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.

ANI report card: Fail

There is — there has been since the first visuals hit social media — a stench of something rotten about the gunman who, on December 30 January 30, fired on a group of students marking the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, injuring one. (Sorry about the error, thanks all who pointed it out).

Courtesy Reuters

This image, and the video of the incident, is merely the beginning. No matter how many times you watch, it is difficult to understand how police, in a hyper-vigilant state at a protest site, stood passively, some with folded arms, while a man with a pointed gun stalked barely ten meters in front of them and assembled reporters and others repeatedly yelled to warn the cops the man was armed.

As media personnel, particularly cameramen, advanced towards him and as one student walked up to confront him, he retreats towards the police — which is bizarre considering that even if your knowledge of how the police operate is gleaned from masala movies, you would know the police react immediately and aggressively at the sight of a deadly weapon.

“It happened in micro-seconds,” explained the Special Commissioner of Police (Intelligence), in the process insulting the intelligence of every single person who saw the video and knows it took considerably longer than micro-seconds; who saw, also, that even after the threat was blindingly apparent there was no signs of overt activity among the cops, with just one — unarmed — policeman walking almost casually towards him while others, some wearing riot gear, stand by and watch.

But the real what-the-fuck moment came in the aftermath. The shooter is from UP, he was not living in Delhi at the time, even if he were it is hardly unlikely that he was carrying various relevant documentation in his pocket. And yet the news agency ANI, within an hour and a half, was able to produce this:

Assume for the sake of argument that ANI, with its wide network, was able to get in touch with one of its reporters/stringers in the gunman’s home town and access this document. There are far more, and more fundamental, problems with it. On Twitter, Aparna pointed at some of them:

Link to the CBSE site giving the details

At this point, the smell of rotting fish is overpowering. And that, plus ANI’s surprising haste to put out a document claiming minor status for the gunman, prompted the tech-savvy Krish Ashok (Are you following him yet? You should — he is an all-round genius) to test the document. Here is what he found:

The Error Level Analysis tool (from Foto Forensics) shows an amplified view of contrast differences, which makes it easy to spot digital edits/additions to an image.

For instance, from the analysis above, it’s easy to see that the ANI watermark was added after the fact. Now take a look at the marks and the school details. They have the same telltale sign of having been “added in” later.

Key things to note: The black text is all perfectly rectangular, as you can see if you zoom into the ELA analysis here. This generally suggests that the text was copy-pasted/added in Photoshop using a rectangular textbox tool. If it was part of the original image, the sharp rectangular edges would not be visible – take a look at all the pink text, which is a part of the original marksheet, and you will see the difference.

Another point: In the original image, there are some folds in the paper, since the person is holding it up to take a photo. The black text, if you look carefully, does not follow these folds — another telltale sign that the image was taken, and then altered later.

ANI image run through Forensically

To make doubly sure, Krish Ashok then ran the image through Forensically, a tool that helps you do noise-level analysis, another method of determining whether parts of an image show different noise levels from other parts, thus indicating whether some parts have been added later.

The perfect rectangular images where the black text is gives it away. If that text was part of the original image, you wouldn’t see such differentiation. The full analysis is here.

One other indicator that all is not kosher: The marksheet is laminated and, typically, colours get muted when photographed through the laminating sheet. But the crucial text is perfectly dark black, not slightly greyed out as it should be if it was actually on the marksheet and not digitally added afterwards. 

Krish sent me this concluding note: I believe strongly that this image has been digitally manipulated, and all the black text has been digitally added in. However, it must be said that detecting fakes can throw up false positives, so I’d make the case that there is more than sufficient doubt about the validity of this document to merit more rigorous testing under lab conditions.

Why make such a big fuss? Because the incident with the gunman is serious, particularly coming as it did on the back of open calls to violence by politicians including a key member of the Union Cabinet.

And because a news agency with unparalleled access to the government coupled with an unsavoury record of veracity put out a relevant document intended to make the case that the gunman is a minor and therefore should not feel the full force of the law (In this connection, read this excellent deep dive into the workings of ANI by Praveen Donthi for Caravan magazine).

PS: It is Budget day. I have no pretensions to understanding macro-economics, so I’m going to move away from the blog and settle down to following the presentation, and surround-sound, through sources I trust to give me the facts and analysis without noise and spin. See you back here tomorrow.

Where the ‘truth’ lies

The women protestors of Shaheen Bagh get Rs 500 per day. The rate per protestor is fixed. The Congress party is distributing money to the protestors. The dress code says those taking part in anti-CAA protests in Mumbai have to wear a hijab. JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh has been faking her head injury. (While on that, check out the replies to this tweet to see how deep, and wide, the rot spreads). Oh, and her supposedly broken hand? The sling changes from left to right depending on the position of the camera. Jihadis — read, Muslims — who almost burned down Mangalore city the other day have now placed a live bomb in Mangalore airport. “Sickulars” are silent about the Kali image vandalised in Kolkata. Former JNU students including Kanhaiyya Kumar celebrated the killing of 70 CRPF soldiers in 2010. A Muslim abused minor girls, for which he was stripped and thrashed. Indira Gandhi’s father in law was ‘Yunus Khan’.

