Where Justice goes to die

On February 5, a mundan (ritual shaving of hair) ceremony was conducted for the daughter of mid-level bureaucrat Diwakar Nath Mishra, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Commerce. In attendance were President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other high-profile members of the government.

Diwakar Nath Mishra is the son-in-law of Supreme Court Judge Arun Kumar Mishra.

Yesterday, February 14, Justice Mishra heard a petition filed by Sarah Abdullah Pilot, sister of incarcerated Kashmir politician and former chief minister Omar Abdullah.

Abdullah, who was in preventive custody for a period of six months, was recently charged under the stringent provisions of the Public Safety Act. The dossier submitted by the J & K police in support of the detention makes claims that are so bizarre they defy belief.

Reviewing Sarah Pilot’s petition, Justice Arun Kumar Mishra postponed the hearing by three weeks, and then bargained it down to 15 days, setting the next hearing for March 2. He said – a Supreme Court judge actually said – this:

“If the sister could wait so long, then 15 days doesn’t make a difference.”

Read LiveLaw’s real time coverage of the proceedings in the highest court in the land – in tandem with the news report above on the mundan ceremony —  to realize how, and how completely, justice has been subverted.

I need to clarify that none of this constitutes criticism of Justice Mishra – even though he has been in the crosshairs of controversy more times than you can count; in fact, it was Mishra who, on being named to hear the case of the death of Judge Loya, triggered four senior judges to take the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to express their angst.

But yeah, this is not a criticism.  Aap chronology aur facts samjhiye, bas. And this clarification, which I make with all possible emphasis, is necessary because a day earlier, the Chief Justice of India and two of his colleagues were hearing a case relating to the distribution of child porn via online communications tools when, in a surprising non sequitur, the CJI observed:

“There are instances where institutions like Parliament and SC are defamed with derogatory comments. Why should it not be explored how to stop circulation of such comments?”

And this is not the first time, either – shortly before taking over as CJI, SA Bobde had talked about feeling bothered by criticisms of judges.

So there you have it. The CJI’s concern is not with whether the criticisms of the courts and of Parliament are genuine or not; his concern is, how do we silence criticism.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on a military convoy in the Pulwama district that killed 40 CRPF personnel. As recently as the just-concluded Delhi elections, several BJP campaigners including Ajay Singh Bisht were pointing to Modi’s retaliation for the attack while seeking votes (never mind that the only quantified, verifiable outcome was that India shot down one of its own helicopters, killing seven).

There were several commemorative pieces in the media yesterday, including some that pointed out that 12 months later, there is no official word on the inquiry into the massive intelligence lapses that resulted in the attack. The one that caught my attention was this piece in the Hindustan Times.

The crux: Families of those killed in the attack say that they are still waiting for the promises of compensation to be fulfilled. Which is sad, but hardly surprising – the armed forces are yet another prop for displays of hyper-nationalism, trotted out when convenient for propaganda purposes, ignored/forgotten the rest of the time.

Read, also, this excellent Polis Project report from the time, about the facts, and the obfuscation, surrounding the attack – and particularly on the role of the media in adding to the confusion. And this round up of questions that remain unanswered, twelve months on.

In Kashmir, the economy continues to unravel. The latest manifestation was an unusual advertisement in local papers, inserted by trade bodies, indicating their inability to pay back loans because business had been brought to a total standstill. The ad is worth reading in full; here is the money clip:

In the advertisement, the trade bodies, including Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, said that after August 2019, business community was completely devastated and exhausted.

“Our survival is under threat and our humble submissions to the banks is that at once stop calling us defaulters. We believe there may be two types of defaulters; willful defaulters, which we as community strongly protest to be called or named as; circumstantial defaulters, which we have been forced to be,” they said.

And while on that, more economic bad news: exports shrunk for the sixth straight month in January.

In Deoband, in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, the local administration is asking residents of Muslim-dominated colonies to remove the national flag flying on their terraces. Pause to let that sink in – a community that is constantly asked to prove its patriotism is being asked to remove the national flag they are flying.

