Skip to content

1

Once Maharashtra was the land of progressive thought. Now it is the land where progressive thought is killed. After Narendra Dabholkar's murder in Pune, Comrade Govind Pansare was shot in Kolhapur. He has succumbed to his injuries.

This is the man who hosted events asking dangerous questions like "Who killed Karkare?" or protested the powerful IRB Infrastructure Developers. Over decades of service, he has stood up for all kinds of rights of people. He faced virulent hate propaganda from fans of Nathuram Godse more recently (Nathuram godse is Mahatma Gandhi's murderer) from Sanatan Sanstha and others.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Govind Pansare is dead. Murdered brutally to silence. His killers roam free. Where is justice?[/tweetthis]

In a state where the supporters of the ruling parties are the most venomous haters of progressive thinking activists, there appears to be no point expecting justice. In a country where the state machinery works to free killers and frame activists, there appears to be no point expecting rule of law. What is justice anyway? Two or ten worthless souls put behind bars cannot compensate the social loss of progressive thoughts being proliferated time and again.

Justice for the murder of a thinker can only come from the proliferation of their thoughts. Voices that resonate with ethics become louder because they speak the hearts of many, address the needs of many. They can be silenced by guns, but they cannot be refuted. Thoughts let lose in the world cannot be reeled back in.

We all die one day. The fearless die once.

When Narendra Dabholkar was murdered, I was overwhelmed with shame for having agreed with his views, but never taken the effort to add my voice. From that day, I remain committed to speaking out against superstition.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]We all die one day. The fearless die once. One dead Pansare spawns many more.[/tweetthis]

Today, it seems the commitment needs to be wider. There are so many things that need voices speaking truth to power. So many voices that going around with a gun becomes unfeasible. In the absence of deterrent for criminals from the state, the strategy of minds insisting on progressive thought must evolve to build in deterrents. This is one.

I promise to continue speaking. Loud and clear. Against superstition. Against corruption. Against exploitation and inequality. Against communal hate.

It is but one voice and the task is huge, there is no alternative but to grow to meet it.

Walk along. Let not voices of reason be a few heads sticking out in a crowd that can be shot out of the picture.

5

Ever since Aam Aadmi Party's stunning win in Delhi Assembly elections, there is a rash of analysis and advice for Modi government (which has mostly fallen on deaf ears, and no surprise there - they know their support base).

I have several opinions around this issue that differ from the common consensus, so sharing them.

Development or Hindutva?

Several people are looking at BJP's stunning defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections as a rejection of their communal agenda by people. This couldn't be further from the truth. As Yashwant Sinha rightfully pointed out in his piece in the Economic Times, BJP's vote share hasn't really dropped all that drastically. The last time Delhi saw a BJP government was in 1993. In 1998, BJP got dislodged by the Sheila Dixit led Congress Party governments right up to the previous election where AAP formed a minority government. BJP's vote share for Assembly Elections has not really changed much.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]BJP has lost Delhi with a higher vote share than it had when it got the most seats in 2013[/tweetthis]

BJP got 34.02% votes in 1998, 35.22 in 2003, and 36.34 in 2008 - all three of which it lost to the Congress. The splitting of the decaying Congress vote between Congress and AAP in 2013 saw it get the most seats in the 2013 elections with just 33.07% of the votes - actually lower than all the intervening years when it lost. They didn't have the numbers to form a majority government, but they did get the most votes.

This, to me indicates that around slightly more than a third of the voters - give or take - are with BJP no matter what - regardless of how it plays out in the results. This number has sustained through several losses - it is now the fifth time BJP has failed to form a government in Delhi. I would see this as an ideological base to a large extent - which it has retained. And the numbers pretty much show that as long as one viable alternative exists, whether Congress or AAP - BJP remains out of power in Delhi.

So what is it about the "Mandate for Development"?

That is the part BJP supporters omit. When Modi was campaigning for the Lok Sabha Elections promoting development, the BJP vote share was NOT around a third and approached closer to half at 46%. In this election, it went back to normal. In other words, if anyone believed the development propaganda, they have stopped believing it now.