All of this is from just one fake news-busting website, Alt News. Almost all of them from the last 48 hours. Several of them either originating from, or heavily amplified by, people with official links to the BJP and fellow organisations. There is even more from within that time frame — I stopped because I was tired.

“Repetition makes things seem more plausible,” says Lynn Hasher, a psychologist at the University of Toronto whose research team first noticed the effect in the 1970s. “And the effect is likely more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other information.”

The illusory truth effect, they call it, and it is the subject of considerable scientific research. And it is not a particularly new phenomenon, right? Repeat a lie often enough and it will be perceived to be true — that was one of the pillars of the Nazi propaganda machine.

I believed, though, that I had assiduously worked towards building a certain immunity. That a rational, cognitive human being, aware of the risk and therefore prone to cross-check everything, was inoculated from the dangers of propaganda. A BBC report on the phenomenon even seemed to bear me out.

What Fazio and colleagues actually found, is that the biggest influence on whether a statement was judged to be true was… whether it actually was true. The repetition effect couldn’t mask the truth. With or without repetition, people were still more likely to believe the actual facts as opposed to the lies.

This shows something fundamental about how we update our beliefs – repetition has a power to make things sound more true, even when we know differently, but it doesn’t over-ride that knowledge.

All of which is to say, if my ear is connected to my brain, then I’ll know a lie when I hear it.

Yesterday, a little something happened that made me go back and do a little more reading on the phenomenon. I stumbled on this pre-print (a scientific study that has not yet been validated by peer review) of a study led by Ghent University.

The study examines the three aspects of cognition that influence how people make judgements about something they come across: (1) Intelligence; (2) The human need to avoid ambiguity and to decide, one way or the other; and, (3) The individual’s cognitive approach, which takes into account that some of us think in rapid, intuitive fashion while others take a slower, more deeply analytical approach.

The paper I linked to above goes into the methodology, sample size, the nature of the experiments conducted, all of that (and if you have the time, I’d suggest you read it, because differentiating between the real and the fake has become the biggest challenge of this “age of information”).

Broadly, though, the findings can be summed up thus: The illusory truth effect is universal. It does not depend on the individual’s cognitive style — which is to say, we are all, all of us, likely to believe repeated information, regardless of how intelligent, how deliberative, we believe ourselves to be.


I don’t know why I believed this, when I saw it, but I did. And I, a Keralite born and bred, was outraged. My state has been doing well, thus far, in its collective response to bigotry — we don’t need this, was my first thought.

Acting on the thought, I retweeted a mention of this with copy to the Kerala chief minister, asking that he look into it, and also asking Keralites on my TL to retweet and add to the public pressure. Because, see, this is just wrong, right?

I really should have known better. After all, Shobha Karandlaje’s propensity for gaslighting is no secret — in fact, on one occasion, a rumour she floated as fact, which got picked up and amplified by India Today’s Shiv Aroor, was so egregious I ended up writing a long post on this phenomenon – which, I just realised, is still relevant. Because exactly the same thing happened here.

Karandlaje put out something — which, incidentally, has got 8,400 likes and over 6000 retweets at the time of writing this, thus amplifying the “news” far and wide. With Karandlaje giving it legitimacy, Kerala-based BJP/RSS activists began retransmitting the “news” (which is interesting enough in itself — the local Hindutva outfits in Kerala are so tired of getting their backsides kicked that they now outsource bigotry to neighbouring states, wait for these rumours to gather steam, and then pick it up quoting the outside source). Mainstream media outlets picked up the story and carried it with insinuating headlines. You have to read to the end of the story linked here to realise that it is a he-said, she-said story, not based on fact but on rumour.

It was only later, prompted by the ‘wait a minute’ voice in my mind, that I made a few calls to people (including a cousin who is very active politically and plugged into the state network), who made a few calls to other people, and I finally got an inkling of where the truth lies:

In the Cherukunnu colony of Valanchery in Kerala’s Malappuram district, there is a perennial water crisis thanks to non-functional water pipelines that have not been attended to for over six months. People share water sourced however they can.

One Muslim family in a predominantly Dalit locality has a government-supplied borewell for agricultural use. The family has been diverting some of that water for domestic use, and also sharing this diverted water with seven or eight neighbouring families.

On January 11, the BJP organised a pro-CAA rally in the area, and a handful of young men from the colony, all Dalits, participated. A week later, word went around that the Muslim family, upset over the participation in the pro-CAA rally, had stopped supplying water to those households.

The rumour spread thanks to the assiduous efforts of the state BJP/RSS machinery; it got kicked upstairs to Karandlaje who then weaponised it, and from her it moved into mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the BJP through the medium of Seva Bharati (an RSS social service wing) began supplying water to the affected families, with a lot of fanfare, furthering the victimhood narrative.

What, as nearly as I have been able to make out from my conversations, was this: the state electricity department sent a notice to the Muslim family asking that they desist from using for domestic consumption water from a borewell meant only for agricultural purposes.

On receipt of the notice, the family reached out to their neighbours, to inform them that they would from here on be able to provide only two buckets of water per day.

