Why women? Why are they protesting (when they should be at home cooking and cleaning and looking after their children)?
You’ve heard that question, in its many variants, since the anti-CAA protests erupted in mid-December 2019. So have I — most lately last evening, when a few of us were discussing contemporaneous events.
Part of the discussion was triggered by a post I had written yesterday about the Woman in Red who became a totem of the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, and of Marianne the young drummer girl who triggered the march on Versailles that proved to be seminal in the French Revolution. And the talk veered, as such talks inevitably do these days, to Shaheen Bagh.
It only occurred to me gradually that the question stems not from genuine curiosity, but from a puzzled bafflement — a sense that authority, which knows how to use brute force against the dissenting male, is stymied when confronted by a defiant, determined woman. Remember these moments?:
The thing that baffles me about the “Why women?” question is the tone of irritated wonder, as if this were something new and strange. The small group I was with last evening was mostly young, all but two still in college; it was supposed to be an informal chat about narrative writing but it became about the protests, and “Why women?”
I wondered at the time whether this was one of the signs of an age where information is so plentiful that we consume everything but retain nothing. Women leading protests is not only a phenomenon as old as protests themselves, more often than not it is the participation of women that has tipped the scales (again, this is an essay for another day).
So, as aide memoire, here she is, the woman protestor, in all her avtaars: Defiant, determined, gentle, fierce, tearful, joyful, proud, implacable…
This list could go on but I’ll stop here, with a bonus link I found on Huffington Post that rounds up ‘60 stunning pictures‘ of women in protests around the world.
Meanwhile, back in the here and now, Delhi police has filed an 800-page chargesheet in connection with the December 15 violence at Jamia Milia Islamia University, when rioters had set fire to buses and private vehicles. 17 people have thus far been arrested in this connection.
Remember the spate of videos that mysteriously leaked the other day, purporting to show that the students had indulged in violence, and the police had entered the university campus as a result? (The police are reportedly now trying to figure out how they leaked. It is problematic for them on two counts: One, it is hard, actionable evidence of unprovoked brutality that damaged property worth over two crore; more importantly, it totally demolishes the concerted, coordinated efforts over time to paint the protestors of Jamia as destructive rioters). Remember the India Today ‘expose’ of rioting students? Remember the breathless, condemnatory reporting that appeared in Times of India, Mirror Now, Republic, Times Now, DNA, Zee, Aaj Tak and other outlets, all unquestioningly toeing the official line handed to them, never mind if in the process they were criminally slandering a university and its students?
Remember the manufactured consensus that while the police action was bad, so sorry, what to do, they were only doing their duty and the students deserved it? (The media’s role is laid out in this Alt News fact-check).
Remember the police denying that they had fired on the students, and then back-tracking after an internal investigation revealed that shots had in fact been fired? Remember how, during the Delhi election campaign, BJP leaders had repeatedly demonised the JMI students, with Kapil Mishra slyly equating them with Kasab, of 26/11 infamy? Remember Nirmala Sitharaman accusing Sonia Gandhi of “shedding crocodile tears” on behalf of the brutalised students? Remember Amit Shah saying in one breath that the “police did not go after students”, and in the very next breath saying “Don’t you think that the police should take action? Police have to take action because that is their duty and the right thing for them to do.” Remember Shah justifying the police action on the grounds that students pelted stones?
Remember the Supreme Court — the CJI, no less — in a remarkable example of circular logic refusing to hear an urgent petition against the state-sponsored violence on the grounds that “the rioting must first stop”?
Remember how, less than 24 hours later, several police officers from the area had been mysteriously transferred? It turns out that the Special Investigation Team, in the wake of the outing of compelling videographic evidence, has asked for the duty roster of policemen who were stationed in the area that night.
Here is the thing — the police acted as they did because they had a sense of impunity, the surety that there would be no consequences. Such an assurance had to come from the highest echelons of the police — and they, in turn, would never have passed such orders without the nod of the ministry they report to. Which, in case it needs reminding, is the MHA, under Amit Shah.
Now cracks have begun appearing in the official version, and these cracks are widening by the day. The SIT says it will be questioning those policemen who were on duty at the time, and hint at the possibility that FIRs could be filed against them. If that happens, and admittedly that is a big if considering what is at stake, then low-level cops will crack, and talk about the orders they received. This whole sorry chapter isn’t over yet, not by a long way.
In other news, senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran, on the directions of the Supreme Court, visited Shaheen Bagh for initial discussions with the protestors intended to find a solution to the blockade, now into its third month. They were welcomed with a standing ovation.
I was following the events live across various social media channels, and the moment that stood out for me was when the interlocutors suggested that the media be asked to leave, to which the response was “We are fighting for freedom, and we will not allow anyone’s freedom to be taken away.”
I began this post musing on women leading protests, and why male authority figures find it bewildering. I’ll circle back to it on this note: Though there are literally dozens of SB-style protests around the country (Frontline has an extended essay on this; here is a story of how, thanks to police brutality in Chennai, another Shaheen Bagh has sprung up there and, by way of thumbing their collective nose at the police action on Valentine’s Day, played host to a wedding), the original Shaheen Bagh has become a persistent, annoying burr under the skin of the government as evidenced by the continued efforts to demonise it.
TimesNow ran a breathless, high-decibel ‘Big Story‘ on how Teesta Setalvad — another woman activist, another red rag for a patriarchal government and its propaganda wings — had been “coaching” Shaheen Bagh protestors on how to talk to the SC-appointed mediators. Um — so? How exactly is it a problem for protestors — lay protestors, unused to the ways of courts and lawyers — to take advice?
Elsewhere, Facebook users took to circulating what they claimed are images of condoms found in the gutters of Shaheen Bagh — reminiscent of the BJP MLA who claimed “that daily 50,000 pieces of bones, 3,000 used condoms, 500 used abortion injections, 10,000 cigarette “pieces”, among other things, are found at JNU, where girls and boys dance naked at cultural programmes.”
In passing, why does right wing propaganda, particularly where women are part of the protests, depend so much on sexual innuendo? Meanwhile in UP, yet another BJP MLA has been accused of serial rape.
PS: I am off this blog till late Sunday evening — a workshop, and a couple of other commitments, therefore.
With all that we have going on right here in India, a protest in Gezi Park, in Istanbul, seems remote, unconnected — until you begin to read more deeply and start mapping parallels between the happenings in Turkey and what is unfolding in India. I’ve been meaning to write a longish essay drawing on those parallels and underlining the lessons Gezi Park has for us here, but that will need to wait till I am done with the workshops I have to conduct later this week.
Gezi Park is on my mind today because of unfolding events over the past 24 hours. Yesterday, in Istanbul, the court sprang a surprise when — despite all indications during the prolonged hearing of the case — it acquitted businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala and eight others.
In 2015, an Istanbul court had struck a blow for the rights of the citizen when it acquitted dozens of people who had been arrested for their participation in the 2013 protests in Turkey. The court ruled that the people were merely exercising their right of freedom of assembly.
Kavala was arrested in October 2017 (15 others, including a journalist and an actor, were arrested around the same time) for his involvement in the same events. While the government’s lawyers obfuscated and initially refused to elaborate on the charges, media outlets close to the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government ran stories accusing him of being “a business tycoon with a shady background”; of “having contacts” with a group of terrorists; of being behind the Gezi Park protests and “transferring significant amounts of funds to certain places.” Does any of this have a familiar ring?