In Aurangabad, Bihar, police made several arrests following an anti-CAA protest that turned violent. The FIR and case diary submitted in court are farcical beyond belief – including, but not limited, to the arrest of the same person for violence at two different locations at the exact same time.

Meanwhile in New Delhi, 10 persons arrested by the police in connection with the incident of molestation at Gargi College have been let out on bail. They spent less than 24 hours in custody; the police say they have evidence that these persons broke down the college gate and trespassed, but no evidence that they molested anyone. Meanwhile, as I pointed out in my post yesterday, Dr Kafeel Khan, who after prolonged incarceration was finally given bail last week, was not only kept in jail in violation of the bail order, but now has draconian NSA charges filed against him.

In Karnataka, just the day before yesterday, the high court had ruled that slapping Section 144 to curtail protests in Bangalore was illegal. So the police have taken to giving permission only if those applying sign surety bonds of up to Rs 10 lakh. The police commissioner says it is to ensure that protests don’t turn violent, the same justification that was earlier used to impose 144. This, despite the fact that protests have been on in Bangalore since early December, and there has not been a single incidence of violence reported. Clearly, the BJP government in the state is hell bent on stopping protests by whatever means it can.

That determination extends to BJP’s vassal states, like Tamil Nadu where, last evening, police decided to use force to prevent a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in from evolving. Several were injured, over 150 people were arrested, one 70-year-old man died in the panicky stampede that ensued.

Embed: https://twitter.com/pinjratod/status/1228405361469771777?s=12

In the age of social media news, even news the authorities would prefer wasn’t widely circulated, gets around at warp speed. And more than the news, it is the visuals – graphic, gory, incendiary – that spread with incredible rapidity, rousing people to anger and provoking a backlash. Before the night was out, the reverberations of Washermanpet began to manifest all across the state. This thread only partially captures the protests that erupted across the state – several in Chennai itself, others in Trichy, Coimbatore, Vellore, Madurai, Tenkasi, Pudukottai, Ooty, Thanjavur… — in the wake of the police action.

This is what the BJP and its allies don’t get – that the more force they use, the more determined people will be to resist. In the coming days, this will only intensify as political parties take up the cudgels – and for the AIADMK/BJP combine, which faces a crucial election next year, this is just another fatal misstep in a series of missteps they have been making in the last few months.

While on the BJP’s almost Pavlovian use of force in the face of resistance, Kanhaiyya Kumar was attacked last evening, on the 15th day of his 30-day yatra across Bihar. A bit from an eyewitness account is worth highlighting:

The air rattled with the incendiary cries of “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko”, a chant now associated with supporters of the government who feel opponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA, cleared by parliament in December, are anti-nationals.

There were seven attacks prior to this one, and the reason is not hard to seek: though the media continues to deny him oxygen, his Twitter stream is sufficient indication that on the ground, the response to his roadshow is nothing short of phenomenal. He belongs to arguably the poorest national party in India today, one without the resources to turn out crowds in large numbers, and yet every meeting of his is standing room only, and the timeline clips of his speeches are an indication of how effortlessly he connects with the crowds, wherever he goes.

The BJP was clearly caught on the wrong foot here – Kumar started his roadshow on January 30, just when the BJP was neck deep in the Delhi election campaign; now he is off and running in front, seeding the ground, and the BJP can’t afford to mount an extensive campaign just yet for – the election in Bihar is in October — fear of audience fatigue.

Staying with violence and the state for a moment longer, the Delhi police has decided not to make any arrests in the February 5 attacks on JNU. Despite the plentiful evidence, the police will merely file a chargesheet and leave it to the courts to decide whether arrests are needed – this, in a case where masked thugs armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid entered a university campus to cause mayhem, and there is plentiful evidence of both the acts and the identity of the perpetrators.

