Amit Shah and the big lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere in our country:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is it. That is the case.

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

“Twas a famous victory”. Wasn’t it?

‘Burn out’ is an actual thing. I learned this the hard way, after writing well over 20,000 words on this blog in the space of a week – and, in between the writing, reading books on authoritarianism/fascism, the media and propaganda, protest movements around the world, and related subjects.

I spent the last four days or so in a sort of daze, unable to really process anything I was seeing and hearing into cohesive thoughts. I know I need to rejig how I do this – not documenting, not writing, is not an option in these times but equally, writing every single day is not viable either.

So: I’ll do daily round-ups of the news that I think it is necessary to highlight, to document, to collate so individual items are not lost in the surround sound; about once in four or five days, I’ll write essay-length pieces on issues I think need exploration.

I’m not the only one suffering from burn-out, by the way. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has not been seen or heard from since the morning of February 11. His Twitter stream is dormant (except for a retweet of a plug for a public engagement today where he will apparently talk of drug trafficking); while his titular boss Modi and other BJP worthies were quick to “welcome the verdict” and promise Arvind Kejriwal “full support”, Shah has been conspicuously silent; he has also been conspicuously absent from his office.

Burn-out. Besides masterminding the vicious, dangerously toxic, no-holds-barred Delhi campaign (which has repercussions that will ramify well beyond this election cycle; remember for instance that around midnight on February 11, an AAP MLA’s convoy was fired upon, killing one) which involved all Union ministers, and almost all BJP chief ministers and MPs, he personally led 44 rallies and roadshows and also went door to door in a 13-day span.

For all the post-facto sound bites about this being a “local election” and the BJP having accomplished its objective by increasing its existing tally and improving its vote share, Shah was clearly in it to win it.

From the bits and pieces I’ve been able to pick up behind the scenes, Shah’s motivation was not to gain control of the glorified municipality that is Delhi, per se. He saw this – particularly in light of the party having swept Delhi in the 2019 national election – as his opportunity to shed the tag of Modi’s consigliere, to emerge out of Modi’s shadow, to be recognized as a leader in his own right, one capable of winning elections on his own (Note that Modi was used for just two rallies – one at the start, and one towards the end, of the campaign).

The resounding thumbs-down by Delhi voters has put paid to that ambition — and that is a good thing, since the last thing this country needs is a Shah turbo-charged by the confidence of victory. The elections to follow, in Bihar later this year and in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal in 2021, are too complex for him to even attempt to put himself front and centre without a confidence-boosting win under his belt.

For me, that is the single biggest takeaway from the Delhi results – that it stopped Shah in his tracks. That the criminal campaigns of Pervesh Verma, Anurag Thakur and their ilk met with a resounding rebuff is just a corollary; this was about Shah, and Shah alone, and he needed to be stopped, and Delhi did the deed with spin-proof emphasis.

That said, I am conflicted about the Delhi outcome. The defeat of the BJP is of paramount importance, simply because the next general election is a long way off and this fight to reclaim the moral core of this country cannot wait for four years – it has to be fought in the here and the now, and the answer to that is the brewing Centre versus State battle across multiple fronts, most urgently the resistance to the nationwide implementation of the NPR.

At the time of writing this Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and West Bengal have officially passed resolutions against the CAA (and emphasized their resolve that the NPR process will not be permitted in these states). Yesterday, in direct defiance of Governor Kiran Bedi’s strong messaging, Puducherry became the first Union Territory to pass an anti-CAA resolution).

In order to fight and win the battle of our times, it is necessary to shrink the BJP footprint in the states, to reduce its sphere of influence, to destroy the nation-wide hegemony it enjoyed even as recently as this time last year. The non-BJP states will take strength and support from each other; the more such states there are, the stronger the resistance and the harder it is for the BJP to fight on multiple fronts. (This is also the reason Bihar, which goes to polls in October 2020, is critically important – with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Chattisgarh out of the BJP net, Bihar is the one big state other than Uttar Pradesh that remains in the Hindi heartland).

Delhi doesn’t change the map of influence since it was not controlled by the BJP earlier, but by retaining Delhi, AAP has ensured that the sequence of the BJP’s state-level losses is maintained and has prevented the BJP from finding a makeweight for its loss of Maharashtra and Chattisgarh.