A formal criminal indictment was filed only in March 2019, two years after Kavala’s arrest and incarceration in a maximum security prison, It accused Kavala and the other the defendants of being the “masterminds” behind the Gezi Park protests, of “attempting to overthrow the government through violence”, of being agents of philanthropist George Soros — long story short, a kitchen sink of charges long on rhetoric and short on indictable offences backed by hard evidence. Does that have a familiar ring to it?
Yesterday, the court sprang a surprise when, in a judgement that went against the grain of the lengthy proceedings (during which defence attorneys were routinely hindered, including right at the end when they weren’t given the time they sought to respond to the prosecution’s closing statement), it ordered the release of Kavala and eight other co-accused.
The echoes of the applause greeting the verdict had barely died down, however, when Kavala was re-arrested on charges of involvement in a failed 2016 coup. He had spent over two years in jail on charges that couldn’t stand up in court despite the best efforts of the government; he spent a few minutes breathing free air before he was returned to the Silivri maximum security prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. Does that sound familiar?
The Erdogan government in Turkey is the closest modern parallel to events unfolding in India, and for that reason is worth following closely for the many lessons to be learned. One starting point (besides the two books mentioned earlier) is this podcast, where Amit Varma and Pranay Kotasthane discuss the phenomenon of protests in modern-day networked societies and the ways various authoritarian governments are adapting to deal with them. Below, a short reading list of stories from Gezi Park:
Tufecki, whose book I’d mentioned earlier, wrote this urgent, breathless blogpost from the thick of the protests, a post in which the incoherence arising from writing in the moment with limited connectivity is balanced by the knife-sharp immediacy of her observations.
What is most noticeable is that just as in India, there is a proximate cause for the Gezi Park protests (the threat of demolition of the park, a rare space in central Istanbul with trees and space for people to walk about), but that single cause has since grown to encompass a laundry list of grievances against the brutal Erdogan regime. Also worth noting is the self-policing by the protestors, who are aware of the risk of third-party violence tainting their peaceful struggle:
In fact, even the slightest scuffle is in the park calmed down immediately. I observed this first-hand when a visiting youngster, about 14 or 15, tried to pick a fight with an older man claiming that he had looked at his girlfriend the wrong way. Dozens of people immediately intervened, calmed the youngster, took him away, helped his girlfriend, asked her if she was okay, and generally made sure it was all calm again. “Not here, no fighting, not here” is heard as soon as any tensions arise. People are very proactive. This is not a let-and-let-live space in those regards (though it is in many others).
Turkish author Elif Shafak writes of the smiles, the laughter, the pervasive sense of joy that marks the protests in defiance of teargas:
The most retweeted messages are those with jests and puns and wordplay—and graffiti. On a wall in hasty letters: “The rich kids have better gas masks, we are jealous.” Nearby in an alley is writing that says: “Revolutionary Gays Everywhere.” One graffiti complains: “I could not find a slogan yet” while another one says cheerfully, “Welcome to the first traditional gas festival.”
The protests have coined a term. In a live TV interview the prime minister called the demonstrators “çapulcu,” which means “looter” or “marauder” in Turkish. The social media was quick to pick up the word and redefine it as “someone who fights for his/her individual rights.” In the blink of an eye a neologism was formed, half Turkish, half English. The Turkish noun was transformed into an English verb. Now Wikipedia has a new entry: “Chapulling.”
The next day, all over the Internet there were messages using the new word: “I will be chapulling today,” or “Everyday we are chapulling,” or “Tomorrow I shall chapul again.”
Author Elif Batuman atmospheric, ‘been there’ piece for the New Yorker is rich in detail and insight about Istanbul’s penchant for protesting, even if most of those protests turn out to be futile. And then there is this bit about the joy the protestors display, despite the risks, the threats and even the actuality of violent counter-measures:
On my street, spirits seem to be high. Someone is playing “Bella, Ciao” on a boom-box, and I can hear cheering and clapping. But every now and then the spring breeze carries a high, whistling, screaming sound, and the faint smell of pepper gas.
While on teargas, pepper spray et al, this piece from the Guardian about how it became big business is worth reading. For background on Erdogan, and Turkey’s descent into unbridled authoritarianism, there is this 2012 piece by Dexter Filkins for the New Yorker.
Author Claire Berlinski, who was there, wrote this richly detailed account that will remind you of scenes we have been seeing and hearing about from protest sites across India:
And it was glorious — a huge innocent carnival, filled with improbable (I would have hitherto thought impossible) scenes of nationalist Turks mingling amiably with nationalist Kurds, the latter dancing to some strange ghastly species of techno-Halay, the former pumping their fists in the air and chanting their eternal allegiance to something very nationalist, I’m sure. Balloons lit with candles sailed over the sky; hawkers sold every species of Gezi souvenir, and the only smell of pepper in the air came from the grilled meatballs served in hunks of fresh bread and sprinkled with chilli powder….
And then there is Ceyda Sungur, an academic attached to the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Istanbul. Her day job made her more aware than most of the long-term costs of the planned razing of 100s of trees in Gezi Park; she walked out of the university and, unwittingly, into the history and iconography of contemporary protests when this happened. (Also read this account from The Guardian). Here she is (Image courtesy imgur.com):
When I first saw this image, by some odd association of ideas I remembered Marianne, the 13-year-old who at around 7 AM on October 5, 1789 went to the market place at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, picked up a drum and began thumping out a marching beat, thus setting in motion a chain of events that we now know as the October March, a seminal moment in the history of the French Revolution. (While on this, the pivotal role of women in protests throughout history is the subject for an essay for another day).
Here is what Sungur has become to Gezi Park, and to the history of protests:
One final thought about Istanbul, about Gezi Park — the protests began on May 28, 2013. There has been no resolution yet; the protests continue with undiluted vigour. Keep that in mind when you ask yourself how long the anti-CAA protests can — must — go on. The short answer is, for as long as it takes.
Shifting to our own shores, here are a few stories you should read:
He (Chandrachud) invoked the word “liberty” 16 times and “freedom” 14 times. Last week, after six months of detention, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, were charged under its Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allows detention without trial for up to two years. Worse still, hundreds of others are waiting for their day in court for the ruling on their detention. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who expressed enlightened ideas on liberty in his lecture, belongs to a court (with 32 other learned justices) that has not set aside the time to hear habeas corpus cases of hundreds of Indians detained in Kashmir. This apparent contradiction requires further examination.
A Reuters report underlines the risk of the increasing use, by Indian police forces, of facial recognition software to identify and potentially harass those taking part in protests. Back in December, Indian Express had broken the story of how the technology, court-sanctioned for use to help police identify missing children, was now being used to create a database of alleged “rabble-rousers and miscreants”. Express had earlier last year run an explainer on the AFRS system that provides background and context.
