Prem Shankar Jha

In their blind pursuit of a model of nationhood that stands discredited, Messrs Modi and Shah have brought India and Kashmir to the edge of a precipice.

Kashmiri men gather around the body of Nasir Ahmad, a suspected militant, during his funeral after he was killed in a gun battle with Indian soldiers, in Arwani village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, October 16, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail


Do the learned judges of the Supreme Court – who will soon begin to hear the petitions against the way in which the Narendra Modi government hollowed out Article 370 of the constitution and dissolved a state – fully appreciate the gravity of the responsibility that a desperate civil society has placed on their shoulders?

One suspects they do, but view it with distaste because it will force them even further out of their zone of comfort as the court of final appeal on legal issues into becoming the court of final appeal in a seemingly constitutional, but in reality intensely political, issue where no one can foretell what the outcome of their decision will be. 

In this invidious circumstance, the temptation to concentrate on the letter of the constitution and leave the safeguarding of its spirit to parliament must be overwhelming. But that is precisely why their lordships must resist it and, taking courage form the judgment given by the Justice J.S. Khehar-led bench upholding appeals against the National Judicial Accountability Act, reaffirm that Indian democracy has not yet attained the maturity at which its constituent parts can be relied upon not to act in a manner that endangers the structure of the whole. 

In Kashmir, that danger is not merely present but palpable. Prime Minister Modi would like us to believe that eliminating Article 370, even though done by sleight of hand, would ultimately be welcomed by Kashmiris. Because apparently it will free them from the clutches of a handful of powerful and corrupt families, open the gates for investment to flood into the valley, and bring them the employment and prosperity that has so far eluded them.

He would like the court to believe that his government laid siege to eight million people and robbed them of the rights and freedoms that define their humanity for more than two months only for their own good. This is a plea that would make any civilised government squirm with shame because it implies that Kashmiris are little different from cats and dogs whom one has to discipline. 

Kashmiris have begun to show that they cannot be turned into household pets within days of the government beginning to relax its iron grip upon the Valley. They are doing this by resorting increasingly to the sole mode of protest left open to them: that is non-cooperation or, to use a word all of us should be familiar with, satyagraha.

Schools and colleges are nominally open but have few teachers and fewer students; despite the lifting of curfew, shops remain closed except for the few hours permitted by militants. There has been little overt violence so far. Barring a few acts of grenade throwing and stone pelting at security forces, and the killing of a Punjabi truck driver who, in his innocence, was transporting apples from Shopian to the market in Jammu, the Valley is relatively calm.

But this is the electrically-charged calm that precedes a storm.

Among middle class Kashmiris, there is relief that their post-paid mobile telephones are working, and that they can once again communicate with their relatives, especially with those working, or studying, in the rest of India. 

There is relief also among parents of school-going children, as hope revives that they may still be able to make up the time they have lost and sit for their board examinations without being at a severe handicap.

There may also have been initial relief among traders and shopkeepers as hopes of making at least limited sales in the few weeks left before the end of the festive season revived. But with only a few days left for Diwali, the tourist season and the Amarnath Yatra cut short, and the imminent shift of the Durbar to Jammu for the winter, that fugitive hope is also turning into despair.

Women protest on the streets in Kashmir. Photo: Avani Rai

As winter sets in, Kashmiris will begin to add up not only the economic, but the psychological and emotional cost of the lost summer: the lost fruit crop; lost revenues from the abrupt end of the tourist season and the Amarnath Yatra; the chasing away of thousands of migrant workers who brought revenue to the Valley; and the total absence of the Durga Puja and Dussehra rush of tourists from Bengal.

Parents will fret for the rest of the school year over the lost school time of their children; traders and shopkeepers will stare at godowns and shelves still packed with unsold goods, and wonder how they will meet their debt and the often extortionate interest they have to pay on it. Ghoda wallahs, houseboat and shikara owners , hoteliers and restaurateurs, taxi owners and drivers, and the young men from the villages who come into Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and such places to work for them during the tourist season, will be wondering how they will subsist during the long winter that lies ahead.

So, as the nights grow longer, the power cuts become more prolonged, and the deepening cold bites into their bones, the Kashmiris’ sense of abandonment will grow stronger. Among the old, it will bring despair; among the youth, a mounting rage that, sooner or later, will break through all remaining restraints and burst out in unpredictable ways.

It is the youth whom the Modi government needs to fear. When he came to power, there were only a few Burhan Wanis among them. By the Kashmir police’s own estimates, in 2014, there were only 86 young Kashmiris in the new group of militants being nurtured jointly by the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Lashkar-e Taiba in south Kashmir. After Modi initiated his ‘zero tolerance for terrorism’ policy, by January 2019, the security forces had killed 813 militants, of whom 235 were killed in 2018 alone. But despite, or more precisely, because of that, the number of active militants had grown to more than 300.

To those unfamiliar with the morphology of insurgency, this may sound like a small number. But readers would do well to remember that in the Khalistani insurgency of the 1980s in Punjab, there were never more than 500 ‘A’ grade, i.e gun-using militants. But they were backed by about 15,000 persons categorised as B-high, B and C grade supporters, who sympathised with, and sheltered them. That insurgency lasted for ten years and took more than 41,000 lives, and only died out when Sikh ex-servicemen living in the villages took up arms against them.

In Kashmir, the August 5 shut down and scrapping of Article 370 has come after 30 years of harsh military rule, and five years of a merciless pursuit of young Kashmiri militants who have grown up within that repressive and violent world, and have therefore no knowledge of peace. 

An explosion is therefore as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise. All we do not know is what will trigger it and, given a relative paucity of firearms with the militants, what form the renewed attacks will take.

Today, all of Kashmir is watching the Supreme Court with an anxiety that borders panic. Few expect a court that has shown no sense of urgency in dealing with the petitions against the president’s order, to strike it down. But all are living in fear of another crackdown on the entire population as the date of judgment draws near. This time there will be no surprise. The people of Kashmir will be prepared for the worst, but so, unfortunately, will be the militants. 

Try as I might, I see no way therefore of avoiding a return to violence. And despite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s professed determination to keep his people out of Kashmir in order not to give Modi a chance to blame it upon Pakistani terrorists, it is difficult to see how long he will be able to keep his countrymen out of it. What will follow is anyone’s guess, but there can be no doubt that Modi has taken India into dangerous territory and that he does not know how to find a way out of.

Their Lordships’ travails will not end there. The abrogation of Article 370 is only one of the issues the constitution bench will have to pass judgment on . The other is the dissolution of a state of the Indian Union, and its subjugation to direct rule by the central government.

Law is made as much by judicial precedent as parliamentary enactment. Their lordships must therefore bear in mind that if they uphold the president’s order on this occasion, then this, or any future government in Delhi, will be able to dissolve the statehood of any other state, group of states, or even all the states of the Union, especially if it has the parliamentary majority to do it through article 368 of the Constitution. 

That will open the road to turning India into a unitary nation state on the European model and realising V.D. Savarkar’s dream of creating a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Under Article 371 of the constitution, 10 other states enjoy protections that other states do not have – a situation the government said was intolerable in the case of Jammu and Kashmir.

One has only to remember the agitations that preceded the formation of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu , Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur Tripura, Mizoram, Punjab, and even Gujarat, to know that any such attempt will be resisted as strongly by them as the Kashmiris are resisting it today.

In sum, if the Supreme Court allows the abrogation of Article 370 through the dissolution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to stand, it will open the way for the future weakening and perhaps even disintegration of the Indian Union.

This is not meant to be an alarmist prediction: From the Mauryan empire after the edicts of Ashoka, till the 1857 revolt, that followed Lord Dalhousie’s promulgation of the Doctrine of Lapse, Indian history is replete with examples of attempts to centralise power beyond a point leading to the disintegration of empires.

