Category Archives: Politics
It has been more than a month since the Citizenship Amendment Act or the CAA was passed by both the houses of the Indian parliament. The protests that started immediately following the passage have continued unabated for over a month despite more than thirty deaths due to heavy handed police tactics. Many more have been imprisoned on flimsy charges for excercising their right of free speech and assembly.
In state after state, in towns large and small and cities, on college campuses, at the court houses, at historic venues, the anti-CAA protesters are registering their protest against the body blow to India’s founding principles by singing the national anthem and reciting the preamble to the constitution.
After the passage of the bill in mid-December a feeling of helplessness enveloped me. I was afraid for India’s Muslims and other vulnerable groups. The rise of the BJP from a bit player on the political scene to its current status is built on the demonization of Muslims and anti-Muslim pogroms. Those fears were realized when reports of the brutal police actions in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led states, especially in Uttar Pradesh started trickling in.
The CAA takes aim at the heart of the Indian Constitution by singling out Muslims and treating them differently than adherents of other religions. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens would be a living nightmare not just for the 100 million plus Muslim population but also the poor and dispossessed. The NRC conducted in Assam gives us a window on how a similar exercise conducted on a national scale would turn out.
The BJP had tried to pass this law in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t have the numbers to pass it through the upper house, Rajya Sabha prior to the elections last May. But after gaining an imposing majority in the Lok Sabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP’s agenda in the Rajya Sabha and the bill passed both the Houses easily.
(Left to Right : The Sangh role model, Mr. Modi in the Sangh uniform and RSS cadres marching)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a rally scheduled in Houston this Sunday. WalMart is one of the sponsors and the President of the United States has promised to attend along with an estimated 50,000 attendees.
What bright future are we talking about? The Indian economy is in the doldrums, minority populations live in fear, rapists are not arrested if they belong to the ruling party while activists fighting for the rights of the dispossessed languish in jail without a trial. As for dreams, the dream of a Hindutva dominated India where minorities are persecuted and dissenting voices are silenced, sounds more like a nightmare. Where the truth is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and history is rewritten to service the ideology of hate.
Why is Modi doing this? My guess is for the publicity and for the $$. It’s also a reward for those among the diaspora who opened their wallets for Modi’s reelection. This rally would give the Prime Minister a much needed PR boost internationally after the draconian anti-democratic steps being taken in Kashmir since August 4th. It will show his fans and supporters back home in India that India has the world’s respect. Getting the US president who routinely demonizes immigrants, to a rally attended mostly by immigrants is definitely a PR coup for team Modi.
I was actually surprised that the White House accepted the invitation. Indian Americans have voted heavily for Democratic candidates in the recent past, see the figure below. Some have suggested that the crowd size may have been the irresistible attraction. Besides the fact that the Hindu right has deep pockets.
In addition to the President, 60 other elected leaders of both parties have promised to attend according to the organizers. Here is the list of those whose names appear in the news dispatch.
- Raja Krishnamoorthi
- John Cornyn
- Ted Cruz
- Al Green
- Pete Olson
- Sheila Jackson Lee
- Sylvia Garcia, Greg Abbot
- Cindy Hyde-Smith
- Ami Bera
- Brian Babin
- Brad Sherman,
- Eliot Engel
Firstpost is reporting that Steny Hoyer is also going to attend.
Check if your representative or senator is on the list and going to share a podium with a man who presided over a pogrom targeting Muslims in 2002 as the chief executive of Gujarat and is pursuing a nakedly majoritarian agenda in his second term as the prime minister. Actions in Kashmir being the case in point, where people have been without internet or cell phone access and access to medical care since August 4th.
Check out the BBC for news updates on Kashmir.
Watch this space for more updates on this developing story of the Houston rally. If you have questions leave them in the comments.
It has been over a week since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right hand man from Gujarat, Amit Shah who is now the home minister changed the constitution of India with little debate in the parliament. Modi government has abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution. The state has been under curfew and a strict communication blockade for the last eleven days. Former Kashmiri chief ministers are under arrest.
Article 370 concerns the accession of Kashmir to India, while 35A granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir a degree of autonomy to make laws governing the citizenry of the state. They have been revoked by the government in New Delhi with no input from the citizens of Kashmir. Constitutional scholars can argue about the legalistic validity of these moves, but these actions are undemocratic and unworthy of a constitutional democracy. They blatantly disregard the will of the people of Kashmir. The central government is acting as a colonial power within its own boundaries. Muslim majority Kashmir has been reduced to little more than a colony of Hindu majority India. You can see the population breakup from the 2011 census in the table that I have included. These were the fears that lead to the partition of India. This move reopens the wounds of partition which in Kashmir’s case were never healed.
What this does in practical terms is it strips of Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and partitions it into two administrative regions. Jammu and Kashmir being the first region and the Buddhist majority Ladakh being the other.
