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This post is republished in public interest from the Cobrapost website, which appears to be having trouble.

Cobrapost exposes more than two dozen media houses, including some prima donnas of India’s holy Fourth Estate, where they all show their underbelly in its most visceral form.

New Delhi: In the second part of Operation 136, Cobrapost has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones. ‘Operation 136: Part II,’ in fact, shows Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form, where even the “big daddies” do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has the potential to not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. This they will do if they are paid the right price, and sometimes they have no compunctions to quote a price as high as Rs. 1000 crore, as did the Times Group owner Vineet Jain, while others showed a propensity to indulge in any kind of illegality bordering on criminality.

The media houses agreeing to run the campaign are Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

We have received an exparte stay order from the honourable Delhi High Court on the evening of 24th May, 2018, which debars us from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in our investigation. The honourable High Court has passed the injunction in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing our side of the case, and we shall consequently be challenging the court order in the interest of truth and justice.

Senior Investigative Journalist Pushp Sharma used the same cover and the same ruse! Wearing the garb of a seasoned Pracharak, Sharma adopted malleable identities which he used according to the situation at hand. He first used his association with an Ujjain-based ashram, claiming himself to have been schooled at Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, to have studied in IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, settled in Australia and to have been running his e-gaming company out of Scotland. Sometimes, he claimed to be the head of the Madhya Pradesh unit of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s outfit, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, charged with party affairs in Karnataka, Maharashtra and the Northeast. At times, the journalist used all his assumed identities in a single meeting. As the investigation evolved to take on a pan-India character, he assumed the identity of a representative of a fictitious religious organization, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, a gupt vyavastha (secret arrangement), at the behest of the “Sangathan” to bolster the prospects of the party in power in coming elections.

The journalist approached these media houses with his hideous proposition. As he offered them a fortune in return, Cobrapost saw them all crumble under the weight of a “big business opportunity” that was knocking on their doors without asking. Almost all bent themselves backward to grab this opportunity. However, there were two notable exceptions, Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, which refused to play ball. No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around.

While meeting the owners and senior-most personnel of these media houses, Sharma asked them to run a media campaign on his behalf. While offering them a big fortune in terms of ad spend, which ranged anything between few crore rupees and Rs. 500 crore, he spread wide before them these essential ingredients of his agenda:

In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere.
Then, the campaign will be geared up to polarize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat, among others.
As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate.
They will have to run this campaign on all platforms – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Negotiating hard, in what you can say was a value-for-money deal, the journalist drove home all these points as they all spread a red carpet for him. The interactions that the senior journalist had with all these media houses during the course of Operation: Part II can be summed up as follows:

They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
They agreed to publish content with potential to polarize the electorate along communal lines.
They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
Many of them were ready to accept unaccounted cash, in other words, for the job to be assigned to them.
Some of them agreed to route cash through a third-party agency to turn it into white, even suggesting hawala routes such as Angadiyas.
Some of the owners or important functionaries admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality.
Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications, while others were ready to unleash their investigative teams to rake muck on opposition leaders.
Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
Many of them agreed to develop content for this invidious campaign by employing their own creative team.
Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms – print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, among others.
Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
Many of them are ready to run the content in such manner as would not look like paid for.
Almost all FM radio stations agreed to allow their customer to monopolize their free air time.
Many FM radio stations also agreed to use RJ mentions to promote the agenda: Hindutva and character assassination of rivals.

Operation 136: Part II is unique in the sense that it not only has exposed all these media houses but has also brought to the fore the fact that in a technology-driven age an agenda can find a mobile app a very effective medium to reach out to millions of users. Our expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such TV channels or newspapers. A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity to both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS, but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.

As India has slipped two paces to 138 from its position of 136, as this investigation was underway, in World Press Freedom Index (https://rsf.org/en/ranking#), Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or patronized by politicians, and it is natural for them to become their masters’ voice. It was high time we coined a new phrase to define this journalism as crony journalism a la crony capitalism. For instance, ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise if we hear its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar say: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for AP government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh government.” While this connect goes beyond the TDP, to include the BJP and other outfits, Seshidhar even goes to say that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.

On the other hand, Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the owner of the 70-year-old prominent Tamil daily published from Chennai, wears his family allegiance to the Sangh Brotherhood on his sleeve. We are, therefore, least surprised to hear him say that he has imported especially designed software which could help in the promotion of Brand Modi: “You have newsletters … sent to … brochures, leaflets sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modiji.”

It was not that Cobrapost has exposed only those high ranking-personnel whose business is to negotiate a deal and bring business to the organization they are working for. In the course of this investigation, Cobrapost found some senior journalists, who have now donned the mantle of owners or CEOs, genuflecting before their big-ticket client and happily agreeing to work for his agenda. One such senior journalist was Purushottam Vaishnav who is working for Zee Media as its CEO Regional News Channels. Agreeing to run down political rivals by unleashing their SIT on them, Purushottam said: “Content mein jo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism humlog karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo humlog karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. [Compared to Zee] None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them. For instance, Big FM Sr. Business Partner Amit Choudhary admits to the relationship between the company that owns Big FM and the party in power in no uncertain terms: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).” Then we have Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head of Open magazine, which is owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who also confesses to their allegiance to the RSS: “Acharyaji shayad aap bhi busy rehte hain aap shayad Open dekhte nahi hain regular. Main aapko ek baat bataata hoon. Open jitna support karte hain sangathan ka shayad hee koi karta hoga. (Acharyaji, perhaps you are a busy man and maybe you don’t read Open regularly. Let me tell you one thing. Nobody supports the Sangathan [RSS] as much as does Open).”