In their blind pursuit of a model of nationhood that now stands discredited, and even despised, in Europe where it was born, Messrs Modi and Shah have brought India to the edge of this precipice. Only the Supreme Court can stop them from pushing us over it.

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The BJP government has swiftly hacked away at all the reflections of democracy in an India it claims to cherish.

India: A Future in Peril

The Modi 2.0 government has further cemented policies which threaten to disintegrate the Indian union. Photo: Reuters


This month, the Sangh Parivar has been in celebration mode. The occasion has been its stocktaking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s achievements during the first 100 days of his second term in office.

The Parivar is convinced that, with his characteristic decisiveness, Modi has set India firmly on the road to greatness. The prime minister is anything but bashful about his achievements: “In the first hundred days we have given a clear picture of what is to come in the next five years,” he said at a Mahana Desh (‘great India’) function at Nashik.

He has “solved” the Kashmir problem, is getting rid of illegal immigrants in Assam and plans to “cleanse” the rest of India of  “these termites,” as his Home Minister Amit Shah called them. And he will make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

In reality, these first 100 days have been a catastrophe.

Far from building a Mahana Desh, the policy initiatives that the government has taken can, if not reversed very soon, lead to turmoil, insurrection, repression and, just possibly, the disintegration of the Indian union.

All the three strands of policy that the government is weaving together – the reading down of Article 370 and the dissolution of the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir; the bid to create a National Register of Citizens in Assam; and the systematic abuse of the law enforcement agencies, the police and a complaisant judiciary, to destroy every existing or potential focus of opposition in the country, are leading to this end.

Nowhere is the gap between what it is professing and what it is doing, more glaring than in its policy on Kashmir.

“We had promised that we would make fresh attempts to resolve the issues affecting Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh…We have to once again build a paradise…I can happily say today that the country is working towards fulfilling those dreams,” Modi declaimed at Nashik.

He said this at a time when Amit Shah had just announced  that the lockdown of Kashmir would continue for another 25 days,  had turned the Centaur Hotel, built beside the Dal Lake by Air India in a bygone age of peace, into a prison to house virtually the entire political leadership of Kashmir, and when his government had been forced to postpone indefinitely a global convention of investors scheduled for October, that was to turn Kashmir into an earthly paradise, because no one was coming.

So, how, prime minister, did you intend to “hug each Kashmiri” and turn Kashmir “into the earthly paradise it once was”?

A Kashmiri woman walks past a bus used as a road block by jawans in Srinagar, on August 11. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui


By robbing Kashmiris of their voice, by destroying their capacity to communicate and fraternise, by treating them as a farmer treats his cattle?

These are admittedly strong words, but I am compelled to use them because no others fit the description of what the government has done to Kashmiris in the valley. Like chimpanzees, our nearest genetic cousins, we humans  are a necessarily gregarious species. Like them, we live in groups. And like them we constantly reassert our essential nature by communicating ceaselessly with each other.

Modi’s government has robbed Kashmiri’s of this defining capability, and in so doing, it  has robbed them of their humanity. This is something that, like any other human community, no Kashmiri will be able to bear for long, or ever forget.

The debate in India about Kashmir has been side-tracked into a controversy over the extent to which the government has robbed the Kashmiris of their freedom. This has allowed the government to swamp the media with its version of facts,  and simultaneously accuse those who disagree with it, of being anti-national and, unbelievably, pro-Pakistan.

Civil society has responded by presenting steadily mounting anecdotal evidence of empty schools, shuttered shops, early morning raids on peoples’ homes and summary arrests of young boys; of panic attacks among ordinary youth living in constant fear, and of the sick being denied essential medical care.

But horrifying as all this is, it is dwarfed by the cardinal sin of robbing Kashmiris of their status as human beings.

By doing this, Modi has broken the most fundamental link that binds Kashmir to India, their humanity and ours. If his government  persists in this folly, it will achieve what was, till just the other day, considered inconceivable: it will unite every single Kashmiri in a growing determination to break free of India, no matter what it costs and how long it takes.

This government’s second major policy thrust is also one that is leading the country towards a situation that it will not be able to handle.

This is its determination to expel all illegal immigrants from India. It is no one’s case that a country should turn a blind eye to illegal immigration from other countries. Equally, no one will deny that Assam has seen a massive inflow of immigrants, not only from Bangladesh, but also Bengal and Nepal, during the past 70 years. This was tolerated by successive Congress regimes till it triggered a revolt that only prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s sagacity prevented from becoming unmanageable.

Activists of the Hindu Yuba-Chattra Parishad burn copies of NRC list, in Guwahati on Saturday, August 31. Photo: PTI


But the key issue that has bedevilled all governments faced with this problem cannot be solved by the NRC.

This is: what to do with the immigrants who have already got in and built new lives for themselves in your country? In the US, a succession of governments have legalised illegal immigrants after placing various conditions upon them, and till President Trump, none have even thought of denying children born in the US from availing of the same education and employment rights as other Americans.

This was the problem that Indra Gandhi tried to resolve by passing the Illegal Migrant Detection Act in 1983. That had corrected a gross anomaly in the law, by shifting the burden of proof back from the accused to the accuser. It had also placed other strictures to prevent large scale victimisation of this category of immigrants, by limiting the power to accuse to people living within three kilometres of the  accused, and had allowed the latter to prove legality by producing a ration card.

This act was, somewhat surprisingly, struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012 upon the plea of none other than Sarbanand Sonowal, the present BJP chief minister of Assam. In the following year, the court also ordered that the NRC, first compiled in 1951, be updated. Armed with these, the Modi government ordered the NRC to be updated in Assam first.

The method it chose has proved disastrous.

With the 1983 Act struck down, the government fell back upon the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, a British enactment made before India was partitioned, to deal with the flood that the creation of Bangladesh had let loose. The Foreigners’ Act had placed the burden of proof of legality upon the accused. As a result, 33 million Assamese had to furnish one or more documents to prove that they were not illegal residents of the state.

What has followed has been trauma for half or more of the population of the state. The first draft of the NRC in Assam, which came out in 2014, showed that 13 out of  32 million – two out of five persons were not on the list. For these 13 million, the last four years have been pure torture involving anxious, frantic searches for documents that may have got lost or perished, enormous expense and months of anxiety.

The final Register only brought the number down to four million, still one in eight of  Assam’s population.

Last year this was whittled down through appeals to 1.9 million. The stress this long drawn out process has put, particularly on the poor of Assam,  is too frightful to contemplate. It has led to depression and more than a dozen suicides among those who have been left out.

Deporting such a large number of people from India became impossible after Bangladesh flatly refused to have them back. At that point any responsible government would have taken a second look at the law governing the determination of citizenship to see if it could be amended to make the exercise both just and feasible.

But the Modi government’s response has been the exact opposite. Instead of seeking a way back to the 1983 Act, albeit with improvements, the new home minister Amit Shah, apparently decided to extend the updating of the NRC to the rest of India, for one of his very first acts was to direct collectors in all districts of the country to chalk out sites for detention camps to be built in the future.

With this he has let a particularly dangerous cat out of the bag. For while  the BJP may have seized upon the NRC as a way of ridding Assam of a part of its Muslim population, other states have grievances against ethnic minorities from other parts of India.

What will Mr Shah do if the Kannadigas demand an NRC in order evict  people from the northeast who have captured a large share of the jobs in the IT, BPO and other service industries in Bengaluru?

What will he do if the Shiv Sena revives its demand to evict people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from Mumbai. Only those with no knowledge of the  history of Europe’s self-destruction in the 20th century could have thought that ethnic cleansing, once started, can be contained.

Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. Photo: PTI


The two strands of policy-making described above are alarming enough but when they are combined with the third, they make an explosive mix that could easily blow the country apart. This is the Modi government’s brazen disregard for the Rule of Law and citizens’ fundamental rights.

