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Houston, We Have a Problem

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.

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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.

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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.

  1. Raja Krishnamoorthi
  2. John Cornyn
  3. Ted Cruz
  4. Al Green
  5. Pete Olson
  6. Sheila Jackson Lee
  7. Sylvia Garcia, Greg Abbot
  8. Cindy Hyde-Smith
  9. Ami Bera
  10. Brian Babin
  11. Brad Sherman,
  12. 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.

Orange Fever

I am afraid that scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is just the beginning, it has little to do with the development of Kashmir.Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for India in his second term is to change India’s constitution and pave the way for a majoritarian state which is a democracy in name alone. 94 years after its formation the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is the closest to achieving its goal of the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

The international media is missing the RSS agenda behind Modi’s actions.  Before he entered politics, Modi was a pracharak or a fulltime evangelist for the RSS. Just like the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee before him. There is no daylight between what the Sangh wants and what the BJP wants. BJP is the political front of the Sangh,  an all male grassroots fraternal organization that has had only one non-brahmin  sarsangchalak (chief of the Sangh)  in its almost hundred years of existence. According to some estimates a group that  makes up  around 5% of the population of India. Also with two exceptions spanning 16 years, all the other sarsangchalaks have been Marathi brahmins. The Sangh still does not admit women. For a group that purports to speak for all Hindus its leadership is drawn from a tiny slice of Hindu male brahmins.

India is as complex as  Europe would be if it were one country.  India is home to two major language families and twenty two official languages. India also has the second largest population of Muslims in the world. The Sangh sees this diversity be it religious or  linguistic as inherently problematic. Their dream India, which they call Bharat is united under the saffron banner of Hindutva speaking as one in one language, Hindi. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are considered Hindu for the purposes of this classification but Christians and Muslims are not. Sangh ideologues have argued that diversity made India  weaker and an easy prey for the British in the 18th and the 19th centuries  and the first wave of Muslim invaders from Central Asia a thousand years ago and later. The way for India to go back to its former greatness is to unite under a banner of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

Britain has been forgiven but BJP and its sympathizers want Muslim citizens of India to pay for the sins of the central Asian invaders and also for the formation of Pakistan.  Their claims about a Hindu rashtra  are inspired more by the nationalistic fervor sweeping Europe in the early twentieth century than they are by ancient India. Here is what Madhav Golwalkar, the most influential sarsangchalak who held the post for 43 years had to say about Hitler’s Germany in a book published in the 1940s.

…To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

Also the RSS map of Akhand Bharat (Greater India) is suspiciously closer to that of British India.

Akhand_Bharat

Akhand Bharat

British_India

British India

As I explained in my post on Kashmir, Kashmir’s special status given its Muslim majority was something that  Sangh’s leaders could not stand right from the early years of independence.  And before independence, hatred and the fear of Muslims was the foundational capstone of the Sangh and other Hindu right organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha. In their telling tiny Britain was able to subjugate mighty India and because Hindus were cowed down by the Muslim rule of over a thousand years. The founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak Savarkar had this to say about Muslims in an interview to an American journalist in 1945.

Muslims in India should be treated as ‘Negroes’

Savarkar headed the Hindu Mahasabha and inspired among others, Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. He was indicted in the Gandhi’s assassination but not sentenced. The Mahasabha was currently in the news for reenacting the infamous assassination.

In today’s India Savarkar can count among his fans the current prime minister.

We bow to Veer Savarkar on his Jayanti. Veer Savarkar epitomises courage, patriotism and unflinching commitment to a strong India. He inspired many people to devote themselves towards nation building.

The partition of British India and the formation of Pakistan on the eve of independence is just added another item to their the mile long list of grievances against Indian Muslims. The ones who chose to stay in India believing the promise that the authors of  the Indian Constitution made to all its minorities that India was for all Indians, irrespective of caste, gender, language or religion.

Actions taken in Kashmir this August are just the first steps in the RSS agenda. If you think all this does not affect you, you would be wrong because Hindu Sevak Sangh(HSS), the RSS offshoot in the United States has been propping up Tulsi Gabbard and has chapters all over the US.

A Troubled Paradise

Jammu & Kashmir UT and Ladakh UT

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

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Source: Wikipedia

Freedom of Speech Under Assault in India

Credit : Telegraph Calcutta

The campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University is roiled with protests. Protests against the arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who has been charged with sedition for  a speech in which he criticized Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,

They are the ones who burnt the Tricolour. They are followers of Savarkar who apologised to the British.

They were British stooges. I dare them to file a defamation case against me. I say that the RSS’s history is of siding with the British. These traitors today are distributing certificates of nationalism.

 

Full translated text of the speech here.

The photograph above is outside the court house complex of Patiala House, eye witness testimony by Telegraph’s journalist here. A BJP state legislator from Delhi,  has been caught on camera as one of the perpetrators in the assault photographed above. The person on the ground was later identified as  Ameeque Jamai of the Communist Party of India. Several journalists were also attacked.

O P Sharma, Patiala House Courts, JNU.

Credit: Indian Express

More photos here.

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.