the Babarpur area of Delhi yesterday and inter alia, said: “Your vote to the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh.”
Think about it — the home minister is publicly, falsely, implying that Shaheen Bagh — an “incident” — is somehow making the country unsafe. (It was in course of this speech that a young man, who had the courage to shout an anti-CAA slogan at an Amit Shah rally, was hit with chairs while the HM waved his hands around feebly, then continued with his speech).
Amit Shah is wrong, of course. On two counts. Firstly, as anyone who has spent even a few minutes at Shaheen Bagh will tell you, that protest is the most remarkable sign of a people’s awakening even in these fraught times, when every day brings a dozen stories about abuse of power and twice as many stories about resistance. And secondly, because repressing Shaheen Bagh will not “prevent” more such “incidents” — the protest has already inspired a legion of similar protests around the country, as this incredible thread collating sit-ins countrywide should indicate.
Shah should study this thread; it will tell him, if he doesn’t know it already, that the day he uses force against Shaheen Bagh — and that day is coming, sadly — he will unleash forces that will destroy him. In which connection, Shah might also benefit from reading this piece by Ashutosh Varshney, which lays out the current dilemma for the government: damned if you attack, doomed if you don’t.
Despite logic and common-sense dictating otherwise, why do I believe that Shaheen Bagh will see violent reprisals sooner than later? Because the growing drumbeat of propaganda against the protestors there indicates official orchestration and planning. Check out the language — of an elected member of the Lok Sabha, no less. Check out the vicious gaslighting, the open call for mass murder.
Why is this man — this genocidal maniac, son of BJP politician, former Chief Minister of Delhi and former Labour Minister of India the late Sahib Singh Verma — not facing immediate arrest, and action under the most stringent provisions of the law?
Now consider the latest example: the other day, alleged journalist Deepak Chaurasia, who on his TV program has systematically demonised the protestors, went with his entourage to the site, and was driven back. There was some jostling, shoving, pushing — which was promptly amplified into a “lynching”.
Shaheen Bagh on its official handle almost immediately put out a statement condemning the incident, but that was ignored by the media, which went into paroxysms of self-pity about journalists not being allowed to function. Arnab Goswami in his official capacity as president of the National Broadcasting Federation (the fact that he was elected to this post by his peers in the television media is in itself a comment on the state of the media) issued a lengthy condemnation.
Then, yesterday, Sudhir Chaudhary the editor in chief of Zee News landed up, escorted by a strong contingent of police (Why police? And what business does the police have, provided an escort to a journalist ostensibly going someplace to report? Who gave them the orders?). And with him was Deepak Chaurasia.
This time, Shaheen Bagh protestors changed tactics — they chanted, shouted slogans, refused to talk to the two “journalists”. And Chaudhary spun it as an indication of how riotous the Shaheen Bagh protestors are. They pushed women to the front and the men hid behind, he said — echoing, precisely, the words of Ajay Singh Bisht the other day. See how the propaganda machine works, smoothly and in tandem?
Chaudhary, it might be worth pointing out, is one of two senior “journalists” arrested by the Delhi crime branch on the charge of blackmailing industrialist and MP Naveen Jindal. Following the BJP’s rise to power, the charges have been allowed to lapse through lack of follow-up; meanwhile, the government provided him X Category protection.
PostScript to the above, added at 5.45 PM: This happened. Two men brandishing pistols intruded in Shaheen Bagh and threatened that lashein girenge. There you have it, the direct consequence of Shah talking of “shocks” while demonising Shaheen Bagh, Thakur (see below) leading hate-filled chants, the BJP hate machine including journalists getting into overdrive. Indian Express has a story.
Elsewhere, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur attended an election rally yesterday afternoon. With the critical 2020-’21 budget due for presentation in just five days. This happened:
That is a Union minister, calling for mass murder. And not just indiscriminate, either — in his speech leading up to this volley of sloganeering, he explicitly mentioned Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal as the gadaars. A Union minister. Naming “traitors”. And leading a chant that traitors should be shot dead.
