Amit Shah and the big lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere in our country:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is it. That is the case.

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

The evil that men do…

On January 6, the day after a masked, armed mob ran riot in the JNU campus while its VC instructed the police to stand outside the gates, Arnab Goswami conducted his usual evening debate. This is what he said in his opener — and when reading that, remember that these are merely words on screen; to understand what he chose to emphasise, how he chose to escalate, you have to listen to him via the link above. I have, for convenience, underlined certain statements to more easily catch your eye. Here:

Many of you have been calling Republic and asking to know what my position is on what happened or what has been happening at JNU. And I am glad that I took my time to come up with my view. And ladies and gentlemen, while it is and it was extremely worrying to see the visuals of the masked goons in JNU yesterday, and what happened was terrible, without a doubt, most of the media once again came to a wrong and premature conclusion once again. And now that we have the proof, and now that we have visuals which show the extreme brutality of the Left, and now that we have videographed evidence of the barbaric, monstrous attack by Left student leaders, by Left student unions, leading bloody masked mobs a few days back, and now that we have the truth before us, pictures, of Left student leaders physically assaulting fellow students, whose only fault was that they wanted to appear in the examination, whose only fault is that they had entrance exams to give and they needed to qualify and sit for the examinations, we have pictures of how they were brutalised by the Left student leaders, and now that we have the evidence of how any student in JNU who wanted to be registered for the examination was the subject of bloody attacks by the Left, and now that all this evidence is out, and now that it is absolutely clear that it is the left which has not just been starting, but unleashing relentless violence on all those who want to follow the academic schedule in JNU, and now, now, tonight, this Monday evening, that those coming out in the JNU protests in Mumbai for example, with their own placards have been identified not as students but the pro-Pakistan groups, and now that these groups are also asking at the Gateway of India in Mumbai for Independence for Kashmir, and now that all this evidence is out, I am not just narrating it, I am going to show you the pictures, and now that all this hard-coded evidence is being broadcast on the Republic Media Network, the nation wants to know whether the idle mind called Anurag Kashyap will bother to tweet tonight, or whether once again he and his ilk will pretend like cowards to look the other way.

There it is, the art (if you can call it that) of the demagogue, in one easy lesson. Goswami suggests that the contemporary narrative in the media is wrong; that he has evidence to the contrary, and smoothly segues into a condemnation of the Left students and their unions, accusing them of barbarous physical assault. And not just accusing — he makes you believe that it is proven beyond doubt.

He then seamlessly links it to a Free Kashmir placard held up in Mumbai to drag in that never-failing red herring, Pakistan; from there he targets by name an individual who has been speaking out against the serial atrocities being committed across the nation.

Remember the date of this broadcast: January 6. The day after the murderous attacks on JNU. The day after the nation, in a state of shock, watched an officially-sanctioned and protected mob at work. 24 hours later, Goswami flips the story — while the attack is “extremely worrying, without a doubt”, the Left students and their unions are guilty of … “extreme brutality“… “barbarous, monstrous attack“… “leading bloody masked mobs“… “physically assaulting”… “brutalised“…

Listen to that monologue as a viewer of that channel would — passively, just taking in what is said. And think of what you would take away, what you would conclude:

That while a “worrying” incident did take place, too bad, so sad, the fault, dear Brutus, lies with the barbaric “Left”…

Remember that after Goswami “proved” that the Left had indulged in unimaginable violence prior to the January 5 attack — which was his way of amplifying the then official line that the attacks of January 5 were in response to acts of vandalism by the Left union on January 1 and January 4, an RTI inquiry revealed that in fact there was absolutely no instance of vandalism, by the Left or anyone else, on either of those days.

The RTI story appeared on January 20 — 14 days after Goswami had sowed the fertile minds of his listeners with his own patented brand of poison and moved on. That is how this works — plant the lie, move rapidly on to other things before the truth has a chance to catch up.

In passing, this is your periodic reminder that the police have CCTV footage of the violence (though they claimed otherwise), that leaders of the armed assault have been identified, and the identification acknowledged by the police themselves, and yet there has not been a single arrest in the case thus far.

But Goswami says it was the Left, Goswami says he has proof, and Goswami is an honourable man…

Two Davids, Edwards and Cromwell, founded and run the site Media Lens, which is dedicated to tilting at the Goliath of propaganda in mainstream media (You can follow the site on Twitter). In 2018, they released their third book, Propaganda Blitz, to break down the tools and techniques used by media to sell the official line. They set up the premise of the book thus:

A regular feature of corporate media manipulation involves the launching of what we call a propaganda blitz, attacking and discrediting the ‘Official Enemies’, often preparing the way for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ of some kind. Propaganda blitzes are fast-moving attacks intended to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Here, watch the various stages of a propaganda blitz, as laid out by David Edwards and David Cromwell, in action. The sequential images are courtesy this excellent thread by Vasundhara Singh Sirnate, co-founder and director of research at The Polis Project:

Step 1: A propaganda blitz begins with the propagation of some dramatic new “evidence” to support an oft-touted conclusion. In this instance, the government and its water-carriers in the media have been touting the line that the protests in Jamia, in JNU and Shaheen Bagh are violent and must be ended. Republic starts off with this: a dramatic picture, circling the perpetrator with an arrow ominously pointing to him, and states as fact that a Jamia protestor turned violent, and “uses gun”. Think also of the Goswami “debate” linked to at the start of this post, and how it opens with full-throated claims of new evidence that is going to be shown to prove a falsehood.