It’s not the win itself that makes me queasy, therefore; it is the manner of it. At no point did Arvind Kejriwal and AAP stand up in support of Shaheen Bagh, of JNU and Jamia and other centers of protest. At no point did AAP take the BJP’s polarizing rhetoric head-on; at no point did it directly contest the message the BJP was fighting on. With this result: the BJP believes that it was its stand on the CAA, its demonizing of the opposition as “gaddaars” deserving of “golis”, that enabled it to increase its vote share by a tick over 6%, and therefore it will now double down rather than back off.

A toxic idea that is uncontested will, like all cancers, metastasize. This was the thought uppermost in mind as I watched the last leg of the campaign, and monitored the results, but then Mihir Sharma argued the point brilliantly, so I’ll avoid repetition and link to his piece instead (One crucial clip below, but read the entire article – you must):

It might feel wonderful to declare that this was the voter in Delhi rejecting divisiveness and declaring her disagreement with what the BJP had to say, but that would be a brazen misinterpretation of what has actually happened. In fact, the BJP won the argument. It simply did not win the election. The AAP has not disagreed with the BJP on the themes or substance of its critique of Shaheen Bagh, of the anti-CAA protests, and so on. Arvind Kejriwal himself complained the problem with the CAA was that Indians themselves were not getting jobs. He also declared that if given a free hand, he would clear Shaheen Bagh in a couple of hours, and that nobody had the right to block traffic indefinitely. Quite amazing hypocrisy from a man who rose to power on a record consisting solely of pointless, fruitless, and interminable protest. If the BJP’s campaign has been one of open malice, the AAP’s campaign has been no less damaging to India’s soul. This is a victory of not just cowardice, but of submission to the BJP’s core values. 

As the results came in, Omair T Ahmed on Twitter came up with a thread on similar lines, which was then expanded into another must-read article on the subject. The crux:

That is also the failure of AAP, or the limit of its reach. It can’t, and won’t, challenge higher politics. Bijli, sadak, pani are all well and good, but not if the bijli is provided in detention centres, where the sadak leads, where pani is served to those stripped of citizenship at the whim of a bigoted and incompetent government, as has happened in Assam….

That politics of deflection and cowardice reached its inevitable nadir when AAP suggested that the ladies of Shaheen Bagh abandon their protests for the sake of Delhi’s elections—without once even being able to summon up the courage to speak on the issues. When people are protesting about their very citizenship, to suggest that this can be abandoned for the sake of a politics of mere service delivery was both outrageous and presumptuous. 

And in its post-election editorial, the Hindu makes a similar point. Between them, these three pieces sum up the reasons (at least, most of them) for my discomfort: that THE most emergent battle of our times, the one that has brought millions out onto the streets and kept thousands permanently camped at 24/7 protest sites across the country, was not won because it was simply not fought.

The consequence? In Delhi, the BJP secured 3.6-plus million votes, and these votes give it sufficient validation to double down on the toxicity. We, all of us, will pay the price for Kejriwal choosing to whiff rather than swing for the fences.

In passing, the utter decimation of the Congress has come in for much derision, but it is worth noting that while the Congress – from what I gather, tactically – opted to run a lukewarm campaign in Delhi in order not to split votes, the party has shown the moral courage to stand with the protestors and against hate.

Delhi PCC chief Subhash Chopra resigned owning responsibility for the party debacle (despite the obvious fact that the debacle was not his fault, but that of a leadership that opted to bail). It is worth noting though that when the full might of Shah’s police was unleashed against protestors in Delhi, he was constantly at the forefront, fighting for the release of those who had been illegally detained. It is equally worth pointing out that in both Delhi and UP, whenever the state-sponsored violence against protestors peaked, it was the Congress that the protestors and activists reached out to – and the party’s local activists always responded.

I hold no brief for the Congress and I am thoroughly vexed at a party that, even in these parlous times, is still busy fighting internal battles over the question of leadership – but equally, I admire the fact that Priyanka Gandhi at great personal (and, as Kejriwal demonstrated, political) risk was present at India Gate, at AIIMS to inquire into the welfare of protestors who bore the brunt of official and unofficial thugs; at Daryaganj when state violence peaked; and just yesterday, at Azamgarh in UP to stand with the protestors – UP, a state where the leaders of the two big local parties, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, have been conspicuously silent on the reign of terror unleashed by Ajay Singh Bisht.

