Bad news

Everyone: There’s so much anger and helplessness flooding my thoughts, I worry that soon there won’t be any room for other emotions, like dread.

The New Yorker’s Colin Nissan is savagely sarcastic about the zeitgeist. Read — it will feel like you or I could have written this, about the world we find ourselves in. A world where, says the Economist on its latest cover, Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy.

The Economist’s India cover stories down the years is a stark illustration of how the country we know has changed under Modi. Churumuri rounds them up:

Still, this latest cover sounds exaggeratedly alarmist, until you consider Kailash Vijayvargiya, national general secretary of the BJP. Who says he suspected that some workers engaged in constructing a new room at his home were Bangladeshis, because of their “strange eating habits” — to wit, they ate poha. From the story:

I have not filed any police complaint yet. I only mentioned this incident to warn people.”

Speaking at the seminar, Vijayvargiya also claimed that a Bangladeshi terrorist was keeping a watch on him for the last one-and-a-half years.

“Whenever I go out, six armed security personnel follow me. What is happening in this country? Will outside people enter and spread so much terror?” he asked.

Just another of the BJP’s motormouth brigade sounding off, right? And making accusations that, on the face of it, are so absurd they are downright laughable? (I mean, a national BJP leader has a Bangladeshi terrorist following him around for a year and a half — he knows it, but neither his security, nor the police, nor the GoI’s extended intelligence machinery, can do anything about it?)

In passing, if poha now ranks with beef on the BJP’s list of suspect foods, wonder what Vijayvarghiya makes of Narendra Modi, who is on record as saying poha is one of the things he likes to cook?

We dismiss such idiots at our own peril, though. For this is classic gaslighting — he is speaking not to those who can think for themselves, but to that other constituency, of hardcore bigots, who merely want a peg to hang their internal prejudices on. This gaslighting, and the consequent normalisation of prejudice, has dangerous real world consequences. Thus:

A day after shanties belonging to hundreds of labourers were illegally razed by a BBMP official, fear has gripped migrant workers in east Bengaluru, with as many as 600 leaving the city even as authorities justified the action citing lack of time and money for verifying documents.

The administration — in Yedyurappa-run Bangalore — has no time or money to check whether there is any truth to an allegation, so they just demolish a few hundred homes and put a thousand or so people on the street. People, mind, with all proper documentation, including some who are native Kannadigas. Remember, this began with a BJP MLA posting a video of a shantytown and alleging that the residents were illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Elsewhere:

Thousands of migrant workers, mostly employed in coffee estates across Kodagu, were taken to three centres in the district on Thursday as police carried out an identity verification exercise. The centres in Madikeri, Virajpet and Kushalnagar towns were teeming with crowds as police conducted both offline and online identity verification.

The action, say the police, was because of “the security threats these people pose”. What threats? Based on which investigation? Where is due process?

An Amit Shah talks of the “termites” from Bangladesh. A Vijayvarghiya talks of his suspicion that some people eating poha are illegal Bangladeshis. Stupid comments on the face of it, but it accomplishes the purpose: “Bangladeshi” is the cover that confers legitimacy on their actions; Muslim is the enemy they are going after.

The law, which is meant to be a bulwark against such acts, is of no use. In BJP-ruled states where the leaders have passed on their prejudices to the hand-picked senior police officers and given them a loose rein, it is a case of act first, think up reasons later. As for instance in Uttar Pradesh, where

As more and more cases against protesters charged with attempt to murder and rioting during anti-CAA protests in December began failing legal scrutiny and courts started granting bail, police in Muzaffarnagar invoked a stringent provision of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 — almost a month after it booked 107 people — and claimed that protesters used children “for illegal activity”.

Which is to say, when the initial charges — of “rioting” — fail to hold up, the police come up with something else. And when that fails to hold up (as it will), they will come up with something else again… No sooner than lawyers successfully fight one charge, than another pops up.

This zeal is selective. For instance, in the daily rush of events we seem to have forgotten that today, January 24, is the 19th day since masked thugs armed with iron rods, hammers, bottles of acid, entered the JNU campus, with the connivance of the VC and with the benign tolerance of the police, and caused mayhem. Several of the perpetrators have been identified, via video and cellphone messages — and yet, there has not been one single arrest, no FIR against any of them. On the other hand JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and several of her colleagues face charges of criminal vandalism for an attack on the university’s server rooms on January 1 — an attack, as an RTI inquiry revealed, never happened.

This is the playbook in its entirety. Use public platforms and captive media to demonise, to other. Then act — no matter how untenable the action is, because the objective is not to apprehend and punish actual wrongdoing, but to make life unliveable for those the government deems its enemy. And when words are not enough, try more direct methods. As, for instance:

According to the Kathirur police Prabesh allegedly hurled steel bombs towards the police picket in front of Kathirur Manoj Smrithi Kendram, an RSS office.

