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Silent No More

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)

Read the rest of this entry

Bharat says not so fast Bharatiya Janata Party

Protests have roiled India over the weekend. The Bharatiya Janata Party has become the Bharat Jalao Party (Burn India Party). Last week the Citizenship Amendment Bill become the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to the bill minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be eligible for refugee status. The bill excludes Muslims. Neither does it cover  Tibetan or  Sri Lankan refugees.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 of the Parliament of India amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 providing a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.[2] The intended religious minorities were explicitly listed as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, raising concerns that Muslims were being marginalised.[2] The beneficiaries had to have entered India on or before 31 December 2014, and should have faced “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their countries of origin.[a] The Act also relaxed residence requirement for naturalization from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.[
status. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens portends doom for India’s 100 million plus Muslim population. BJP had tried to pass it in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t
have the numbers to pass it through the upper House, Rajyasabha. But after gaining a imposing majority in the Loksabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP agenda in the Rajyasabha this time and the bill passed both the Houses easily.

The India of my childhood is being dismantled by the BJP. In  our textbooks there used to be a Pledge.

 

India is my country and all Indians are my Brothers and Sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and all the elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness

Even as a child it seemed hopelessly naïve and idealistic to me. And  God knows we did not live up to that ideal always but that was a worthy ideal to strive towards. The agenda of BJP, is the agenda of the RSS (Rashrtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh)  or Sangh , the political off shoot of the black hats and brown shorts wearing all male volunteer organization is antithetical to both the pledge and the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

The Sangh’s plan for India has always been clear, to rid India of its religious minorities, especially its Muslims or relegate them to an inferior or a secondary status. Their ideology asserts that if India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, all its problems will vanish into thin air. When the BJP was able to form a government on their own strength after the general elections last May, I knew that their long awaited ideological project would gather full steam.

It started with Kashmir by taking away the  statehood of India’s only Muslim majority state, changing the criteria of which refugees can become citizens is the logical next step. What comes after this is the National Citizenship Register, whereby one has to prove their citizenship. The NRC has been applied to the northeastern state of Assam with disastrous consequences, making over a million Indians stateless. You don’t have to be an expert on Indian politics to know who is the target of these actions.

 

.CAB_Cartoon

To this murder of the Indian Constitution, not so fast say the students and ordinary citizens of India. Protests have gathered steam all across India including on college and university campuses and elsewhere.

 

mamtabanerjee

The woman in white is Mamata Banerjee the Chief Minister of West Bengal

CAB_Protest1

More pictures of protests here

Dare I hope that these protests quell the orange tide that threatens to drown India. Watch this space for more on this developing story. If you have questions please leave them in the comments.

Note: Whataboutery and dehumanizing comments will not tolerated.

India Decides

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).

A New Low For the Rule of Law

Lawyers or people dressed as lawyers attacked the Jawaharlal Nehru University student  Kanhaiya Kumar in court and manhandled him before his court appearance.  First they tell you what to eat, then they tell you what to think, if you don’t comply they beat you up and jail you on spurious charges. This is happening in India’s capital Delhi. This is what Delhi’s police commissioner had to say about yesterday’s scuffle.

There are allegations that certain press reporters, and some students belonging to JNU, were roughed up. We are looking into it. Excesses were committed from all sides, but they have been extremely minor in nature. To my knowledge, nobody has received serious injuries. They are more in the shape of scuffles,”

Perhaps it is time to change India’s motto from Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone Wins)  to Ham Satya nahin Sahen Kar Sakte ( We can’t handle the truth).

This JNU fracas is the latest in ongoing effort by RSS-BJP combine to discredit the left leaning student organizations and its leaders in India’s institutes of higher learning and install its own stooges wherever possible. Its the latest in the trend that started at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras when a student organization critical of Mr. Modi was banned, or the overtly political appointment of  BJP stooge and a small time actor, Gajendra Chauhan to head India’s premier creative institute or the targeting of student leader Rohith Vemula, which lead to his suicide, earlier this year.

Has the Modi Sarkar (government) declared a war against it students?

 

Bihar gives India a Diwali Gift: An In-Depth Analysis of the Assembly Elections

The results of the Bihar Assembly elections are in, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has received quite a drubbing. BJP led alliance has won less than one third (58) of the total seats (243).  Mr. Modi and his handpicked party chief Mr. Amit Shah in their infinite wisdom had made the election all about Mr. Modi. BJP had no  candidate for the chief minister’s post and they had also benched popular Bihari politicians from the BJP from active campaigning while BJP’s opposition coalesced into one group.

Fresh elections became necessary because the incumbent chief minister Mr. Nitish Kumar’s decided to withdraw from the coalition with BJP — he could not stomach Mr Modi as the candidate for PM. Nitish Kumar knew that he could not win the fight alone so he formed an alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress. Lalu as Mr. Prasad is affectionately known took the fight to Modi and his chamchas (rough translation: cronies). Yes, Lalu is  no saint and has a checkered past and few fans in the Indian English language media but he is a fighter and gave as good as he got. His Twitter feed is a hoot. He also had a home field advantage and rhetorically he can run rings around Mr. Modi in Hindi, which is not Mr. Modi’s first language.