In Uttar Pradesh, there are now 34 lakh unemployed persons according to government figures; this is 12.5 lakh more than there were just two years ago. Ajay Singh Bisht has been promising employment, and the Central government has been trying, through various events, to entice investors to set up operations in the state.

“No new investment has come despite lot of talk from the CM. All investment came under Akhilesh Yadav’s regime. The rising law and order disturbances in UP have now added to the crisis. The economic slowdown reflects in these unemployment figures of UP,” Singh said. The National Statistical Office (NSO) had earlier said UP had the highest unemployment rate in urban areas, at nearly 16 in the quarter ended December 2018, compared to the all-India urban unemployment rate of 9.9%.

The implications, for a state with a population the size of the United States, is mind-boggling. And this situation has come about almost entirely because Modi and Shah, in yet another of their “masterstrokes”, decided to install Bisht as CM on the theory that he would consolidate the Hindutva vote and convert the state, which sends the largest number of MPs to Parliament, into a Hindutva fortress. To channel Bill Clinton, “It is the economy, stupid”; when people have no jobs, no way to put food on the table, they will turn against you sooner than later.

The BJP hierarchy, meanwhile, is busy walking back the damage it did to itself in Delhi. There was Shah at the TimesNow summit the other day, which I had pointed to in an earlier blogpost; now here is Prakash Javadekar saying he never called Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. And here is Javadekar saying it:

But then, who are you going to believe — a Union minister, or your own lying eyes and ears?

It is not that they lie – politicians lie, all the time. It is just that they are brazen about it; that they will lie about something even when there is videographic evidence to the contrary – I mean, Shah has repeatedly lied that there was no plan for a nationwide NRC despite the fact that it was he who talked of the plan on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, so I suppose Javadekar’s latest is merely par for the course.

Speaking of walking back, the BJP’s post mortem of its defeat has concluded that hate speech has nothing to do with it – the fault lies with the Congress, which ran a tactically weak campaign, and the fact that too many star campaigners hit the ground, with the result that the candidates were busy making arrangements for them and had no time for their own campaigning.

Well, duh! Ignoring the fact that fielding all members of the Cabinet, over 270 MPs, seven chief ministers etc was a decision of that political Chanakya Amit Shah, there is the inconvenient fact that star campaigners only go where the local candidate requests their presence. But it is not the illogical conclusion that should worry you – it is the swift repudiation of the impact of hate speech on the results, which basically means we are going to get more of the same in the elections to follow.

Meanwhile, at the TimesNow summit I had touched on in yesterday’s post, Amit Shah said:

I have full faith that on basis of 3 million ton, we can achieve an economy of 5 million ton.

Trying googling to see how many media houses covered that gaffe. Then google the word ‘pappu’, and see how many media houses did not gleefully latch on to instances where Rahul Gandhi misspoke, and even how many distorted what he did say to suggest that he misspoke (remember the infamous “potato factory”, for instance?). Rahul Gandhi is also supposed to have said Modi was to blame for unemployment among eagles (He did not).

Shah, however, appears to have learned something from his recent defeat. After a campaign where the BJP mocked those who would sell their nation for Rs 200 worth of free electricity/water, Shah says now that if the BJP comes to power in Bihar his government will provide Rs 200 worth of free electricity to every family.

In Ahmedabad, the local administration is laying in orders for Rs 3.7 crore worth of flowers to beautify the road Modi and Trump will drive along – just one more line item in a massive beautification drive being undertaken so two narcissists who don’t like each other very much (see yesterday’s post) can indulge in an extended photo-op.

India hopes to get some sort of trade deal out of this, but for reasons I’d mentioned in my previous post, that is unlikely. Not that the GoI is not pulling out all stops to try and get something, anything out of this to wave around in triumph – in fact, the government is so desperate for a deal, it has reportedly told the US this:

India has offered to allow imports of U.S. chicken legs, turkey and produce such as blueberries and cherries, Indian government sources said, and has offered to cut tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25%. U.S. negotiators want that tariff cut to 10%.