While on the police, hundreds of cases have been filed in dozens of cities across the country against anti-CAA protestors. They all have one thing in common — not a single one of the charges has thus far stood up to judicial scrutiny. Here’s the latest example, from Karnataka where the high court has granted bail to 22 people booked in connection with the December 19, 2009 protests in Mangalore and observed, inter alia, that the police investigation “appears to be mala fide and partisan”. The money quote from the bail order, in a case where the police charged protestors with using stones and weapons to attack them:
The photographs produced by learned SPP-I depict that hardly any member of the crowd were armed with weapons except one of them holding a bottle. In none of these photographs, police station or policemen are seen in the vicinity. On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners disclose that the policemen themselves were pelting stones on the crowd“, states the Order
In passing, while we celebrate these instances of protestors being released on bail, keep in mind that getting bail is not vindication — the protestors, who as the judge observes here were sinned against, not sinning, still have to go through the whole process of court appearances, which is exactly the reason the police resort to such tactics.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who had earlier said the NPR exercise would not be permitted in his state, appears to have changed his mind, and his tune: He now says that there is no harm in NPR. Widespread state-level opposition to the Centre’s rollout of the NPR is the only realistic way Amit Shah’s plans can be stymied; if Maharashtra goes back on its initial objection, it weakens a growing coalition of states willing and ready to face down the central government over the issue.
Related, the UIDAI has — on the basis of an anonymous complaint — asked an auto driver (and reportedly, over a hundred others in one neighbourhood) in Hyderabad to prove his citizenship. This is one of the very real fears the CAA/NPR/NRC has instilled in people — that anyone with a grudge can file an anonymous complaint, which the authorities can then use to harass you. For what it is worth, the UIDAI has via news agency ANI issued a clarification which, in the patented fashion of all such clarifications, puts the onus on the media for having “misrepresented” the facts. Sir Humphrey Appleby said it best: “No, Prime Minister, a clarification is not to make oneself clear. It is to put oneself in the clear.”
In Kashmir, police have resorted to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to register cases against people using proxy servers to access social media. The move is intended to deter locals from telling the world about what is happening within the sealed off bubble that the state has become, and follows on the heels of a video of ailing Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani making it past the state’s firewalls and onto social media. FIRs have been filed against those who “defied government orders and misused social media platforms,” the police said in a statement without, however, explaining why uploading a factual video is “misuse” whereas the government can claim, in Parliament and on international forums, that normalcy has been restored in the Valley.
Quartz, meanwhile, reports that the government’s internet ban has sparked an exodus of students and businesspersons, particularly start-ups, from the Valley. Also from Kashmir comes the news that panchayat polls, originally scheduled to take place in March, have been postponed. “Home Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir…has advised the Election Authority to consider deferring of the conduct of polls based on credible inputs from the law enforcement agencies,” the notice read. J&K comes under the central government — which, just a week ago, played tourist guide to yet another group of random European Union officials as part of its ongoing propaganda exercise intended to show that all was well in the Valley. And here we are, citing “security concerns” to explain the government’s inability to hold panchayat elections.
Regular readers will recall that I’ve been saying the much-hyped trade deal (it was supposed to happen during ‘Howdy Modi’, but didn’t) was unlikely to materialise during the upcoming visit of Donald Trump to India. Here is the confirmation.
It will likely happen only after the 2020 Presidential elections in November, we are told. What we are not told is that you don’t know who will become the next President, and what his attitude, and that of his party, will be — so can we just agree that the trade deal will not happen in the foreseeable future? As recently as last night IST, Trump had this to say:
“Well, we can have a trade deal with India, but I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to California. “I don’t know if it will be done before the [US presidential] election. We’re not treated very well by India, but I happen to like Prime Minister Narendra Modi a lot.”
Modi happens to like Trump a lot, too (why, is not so clear), as evidenced by the daily stories of preparations to roll out the red carpet. As for instance:
Ahead of President Trump’s visit, who will arrive in India on February 24 and is expected to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department has released 500 cusecs of water into the Yamuna to improve the condition of the river. The water has been released from the Ganganahar in Bulandshahr to improve the “environmental condition” of the river. Yamuna flows adjacent to the boundary wall of the Taj Mahal.
A “cusec” is a measure of flow (one cubic foot per second). “Released 500 cusecs” means nothing as a measure of volume unless there is a time attached to it — “500 cusecs for one hour”, for instance, would mean 18 lakh cubic feet of water.
But never mind that example of the media lazily regurgitating a bureaucrat’s press note without application of mind, the point is, the government is doing everything it can to create a Potemkin facade ahead of the Trump visit. It’s worth remembering that as recently as the Delhi election campaign UP chief minister Bisht, whose government ordered the release of water to “improve the Yamuna’s condition”, was blaming Kejriwal for the sorry state of the Yamuna. Also from UP, this latest example of a state that has totally, completely failed its citizens:
This government has often, and with justification, been accused of lack of attention to detail. Think demonetisation when, among other things, it turned out that the government had not anticipated the need to recalibrate ATM machines when rolling out new notes of a different size. Or GST, whose provisions are still being “tweaked”. But when it comes to the Trump visit, no detail is too small to escape the government’s notice. How’s this?
Ahmedabad is prepping up to host the POTUS and to ensure that the city is clean, the municipal corporation has now sealed three paan shops at the airport circle. Notices have been pasted outside the shops mentioning that if the shop-owners try to remove the seal, legal action will be taken. The initiative has been taken to make sure that all the roads and walls around the Ahmedabad airport remain spick and span.
Elsewhere in UP, Congress leader and poet Imran Pratapgarhi has been fined Rs 1.04 crore fine for participating in anti-CAA protests. Apparently that is his share of the Rs 13.42 lakh it costs to deploy RAF and PAC personnel at the protest site. Note that this is a magistrate, no less, fining someone for exercising his right to dissent — a fundamental right, as Justice Chandrachud said just the other day. Here is your reminder that it costs the country Rs 1.62 crore per day to provide security cover for Narendra Modi.
And finally, for today, read this Vice investigation into the first known use of deepfakes in an Indian election. And be afraid. Be very afraid, because it is suddenly that much easier to manufacture “proof” against whoever the government wants to destroy (Imagine this tech existing say in 2016, when the government and captive media combined to create the totally false allegation that “Bharat tere tukde honge” slogans were raised by Kanhaiya Kumar and others during the JNU protests of that year. It was easily disproved then; today, the “supporting evidence” will be far more persuasive thanks to tech, and the resulting effort to disprove the allegation that much more difficult.
December 15, 2019: Police — many of them masked — entered the Old Reading Hall on the first floor of Jamia Milia Islamia university, and this happened.
Ostensibly, the police action was in retaliation for violence by students in course of which buses were burnt. But:
The extended thread, with four videos, is here. The police repeatedly denied that this happened. One student, Minajuddin, lost his eye in this attack — this is his testimony. And the library, after the police action, was in this state:
The media, while reporting on the incident, spoke of “clashes” between police and students. How is it a “clash” when one side is masked and armed, and the other side is armed only with books? Always worth paying attention, when reading news stories, to exculpating language.
Passing mention: The Delhi police, which on that day entered the campus without permission, report directly to Home Minister Amit Shah.
On February 5, a mundan (ritual shaving of hair) ceremony was conducted for the daughter of mid-level bureaucrat Diwakar Nath Mishra, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Commerce. In attendance were President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other high-profile members of the government.
Diwakar Nath Mishra is the son-in-law of Supreme Court Judge Arun Kumar Mishra.