From almost the first day he came to power in 2014, Modi has been systematically gutting all the institutions of democracy – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, to destroy all possible opposition to the Sangh Parivar. In this he has been no different from Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt before they were thwarted by the army coup that brought Abdul Fattah Sisi to power.

A key element of his government’s strategy has been to exploit the weak points of Indian democracy – especially the ubiquity of corruption – to attack its political opponents. It did this without success to Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party, but met with greater success when it attacked the Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the Congress in Assam where it secured the defection of key ministers to the BJP by threatening them with exposure and prosecution.

To render the AAP government impotent it secured a judgment, from a single judge bench of the Delhi high court, abolishing Delhi’s (and in passing Pondicherry’s), special status as Union Territories with elected governments, that took the Supreme Court three years to reverse.

During its first five years the Modi government also destroyed the limited, but very real independence the CBI had enjoyed earlier. This had been buttressed in 1997 by a Supreme Court order fixing the CBI director’s term at a minimum of two years, and disallowing his transfer without the clearance of a special committee that included the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

Dr Manmohan Singh had further buttressed its independence by giving the power to appoint to a committee consisting of the prime minister, the Chief Justice and the leader of the opposition. Modi trashed both these safeguards and gave the power to appoint to the appointments committee of the cabinet, i.e to himself.

In the same vein, during the first 100 days, the second Modi government has gutted the Right To Information Act by ending  the statutory independence of the Central Information Commissioner through an act of parliament, passed a law making almost any criticism of the government a seditious act. It has also amended the Unlawful Activities  Prevention Act (UAPA) to enable the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to designate almost any individual as a terrorist and put him or her behind bars for two years. Whereas this power previously rested with only the senior most officers of the NIA it has now been given to any agent of the rank of inspector and above.

A view of the Parliament building. Photo: Nimrod Bar/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


This government is consistently using the vast powers of arrest and detention given to the police, the long delays in the administration of justice and the readiness of lower court judges to remand the accused to judicial custody for as long as the government  desires, to target key members of the opposition drag them before the courts, get complaisant judges to deny them anticipatory bail, sequester their property, and keep them in jail for months at a time – all this in the full glare of the audiovisual media who then beam their disgrace to a billion people around the country .

This has destroyed habeas corpus, the single most fundamental right of a citizen in a democracy, the Right to Freedom until convicted of a crime. Habeas corpus now exists only on paper.

The purpose is not to uphold the law but to shame, defame and discredit and intimidate those who have stood in Hindutva’s way. The government is fully aware that most of these cases will not stand up in court, for the conviction rate in criminal cases of this nature has been a bare half  percent. The government, of course, knows this.

Three out of more than a score of examples stand out: In 2013, Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of Tehelka, who was accused of attempted rape, sexual harassment and associated offences, spent seven months in jail before finally securing bail from the Supreme Court.

From the BJP’s point of view Tejpal’s crime was that it was the video-ed sting operations carried out by his reporters that had led to the conviction of a round dozen of the Bajrang Dal assassins who had led the killing of more than three score Muslims in the Naroda Patiya massacre in Ahmedabad in 2002.

Unlike Tejpal, Prannoy and Radhika Roy , founder-owners of NDTV have been out on bail for more then three years on a charge of money laundering, with their property sequestered by the Enforcement Directorate, but not yet brought to trial because the government’s lawyers have obtained 21 adjournments of the case from complaisant judges while they scramble to find evidence against them.

Finally, and most egregiously, former home minister P. Chidambaram has not only been indicted of money laundering on the flimsiest of pretexts, but denied anticipatory bail and sent to Tihar jail by a Delhi high court judge Sunil Gaur, two days before he retired. A mere five days after he retired, the Modi government appointed him chairman of the Prevention of Money Laundering Tribunal.

In this, it was only following a well set precedent. For in 2014, breaking all constitutional norms, Modi had appointed the retiring Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, P. Sathasivam, governor of the state of Kerala.

Three years later he appointed R.K. Raghavan, the chairman of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team on the Ahmedabad riots who completely exonerated Modi of any dereliction of duty in dealing with the riots, as India’s ambassador to Cyprusonly weeks after he resigned from the SIT.

Justice Gaur also had a long history of having delivered judgements in the lower courts against the Congress party and its newspaper, the National Herald, before he got picked to be the high court judge who would hear Chidambaram’s bail application. Chidambaram has now been behind bars at Tihar jail for a full month

Irshad Khan, 24, holds a picture of his late father Pehlu Khan, 55, in Jaisinghpur, India, June 2, 2017. Irshad survived an attack by cow vigilantes when transporting cattle which left his father dead and friends badly beaten. Photo: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton/Files


Contrast these with the fact that not a single person has been convicted, or even brought to trial yet, for the 72 lynchings of Muslims by so-called gau rakshaks that took place during Modi 1.0.

That many, like Vipin, one of the self confessed killers of Pehlu Khan, have been acquitted because the police deliberately withheld crucial evidence, and that all the members of ‘Abhinav Bharat’ who had been indicted for the Samhjhauta Express bomb blast, have walked free for the same reason, and it becomes undeniable that the rule of law has no place in Modi’s India.

While the BJP may not have actively connived in creating the lawless state that India has become, there can be no doubt that the ideology it has so relentlessly propagated, and Modi’s refusal to condemn the crimes committed in its name, have created oppressive, lawless country that India has become today.

History, not least that of the 20th century,  has shown that countries that lose their moorings in justice, humanity and the rule of law, seldom last long.

Some, like Germany, immolate themselves in a Valhalla-like funeral pyre of war and destruction; others go out in revolution; and still others, like the Soviet Union, simply fall apart.

In India we still have a fourth option — the revival of democracy. But for that the BJP must first realise that its policy of repressing all opposition to it, will not only harm it, but also destroy the nation it claims to cherish.

this article appeared in The Wire

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The constitution describes India as a “Union of States”, meaning the “states” pre-existed the Union and are the federating parties that created it. By abolishing one state, J&K, Modi has threatened the very basis of the Union.

Modi 2.0's Big 'Achievement' in Its First 100 Days is to Undermine the Indian Union

So great was the Kashmiris’ trust in India’s secularism that their faith in it was not shaken even by 20 years of Indian mistrust, and military rule. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

Had Chandrayaan 2’s moon lander not failed, it would have been our media-hungry prime minister and not Prakash Javadekar who would have addressed the press conference in Delhi on Sunday on the first 100 days of his second term in office. Javadekar tried to make the best of a miserable deal: he steered clear of the economy’s collapse and near three-fold increase in youth unemployment in the past seven years, and took credit for amending the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that has turned India into a police state.

But his primary selling point for Modi’s government was its “full integration of Kashmir into India” by simply abolishing Article 370, and turning Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into union territories under the direct rule by the Centre – something that no other government had had the “courage” to do so far.

Neither Prime Minister Modi or Union home minister Amit Shah have bothered to ask themselves whether their predecessors’ restraint was cowardice or sagacity. This is because neither seem to be aware of the chasm that separates courage from foolhardiness. Courage presupposes foresight: a careful weighing of risks and benefits before adopting a course of action. Foolhardiness requires only the ‘courage’ to make a blind leap into the dark, hoping one will land on one’s feet.

On August 5, Modi and Shah made that leap. Today, it is apparent to those who have not been swept away by the prime minister’s self-congratulatory oratory, that he and Amit Shah have landed on the first step that leads to the disintegration of the Indian Union.

Home minister Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha during the debate on Article 370 and the reorganisation of J&K. Photo: PTI

For by dissolving a federating state of the Indian Union and bringing it under direct central rule for howsoever brief a period of time, Modi has set a precedent that, if not overruled, can be used by a future government to convert any part, or even all of the Union, into a unitary state. This will not only destroy the most basic feature of the constitution – the federal structure of the Indian Union – but also negate the political rationale that underlies it.

