There is a visible epidemic of Sahitya Academy Award winners returning their awards in protest of the government. Less visible is a low key epidemic of public intellectuals and assorted public figures suddenly finding their consciences and regretting promoting Modi because of what they see now. It is the dream of every blind supporter of modi - the much hated intellectuals are voluntarily vanishing from recognition.
From a virtually unknown Arpita Chatterjee to the very famous Ram Jethmalani. Now Aatish Taseer. There are others. Countless journalists have changed their tones from "OMG Modi" to "uh... Modi" without being explicit. Others have taken to trenchant criticism and proclamations of disappointment without mentioning other gushing praise.
There is a problem with all this washing of consciences in the Ganga of public confessions. The problem never was their support for Modi. India is a free country. People have free speech. The problem was their MISUSE of their reach and influence to actively cover up the communal polarization campaign that was running parallel to the development speeches. From dismissing concerns about minorities to claiming that Modi would not tolerate the rise of Hindu fanatics, and the undermining of RIGHTFUL calls for action against criminal methods powering Modi's rise out of the "bold and the beautiful" internet connected India.
This cover up is what THEY did in their greed, not Modi or the RSS. This, they dare not confess to, nor offer to rectify, for the harm to India is beyond measuring.
This was my response on Twitter today after Aatish Taseer's grand eloquence on Modi's inadequate education. It hadn't been adequate when they were all gushing, had it?
Focus on trade likely to be the defining feature of Modi's foreign policy
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi touched down in Bhutan on June 15, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was hosting a special Indian guest and his companions in Islamabad, who had come for a Track II dialogue. While the Prime Minister's Office is tight-lipped about editor and columnist Ved Pratap Vaidik's visit to Islamabad, he is believed to have gone to Pakistan as the representative of the RSS, tasked with dispelling misunderstandings about the Sangh Parivar and its south Asian agenda.
Vaidik had travelled to Lahore on his own to meet Sharif in May last year after the Pakistani leader won the elections. In return, Sharif, reportedly, rewarded him with rare access and contacts, which he used extensively during a trip to Pakistan early this year to convince its leaders that Pakistan can do business with India under Modi.
Najam Rafique of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, which is hosting the Track II dialogue, told THE WEEK that Vaidik represented not just the RSS, but also Modi. “Vaidik is visiting us as an emissary of the Indian prime minister. On June 23, he is addressing an in-house meeting at ISSI. The agenda is how to revive the Pakistan-India dialogue process and what issues are to be taken up. The Indian side is resisting to discuss Kashmir,” he said. Sources in Islamabad said the Modi government's focus was on trade, especially getting the non-discriminatory trade agreement ratified by Pakistan. Rafique, however, said it might not be easy and would require some arm-twisting by India. “The Pakistani side is insisting that Kashmir should be on the table during the Track II dialogue. But, there is a widespread understanding that trade has to come first,” he said.
Given the sensitivities involved, not all details are on public domain, but Union Minister Arun Jaitley's comment about a possible dialogue with separatists in Kashmir has added to the sentiment that the Modi government will manage south Asia unconventionally, with a surprise cast of characters, if necessary. Darakhshan Andrabi, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Socialist Democratic Party, who is lobbying Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for creating an alternative political platform in Kashmiri politics, said the Track II dialogue with Pakistan was aimed at attempting an enabling condition for going ahead with other aspects of life, like trade and development.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran said the Modi government's emphasis on trade with Pakistan, the rest of south Asia and the major world powers could well be the defining feature of Indian foreign policy under Modi. “Allowing Pakistani banks in India and the State Bank of India to operate in Pakistan and granting non-discriminatory market access to India by Pakistan will add to India's growth economy status. Much of our diplomatic stalling of the last five years happened because the world, after celebrating our economic growth for some time, suddenly started perceiving us as a low-potential economy hobbled by a weak political structure. India's diplomacy will change dramatically if Modi can create an impression by his initial deals in south Asia and Japan that India will prioritise trade over other differences, whether big or small,” he said.