While the journalist had a tough time in convincing Ajay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm that he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement, the senior vice president of the mobile-app utility payment company candidly admitted his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP. Taking his prospective client as someone belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood, he made a very shocking revelation. Referring to the stone pelting in Kashmir last year, Ajay Shekhar said: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users.)” Paytm users may now be wondering if the company has violated its policy of privacy and data safety!

Another interesting fact that has emerged during the course of ‘Operation 136: Part II’ is that although they might be swearing by their allegiance to the RSS or the BJP, they don’t give a damn to Modi’s public stance against black money for which the Prime Minister did not back away from subjecting the entire citizenry to untold miseries by enforcing demonetization in November 2016. Punching holes in what has been gloried as “surgical strike” against black money, we found Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group, and his aide Executive President Sanjeev Shah, naming some big corporate houses which could help make black money squeaky clean and even suggesting to employ the services of ‘Angadias’—a Gujarati name for hawaladars or hawala operators of illicit money—to get the job done. While Vineet Jain says, “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge aap unhe cash de do (There are other businessmen who would give us cheque against the cash you may give them), his aide Shah informs us: “Who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Goenka says I want it in Ahmedabad so that I Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever.” Hope our Prime Minister and other arms of his government are listening!

Of all interviews that the journalist had with the owners and personnel of all these media houses in the course of this investigation, Manda Mhatre’s stands out in its revelations. While criticizing her own party, and claiming that it was the RSS leadership which ensured she got a ticket to fight election after she switched loyalties from NCP to the BJP, what the BJP legislator from Belapur, Pune, told Cobrapost is quite revealing: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum haay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP).”

We know it well that such open confessions of their allegiance to the ideology of the RSS could be brushed aside as personal opinions, but given the position they hold in their respective organizations what they say cannot be taken lightly. The reason is that it is rather the business interests that have an overarching influence on the editorial policy of a media organization, and Operation 136 has once again shown it in ample measure. The first part of Operation 136 had exposed India TV, Dainik Jagaran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN Live 24×7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.

All these on-camera confessions make it clear that the malaise of paid news has set in deep as it is no longer confined to a few individuals who would show no scruples while publishing paid content, camouflaging it as news stories or reports. Over the years, paid news has become institutionalized, as this investigation establishes, for no one in authority in news business would receive an agenda, which is overtly communal and defamatory, with enthusiasm, let alone committing to undertake it, particularly when there are clear-cut guidelines to follow and laws to abide by.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, for instance, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Section 295(A) of the IPC also provides for the same punishment to be meted out when an individual deliberately, and with malicious intent, hurts the religious feelings of a community. Then, Chapter IXA of the IPC deals comprehensively with offences related to elections. Section 171 of the IPC makes interference with the free exercise of electoral right, in any form, punishable with an imprisonment of one year or fine or both. These provisions of the IPC, thus, ensure that the offence of polarizing a group on the basis of religion, caste or community is punished. The provisions of Chapter IXA of the IPC with regard to free exercise of electoral rights are overarching in their ambit as they are also relevant paid news to influence voters to gain electoral benefits.

In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, along with Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. While Rule 6 of the Cable Rules prohibits programmes of communal nature or that promote anti-national attitudes, Rule 7 also lays down the advertisement code prohibits publication of advertisements of political or religious nature. Rule 7(10) of the Cable Rules further states that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable programmes, viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. Then, Section 125 of the RPA makes communal polarization an offence punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both, while various provisions of Section 123 declare an act aimed at polarization and the practice of paid news as “corrupt practices” making election of a candidate null and void.

Apart from these and other legal provisions, there are “Norms and Guidelines on Paid News” of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and “Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010” of the Press Council of India, which all media establishments are expected to adhere to. But do they really care for such scrupulous adherence? Our investigation says no.

We would like to make it clear that Operation 136 should in no way be taken as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution. Our investigation does not intend to cast any aspersions or pass judgment, either, on the journalists who are working in these media platforms. They have done good journalism in the past and will do so in future. However, if the management indulges in paid news, in all its gray shades, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalists to ply their trade in. This story aims to underline our earnestness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within to make course correction, so that the faith of India’s citizenry in this vibrant pillar of democracy is not dented.

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Gauri Lankesh was murdered

She was a target of Hindutva forces. She had spoken about this before. Yet, supporters of the government would like us to believe anything except the obvious suspects could be responsible.

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Let us say it loud and clear. Hindu terror units killed Gauri Lankesh. She opposed the RSS, the BJP and these hindutva forces and this killing is the silencing of that voice against hate politics.
B T Venkatesh
Gauri's lawyer

She was the fourth rationalist to be murdered in this manner

She was murdered at point blank range by two assassins who came on a motorcycle in a style similar to other rationalists before her. A professional hit by masked men who knew her routine enough to intercept it, came on motorcycles and fired shots and left.