The reality that not only Modi but many constitutional theorists are only dimly aware of is that Indian federalism is not based upon administrative convenience or date of acquisition of a particular territory, as is the federalism of the USA, Canada and Australia. We already had that form of federalism under the Government of India Act of 1935 and lost no time in changing it drastically.

Today’s India is a federation of far older ethno-nations, several of which have had a distinct identity for more than two millennia. These have had distinct cultural and political identities long before the Indian Union was born. This fact is explicitly acknowledged by the constitution which describes India as a “Union of States”, a clear admission that the “states” in some manner, pre-existed the union and are the federating parties that created it.

The primacy of ethnicity was asserted at the cost of his life by Potti Sriramulu, the creator of Andhra Pradesh, in 1953 and conceded by Jawaharlal Nehru in the same year by creating the States Reorganisation Commission, with a mandate to redraw the boundaries of the existing provinces and create new states on the basis of language. So vigorously has ethnicity been defended that this process took another three decades to complete, with the separation of Gujarat from Maharashtra, the re-creation of Punjabi Suba as the homeland the Sikhs lost with Partition and the states of the northeast and Goa, before a stable federation finally emerged.

Indian federalism is therefore a living, breathing, entity. Its central purpose is to protect the ethnic identities of its peoples while expanding the field of their opportunities. This has been the glue that has successfully bound the most diverse region in the world into a single, modern nation-state.

Article 370 was one of the most important safeguards to India’s ethnic diversity because it safeguarded the distinct, syncretic culture of a Muslim majority state that opted for India – both its maharaja and its people – in order to protect that identity, Kashmiriyat. It is not surprising, therefore, that Article 371, which gives similar protection to ten other Indian states, is modelled on Article 370.

Thus, as elements in Nagaland and Mizoram have already pointed out, if the Supreme Court allows the president to dissolve Kashmir’s statehood, it can open the gates for some future government to dissolve theirs as well. What is more, this unease is bound to infect other, larger states as well, especially Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bengal and Assam.

The great betrayal

So great was the Kashmiris’ trust in India’s secularism that their faith in it was not shaken even by 20 years of Indian mistrust, and military rule. As a result, in 2009 a survey of public opinion in the Kashmir Valley, conducted by the London-based Royal Institute for International Affairs, found that even in the four worst-affected districts of the Valley, only 2.5-7.5% of Kashmiris said they would like to belong to Pakistan. By definition, this meant that the vast majority who wanted “azadi” did not want it at the cost of cutting their economic, educational and medical ties with India.

That was the near-peace that Modi inherited in 2014. But within three months of his swearing-in, he had destroyed that half-built edifice by publicly humiliating the Hurriyat, terminating the tacit tripartite dialogue of which it had been a part since 2004, and raining “10-for-1” fire across the Line of Control in reply to sporadic ceasefire violations by Pakistani soldiers.

The most damaging of all has been the change in the television media from sympathetic neutrality to a perfervid hyper-nationalism. Suddenly there were no more azadi advocates in Kashmir, no more militants, no more stone-throwers, no more disaffected youth needing to be persuaded back into the mainstream. All were simply terrorists. These views and comments, aired relentlessly along with news of cow vigilantism, the incidents of Muslims being lynched in different parts of India, and acquittal after acquittal in the cases of bomb blasts in mosques, madrassas and trains designed expressly to kill Muslims, had completed the alienation of all but a handful. The scrapping of Article 370 is, for them, the last straw.

Like other would-be conquerors, Modi does not know the meaning of the word ‘retreat’. So his response to the return of militancy has been to use more and more force. When this too failed, he decided to eliminate the problem altogether by eliminating Kashmir. But that too is not happening. One month has passed since the government dissolved the state into two Union territories, but the Kashmir Valley is still under a siege that the world has not seen since medieval times. Worse, Amit Shah announced that it will continue for another 20-25 days.

The future of Kashmir, and therefore of India-Pakistan relations, is so dark that it does not bear thinking about. But the main threat that Modi’s actions pose to India does not lie outside its borders. They lie inside it, because if not stopped by the Supreme Court, what he has started could very easily presage the disintegration of the Indian Union.

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India is split over Prime Minister Narendra Modis decision to abolish article 370 by a presidential order last week. The saffron fold is rejoicing: This government – their government—has had the guts to do what the Congress and its secularists could not. The Kashmir problem is  over. There will be a period of unrest, but when it is over, this canker, this anomaly from the past, will have been removed. The building of the modern Indian nation will be complete.

They could not be more wrong. Modi made a huge blunder in November 2016 when he demonetised nine-tenths of the country’s currency in circulation at one stroke, paralysing the Indian economy for months. This did lasting damage to farmers and the rural poor, from which they have not recovered. But he got away with it.

It may be the sense of absolute invulnerability that the recent election has given him that has led him into an even greater blunder now. But this time, he may not get away with it because his action is almost certain to set off repercussions, some of them outside the country, that he will not be able to control.

The first is the reaction of the already deeply alienated Kashmiri youth. Modi  correctly anticipated that abolishing article 370 would make them erupt in even greater paroxysms of anger, than did the death of Burhan Wani in 2016. To pre-empt this, he moved 75,000 additional troops of the Central armed police into the valley, abruptly cut off the Amarnath Yatra, closed all schools and colleges, shut down the internet, blocked mobile telephony and landlines, stopped the distribution of newspapers, and placed not only separatist leaders  under house arrest  but also, for the first time in Kashmir’s history, leaders of the mainstream parties who have never questioned Kashmir’s accession to India.

But what he and home minister Amit Shah seem not to care about is the monstrous sense of betrayal that has swept the rest of the Kashmiri people that 80 to 90 per cent of the population who have never wanted a complete separation from India, and to whom Azadi has always meant full political autonomy but without the severance of Kashmir’s connection  with the rest of India.

This is the vast majority that the government has betrayed. It has done so because of blind adherence to an ideology that, like all others that the world has had to endure, shows no respect for history, and steamrolls facts that do not serve its purpose into the ground. This is the ideology of ‘Hindutva’.

The key fact that the Sangh parivar chooses to ignore is that Kashmiri Islam is entirely different from the Deobandi and Barelvi Islam practised by Sunnis in the rest of the subcontinent. Called Reshi Islam (after Rishi), it was brought to Kashmir by Sufis from Persia and Central Asia and spread in the valley by Brahmin disciples, the most famous of whom was Lalded, aka Laleshwari Devi, after whom schools, colleges and hospitals all over the valley are named today.

As a result, Kashmiri Islam is suffused with Hindu practices, so much so that in 1946, when the chief of the Kashmir Muslim conference,  Chaudhury Ghulam Abbas, wrote to Mohammed Ali Jinnah asking that  his party be inducted into the Muslim League, Jinnah declined because his secretary, Khursheed Ahmad  reported from Srinagar that “… these people follow a strange form of Islam…. that drives a coach and four through all the tenets that we consider most holy … I fear that it will take a long period of re-education for them to become true Muslims”.

History will confirm that Kashmir was the only princely state in which it was the people, through the National Conference, and not solely the Maharaja, who decided to accede to India.

It will confirm that when armed infiltrators from Pakistan entered Kashmir dressed as peasants in August 1965 at the start of the 1965 war and asked a peasant to point out the way to Srinagar, he sent them on the wrong road and bicycled to Srinagar to warn the government of the presence of the infiltrators. It was this man that the ISI made one of the first targets of the insurgency, in 1990.

Finally, history will also confirm that since the insurgency started in 1989, every Kashmiri nationalist (separatist) leader who has been willing to discuss peace with New Delhi, or even lay out the steps Delhi would have to take if it wanted the insurgency to end, has been assassinated at the behest of the ISI, The list is long: it starts with Mirwaiz Maulvi Farouq, and ends with Abdul Ghani Lone, the father of Sajjad Lone who joined the alliance with the BJP in 2015, was a minister  till the other day, and has now been put under house arrest by the very government he backed. Had these leaders really wanted to break away completely from India, would Pakistan’s ISI have taken such great pains to have them killed?