Step 2: The tone adopted during a propaganda blitz is always vehement, even hysterical. “Claims of dramatic new evidence of alleged horrors committed by ‘Official Enemies’ are invariably followed by deep moral outrage,” say the authors. “The rationale is clear enough: in ordinary life, outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People do not get angry in the presence of significant doubt. So the message to the public is that there is no doubt. Listen to Aishwarya Kapoor, political editor of the Republic TV channel, in the clip above. Below, the text:

“Will they fire gun? Will they brandish illegal weapons on the streets of the national capital of India? It cannot be allowed and it should not be allowed. That is why I ask those political leaders in this democracy… in this democracy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal should answer how they are supporting. Under which condition, under which kind of pressure are they supporting this kind of violent people? Because in the name of CAA, this is happening….”

There is more, in the same barely literate, hyperventilating vein, including a repeat invoking of Gandhi and Kejriwal, but you get the idea: The ‘Official Enemies’ are called out, to the accompaniment of deep moral outrage, and there is no ambivalence about what the evidence on screen shows.

On similar lines, listen to Goswami’s opener the same evening, where he opens by blaming the “over 40 days of provocation in Shaheen Bagh” for the terrorist’s actions. This is a journalist (allegedly), a man with a powerful megaphone, setting out his evening “debate” program with the suggestion that women peacefully protesting in a corner of Delhi is justification for attempted mass murder. In the interests of “balance” he says he has questions for both sides but then makes clear which side is right:

“Let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation.”

Those are the words that justify murder.

There are other tropes that are used to fan the propaganda fire. As the authors list them, these are: (3) The appearance of informed consensus (Note how convenient sound bytes from friendly politicians are used to further the various conspiracy theories); (4) Damning condemnation of anyone daring to question this consensus (Where is Rahul Gandhi? Will the tukde tukde gang speak up? Anurag Kashyap? Lutyens? The Lobby?); (5) Often generated with fortuitous timing (Remember that a few days before this incident, “dramatic new evidence” had surfaced that the PFI is funding the anti-CAA protests — an evidence, and accusation, that has quietly been buried since, but only after the damage was done); (6) Accompanied by tragi-comic moral dissonance — as, for instance:

See the chyron? “They wanted this to happen”. This is at the start of the “debate”, the screen is frozen at the point where Goswami says “We have questions for both sides tonight, but let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation”

See the whole package. In what is ostensibly the scene-setting for a debate, Goswami starts with his prefabricated conclusion: It is not about the terrorist, it is about the provocateurs — which, by the way, is a vast grab-bag that includes but is not restricted to Shaheen Bagh alone.

In his worldview, the terrorist has no agency — “They”, the ‘official enemies’, wanted this to happen, the terrorist was a helpless leaf swept along in the murky currents of a deep conspiracy.

The authors refer to this as “tragi-comic moral dissonance” — but when weaponised to the extent that Goswami and his ilk have done, it is neither comic nor even tragic; it is, pure and simple, the criminally irresponsible, deadly dangerous language of genocide.

The whole is overlaid with calculated cynicism; with the belief, based on the channel’s experience, that people can be fooled all the time. Having run with their prefabricated storyline for most of the evening (Vasundhara Srinate meticulously tracks the channel’s criminal distortions here), they then reclaim the high moral ground with an apology (Except there is no suggestion of an apology, merely a claim that it was “immediately” corrected):

In the heat of the moment, anyone can make a mistake, no? Anyone can, in the rush of events, mistake a terrorist for a protestor. Anyone can, when the adrenalin is flowing and lives are at risk, mistake the terrorist for someone who was sent on the mission with the personal blessings of Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, no? Oops!

The terrorist named himself as he was being taken into custody. Within minutes of that, his full identity was revealed. Yet, as Vasundhara Srinate outlines, Republic continued with their tissue of lies for over two hours before issuing an “apology”, the effect of which is nullified by the continued insistence — repeated in both header and chyron — that the terrorist was operating under extreme provocation.

In a thoughtful piece on Goswami, Kunal Kamra, and what contemporary incidents are telling us, Pragya Tiwari (follow) cites the German writer and playwright Bertolt Brecht — who, it is worth noting, had fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution for his views — on art and propaganda:

“Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions” and warned against the dangers of art that enables this…”

“Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” said Brecht.

That is what Goswami’s dark arts of demagoguery are all about — a hammer he wields every night to shape reality to the needs of his political masters. Here is the sad part, though: The damage he has done, and continues to do each night, is not restricted to the effect his diatribes have on his audience, but reaches far deeper.

An editor sets the tone of the newsroom he heads; whether they admit it or not, the rest of the editorial staff take their cues from the editor and, consciously or unconsciously, shape their work to fit the editor’s worldview. (It is one of the biggest challenges for an editor — to free the staff of this Pavlovian reflex, to ensure that individuality is not erased, because you have to fight human nature, the worker’s basic survival instinct).