Like all good lies, the one Karandlaje and others spread rested on tiny grains of truth. (1) A Muslim family had been helping neighbouring Dalit families during a time of water crisis. (2) Some young men from those families had taken part in an anti-CAA rally. (3) A couple of Islamic organisations — which, like every other political outfit, is prone to fish in troubled waters — had talked to the Muslim family about their neighbours’ participation in a pro-CAA rally. (4) The water supply had been curtailed.

Put together in a particular way, though, the story changes; it becomes one of a particular community using any and all means in its power — including denying something as basic as drinking water, OMG! — to those who support the CAA.

There is a coda to this story: The Kerala police have filed an FIR against Karandlaje under IPC Section 153 (A) which relates to promoting enmity between various groups. Karandlaje, backed by BJP leaders including IT cell chief Amit Malviya, are using this to play victim. Meanwhile:

Speaking to, he (Kuttipuram sub-inspector Aravindan) said, “We looked into it. What she (Sobha Karandlaje) has alleged is not true. The people in Cherukunnu colony would get water from a borewell as part of a drinking water project of the panchayat. However, the motor was burnt, so water couldn’t be supplied through it for the past one year. Another borewell was installed in the house of a Muslim family, from which the locals had been taking water. That borewell was originally supplied by the Krishi Bhavan through the KSEB, and was to be used strictly for irrigation purposes. So when KSEB opposed supply of water for other uses, the family stopped it.”

“This is what has happened. The episode has no connection to the CAA protests. Following the incident, the district collector, panchayat president and the taluk officer visited the spot and promised to arrange funds to get the old borewell functioning again,” the Sub-Inspector added.

If this seems like a long post about nothing very much, it is. And it isn’t. In and of itself, the incident is minor. But the relative innocuousness of the incident is the point — it is a classic illustration of (a) how widespread the propaganda effort is; (b) how the right wing machinery uses any and all opportunities to sow discord and create enmity; and, (c), just how hard you have to work to get to the true facts — while, in the interim, a hundred other such false stories pop up in several different areas.

What is one to do? What do you do? How do you process “news” these days? I’d love to hear. And the reason I want to hear from others is that increasingly, all emerging signs point to a ruling party with an increasingly genocidal mindset. “Genocide” sounds harsh? Too much of an exaggeration? Over-reach? Remember that Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who first coined the word ‘genocide’ from the Greek ‘genos‘ (race, tribe) and the Latin ‘cide‘ (killing), defined the word in his seminal work Axis Rule in Occupied Europe thus (emphasis mine):

Genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups

In other words, genocide could be a mass killing, but equally result from a death by a thousand social/cultural cuts. And in our country today, the targets are not just the Muslims, but also the Dalits, and other disadvantaged sections. With that in mind, read this:

Now read this entire thread by gay rights activist and columnist Brynn Tannehill. This is where we are now. This is where we are heading. This is why I find myself increasingly reading history. It is also why I’d love to hear from you guys.

Meanwhile, some odds and ends from the last 24 hours:

  • The Union Home Ministry, which had earlier transferred the Davinder Singh case from the J&K police to the NIA, has now transferred the Bhima-Koregaon case also to that agency. The fact that the transfer happened on the same day that NCP chief Sharad Pawar wrote to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is purely coincidental, right? There are rules governing such transfers, but yet again the GoI decided to invoke extraordinary powers. This is your reminder that the NIA is also in charge of probing the Pulwama attack (which was eleven months ago and counting); that the CRPF, which lost 40 personnel in that attack, had prepared an inquiry report pointing to large scale intelligence lapses; that the MHA denied there was any intelligence lapse and gave charge of the probe to the NIA; that the NIA is yet to submit a report on the outcome of its probe, or to file an FIR. Ask yourself why every issue, every incident with the potential to cause inconvenience to the GoI lands up with the NIA.
  • The Election Commission has banned former AAP member and current BJP candidate for the Delhi elections from campaigning for the next 48 hours. Because, this. Just one more in the escalating instances (here is a Union minister doing his bit) of gaslighting Shaheen Bagh — because? Because what those women have done, are doing in the face of all odds, is inspiring legions around the country, as this list of Shaheen Bagh-style sit ins indicates. And the spread of the Shaheen Bagh model is deeply problematic for this government — and its ideological parent — because a deeply misogynist power is forced to confront the one group it does not know how to talk to, how to handle: women. Determined, defiant women. Hence Ajay Singh Bisht’s recent diatribe: Where are the men? Because Bisht (and Shah, and Modi, and the rest) would by far rather have to confront a protest led by men; against women — with enraged Dalits backing them to the hilt, and Sikhs increasingly forming a vital third element — the RSS/BJP hierarchy is all at sea. And before leaving this point, here is an example of the determination women are bringing to this seemingly unequal contest: Read the story of Ajmeri Bibi. This is what they don’t get, the group that — ironically, paid to tweet — keeps trying to surface allegations that women protestors are being paid to show up.
  • Columbia Journalism Review had a panel discussion on government funding of newspapers. Quote: “To accept funding from government, no matter the alleged safeguards, puts us at risk of mortal conflict of interest. Whom do we serve then? Need I say it? Follow the money.” Read that in connection with this: an RTI inquiry revealed that between 2014-2018, the GoI spent Rs 5,200 crore on advertising. Meaning that Rs 5,200 crore of public money was used by the government for propaganda, and as an economic carrot/stick to coerce media houses. This is a government so cash-starved that it recently cut Rs 3000 crore from the education budget. Then again, who needs education when you can have propaganda instead?
  • A NewsClick article asks — and attempts to answer — the question: Is Karnataka the next Uttar Pradesh? Not quite yet, but we are taking baby strides in that direction. And that is sort of the point, right? Gujarat was the laboratory where the RSS perfected its playbook. This was then exported to Uttar Pradesh, where Ajay Singh Bisht added his own tweaks to the model. Now Karnataka, the BJP’s sole bridgehead in the south. All of this is exactly why this map, of the BJP’s shrinking political footprint, is so important: The less states under the BJP’s control, the less the area the RSS brand of bigotry will become institutionalised in. In passing, remember that in the Kodagu region the police carried out an ID verification drive the other day for no rhyme or reason? 500 people have been detained as a result, and none of us knows what happens to them next.
  • Among the rules governing our elected representatives, there is one that mandates that all MPs who have won election should, within 90 days, furnish full information about all movable and immovable properties he/she and members of the extended family own. An RTI inquiry reveals that only 40 MPs have complied, while 503 have not. Amit Shah is one of those who have not complied — giving a whole new dimension to “hum kagaz nahin dikhayenge“.
  • Speaking of elected representatives and rules, the Allahabad High Court has granted two days parole to rape-accused Bahujan Samaj Party MP Atul Rai, so he can take oath as an elected representative. That tells you all you need to know about the body that makes laws for the rest of us, and for the state of the country today.
  • A Patna college has banned girl students from wearing the burqa. The ban will not stand up to any legal challenge, but that is kind of the point: in various parts of the country, such actions that leech away at basic freedoms have become routine, the intent being to tire you out fighting each individual instance.
  • The government is preparing a law mandating the linking of Aadhar to the Voter ID. Remember that the Supreme Court has ruled that the linking of Aadhar to other services cannot be mandatory. Remember that the government has repeatedly said, even in court, that linking Aadhar is strictly voluntary; that it is needed only if you want to benefit from the GoI’s welfare schemes, or in the case of banks needing to know their customers for the purpose of giving loans, etc. Yet here we are, on the verge of passing another law that prima facie goes against the SC’s rulings — but the law will come, it will pass, it will be challenged, the courts will delay hearings… you know the drill, right? Remember, this involves one of your most fundamental rights as a citizen: the right to vote.
  • Dr Harjit Bhatti was one of those who responded to the January 5 distress calls from JNU. Remember that goons had stopped ambulances and cars carrying doctors from entering the premises, even vandalising an ambulance while the police stood by and did nothing? Remember that Bhatti and other doctors had gone into the university despite all these hurdles, to help? Okay, so they have now filed a case against him. Do you remember the story of one Dr Kafeel Khan? Here we go again.
  • I’ll leave you with this long piece by Somak Ghoshal, on an increasingly aware younger generation. And with this:

Some news, some views

HERE is what is known to a fair degree of certainty: For over a year now, the RSS has been using its deep network to carry out periodic surveys designed to gauge the mood of the electorate.

In this time, various thoughts were floated, and tested: Simultaneous assembly and LS polls to make the election truly presidential and thus play to Modi’s strengths; bringing the election dates forward if the conditions were found favorable, etc.

The rest is rumor. Persistent rumor, coming in from various quarters unconnected to and in some cases unknown to each other, but rumor nonetheless. And rumor said that one of the first such surveys, conducted early last year, gave the BJP around 120 seats if the election were held then, and the NDA around 160 in total. (Keep in mind that the contours of the alliance were not known then). Subsequent surveys, all of which kept the Delhi media circles buzzing (and which several journalists hinted at, but never wrote about, because obviously…) didn’t move the needle significantly in the direction of the ruling party.

The last such survey was conducted in early/mid-March and again, the results were believed to be far from encouraging. Again, multiple journalists and media houses had the results, courtesy leaks from within the RSS (sections of which are, to put it mildly, upset with the autocratic behavior of Modi and Shah); some hints were thrown around on social media but again, no one published it till Nagpur Today, a daily that comes from the RSS’ backyard, the other day.

Here is the published survey. It gives the NDA – not the BJP, the NDA – a mere 182 seats.

In common with several other journalists, I’ve been hearing of these surveys and occasionally getting toplines via whispers on phone – but absent seeing the actual survey, there is no credible way of verifying any of this. Even this published one, though the outcome roughly maps to what I’d heard, is not authenticated – and for obvious reasons, mainstream media has steered well clear of either publication, or even references to this on social media.