Tragically, despite the opening of the bus road across the Line of Control, the insurgency in Kashmir dragged on because neither of Modi’s two predecessors knew quite how to end it. But despite this, Kashmiris did not give up hope that Delhi would one day understand what they really wanted and bring them peace. So strong was this hope that as recently as 2009, despite 20 years of insurgency, a survey commissioned by Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs had shown that only 2.5 to 7.5 percent of Kashmiris in the worst militancy affected districts of the valley said they wanted Kashmir to belong to Pakistan.

Had Modi been made aware of Kashmir’s history, he would have realised that Kashmir had already achieved a version of what V.D. Savarkar had dreamed of in 1923 when he propounded Hindutva – a civilisation in which the (Muslim) population fully recognised, and indeed prized, its (Hindu) cultural roots. Only the name they gave it differed: they called it Kashmiriyat.

As Yasin Malik, the leader of the JKLF, wrote in a short book, The Real Truth, while in jail in the early ‘nineties, it was the Congress’s decision to lift the ban on the Jamaat-iIslami that had been imposed by Maharaja Hari Singh that began the erosion of Kashmiriyat in the valley.

Had Modi really wanted to integrate Kashmir, therefore, he would have spared no effort to undo the damage done to Kashmiriyat in the previous 42 years. But he did the exact opposite:Instead of easing the armed forces’ iron grip on the valley, he tightened it; instead of offering an amnesty to a budding generation of Kashmiri militants driven to desperation by the incessant harassment of their families by the police, he demanded unconditional surrender and deployed the IB’s newly acquired cyber-espionage capabilities to root them out and kill them.

Finally, instead of opening a dialogue with the Hurriyat and JKLF leaders – as he had himself agreed to do by signing on to the Agenda for Alliance document with the PDP in 2015 – he kept them under almost continuous house arrest, and destroyed the last vestiges of their hold on the youth of the valley. As if that were not enough, by also putting all the leaders of themainstream parties under house arrest, he has made the Kashmiris leaderless and put them at the mercy of every wave of passion or anger in the valley.

Having closed every root to a peaceful end to the insurgency in Kashmir, Modi has decided to employ legal sleight of hand to make the problem disappear. Unfortunately, it will not disappear. Kashmiris will hold their breath till the Supreme Court passes its verdict on the appeal filed against the presidential order filed on August 5. The court is unlikely to uphold the presidential order, because doing so would fly in the face of its own decisions of 2017 and 2018 that Article 370 is not a temporary article of the constitution.

All serious observers of Kashmir and the Constitution knew that the word temporary had been introduced only to convey the fact that the scope of Article 370 would have to be redefined after the return of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the state.

By the same token, the abolition of the Kashmir assembly’s right to declare itself a constituent assembly in 1956 was a tacit admission that the legal provisions governing Kashmir’s relations with India could not be kept hostage to Pakistan’s non-compliance with the UN Security Council’s 1948 resolution forever. The Modi government’s attempt to use a General Clauses (India) Act incorporated into the constitution as Article 367 – but passed by the British parliament in 1897 to resolve disputes in the interpretation of words used in thedifferent statutes by which it governed India, at a time when  Kashmir was not a part of Indiais  unlikely to pass muster with the Supreme Court.

But even if this surmise proves right, the relief in the valley will be short -lived. For the jingoism that Modi and the RSS will stir up against Kashmiri Muslims, against Indian democrats and against the Supreme court itselfwill see it coast to victory in the state elections at the end of this year .

After that, the BJP will acquire a majority in the Rajya Sabha and the road to changing the constitution via parliament will be open. It is only then that all hell will break loose in Kashmir.

As the death toll rises, thousands of young Kashmiris who have so far stayed out of the insurgency will join it. Judging from what ISIS has already announced, and what has happened elsewhere after the destruction of its original stronghold in Syria, jihadis from the Middle East, and perhaps even Europe, may find their way into the Valley despite everything that the security forces will do. Islamabad will also come under increasing pressure from its own public to unleash its jihadi tanzeems, and will claim that it cannot hold them back.

A long and bloody war will then ensue and terrorism will spread to the rest of India where there is no dearth of soft targets to attack. The hunt for terrorists that will follow will turn India into a police state. Carefully staged fake encounters, which became normal in Gujarat after the 2002 riots, will become the order of the day throughout the country. Muslims will be the main victims. Kashmiriyat will become a distant memory. That will be the beginning of the end of the India we have known till today.

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From its inception, the RSS’s goal has been to create a Hindu India moulded to fit their image of a Hindu Rashtra. This project cannot be completed without trampling on the rights of the people.

Hindutva Has Nowhere to Go Except Down the Road to Tyranny

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Two preceding articles in this series have argued that Hindutva is, in every way, the antithesis of dharma. Dharma is a way of life based upon a human being’s duty to her or his fellow human beings. It has shaped the practice of religion in India for 2,500 years. It prevented the growth of a Brahminical clergy in Hinduism, and severely limited the power of the clergy in Indian Islam. It has even indigenised Christianity. By doing all this, it has, despite the shock of partition, kept India very largely free from religious strife.

Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra are synthetic concepts, created only 96 years ago. Dharma, on the other hand, is entirely indigenous. The roots of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra lie in an attempt to create a Hindu nation modelled on the European nation-state through the enforced cultural homogenisation of the entire population, especially religious minorities.

Savarkar’s role in the rise of Hindutva

This attempt sprang from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s passionate belief that the freedom movement had to harness Hinduism to nationalism to force the British out of India. At one stage in the freedom struggle, this was a widely-shared view. Bengalis had resorted to what the British called ‘revolutionary terrorism‘ after the 1905 partition of Bengal. Revolutionary terrorism had spread to Punjab after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. In Maharashtra, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had endorsed the use of violence and been imprisoned by the British for his pains.

Savarkar. Credit:

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Photo:

The three essentials of Hindutva, he concluded, were a common nation (rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common culture or civilisation (sanskriti). The impress of Europe on his thinking is reflected by the similarity of this slogan with the German Nazi party’s ein volk (one people), ein reich (one nation), ein Fuhrer (one leader). And just as the Nazis decided that Jews could not be a part of this ‘volk’, Muslims and Christians could not belong to the Hindu jati, because their sanskriti and their prophets originated outside of the Hindu civilisation.

Hindutva – the antithesis of dharma

Savarkar did not exclude non-Hindus from the Hindutva fold. But to belong, they had to first accept that they belonged to the Hindu sanskriti. This has remained the core requirement of Hindutva down to the present day. Its corollary is the need to exclude those who do not wish to belong. Those who wish to belong have to profess their ‘Hinduness’ and allegiance to the Hindu Rashtra. As in Catholicism and Islam, the reward for accepting the true faith was the promise of absolution for sins committed in the name of Hinduism.

Thus Babu Bajrangi, leader of the Gujarat-wing of the Bajrang Dal, who was at the centre of the massacre of Muslims in 2002, boasted to Ashish Khetan of Tehelka in a secretly-filmed video interview that he had felt immense satisfaction at doing God’s work while he killed innocent, unarmed Muslim men, women and children.

Similarly, in the course of four interviews lasting more than nine hours that he gave to Leena Reghunath at Ambala central jail in 2013 and 2014, ‘Swami’ Aseemanand – once the principal accused but now exonerated in the Samjhauta Express bomb blast case – did not once condemn the killing of more than 200 Muslims on board the train and in the Malegaon and Ajmer mosque bombings. Instead, he repeatedly insisted that jo hua, wo theek hi hua(what happened was correct).

Aseemanand. Photo: PTI

This is what makes Hindutva the antithesis of dharma. For what it preaches and what Aseemanand, Pragya Thakur, Babu Bajrangi and now millions of others who consider themselves Hindus, have been converted to is adharma: it is paap (sin).