Yesterday, February 14, Justice Mishra heard a petition filed by Sarah Abdullah Pilot, sister of incarcerated Kashmir politician and former chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Abdullah, who was in preventive custody for a period of six months, was recently charged under the stringent provisions of the Public Safety Act. The dossier submitted by the J & K police in support of the detention makes claims that are so bizarre they defy belief.
Reviewing Sarah Pilot’s petition, Justice Arun Kumar Mishra postponed the hearing by three weeks, and then bargained it down to 15 days, setting the next hearing for March 2. He said – a Supreme Court judge actually said – this:
“If the sister could wait so long, then 15 days doesn’t make a difference.”
Read LiveLaw’s real time coverage of the proceedings in the highest court in the land – in tandem with the news report above on the mundan ceremony — to realize how, and how completely, justice has been subverted.
I need to clarify that none of this constitutes criticism of Justice Mishra – even though he has been in the crosshairs of controversy more times than you can count; in fact, it was Mishra who, on being named to hear the case of the death of Judge Loya, triggered four senior judges to take the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to express their angst.
But yeah, this is not a criticism. Aap chronology aur facts samjhiye, bas. And this clarification, which I make with all possible emphasis, is necessary because a day earlier, the Chief Justice of India and two of his colleagues were hearing a case relating to the distribution of child porn via online communications tools when, in a surprising non sequitur, the CJI observed:
“There are instances where institutions like Parliament and SC are defamed with derogatory comments. Why should it not be explored how to stop circulation of such comments?”
And this is not the first time, either – shortly before taking over as CJI, SA Bobde had talked about feeling bothered by criticisms of judges.
So there you have it. The CJI’s concern is not with whether the criticisms of the courts and of Parliament are genuine or not; his concern is, how do we silence criticism.
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on a military convoy in the Pulwama district that killed 40 CRPF personnel. As recently as the just-concluded Delhi elections, several BJP campaigners including Ajay Singh Bisht were pointing to Modi’s retaliation for the attack while seeking votes (never mind that the only quantified, verifiable outcome was that India shot down one of its own helicopters, killing seven).
There were several commemorative pieces in the media yesterday, including some that pointed out that 12 months later, there is no official word on the inquiry into the massive intelligence lapses that resulted in the attack. The one that caught my attention was this piece in the Hindustan Times.
The crux: Families of those killed in the attack say that they are still waiting for the promises of compensation to be fulfilled. Which is sad, but hardly surprising – the armed forces are yet another prop for displays of hyper-nationalism, trotted out when convenient for propaganda purposes, ignored/forgotten the rest of the time.
Read, also, this excellent Polis Project report from the time, about the facts, and the obfuscation, surrounding the attack – and particularly on the role of the media in adding to the confusion. And this round up of questions that remain unanswered, twelve months on.
In Kashmir, the economy continues to unravel. The latest manifestation was an unusual advertisement in local papers, inserted by trade bodies, indicating their inability to pay back loans because business had been brought to a total standstill. The ad is worth reading in full; here is the money clip:
In the advertisement, the trade bodies, including Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, said that after August 2019, business community was completely devastated and exhausted.
“Our survival is under threat and our humble submissions to the banks is that at once stop calling us defaulters. We believe there may be two types of defaulters; willful defaulters, which we as community strongly protest to be called or named as; circumstantial defaulters, which we have been forced to be,” they said.
And while on that, more economic bad news: exports shrunk for the sixth straight month in January.
In Deoband, in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, the local administration is asking residents of Muslim-dominated colonies to remove the national flag flying on their terraces. Pause to let that sink in – a community that is constantly asked to prove its patriotism is being asked to remove the national flag they are flying.
In Aurangabad, Bihar, police made several arrests following an anti-CAA protest that turned violent. The FIR and case diary submitted in court are farcical beyond belief – including, but not limited, to the arrest of the same person for violence at two different locations at the exact same time.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, 10 persons arrested by the police in connection with the incident of molestation at Gargi College have been let out on bail. They spent less than 24 hours in custody; the police say they have evidence that these persons broke down the college gate and trespassed, but no evidence that they molested anyone. Meanwhile, as I pointed out in my post yesterday, Dr Kafeel Khan, who after prolonged incarceration was finally given bail last week, was not only kept in jail in violation of the bail order, but now has draconian NSA charges filed against him.
In Karnataka, just the day before yesterday, the high court had ruled that slapping Section 144 to curtail protests in Bangalore was illegal. So the police have taken to giving permission only if those applying sign surety bonds of up to Rs 10 lakh. The police commissioner says it is to ensure that protests don’t turn violent, the same justification that was earlier used to impose 144. This, despite the fact that protests have been on in Bangalore since early December, and there has not been a single incidence of violence reported. Clearly, the BJP government in the state is hell bent on stopping protests by whatever means it can.
That determination extends to BJP’s vassal states, like Tamil Nadu where, last evening, police decided to use force to prevent a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in from evolving. Several were injured, over 150 people were arrested, one 70-year-old man died in the panicky stampede that ensued.
In the age of social media news, even news the authorities would prefer wasn’t widely circulated, gets around at warp speed. And more than the news, it is the visuals – graphic, gory, incendiary – that spread with incredible rapidity, rousing people to anger and provoking a backlash. Before the night was out, the reverberations of Washermanpet began to manifest all across the state. This thread only partially captures the protests that erupted across the state – several in Chennai itself, others in Trichy, Coimbatore, Vellore, Madurai, Tenkasi, Pudukottai, Ooty, Thanjavur… — in the wake of the police action.
This is what the BJP and its allies don’t get – that the more force they use, the more determined people will be to resist. In the coming days, this will only intensify as political parties take up the cudgels – and for the AIADMK/BJP combine, which faces a crucial election next year, this is just another fatal misstep in a series of missteps they have been making in the last few months.
While on the BJP’s almost Pavlovian use of force in the face of resistance, Kanhaiyya Kumar was attacked last evening, on the 15th day of his 30-day yatra across Bihar. A bit from an eyewitness account is worth highlighting:
The air rattled with the incendiary cries of “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko”, a chant now associated with supporters of the government who feel opponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA, cleared by parliament in December, are anti-nationals.
There were seven attacks prior to this one, and the reason is not hard to seek: though the media continues to deny him oxygen, his Twitter stream is sufficient indication that on the ground, the response to his roadshow is nothing short of phenomenal. He belongs to arguably the poorest national party in India today, one without the resources to turn out crowds in large numbers, and yet every meeting of his is standing room only, and the timeline clips of his speeches are an indication of how effortlessly he connects with the crowds, wherever he goes.
The BJP was clearly caught on the wrong foot here – Kumar started his roadshow on January 30, just when the BJP was neck deep in the Delhi election campaign; now he is off and running in front, seeding the ground, and the BJP can’t afford to mount an extensive campaign just yet for – the election in Bihar is in October — fear of audience fatigue.
Staying with violence and the state for a moment longer, the Delhi police has decided not to make any arrests in the February 5 attacks on JNU. Despite the plentiful evidence, the police will merely file a chargesheet and leave it to the courts to decide whether arrests are needed – this, in a case where masked thugs armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid entered a university campus to cause mayhem, and there is plentiful evidence of both the acts and the identity of the perpetrators.