The Modi government is also offering to allow some access to India’s dairy market, but with a 5% tariff and quotas, the sources said. But dairy imports would need a certificate they are not derived from animals that have consumed feeds that include internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants.

There is more. And all of this will hurt India’s agrarian industries at a time when it is already under enormous distress, besides hurting both the poultry and dairy industries. But hey, anything for the sake of a “win” to boast of, even if that win is Pyrrhic. Here is the story, in a nutshell, via cartoonist Satish Acharya (who you should follow):

Elsewhere in Gujarat, in a college in Bhuj, 68 college girls were forced to remove their underwear to prove that they were not menstruating. Just another waypoint in the ongoing Talibanisation of the country and its education systems. It all happened, says the school principal, a woman herself, with the permission of the girls.

In the midst of all this gloom and doom (and there is lots more, but I’ll spare you), the Maharashtra government has decided to build homes for Mumbai’s famed dabbawallahs, the efficiency of whose meal delivery system has been studied by Harvard Business School, eulogized by the BBC, been held up as a model of Six Sigma, and formed the subject of an extended presentation at the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, among other honors.

A photographer bought barren farmland near Ranthambore and let it grow back into a forest. Now it is home to tigers and other wild fauna.

PS: There will be no post tomorrow. Have a nice weekend all.

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?

Reading List 19/01/2020

  • Uttar Pradesh, about which a longer blogpost needs writing, continues to shock with its arrogant unconcern for either law, or human rights, or even public opinion. One of the many lies — that protestors had fired on cops, leading to retaliatory firing that led to deaths — has been steadily unravelling. Meanwhile a women’s protest at the Clock Tower in Lucknow — which began a couple of days ago with just a handful of women, and which has grown in size ever since — was raided last evening, and the police carried away food and blankets. “Do not spread rumours,” a police statement today says,. “The blankets were seized after due process”. What “due process” allows people to confiscate blankets and food from people peacefully protesting is left to your imagination. Reports also say that water cannons were used on the women protestors. But as always happens in times of crisis, it is the Sikh community that brings a shaft of light to the darkness. This time, by turning up with blankets and food to replace what the police had robbed.
  • Uttar Pradesh, again, showing how intolerance is done. Danseuse Manjari Chaturvedi, who has taken her innovative Sufi-Kathak dance form all over the world, was halted in mid-performance at a UP government function in Lucknow. She was told ‘qawwali nahi chalegi yahan‘.
  • A majority Christian village in Karnataka decided to put up a statue to Jesus. The RSS led a rally opposing it. It turns out that the local Hindus not only have no problem with the proposed statue, they are willing to oppose the RSS if they again bring outsiders to protest.
  • A member of the Niti Aayog wants to know why Kashmiris are fussed about the denial of internet facilities. There is no e-commerce there anyway, he says; Kashmiris do nothing but watch porn. The man is, among other things, a scientist, ex-DRDO.
  • Mukul Kesavan writes of the icons ranging from Ambedkar to Savitribai Phule who have been resurrected by the anti-CAA protestors. But no Gandhi, he points out. “Gandhi’s relative unimportance in the CAA-NRC protests has several reasons. For one, he has been so completely appropriated by the Indian State since his death that he has been reduced to a piety.”
  • Raj Shekhar Sen traces contemporary events to what he calls a “crisis of masculinity” that fuels the Hindutva agenda.
  • JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh says what is happening in the country is nothing short of an attempt by Modi to colonise his own country.
  • Josy Joseph, who from the time he was a colleague at Rediff has made a speciality of the internal security beat, has the most nuanced, readable piece yet on Davinder Singh, the J&K cop arrested while ferrying wanted militants towards Delhi. Militancy, Josy writes, is a multi-faceted business; Davinder is merely a symptom, a manifestation, of a much larger malaise. Alongside the piece, watch this video where Davinder reportedly told the arresting officers not to interfere because it would spoil a plan. The whole thing smells to high heaven — which, come to think of it, explains why the NIA has taken over the investigation, as the surest means of putting a lid on it.
  • On February 27, 2018, my colleague Arati Kumar-Rao and I were at the Wagah Border to receive Paul Salopek, the two-time Pulitzer-winner who was due to enter India on this leg of his Out of Eden Walk. What struck us most forcibly was the incessant traffic of lorries and trucks, speaking to the flourishing cross-border trade between the two countries. While Arati went in to the checkpoint to receive Paul, I whiled away the time at a tea-shop where Sunny, the owner, regaled me with stories of this trade. The tea-shop was just a working base for him; his real occupation was trading in dried fruits which, he said, came from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The goods would be dropped off at the Pakistan side of the checkpost; his people would then pass them through Customs, and his lorries would load up on the India side, and transport the goods to wholesale merchants in Amritsar and elsewhere. Remember, this flourishing trade was happening at the same time border tensions had peaked. Not any more, though — Suhasini Haidar reports that thousands of families have been hit by the trade freeze at the Wagah-Attari border. It’s just another dot that, when connected up, presents a picture of the large-scale economic distress roiling the country. In that connection, and in tandem with my post earlier this morning about Kashmir, read also this piece by Salman Anees Sos on the economic catastrophe that has hit the state.
  • Author Chetan Bhagat, who at times has been pilloried for statements in support of the current regime, has a nicely weighted piece in Times of India about why the whole CAA/NRC/NPR exercise should be shelved immediately.
  • Remember Muhammed bin Tughlaq, whose mis-governance masterstrokes has earned him notoriety in history? The man is a genius compared to Modi’s government — which, recently, panicked as onion prices shot up and public anger rose, bought 35,000 tons of onions from Turkey and Egypt, found that the market has no demand for the bland variants from those countries, and is now trying to sell them off at less than half the purchase price.
  • In context of the recent kerfuffle over Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and the GoI’s apparent issues with “predatory pricing”, read this piece by columnist and podcaster Amit Varma where he argues that the problem is actually with a predatory state.