The Congress, unlike AAP, the Samajwadi Party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, has shown the willingness to take the hard knocks and keep right on fighting — and this, to my mind, outweighs its decimation in Delhi. Can it do more? Yes. Should it? Yes. But to its credit, it is at the least not running away from the larger battle for the sake of smaller wins.

The Battle of Blenheim (1704) prompted British poet laureate Robert Southey to write ‘After Blenheim’, a poem on the senseless cruelties and sheer pointlessness of war. Here it is in full, and here below are two clips relevant to our times:

“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby, died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

“They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

…..

“And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why, that I cannot tell,” said he;
“But ‘twas a famous victory.”

Kejriwal adroitly side-stepped a battle that needed to be fought; the result was “a famous victory”, but as Mihir and others argue persuasively, the long-term outcome, sadly, has been to affirm the BJP’s conviction that polarisation is the best – the only – weapon left to it. And this is going to cost all of us.

I started this piece talking of burn-out; I’ll end it with a reiteration of how this blog will work going forward. There will be a once-daily round-up of the stories I think it is important for you to take note of; every once in a while, at the rate of around once a week, I’ll step away from the quotidian and write at length about larger issues.

PS: I’m not going to spam your timelines with the daily round-ups – you know how to find your way here if you feel the need.

Cover image courtesy Yahoo India

Update, 4.40 PM: Every point needs a good counterpoint, and there is none better on the net today than this one by Pragya Tiwari, who you should follow because she is an excellent writer. Here’s the money clip:

Refusing to let the BJP dictate the agenda is less indicative of ideological compromise than of a tactical move. Focusing on denouncing polarising propaganda is noble but it can also have the opposite effect of entrenching it and forcing even fence sitters to take defensive positions.

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.

A campaign of hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map courtesy FactChecker.in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the beginning was the word…

Image courtesy Google Arts and Culture

In early 2009, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC mounted an exhibition using Nazi propaganda material — posters, movies, newspapers, pamphlets, paintings — to show how the Fascists skilfully, subtly, spread the venom of anti-Semitism; to show how these messages, this propaganda, helped to create and nurture a climate of hate so widespread, so embedded in the collective psyche, that an entire nation stood by and watched, with indifference and even with a “they had it coming” acceptance, as over 6 million Jews were ruthlessly harvested and slaughtered in what Hitler, cloaking murderous intent in mundane words, called “the final solution”.

One of the most compelling exhibits of the State of Deception exhibit was a painting, commissioned by the Nazis, that showed a young Hitler speaking to a handful of followers. The circa 1937 painting, by Hermann Otto Hoyer, was used in the exhibition as a riveting example of the power of speech, of propaganda, to normalise unimaginable evil.

The painter titled it ‘In the beginning was the word‘, a reference to the first line of the Gospel according to John: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.’

In the beginning was the word…

Ajay Singh Bisht, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, opened his campaign for the Delhi elections yesterday. And this is his opening gambit:

Watch a clever, calculating, cold-blooded demagogue at work — a man who rose to power on the back of the muscle power of his own private militia, a man who on assuming power cancelled all the serious charges that had piled up against himself and his fellow-travellers, a man who has so normalised violence and hate in the state he rules that even as he was campaigning in Delhi, this happened in his home state and caused barely a ripple:

Boli se nahin manega to…

What boli? Where has the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, even attempted to talk to the protestors at JMI, at JNU, at Shaheen Bagh? At the over 60 Shaheen Bagh-style 24/7 sit-ins across the country? At the millions who have turned up for protest meetings across every single state in the country?

Bisht’s message is one of sly justification; it asks you to assume that the government has attempted to reason with the protestors — when, on the very same day, Law Minister RS Prasad said the government was “ready” to talk to the protestors. See the orchestration?

Officially, the government — after 50 days of unleashing the full might of its stormtroopers, in police uniform and out of it — is “ready to talk”. Simultaneously, the party’s star campaigner (Bisht has 12 rallies scheduled in a span of six days) plants in your head the thought that talks have failed, and only the “final solution” is left.