In tandem with the above, read about Nalini Balakumar, who was arrested for the ‘crime’ of holding up a ‘Free Kashmir’ banner and who has just received bail. She was booked under Section 124 A (Sedition) and Section 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code. This, remember, is the incident that prompted the Mysore Bar Association to declare that none of its members would defend her case — an egregious instance of lawyers sworn to defend the law violating its most basic principle, that every person is entitled to a defence. Here is the bit, though, that should really give you pause:
The government counsel noted that by opposing the CAA, Nalini held an anti-government view.
That is the India of today — it is ‘seditious’ to hold an ‘anti-government view’. Presumably it is neither seditious, nor criminal, for a federal minister to call for mass murder, as Thakur did the very same day.
India Today “debated” this. Amit Malaviya, speaking in defence of Thakur, said it was the crowd that had chanted the goli maro line — a defence as risible as it is reprehensible.
But you expect that from Malaviya and his ilk, who are officially appointed and paid to defend the actions of the party. What is indefensible is that Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the seniormost journalists in the country, and a celebrated icon of the profession, sat in the host’s chair and listened po-faced to Malaviya’s ridiculous defence, without a single attempt at push-back. Martin Luther King said it best:
“When all this is over, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The sheer insanity of this incident — Thakur leading a chant that calls for murder, the police doing nothing about it, the media enabling it — is best underlined by activist Saket Gokhale (who has been brilliant during these dark days, and is someone you should follow), who did this (He explains his line of reasoning in this thread):
Speaking of whether it is ok to chant that slogan, it might be worth mentioning that the man “credited” with coining it has been given a BJP ticket to contest the Delhi elections.
More from the chamber of horrors that this country is turning into. Remember, when you see such instances, that it is hate-sodden rants of the BJP leaders, the ministers, the TV anchors and Amit Shah’s “internet yodhao” that both permit and enable such vile behaviour. Remember that every single one of them has blood on his hands.
They said that the JNU servers had been vandalised. They filed FIRs against JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and 17 others for this act. They said that because of the vandalism, CCTV footage of the masked thugs, armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid, who entered the campus and for three hours unleashed hell, was not available.
Wait, unpack that. The charge of vandalism was used by mass media — particularly the two leading English news channels, and the leading Hindi channels — to suggest that the horrific attacks of January 5 was retaliation, and therefore somehow justifiable. The vandalism itself was used to justify the inability of the police to track down the culprits — never mind that social media did a great job of tracking several of the ring leaders down within 48 hours; never mind that a senior ABVP leader said on TV that they had taken bottles of acid with them for “self defence”.
The story has since unravelled. An RTI inquiry revealed that there was no vandalism. And now, another RTI inquiry indicates that there is in fact CCTV footage — which won’t be released because it has been “withheld by law enforcement agencies”.
Which is to say, the police filed false charges; the police know the identity of the attackers; the police were culpable in allowing the attacks to go on unhindered; the police have all the evidence they need — and, as of today, 23 days after the attack, there has not been a single arrest.
However, Bhim Army chief Chandra Sekhar Azad was arrested in Hyderabad two days ago — for the crime of arriving in the city to attend a rally that had already been announced, and had all the requisite permissions. Now this: A group of Hyderabad University students were detained for about eight hours while police “investigated” whether they had any “connection” to Azad.
For a moment, assume they had. So? What is the crime? Under what statute of the IPC is it prohibited for me, or you, or those students, to know Azad?
Alongside this, read this deeply reported piece by Anoo Bhuyan detailing how the government and the police actively prevent hospitals from treating those wounded in police actions against protestors. The police actions are illegal in themselves; the state machinery then compounds it by blocking treatment to the victims — just another artefact of this sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas regime this country voted for.
The thuggery of the police is exceeded only by the thuggery of the ruling party — and, not for the first time, the police comes off worse for wear when uniformed thuggery collides with political thuggery. Here is the latest instance:
Beaten up by lawyers owing allegiance to the BJP, and not a yip. Beaten by random MLAs in Bihar, in Gujarat, in Uttar Pradesh, and not a yip. Given half a chance, though, only too happy to beat up women, children, students. This is the state of the law and order machinery under this regime. And then there is this:
And this latest example comes from a state where, according to India Today — remember, a channel whose star anchors are Rahul Kanwal and Rajdeep Sardesai — a poll has shown that Ajay Singh Bisht is, for the second year in succession, the best performing chief minister in the country.