Another inexplicable BJP campaign strategy was to berate Biharis and Bihar. If there is  one thing Indians can’t stand is a person from another state coming and giving them lectures and telling them to their face that they are stupid. The Bihari vs. Bahari (outsider) issue got lots of traction. This is BJP’s second loss in the Hindi heartland. BJP stalwarts from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet like Mr. Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha have been among the biggest critics of these tactics.

Mr. Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India just last year. His party won an outright majority to the lower House of the Indian Parliament. This was the first time in almost thirty years that any party had managed this feat. Mr. Modi ran on an agenda of economic reform and job growth.  BJP also won state assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana shortly after. So why did it all go south for Mr. Modi in such a short time?

The Backdrop to the Recent Elections

Was this drubbing inevitable and how does one explain this in light of the Modi wave of 2014? The answer is simple, the mandate was for economic development, more jobs better infrastructure etc not to enact Sangh hobby horses like banning beef consumption. However, instead of focusing on an agenda of economic development, BJP governments at the state level started enacting bans against consumption and sale of beef. These bans have given a license to bullies to harass those whose livelihood depends on beef. The lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh is the result same phenomena carried to its logical horrific end.

Then there was the assassination of Prof. M. M. Kalburgi in Karnataka, latest in the string of politically motivated assassinations of the outspoken critics of the version of Hinduism the Sangh champions. The modus operandi of the so called protectors of Hinduism is pretty simple. They try to silence the people who criticize them by calling them names and kill those who won’t be silenced. What do Modi and the BJP have to do with all this?

I blame them for enabling the ugliness and the prejudices that already exists to come to fore and be expressed without fear of any repercussions in  the public square. Just last week BJP spokesperson said this about the beloved and the most popular Indian actor of his generation, Shahrukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan may live in India but his heart belongs to Pakistan. Although, his films make millions here but he dares call India intolerant.

He then went on to call him a traitor.  All this abuse because Shahrukh Khan added his voice to the chorus of other creative professionals who had expressed concern about the growing intolerance to opposing view points in Modi’s India. However, none else got called a traitor other than Shahrukh.

Amit Shah the head of the BJP had this to say at an election rally in Bihar, said that if his party lost in Bihar,

crackers will be burst in Pakistan.

The toxic ideology of Hindutva and divisive tactics give cover to the reactionaries who perpetrate acts like the assassinating Prof. Kalburgi and give rise to a chilling atmosphere meant to silence the critics of their radical agenda. Many eminent writers were dismayed by this trend that they started returning their Sahitya Akademi (Indian Academy of Arts and Letters) awards to register their protest against what they saw as a climate of rising intolerance. Prof. Kalburgi was a recipient of the prestigious award and the academy was silent about his death for weeks. Many other artists and scientists have also followed suit. So far 36 writers and poets have returned their awards.

The Long View

The only way a country as diverse as India can survive and thrive, is to live and let live.  India is not a monolith and never has been. India has tremendous linguistic (more than 20 major languages spoken) diversity and it has been home to almost every religion practiced in the world. Not just Hinduism and Islam but also Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, not to mention Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Also,  there is a lot of regional variation as to how Hinduism is practiced in India. It bears little resemblance to the Hindutva preached by the Sanghis (denizens of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh or the National Volunteer Corps). Narendra Modi has deep roots in the RSS, he was an RSS pracharak (pracharak: propagandist/evangelist).

The roots of the Hindutva can be traced to back to the days of the British rule. India’s diversity was seen by many as the one of the main reasons why a handful of British could rule a vast subcontinent.  According to this school of thought, the British gained a foothold in India exploiting the differences that already existed.

Indian nationalists in the British era could be broadly divided into two groups,  one that celebrated the diversity as a strength not a weakness, while the other that thought of it as a weakness to be overcome. This group blamed all of India’s erst while troubles on the other and idolized a distant past when their community held the sway. The Congress and India took the first route while the Muslim League took the second, as their respective paths to independence. The ideology of Hindutva which the Sangh subscribes to, is a mirror image of the Muslim League’s ideology.

The Hindutva movement has  more in common with the fascist movements of the early 20th century in Europe rather than ancient India. Starting with their uniform of brown pants, right down to their salute. If you don’t believe me you can read the Sangh’s founding fathers and make up your own mind. The Sangh may don the mantle of the protector of all Hindus, but it is little more than a fascist cult where indoctrination begins early. These self appointed soldiers of Hinduism who presume to speak for all Hindus, take basic tenets that most (but not all) Hindus abide by and then use them as a wedge issue to create division and hatred. Take the issue in the news, consumption of beef. While it is true that many  Hindus don’t eat beef, most don’t care if someone else does. The Sangh’s vision for India is narrow and poorly imagined. They want homogeneity  and have little appreciation of the mosaic that is India. There is more to India than the Sangh’s mantra of, Hindu good and Muslim bad. India’s rich legacy belongs to all Indians, not just these self proclaimed and self righteous appropriators.

