Cry me a river

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 Bombay, 50 people have been charged with sedition over a slogan at a Pride rally, on the basis of a complaint by a BJP leader. Also in Bombay, a cab driver overheard an innocent conversation, drew the wrong conclusions, and all hell broke loose. (Here is an unrolled thread on the incident)

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…”

Perhaps.

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:

Bad news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF Just Happened: November 10

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

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

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Kerala, redux

The calls from Kerala where I have family, and friends on various sides of the political spectrum, were jocular; much amusement was apparently occasioned by the BJP’s ‘Janraksha Yatra’. Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath were particularly ripe targets for that peculiarly Mallu brand of humor, whose chief characteristic is savage cynicism.

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The News in Briefs: October 2

#1. In Agra, members of the VHP and the RSS, armed with guns, pistols and swords fired in the air near a temple in the Agra Fort region to “celebrate Dussehra”. The police have registered a case. The weapons, the firing, the communal slogans, all add up to calculated intimidation. And all the while, the RSS claims that it is the victim, not the perpetrator, of violence against its members.

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WTFJH: Random links and an open thread

Today’s post is not thematic, but more in the nature of a scratch-pad, a compilation of stories that caught my eye over the past 24 hours.

#1. Muslims in Hyderabad set a temple on fire; dead cows were later found on the floor. The whole was captured on video, which was spread widely through social media channels. Only, none of this happened — the video, says Hyderabad police, is a fake. Ask yourself why this keeps happening. In this connection, here is a story out of West Bengal that talks of systematic plans to spread terror during the Navratri season. I haven’t seen this on other media platforms yet, and I can’t vouch for its accuracy — I saved it to my files only because the broad outlines seem familiar, part of a well-thumbed playbook.

#2. Bofors, that periodic preoccupation of the media, is back in the headlines at least in certain quarters. The latest on this is that the PAC has asked the Defense Ministry to trace and share all missing files related to the case. I just set a reminder on my calendar to check back on this in a month, the reminder to recur monthly, because for a long time now Bofors has felt to me more like a red herring to be kept on ice and periodically dragged across the media space whenever the narrative needs to be changed, whenever a distraction feels necessary. Like most people who have followed this story since 1990, I think it is time for some kind of closure. And what better time than now — the government, after all, has no stake in a cover-up; in fact, the reverse is true. So the case should move forward to a conclusion fairly soon. No?

And while on that, big news: the ED says it will summon Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and others on some unspecified date to probe their involvement in what is known as the Panama Papers scandal (A Guardian backgrounder, for those who came in late). It is good to see the ED move lightning fast on a major scam — after all, the story only broke in April 2016, and if some backward nations (Pakistan, to name one) have completed their probe and even sacked some of their highest office-bearers/politicians, what of that?

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