In Uttar Pradesh, there are now 34 lakh unemployed persons according to government figures; this is 12.5 lakh more than there were just two years ago. Ajay Singh Bisht has been promising employment, and the Central government has been trying, through various events, to entice investors to set up operations in the state.
“No new investment has come despite lot of talk from the CM. All investment came under Akhilesh Yadav’s regime. The rising law and order disturbances in UP have now added to the crisis. The economic slowdown reflects in these unemployment figures of UP,” Singh said. The National Statistical Office (NSO) had earlier said UP had the highest unemployment rate in urban areas, at nearly 16 in the quarter ended December 2018, compared to the all-India urban unemployment rate of 9.9%.
The implications, for a state with a population the size of the United States, is mind-boggling. And this situation has come about almost entirely because Modi and Shah, in yet another of their “masterstrokes”, decided to install Bisht as CM on the theory that he would consolidate the Hindutva vote and convert the state, which sends the largest number of MPs to Parliament, into a Hindutva fortress. To channel Bill Clinton, “It is the economy, stupid”; when people have no jobs, no way to put food on the table, they will turn against you sooner than later.
The BJP hierarchy, meanwhile, is busy walking back the damage it did to itself in Delhi. There was Shah at the TimesNow summit the other day, which I had pointed to in an earlier blogpost; now here is Prakash Javadekar saying he never called Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. And here is Javadekar saying it:
But then, who are you going to believe — a Union minister, or your own lying eyes and ears?
It is not that they lie – politicians lie, all the time. It is just that they are brazen about it; that they will lie about something even when there is videographic evidence to the contrary – I mean, Shah has repeatedly lied that there was no plan for a nationwide NRC despite the fact that it was he who talked of the plan on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, so I suppose Javadekar’s latest is merely par for the course.
Speaking of walking back, the BJP’s post mortem of its defeat has concluded that hate speech has nothing to do with it – the fault lies with the Congress, which ran a tactically weak campaign, and the fact that too many star campaigners hit the ground, with the result that the candidates were busy making arrangements for them and had no time for their own campaigning.
Well, duh! Ignoring the fact that fielding all members of the Cabinet, over 270 MPs, seven chief ministers etc was a decision of that political Chanakya Amit Shah, there is the inconvenient fact that star campaigners only go where the local candidate requests their presence. But it is not the illogical conclusion that should worry you – it is the swift repudiation of the impact of hate speech on the results, which basically means we are going to get more of the same in the elections to follow.
Meanwhile, at the TimesNow summit I had touched on in yesterday’s post, Amit Shah said:
I have full faith that on basis of 3 million ton, we can achieve an economy of 5 million ton.
Trying googling to see how many media houses covered that gaffe. Then google the word ‘pappu’, and see how many media houses did not gleefully latch on to instances where Rahul Gandhi misspoke, and even how many distorted what he did say to suggest that he misspoke (remember the infamous “potato factory”, for instance?). Rahul Gandhi is also supposed to have said Modi was to blame for unemployment among eagles (He did not).
Shah, however, appears to have learned something from his recent defeat. After a campaign where the BJP mocked those who would sell their nation for Rs 200 worth of free electricity/water, Shah says now that if the BJP comes to power in Bihar his government will provide Rs 200 worth of free electricity to every family.
In Ahmedabad, the local administration is laying in orders for Rs 3.7 crore worth of flowers to beautify the road Modi and Trump will drive along – just one more line item in a massive beautification drive being undertaken so two narcissists who don’t like each other very much (see yesterday’s post) can indulge in an extended photo-op.
India hopes to get some sort of trade deal out of this, but for reasons I’d mentioned in my previous post, that is unlikely. Not that the GoI is not pulling out all stops to try and get something, anything out of this to wave around in triumph – in fact, the government is so desperate for a deal, it has reportedly told the US this:
India has offered to allow imports of U.S. chicken legs, turkey and produce such as blueberries and cherries, Indian government sources said, and has offered to cut tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25%. U.S. negotiators want that tariff cut to 10%.
The Modi government is also offering to allow some access to India’s dairy market, but with a 5% tariff and quotas, the sources said. But dairy imports would need a certificate they are not derived from animals that have consumed feeds that include internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants.
There is more. And all of this will hurt India’s agrarian industries at a time when it is already under enormous distress, besides hurting both the poultry and dairy industries. But hey, anything for the sake of a “win” to boast of, even if that win is Pyrrhic. Here is the story, in a nutshell, via cartoonist Satish Acharya (who you should follow):
Elsewhere in Gujarat, in a college in Bhuj, 68 college girls were forced to remove their underwear to prove that they were not menstruating. Just another waypoint in the ongoing Talibanisation of the country and its education systems. It all happened, says the school principal, a woman herself, with the permission of the girls.
In the midst of all this gloom and doom (and there is lots more, but I’ll spare you), the Maharashtra government has decided to build homes for Mumbai’s famed dabbawallahs, the efficiency of whose meal delivery system has been studied by Harvard Business School, eulogized by the BBC, been held up as a model of Six Sigma, and formed the subject of an extended presentation at the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, among other honors.
A photographer bought barren farmland near Ranthambore and let it grow back into a forest. Now it is home to tigers and other wild fauna.
PS: There will be no post tomorrow. Have a nice weekend all.
In a previous post I wrote of Hitler, of fascism, of the means to the murderous end that was euphemized as “the final solution”. I expected there would be pushback, and I got what I expected. The politest feedback – I had to sift through a lot to find It – suggested that I was using words I had read somewhere without any understanding of their true meaning; that I was egregiously misapplying those pejorative terms to the India of today; that my “screed” was driven by blind hatred of Modi.
The thing is, I am by no stretch the first to use those words for the RSS/BJP machinery – others, with far better knowledge and qualifications, have used these words before. And these terms were used well before Modi even became Chief Minister of Gujarat, let alone Prime Minister of the country.
One such leading light – a Harvard scholar, an educator, a politician, a former Union Law Minister no less, named Subramanian Swamy – wrote this way back in 2000 to warn us of what was coming, and he was prescient. He was also meticulous in outlining the various steps in the RSS process:
(1) Discredit your opponents and protect your friends: (2) “Shake public confidence in every institution that can circumscribe or act as a speed-breaker for the RSS juggernaut; (3) Script new history; ready the blueprint for the coming agenda; (4) Bridle the electoral system.
The RSS game-plan is ready, Swamy wrote then, only the date for the final blitzkrieg remains to be picked.
Think back to those four steps Swamy outlined. I could have linked a few dozen current examples to illustrate each of them, but I’m going to leave it up to you: As you think back over the past six months, as you read the headlines today, how many of those boxes do you think you can tick?
“Of course,” concluded Swamy, “the good news is that the game plan can fail. I live on the hope that in India, no well-laid plan ever works. India, after all, is a functioning anarchy. That has been the undoing of every attempt to straitjacket its society. That is why we are still the longest continuing unbroken civilization of over 10,000 years. The RSS is, luckily, our counter-culture. The vibrations of Mother India will, I hope, be its undoing.”
I share in that pious hope. I cling to it when, after a day spent shuddering at the incessant stream of bad news, I go to bed at night and try to get some sleep. But then I wake up next morning, and this is the world I wake up to:
In Bidar, northern Karnataka, a 11-year-old breaks down in tears over the plight of her mother, who is in police custody, along with the principal of her school, Shaheen Primary and High School, on charges of sedition. For the crime of staging a play that sought to educate the students on the inequities of the CAA. A court decided to defer hearing their bail application by a week.