“He threw bombs during the wee hours of January 16 morning. Following the arrest he has confessed that his aim was RSS office. Kannur, being politically sensitive region, any attack on political party offices will be regarded as an act by the opponent,” Kathirur SI Nijeesh said.

Unpack that slowly. An RSS “worker” threw a bomb at his own party office, regardless of the fact that he might have ended up killing his own people, so that blame could be put on the enemy — the political opposition, the “radicals”, whoever. This happened in Kannur, ground zero for RSS-sponsored terrorism. Where, among many incidents, there was this: Lethal bombs recovered from an RSS-controlled temple where they had been hidden. Remember this?:

“They are putting their life in danger to make these things (bombs) for self-defence. That’s how little faith they have in the law and order system in place,” he said.

The man saying RSS workers are making bombs for self defence, risking their lives in the process, is RSS leader (RSS, not one of those convenient “fringe groups”) Valsan Thillankeri — who was at the forefront of the 2019 violence at Sabarimala, where, again, bombs were hurled at the homes of political leaders.

It’s getting to where Colin Nissan’s sarcasm in the New Yorker piece doesn’t feel like sarcasm any more; it is actually a thing.

Everybody: You know those moments between crying about one thing and crying about the next thing, when you finally have time to catch your breath and just cry about nothing?

  • Shruti Rajagopalan, one of my favourite columnists on all things to do with economics, turns her attention to the Constitution and, with a tick-tock narrative, shows us how we got here. Read — it is the background you need to understand the present.
  • CNN has a detailed report sourcing Amnesty International on the troll armies and related propaganda tools that have made Twitter hell for women politicians and activists. Related, the Independent (London) has a similar story.
  • Since Kerala came up earlier in this post (and since I linked to my posts yesterday), here is a Caravan backgrounder that tells you how, and why, Kerala became ground zero for the RSS.
  • You read about Davinder Singh. You read about Samarpal, the BSF jawan caught carrying a lethal bomb into a CRPF camp. Now read this story, of how army personnel in Kashmir are commandeering the cars of citizens at night. Why would the army, which has vehicles to spare, need to surreptitiously commandeer private cars at night? What are they doing, that they cannot do in their own official vehicles? The questions just keep mounting, and each unanswered question adds to the dread that the situation in the Valley is much less than even the more pessimistic of us feared.

I’ll be back here later today in case this post needs updating. In the meantime, I will leave you with this comprehensive — and highly evocative — collation of the protest music that is emerging out of the ongoing revolution. I’ve been listening to some of these on loop. And also with this image, that got fixed in my mind when I saw it while surfing Twitter last evening:

Justice delayed…

Approximately 140 petitions have been filed, most of them in different courts across the country, challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Earlier this month, the government went to the Supreme Court to argue that there could be confusion if different courts handed down conflicting verdicts. In response, the SC decided to hear all the petitions itself, and issued a notice to this effect on January 11. So far, so good.

Today a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde sat to hear the combined petitions — and the sitting ended with the SC giving the Center four weeks to file a response.

Pause right there to consider the absurdity. The Centre knows that petitions have been filed. It had received copies of all these petitions. It was the Centre that went to the SC to ask that all petitions be heard by the apex court. In other words, it knew that the constitutionality of the CAA has been challenged. Why does the SC figure that it needs four entire weeks more to prepare a response?

Think of it in common-sense terms. I do something. You challenge it as being illegal. We end up in court. Why do I need time to answer the question of why I did what I did? I knew that when I was doing it, no?

Further: When the petitioners asked that the implementation of the process be stayed until the constitutionality is decided, the SC declined to impose any stay “without hearing the Center on the matter”.

Again, how does that make sense? What the SC is being asked, here, is to stop all proceedings until the case is heard. That is a direct plea for redress within the purview of the court; temporary relief until the SC can hear the actual petition. Why does the Center need to be “heard” on whether the SC can grant a stay?

On a side note, one of the first reactions to the SC’s refusal to grant a stay of proceedings came from the Shaheen Bagh protestors: “And hence, the revolt shall go on…”

If you want a sense of how bizarre these court proceedings are, here is a blow by blow account.

One more point to keep in mind: The SC says it is examining whether the petitions should be heard by a five-member bench.

On August 5 last year, the Center scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution. Petitions challenging the validity of this action have been pending in the SC. Today, a five-member bench of the SC said that before examining the validity of the scrapping of #370, it will first decide whether a seven-member bench should be constituted to hear the case.