Consider that piece-to-camera where Aishwarya Kapoor rants about the Jamia protestor having a gun, and drags in Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal — what is that but a manifestation of the Goswami influence on the next generation of newsroom leaders?

Consider Deepti (I am not sure of her surname; Goswami introduces her as his news editor at the start of the clip above), and her behaviour with Tejaswi Yadav. What is that but a direct consequence of the hectoring, heckling, privacy-invading, obnoxious style of “journalism” Goswami has instituted as the gold standard?

Consider too that in the intro Goswami refers to a politician as “Lalu’s brat”, and imagine the influence on impressionable young journalists when a newsroom leader institutionalises such language, not only in the privacy of the newsroom where it would be bad enough, but when facing the camera.

Consider the pressures on other channels — as, for instance, TimesNow. When Republic surged ahead in the ratings immediately after launch, TN was forced (not in the journalistic sense so much as in the financial sense) to follow suit, to mimic Goswami’s motormouth hectoring. And then to try and go one better: Thus, they split Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, giving them individual, back to back slots and thus managing to extend the chosen propaganda of the day; then they elevated Padmaja Joshi to get a third bite of the cherry.

See how the virus spreads?

Finally, consider this: Sooner or later (and it looks like it will be later), this circle has to end. This bigoted government will come to the end of its life cycle. And these channels and their reprehensible anchors will have to reshape themselves to fit whatever the new political ethos turns out to be. But it is not going to be easy to turn this ship around. A whole generation of young men and women are growing up in newsrooms shaped by the venomous propagandists who lead them; a generation that thinks this is the way journalism is done; a generation that knows no better.

They will in turn grow into the next lot of newsroom leaders and, knowing no better, will pass on this poison to the young ones who come to work with them.

That, in the ultimate analysis, is the damage the bigot, the fascist, does: He poisons not merely the air he breathes, but the atmosphere future generations have to grow up in; the damage he inflicts is lasting, and well nigh irreversible.

That damage, this image: A young man, part of a group of students commemorating the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, wounded by a terrorist empowered and egged on by the hate-spewing men who run this country and by apologists and enablers like Goswami, having to clamber over a police barricade so that he can get a gunshot wound treated.

Via a Faye D’Souza tweet

What do they — Modi, Shah, Thakur, Bisht and others of this hate-filled lot, and the likes of Goswami, Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Sudhir Chaudhary, hope to gain? What in this world do they think is worth infecting a nation, particularly its young, with murderous hate?

The nation wants to know.

Republic of Spin

“The Titanic had an iceberg problem. It did not have a communications problem.”

I was reminded of that pithy take by political consultant Paul Begala when I woke up to the news that the GoI, stung by the opposition to the CAA, has planned a “fresh multimedia campaign“. From the story:

A top source in the government said a need was felt for a fresh round of publicity because the government has received a lot of bad press due to the nationwide protests against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens, and the attacks on students at two central universities in the capital — Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. …

Although a name for the campaign has not been finalised yet, one of the suggestions is to call it ‘Har kaam desh ke naam’ (all work in the country’s name).

I also happened to see this: The GoI has apparently brought out a booklet telling the stories of Hindus etc who have come over from Pakistan because of religious persecution. Only, it turns out that at least some of the stories are faked.

‘Fake news’, ‘propaganda’, ‘spin’ — call it what you will, it is big business today. Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore told the Lok Sabha that between 2014, when Modi took over as Prime Minister for his first term, and December 2018, when Rathore was responding to a question, the government had spent over Rs 5,200 crore on advertisements. Another official response gave a different figure.

Rs 5,200 crore. Imagine what you could do with that money. When the Statue of Unity was being inaugurated, IndiaSpend had done a piece comparing the cost of the statue with what else the same amount could have been used for:

We could have had two new IITs or AIIMS campuses; or five new IIMs, or five new solar power plants each producing 75 megawatts of power; the amount expended on the statue could have funded, twice over, the schemes the government had grandiosely announced for the relief of farming communities. And when reading this, remember that the cost of the statue is half of what the government says it spent on advertising and publicity.

In a nutshell: We could have done so much with the money; instead we spent the money to say we have done so much.

All of this is why I was reminded of Begala’s words. The government does not have a communication problem; what it has is a bigotry problem; it has a problem of rising, multiplying dissatisfactions across a wide spectrum of society. And the only response it knows is more advertising, more publicity, more propaganda.

Late evening yesterday I saw a Twitter post that, in reference to the GoI’s attempts to browbeat Jeff Bezos into getting his Washington Post to back off on criticism of the government, said India needs its own version of the First Amendment which, in the US, specifically prohibits (among other things) the imposition of any restrictions on the media’s right to speak, report, freely.

India does not have provisions in its Constitution that specifically uphold the freedom of the press; that freedom is implicit in a sub-set of Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Do we need a Constitutional amendment that expressly protects the media’s right to free expression? Is the absence of that law the reason why so much of the media today is suspect, why the credibility of the media is eroding? I’ve been a full-time journalist since 1990, and a freelance journalist for five years before that — and in all that time, I don’t recall an instance where the lack of such a specific law hindered our reporting. And I certainly don’t think that is the reason today’s media is so compromised.