These priorities will be reflected in External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's foreign trips as well. Swaraj, fresh from her tour to Bhutan, accompanying Modi, is expected to leave for a meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 26, carrying forward the Look East dynamic of Modi's foreign policy. Already, the Bhutan visit of Modi is being interpreted as a message to China not to snatch away India's partners in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
Saran said the September session of the UN General Assembly, which Modi was likely to attend, would give his team another major opportunity in perfecting its trade diplomacy. In Washington, DC, the United States India Political Action Committee, the organisation that facilitated the pre-election US visit of Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, is doing unofficial groundwork for Modi's visit. “We are excited about the defence IT sector as a new area, as India plans new investment zones in defence production,” said Sanjay Puri of USINPAC.
An immediate challenge for Modi will be in breaking ice with Italy, which is taking advantage of the football season by selling T-shirts with the names of the Italian marines charged for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. “The European Parliament will be headed by Italy from September and there is a possibility that tough Italy-India ties might hurt India-EU ties,” said a European ambassador.
The Modi-Swaraj-Doval team has begun with an intense plan of action. But, given the uncertainties in the world of diplomacy, it may also need some luck to succeed.
Modi's tenure has begun with a bang:
* Neighbouring heads of state at the swearing-in ceremony * First foreign visit to Bhutan, emphasising its significance * Back-channel talks on with Pakistan * Hosted Chinese foreign minister and Russian deputy PM * Talks scheduled with Bangladesh PM * Interactions being worked on with leaders of the US and Japan * Renewed focus on trade diplomacy
After Madhu Kishwar raised the question of Smriti Irani's educational qualifications, the internet has been busy. It seems she has submitted different details at different times. Notably her affidavit for Lok Sabha Election 2004 from Chandni Chowk said she was a B.A. (1996) [page sc5] from Delhi University (School of Correspondence) in 2004 and for Rajya Sabha, Smriti Irani's 2011 affidavit states B.Com. Part 1 [page 10] and the same in affidavit for Lok Sabha Election 2014 from Amethi.
Basically, it is all very exciting, but I don't think it amounts to much, as the lie is more likely to be her earlier affidavit from 2004 Chandni Chowk, which if I remember correctly, she lost to Kapil Sibal, so she can hardly get disqualified from that and it is too late anyway. My guess is that she would have the documents for this one ready to give whoever so much as raises an eyebrow, so I think that this is at best a curiosity exercise.
At best it is an embarrassment that the MP no handling education has a history of faking educational qualifications on an election affidavit.
This may not be such a bad thing from my Point of View, which is very interested in people in charge of education actually understanding the plight of alternatively schooled people and homeschoolers who can face professional prejudice over these pieces of paper which rarely return well educated citizens anyway.
Update: Several people have informed me that Section 125A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 says that false affidavit by candidate has 6 months jail punishment. This may be true. I have not verified, but it is unclear who is going to prosecute, and I doubt the government will give permission. Also, unsure if a wrong affidavit can be prosecuted 10 years later or if there is some time frame when it can be challenged. Someone with more legal knowledge is probably better qualified to comment on this than me.
The Caravan has published yet another of its very excellent mini-novel grade stories. This time around the Operation Blue star by Hartosh Singh Bal. For someone who was but a child in the times covered by this story, this was an enlightening read and I recommend you read it, since I'm not going to be summarizing the story here at all. I am no authority on the history or politics of Punjab. This post is about linkages and patterns I see beyond the story - which are also more perceptions than referenced fact.
Several things struck me about the story that I think have a deep insight for India's politics as well.
The first was the role of the Congress government in the build up of religious extremism to the point of instability and largely for reasons of political gain for the party rather than the well being of citizens. It isn't unlike what is going on with the rise of the Hindu right wing in India, with the Congress making vague comments about alarm or criticism, but never really doing anything to strike a solid blow, to the point its leaders could be publicly humiliated and party decimated this elections.
That tendency to cater to the most violent representatives of a religion (Muslim zealots included) rather than defuse aggression and uplift the masses at large seems to be alive and well to the point where the claims of secularism fell flat. This time, it seems few bought the idea that tolerating zealots of all hues is secularism and a rogue right wing ran away with the narrative. Not unlike what it sounds like from the Punjab of those days, except perhaps the violence is now uniformly perpetrated against the unarmed.