This was inevitable, because it was the throwaway mandate by design. What is telling about this mandate is that even if we ignore the Lok Sabha vote share, what is immediately evident is that BJP failed to gain votes from the complete decimation of a party that ruled Delhi for 15 years - it actually lost votes even if not a large percentage. Congress votes simply went over to AAP while even BJP share dropped slightly as though AAP stepped into the vacuum left by Congress seamlessly while adding other voters as well. In other words, no one other than loyalists seem to have remained with BJP in Delhi. AAP, which didn't exist two years ago got a vote share of 54% - an actual majority of votes as well (even if not as representative of remaining 46%).If this doesn't scream irrelevance to the realities and changes happening in Delhi, I don't know what does.

Why can't BJP just start focusing on development again?

They are focusing on development. They never stopped. Only after elections, the development focus has been made clearer as the development of the large corporate mandate - which has been the hidden third mandate no one spoke about all through. The victory was a result of all three mandates. The Hindutva wing provided ground support and volunteers through unaccountable funding, while radicalizing the masses to consolidate the Hindu votes. The crony capitalist mandate provided the finances as well as control of media to extend the reach of campaign propaganda, as well as attack opponents and cover up things that would not bring popularity to BJP. The development mandate provided the votes that took Modi's government beyond the "Delhi standard" vote share.

The last was the domain of most of Modi's speeches and one never intended for delivery - which is how all the U-Turns started popping up as soon as the government came to power. Given that the corporate world and the unwashed masses have always been at odds, it was absolutely impossible that the Modi government could deliver on both development as well as crony capitalism.

While positions of power and social impunity went to the ideological mandate, Hindutva (appointments, social "reforms" like gharwapsi or text book alterations); profits and economic impunity went to the corporate mandate (sabotaging of land rights, environmental protections, and much, much more - this is HUGE MONEY). Delivering to the common man at large was never the intent - this was a consolidation of power and control, not service task. Some things may be done that don't inconvenience either of the other two "real" backers. They will be publicized to the hilt to create a perception of vast service to people, but there is only so much you can tell people they are experiencing prosperity if they aren't. We saw that this elections.

But what about secularism?

What about it? It is lip service. Communal control over country is what the Hindutva brigade got for its investment in the Modi government. Secularism is not compatible with it. Would Modi like to be communal? I don't think so. Modi is a narcissist. He is rather besotted with his image as a progressive leader, which is opposite of regressive. Which is how, in spite of altering textbooks to more Hindutva friendly versions or pretending not to notice the rise of the fan clubs for Nathuram Godse, he continues to use Congress leaders when trying to impress people. It is the best he can do. To pretend he does not see the rise of communalism and give them the impunity of his silence.

Not that he has much choice, because if he endorses secularism, his Hindutva supporters (almost his entire vote bank at this stage) will simply ignore him. Not even the lowliest troll shows an iota of respect for Modi when he calls for religious tolerance.

So, I disagree with a lot of columnists when they recommend things that Modi should do to regain his popularity. Modi cannot regain his popularity by speaking of development, since he hasn't delivered it. Modi cannot regain his popularity by endorsing secularism because his core vote bank will not allow it. The disillusioned voters who get swung on hope, have swung AAP's way this time. All Modi will end up doing if he tries to get secular is piss off his supporters. All Modi will end up doing if he actually tries to deliver on promises is piss off profiteers who are in no mood to share.

His best bets are to keep his head low and siphon off as much profit to his sponsors and power to his mentors as he can. It is going to be very difficult to pull off a second con this close to the first.

Every predator is someone else's prey

However, Modi is going to need to find new ways to hook voters. The AAP victory has made a mockery of his claims of development - a fact no other state going for elections will forget. When Nitish Kumar praised Trinamool Congress, BJP supporters were quick to sneer at an anti-BJP front, but both Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar too have taken pot shots at Modi in recent days. Incidentally, this would be the same Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Corrupt Party that Modi gushed over on Valentine's Day as the one to support him when the UPA was in power.