The killers skills and weapon were good enough to shoot her 4 times in 15 seconds. Like the others, assassins aimed for her chest and head (Govind Pansare was hit in the chest and neck). Like the others before her, she didn't stand a chance. They were stalking her and it was a matter of time before they found her.

Additional striking similarities with murder of Prof Kalburgi

In addition to the similarties in the murders of all four rationalists, there are even more similarities between the murder of Gauri Lankesh and Prof. Kalburgi.

They were both attacked by assassins who came to their homes and attacked them there. (Dabholkar and Pansare were attacked on morning walks).

Like Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh also was of the view that the Lingayat community was distinct from Hinduism and merited a minority status and was vocal about it. She had also written about the Lingayats in English media.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgaQv3Jmt-Yhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF_Vx3mAFQM

So far, there is no clearly referenced Naxal threat to Gauri described other than the BJP troll factory's accusations, which are now being published in their echo chambers waiting for mainstream media to treat it "equally" with known facts.

Death threats have become a common factor

Gauri Lankesh had described the communalised atmosphere of Karnataka and threats and attacks by Hindutva forces, compared it with her father criticizing Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

She had come up with a list of who likely Hindutva targets were based on threats and put her own name as fourth on the list. Gauri's lawyer is categorical that she was killed by Hindutva forces.

BJP MLA Jeevaraj openly said in public that Gauri Lankesh would be alive if she hadn't written about the RSS.

What dweshbhakts want you to believe

The troll factory wants you to ignore everything above and believe that Naxals are "equally" suspect. Why? No one has an answer. No doubt, this is laying the groundwork for producing a "Naxal" somewhere. Who just happened to attack Gauri in the same manner as other rationalists.

This is a strategy they have performed successfully before too, when they trolled and bombarded a lazy media with enough invented facts that convinced them to look at the Gujarat riots in a "neutral" manner - as in, ignore direct testimonies and facts on record, BJP or Modi is no more responsible than anyone else.

The goal of dweshbhakts is to either discredit Gauri Lankesh to the point where people will not make too much noise about justice for her or to discredit those deamnding justice in order to create a perception that their demand is inconsequential and should be ignored.

Accordingly, they have come up with a lot of bullshit that is being propagated through usual troll networks

Gauri Lankesh was a "criminal"

The party that specializes in slander and organized slander as a method of attacking dissent now sees defamation - something journalists routinely get sued with - as a statement of her character as a "Criminal" - why? Probably because they already have a script for shooting criminals dead being a good thing.
She was already a target of Hindutva's favorite tactic of filing cases in various places to punish the target by being forced to travel constantly to attend them. The one case she lost, she was out on bail under appeal.

Gauri Lankesh's last name was Patrick

This, of course is an out and out justification of killing Christians as "deceptive". Minor problem with that. Either through sheer illiteracy or malice, the name of her newspaper - Gauri Lankesh Patrike, meaning Gauri Lankesh's journal has been misrepresented as "Gauri Lankesh Patrick" being her full name that she concealed in order to appear Hindu. Actually she is from the Lingayat community and BJP only is desperate to claim them as Hindus - they want minority religion status distinct from Hindus.

Gauri was a Naxal sympathizer - they kill their own

Objective of this is easy. They already have followers well trained in making accusations of being Naxal sympathizers. If this one sticks, they are on the home stretch of the propaganda war.
Well, decide. Was she a Naxal sympathizer and useful for their cause or a Naxal target? There is considerable evidence of her being a Hindu target,This appears to be copied accusations from the recent murder of an RSS activist where RSS-BJP held statewide strikes and then one of them was found to be the murderer.

Gauri Lankesh had a feud with her brother

The implication being that he must have killed her. This, to the best of anyone's knowledge is a longstanding ideological difference. Incidentally, her brother is joining BJP. So how does this rumor even let the Hindutva criminals off the hook if she was killed due to ideological differences with a brother with Hindutva leanings?
This brother is now parroting everything BJP prompts - give case to CBI, Naxal threat after saying no Naxal threat and what not.

Gauri was buried, not cremated

The fault for this actually lies solidly with the RSS and its Hindutva brainwashing that their followers have so little knowledge of Indian religions and traditions, that they don't know there are many Hindu communities that bury their dead. This would include Lingayats - the religion Gauri belonged to. But this is deliberate malicious propaganda aimed at exploiting the ignorance they nurture to trigger instant hate for her. Unless of course BJP wants to ask for Lingayat votes after saying those who bury their deads are Christians/Muslims.

Journalists didn't protest for other slain reporters

The objective is so transparent. You don't ask for justice every single time, therefore you can't expect justice in this murder. This piece of bullshit is actually from an alleged journalist examining five handles and deciding that they did not demand justice for previous cases.This is basically gibberish in the name of statistics.This was immediately and abundantly debunked using everything from proofs to education on statistics. No point adding a few hundred words here.

So, dweshbhakts, what is your damage?

How is it that unknown assailants have at their disposal the entire BJP propaganda machinery? Claims of innocence would have been so much easier to prove with simply demanding an investigation and asking killers to be punished. So why not?


What do you know that we only suspect?