The massive following of Bhindranwale in the face of criminal acts, impotence of the state machinery to deliver justice or regain control and more too sounds like a recurring theme for India.
Short sighted strategies for political gain with little view for the impact on the larger picture? Yep.
The inability of the state to control rogues within the security establishment as well continues with encounter killings being covered up rather than brought to justice.
Bad advisers, bloodthirsty youth leaders and a leadership unable to see beyond what was presented? Yep. Leadership regretted? Yes. Leadership paid heavy price? Yes. Bad over reactions to a long nurtured problem created martyrs opposing state?
In some ways the cult like following of Bhindranwale reminds me of Bal Thackeray. The man who got a state funeral after a life of taking the law in his hands at whim. In our area, the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi rules. This party is unheard of in most of India. Founded by a local don with a murder to his name, and sporting an MLA who thrashed a cop in the Assembly, the bling of the Lok Sabha Election campaigning didn't touch our area. No posters, no mega rallies, no vans blaring messages. Perhaps they may have happened nearer the station, but not here. Our area was completely Modi free, even when the BJP candidate won - some celebrations probably happened in more central areas, but I didn't hear any fireworks sitting at home. Yet when Bal Thackeray died, his posters were splashed all over and again for the anniversary. They remained up long after the date had passed.
When it comes to love of the masses, clearly sentiment trumps law - something a state insensitive to people is ill equipped to deal with.
What was the charisma of the law breaker? Identity. Bal Thackeray may have done little to improve the lot of Maharashtrians, but in a state where the natives feel increasingly marginalized, he gave their frustrations voice, even if he did nothing very useful with it. His political affiliations too were courted, not unlike Bhindranwale.
And in Punjab, it seems every other car sports stickers in honor of the "dreaded separatist terrorist" and the BJP that is normally vociferous against terrorists and had indeed supported his killing meekly falls in line, just like Bal Thackeray's political opponents respectfully attended his funeral, even as they worried whether his party will continue to squat over the Shivaji Park and demand a memorial there.
In hindsight. I wonder if Bhindranwale's "evil" was not the violence, but the Anandpur Resolution. After all, India is a country with a rich history of might not only being right, but being rewarded with more might. On the other hand, all calls for decentralization and redistribution of power would hardly have induced cheer in the hearts of those wanting to use him as a puppet for political profit.
In many ways, the story of Operation Bluestar is still a story of India without the outright "Gangs of Waseypur" effects. What has the state learned? It is unclear.
The Bhindranwale legend continues to grow even though Bhai Mokham Singh has renounced the gun. It is clearly about identity more than legality or lack thereof. The mistrust of the central government continues to manifest in many ways, even when there remains no serious militancy anymore. In a Punjab reeling under the toll of drugs, "restoration" of many youth from alcohol and drugs takes on significance of its own. In 2003, at a function arranged by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Joginder Singh Vedanti, former jathedar of the Akal Takht made a formal declaration that Bhindranwale was a "martyr" and awarded his son, Ishar Singh, a robe of honour.
But perhaps the most fascinating for me was the last page. After losing a generation to the militancy and on the verge of losing another to drugs (or is it already lost?), what resonated in my mind was that the extent of political marginalization of the Sikhs could be expressed with one mind boggling fact.
The United Sikh Movement led by Bhai Mohkam Singh of Damdami Taksal announced to support the Aam Aadmi Party this January - partly due to the Aam Aadmi Party constituting a SIT to finally probe the 30 year old anti-Sikh riots. The only four seats Aam Aadmi Party got out of over 400 seats nationwide are from Punjab.
And the magnitude of support that this had among the people can only be measured by the fact that the BJP, usually happy to accuse AAP of supporting terrorists did not so much as whisper about the support of United Sikh Movement to AAP. They simply cannot afford to go against the legend when BJP supporters claiming Sikhs to be Hindu in a recent Twitter spat were asked by a Sikh to ask Akali Dal to repeat it in Punjab if they dare.
And I am left wondering about how history gets written. What becomes about religion, when religion becomes a tool for harvesting power, what transcends that purpose to become about survival of identity, when religion serves as an umbrella for deeper rifts in trust and how we, as a remarkably diverse country can hope to bridge differences if we don't learn from our past.