This is going to be a problem. Because Modi will be a laughing stock if he tries to rule forever with ordinances. At the same time, without winning in states, he is going to find it very difficult to get any bills through the Rajya Sabha.

If a runaway victory for AAP creates a potential democracy crisis in Delhi Government, it is countered by the control exerted by a hostile center government.

Similarly a runaway victory for the BJP government is held in check by the "anti-BJP" fronts mushrooming. The Delhi Elections may have dazzled everything else out of the spotlight, but the AAP government was endorsed by the extremely unlikely pair of CPI as well as TMC in Delhi - who both asked their followers to vote for AAP. Nitish Kumar as well. At least three other political leaders of other parties have voiced skepticism over targeting of AAP via AVAM just days before the elections. Bihar sees another unlikely pair willing to cooperate to defeat BJP with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav burying their legendary hostility to defeat the BJP. Aditya Thackeray welcomed the rise of AAP in Maharashtra (more a taunt to BJP than any real wish to embrace AAP values or compete on such a premise at all).

Given such a climate, BJP appears to have few choices beyond counting on its Hindutva loyalists to deliver miracles and the corporate mandate to do PR as well as damage control while they use every dirty trick in the book to discredit opponents. I am amazed they haven't yet applied their phenomenal strategy skills to splitting opponent votes between two strong opponents rather than this harder way of discrediting or dummy candidates and such, but I am delighted they haven't. In any case, I don't imagine any change of methods is on the cards for BJP at this stage.

Thus, any pleas to Modi to deliver development or embrace secularism, in my view are highly unlikely to materialize - no matter how many columnists think they are a good idea.

4

India blocked some 309 urls yesterday between Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and entire sites, the details of which are not known, but CIS-India who got a copy of the leaked list has put up an excellent post by Pranesh Prakash examining the information available.

In the meanwhile, Twitter is full of new born free speech activists with dire warnings about this being the thin end of the wedge and how if we don't speak up now, we are forever doomed. Well, good morning. Those of us protesting violations of Internet Rights have known this for a while now. I actually find this to be the first vaguely valid use of censorship.

The violence and exodus following the Assam riots have been found to be fuelled to a significant extent by the misuse of social media to spread disinformation and paranoia. While defaulting to its usual dysfunctional choice of censorship isn't going to be terribly effective, the government is well away from violating the right to free speech if this is a response to a National Emergency. Free Speech is not absolute. It cannot overrule laws of the land.

Many accounts on Twitter being blocked belonging to BJP supporters has given a good opportunity for the hundreds of BJP supporters *not* blocked to claim persecution. Many regular people and rights supporters are condemning the blocks. While there is nothing new about BJP discovering human rights when they can point out violations by the Congress or Pakistan (supporting Rinkle or Balochistan, outrage over Guwahati molestation, for example), if we look at this from a hoslistic view, the outrage seems premature.

Not must this political opportunism be legitimized as any kind of concern for rights. Of course, they still can protest, but to claim it in the name of the country's rights rings hollow. When the Rinkle abduction happened, hardly anyone in India gave a damn. All of a sudden, BJP supporters found it and outraged over it for a while. No change happened, they fell quiet. That silence went into attacks on those condemning RSS/BJP lack of condemnation for moral policing after the Mangalore attacks. So much for women's rights.

It we look at MP Rajeeve's efforts to overturn the IT Rules, the motion failed to pass in the Parliament. For all the noise over corruption, the BJP categorically refused to pass a no-confidence motion against the government. The JPC fiasco is another thing. Urging citizens to do the right thing is clearly a circumstantial matter.

Now let us look at the kind of content coming on the internet from many of the banned accounts. I have seen tweets portraying the Assam massacre as a Muslim persecution of Hindus in the face of all attempts to explain that Muslims were actually the greater number among casualties. When the Mumbai riot happened, a photo with a Muslim religious flag was promoted as Muslims hoisting Pakistan flag in Mumbai. I myself debunked it several times giving differences between the flags. I saw others do it. Still others actually posted images of both flags to point out differences. It is impossible that they did not know this, since replies were addressed directly to them. STILL the rumor of Pakistani flag hoisted in Mumbai by Muslims was deliberately continued even by the same handles.