So wait. Today, a three member bench is deciding whether to have a five member bench hear one petition, while a five-member bench is deciding whether to have a seven-member bench hear another petition… And so we go, round and round the mulberry bush. The sad part of it is, the apex court is not even pretending any more that it is on the side of the Constitution, not of the Center.

There is a reason ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is a cliche — because it is true.

In this connection, consider a news story that came out this morning: India has slipped down 10 spots on the Democracy Index, and is now ranked at #51, its worst ranking since the list first started in 2006. Further, it has been slipping steadily down the ladder through the Modi years.

As I was pointing out on Twitter a while ago, democracy is about a lot more than holding elections once in five years. If in the intervening period you subvert every single pillar that holds up the democratic edifice — the courts, Parliament, the media, and so on right down the line — then you are a dictatorship, and elections are merely a Potemkin facade.

In other news, direct tax collections have entered the negative zone for the very first time. In other words, there is less money in the government treasury than we thought even a day earlier. And since misfortunes don’t come singly — a news report suggests that the Life Insurance Corporation could be facing enormous financial difficulties. The LIC, remember — first port of call for middle class families looking to invest their money safely.

In connection with the ongoing furor over the CAA/NPR/NRC mess, read Rukmini’s report showing why, and how, India’s poor are likely to be enormously affected irrespective of their religion. Because? No birth certificates.

The NIA, investigating the case of Davinder Singh, has not filed charges of sedition. That is the country we live in now: Shouting slogans, liking someone’s Facebook post, drawing a cartoon, holding up a protest sign, all of this and more is “sedition”. But a serving officer of the police force transporting wanted militants, with a price on their heads, through checkposts in a car laden with arms and explosives is… what… a peccadillo? This is why, and how, trust in this government erodes with each passing day. The NIA being hastily given charge of the case led to allegations of a cover-up; just a conspiracy theory, many said at the time. But now? How do we still deny the possibility that Davinder Singh was operating as an agent of the state, to carry out a false flag mission, some kind of terrorist act that the government could then use to justify a crackdown?

No roundup is ever complete without mention of Uttar Pradesh, so here is your daily horror story: Turns out that FIRs filed by the Firozabad police are cut-paste jobs. The whole story is WTF — read it for yourselves. And when reading, remember that earlier point I was making about the crumbling pillars of democracy.

One K Prabesh has been arrested for hurling a bomb at a police picket in Kannur, Kerala. He is an RSS worker. Put those things together: Bomb, RSS worker, Kannur. Remember that last year, no less than Amit Shah launched a “jana raksha yatra” in Kerala protesting against “Red terrorism”. (It’s a different matter that he got so mercilessly trolled that he ran away after just one day, citing urgent work in Delhi).

The argument was, “Red” cadres are indiscriminately killing BJP workers, and the hotbed of the violence is Kannur. It is not a new argument — in fact, it is so old that back in 2017, I wrote a post about it which is worth resurfacing in context. And the pushback I got for that post led me to write another, which too is relevant today.

And, PS to the above, one Adithya Rao has been arrested for placing explosives at an airport. In Mangalore, where there was orchestrated violence on the sidelines of anti-CAA protests. Where police used the violence to justify firing, which a people’s tribunal has condemned as excessive use of force. Where a truck bringing chairs for an anti-CAA protest was set on fire. Where the police, presumably under the misconception that the area is not part of India, has sent notices to people from Kerala to explain their presence at or in the vicinity of an anti-CAA protest. Read all that in tandem with the placing of the explosive (and with Davinder Singh, and the RSS guy who hurled a bomb at a police station, and the instances I cited in my blog posts linked here) and tell me you don’t see a pattern.

Tangentially, I want to bring up a pet peeve here: the indiscriminate use of the word “alleged”. Consider the headline of the story linked to above: RSS worker arrested for allegedly hurling bomb. Huh?! How can a bomb be “allegedly hurled”? I keep seeing such bizarre usages with increasing frequency — like, the other day, there was a news story with the line “… a video allegedly showing…”. Again, huh? A video shows something, or it does not. Duh!

Sticking with Kerala for a minute more, the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit (SSUS), located at Adi Shankara’s birthplace Kalady, in Kerala, has become the first university to pass a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Wait for this to catch on, and for more and more universities to adopt such resolutions.

In bizarre news for the day, it now turns out that Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, hacked the phone of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. The first thought that came to mind when I read this? February 20, 2019. When MBS visited India. And Modi broke all norms of protocol and went personally to welcome him at the airport.

I’ll leave you with these for now — and go off and re-read Kafka’s The Trial, which I have been thinking about all afternoon, ever since I read about the Supreme Court’s latest act of denial through delay.

So what’s your beef?