Is it possible to divorce politics from religion in a country where religion is not only interwoven with people's lives, but the traditions have roots in governing people? What is an acceptable line? What cannot be compromised for religion? Are the lines the same for all religions, or different? How can the parts that must not bend to religion be enacted without alienating people? Is it really such a big problem, or is it a problem created by a style of politics long used to exploiting religion as an easy means of harvesting support of people?
Strangely, it reminds me of Kashmir's anger over Afzal Guru, who at best was a flunky in the attack on the Indian Parliament. He had evidently quit the separatist movement as well and by no means was any hotshot hero for Kashmiris before his arrest - quite different from the already iconic SANT Bhindranwale, but managed to become the symbol of irreconcilable differences for the identity at large, way beyond the issue that put him on the wrong side of the state.
It keeps coming back to fault lines of razor wire that those in power nurture and each time, the reason appears to be political opportunism.
It is strange that our history of diversity and numerous experiences with communal fault lines has not yet led us to attempt responses that are measured and in the interests of people. Cater to exploit, crush to conquer. How long can we go on like this? When do we start healing?
In a speech at the Kanadi Sahitya Academy on the occasion of his works being translated to Kannada, Marathi playwright, author and polymath Pu La Deshpande had said that Maharashtra and Karnataka share a border, but Maharashtrians and Kannadigas share a confluence. Decades later, India is desperately in need of minds that see more confluences than borders.
To begin with, Vivek Arora (or Prismartec, Nand Dham Industrial Estate, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri East, Mumbai) will hire a good photographer, with an equally good writer, to capture our Netaji in action. The video will be telecast live on YouTube. Says Arora: “…YouTube hai ye humara live play hona chahiye … Facebbok pe live relay hona chahiye … aisa ho matlab ki aaj hua hai raat ko hua hai (…it should play live on YouTube … it should relay live on Facebook … I mean it should look like to have happened tonight only).” But he won’t allow public to react and write bad comments about Netaji.
To make our campaign on social media untraceable, Arora would get a secured connection and all the IP addresses he would use would be disabled. Listen to him: “… aapke saare ke saare jo IP address hain wo sab disable ho jaate hain … kisi ko pata hi nahin lagega kahan se aa raha hai ye (… all your IP addresses will be disabled … nobody will come to know from where all this is coming).”
To ensure the IP addresses are not tracked and blocked, he would use instead an American IP address: “… kyonki IP address block ho jaate hain … hum IP address divert kar sakte hain IP Sir US ka ho jayega (…because IP addresses get blocked … we can divert IP addresses … it will be a USIP Sir).”
He will fabricate all likes on Facebook for us and would hire college students.
Sending sms to voters two-three days before elections is not a problem for Arora: “… toh humko fir ek US ka angle lagana padega ki third party se sms aa raha hai waisa karna padega humko (… they will tell you to do it independently … so we will have to get a US angle and send the sms with the help of a third party).”
This is how he is going to beat our opponent, without us coming into picture ever, with the help of an offshore blogger: “Hum ek random blogger create kar denge wo bhi US se directly … aur Facebook pe Facebook pe aaj jitna yahan pe negative publicity karoon main agar doosre jo aap layenge humare saamne ki bhai ye thoda sa mudda uthayein jo negative usko aap uthayein … wo hum yahan pe uthayenge usko (We will create a random blogger that too directly from the US … and on Facebook … there is no limit to negative publicity on Facebook that I can do today … you have to bring before us a negative issue to raise it … we will raise is it here).”
The negative campaign will be run from the United States, with a team of four–five members of Indian origin there: “Wo toh wo toh hum US ka hi ayega wo toh direct US se kaam hoga … nahin nahin wo toh kaam hi US se hi hoga (That will come only from the US … that will be done directly from the US … no, no .. that job will be done from the US only).”
Asking us to wait to see all kinds of fireworks once the project gets going, he says he would hack the website of our political opponent a few days before elections: “Site hi down kar denge … site down ho jayegi (Site will be brought down … site will be brought down).”