It also means the death of the Indian Republic as it was conceived by the generation that fought for Indian independence. The ideological ancestors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were nowhere to be found in the freedom struggle. Instead, they were busy criticizing the Indian National Congress and collaborating with the British.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir, independent India’s only Muslim majority state was guaranteed limited autonomy when they agreed to become a part of India instead of Pakistan after the partition of India. This has been an anathema to the Hindu right since India’s inception. A thorn in the side of their dream of a muscular Hindu state where other religions are not equal but merely tolerated.
Modi and Shah’s actions betray India’s founding principles, and undermine both federalism, religious freedom. The intellectual heirs of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassins are enacting their vision of India. That the BJP did this after getting a brute majority in the elections held earlier this year is not surprising. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS)’s agenda on this issue has been clear since India’s independence when their political arm was called the Jan Sangh.
What has been rather disappointing and sad is the feeble to non-existent opposition response and sycophancy of India’s prestige media like the Times of India, the Hindu and India Today. Most of the Indian media is either not covering this major story or giving cover to the government in New Delhi.
One has to go the web-only outlet, The Wire to find Kashmir covered in detail. This story is still developing and I will post updates.
Table I : Population Breakup of the Jammu and Kashmir from the 2011 census
The results of the 17th Loksabha elections are out. The Bharatiya Janaty Party (BJP) has won a comfortable majority on it own steam, 303 of a total of 545 seats. While the Indian National Congress (INC or just the Congress)’s haul was 52 seats. It was a clean sweep for the ruling party in the Hindi heartland and western India. Rahul Gandhi who led the INC in this election lost his seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (UP). A seat he had held since 2004. Besides Rahul three other members of the Gandhi family have represented the Amethi consituency since 1980.
UP is the Hindi heart of India. Being the most populous state its sends the greatest number of representatives among all states to the Loksabha. This year the INC has won only one seat in Uttar Pradesh (UP) of a total of 80 and the BJP has won 62. That’s the entire story of these elections in a nutshell. Since what happens in UP determines political fortunes in India.
Rahul Gandhi made mistakes at both the tactical and at the strategic level. Instead of forming pre-poll coalitions to take on the ruling the party they fielded their own candidates in more than 400 constituencies. Most importantly, Rahul Gandhi ceded the ideological space to BJP by letting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi define the terms of the battle, whether it be national security or the place of minorities in the polity. Instead of taking the fight to the BJP, Congress ran away from the fight. This included maintaining a studied silence about the entire Pulwama incident, when it happened, not fielding enough Muslim candidates for the fear of being labeled pro-Muslim and even shying away from visiting Muslim majority areas to ask for their vote. Electorates rarely reward cowardice or incompetence.
So how did the party that led the independence struggle against the British rule and oversaw the establishment of the modern Indian state, its constitution and its institutions come to this sorry pass?
(To be continued)
ETA: The new government wants to stress learning Hindi, so before I go, check out this video which celebrates the linguistic diversity of India, another obstacle to the ultimate goal of the Hindu Rashtra where everyone speaks Hindi and is Hindu. I am so old that I remember when Unity in Diversity was India’s creed.
ETA2: They have walked it back, after a huge outcry from the southern states. I think they were just testing the waters. They will float this proposal again.
(To be continued)
5/23 Update: The Election Commission has started counting the votes and Modi seems to be headed for a second term.
This is a brief primer to help you make sense of the main players on the Indian political scene. Ther Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) is currently in power, its main opposition, is the Indian National Congress. Then there is a third mostly left of center grouping which calls itself Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) and advocates for the rights of Bahujans (common people, a short hand term for the alliance of Other Backward Castes and Dalits*).
The key to understanding Indian politics is caste, region and ideology, in that order. Most of the analyses I see in the western media and much of the English language media in India misses that point, by focusing solely on ideology and the two main parties. They also ignore India’s linguistic diversity, and regional politics which vary greatly. Most importantly, they ignore caste which plays roughly the same role that race plays in US politics.
In this post I will focus on the BJP and its leader, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Bharatiya Janata Party: Is the party in power at the center (federal level) right now. It won an outright majority during the last Loksabha elections in 2014. It was the first time a party other than the Congress had managed this feat. The previous BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed a coalition government.
Before 2014, Mr. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. On the national stage he was credited with the economic growth the state had achieved and the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Ahmedabad, precipitated by the events in Godhra.
Since his election in 2014, Mr. Modi’s government has delivered on the items on hard right agenda. Banning the slaughter of cows had been a long stated goal of the Hindutva hardliners. Twenty states out of twenty nine now have restrictions on the slaughter of cows. It may come as a surprise to many that majority of Hindus are not vegetarian and some even eat beef. These cattle slaughter bans have hit the poor and lower caste Hindus as well as Muslims the hardest. Roving bands of vigilantes who call themselves cow protectors have used these bans to intimidate and sometimes lynch people.
Modi’s record on the economic front has been questionable. The much touted demonetization scheme aimed at removing high denomination currency out of the economy to combat corruption missed all of its stated goals. India’s suffering farmers have seen no respite and the unemployment numbers have been the worst in forty years.