IF Kerala has a focal point for the Hindu faith it has to be Thrissur — home to the Vadukkunathan temple complex that hosts the annual Pooram; to other storied temples such as Thiruvambady, Paramekavu, Koodalmanikyam, Arattupuzha, Kodungalur, and Ponkunnam to name just the most obvious of dozens of pilgrim centres, and a way station for Guruvayur and for Sabarimala, epicentre of the women’s entry storm earlier this year and, in the minds of political pundits, the wedge the BJP will use to prise open the hitherto inhospitable state. With that background, read this news report:

The Thrissur district unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has launched a co-operative society to produce, process and market meat and fish. The venture – Thrissur, Fish and Meat Producing, Processing and Marketing Society – had received approval from the registrar of co-operative societies six months ago.


The bylaw of the society said it will rear and sell cattle and fish products. “We haven’t started processing or selling of meat,” BJP Thrissur district president A Nagesh, who has also been elected the president of the society, told Scroll.in. “But I cannot say whether we will venture into the meat processing market or not.”

But then there is this: In the 2017 Assembly elections, a BJP candidate promised to set up quality abattoirs and ensure good quality beef if he was elected. Elsewhere, RSS and BJP functionaries formed a cooperative to sell beef. On his first day as a BJP minister, KJ Alphons said:

On the first day in his new office as tourism minister, bureaucrat-turned-politician Alphons Kannanthanam touched upon the controversial issue of beef, saying it would continue to be consumed in Kerala.

“The BJP does not mandate that beef cannot be eaten. We don’t dictate food habits in any place. It is for the people to decide,” he said.

The various affiliates of the BJP also said that Kerala should receive no help in the aftermath of the the 2018 floods; that the flood was a sign of god punishing Kerala because the state consumes beef; a ‘sadhvi’ called for the killing of those who kill cows and eat beef and, to crown the hypocrisy, Modi — who has the right wing leader’s habit of accusing others of exactly what he is guilty of — said this:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said cheating was in the blood of the Congress party.

….

“Is it the same Congress which praises the cow in Madhya Pradesh and mentions some schemes in its poll manifesto, but slaughters calves on the streets of Kerala and eats beef?” Modi asked the crowd.

It is a different matter that for all of Modi’s gaslighting, the voters of MP dumped the BJP in the Assembly elections. To go back to the point of the BJP’s hypocrisy when it comes to its signature issue: In 2017, then Goa CM Manohar Parikkar was assuring the state assembly that he will ensure there is no shortage of beef in the state; said that over 2000 kg of beef was being slaughtered in the state’s legal abattoir and that any shortfall would be made up by importing beef from Karnataka; and in January 2018, warned that anyone interfering with the import of beef would be punished. (Here’s a detailed, and more recent, story on the ongoing tug of war between gau rakshaks and the beef industry in the state).

Also in 2017 ahead of Assembly polls in the north-east, the BJP not only asserted that there would be no beef ban in Meghalaya if the party came to power, beef would actually be cheaper under the BJP rule. Last year the CM of Manipur was assuring his people that the BJP had never asked for a beef ban and never would, and that the BJP had no problem with the people eating beef. A senior BJP leader last year said there would be no beef ban in Tripura or any of the other states in the north-east.

That is the BJP. Led by the man who, during the 2014 campaign, repeatedly raised the bogey of a “pink revolution” if the Congress came to power. The man, and the party, that has stood by and, by their silence, given the nod to “cow vigilantes” — murderers, to call things as they are — to run riot across the Hindi heartland and, where necessary, to actively provide aid and comfort to the murderers; a party whose minister garlanded accused lynchers who were let out on bail and senior leaders condoled the death of a jailed lyncher, promised compensation to the family of the dead man, and stood by as, in violation of all norms, the coffin was draped with the national flag… And, in areas where they know their “gaumata” BS won’t work, a party that will, without the slightest twitch of hesitation, guarantee you the very beef they talk of banning.

I believe that people should have the right to eat what they want; that it is not the business of polity or the government to interfere in an individual’s private life. That said, I’d appreciate a party that, at the least, had the courage of its own convictions. The BJP — and this is true for the entirety of its existence — is a party of, and for, hypocrites who will do anything, say anything, be anything as long as it leads to power.

It’s Sunday. For reasons of work, I have to watch, and make notes on, the two IPL games scheduled today. So I’ll leave you with this post — and this topical, timely musical comment:

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.

WTF Just Happened: December 24

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

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

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WTF Just Happened: November 10

#1. Pune University just announced that gold medals will be given only to those students who are completely vegetarian. How do you even comment? What do you say?

#2. In Kerala, an RSS worker inadvertently blew up the roof of his home — one of those innocent accidents that happen when you are trying to make bombs, presumably for purely peaceful purposes. Remember this post?

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