It is the time-honoured technique of the Fascist; the pre-emptive justification of the natural born killer. “We are all reasonable men here,” is how Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone opens his “peace” speech to a roomful of the most powerful mafiosi of the fictional time of The Godfather.

Bisht is a reasonable man, pointing out, reasonably and calmly, that the government has exhausted all its options and now has no recourse but to kill.

In the beginning was the word…

Note the calm, matter of fact tones. Note that this is not even incitement to violence — it is an open promise that extreme violence will be used. Note the brazen confidence with which he is able to make such a speech, a confidence that can only stem from the knowledge that all the institutions meant to protect the citizen against such as him — the police, the courts, the election commission machinery — have been suborned, subverted, neutered.

This is what happens when that happens. Activist Saket Gokhale, in a piece of protest-theatre that will enter the textbooks one day, officially asks the Delhi Police for permission to take out a march chanting the goli maro saalon ko slogan — and the police actually grant him permission because in the times we live in, even the police are no longer sure about what is legal and what is not, what is permissible and what is not.

The permission has since been revoked and Gokhale, in turn, responded with a perfectly valid question — if a Minister can do it, if crowds of people can march along Delhi streets chanting it with impunity, then why can’t he?:

Saket’s peskiness invites an involuntary giggle. But when you are done laughing, think of what this incident tells you. Think of how badly the police have been hamstrung that it has to twist itself into pretzels in a situation where, in more normal times, it would not only have denied permission outright but even acted against the petitioner for daring to so openly seek to defy the laws of the land. How did this come about? Because of what the ruling party has systematically done, what it has enabled. Thus:

Map Bisht’s words to Amit Shah’s campaign opener — ‘In logon ko sazaa deni chahiye ya nahin?’. Map that to Anurag Thakur leading a crowd in chants of goli maro saalon ko. Map that to BJP MP Parvesh Verma, in a highly communal campaign speech, saying in as many words that the people of Shaheen Bagh will enter “your homes” to “rape, kill, your wives and daughters”.

There it is, the saffron rag waved to both enrage the mob and to permit, even provoke, violence. In its immediate aftermath the Hindu Sena — yet another of the private militias the saffron brigade privately operates and publicly distances itself from — called its followers for direct action against Shaheen Bagh today, February 2. It called for the militia to “do what the police is unable to”. It made the call openly, its president spoke to camera with that same sense of impunity that characterises the speeches of Bisht, of Thakur, of Shah.

The plan has since been called off; the “Sena” making a virtue out of necessity by claiming that its action was being used by anti-national forces to create a “riot-like situation” — a classic example of how the right wing projects onto the “enemy” what it intends to do.

Remember, though, the words of the Hindu Sena’s call to action: It calls on Jats and Gujjars to unite and take radical action against Shaheen Bagh. And on the exact same day:

Kapil Gujjar, responding to the call. (Scroll has a round up of videos of his attack). Justifying it. Cloaking it, normalising it, with the “Jai Shri Ram” chant that — in an ultimate insult to the maryada purushottam the saffron brigade has totemised — has been subverted into a war cry of the hate-mongers. Why did he do it?:

“Kyunki humaare desh mein aisa nahi chahta, humaare desh ek Hindu rashtra vaadi kshetra hai 

There it is, the justification the RSS and the BJP have used historically to justify their hate-filled agenda, their genocidal intent.

Pause for just a second, here, to see how the BJP hate machine operates. The party did not have any official comment, no condemnation, on Verma’s nakedly rabble-rousing speech. But on Saturday, from among the 303 MPs it could have picked from, the party chose Parvesh Verma to move the motion of thanks in response to President Kovind’s pre-Budget speech.

That is how you enable — by maintaining a studied silence on an issue, then doing something that sends a signal to both party and base that you are absolutely ok with the action.

In this connection, note that the Prime Minister is yet to say a single word about the hate-mongering his party is engaged in, and about three discrete acts of violence that are a direct outcome of the campaign vitriol.