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Big moral question these days, this business of who a legitimate citizen of India is. As fate would have it, as the super-Hindu government fucks up over and over, Muslims are among those who shine. Given the kind of publicity they get, one would imagine that Muslims are the sole saviors of India - almost as a corollary to the Hindutva government in the state being its current biggest clusterfuck. Of course, it isn't true. How a person responds when they see another in a moment of need is more about them as people than their religion. Of course, when callous disregard for human life is the norm, it seems like a dramatic flourish to show the actions of the biggest targets as worthier than those targeting them.

A few days ago, we saw the ruling party's considerable voice be misused to persecute a doctor who did his best to contain the damage of a massive crisis born of criminal negligence in Gorakhpur's Baba Raghav Das medical college. It is hardly the case that he was the only staff the hospital had, but he acted well under pressure and was appreciated by the distraught parents. Yesterday, in the aftermath of yet another clusterfuck emerging from the sheer incompetence and negligence of the Hindutva government in the center, saints injured in the Utkal Express accident managed to tell media that if it were not for Muslims, they would have died. One wonders at the saints who managed to notice the religion of their saviors even in the face of death.

In many ways, what is happening is clear. Uncomfortable with the unfair attitudes toward Muslims, those who see them for the hate speech that they are, are trying to shame the Hindutva supremacists into seeing that those they support are responsible for deaths due to incompetence and neglect over and over, while the Muslims they like to find fault with are saving lives within those tragedies too. There is a catch. Hindutva extremists do not feel shame if it is pointed out that they made false accusations about Muslims. They make false accusations about Muslims routinely and on purpose. One would imagine that this works toward acknowledging the "other side" of Muslims, but in reality, it elevates absurd nonsense to the respect of an argument made in a logical debate that requires answering.

Now here is the problem. In acknowledging the "other side", you end up legitimizing the nonsensical and rabid first side. This is a mirror of the technique that was used to whitewash Modi from the "butcher of Gujarat" to "Vikas purush". Tenders on Gujarat government funds for reporting "news" that showcased the "development" in Gujarat - public funds openly used for paid news, while ignoring its ongoing horrendous human development aspects. Then trolls were unleashed to target individual journalists and dissenting voices with these pieces of propaganda in hand to "prove" that critics of Modi were showing only "one side" of the picture. Cornered over and over, the journalists started exerting caution about what they said on social media. They started being carefully "neutral" and "including the other side" of the story to avoid being called out in public by angry e-mobs.

Of course, it is a head fake. There is no "other side" to hatred being wrong. There is no "other side" to crimes being wrong. There is no such thing as "putting your finger in an electrical socket is bad, but you can do it on Tuesdays and it won't harm". The Hindutva right invents these "other sides" out of thin air at convenience.

But faced with a barrage of propaganda, many were fooled into thinking Modi was innocent and targeted by vested interests. Surely all his desperate pleas to show Gujarat's prosperity were the signs of a man sincerely into development? Well, we saw the sincerity about development over the last three years first hand. Random people were put up to promise grand "deals" in Vibrant Gujarat summits and the lack of the deals materializing wasn't reported. Carefully concerted media efforts ensured that the fake news plants out-shouted the expose and prevailed.

Today, we have the opposite. Where that was an effort to cover up reality, after this government came to power, what we see is an effort to invent a reality - where only those loyal to the BJP have a right to live in India. Everyone else can go to Pakistan. Intoxicated on dreams of disenfranchising people they dislike, bhakts couldn't care less if nothing useful is actually delivered to them. The intoxication of power over another's safety means they are important people, right? Supporting the right man, so they are important people. They decide who has permission to live in India and who doesn't.

Every day the Muslims prove themselves worthy of belonging to the country they were born. "Jeene do becharon ko, kisi ki jaan bachayenge kal." Hindutva's biggest supremacist achievement. A default of half the country as being unworthy of belonging in the country for some reason or the other. If detesting the ruling party were enough to strip someone of citizenship, India would have become Hindutva free in the 60 years of Congress rule they keep harping about. It is fine to detest the government and you are still an Indian with complete right to being in this country. What is going on is basically thugs trying to attack people and make them flee.

"Muslims are a threat to Hindus!"

Strive to show how they save lives and establish the norm by submitting exceptions to scrutinize.

"Dalits are unworthy"

Showcase their achievements or competence and prove it by providing exceptions to the rule.

The TV channels that served by looking the other way are now serving by scrutinizing the targets of one political party that has never ruled India for any significant period and pretending it is the whole of India.

This too is a head fake. And the more you engage with it, the more you feed it, the more it grows. There is no such thing as Muslims being inherently criminal. There is no such thing as dalits being inherently unclean. It is all the propaganda of supremacists trying to disenfranchise everyone except themselves to become the biggest bullies on the block. The answer to this isn't posting links about individual Muslims for them to peer at and go, "ok, this one may be all right, but most Muslims are criminals". The answer isn't posting links about dalit achievements so that they can go "ok, this one may be clever, but otherwise they are too stupid to achieve anything on merit". There is no actual argument here that you are refuting. It is the chest thumping of bullies forcing you to play by their rules.