So when BJP got its first outright majority at the center it was not surprising that Modi did not rein in the crazies in the party.  In Sangh circles their thinking is not crazy at all but  mainstream. That’s why the election in Bihar was so important because it is going to be extremely difficult for the BJP and RSS brass to dismiss all of Bihar as liberals, pseudo-secularists, Marxists or Pakistan lovers or whatever epithet du jour the Sangh uses to bully those who don’t agree with their outlook.

The Finale

The voters in Bihar have rejected the demagoguery  and for that I am thankful. It’s also a reminder to the Gujarati combine of Modi and Shah that rest of India is not as receptive as their home state of Gujarat to the cause of militant vegetarianism and the paranoid, Muslim baiting version of Hinduism. The mandate Mr. Modi received last year was for economic change, not a green signal to make India a Hindu theocracy based on the tenets cooked up by the Sangh.

This tale has a happy ending. The Modi-Shah combine lost Bihar and the voters of one of India’s poorest states took on the Narakasura* of religious bigotry and won.

Happy Diwali!

*Yesterday was the first day of Diwali, also known as Naraka Chaturdashi, which celebrates Krishna’s victory over the rakshas (demon) Narakasura.

A Political Food Fight

Last year the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at both the federal level and many states in India,  on the promises of economic development for all.  Amongst their very first actions as the ruling party in several states was taking up the divisive issue of banning cow slaughter in those states. It turns out that the beef bans were not enough to satisfy the hyper pious. Now the governments of Haryana and Mumbai and some of its suburbs (Mira-Bhayandar), ostensibly out of respect to Jains have banned the sale of all meat for the next few days. Jains are currently in the midst of 8-10 day long period of abstinence and fasting  called Paryushan. Jains are a tiny (<1% of India’s population) but prosperous minority in many Indian states including Maharashtra and Haryana.

There have been bans on slaughter of animals in place apparently since 1964 in deference to Paryushan.   However the Jains have been trying to push the envelope by increasing the days of the ban and the activities involving the sale of meat that they want the ban to encompass.  Does the increasing Jain belligerence and their intolerant vegetarian diktats have something to with BJP’s rising electoral fortunes since the late 90s?

On paper, Jainism sounds like a noble religion with tenets like respecting all life no matter how insignificant. However this does not translate to respect and tolerance of fellow humans, especially the ones who may not adhere to strict dietary code that Jains do. Some Jains and other militant vegetarians have discriminated against meat-eaters by refusing to rent or sell housing to them.   Recognizing that these incidents are not isolated but systemic, Bombay’s Municipal corporation passed a resolution in 2014 against discrimination in housing based on dietary habits. Jains have also used their financial muscle to empty grocery store shelves of items they find offensive, which can include anything from eggs to spices. The veggies Nazis in Bombay have been emboldened even more off late as they now have fellow travelers in high political office  in the form of  current BJP chief minister of Maharashtra, the Prime Minister of India and his national party chief.

I have a personal anecdote from my last trip. I could not buy a  tandoori spice mix from a grocery store in South Bombay, that also caters to Jains. The store owner did not sell the same because his Jain clientele objected to its sale. Mind you the spice mix has no meat or meat products, but what offended the holier-than-thou Jains was the picture of the tandoori chicken on the tiny spice box. Dear Jains, no one is asking you to eat meat, but stop being the self appointed food police telling others what to eat in their own homes.

Image result for everest tandoori chicken masala

Ultimately  this fight is not about food at all but foisting a very upper caste Gujarati/BJP version of piety on everyone else. They should be careful since this stance can easily backfire, strict vegetarianism of the Jain variety is not the creed of  majority of Indians or even Hindu Indians for that matter.

ETA: Sanity prevails in the end, the High Court stays the meat ban.

Live Blogging Indian Election Results, A Clean Sweep for the BJP

10. 30 a.m  Mumbai, India

The exit polls have predicted a clean sweep for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led alliance and the actual results so far seem to be in agreement.  People are frustrated. Congress led alliance has been in charge of the Central (Federal) Government for the last ten years.  The country is in a mood for change.  People seem to be frustrated with the lack of accountability and the slow pace of change, not to speak of nepotism. The Congress has been dominated by the descendants of one family, the family of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.  His great grandson, Rahul Gandhi and granddaughter-in-law head the party now.  The electorate is  pinning its hopes on Narendra Modi and BJP, the only other credible choice.  Counting the votes has just begun and the results show who is leading right now.

Results:

Congress and its allies:  71

BJP and its allies: 306

BJP : 276

Congress:  53

BJP and its allies are ahead in all the seats in Mumbai too. It looks like BJP may be able to win a simple majority on its own.

Up to the minute election results here and a brief primer on the Indian elections, here

1.00 p.m.

Update One: If the current results hold, for the first time in thirty years a single party will be able to form a government without the help of any allies.

2.30 p. m

Update Two:  BJP ally Shiv Sena’s Arvind Savant has won the election for the Bombay South constituency, where I am right now.  This seat was held by the Congress since 2004.