RSS’s goal of a Hindu India

In the 1920s, Hindutva could perhaps be condoned because it was a counsel of despair. The Congress was still a middle-class debating society, Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of satyagraha was still largely untried and the British had taken to shooting down and summarily hanging freedom fighters after labelling them terrorists. But the last shred of justification for its adharma ended after India gained its freedom. For the creation of Pakistan had fulfilled at least one of the goals of the RSS – it had rid India of all the Muslims who did not accept that they were part of the ‘Hindu sanskriti’.

The 12% who stayed in India had chosen consciously to do so. They had, therefore, demonstrated their allegiance to India – which the Hindutva advocates equated to Hindu sanskriti – with their feet. So what fuelled the frantic rage against Partition that the RSS vented in its immediate aftermath? What made Hindutva fanatics condone and later glorify the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and want to deify his assassin, Nathuram Godse? And what has made them demonise the Muslims who had chosen India in 1947 so consistently in the ensuing seven decades?

The explanation is that from its inception, the RSS’s goal was not simply the ‘negative freedom’ India would get from the departure of the British, but the ‘positive freedom’ of creating a Hindu India moulded to fit their image of Hindu Rashtra. Nothing less would satisfy them

Today, the Sangh parivar is trying to pass off Savarkar and Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, as freedom fighters. But as the biographer of Hedgewar, and some of the remarks of his successor Golwalkar show, from the Dandi Salt March in 1929 till Gandhi’s Quit India call in 1940, the RSS stoutly opposed every attempt to secure freedom through satyagraha and even offered its cohorts to the government to act as civil guards to quell the unrest that Gandhi’s call would generate.

RSS volunteers march past portraits of K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar. Photo: Shome Basu

To the RSS, freedom was less important than power. It needed more time to create the Hindutva legions with which it hoped to storm to power. And as with fascism in Europe, it required an enemy that it could persuade people to hate and fear, to facilitate their creation. In Europe, the fascists targeted the Jews. In India, the RSS targeted the Muslims.

Caught by surprise by Partition, which Mountbatten announced only in March 1947, the RSS made an attempt, nonetheless, to seize power in the wake of the turmoil unleashed by it and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, which it certainly welcomed and might even have instigated. That got it banned for several years, but power remained its unswerving goal through all its vicissitudes then, and its violent rebirth after the Congress opened the locks on the Babri Masjid in 1985.

What happens now?

Today, the RSS has finally achieved its goal. Narendra Modi has brought it to power on a wave that will almost certainly sweep through the states and give it the two-thirds majority that it needs to change the constitution of India. The closest parallel in history to BJP’s victory this year is Hitler’s return to power in March 1933. The Nazi campaign too was based upon hatred and paranoia. Its targets were principally the Jews, but also the Gypsies whom they considered another inferior, polluting, race and the Communists.

Like the BJP today, the Nazis took advantage of the collapse of the German economy after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 to seize power in 1930 with 33% of the vote. Three years later, their hate rhetoric had pushed up their vote to 43%. Within days of the January 1933 results, its storm troopers duped a Communist sympathiser into setting the German parliament building on fire and helped him do it. In the anti-Communist hysteria that followed, Hitler was able to win the March 1933 elections persuade the German parliament to pass an enabling act giving him extraordinary powers and thus destroying the Weimar Republic. His storm troopers then systematically attacked Jews, Gypsies and Communists, set up internment camps and when these became too expensive to maintain, sent them to the gas chambers.

While history seldom repeats itself, the new BJP government has already taken its first steps down the road to tyranny. The arrest by the UP Police of four journalists on defamation charges, for simply reporting the claims of one woman, has not only broken every guarantee of free speech and reporting in the constitution, but has also sent a warning to the media that anything they report that can be construed to be disrespectful to a BJP leader or government, will land them in jail.

During its previous avatar, the Modi government had already opened detention centres in Assam for those whom the courts declared to be illegal residents in the state. Today, such centres are proliferating in Assam. But for the Hindu Rashtra, that is not enough. It has followed this up within days of coming back to power, with an enactment that “allows” district magistrates to open similar camps in any or all of India’s 724 districts.

Is it too early to ask Modi what he will do with those whom the police in the BJP-ruled states will intern when Bangladesh refuses to take them back? Photo: PTI

Amit Shah has not hidden the ultimate intention: the search for ‘illegal immigrants’, i.e. the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Bangladeshis who have come to India in search of work and made it their home, is about to commence.

Is it too early to ask Modi what he will do with those whom the police in the BJP-ruled states will intern when Bangladesh refuses to take them back? What solution will he then propose?

Readers sceptical about this reading of recent would do well to study the findings of a recent US-based study of ‘Facebook In India – towards the Tipping Point of Violence, Caste and Religious Hate Speech’. This has meticulously charted how the Sangh parivar has used the same social media that it has warned its opponents against using to infect the youth of this country with fear and animosity towards Muslims and Christians across the country.

Such false news designed to make them credible make up 62% of posts on it. So numerous and violent are the postings that the study had to separate India from what was initially intended to be a global study of the impact of Facebook, and to create a separate classification for it.

The Modi government has another four years and eleven months to go.

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Historically, the encounters between Islam and Hinduism have been beneficial to both.

Hindutva Ignores the Impact Dharma and Islam Had on Each Other in India

Din-e-Ilahi was a restatement of Dharma in a contemporary form. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The idea of religion as a set of beliefs that have to be practiced and not simply professed is not limited to Hinduism, Buddhism and other mystical religions, but has managed to carve out a niche in Islam and Christianity as well. In the 11th and 12th centuries, it found a home in a Christian sect called the Cathars (or Albigenses) in southern France and Spain, and in some branches of Shia Islam such as the Alawis of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Not surprisingly, both sects have been treated as heretical apostates by the clergy of orthodox Christianity and Islam. In AD 1200, Pope Innocent III launched a little known Fourth Crusade against the Cathars, and instructed the knights and Barons who joined it to kill all they met without mercy, and leave it to God to sort out the heretics from the true believers. As for the Alawis, the most recent of innumerable attacks upon them in Syria has still not ended.

In the sharpest possible contrast, the confrontation between Dharma and Islam in India has been peaceful. Dharma’s first contact with Islam occurred when Arab traders came to Gujarat and built mosques there in the 8th and 9th centuries. Not only did this not spark religious conflict, but as contemporary Jain texts recorded, two centuries later, when Mahmud of Ghazni attacked the Somnath Temple, Arabs, who had by then been living there for generations, joined in the defence of the temple and died to protect it.


Mahmud of Ghazni. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The fact that Somnath was a Hindu temple did not matter to them. It had to be defended because it was important to the Hindus among whom they lived.

The second, more prolonged, interaction between Dharma and Islam occurred after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. This is the period that the RSS would like to erase from memory, if not history. It is what has motivated the Modi government to change Aurangzeb road to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Marg among scores of other such changes in the BJP-ruled states.

But it is a period in which there was an unprecedented flowering of art, music and literature. It is the time of Amir Khusro, it is the time when khayal gayaki and Kathak dance were born, when the delicate penmanship of Persian miniature painting fused with the vivid colours of Hindu art to create a profusion of Moghul, Rajput, Kangra, Basohli and other schools of miniature painting. It is the time when Indo-Islamic architecture was born, and reached the heights scaled byHumayun’s Tomb, the Taj Mahal and scores of other monuments spread across the length and breadth of northern India.

Hindutva’s selective memory 

Hindutva ignores all this and prefers to dwell on the defeat of the Rajputs, the destruction of temples and the conversion of large numbers of Hindus to Islam during this period. But here too its memory is selective and distorted. The Rajputs, who then ruled most of north India, were driven into the wilds of Rajasthan. But these defeats arose from the superior military technology of the invaders, such as the superiority of cavalry over elephants, and of archers over infantry – and not from any innate superiority of the (Muslim) fighters. On the contrary, the conquerors recognised the valour of the Rajputs and quickly inducted them into their armies.