Sure, admire Muslims if they do something good, just like you'd admire Hindus or anyone else, but admire them for their deeds, not an accident of birth for being born into a specific religion and thus serving as a convenient example to answer a fictitious requirement. Admire the work of dalits for its own sake. There is no need to "prove" their worthiness. There is nothing inherently unworthy about them. I'll tell you why.

When you point out individual examples like rare gems, you're seeing the gems, but it is also an unintended "rare" being conveyed. There is nothing rare about Muslims being nice people or dalits achieving something. They are people, just like everyone else. They have their good, bad, achievers, good-for-nothings and everything in between. Don't fall for this nonsense and start proving that they have good qualities, as though if they didn't, their dienfranchisement was right.

Get this straight. There is no quality control test for remaining a legitimate citizen. A citizen is a legitimate citizen no superior or inferior to other citizens unless there is a formal procedure revoking the citizenship. Just look at the chest thumping monuments to proud refusal to coexist - would they qualify as good members of any place that wanted to stay whole? If they are citizens without a problem, why would people minding their own business not be?

No one has to deserve being a citizen. Just look at all the privileged idiots proudly showcasing ignorance and bigotry and still citizens. It isn't only meritorious dalits or life-saving Muslims who need respect. All citizens are equal under law and they all have same value.

Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. There is nothing to prove here.

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Why is it becoming more and more uncomfortable to live within one’s own country, among people that we took for granted shared our view of the world? 2014 marked the year in which family and friends turned into aliens and opponents. Conversations invariably broke down at the point where Narendra Modi was seen as the great white hope for India. No logic worked against a recitation of the wrongs of UPA 2, plus AAP not being mature enough or ready, plus the magic word – ‘Development’ that a likely BJP government was going to deliver. One’s misgivings about Hindutva had to remain as mere mutterings, among the pitying looks of cousins and siblings.

Now 2017 has arrived as the year in which it is impossible to be in a crowded airport or railway station without wondering how many of the people around you will look on with interest at a mob lynching some innocent, and perhaps even justify the act  with arguments if you dare to protest.  After all, on social media, it is educated and articulate people who are trolling any criticism of hyper-nationalism or Gauraksha. The deep discomfort in crowds of any sort makes me wonder if I am having a serious mid-life crisis, or my country has changed into something so unrecognizable that I have begun to believe the worst of my neighbours  and acquaintances.

My being a believer has fed much of my work, producing books on pilgrims and seekers, and finding faith resilient in the poorest toymakers and street vendors. Yet, today, I have also become uncomfortable with the religion I was born into because I feel no identification whatsoever with those who are making loud claims in the name of that religion with no regard for facts, truth, or the feelings of their fellow citizens. And, although this is a mere blip in our ongoing relationship, I have also begun to express increasing discontent and despair to my personal God in the face of what I perceive to be evil getting increasingly rewarded around me.

So many questions confront me on any given day.  Was a bottomless reservoir of hate and bigotry always present amidst our people? How do today’s lynch mob leaders tap into this with a single WhatsApp message and collect an instant crowd? How many who go by the label ‘Hindu’ actually rejoice at the wounding or death of a Muslim fellow citizen in our country? Visceral questions, with no easy answers.

Till a few years back, crowds meant something else for me.  As I  walked with Varkaris to Pandharpur, joined the immense human congregation at the Mahakumbh in 2001, met kaanwariyas at the Haridwar Shravan mela and at Deoghar in Jharkhand, climbed to Tirupati and Vaishno Devi, I saw the transformative power of collective faith. Caste distinctions recede on such pilgrimages, when the fellow believer begins to be called by a generic name – ‘Mauli’ on the way to Pandharpur, or ‘Bam’ on the way to Deoghar. Sharing of resources, helping others when they are weary or tired, breaking into a song of prayer together, all this is behavior that is par for the course on such journeys. All the years when I walked alongside them, I never saw the crowds of the faithful as potential murderers.

And yet, from recent events, it is obvious that some of the killers of Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan may also have been pilgrims at some point. As I think of the kaanwariyas carrying water and walking hundreds of kilometres, I can’t help but wonder at whether the ordinarily devout, the Durga Puja attendees and katha organizers have become members of predatory mobs?

Any attempt to answer this question must undoubtedly make us reflect on why we have failed to strengthen the secular fabric of India.  Prof. Ashis Nandy, who wrote An Anti-Secularist Manifesto in 1995, and who writes in his seminal essay The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance, “I call myself an anti-secularist because I feel that the ideology and politics of secularism have more or less exhausted their possibilities”, has unpacked the concept of secularism painstakingly in the Indian context. Pointing out that religions in our part of the world have become split into religion-as-faith versus religion-as-ideology, he describes the latter as a “subnational, national, or cross national identifier of populations contesting for or protecting non-religious, usually political or socio-economic, interests.” For me, the religion as faith that I encountered as a pilgrim was distinct from the religion as Hindutva ideology that I abhor. The fudging of both by the SC verdict in the Manohar Joshi vs. N.B. Patil case in 1995 made it appear as if Hindutva was the sum of many cultural practices and beliefs, posing no threat to non-Hindus. But as we have seen so clearly in recent years, de facto Hindutva means aggressive posturing on the ground to pursue a nationalist agenda and protect distinct political and socio-economic interests.