In this connection, remember too that Amit Shah in a campaign speech defined the choice facing Delhi voters as being between “Narendra Modi , who conducted airstrikes and surgical strikes on Pakistan’s soil to kill terrorists, and on the other, there are these people who back Shaheen Bagh. You have to decide.

Remember that this speech was made some three hours after a gunman had fired at protestors at Jamia Milia Islamia University, injuring one.

In the beginning was the word…

Now see this: The BJP’s new campaign song, released yesterday, the same day a gunman fired twice at the protestors in Shaheen Bagh. Consider the opening gambit:

Samay aa gaya chalo nikalein Dilli se dharne waalon ko
Yaad karo urban naxal ko empower karne waalon ko

It is time we evict those sitting on protest in Delhi
Remember those who empower Urban Naxals

Bharat ab lachar nahi to, Dilli hi lachar rahe kyun
Sabak sikhao bharat ke uthan se darne waalon ko

India is no longer helpless, why should Delhi be
Teach a lesson to those who fear the rise of India

Listen to the words (Scroll has the full lyrics), watch the accompanying imagery.

This is the party governing India; the party that already controls law and order in the national capital; the party that is now campaigning to control what is in effect a glorified municipality.

(Remember that in the run up to the 2014 elections, the BJP had at its national executive meeting in Delhi adopted a formal resolution that it would grant full statehood to Delhi if it came to power. That this promise was part of its 2014 election manifesto. Remember that when it comes to divisive acts such as the CAA, the BJP points virtuously to its manifesto and says, oh, but we said we would. Remember that statehood to Delhi, a promise made in 2014, has not been spoken about since. Ask yourself why).

This party, so totally devoid of issues, so completely barren of ideas, so aware of its own lack of ideology and appeal, is now nakedly, openly, falling back on the one thing it knows to do: sow hate; incite violence; then point to that violence, and to the resulting toll, to ask for votes. And the hell with the cost.

Teach a lesson“.

In the beginning was the word. And the word was hate.

This is an Emergency

Courtesy Nikhil Taneja on Twitter.

We live at a time when the government, the ruling party, and its adherents have institutionalised, and weaponised, intolerance. We live, therefore, in an age where every citizen who believes in the Constitution and the fundamental values it enshrines must resist, by any and all means; an age where zero tolerance of intolerance should be the norm.

I agree. The tricky part is not in accepting that resistance is vital, it is necessary, even mandatory; the tricky part is when we begin considering what means we will adopt, and what we will not. “By any and all means” seems fair enough, until we consider the implications of those words. And the episode involving comedian Kunal Kamra and that alleged journalist, Arnab Goswami, is a good lens for such consideration.

Briefly, for the record, on January 25 Kamra found himself on the same flight as Goswami, and did this. As Kamra says in a statement — which no member of the airline staff has denied — he questioned a TV anchor who has, repeatedly, demonized him in absentia as part of some mythical ‘tukde tukde gang’; he obeyed existing rules; he returned to his seat when he was asked to do so.

What Kamra did is a mild version of a tactic Goswami and his channel’s reporters have repeatedly done to others — invading their privacy, ignoring repeated requests that they be left alone, using their victims’ unwillingness to talk to further vilify them. As for example, this clip, which is absolutely on point with what Kamra did (except that here, the reporter ignores not only her victim’s request to be left alone, but also repeatedly ignores the airline staff telling her to go back to her seat, and even ignores an announcement made on the PA system):

Before going further, pause a moment to consider the language used by the anchor — who, incidentally, is not merely the head of his channel, but the elected president of the governing board of the News Broadcasters Federation, the body that sets and enforces standards for television. Note that he is talking about a politician, a former deputy chief minister of a state, and the son of a very senior politician who has been both chief minister and union minister.

“Lalu’s brat”.

That is how a journalist, an editor, the head of the broadcaster’s association, refers to Tejaswi Yadav. “Lalu’s brat”.

Anyway. Kamra’s post went viral. At the time, I said on Twitter that I disagreed with the tactic — my reasoning being that if you descend to the levels of Goswami and his ilk, you legitimise behaviour that you consider obnoxious in others.

Others — including many who I respect — however argued that Goswami only got what was coming to him; that it was absolutely fair to use his own tactics against him. Anivar Aravind even mapped it to the use of the technique known in protest circles as counter-speech, which the Dangerous Speech Project defines as “any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it”.