So why deal in unauthenticated rumor? Because, this: I’ve been following the various political moves the BJP has been making, including the notion of holding simultaneous polls which at one point the party pushed for very hard. And I’ve been connecting those up with the evolution of the BJP’s campaign through its various tropes: Sabka saath…, Namumkin bhi…, Sahi niyat… and all the variants that have at various times been floated and withdrawn. And a few things make sense – most particularly the virulently communal, hardline turn the campaign has taken in recent weeks, which maps on a timeline to when pollsters (not merely those of the RSS/BJP internal surveys) began noticing that the Pulwama/Balakot bump – which, even at its peak, was not seen as moving the needle significantly – had begun to fade.

Net net, one thing has become very clear: The BJP is getting zero traction on the stump for its various “development schemes” and its attempts to sell itself as the party of progress. Its other electoral pillar, anti-corruption, has been taking a beating, not just because of the opacity surrounding Rafale but also the various scams – or, at least, allegations — that have been surfacing every other day. They now have nothing left but to stoke the same fires, prey on the same manufactured fears and, like a tired, aging, increasingly querulous Don Quixote, tilting with an old, broken lance against the same enemies from five years ago. Most recent case in point: Modi, yesterday in Maharashtra, on how it was Sharad Pawar and not the BJP-led state government that was responsible for the woes of the farmers in the state.

Take the survey with a pinch, or even a bagful, of salt – but equally, keep an eye on the increasing shrillness of the campaign, and see what you make of it.

One more thought on surveys and election coverage – try doing your own. On a piece of paper, list the states from biggest (in terms of seats on offer) to smallest. Alongside that, list the number of seats the NDA won in 2014. And next to that, put down your most optimistic assessment, based on the state of play, of how many seats you think the alliance can win in each state this time around. Tally it up, and see what the results tell you. And on that note, a few stories that caught my eye:

UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Adityanath (while on this, I personally refuse to use the honorific ‘Yogi’ to describe a rabble-rousing thug who today roams free only because he used the powers of his office to wipe out dozens of cases of mayhem and murder filed against him) previewed his campaign tropes the other day when he contrasted the Congress, which “fed biriyani to terrorists”, with the Modi government, which gives terrorists a “muh tod jawab”. Inter alia, he referred to the Indian armed forces as “Modiji ki sena,” in violation of EC norms that prohibit the use of the armed forces during electioneering.  

On the latter point, the Election Commission has “asked for a report”. And then what? A week or so after the damage is done, the EC will likely come up with a waffling statement that no rule was broken. Such violations have been common ever since the Model Code of Conduct came into force – and the deliberate strategy behind this stems from the realization that nothing much can be done anyway. How do you unring a bell?

In this connection, remember what happened with the ‘chowkidar’ tea cups? The Air India boarding passes with the images of Modi and Shah? It’s such a transparent trick: Do anything you can to push the propaganda a notch higher; if someone makes a fuss, quickly undo what has been done, move on to the next ploy, and the next.

As to the “biriyani for terrorists” charge against the Congress, this again is a classic BJP ploy – just keep repeating a lie; as long as you spew enough of them, the fact-checking machinery will never catch up with you. Also essential to this strategy, the knowledge that public memory is short. Remember the “biriyani for terrorists” story and its origins in the Kasab case? Here you go. (Also an AltNews breakdown here.)

NASA is pissed with India’s recent testing of the capability to shoot down low flying satellites — which Modi has been referring to as “chowkidari in space”.

The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 300km (180 miles), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.

But 24 of the pieces were going above the apogee of the ISS, said Bridenstine. “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he said, adding: “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”

“It’s unacceptable and Nasa needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”

But hey, that is NASA and we all know the US is jealous of our progress, so we can discount this. Only, there is this statement from 2012 (emphasis added):

A little fine tuning may be required but we will do that electronically. We will not do a physical test because of the risk of space debris affecting other satellites.

Which is to say, it was a known risk. The man quoted above, from this 2012 article, is VK Saraswat, then chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation and scientific advisor to the defence ministry of India.

The man who knew the risks that NASA is worried about now, the man who led the program, is the same man who after India carried out the test said that the tests could have been conducted earlier, but the UPA did not give permission, and then went into a rhapsody about Modi and his decisiveness. That Saraswat, now a member in good standing of the BJP/RSS family who has been rewarded with the post of Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and a seat on NITI Ayog, was lying is clear from his own words of 2012. Then there is this:

Serving and retired officials working with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have criticised former DRDO chief Vijay Kumar Saraswat, who is now the member of the NITI Aayog, for making DRDO a topic of political slugfest.

And this:

Refuting reports that the Manmohan Singh government refused to allow the Defence and Research Development Organisation (DRDO) to conduct a test of its anti-satellite capabilities, former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon told The Wire, “This is the first I have ever heard of it. Saraswat never asked me for permission for an ASAT test.”

The thing is, it is not a he-said/the-other-guy-said issue — it is easy to prove, or disprove, Saraswat’s allegation against the Congress. Presentations at such high levels are not made off the cuff, nor are they made by a single individual. Thus, if such a presentation had in fact been made, DRDO would have sent a team; there would be official records of the meeting; both could be accessed and revealed by the government. Evidently, no such official meeting was conducted, nor was any presentation made. We know this how? Because after being challenged on his lie, Saraswat has changed his tune. He now says he made an “informal presentation”.