I started with a Begala quote, so it seems appropriate to bring in something the man Begala advised, then US President Bill Clinton, said during his presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

That is what it boils down to — the press is hamstrung financially, and its various egregious acts of commission and omission stems from that simple fact. Couple it with the vast amounts the government is spending on publicity, and what do you get? This. (A small Twitter thread I wrote last night to explain why the media has become an instrument of propaganda).

I’ll leave you with this for the day (I have places to be, things to do) unless something really urgent breaks. And on my way out, here are two little items worth your notice. The first is a thread by journalist M Rajshekhar collating all the protests happening in India across a period of approximately one day:

And the second is a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

Really? That explains why the PM has, in little over a month, refrained from uttering a single word on the ongoing, widespread protests, on the resulting deaths, on the dozens who have been incarcerated for little or no reason, on his refusal to meet with a single one of those protesting groups, on his almost comical avoidance of going anyplace where he might be forced to confront protests?

This cannot be said too forcefully: The man is a fraud. And a coward.

Scratchpad: April 12 edition

  • Round one of voting, covering 91 Lok Sabha seats, is over. Last evening, TV channels struggled, on prime time, to make sense of the voting percentages and what those numbers were telling us. So, as PSA, here is my favourite data journalist, Rukmini S, explaining how to read between the cliches. And while on Rukmini and data analysis, read her piece on how the “news media” is going out of its way to help Narendra Modi. In passing, one trend seen in the first phase of voting is not a happy sign: In AP, hundreds of EVMs did not work, needing hundreds of engineers to be summoned to fix them. Begs the question, somewhat: Aren’t EVMs tested before they are deployed? Why not? It is not as if the EC did not have sufficient time to prep.
  • Every time you think the BJP has sunk as low as it is possible to get, one of the party’s bigwigs reaches for a spade. And none so adept at digging down to previously unplumbed depths as Modi himself. While campaigning in Maharashtra, he asked first time voters to dedicate their votes to the ‘Balakot strike’ and to the victims of the Pulwama terrorist attacks. In how many ways is this egregious? Modi and his government are yet to address the question of the security lapses that led to Pulwama. Modi and his party continue to ignore the EC directive that the armed forces cannot be used for propaganda — the same directive Adityanath flouted the other day, and drew a “please be careful” caution from the EC. As an aside, 150 former serving officers (including four former chiefs of the Navy, three former Army chiefs and one former Air Force Chief) wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind asking that he direct “all political parties” to refrain from using the Indian Armed Forces for political propaganda. File this under #FWIW — there is nothing Kovind can do, and there is no reason why Modi, in the midst of a tough election where the party via its manifesto has clearly indicated that “national security” is the only appeal it has to peg its hopes on, would five a flying fish for any direction the President might give, assuming he gives it.
  • But why this desperation, that makes the BJP propel the conversation into the realm of bigotry, of hatred? Because what else is there? The BJP knows that unemployment is a burning issue. Every so often, one or the other minister claims that a very large number of jobs have been created. (Modi told a friendly media house that the problem was not lack of jobs, merely lack of data; earlier posts had looked at how various datasets produced by official agencies have been systematically suppressed because the news is not good.) So the latest in this lineup is Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who claimed that 100 million jobs have been created. He was lying.
  • Speaking of lying, there is this beautiful Rohini Mohan profile of Smriti Irani which, among other things, dwells on the controversy over her educational qualifications. Was reminded of that because Irani’s affidavit went up yesterday, and — it was as if everyone was waiting for this — political twitter pounced on the fact that there was no mention of any degree she had earned. (How underconfident, unsure of yourself, do you have to be to lie blatantly about something that is so easily verifiable?)
  • Five years ago we got “good governance” and the “Gujarat Model” that will create previously unimagined economic prosperity. After five years of that, what are we left with? A ruling party whose president promises that the National Register of Citizens will be implemented all over the country. And “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country. And all the Hindu and Buddhist refugees…we will find each of them, give them Indian citizenship and make them residents here.” Read those words carefully. Adityanath, meanwhile, reverts to his line from the UP assembly elections, framing this as a battle between believers of Ali versus believers in Bajrang Bali; he says the Congress is infected with a “green virus“… It is pointless to even invoke the EC here. But in this connection I was reading this Gurcharan Das column in Foreign Affairs. Das was among the earliest of the “liberals” to toot the Modi-for-PM horn back in 2013-’14; he said then and says now that he was aware of Modi’s complicity — which is the most benign words you can find for his actions — in the 2002 Gujarat riots, but… “There was no denying that Modi was a sectarian and authoritarian figure,” says Das. But I knew that India’s democratic institutions were strong enough to prevail over those tendencies.” That is exactly what the wooly-headed section of the liberals keep repeating — we know he is a bigot, we know he is a thug, but… But what? India’s institutions will rise to the challenge? As must be abundantly clear by now, our institutions were not engineered to protect us from naked, open bigotry; for flagrant contempt of our courts; for wilful misuse of the law enforcement agencies, for the host of other sins that Modi and his minions have committed over the past five years. Which is why we need to think carefully, during this election cycle — not about Modi, or about the alternatives, but about ourselves, our sense of values. What do we stand for? Where do we draw our individual red lines? What does our moral North Star point to, and how far from true North are we prepared to veer and still live with ourselves? I’ll leave these questions with you; answer them as you will, and see if you are willing to live with your answers.