If secularists have been unable to make such distinctions clear in the minds of citizens and voters, it is futile to once again hold Amit Shah and Narendra Modi responsible. Instead, it is clearly a result of secularists’ refusal to engage with questions of faith and identity in any meaningful way.  To many, religion and the way it is expressed around us seems too messy or backward to bother with. When I wrote in my books about the visible expressions of faith I had experienced first-hand, I often had friends wonder why I found the melas and the kaanwariyas so fascinating. Modernity, a desire for development, and a secular outlook means for many in my social milieu a complete disregard for the inconvenient, bedraggled, jugadu hordes of poor pilgrims struggling to reach temples and deities and holding up traffic in the NCR.

Kanwariyas
Kanwariyas

For such people longing for a ‘developed’ India that will leave all such messy struggles behind, a vote for Modi in 2014 actually meant a vote for an increased role for the private sector without the ball and chain of environmental safeguards dragging down corporate India. The rights of tribals and displaced communities, the increased disparities of income and the contrasts in urban India between utter comfort and utter despair didn’t cause upper middle class urban Indians to lose much sleep. As a society we have lived for far too long with the twin evils of entitlement and deprivation, and nothing in our environment encourages us to think beyond the interests of our family, caste, or class. Protecting secular discourse was not a priority for too many, unless it represented an attack on their own personal freedom.

Today when I share with my journalist friend Rahul Pandey a frustration with the lack of any political opposition to the tactics of the BJP, he says, “Na Ram hai, na Bam, sab chhalava hai.” (There is neither Ram, nor the Left, it is all wholesale fraud and deception.) He refuses to accept that the BJP is winning elections only on the basis of their WhatsApp armies.  “Why would WhatsApp work without any real work being put in?” he asks me. “The VHP have gone door to door, in village after village in UP, and tied dharm-raksha-sutra (Save your faith bands) around the wrists of lakhs of people in their homes. Which party can claim such cover? The Sanghis have conducted Swachhata Abhiyan (Cleanliness campaigns) in village after village. Their workers and volunteers remain visible to the public at all times. This is what makes their WhatsApp mobilization work.”

The Sangh and its affiliates have also perfected the art of silent communication at religious events with a cultural significance.  My activist friend Arvind Murti says, of a recent event around the Thrissur temple “I was there recently on an occasion where at least fifty thousand people were present, and a host of cultural activities were being put on. Not a single political leader from either the LDF or the UDF was present. The only visible leaders were from the Sangh umbrella organizations. It made me acutely conscious of how secular parties are missing important opportunities for communication by disregarding such occasions and festivals.” I knew exactly what he was talking about because I have been at the chariot festival of Chennai’s Kapaleeswar temple, when thousands of people converge in Mylapore in a completely apolitical celebration. However, the volunteers of VHP are still milling about among the people, distributing water and butter milk sachets. Somewhere, in interpreting  secularism as a lifestyle that shuns the mention of God or religion, secular parties and leaders have distanced themselves from  cultural practices that deliver their countrymen to the Sangh without protest or effort.

For Prof. Ashis Nandy, secularism and tolerance can only be recovered by re-connecting with the ideals of faith, not by denying them. He points to Gandhi as the believer whose compassion and tolerance stemmed from his religion, not in spite of it. For millions of poor Hindus, who have felt excluded from the prosperity of their secular, modern fellow citizens, the Sangh gives honorifics and titles that bring a role of prominence as an anti-Romeo squad member or a Gau Rakshak. Such actions may actually be bringing these people a legitimacy whose importance we are unable to comprehend from a position of eternal privilege.  If secularism’s goose is not to be well and truly cooked in India we have to prepare to move once more among our people and ask them the questions that matter. For this, it seems, we can depend on no political leader or party.

So if we are to reclaim the ground we have ceded to those who always talk of ‘hurt sentiments’ and explain each violent mob attack as an expression of the people’s emotions, we need to attack the idea of Hindus as victims. We need to bring such questions as the ones below in the public domain, whether through Whatsapp, social media or conversation. The idea of the majority community being victims in their own homeland is the biggest falsehood of the Sangh, being used to perpetuate fear and hatred in equal measure. ‘Have you ever been stopped from worshipping your favourite deity, or doing pooja in your homes?’ is something we can ask fellow Hindus. ‘If not, why do you feel insecure in your own home and country?’

‘Who are the people telling you your homes are in danger, your women are in danger? Don’t you believe your God is powerful enough to protect you and your family? Why then pick up arms and who do you want to attack?’

‘When you rush to attack and kill, whether for money/recognition/reward, don’t forget that you will have to account for it before your God. Yeh kaun sa Bhagwan hai  jo kisi insaan ko maarne ke liye majboor kar raha hai?

No great knowledge of religion or scriptures is needed to counter the majoritarian poison of the Sangh. All it needs is nudging the people to tap into their own faith of God being their protector, not the other way around. After all, in the crowds of pilgrims I used to travel with, each was seeking his or her own liberation, however hard and arduous the journey was.

Unfortunately, around a bend in the path and in our nation’s history, many of these seekers met not the God who would provide ‘mukti’, but the politician who demanded eternal slavery of mind and soul.