So that is where we are now: We tested a capability we knew we had; we did that knowing the risk involved and the fact that such an act was highly irresponsible; those chickens have now come home to roost. And all this so Modi would have something fresh to talk about — because he has nothing constructive to talk about.

A word in passing about NITI Ayog, which seems to exist simply in order to talk up Modi’s achievements, and to deflect all criticism related to the economy, jobs, etc. In one of his recent policy announcements, Rahul Gandhi had said that if the opposition comes to power, NITI will be abolished, and replaced with a less clunky, more streamlined advisory mechanism. In that connection, this:

The fifth floor of NITI Aayog is making waves in bureaucratic circles. Amitabh Kant, the CEO of the think tank, along with his key aides, checked into the fifth floor—whose renovation cost Rs 9.26 crore—early this year. 

Said to be a workplace for “New India”, which has no parallel even in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Rs 34 lakh was spent on greening the office space alone, with exotic indoor plants dotting the place. But Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and the four members— V K Saraswat, Ramesh Chand, Bibek Debroy and V K Paul—are still holed up in their modest offices on the first floor.

NITI Aayog, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by this newspaper, admitted a sum of Rs 8.4 crore was allocated for renovation, refurbishment and re-development of the building’s fifth floor. “Besides, a sum of `34 lakh was approved for horticulture; Rs 52 lakh has been incurred on networking and telephone cabling,” the RTI reply stated.

Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

TALKING about things to talk about: So we did a surgical strike after Uri to ensure that Pakistan knew the cost of cross-border terrorism; then we did Balakot after Pulwama so Pakistan would learn there is a cost to transgression, right? So now all is well in Kashmir, yes?

  • A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper was injured after militants hurled a grenade on CRPF bunker near SBI Branch in Pulwama town in Pulwama District on March 30, reports Daily Excelsior. Militants attacked a bunker of paramilitary CRPF 182 Battalion guarding the SBI branch Pulwama. “In the blast, one CRPF man suffered injuries. The injured have been evacuated to hospital for treatment where his condition is said to be stable.”
  • Pakistan Army violated ceasefire and pounded civilian areas with long range mortar shells and artillery fire in several sectors along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch District… Two houses were damaged at Mankote in which a civilian, identified as Mohammad Mushtaq a resident of Mankote was seriously injured.
  • A group of militants fled from the security cordon after a brief exchange of fire in Tangpawa village of Kokernag area in Anantnag District
  • The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) claimed responsibility for the blast that took place at Banihal near the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway (NH) in Ramban District…. SATP had earlier reported that a car hit a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, and exploded at Banihal near the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar NH in Ramban District… According to the reports, militants attempted to repeat February 14-like Pulwama terror attack in Banihal, but failed as LPG cylinder Improvised Explosive Device (IED) along with explosive material, inside a Hyundai Santro car was blasted off by a militant, who was driving the car, few yards short of CRPF convoy and the troops had narrow escape as the car caught fire and was gutted.

All this, and more, happened on just one day: March 30. And this from yesterday:

And it is not as if nothing happened between March 30 and April 1. Here is a resource that helps you track the goings on in the Valley. You can go by year, and by month. Take a walk around, see for yourself how grim things are, and ask yourself this: Do you hear a single peep out of Modi, his government, his NSA, his Kashmir-in-charge Ram Madhav, or anyone else in authority about any of this? Any tears being shed, crocodile or otherwise? Anyone have any comment on what is becoming increasingly evident — that in the post Pulwama Balakot operation personally monitored by Modi, who if you recall neither ate nor slept, we shot down one of our own helicopters, leading to the deaths of seven military personnel? But yeah, we have a strong government in charge, one that does not feed biriyani to terrorists.

  • Remember the kids who were playing cricket on Holi, and how that led to a gang of armed men attacking not just the kids, but also breaking into the home of a Muslim family and beating everyone up? The police have now filed an FIR against the victims on a charge of attempted murder. There is a video of the incident, but hey, who cares? The truth, today, is what thugs and their allies in a thoroughly compromised, communalised police force say it is.
  • Apropos the points made earlier about the BJP’s increasing communal rhetoric on the campaign trail, do read this archival piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of our sharper political commentators.
  • Have you heard of the World Book of Records? You should — it is an organisation of dubious provenance that exists solely to provide the BJP with “world records” to talk about. Here, read.
  • Amit Shah famously used “jumla” to describe Modi’s ‘Rs 15 lakh in every account’ poll promise from 2014. Here is his latest: We said we will jail all corrupt people. Robert Vadra is a corrupt person. We did not say we will jail Robert Vadra. Make sense of this, if you can.
  • And finally, a Snigdha Poonam/Samarth Bansal piece for The Atlantic on how misinformation is playing havoc with India’s electoral process.

Update: Manifestos are important — it is through these, rather than stump speeches of politicians, that we get some idea of what the various political parties hope to do if they attain power. The Congress has just released its manifesto. Here are the main points, for your information:

To ensure a life of dignity to all Indians, Congress will introduce the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) under which Rs. 72,000/year will be transferred to the poorest 20 per cent house- holds in India. It will be transferred to the woman in the household, as far as possible.