  • Still staying with Modi, a scandal — minor, compared with some other recent ones (more on this later) — during this election cycle relates to his inauguration spree — 157 projects inaugurated in 30 days — in the weeks before the election schedule was announced. Some of them were downright bizarre; all of them were excuses to conduct political propaganda under the guise of official business. Now this: Responding to an RTI query, the PMO says it does not maintain a record of the PM’s internal trips and the money spent on these. Make of this what you will.
  • It was a news channel. Then it was an advertising channel. Both claims were made, about NaMo TV, by the government and its affiliates. In either case, it was publicised by Modi, Shah and various government ministers. Why the ambiguity? Because it was a clear end run around rules and regulations government broadcast content. (It never even applied for a broadcast license; TataSky called it a “special service” for which no license is required, which raises the pertinent question: Can I then book a channel, call it a “special service” and air whatever I like, without going through the licensing and regulatory procedures?) The questions kept proliferating to the point where the BJP finally admitted that the channel was run by the party’s IT Cell — and that has opened up a whole new can of worms with legal consequences, quite apart from the EC’s directive that all content going up on the channel has to be vetted and approved. The larger question in my mind is this: You are the government. You know the rules. You have an entire ministry devoted to regulating and enforcing these rules. So how did you imagine you could get away with flouting every single regulation? The only answer that comes back is: Because you have. Many times, in many ways. With impunity. And that in turn has bred a collective sense that the rules don’t apply to this one party.
  • While on the EC putting its foot down on the Modi channel (and also ordering that the Modi biopic cannot be released till after the elections — which almost guarantees that the movie will top the list of box office duds, by the way), it’s in the midst of a little showdown with the Department of Revenue, which comes under Arun Jaitley’s bailiwick. The last couple of weeks has seen a proliferation of IT raids, all of them targeting the BJP’s political opposition. (Noticeably, despite instances of BJP leaders being caught with cash, no raids appear to ever target them; a case in point is Hyderabad, where the police seized Rs 8 crore in cash, withdrawn in the name of the state president of the BJP). Anyway, the EC asked the Revenue Department to refrain from using raids to intimidate politicians, and said it should be kept informed before any raids are carried out. The department — which is basically Jaitley’s stick — blew a raspberry, and now the EC is distinctly unamused. And again, the question is: But what can the EC actually do? If it is the body mandated to ensure free and fair elections, should it not have the teeth to enforce its edicts? Think of this and of the many other instances of the government machinery being blatantly used by the government for partisan ends. Then, this: Do you remember a case where a person’s election was set aside for, among other things, carrying out campaign activities while being on the payroll of the government? Here it is. Might make you nostalgic for a time when rules could actually be enforced.
  • In the growing list of stories about economic distress, here is one more about the sugarcane farmers of UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka — just picture that for a moment, by the way, and try to wrap your head around how wide this swathe of misery is — and of the sugar mills that collectively owe these farmers $4.38 billion in arrears. Farming in India is a hand to mouth existence at the best of times — you farm, you hope nature doesn’t mess up the cycle, you harvest, sell, and what you get is what you feed your family with besides buying all you need for the next harvest cycle. Think of the number of farmers involved here; the numbers of families living in misery, getting deeper into debt with each passing season… and then think of what the media tells you are the “real issues” of this election.
  • The other day in Gurugram, a bunch of thugs walked the streets in broad daylight, armed with sticks and swords, and forced shopkeepers to shut down meat shops because, Hindu festival. Then we were told they were part of a “fringe” Hindu group. While on which, just how much of the Hindutva brigade is “fringe”? Here is a short post you might find interesting. To get back to Gurugram, it turns out that the man who led this particular has an interesting history: “Assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Udyog Vihar, Birem Singh told the national daily that Rakesh is a history-sheeter with several criminal cases against him. A member of the Hindu Sena, Rakesh has 19 cases against him, including murder and attempt to murder. The ACP also added that Rakesh has been convicted in some cases and is out on bail in others.” One question: How does a history-sheeter who has been convicted on charges of murder and attempt to murder get to wander the streets on bail? (Then again, I keep forgetting that the country is governed by a party whose president is out on bail on charges of murder.)
  • A few pieces you might like to read, beginning with this one by Mihir Sharma on India’s “developed nation” fantasy.
  • A Forbes investigation into India’s most gerrymandered constituencies.
  • A story on the six election officials who traveled for two days to set up a polling booth just so one person could vote.
  • Rape charges have been filed against Franco Mulackal. And the court has ordered police protection for the main witness, Sister Lissy. Independent Kerala MLA PC George was among the “leading lights” who had accused the nun of being a prostitute. The news is, he has now joined the BJP. Make what you will of a party that seems to have space, in its tent, for every kind of thief, rapist, scamster, murderer, misogynist and other undesirable it can find and lure away.
  • Is Modi turning India into a superpower? Um, not so much.