Meanwhile, also in Karnataka, a court ordered the police to serve notice on Nityananda, who on securing bail in a case of rape had fled the country. The police told the court that Nityananda is on a “spiritual tour”, and hence there was no need to serve notice on him.
In Allahabad, a court has granted bail to rape accused BJP leader Chinmayanand; the court order is, put mildly, problematic. Remember that bit about protecting your friends and discrediting your opponents? While on that, the Income Tax department withdrew tax evasion cases against Tamil superstar Rajnikanth – who, yesterday, came out with a statement supporting the CAA.
But to revert to Bidar, yesterday was the 5th successive day police entered the school and subjected the students – of classes 4, 5 and 6 — to intense interrogation over the play. The police action is based on a complaint lodged by one Nilesh Rakshala, an “activist” of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS.
The “activist” alleged that there was a line in the play about whacking the Prime Minister with a chappal. The police, which has copies of the play, and video, have found no such line. But a mother and a school principal are in custody, the police enter the school every day for extensive interrogations, a chappal is among the “evidence” they have collected, and a 11-year-old wends her way to a neighbor’s home, weeping quietly over the fate of her mother.
In Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital city, BJP workers attempted to put up a pro-CAA banner outside a school, and hassled students who tried to stop them. A BJP MLA led a mob into another school objecting to anti-Modi graffiti on a wall. Also in Bangalore, where a junior BBMP official acting on an unverified complaint by a BJP leader had demolished 200-plus homes and rendered 5000 or more homeless, another shantytown is now being threatened with demolition because, “Bangladeshis”. “Do you decide nationality by looking at a person’s face?”, the court asked the police while hearing petitions relating to that earlier demolition — well, apparently they do, and will continue to do so.
Meanwhile in Punjab, school children were made to sign a pro-CAA banner. A similar attempt to force students to write postcards congratulating the PM was made in Gujarat – it failed only because outraged parents protested. In Ahmedabad, BJP workers are going around collecting postcards in praise of the PM. Praise, even by force, is good; a poster calling for national unity, though, not so much:
In Delhi, where the campaign is into its final day, the Election Commission has found DCP Rajesh Deo in gross violation of rules by attempting to “adversely affecting the elections” through his press conference where he alleged that Kapil Gujjar, the gunman who fired at Shaheen Bagh the other day, was a member of the Aam Aadmi Party. The allegation is, according to the man’s own father, untrue:
No surprise here, either in the false allegation or in the EC taking note of it (In my post yesterday, I’d made this exact same point); what is surprising though is the punishment handed out, which amounts to a day’s paid leave.
Also in Delhi, also during the campaign, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra put out a tweet suggesting that an AAP leader had called for the establishment of the Shariya nationwide. It is, of course, a lie – the word used was “zariya”, not “shariya”. It is also, of course, extremely inflammatory. And it will, of course, go unpunished. (That Patra lied is not surprising – this is your periodic reminder that it was Patra, aided by Arnab Goswami, who first aired the faked “tukde tukde” video.)
In Bihar, where student leader turned politician Kanhaiyya Kumar has been leading a ‘Jan Gan Man’ rally across the state, his car was attacked and damaged; the driver and Kumar have reportedly been injured, the former badly.
Kumar launched his month-long rally on January 30 at Champaran; it moved to Gopalganj and Siwan on day two; to Chapra and Muzzafarpur on day 3; to Sitamandi on day four; to Madhubani on day 5; and to Dharbanga yesterday, day six. The crowds have been phenomenal, and they have been growing; the pressure is correspondingly greater on the BJP which shares the government in Bihar.
In the dead of night in Azamgarh, UP, police threw stones, fired teargas shells, and flooded a site where women have been holding a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in protest. Several women are reportedly injured, some seriously.
Also in UP, police uprooted a wedding pandal because they thought it was erected for an anti-CAA protest. Elsewhere, India Today pointed to a series of discrepancies in data in the Budget presented by Nirmala Sitharaman (who apparently had time to decipher the Harappan script but not to run the numbers); the ministry without acknowledging the error quietly corrects it. In Goa, an NCP MLA demanded on the floor of the assembly that tigers who eat cows should be punished, just like humans. Air India cancelled the ticket of a man who was flying to the US because his name happened to be Kunal Kamra. Not THE Kunal Kamra, just A Kunal Kamra. Do you laugh? Do you weep? Do you “laugh, that you may not weep”? Do you, even as you weep, cling on to the few remaining shards of hope, if you can find them?
I wrote about that hope in a recent piece for The Wire. As the headlines pile one on the other in an endless cascade of misery, the combined weight pushing me into a dark, dank, dismal place, I think of Vaclav Havel’s question:
“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope…”
I hope the “vibrations of Mother India” – vibrations you can feel as you approach any protest site, anywhere in the country, and there are plenty for you to choose from – will save us. But I also hope she’d buck up about it, because time is running out. And time is running out not because Modi and Shah are rushing to implement the CAA/NPR-NRC, but because the RSS has been prepping the soil for a very long time now, and they are nearly done.
It is not what you see – the shakas, the drills, the flag marches, the occasional shows of strength. It is what you don’t see: that for decades now, the RSS has been quietly insinuating itself into the institutions that prop up India’s democracy.
It has pushed its brightest minds into academics, had them write the prescribed exams and enter the civil services – the IFS, the IAS, the IPS; it has pushed some of its best and brightest into the armed forces and into the media. And over the years, over the decades, these seeds planted have taken root, and grown; these recruits have steadily climbed the promotion ladders and are now increasingly in places of influence.
Swamy’s piece dates back to 2000; the process was in place well before that. With apologies for the length, here is an extended quote from an interview I did with NCP chief Sharad Pawar back in 1998:
Talking of mistakes, a very senior BJP leader said that the Congress made a big one when it didn’t allow the Vajpayee government to survive the vote of confidence… Why?
The argument I heard was that if the Congress had abstained, the Vajpayee government would have survived the vote of confidence. But being in a minority, it would not have been able to achieve anything at all, and in time it would have fallen. And with its fall, the stability plank would have been lost to the party for ever…. The BJP should never be allowed to rule, it is too dangerous. For instance, Advani was a minister during the Janata government — and in his short tenure, he managed to fill his ministry with RSS people, and that gave us a headache when we came back to power.
The BJP and the RSS practise the politics of infiltration. I’ll give you an example. Before the fall of the Babri Masjid, Bhairon Singh Shekawat and I were negotiating with the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Ram Janambhoomi people, for three days we had intense negotiations. We reached a stage where, in one more day or maybe two, we could have come to an agreement. But at that time, the senior RSS person involved in the discussions said he had to leave for three days.
I asked him why, I argued with him, told him nothing could be more important, but he was adamant. So finally I asked him where he was going, and he said Hyderabad, to attend the seminar of the Indian History Congress. I was quite shocked that he thought a seminar was more important that this.