I have seen and taken objection to several tweets saying that they missed Nathuram Godse today or that Nathuram Godse was the real need of India. Who is Nathuram Godse? The guy who shot Gandhi dead. There are tweets that are extremely obscene about political figures. If we can investigate and prosecute online stalkers driving people to suicide with obscene harassment, I see no reason why these shouldn't be taken action against. In my view these things come under communal incitement or incitement to harm specific people. This is not legal. This cannot come under free speech. Free Speech doesn't overrule law and order in any interpretation of it. While I don't know what content the accounts were targeted for, the chances of most of it being harmless free speech about the Assam Riots in my view are very low. While it is near impossible to ban content on the internet, I cannot hold the government wrong for trying. [Note: Firstpost has started filtering comments because of rampant abusive comments. This is not the government, but a site that thrives on comments.]

Disinformation flourishes to win sympathy. Parody accounts being blocked is one. But one of the oldest genuine parodies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh @DrYumYumSingh is working fine. Many other parody accounts are not touched.

That said there are several grey and black areas about this, which should be clarified in the interests of transparency. One is accounts of journalists being blocked. If those journalists were spreading disinformation about Assam Riots, then shouldn't their reporting be under scrutiny? If it was a matter of promoting disinformation and helping it reach larger audiences/giving it credibility, then couldn't this be clarified with them carefulness urged rather than blocks? It is very easy to mistake information at the speed of social media, but surely journalists have shown some competence at responsible speech to get the benifit of the doubt? One of the blocked journalists @ShivAroor isn't even a handle to tweet much on any single subject and has a large diversity of often totally apolitical content. @aparanjpe is another example.

A big concern is the blocking of content that debunks the Assam riot disinformation. This counterproductive and clearly the result of low investigation of content. With this block, the blocks on journalists seem completely mistaken. There are several other problems listed in the CIS India post. The list of sites the government wants blocked seems haphazard, and it is unclear if all of them are harmful, or if they are the result of a careless search.

With it being so easy to bypass blocks, as well as the government credibility on censorship shot so thoroughly with their own actions, blocking is unlikely to achieve much given a few dedicated supporters to bring things to the attention of masses at large.

Also, while blocking specific content or blogs dedicated to harmful interests makes sense, blocking an interactive account is still a violation of free speech and completely useless once the situation has passed and the accounts are talking of something else.

The government reliance on censorship is dysfunctional and misplaced. In a country with high density of Television usage and relatively low use of social media, blocking internet content a month after the situation has passed is like bolting the barn door after the horse has escaped. Social media is what it is, and the next such crisis cannot be avoided by blocking a few accounts from this one alone.

The need of the hour is for the government to become interactive. To get those fat and lazy cyber security organizations to collect intel and provide it real time to ministers who can use all the media in one go to debunk concerning trends *before* they become problems. If there are rumors proliferating of massacres of Burma Muslims, they need to be investigated and debunked *before* a protest believes and uses that information to damage India. Where there is debunking already available, it needs to be leveraged and promoted. Where there is no debunking available, even a casual comment referring to the disinformation and asking people to stay cool while it is investigated can work miracles.

The answer doesn't lie in silencing people, but speaking with leadership in a world where everyone has voice. Also silencing abusive profiles is not adequate, there needs to be investigation and prosecution, or they simply create a new one, before the previous outrage dies down. If mental harassment, online stalking is illegal, then don't just hide it, trace a few profiles to real people and prosecute them in courts of law where they also have lawyers and what is the law can be upheld on the matter.

That said, it is important for the government to still have the right to block problem content and for protests to not paralyze government decisions when taken for the right reasons - the blocks are new and will likely be refined to include/exclude or be more effective. This is the right of the government. If it doesn't work or is not reversed when things quieten, and no explanations are provided, then it makes sense to protest for specific profiles you believe in. Better still those profiles should approach courts of law and demand compensation for defamation if wrongfully or politically blocked. Wanting a blanket reversal for what is a security measure is immature.