WTF Just Happened: December 1

#1. After six straight lows, India’s quarterly GDP growth finally trended upwards to 6.3% in the quarter ending September 2017 — a significant uptick from the 5.7% the economy had registered in the previous quarter. The real silver lining is not so much the GDP number itself, but the fact that manufacturing growth accelerated as warehouses restocked after the twin disruptions of demonetization and GST implementation.

Arun Jaitley is hopeful that the impact of those two structural reforms is now “behind us and hopefully, we can look for an upward trajectory in the third and the fourth quarter.” A pragmatic, unexceptional statement from the FM, that contrasts with the chest-thumping of the BJP-leaning sections of the media, led by the usual suspect:

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Ab ki baar, afterthought sarkar

The GST is working perfectly fine. The citizens are happy. The money is pouring into the treasury. A New India is dawning. Except, this from just now:

The GST Council today decided to keep only 50 items, mostly demerit, sin and luxury goods in top 28 per cent tax bracket. “Lower 18 per cent GST will be levied on chewing gums, chocolates, after shave, deodorant, washing power, detergent, marble,” Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said. The all-powerful council pruned the list of items attracting the top 28 per cent tax rate to just 50 from 227 previously, Modi told reporters here. In effect, the council cut rates on 177 goods.

Why does the “well thought out” GST law require revisions at almost the rate of one per day? And while we are on questions, how does this change the financial projects of the ministry?

Now waiting for the official spin, about how this is a sign of a “responsive government” that listens to its people.

 

 

WTFJH: The October 14 weekend edition

#1. It takes just one news story to meet, and exceed, the weekend’s whatthefuckery quotient:

Over two years after Mohammed Akhlaq was beaten to death on suspicion of consuming beef, the accused in the case, all of whom are out on bail, may soon secure jobs.

Moreover, the family of Ravin Sisodia, one of the murder accused who had died in jail of multiple organ failure, is soon likely to get Rs 8 lakh compensation.

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