So are we, privileged and educated Hindus, up to having these conversations among ourselves?

Originally published here.

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A guest post by Hari Prasad on the propaganda prevailing in India, the nature of it and the implications it has for the country and its ability to understand its government.

India. It was May, 26th 2014. There was a coronation in front of an historic building to an undisputed emperor of the purportedly new dawn, the king of good days (not times). There was hope, expectation, (misplaced) rejuvenation among many and there was anxiety, curiosity, worry and suspense among another lot. What one thinks and feels (or felt of thought) is not relevant when it comes to judge what has happened since.

There have been seemingly unconnected statements made by various ‘fringes’ – a term which is mostly an excuse by the present ruling dispensation in India and its larger family the RSS. It is important to see why these statements and certain actions are to be seen in cohesion and not as so called ‘isolated’ anomalies.

But how are things handled these days in India? How is criticism taken these days in India? How is opposite point of view is viewed in India? All of these not by Indians but by the present ruling dispensation and its cohorts in India.

I have kept the prose very rudimentary, less grammatical and only in hints or examples (not explanations) and there is a reason to it.

Ad hominem:

You place an argument and instead of responding to that argument, we are called names. I will let you assume what those names have been and how many people have been victims of those. To electoral opponents in Delhi to an economist.

Ad nauseum:

How many times have we heard a single or very limited ideas being repeated – like ‘Love jihad’ or ‘us vs them’ or ‘appeasement of past’?

Appeal to authority:

How many seemingly unconnected and extremely opposite national icons have been appropriated by this group? Bhagat Singh was a completely left. Ambedkar called Hinduism “a veritable chamber of horrors.” Netaji had nothing to do with RSS. Patel was opposed to RSS. Yet, and that’s where the beauty lies, they are being appropriated.

Appeal to Prejudice:

How many loaded and emotive election campaigns have we seen during 2014 and two years after that? Whether it is 15lakh per person to Muslim across the border in Assam to crackers across the border in Bihar, to the latest Kairana, we have come a long way in just appealing to only emotions.

Big Lie:

The big lie was economy was absolutely down. Nothing moved. Policy paralysis. Based on the new series (or magic series, if you are one of the critics), in fact the economy didn’t do as bad in numbers published by the finance ministry in final years of UPA. But in meetings after meetings, in interviews after interviews we heard the word “revival” used sparingly and without any inherent meaning. There was no concrete proof provided on what that word meant. There was neither concrete proof provided for the word “in shambles.”

And oh, the global economy was blamed. And what did the world see after 2008? A high growth and high demand period? (more on specifics in another post)

Black and white fallacy:

Sometime back, I wrote on ‘is and the ought.’ Apart from those, we have been provided with few false choices during these two years. A shining example – “have four kids or else…”

Cherry Picking:

Savarkar sympathizers quoting Gandhi, to their own convenience. The irony died multiple times in the past two years.

Classical Conditioning:

If you are against this government or its policies, you are termed you know what by you know who. What happened and is happening to the NGOs and the activists in Chatisgarh is beyond comprehension.

Common Man:

Remember the photo ops – worshipping parliament, crying in central hall, posing with broom. These appeal to the common folks, just like you and me. And by the way what is wrong with it? Nothing, if they are true and honest and we know now those are not. When you work actively to topple elected government, your empty symbolism is sheer waste.

Cult personality:

My favourite. There is nothing wrong in personality but everything wrong with Cult personality. Name a person in India who has used mass (and social) media to have cultivated idealized, heroic and worshipful image? The never-wrong image fuels the followers and in turn feeds the person as well.

Demonizing the enemy:

Remember the Hitler and Akbar comparison by a dimwit? Libtards sounding bastards to refer liberals. Presstitute sounding prostitute or press? These are sub-human and at once demonizes all opponents.

Dictat:

Indian Prime Ministership is supposed to be first among equals. There has never been a PM apart from Nehru who personified this. However, there was nothing called as Dictat from the last PM. But now, there are Diktats – Yoga Day on Ramzan, Good Governance day on Christmas etc. With short term memory, we forget the burqa diktat in one Jaipur rally of BJP and yea, asking colleges to send pupils to its Mhow rally.

Disinformation:

Dadri. JNU and Hyderabad University. Created false records, forged video to convince us of some untruth. This also has extended to conceal truths by censorship. Udta Punjab is a case in point and not the end of it. Kerala – somlia comment. Amit Shah showing a Sri Lanka kid’s pic with the words “God’s own curse”

Euphoria:

Circa 2014. Need say more? Or all the NRI meets.

Exaggeration:

Modi lied about paying off Gujarat’s debt before and he lied about 15 lakh per person on black money. And I am waiting and so are crores. These are all classic case of exaggeration which are allowed only to poets and if politicians use this licence they have one word for it – LIARS!

Fear, uncertainty and doubt:

With demonization and name calling, few sections of society are left in fear. They have to prove everytime that they are innocent and the starting point of any debate is under the assumption that they are guilty.

Flag-waving:

After 6 decades of independence we are left with a debate on nationalism and patriotism. Now, we are expected to prove our patriotism first when we debate the idiots and foxes in power. To provoke nationalism is one thing, it can harness good in a society but the flag waving group is certainly not doing for it.