The votaries of Hindutva harp endlessly about the damage the Muslim invaders did to the Hindu polity and society, but they choose to ignore the fact that the same Muslim dynasties saved India from the greatest scourge of the Middle Ages – the Mongol invasions that ravaged Europe.

Mongol invasion. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Like other impoverished groups from the Asian steppes, the Mongols first tried to invade India. The first foray, in 1243, took the Delhi Sultanate by surprise and the invaders were able to come all the way till Lahore and sack it to their leisure. But that was the last time they were able to enter the plains of India. Balban, the ruler in Delhi, created a standing army – India’s first – built a string of forts along the border and prevented all subsequent invaders from getting far into the plains of Hindustan. After his death, Alauddin Khilji inflicted two successive defeats on them in 1304 and 1305, with such great slaughter that they turned towards Europe and never returned.

Temples were admittedly destroyed, and precious art, sculpture and architecture irretrievably lost, but the motive of the invaders was pillage, not conversion to Islam. All but a fraction of the conversions that took place in the next 400 years were voluntary. The converts came from the lower castes. They converted because Islam offered an escape from the iniquities of caste – in much the same way as Buddhism had done two thousand years earlier, and as the Bhakti movement in south India had been doing since well before the arrival of the Muslims. Far from being a blot on the conquerors, the conversions were a protest against the Brahmanical, temple-centred Hinduism from which they had been systematically excluded.

Reconciliation between Hinduism and Islam

In northern India, the encounter between Islam and Hinduism proved beneficial to both in important ways that the Sangh parivar prefers not to remember. In Hinduism, it weakened the link between religion and the state by cutting off the single most important source of patronage to the temples. As state patronage dwindled, Brahmins, who had previously flocked to the peeths and mutts were forced to remain in their villages and tend to the spiritual needs of the villagers. The emphasis in their functions, therefore, shifted from presiding over elaborate temple rites to providing guidance on the issues they faced in everyday life. The importance of ritual in Hinduism therefore declined and that of Dharma increased.

The Bhakti movement spread to the north and met the challenge from Sufi Islam by disseminating the core ideas of Dharma through the literature, poetry and song of Tulsidas, Surdas, Kabir, Rahim, Mira Bai, Tukaram, Chokhamela and a host of lesser-known poets, bards and singers. The interaction between the two made Hinduism accessible and mellowed Islam further, to the point where except for scripture, little remained of what divided the one from the other. No couplet I know captures this more succinctly than one by Kabir that I learned as a child and have never forgotten:

Moko kahaan dhoondhate bande, Mai to tere paas me;
                 Na Mai Mandir, na Mai Masjid, naa Kaaba Kailash me.

(Where dost thou seek me oh devotee, for I am right beside thee; Not in a temple, nor in a mosque, not at the Qaaba, nor on Mount Kailash, shalt thou find me).

This profound reconciliation between Hinduism and Sufi Islam is perhaps best reflected in the writings of Guru Nanak and the other gurus of Sikhism. And it was not confined to the villages. It was codified by no less august a person than Emperor Akbar and his counsellors in the Ibadat khana, as the Din-e-Ilahi, the religion of God, at the height of the Moghul empire. Some British historians have described it as an attempt at finding a new religion based on universal tolerance. The Encyclopedia Britannica dismissed it as a religion that never had more than 19 followers.

Emperor Akbar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In fact, Akbar had no such intention. The Din-e-Ilahi was no more than a distillation of what today’s corporate world would call “current best practices” of the heterodox population of India. It propagated sulh-i-kul – universal peace – and urged ten virtues upon the realm. Among these were: liberality and beneficence; forbearance from bad actions and repulsion of anger with mildness; abstinence from worldly desires; frequent meditation on the consequences of one’s actions and “good society with brothers so that their will may have precedence over one’s own”, in short, putting the well-being of one’s fellows ahead of one’s own.

Unlike Emperor Ashoka, Akbar issued no edicts. Nor did he create a religious police to oversee their observance. The significance of the Din-e-Ilahi lay in what it did not prescribe: It did not ascribe primacy to Islam, and it did not give a special place to Muslim clergy within the structure of the state. Instead, it declared emphatically that “he (the emperor, i.e. the state) would recognise no difference between [religions], his object being to unite all men in a common bond of peace”. The entire document was, therefore, a restatement of Dharma in a contemporary form.

Dharma in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the practice of Dharma has been – and remains – sullied by its endorsement of the notion of ritual purity and pollution that is associated with caste. But its core idea, that true religion is not what we preach but what we practice, has remained the driving force behind all movements for religious reform from the Buddha till the present day. It is what Swami Vivekananda electrified the ‘Parliament of Religions of the World’ in Chicago in 1893 with, by explaining that Hinduism does not merely tolerate, but accepts, all the great religions of the world because they are like different paths up the same mountain, or different rivers that flow into the same sea.

In Pakistan, the same impulse has led to a sustained study of the writings of Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest son and heir apparent, a scholar of Sanskrit and translator of the Bhagavad Gita, who had wanted to promulgate the Din-e-Ilahi before his life was cut short by Aurangzeb. In 2010, the noted playwright, Shahid Nadeem, wrote a play, ‘Dara’, that highlighted his syncretism, as a protest against the rampant Islamic sectarianism that Partition had unleashed upon Pakistan and was, even then, tearing it apart.

Three years later, two Pakistani historians from GC University, Faisalabad, published a peer-reviewed paper in the International Journal of History and Research titled ‘Dara Shikoh: Mystical And Philosophical Discourse‘, which highlighted his belief that the fact that “the mystical traditions of both Hinduism and Islam spoke of the same truth.”

In 13th-century France, Roman Catholicism gave no quarter to the Cathars, and decimated them. In Syria, the attack on Bashar Assad’s secular Baathist regime was preceded by two years of relentless demonisation by Wahhabi and Salafi clerics. In Pakistan, Salafi extremism has come close to killing the syncretism that the country had known before Partition. But that syncretism is still very much alive in India.

It is what made Indian Muslims virtually immune to the lure of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Numbers tell the tale: against 27,000 to 31,000 Europeans, only 106 Indian Muslims joined it. Of these, only three went directly from India. The rest were recruited while they were migrant workers in the Gulf.

This is the awe-inspiring syncretism of religion in India that the votaries of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra are bent on destroying.

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The Congress needs to rediscover the idealism of its early days to succeed in harnessing the idealism of youth.


Neither Soft Hindutva Nor Soft Secularism Will Help the Congress Revive Itself

A bike rally during the Ram Navami procession in Kolkata in 2018. Credit: Shome Basu

Almost four weeks have gone by since the Congress suffered its second crushing defeat at the hands of the BJP, but Rahul Gandhi, still the titular head of the party, has yet to break his silence. So far, only one of its senior leaders, Veerappa Moilly, has had the courage to tell him what every member of the party knows: that every day of silence is strengthening the impression that he has thrown in the towel and bowed out of politics altogether.

For a party that has severely discouraged the development of collective leadership and relied ever more heavily on the fading charisma of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to woo voters, this is the kiss of death. Rahul Gandhi may have been a reluctant Congress president. But he did accept the responsibility that goes with the position. So, however disappointed he may be, he has a duty not to destroy the party along with himself.

The challenge he faces is a Promethean one. It is to transform a once-dominant party that has been fighting only rearguard actions to prevent a further erosion of power for the past four decades, into one that admits that it has nothing more to lose and go back on the offensive again.

To do this, he has to infuse the Congress party with a renewed commitment to the nation that Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad had set out to build. This was an India free from religious and caste prejudice, in which people belonging to more than a score of ethno-linguistic nationalities could live as equals and prosper. Only if the Congress succeeds in rediscovering the idealism of its early days will it succeed in harnessing the idealism of youth to the freedom fathers’ idea of India once again.