BJP purports to speak on the behalf of all Hindus but their agenda and their saffron roving bands make many Hindus, let alone religious minorities, who don’t share its dogma, nervous. They are not being paranoid because many activists agitating on the behalf of those in tribal areas and lower castes sit in jail under trumped up charges. Journalists have died for speaking out as have academics like M. M Kalburgi.
BJP is the political arm of the all male Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps) modeled after Europe’s Fascist movements of the early twentieth century. RSS seeks to unite Hindus separated by caste, language and region into militant nationalism called Hindutva. RSS was formed in British India in 1925 by K. B. Hedgewar, a Brahmin physician from Maharashtra and has its head quarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra. They were largely absent during India’s freedom struggle against the British, spent most of their time attacking Congress and complaining about their tactics. Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse had RSS links.
BJP and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh never achieved much in the way of electoral success until the late 80s. Their electoral fortunes changed when they adopted building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in place of Mughal emperor Babur’s mosque as their core issue.
The most important project of RSS and other Hindutva idealogues has been to rewrite history to further their own agenda. The last 5 years has seen the mainstreaming of previously fringe RSS propaganda into the political discourse. We have seen the lionization of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, vilification of Jawarhlal Nehru, India’s first Prime minister and to a lesser extent of Mohandas Gandhi. Orwell’s 1984 seems to be their Bible, or should I say Gita?
The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Ultimately what is stake in this election is the truth, we will see if India lives up to its motto,
सत्यमेव जयते ( Satyameva Jayate)
And if the truth ultimately triumphs.
In part two of this series I will discuss and analyze the results and the other two other major political groupings contesting the elections.
(*Dalit = downtrodden, these are mostly castes considered to be at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and many are considered ritually impure. Many of these taboos still persist in parts of India. Prejudice against these castes by those in power is commonplace).
Diwali, the festival of lights is here. May there be light in both my ancestral and my adopted home which have taken a disastrous turn towards darkness in the recent years by electing leaders who maintain their grip on power by appealing to fear and by fostering hate.
We all need to do our bit to banish the darkness, so go vote, if you haven’t voted yet, go vote. Your country needs you, the world needs you. Your vote is your voice and your message. Vote for those who cannot vote to protect themselves, the children still separated from their parents sitting in cages, immigrants who pick your lettuce, the doctors who could potentially save your life after you have had a heart attack. The knowlege workers and other immigrants performing tasks large and small to keep the economy humming and the country running. The current president and the compliant legislature controlled by his party, the Republican party has declared a war on them by calling them moochers, job stealers, rapists and murders.
Vote to protect the future generations who will have to bear the brunt of the tax cuts for the 1% and ravages of global warming. Go out there and vote. People have died so you have the right to vote. I voted early, my first vote in a general election after becoming a citizen last July.
So light your lamp be a force for good and vote blue.
Unless you are a Republican, its not going to work for you, kitteh, so behave yourself. The number of credible allegations against the President’s Supreme Court nominee seem to be increasing by the day. So, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has been in the news and on my mind, so I made a lol about it, which made the first page. It seems to have struck a nerve because it is garnering many negative votes (thumbs down). So if you like it, give it a thumbs up. What do you think, will he make it to the Supreme Court?
If President Obama was Martin Luther King’s dream come true then the current president is that dream curdled into a nightmare. The latest pointless debate over whether his disparaging remarks calling countries with predominantly black populations shitholes makes him a racist, misses the point. The daily random insult generator in the White House has a one point agenda of hate.
During the Obama years, everything that happened anywhere in the world, was all Obama’s fault. From the genocide in Syria to the leak in British Petroleum’s oil well. For this President, nothing is ever his fault, he is not to be held responsible even for the words coming out of his mouth. Judy Woodruff of the PBS News Hour actually praised the President for his performance during a televised bipartisan meeting about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), where he seemed to have no idea what he was talking about. She was by far not the only one.The prestigious old media continues give the Republicans cover as they continue to destroy one democratic norm after another.
The sad thing is not that the President is a racist but that millions voted for him despite that or may be even because of that. Though they knew that he was the most ill prepared and ill suited candidate to ever run on a major party’s ticket. Even sadder is the fact that the party of Lincoln condones the bile he spews on a daily basis. It is they who made his rise possible and have given him the institutional support to thrive. They couldn’t care less that he pisses away our international prestige one outrageous statement and one discriminatory policy at a time.
They may make soaring speeches praising Dr. King now but Republicans have been single minded in their quest to overturn his legacy, the civil rights legislation. The Republican led Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Tom Cotton and David Perdue’s goal is to do the same to the Immigration and the Nationalities Act. To them, the man in the White House is a means to an end. Now more than ever we need to do everything to preserve Dr. King’s legacy. Our very lives and what kind of country we want to be depends on it. Our enemies are formidable but we shall overcome.