To the youth of India, Congress pledges to make jobs our no.1 priority, both in the public and private sector. We will ensure 34 lakh jobs in the public sector by;

  1. Filling all 4 lakh central government vacancies before March 2020.
  2. Persuading the state governments to fill their 20 lakh vacancies.
  3. Creating an estimated 10 lakh new Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body.

We will also provide a fillip to private sector jobs by;

  1. Rewarding businesses for job creation and employing more women,
  2. Requiring businesses with over 100 employees to implement an apprentice programme.

Farmers and farm labour: For farmers, Congress promises to put them on the path from “Karz Maafi”, to “Karz Mukti”. This will be done through remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit. We will present a separate “Kisan Budget” every year. We will also establish a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning.

Universal healthcare: Congress promises to enact the Right to Healthcare Act and guarantee every citizen free diagnostics, out-patient care, free medicines and hospitalisation, through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals. We will double expenditure on healthcare to 3 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.

GST 2.0: Congress will radically simplify the GST regime with a single moderate rate of tax, zero rating of exports, and exemption for essential goods and services. We also promise panchayats and municipalities a share of GST revenues.

Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces: Congress will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the NDA govern- ment, and increase it to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces. We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the Armed Forces in a transparent manner. We will improve social security, education and health facilities for our Paramilitary Forces and families.

Quality education for every child: Congress promises that school education from Class I to Class XII in public schools shall be compulsory and free. We will especially focus on learning outcomes. Schools will have ad- equate infrastructure and qualified teachers. To achieve this, we will double the allocation for Education to 6 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.

Gender Justice: Congress promises to pass in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha the Women’s Reser- vation Bill reserving 33 percent of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Legisla- tive Assemblies. Congress will also reserve 33 percent of all posts/vacancies in the Central Government for women.

Adivasis: We will implement, in letter and spirit, the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and secure for the Scheduled Tribes the rights guaranteed under the Act. No forest dweller will be unjustly evicted. We will establish a National Commission for Non-Timber Forest Produce. To im- prove the livelihood and income of Adivasis, we will offer Minimum Support Prices for NTFP.

Right to Homestead: We will pass the Right to Homestead Act to provide a piece of land for every rural house- hold that does not own a home or own land on which a house may be built.

End to Hate Crimes: In the last 5 years under the NDA Government, hate crimes and atrocities against vulner- able sections of the people have increased manifold. Congress promises to end the sense of impunity, stamp out mob violence and lynching, and prevent atrocities and hate crimes against the SC, ST, women and minorities. Congress will hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence in the case of riots, mob violence and hate crimes.

Celebrating freedom: Congress promises to uphold the values enshrined in the Constitution of India and pro- tect their freedoms, including the freedom to dissent. Congress will pass a law on privacy; restrict the use of Aadhaar to the original purposes of the Aadhaar Act; protect the rights of every citizen especially students, journalists, academics, artists, civil society activists and NGOs. Congress will review all laws and repeal those that are outdated, unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedom of the people.

Protecting our institutions: Congress promises to revitalise the institutions that were brazenly undermined in the last 5 years such as RBI, ECI, CIC, CBI, etc. Congress will restore their dignity, authority and autonomy while making them accountable to Parliament. In order to ensure free and fair elections, we will abolish the opaque electoral bonds introduced by the NDA government and set up a National Election Fund that will be allocated at the time of elections to rec- ognised political parties.

Cities and Urban Governance: Congress promises a comprehensive policy on urbanisation to address issues concerning our towns and cities, including city governance, livelihoods, housing, habitat, pollution, climate change, urban transport and disaster management. For the urban poor, we promise the Right to Housing and protection from arbitrary eviction, and a Slum Upgradation and Transformation Scheme. We will introduce a new model of governance for towns and cities through directly elected mayors. We will transform cities into engines of economic growth.

Environment and Climate Change: Congress promises an action agenda that will place India at the forefront of the battle against global warming and environmental protection. We recognise that air pollution is a national public health emergency and will significantly strengthen the National Clean Air Programme. Forests, wildlife, water bodies, rivers, clean air and coastal zones are precious natural resources that belong to the people and we will protect them. We will set up an independent, empowered and transparent Environment Protection Authority, redefine the role of the Forest Departments and increase our forest cover.

Once the BJP releases its manifesto, I’ll do a compare and contrast, and also look back at the manifestos the two parties released in 2014 to see what has changed and how thinking has evolved, if in fact it has.

I will be traveling this afternoon with a cramped schedule, so this blog is on a break until Saturday, when I am back at base. Be well, all.

News clips: Feb 13 edition

With the model code of conduct kicking in, attention turns to enforcement-related questions: Does the EC have the manpower to monitor the various parties and their proxies and detect violations? If it does detect something that is not kosher, what can it do about it if anything? On that note, the EC advised all political parties to desist from using images of serving army personnel in propaganda material; a day later, it has asked Facebook to delete two posts bearing images of Wing Commander Abhinandan posted by a BJP MLA from Delhi.