But then, where does that stop? The BJP employs thugs armed with iron rods and bottles of acid to assault students who are peacefully protesting — do we get to do the same? I am no “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” Gandhian — far from it. Nor am I staking out a “holier than thou” moral high ground — in fact, several of the people who have held that Goswami got what was coming to him are people I look up to, admire, and try to emulate.

Yet, something within me rebels at the thought of descending to the depths the likes of Goswami have plumbed. I guess this is one of those situations where we each of us do what we can, how we must — and if we don’t agree with each other’s tactics, we at the least refrain from taking each other on and in the process, losing sight of the common enemy.

Kamra subsequently put out an extended video explaining his stand, and providing context. It is worth watching for the way it calls out Goswami’s many acts of omission and commission:

The ban is illegal, said Arun Kumar, director General of the DGCA in an interview to Huffington Post. Shortly thereafter, the DGCA via its official social media handle issued a “clarification” stating that the ban was kosher. What is worth noting about this clarification is that it is not on the letterhead of the governing body, nor is it signed by any identified official — in other words, it is not worth the paper it is printed on.

In any case, this is not a ‘he said/the other guy said’ situation. The DGCA’s rules relating to the process to be followed in cases of misbehaviour by passengers is clear; Indian Express has an explainer; it was posted on social media by several people, including Gul Panag, herself a certified pilot. Even a cursory reading shows that due process has been ignored right down the line, that the action taken against Kamra is in complete violation of the norms.

Breaking, at 5:50 PM: The IndiGo pilot in charge of the plane where the incident took place says he did not find the incident reportable in any way. Remember, action against a passenger has to be taken on the basis of a complaint by the staff.

And yet, IndiGo suspended Kamra from flying for six months. And, more bizarrely, GoAir, SpiceJet and Air India followed suit — though there is no provision in the DGCA rules permitting an airline to ban a passenger for a misdemeanor, assuming it was one, committed on another airline.

Which brings up the biggest issue with this incident. This:

That is the minister for civil aviation “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban for an incident that happened on an IndiGo flight. It is worth noting that GoAir, SpiceJet (which took absolutely no action when Pragya Thakur, MP and an undertrial in the 2008 Malegaon bombings where 10 people were killed and 82 injured, did this) and Air India, while announcing their own bans, dutifully tagged the minister on their announcements.

In how many ways is this ridiculous? Firstly, a Union minister actively, publicly involving himself in a disciplinary matter that is merely the concern of the airline in question. Secondly, the minister “advising” other airlines to enforce a ban — which is clearly illegal. Most importantly, the alacrity with which a central minister jumps to the defence of a television anchor — proof, if proof were in fact needed, that Goswami is not a journalist, but an important cog in the government’s propaganda machine.

The story, which began as a question of whether it is legitimate to use on Goswami the same weapons he has used on so many others, has now morphed into a much larger issue: It is not about the incident so much as it is about the patently illegal, clearly dictatorial abuse of state power.

And it will likely blow up. Activist Saket Gokhale has already — smartly — filed an RTI petition demanding that Air India show the documentation based on which it imposed a ban on Kamra. This will put the airline in a legal bind; I will be surprised if it does not end up as a court case, where Kamra is in a position to claim damages.

Ironically, this morning I woke up to the news that IndiGo, the airline where all this started, suffered its 22nd mid-air snag in two years. The story, which details the mechanics behind why such incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency, also says this: The DGCA, which had earlier given a January 2020 deadline for making the necessary technical corrections, has extended the deadline to end-May.

In other words the DGCA knows of the issue, it has prescribed the corrective, it has given the airline time for remedial action, and it has with no reason ascribed further extended that deadline, in the process risking the lives of passengers. While the same DGCA is scrambling to justify the same airline taking punitive action against a comedian on the grounds of putting passengers’ lives at risk.

In passing, the tactics used repeatedly by Goswami, and other propaganda channels, merits a closer look. And that will be my post for tomorrow. For now, a quick round up of some other issues that are worth recording, if only to maintain this chronicle of our daily descent into a state of undeclared, but very real, Emergency.