“When you were merely asked to bend, you crawled,” said LK Advani in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency. He hadn’t seen nothing yet, then — this is what conscienceless crawling looks like. And this is how hate is enabled, normalised, in this country.
BJP IT cell head Amit Malaviya posted a video clip suggesting that journalist Arfa Khanum had called for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. It was picked up by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and by the serried ranks of blue-tick propagandists owing allegiance to the party (the list is contained in the story linked to). It was a classic case of suggestio falsi, a clip mischievously edited to suggest that Khanum said something she did not.
A viral video clip purportedly shows a woman protestor in Lucknow — a Muslim — complaining that the Rs 500 per day the Congress pays those who attend protests is pitifully little. It is, in case it needs mentioning, misleading.
Then there is the other kind of propaganda — suppressio veri. Back in December there was a news story about the felling of over 40,000 trees in the Talabira forest in Odisha to facilitate the expansion of an Adani mine. Shortly thereafter, Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar released the latest edition of the India State of Forest Report, and said forest cover in the country had increased by 30%.
Aap chronology samjhiye — the good news comes as narrative-reshaping palliative shortly after the bad news hit the headlines. And now it turns out, according to a researched story in Scroll, that 29.5% of land claimed as forest does not in fact have any trees. See how this government works?
It is regular, predictable. It lies — even in Parliament, which is an offence in itself. It obfuscates. It fudges data. As for instance Minister for Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel did in Parliament when he claimed that the abrogation of Article 370 and the clampdown on Kashmir did not have a quantifiable impact on tourism in the Valley (a laughable claim even on the face of it — I mean, how on earth do you with a straight face say that blocking public movement does not affect tourism?)
An RTI inquiry now reveals not only that the minister was lying, but that the impact of the hit is much greater than even the pessimists had imagined. The ministry’s own figures show a 71% decline in tourism revenues. For the BJP via its official handle in Tamil Nadu, Kashmir’s plight — with its livelihood ruined, its politicians jailed, its voices silenced — which should be a matter of national concern, is a joke.
But why is any of this a surprise? In 2018, the Supreme Court castigated the real estate firm Goel Ganga for blatant violation of environmental laws and for wreaking massive environmental damage, and fined it Rs 105 crore. Almost immediately, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari — who, they say, is one of the better, more efficient ministers in a Cabinet clearly starved of talent — did this (Emphasis mine; read this slowly, the sheer scale of the effrontery, the casual disregard for even the highest court in the land, takes some getting used to):
Eight days later, Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport and highways, wrote to the then environment minister, Dr. Harshvardhan, asking him to consider Goel Ganga Group’s request to effectively undo part of the Supreme Court’s judgment by reinstating an office memorandum issued by the environment ministry on 7 July 2017.
The Supreme Court had struck down that particular Office Memorandum terming it “totally illegal”. Government departments use office memoranda, or OMs, to clarify specific laws or policies.
That, in one sordid example, is the government we have, the one we re-elected recently with an even greater majority. A government where one minister tells another to reinstate an order that the Supreme Court, no less, had declared “totally illegal”.
Anti-corruption — the biggest electoral plank of the BJP — has been repeatedly shown to be a sham. Here is yet another example: the opaque electoral bonds scheme cooked up by the late Arun Jaitley. This is the scheme activists have been opposing in court ever since it was first introduced; the scheme Modi’s own law ministry said was illegal but he decided to go ahead with it anyway; the scheme the Supreme Court has enabled through the ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ route; the scheme the BJP has been by far the principal beneficiary of since the beginning. Here is the brilliant Nitin Sethi, cutting through the opacity, showing us the light — take the time out to watch, to listen. Because “You cannot be indifferent”:
That is enough corruption for the day. How about competence? The MGNREGA, a scheme to provide at least partial employment to the poorest and the most disadvantaged, is facing a severe funds crunch. Funds have run out, fifteen states “are already in the red” — that, at least, is the language of this report; what it actually means is that in fifteen states, the poorest of the poor have not been paid for work they have done. (Note: jargon obfuscates meaning.)
Elsewhere, only three in ten farmers have received actual benefits from the Pradhan Mantri Kisan scheme the government spent tons of money publicising, per another RTI request.
Last September, there was uproar when the news broke that the government had not been able to pay the CRPF its ration allowance. It is now the turn of the Border Security Force to announce that the cash crunch is so severe it is unable to pay salaries for January and February.