And finally Rafale, the “gift” that goes on giving. For those who came in late, here is a roundup of the events leading to the Supreme Court judgment of December 14, which the government touted as a “clean chit”. That judgment was based on documents submitted by the government in a sealed envelope. It then turned out that the documents — unsigned — contained many misrepresentations. This led to a review petition being filed, and heard in the Supreme Court — in course of which, the petitioners produced various documents that gave the lie to the government’s assertions. AG KK Venugopal said the documents could not be considered because they had been “stolen” from the defence ministry. The government realised only ipso facto that “stolen” was not a good claim to make, since it called into question the security of the key Indian ministry, so KKV went back to court and said the documents had merely been “photocopied”, not stolen — though how that makes anything better is best left to KKV’s imagination.

The question the SC had to answer, before it could get to the Rafale deal itself, was whether these “leaked” documents could be accepted as evidence. Yes they can, said the SC, which deserves three rousing cheers. Indira Jaising explains why this is a landmark judgment (Hint: Freedom of the press).

Arun Jaitley said the decision is no big deal — “a matter of procedure”, he called it. But it is, really — quite a big deal. Because now that the bar on the documents is lifted, the SC will begin hearing the original case, which is: Were there procedural lapses in the way the Modi government negotiated the Rafale deal? And this time, no sealed covers, no unsigned notes, no obfuscation, because the original documents are part of the case. Be interesting to see how that plays out, now that the government has run out of fig leafs.

For those interested, the best resource to follow the Rafale developments, and examine the documents in question, is via the Hindu’s comprehensive coverage, here.

And finally: This is long, but it is worth reading: The Carnegie Endowment’s deep dive, edited by Milan Vaishnav, into the BJP government and religious nationalism is now out in full.

More tomorrow.

Scratchpad: April 9 edition

FLASHBACK to Adityanath’s recent speech wherein he spoke of Modiji ki sena, directly contravening an Election Commission directive that the armed forces cannot be invoked in political campaigning. The EC, you hopefully recall, warned Adityanath to be more “careful”. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was recently asked about that incident:

True, that — things just pop out, you know how it can happen even to the best of us. For example:

This is Modi in a nutshell — a man with his middle finger constantly raised against every single institution in the country; one who will do anything, say anything, be anything if it means getting one single vote more. (In passing, note that we are yet to hear one word from the PM, or anyone in government, about the intelligence failure that led to Pulwama.) And while on saying anything, this:

There it is again, the mythical ‘tukde tukde gang‘. Every single election, Modi creates a strawman he can rail against. Remember the ‘pink revolution’ that he concocted for the 2014 general elections? How about that conspiracy involving Manmohan Singh and a Pakistani army officer — a reckless, irresponsible allegation that, the government said later in response to an RTI, had no factual basis?

But here is the question worth asking, even if we know the answer already: What exactly does the Election Commission intend to do about this flagrant, calculated violation of its directive? Rules work only if we respect rules and the institutions that make them — what can you do against a man who respects nothing, will allow nothing to stand in the way of his lust for power?

EVER wondered why ministers have such meltdowns whenever they are asked questions outside the confines of Republic TV and Times Now? Ever wondered why they are so defensive?

WATER is a recurrent theme of this blog, and with good reason: It is a life and death issue that is getting insufficient attention this election season (and in general, come to think of it). Here are two more stories from the last 24 hours: Chennai’s six lakes are near empty; the metro is staring at a massive water shortage. Remember, the monsoon there is at least seven months away. Elsewhere, drought and the resulting farm distress is impacting on the BJP’s prospects in Vidharba — where the state government has been pretending there is neither drought, nor distress.

THE economy is in free-fall. Earlier posts had chronicled the fall in auto sales and the resulting move by manufacturers to cut down production; a more recent post spoke of the fall in direct taxes. Here is the latest bit of bad news:

In proportion to the gross domestic product (GDP), household savings declined to 17.2 per cent in 2017-18, the lowest rate since 1997-98. According to the Reserve Bank of India’s data, as household savings have declined, these – not corporate demand – have pulled down investments by 10 basis points during 2012 to 2018.

THE latest in the Hindu’s ongoing series of investigative reporting into the Rafale deal is out, and it deals with the unprecedented offset waivers Modi worked into the contract — all of which, coincidentally, favour Anil Ambani.

THE Election Commission recently told enforcement agencies to be careful when conducting raids during the poll season; it said it had to be kept informed before such action was taken. This was in connection with the massive raids carried out on premises across states linked to Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath. The exercise smacked of the deliberate use of enforcement officials to put pressure on Nath and hamper him and the Congress in a state crucial to the BJP’s prospects — a suspicion furthered by the fact that hours before the Income Tax department, which carried out the raids, put out a statement on the outcome, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvarghiya had already tweeted the exact amount that would appear in the IT statement.

Apologies, this is a truncated edition because work calls. More tomorrow.

News, views: April 8 edition

Kalpana Sharma, readers’ editor of Scroll.in, asks the media to go beyond the usual ‘Who will you vote for?’ type questions when out in the field. A clip from Sharma’s piece:

Elections give journalists a great chance to step outside their usual beats and get a sense of what is going on in the country. In the days before the internet, 24-hour television news and polls, print journalists were sent out to cover key constituencies as also the poorer regions of India, where politicians only appear before elections.


The exchanges with ordinary people recharged our batteries, gave us precious insights into and understanding about how people live and survive, and provided us the tools to separate the reality from the political bombast. Not all that we gathered featured in our stories. But we came back from our election journeys wiser and better informed about the state of the nation.