That is when he explained. The IHC controls the way Indian history is written and studied, it approves syllabus and textbooks, it has total control. And the key weapon of the RSS is education, its goal is to rewrite Indian history to suit its agenda. In fact, the RSS is already doing it — the portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as anti-Muslim is only one example, they talk of how Afzal Khan tried to trick him and how Shivaji killed Afzal Khan, that is the story the kids read about, but conveniently, no one menions that Shivaji’s chief army commander was a Muslim, that he personally constructed three mosques for Muslims… one of my candidates in the state is a direct descendant of Shivaji Maharaj, and his family still pays money for the upkeep of these mosques, but this is never mentioned. Shivaji maintained that all communities and religions should live in harmony, but look how that is being distorted today!
Sorry, but how does all this tie up with the IHC?
To be a member, you have to do post graduation, and masters, in Indian history. So over the years, the RSS has been systematically selecting students, instructing them to study history, and getting them into the IHC, at last count the RSS-oriented students are 46 per cent of the society. Another five per cent, and the RSS will control it, and then it will write Indian history to suit its own ends. That body is like that, it plans ahead, and works systematically to achieve its goals. In fact, I must say that though the RSS and the BJP are my political enemies, I admire this quality in them, they plan for the future and they work steadily towards a goal.
Think of all that as you go through the stories linked above; think of it when you next read of an inexplicably wrong court judgment or hear of an unjustifiable police action. It is not that they are following the orders from Modi and Shah – their mission predates those two, and will continue after those two.
I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if there is a solution at all. Maybe these nationwide protests are the first faint signs of those vibrations Swamy talked about. You can only hope — so I’ll leave you with an image gallery of what hope looks like:
This story opens with the line “The Shaheen Bagh shooter Kapil Gujjar admitted to the Delhi Police that he joined the Aam Aadmi Party in early 2019.” It goes on to talk of photos being recovered showing him and his father with various AAP leaders.
The story was first flashed by ANI, immediately picked up by other agencies, then flashed on TV channels, and later made the subject of much red-eyed “debates” by the likes of Arnab Goswami, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar et al.
The father and other family members have since denied any connection with the party and explained how the supposedly incriminating photos came to be – but that is neither here nor there; it is now “established” that AAP is behind the Shaheen Bagh violence. Or, as DCP Rajesh Dev says, “We have him in remand for two days and we will establish the conspiracy”. Not “we will investigate”, mind. (The earlier shooting at Jamia has been conveniently pushed off the radar by calling him out as a minor; two men on a scooter who then fired a gun at the Jamia protestors are yet to be traced, though witnesses gave the police the number of the vehicle).
So it is a he said/he denied story, right? Except for the timing – conveniently just ahead of polling date, to further underline the BJP’s argument that AAP is responsible for the violence in Delhi. (While on this, the BJP needs to make up its mind – is AAP supporting Shaheen Bagh and feeding the protestors biriyani, as Ajay Singh Bisht keeps complaining, or is it behind the violence intended to disrupt those protests? Which is it?).
But taking the story at face value, here is the problem: As per the rules governing election campaigns, official bodies are not allowed, during the period of a campaign, to name any party in connection with alleged acts of criminality. This rule is precisely to prevent parties from floating incendiary allegations against each other.
The Delhi Police – which spoke not officially, but through anonymous and therefore subsequently deniable “sources” – is in flagrant breach of that provision. The Delhi police reports to the Home Minister (NB: During an election campaign the police is officially under the control of the Election Commission – in the current dispensation, how much that is true in practise I’ll leave for you to judge); there is only one party that gains by muddying the waters, so draw what inferences you will.
Interestingly, the Delhi police report was released – or at least, leaked by “sources” – to the media in the evening. However, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari was already talking about it, officially, earlier that morning.
Speaking of probes, it is now a month since 100 or more masked thugs entered the Jamia Milia Islamia JNU complex (apologies, I mistyped, thanks all who caught it and alerted me), armed with iron rods, hammers, and bottles of acid and unleashed unhinged mayhem. Judging by this report, the special investigation team set up to inquire into the attack seems to work thus: It summons someone – actually, someone who had in a sting actually admitted his role in the attack and asks, son, what is this, why did you do this? And the youngster goes who, me, I was fast asleep at the time. To which the SIT goes, all right then, off you go.
I mean, the SIT is yet to even question Komal Sharma, the ABVP member who was identified as being part of the attack by the police themselves – “because her phone is switched off”. So now you know — if you do something criminal and find yourself the target of an investigation, switch off your phone. Problem solved.
While progress is slow to none on actual, serious, cases, the concerted attempts to demonise Shaheen Bagh continue – the latest instalment being the allegation, doing the rounds of social media and WhatsApp, that the protestors burned the national flag. Which, predictably, is a lie.
As was the earlier one – a ‘sting video’ released by BJP IT Cell chief Amit Malaviya that purported to prove that the protestors were being paid Rs 500 per day. The story was picked up by TV channels, “debated” with much heat on TimesNow and Republic, and further amplified by various official and unofficial BJP leaders. (And the BJP has a lot of amplifiers – 18,000 at the least, as per this story). Again, predictably, the video was faked.
If you are even mildly surprised/shocked, you have been living under a rock. Remember the BJP is led by Amit Shah, who as far back as 2018 had with a nudge and a wink asked his “social media warriors” to use fake news to spread the “message”:
Related, remember how Shaheen Bagh is just a bunch of pesky Muslims holding the country to ransom by blocking a major road? Women with nothing to do, just sitting there and being fed biriyani by the chief minister of Delhi? So yesterday this happened: Eight busloads of Sikhs travelled all the way from Punjab to Shaheen Bagh to stand in solidarity with them. (An open, 24/7 langar has been set up, also by the Sikh community, and has been running for the past several days and no, they don’t serve biriyani).
So, the Sikhs came, of their own volition, yesterday, and this happened:
Why? Under what law, on whose authority, on what grounds did the police prevent the group from going to Shaheen Bagh? In whose interest is it to show that the protest there is driven only by one community? And while on that, note what is now becoming a usual occurrence: “Police without name tags”.
Update, 1.20 PM: The delegation of Punjab farmers, after overnight drama and considerable negotiations with the cops for safe passage, have reached Shaheen Bagh.
In the stream of news about protests in various parts, way too numerous now to keep track of, there was this item that stood out – not for the locale, not for the turnout, but for how the Indian Embassy, located in the capital of the United States, responded:
Author and environmentalist Edward Abbey said it best:
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government.
Yesterday was a “big news day” in more ways than one. In Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs made an important announcement:
The framing of the story is interesting: “MHA makes it official: No plans of NRC”. Whereas in actual fact, what the MHA said in Parliament is (Emphasis mine):“Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) at the National level.”
Never mind that this has been the official line of the government — “Till now” – all along. Never mind that when introducing the CAB in the Rajya Sabha the Home Minister categorically, and to considerable applause from his side of the aisle, said NRC will be rolled out countrywide. This latest “official” statement was promptly used by various media channels to ask what the protestors were still going on about, since the government has, you know…
AltNews has a fact-check connecting the various dots. A related point needs to be made: Right from the outset, the nationwide protests have always been about the deadly dangerous trifecta: the CAA plus the NPR plus the NRC. The CAA is now a law, therefore a fact of life. The NPR process is ongoing, and has in fact been further funded in the latest Budget. To say the NRC has not been thought through, or to stall with weasel words like “not yet”, is disingenuous, for the simple reason that the NPR is the natural pipeline for the NRC. If there is no move towards the NRC – which makes Shah not merely a liar, it also means he breached Parliamentary privilege by lying on the floor of the House – then the NPR does not need the 11 additional questions that have been tacked on to the previous version.