The Election Commission, which is mandated among other things to monitor and enforce the Model Code of Conduct governing election campaigns, has examined the case of Union Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP Member of Parliament Parvesh Verma, both of whom indulged in documented hate speech and calls for violence, and decided that they can continue to campaign.

That is not how the EC puts it. Per its statement, Thakur and Verma have been “removed from the list of star campaigners” — which on the face of it seems to indicate action has been taken, but in fact means nothing. A designated “star campaigner” has his expenses borne by the party; if you are not on the list, you can still campaign, provided the expense is borne by the candidate himself.

Hate speech has consequences. Here is one such: A young man from Gujarat says that if he is asked to shoot the anti-nationals at JNU, he will not hesitate. Goli maro saalon ko, goes the chant led by a Union minister, with absolutely no consequences. Happy to oblige, says a bigoted young man who, in a better-ordered world, would have been a well-educated, productive member of society.

On the subject of candidates having to pay for Thakur to campaign, remember, this is the BJP — by a distance the richest party in the country, with more than enough funds to underwrite each of its candidates in an election it is desperately trying to win. Sure, there are caps on the expense an individual candidate can incur, but how hard is it to work around that? Not very.

And that brings us to how the BJP got rich in the first place. Nitin Sethi, one of the pitifully few remaining journalists with a spine, a conscience, and the skill to dig deep and hard, is in the middle of a brilliant series of articles examining the colossal scam that is the government’s electoral bonds scheme (which, in passing, the SC has been consistently delaying petitions challenging it). The series in its entirety is here; below is a shortened list of the stories that are central to the scam. They are not just worth reading, they are stories you must read, because these are the stories the noise surrounding us is meant to distract from:

  • The Finance Ministry allowed anonymous donors to donate expired political bonds to an unnamed party in May 2018, against the background of the Karnataka elections, and in the process violated rules relating to money laundering. Remember this is a government that made its anti-corruption crusade a central plank of its electoral strategy, and continues to rail against money-laundering while promising to bring back funds stashed abroad.
  • An extensively documented, and well explained, story centering on various documents obtained by transparency activist Lokesh Batra, that chronicles the lies and deceit practised at the very highest levels of this government.
  • A story that details how the Law Ministry, no less, told the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office that the electoral bonds scheme was illegal, and how that advice was ignored while the FM and PM went ahead with the scheme anyway.
  • The electoral bonds scheme is supposed to allow individuals and institutions to contribute funds to political parties under conditions of strict anonymity. This story details how the State Bank of India, through which electoral bonds are sold, violated the anonymity clause, routinely funneled information to the government about who was purchasing bonds, and repeatedly obfuscated or downright lied about it in response to RTI inquiries.
  • Corruption on a colossal scale is bad enough; this story takes it one notch higher to show you that you — the taxpayer — is the one paying for all this. That is, a government we elected almost entirely based on its promise to end the “endemic corruption of the Congress” (none of those charges have been proved, by the way) has not only institutionalized corruption, it has done so in such a way that it enjoys the loot, and you pay to facilitate the government’s corruption. (This tweet shows you what it means)
  • I’ll end this round up with an old Nitin Sethi thread that explains how dangerous this scheme is, over and above the obvious corruption it facilitates.

I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again: Journalists like Nitin Sethi, who have both the ability and the courage to report and write, in such detail, stories that expose corruption leading all the way up the ladder to Narendra Modi himself — and to write such stories at a time when any questioning of this government is met with retributive action — are national treasures we should value and cherish. And if and when it becomes necessary, protect.

It should be painfully obvious by now that the government is unraveling. It has ruined the economy. It has weaponised corruption on a scale previously unimaginable. It has vitiated the social/cultural fabric of the country. It has corrupted beyond redemption our main sources of information. It has waged and continues to wage war on various blocks of citizens: Muslims, yes, but also tribals, Dalits, the student community, women… on virtually every single group other than its core base of bloodthirsty bigots.

Meanwhile, in Bidar, eastern Karnataka, a charge of sedition has been filed against a school that attempted to teach young children the law, and related issues, about the CAA. Read that again — a school attempted to educate young children on the issue roiling the country today, and is therefore facing punitive action.