Guilt by association:

You are associated with congress, yes you are guilty and anti-national. Well, when they cross the river and come over to BJP, their sins are cleansed by Ganga jal and are reborn. Assam to Uttarakhand to Arunachal we have seen it all.

Half truth:

“Despite being Muslim….” That’s how a minister referred to Late APJ Abdul Kalam. He was a Muslim, yes, no denying that but ‘despite’?

Intentional Vagueness:

This government is a master in not disclosing facts and trumpeting on motherhood statements. Take for example BJP-PDP alliance. Or for example the Naga accord. What are the specifics? What have we conceded or accepted to? Bharat Mata is worshipped but “afforestation commitment” and “Forests Rights Act” certificate have been removed for miners!

Labelling:

Aadarsh Liberals. Libtards. Sicklar. Presstitutes. Barmaid.

These are easy, simple, deceptive, meaning less but enchants the crowd. (Bhakt is a praise and cannot be called as pejorative.)

Managing the news:

As Arun Shourie said, this government is managing the news and not the economy. What we are given now are recurrent themes – “under threat,” “love jihad,” “illegal migration,” “fastest growing” and acronyms and abbreviations for endless recycled policies and schemes. But actions on those? Never mind.

Minimization:

Dadri. It was not a cow. No, wait. It was a cow. So killing is justified. An unjustifiable position is justified. Go online and see comments and feedback on Godhra and the answer is glaring.

Name calling:

Should it be elaborated? How many facts based arguments have we seen in the past two years? Every issue is twisted to make it emotionally suitable to a point of view, to an agenda, to a predisposed conclusion. Oh! And don’t forget a former general calling some Dog. Behold, Sickulars!

Oversimplification:

Pakistan, China and the like. We have seen and heard solutions to all. We have seen and heard the past government being (rightly) criticized for handling these issues and were offered “56 inch.” But what have we seen? ISI has visited our Air Base, China came in last week, Nepal screwed and no, we love Africans (but only one of our CMs has a reservation about Nigerians). Results? A big big zero.

Rationalization:

How many reasons have we been offered for completely indefensible acts?

Scapegoating:

Oh yea. Blame it on Nehru. Blame it on Congress. Blame it on Mughal Rule (note: not on British Rule). But I am incapable to providing solutions or answers. All I can do is blame the past. And no, don’t question me on my work. Because, I am a patriot.

Also, keeping a one arm distance, the ‘fringes’ are offered as scapegoats whereas they are perfectly in line with the mind-set and ideology of the ruling dispensation.

Stereotyping:

NGOs are foreign national plant. Christians are converting beasts. Most of the supporters actually believe this garbage. And no, I need not say anything about their thoughts on Muslims. A quick stroll through whom the PM ‘follows’ in Twitter will give a glimpse of the stereotyping.

Testimonial:

In March, 2016, BJP tweeted a purported quote of Mahatma Gandhi praising Savarkar. However, when I tried searching a lot, I couldn’t find a quote.

Third Party technique:

Another testimonial came in the form of WikiLeaks which praised Modi as corruption free. Remember? That was also a lie. An organization which is respected and hated worldwide was quoted without any authentication or permission and self-glorified itself.

Unstated Assumption:

One follower, a famous one at that said “When pest control is done at homes, cockroaches, insects etc come out. The house gets cleaned up.” What is the implication? Eradication of all who are opposing this government of us? Or even if they oppose what is the written law, so what? The unstated assumption here is that like Hitler used vermin, he had used it and threatened whoever is opposed to whatever this government thinks it as right. So did he propose a ‘final solution’ to the problem?

Virtue words:

Truth alone triumphs

The world is one single family

Non-violence is the topmost Dharma

Let good thoughts come from everywhere

All spiritual paths are treated equally

“Sahana bavathu… let there be no hostility”

These were pre-2014 words of Modi’s Idea of India.

As recently as last week, we have seen the double message – Vikas from PM and Kairana from the planner.

So why are all these necessary? What are these random phrases? These are phrases which define any propaganda machinery. Their methods, techniques and their ways. Its hard to see things in isolation but when you connect the dots, you have it all.

Without knowing and without being obvious, what we are seeing and living with is a propaganda machinery at work. We can’t search for a plan, a blueprint. What we are left with are actions on ground, inferences glaring at our face, wanting to take note and stand up and raise our voice.

Why was the prose kept very simple? Because someone in the past said that propaganda must be kept simple.

What is Propaganda?

The dictionary describes it as “information, especially of biased nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

What will this trend lead to?

People who have the power also have the responsibility to do. In our case, we have the power to resist such schemes, manipulations and twisting of facts. If we stand and watch silently, if we think that this has not happened to me so it will never happen to me, I leave you with these wise words of Niemoller.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Dissent, debate and disagreement are cornerstones of a vibrant democracy. By using the techniques of propaganda, the ruling party and its affiliated ‘parivar’ are undermining it. Brick by brick, the edifice of our democracy is being eroded in front of our eyes and we are remaining mute spectators.

If we think, this will not happen to India, just because this is India, we are either living in fools’ paradise or utterly stupid.

Wake up, its propaganda!

Originally published here