In order to make the process of spotting violations easier, the EC has launched a cVigil app that enables the lay citizen to report violations. ToI has a list of 15 types of violations that the citizen can report, and how; more details via The Hindu. So, since this service is now available, a hypothetical for you: Would you report this?

The Index of Industrial Production has bad news for the government just as it was beginning to talk up productivity and employment as major achievements of the last five years: Manufacturing plummeted from 8.7 in January 2018 to 1.3 in January 2019. The Telegraph story details those areas that are doing well, and those that are showing signs of being on life support.

The government’s attempts to suppress, or obfuscate, data that does not fit with its narrative will form the subject for a larger essay later. But for now, a few recent pieces are worth reading/re-visiting in context of the IIP figures: RTI Venkatesh Nayak, in HuffPost, talks of his efforts to use RTI to get behind the scenes of the key RBI board meeting where the demonetisation decision was supposedly taken (Hint: It wasn’t). The article links profusely to the actual minutes of the board meeting, and related stories.

While on demonetisation, here’s a link from the past: Modi’s smoke and mirrors act

Economic growth for the period October-December 2018 fell to its lowest mark across the last six quarters, and early indications are that the first quarter of 2019 continues to see decline. Author and commentator Vivek Kaul explains, via four charts, the key indicators that point at this slowdown. Elsewhere Scroll, also through charts, has more bad news: GDP is down, the government is unable to rein in the fiscal deficit, there is decline in investments in new projects, foreign investors are leaving the country and inevitably, as corollary to all of the above, the unemployment rate continues to climb. And to round it all off (for now), there’s this from HuffPost:

Desperate to show progress in the poorly defined, but much-ballyhooed, Digital India initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government inflated e-governance data by designating previously uncategorized services such as railway bookings, debit card and credit card transactions, NEFT, RTGS bank transfers, Aadhar authentication and e-KYC transactions with private vendors as “e-governance”.
The government also massively ramped up the weather and crop updates delivered over SMS to millions of farmers in a bid to show rural Indians were embracing so-called digital services.

In political news the AGP, which had earlier cut ties with the NDA over the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, has returned to the government fold. In Kerala, the Left Front has announced candidates for all 20 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress and the BJP are still sharpening their pencils.

Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, wants an alliance with the Congress in Haryana. The commentariat was all sneer-y when the Congress “contemptuously” turned down an alliance with AAP in Delhi — and I am not sure I get why. AAP came into being on the wings of the Anna Hazare/Kejriwal-led agitation against Congress corruption; that agitation in turn provided the BJP the talking points, and the oxygen, for the 2014 campaign. Why would the Congress go out of its way to ally with the AAP now? If it did, both parties would have their previous accusations about each other hanging around their neck. (Not that such considerations have stopped various parties allying with erstwhile enemies, but still.)

The LDF has named only two women, however, with its spokespersons arguing that the focus was on winnability rather than gender. The Front has made a big punt with CPM state executive member C Divakaran named for the Thiruvananthapuram seat against, in all likelihood, Shashi Tharoor for the Congress and whoever the BJP choses to name. Equally, it has named film actor and sitting MP Innocent to the Chalakudy  seat – which, as Scroll points out, is problematic.

NB: As elections kick into high gear, the clips will become more comprehensive and be updated more frequently. Meanwhile, readers, help: Ping links to interesting news stories/analysis via comments, please?

Addendum: One reason I like to collate links whenever I blog is that over time, isolated stories begin to add up, linkages become visible and bigger pictures emerge.

On that note, a story that caught my eye during a surf-break just now:

On March 8, the government approved a Bulk Data Sharing policy, enabling it to monetise a database of vehicle registration certificates, citing benefits to the “transport and automobile industry”, even as the issue of privacy and data protection looms large over such sharing.

Basically, the government here finds another way of making money off of your personal data, never mind consent.

The data shared will be the vehicle’s registration number and other details (including financing and insurance), and will not have the owner’s name. In all, 28 fields of data for each vehicle will be shared.

That’s all right, then — your name, and therefore details linked to your name, is not being sold. But then again:

However, the policy itself admits that “there is a possibility of triangulation” or matching the data with other publicly available databases to identify. That’s because the Vahan app, also run by the ministry, maps registration details against names.

I’ll leave this here for now and link it up in a subsequent post.

Elsewhere, the Times of India confidently says Twitter executives could face jail time, forcing the government to scramble to clarify.

The report, as published, appears to be exaggerated, stemming from a misunderstanding of the established legal procedure.

Anatomy of an ‘unrest’

During my time away, a story that fascinated me — in a train-wreck kind of way, and as a cautionary tale of the danger of the media disseminating half-baked news — relates to the murder of one Paresh Mesta. The India Today channel and its consulting editor Shiv Aroor played a lead role in propagating the story; social media backlash then prompted Aroor to write an extended defense of his actions. Here it is, and it is worth reading in full as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the media in general, and TV news in particular.

The first four paras are an extended ‘woe is me’ pity-party aiming to paint himself as the victim, and an attempt to stake out the high moral ground. Skip lightly over those, and consider the real story, which begins with paragraph five and the tweet that started it all:

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