These epiphanies are becoming more frequent — and I suspect that one reason is the growing realisation that the view from the media bubbles of Delhi and Mumbai are not indicative of the thinking of the vast majority of the population. Here is Shekhar Gupta striking a similar note:

You have to get out of Delhi often if you want to understand that there are two ways of looking at India: Inside-out, that is, from Delhi and the heartland at the rest of the country; or outside-in, which is, looking at the heartland from beyond.


Essentially, when you look inside-out, it brainwashes you into seeing the picture purely in national party-national leader terms. If you give yourselves the gift of distance and an open mind, you might see the change in this new India. 

Well, duh!

To this, I’d add a couple of suggestions: One, don’t wait for elections to go out in the field — a periodic trip outside the confines of the newsroom will alter the way you see the events unfolding around you. And two, don’t go flashing the paraphernalia of the journalist: the car and driver, the fixer, the translator, the recording equipment, the notebook… If you go festooned with those appurtenances, you get canned answers; you never get to have free-wheeling conversations with the people you meet.

Around this time last year, I happened to spend some time in Punjab, then Rajasthan, as part of two-time Pulitzer-winner Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk. Early days, I did exactly what I just cautioned against: The moment I met someone I took out my notebook and pen, opened up a fresh page… I was the stereotypical journalist. It took a while before I caught on; once I did, I learned to put the notebook away, to relax, to chat, to let the people I was meeting guide the conversation, and suddenly a whole new way of seeing opened up.

Kalpana’s piece came apropos: During my time on the road I was reading as much of election coverage as I could find, and was appalled by how much of it was framed from a Delhi-centric point of view. It is all about alliances, and caste equations, and whose zinger/slogan/poll promise is better… I am not saying these and similar factors won’t make any difference: Of course they will, they always have. But there is a whole lot more to how India votes than just these transactional elements, and barring a few honourable exceptions (Scroll is one such), there is lamentably little effort to get beneath the skin of the electorate.

If the results of elections both at the national and state level constantly surprise us, this is a large part of the reason why: Every result tells us that what we thought were the issues that would determine the outcome has no co-relation with what the actual voters are thinking about when they step into that booth and hit that button.

I’VE been collating and posting water-related links fairly frequently, because to my mind this is going to be the critical issue, affecting all segments of the population, in the years to come. On that note, a story in ToI says that water in the seven lakes supplying to the city is down to just 26% of capacity.

In its 2014 manifesto, the BJP promised to provide safe drinking water for all rural households. However, says this story in LiveMint, the BJP government has not only slashed funding for the scheme, it has also reduced the amounts actually released.

Now, in its 2019 manifesto, Modi has provided for a Jal Shakti Ministry to deal with the problem. That seems to be the go-to solution for any issue the BJP faces and doesn’t know how to deal with: create a ministry. (While on which, I heard Rahul Gandhi the other day say that he would create a ministry just for fishermen — and that is equally pointless). And while on this, we do have a ministry for water resources. It is currently headed by Nitin Gadkari. What exactly is another ministry going to accomplish, that this one couldn’t? (It creates a few more posts that can be given as reward to those outfits that cross the floor, certainly). Modi also had some boilerplate about ‘Jal se nal’ – but bottomline, the manifesto is as vague on the subject this time as it was last time.

Water, like employment, is a political tripwire lying in wait for the government during this election cycle. While pundits endlessly handicap elections in terms of personalities, alliances, slogans and such, people outside of the metros and cities vote on gut issues – and lack of water hits as close to the gut as it is possible to get.

Here is an incident that should serve as a warning: In Maharashtra’s gathering when a boy yelled out that water had come – and the crowd emptied at once leaving the party, which has been trying to downplay the severe drought conditions in the state, red-faced. Elsewhere, in Marathwada, the situation is equally dire.

Related, in 2014 the BJP had promised 99 new irrigation projects.

Keep an eye on this: The extended election season takes us into peak summer, and things are only going to get worse. Five years later, “74 are still waiting for the construction of field canals and command area development. Other targets are also unachieved; the budget allocations, too, are less than originally planned.”

I’VE only glanced through the BJP manifesto (I need to find the time to read it in detail, and to compare it with its 2014 antecedent), released this morning in typical BJP fashion: Lots of breathless television coverage, lots of speeches by the top leadership, but not a single leader willing to take questions. Later this evening and in the days to come, various BJP worthies will appear on the usual channels to talk up the manifesto and respond to prefabricated questions — but the party leadership consistently ducks anything in the nature of unscripted interactions, and today was no exception.

But – admittedly based on that cursory speed-read — the impression I got was that the BJP doesn’t really take the exercise seriously. There is a palpable lack of thought; the document feels like the work of a kid rushing through his homework so he can go out and play. Not kidding — back in the day, one of the things we quickly figured out was that the more pages we filled in our ‘essays’ notebook for each assignment, the happier our teachers were. So we took to writing something on page one that we would repeat verbatim on page three and five and… Here is the BJP’s version of padding:

In its manifesto, the BJP says the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN), initially supposed to benefit 12 crore farming families, has been extended to all farmers. Clearly, the Congress party’s NYAY scheme is resonating, forcing the BJP to up the ante.