But hey, the MHA released a sufficiently vague “clarification”, the media seized on it to justify the government’s stand that the protests are misguided; that narrative fills the TV channels and the media space, mission accomplished.
While on the MHA, note that both activists without, and Parliamentarians within, have begun to systematically question the government, officially, about the gaslighting it does unofficially. Thus, in Parliament yesterday, the junior minister in the MHA clarified that “no such case of Love Jihad has been reported by any of the central agencies. In fact, he pointed out that the term love jihad is not defined under the current laws.” Read this story.
Remember that no less than the Supreme Court asked that ‘love jihad’ be probed – that is to say, the top court in the country asked for a probe into an act that has not even been defined in law. Remember that the National Commission on Minorities also demanded a probe. Remember the stream of sensational stories emerging from the probe, such as this one which brought up an ISIS connection.
And finally, remember that the MHA yesterday only said what the NIA had said – after wasting money and manpower on a “probe” – back in 2018 itself: That there is no such thing as love jihad. Now ask yourself, who is responsible for so many damaged lives and reputations, for so much distress? Who pays the price?
NDTV, supposedly one of the last surviving bastions of both liberalism and good journalism among the English language channels, decided to host BJP MP Parvesh Verma on prime time. It is worth noting that the Election Commission has banned him from campaigning following a speech in which he claimed the people of Shaheen Bagh will enter “your homes” to “rape and kill your wives and daughters” – a fact the NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan is perfectly well aware of, as this segment shows.
The BJP found a workaround by getting Verma to speak in Parliament in support of the President’s pre-Budget speech – an opportunity the MP used to make a no-holds barred campaign speech in which, among other things, he called a leading opposition MP ‘Rahul Firoz Khan’. And now a leading TV channel gives him, gratis, another platform to campaign from because that is what the show amounted to – all in the name of ‘balance’.
See how the media enables those who traffic in hate? In a stirring speech in Parliament the previous day, TMC MP Mahua Moitra had referred to Verma being asked to speak in the Lok Sabha. “You may have the constitutional authority to do so,” she told the BJP, “but what about the higher authority, the moral authority..?”
Even this may be overstated,” says the Wall Street Journal in a scathing indictment of India’s latest budget, “as the country’s official economic data has become more politicized and less reliable.” Business Standard, in a strong editorial, says the Budget – remember that, according to the hype machine, the PM had taken personal charge of the process and “big, bold decisions were expected” – echoes the WSJ line when it says the budget should have been fact-checked, and also tells you why this lack of credibility is critical:
This is, in effect, a recognition that the credibility associated with official pronouncements has been undermined, and there is a need to recover it. Such an effort is particularly important at a time when India is increasingly depending upon foreign capital to fill the gap caused by a collapse in private investment and overspending by the government.
While reading budget-related news, I came across this item: In July, the President, Vice President and Prime Minister will get to travel in spanking new special planes procured from Boeing. This story puts the estimated cost at Rs 8,458 crore.
In the run up to the Budget, I recall reading stories such as this one, which said that all three wings of the armed forces were delaying much-needed procurements because of a fiscal crunch, and hoping the former defence minister, now the finance minister, would do better this time round. It was not an alarmist piece — the CAG, no less, had in a scathing indictment questioned the government’s inability to provide proper boots and prescribed nutrition to the soldiers fighting in the Kargil sector, pointed at delayed payments to soldiers, and to other anomalies.
The same defence correspondent, writing after the Budget was presented, said the budgetary provisions were inadequate. Not enough to meet defence needs, says Business Insider. The defence budget belies all expectations, said the Financial Express. On the same site, another piece actually calls out this budget as “a dampener for national security“. Remember “national security”? The central plank of Modi and the BJP? Remember the jawans fighting on the border, who are regularly recalled to the public conversation whenever an election is imminent? Or used as props in a photo op with the PM in designer gear?
But it’s okay, says General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff. Can’t pay pensions? We’ll just up the retirement age, he says, seemingly unmindful of the fact that he is actually saying he expects soldiers to fight on to the age of 58. Can’t buy the equipment we need to get up to speed? No problem, we will find “alternate sources” of money. And so on. Where do you even begin to point out that the financial mismanagement of the government is severely compromising not merely the education, the health, the employment opportunities of the lay citizen, but also the nation’s security — at a time when the government, through its intemperate rabble-rousing, has actually managed to make enemies out of even erstwhile friends?
On January 22nd, the SC heard the combined petitions against the CAA. It needs to be remembered that dozens of petitions had been filed in various courts around the country; the government argued that the SC should take over and hear them all and the SC agreed. And it “gave the government four weeks to answer”.
Why the government, which presumably thought it through before bringing the bill to Parliament and getting it passed, needs time to explain why it brought the bill is neither here nor there – the fact is, the SC not only gave the government oodles of time, it also refused to impose an interim stay while the case is being heard.
And so, yesterday, this happened: dozens of Supreme Court lawyers, no less, marched through the streets of Delhi protesting against the CAA, and the SC’s dereliction of duty. All this, while the BJP goes around claiming that the protests are politically motivated, and the work of “one community”.
There is so much more that is happening, and needs to be documented, but time is in short supply so I’ll leave you, for the day, with just this one story which is illustrative of so much that is wrong about the way our country is now run:
Remember how, a few weeks back, a BJP MLA posted a video of a shantytown that, he claimed, was a den of illegal Bangladeshis? Remember how, on the basis of that video, a junior official in the BBMP — with the police guarding the operation — demolished some 200 huts in the shantytown, making approximately 5000 people homeless, in an operation the BBMP claimed had no official sanction? The case was heard in the Karnataka High Court yesterday. This is what the court said:
However, the court observed that the complaints were general in nature and did not specifically point to the property. “There is nothing on file to indicate that police inspector visited the site to verify if there are Bangladeshi immigrants,” the division bench observed on Monday.
“It began with the letter of the police to the land owner to remove structures and in this situation we are of the view that the state will have to rehabilitate those who have been dispossessed,” court said in an interim order while seeking the government’s response on February 10.
The court asked the state advocate general how the police could act on mere suspicion. It said that strict action must be taken against the police inspector who issued the notice since the police had assumed the power of a civil court to issue the order.
That is all it takes today. A video making random, unsubstantiated allegations is all it takes to destroy lives and livelihoods.
I don’t have a link for this, but I remember about a month or so ago coming across a Kanhaiyya Kumar interaction in course of which he was asked the question: Why are students protesting, when they should be studying? His response, in translation, ran thus:
Education is not merely about memorising how 6 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Education is also about understanding how normal people, an entire country, stood by and watched it happen. Education is about learning the signs, and ensuring that it does not happen in your country. And that is why the students are out on the streets today — because of education.
How did we stand by, and watch this systematic deterioration, all these years?
PostScript, at 1.14 PM: On January 1, Gunja Kapoor got a New Year guest — she was “honoured” by a follow from Narendra Modi. Earlier today, she wore a burqa and infiltrated Shaheen Bagh. What she intended to do is unclear.