Look at the image fronting this story: Minors, being interrogated by the police, without their parents being present. That is a Muslim school. In Karnataka. Where, elsewhere, a Karnataka BJP MLA – a man elected, and sworn, to represent all his constituents – says he will cut off all facilities for Muslims.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court, no less, has granted bail to 17 persons convicted in the burning alive of 33 Muslims in Sardarpura, as part of the post-Godhra riots. The SC has asked moved them from Gujarat to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. The SC has asked local authorities to ensure that the convicts now out on bail engage in “spiritual works”. The SC has asked Madhya Pradesh authorities to finding them jobs! Even Kafka’s imagination never stretched this far.

The vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha has called for the forced sterilisation of Christians and Muslims. The lunatic fringe? Think again. Remember that the RSS has called for a law on population control. Remember too that Narendra Modi, soon after taking office for a second term, called for population control as an “act of patriotism”. And captive media channels and their propagandist anchors helped maintain the drumbeat. What Bhagwat and Modi did was float early trial balloons. Then the stormtroopers take over and up the ante — that is how fascism always works.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has this for his “Muslim brothers”:

Bloody hypocrite.

In my previous post, I had detailed my belief that we have officially become a fascist state, and listed the symptoms. Revisit it now, and see how many boxes we have ticked in just the last 48 hours or so.

The one silver lining in all of this is the resistance. People’s protests, yes, but also official resistance. As for example: In Kerala, Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan provided a lesson in the value of knowing your Constitution, and the obligations it imposes on various branches of the government, when he made Governor Arif Mohammed Khan read out, in course of his pre-Budget exercise, a segment that expressed the government’s opposition to the CAA. I noticed that when the news broke, the usual suspects condemned it as yet another example of Kerala’s lawlessness.

Try harder. A governor’s pre-budget speech is a Constitutional obligation wherein he announces the policies, and intent, of the government. He is, in other words, speaking on behalf of the state government. If the state government is opposed to a particular policy — in this case, the CAA — and has decided to resist it as part of its official policy, then the Governor in his address is duty-bound to say so.

It’s an object lesson in the value of knowing the Constitution, of being aware of the rules, and of using these to resist egregiously iniquitous policies the Centre seeks to impose.

Another state government, another act of resistance: The Pune police has refused to hand over to the NIA papers relating to the Bhima-Koregaon violence of January 2, 2018. Remember that no sooner had NCP chief Sharad Pawar written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackery asking that the case be reopened, Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah passed orders transferring the case to the NIA. This, then, is the state’s pushback.

I had intended, today, to do a post on Goswami, and by extension on the techniques of propaganda being used at industrial strength by this government. But this post has already become too long; I’ll leave that theme for tomorrow.

Update, 3:10 PM: About an hour earlier, a man who is yet to be identified fired on Jamia Milia Islamia students, shouting ‘Yeh lo azaadi’ and other slogans. One student was injured. The injured student had to jump over the barricade on his way to get treated, because the Delhi police would not open it to let him pass.

It is worth mentioning, in this context, that today the JMI students had gathered outside Gate No: 7 to remember Gandhi, and to mourn his martyrdom.

The man, who says his name is ‘Rambakht Gopal’ — he has since been identified, and is believed to be a member of the Bajrang Dal — held the gun, he held the trigger — but Modi, Shah, Thakur, Verma and the rest of the hate-filled lot that seek to ruin this country put that gun there, and should be called out for it. Below, a longer video of the arrest:

Watch how unruffled he is, how brazenly he fires with police barely 20 meters away (one of his slogans is ‘Delhi Police Zindabad’) and how calmly he gives himself up to the police finally. The body language spells out one thing, and one thing only: a sense of impunity, a knowledge that he will be taken care of.

He was apparently live-streaming the whole thing, and had announced his intent. (The comments below his stream are vomit-inducing. A fuller thread). Makes sense, with this kind of advertising he is a shoo-in for a BJP ticket to contest the next election. The picture of the day, though, is this:

Update 5:30 PM: The terrorist’s Facebook page has been abruptly deleted (Archive here). Begs the question — how? He is currently in police custody. So either the police are allowing him internet access to erase his tracks, or he has someone on the outside prepped to cover his tracks for him.

Here is a Scroll report digging into his identity.