Or how about this? The Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar, no less, claimed in December that the uproar over pollution was unnecessary; that “no Indian studies” had shown any causal link between pollution and people’s health. He was wrong — actually, he was lying — then. Here is more news: An IndiaSpend deep dive not only causes premature death, but also infertility, birth complications, defects in newborn children, and still births. Read that, keeping in mind that 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.
In this parade of grim news, I actively went searching for rays of light. And I found one such in this thread by Surekha Pillai, where she chronicles instances of regular, ordinary folk doing extraordinary things to help heal our wounds. Check out those individual stories, those people Surekha chronicles — when the history of this period is written, it is the names of such that will be starred.
In Kerala’s temple town Thrissur, this happened:
“Nearly one thousand people (Muslims protesting the CAA) who had turned up for the protest transformed into volunteers to clear traffic and crowds so that the procession could move through Thrissur town without any hurdles.”
Read the story; it is just one of thousands of reasons why I am proud of my home state, which resolutely refuses to be tainted by communal poison despite the desperate efforts of the saffron brigade.
I began this post with a mention of Auschwitz and, by extent, of fascism. These days, that word is thrown around a lot, as are comparisons between the BJP and the Nazi regime of Hitler. How valid is the comparison? How much of it follows from what is happening around us, and how much of it is knee-jerk, alarmist, exaggeration?
To even begin to think of such questions, it is necessary first to wrap our heads around what fascism means, and how it differs from your common, garden variety bigotry. Given the cataclysmic nature of the Holocaust, there are literally thousands of books that examine fascism, in theory and practise; there is so much literature on the subject you could spend a lifetime reading, and still merely scratch the surface.
Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale, and the author of several books, at least three of which are must-reads for our times: How Language Works, How Propaganda Works, and How Fascism Works. What follows is an abridged, edited (in the sense that I skip paragraphs now and again, so do note that the paras are not contiguous) extract from his foundational text on fascism (Emphasis is Stanley’s):
I have chosen the label “fascism” for ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural), with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.
Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.
The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. By excluding these groups, it limits the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination.
Fascist politics can dehumanize minority groups even when an explicitly fascist state does not arise. By some measures, Myanmar is transitioning to democracy. But five years of brutal rhetoric directed against the Rohingaya Muslim population has nevertheless resulted in one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing since the Second World War.
The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an “us” and a “them”…. appealing to ethnic, religious or racial distinctions…
Fascist politicians justify their ideas by breaking down a common sense of history by creating a mythic past to support their vision for the present. They rewrite the population’s shared understanding of reality by twisting the language of ideals through propaganda and promoting anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas. Eventually, with these techniques, fascist politics creates a state of unreality, in which conspiracy theories and fake news replace reasoned debate.
Any progress for a minority group stokes feelings of victimhood among the dominant population. Law and order politics has mass appeal, casting “us” as lawful citizens and “them”, by contrast, as lawless criminals whose behavior poses an existential threat to the manhood of the nation. Sexual anxiety is also typical of fascist politics as the patriarchal hierarchy is threatened by growing gender equity.
As the fear of “them” grows, “we” come to represent everything virtuous. … “We” are hardworking and have earned our pride of place by struggle and merit. “They” are lazy, surviving off the goods we produce by exploiting the generosity of our welfare systems, or employing corrupt institutions, such as labor unions, meant to separate honest, hardworking citizens from their pay. “We” are makers; “they” are takers.
Done? Ok — as you read that abridged list of the symptoms of fascism, how many times did you find yourself nodding and thinking, yeah, I recognise this? How many times, as you read, did you find yourself thinking of some contemporary headline (as, to cite just one example, the bit about the attack on universities, or to cite another, sexual anxiety as exemplified by the growing pushbacks against women-led protests in the country today?)
How many times in your reading did you find yourself thinking, yeah, this is us?
If the answer is “a lot” or “all the time”, congratulations — 75 years after the horrors of Auschwitz, we have jumped out of the pages of the horrific past and, having failed to learn from our shared history, have begun to repeat it.
Here is a handy checklist of symptoms:
Remember the quote from the beginning?:
DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT
PS: I will not be updating this tomorrow due to some personal work that takes me away from the desk. Be well, see you Thursday.