Here’s the thing, though: when Congress announced its scheme for the poorest of farmers the BJP, led by Arun Jaitley, and the friendly channels became economists overnight, angrily asking where the money would come from. The original PM-KISAN was budgeted at Rs 75,000 crore. To cover all farmers – almost half the population – will take at least four times that amount. Where is the money going to come from?

And while speaking of friendly channels and comments about the Congress manifesto, I happened to come across this earlier today:

This is a classic example of what is happening to those tasked with toeing the BJP line: You merely repeat anything that emanates from Modi, without pause for thought. Seriously, what does this even mean? How is the “common Indian”, whose plight occupied Modi’s sleepless nights these past five years, different from the “average Indian”, whose aspirations Modi hopes to fulfil in the next five? File this under #kuchbhi

IF you haven’t heard of the Kuki National Army, it is time you did. The armed insurgent group has threatened wholesale violence if 90% of the votes in the state don’t go to the BJP. Also:

Previously, two Manipur insurgent groups— Zomi Re-unification Organisation (ZRO) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) (KNA is the armed wing of KNO) — in separate letters had requested the BJP party president Amit Shah to give its tickets to the insurgents’ favoured candidate HS Benjamin Mate for the outer Manipur parliamentary seat. The BJP had obliged the request, News18 reported.

Begs the question: Is the BJP ok with working hand in glove with insurgents, even as it accuses everyone else of tukde tukde intentions? Speaking of which (there is more on the tukde tukde gang in my previous post), even when participating in the release of the party manifesto Arun Jaitley — who, frankly, is becoming a total bore — couldn’t resist invoking that strawman:

I’ll likely have more thoughts on the BJP manifesto in the coming days (Mandir kab banaoge? Oh, and whatever happened to the 100 smart cities idea so grandly touted in 2014?) Meanwhile, some reading material, in no particular order:

THE Election Commission Sunday “strongly advised” the Finance Ministry that any action by its enforcement agencies during election time should be “neutral” and “non-discriminatory” and officials of the poll panel should be kept in loop about such actions. The EC’s advice came against the backdrop of Income Tax Department’s raids in Madhya Pradesh Sunday and in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the recent past on politicians and people connected to them. That would be this EC, right? That shining model of impartiality? I mean, how bad does something — in this case, the government’s use of enforcement agencies to bully its political opponents — have to be for even the EC to express concern?

WHILE the EC is issue its “strong” advisory, the Supreme Court has asked it to take strict action against political party representatives and spokespersons who make speeches or remarks on religious or caste lines. Good luck with that — what is the EC supposed to do to, say, the poisonous Adityanath? Or Modi, for that matter?

IN the ongoing series of links to schemes that Modi and his minions talk up on the stump, but which when examined appear to have no substance, here is one more:

A new study from the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e) shows that 85% of Ujjwala beneficiaries in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan still use solid fuels for cooking, due to financial reasons as well as gender inequalities. The resultant indoor air pollution can lead to infant deaths and harm child development, as well as contribute to heart and lung disease among adults, especially the women, cooking on these chulhas.

MUKUL Kesavan is one of our sharpest, most eloquent columnists — a delight to read, on any subject he choses to write about. Here he is, on Advani’s recent epiphany:

No, the real lesson of Advani’s post and his political career isn’t his hypocrisy about civility and diversity, the real lesson is twofold. First, that there is no floor to the pit of majoritarian politics: there are lower depths to its lower depths.

CARAVAN does a deep dive into the violence that has roiled Kerala politics. It resonates — and goes deep into — a problem I had pointed to in this post. And this follow up.

SCHEMES“, redux: Remember One District One Product? Chittoor, in AP, was one of the districts picked for this project. The situation on the ground is not good.

IF you are looking for a metaphor for government (actually, any government), here it is: The PM Matru Vandana Yojana spent about five times more money distributing largesse to the beneficiaries, than the actual beneficiaries got.

I happened to read this piece in LiveMint, and now I wish I hadn’t. It’s on Modi’s poetry.

In one of his poems, Narendra Modi is a kite, who is soaring with “the grace of the sky”, towards the sun, held back “only by the string”. In another poem, he is a honeybee who is very busy, joyful, free, and his life a burst of colours. In his poems, he is often happy and in good places. Also, he is an energetic lover, “an ocean that leaps with energy”, a man who is as “upright as a mountain” and as “pure as the river”.

It set my mind wandering through promising fields of speculation, until I got to the point where I wondered how Modi, who according to all accounts abandoned his wife without ever consummating their marriage, and has spent his lifetime in a kind of sanyas, discovered his energetic properties as a lover. ‘Upright as a mountain…’ — at that point, I had to disengage my mind from its wanderings, and call it back to order.

Update, 10.00 PM: That point I was making earlier, about there being a kid-rushing-homework feel to this BJP manifesto? Here you go (emphasis mine):

“We have constituted the Women’s Security Division in the Home Ministry, and have made strict provisions for transferring the laws in order to commit crimes against women.”

On the surface, one of those ha-ha moments, and social media is having the predictable ball at the BJP’s expense. But what bugs me is how very lackadaisical the BJP is about its manifestos, both for state and national level elections. Like it is just one of those formalities to be completed, not the one single document that allows the voter to know what they are getting in terms of governance.