File picture of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar vallbhbhai Patel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Soft Hindutva

The first step on this road must be to formally repudiate its policy of “soft Hindutva”. Soft Hindutva is the descendant of ‘soft secularism’, a policy of continual appeasement that the party adopted in the 1980s when it began to lose its dominant party status within Indian democracy. The turning point was its opening of the locks on the Babri Masjid in 1985, followed by its overruling of the Supreme court on the triple talaq issue in 1985.

Since then, it has made one compromise after the other till it lost its moral standing with the people. Thus, it allowed Tasleema Nasreen to be chased out of India by Muslim bigots after she had fled to India in search of safety from the bigots of Bangladesh; banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses; allowed Gujarat to ban Joseph Lelyveld’s book on Mahatma Gandhi; allowed  the removal of A.K. Ramanujam’s study of the Ramayana from the Delhi university Syllabus, and banned Chicago scholar Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism altogether. Most shamefully, it did not lift a finger to enable M.F. Husain, the great artist who was chased out of India by the goons of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for daring, as a Muslim, to paint images of scantily clad gods and goddesses, to return to his beloved India even to die here.

After its defeat in 2014, the Congress’s soft secularism has degenerated further into soft Hindutva. This  reached its nadir when the party began to highlight Rahul Gandhi entering temples, praying and emerging with a teeka on his forehead before the Gujarat elections. Automated calls began asking subscribers, “Don’t you know that Rahul Gandhi is a Janeu-dhari Hindu(i.e. a Brahmin)?”

Soft Hindutva has not only further marginalised the already besieged secular elements in the country, but also legitimised the Sangh’s ‘hard’ Hindutva. This is abundantly clear from Narendra Modi’s brazen claim to the legacy of Swami Vivekananda; his appropriation of Sardar Patel for the RSS without a murmur of protest from the Congress, and the outrageous claim to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi he made on Gandhi Jayanti last year. Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi attended the function, but instead of walking out in protest, they sat silently while Modi took away India’s proudest legacy. It was as if, for them, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse was an accident of history: the act of a single deranged fanatic like Gavrilo Princip’s at Sarajevo in 1914, and that the carnage at Ahmedabad in 2002 never happened.

The Congress needs a long period of introspection on its own past errors, before it can even hope to make a comeback. If there is a single “good” outcome it can take away from its defeat, it is the realisation that there is no middle ground in the battle of ideas that lies ahead. To combat the poison of Hindutva, the Congress needs to stop parroting imported words like secularism and pluralism, both of which have  clichés, and rediscover the guiding philosophy that has underpinned the practice of all religions in India over the past two-and-a-half millennia. This is ‘Dharma’.

What is Dharma

Dharma is the original faith of Vedic India. There is no reference in the Vedas to Hindu Dharma, because the word Hindu was brought to India from Persia more than a millennium later, ironically, by the Muslims. Dharma was not a religion in the modern, contentious, sense of the word because the Messianic religions that now dominate discourses on religion had yet to be born. Dharma defined the right way of living: it prescribed how people needed to relate to each other and to the wider world around them.

The Rig veda differentiates between different forms of dharma, such as prathama Dharma, Raj Dharma and Swadharma. But every one of these centers around the concept of human Duty, which was “to Uphold, to Support, to Nourish”. Dharma is what became Karma Yoga in Hinduism during the classical period.

“Dharma” was the word  Gautama Buddha used to describe his sermons on the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. Western students of comparative religion, have done Buddhism a disservice by presenting it as a new religion, because this has made it one among several religions, including the three Messianic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Buddha’s use of the Vedic term suggests that he considered himself to be a social reformer and not a prophet. What he had rebelled against was the corruption of Dharma, and the growth of Adharma. These were  caused by self-absorption, avarice, expensive and impoverishing ritual, and Brahminical control. Buddhism was, in fact, the first great recorded rebellion against organised religion in human history.

Buddhists monks clean a statue of Lord Buddha ahead of Buddha Purnima festival in Howrah on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Buddha’s use of the Vedic term suggests that he considered himself to be a social reformer and not a prophet. Photo: PTI

A critical difference

Describing Buddhism as one of several prophetic religions has obscured a critical difference between Hinduism, Buddhism and other mystical religions, and the Messianic ones. This is that Messianic religions have to be professed. Belonging to one of them requires a profession of faith in it and a repudiation of other faiths. It is a surrender of oneself to the ‘true’ God, whose reward is the possibility of gaining absolution for one’s sins through repentance, in this life.

Dharma, by contrast, has to be lived. Only virtue in this life can gain the soul freedom from the chain of rebirth. It requires no profession of faith, no submission to a single prophet. And it offers no easy absolution from sin. It is the Hindu way of referring to Buddhism, as Bauddha Dharma, and the remark that Hindus frequently make even today – “yeh mera Dharma hai” – that capture its essence.

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Nine out of nine exit polls have predicted an outright  victory for the BJP with close to 300 seats. This prediction flies in the face of prepoll opinion surveys which had concluded that the BJP would do better than its opponents hoped, but would not come near an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. It  also dismisses the profound discontent of the electorate  — of farmers over the deepening agricultural crisis, youth over the complete absence of jobs,  workers over the loss of existing jobs,  and small manufacturers and traders forced into bankruptcy  by a combination of industrial stagnation, demonetisation, and the GST.

Can Modi’s single plank election appeal to hyper- nationalism, attacking Pakistan,  killing Kashmiri militant youth  and terrorising Indian Muslims have been sufficient  to overcome  this extensively documented collapse of confidence? If the exit polls are even close to accurate, then this would have to be the only explanation.. But can we believe the  exit polls?  Have they been accurate in the past?  The answer is that some exit polls have been reasonably accurate; others have been  wrong but within acceptable limits, while still others have been wildly wrong.  A closer examination of  past exit polls is therefore necessary to determine which category he current predictions are likely to fall into.

Let us start with past Lok Sabha polls:  In the 2004  elections pollsters gave the Vajpayee-led NDA 230 to275 seats. But it  won only 187 seats and was pushed out of power. The 2009 exit polls they gave the UPA 199 seats and doubted whether it could stay in power. Instead it got 262 seats and did. In the 2014 elections, however, the exit poll preditions were  borne out..

Since these results give a very mixed picture  lets look at exit poll predictions for Vidhan Sabhaelections. In the 2015  Bihar elections the pollsters had predicted that the BJP would get between 93 and 155 seats with a median prediction of 108 seats, and comfortably form the government.  Instead they won a mere 53 seats. Similarly, in the UP 2017 vidhan sabha elections the exit polls gave the BJP 161 to 170 seats and 228 to 230 seats to the SP and BSP combined. In fact the BJP won a spectacular 312 seats.

By contrast,  in Karnataka 2018 the exit pollsters got it almost right, for the average of their estimates, the so-called ‘poll of polls’, gave the Congress 80 seats, the BJP 104, and the Janata Dal ( secular) of Deve Gowda  38 seats, In practice the Congress got 86, the BJP 103 and the JD(S)  37.

Similarly in the three other major state elections in 2018, the exit polls got it more or less right in two , but spectacularly wrong in the third: in Madhya Pradesh 6 exit polls gave widely varying estimates for the two main parties, but their average came close to the mark. This was 111 for the Congress and 108 for the BJP. In Rajasthan  they predicted 108 for the Congress which ended with 110. But in Chhattisgarh, exit polls predicted 40 for the BJP and 44 for the Congress, but the BJP won only 15 seats while the Congress won 68.

What can we learn from these results that will help us to make sense of the exit poll results described above? It needs to be remembered that the essential premise of an exit poll is that the people tell the truth when they come out of the polling booth, because once they have  voted they have nothing to gain from hiding their choice. This, of course, is never entirely true, so opinion polls taken at leisure try to filter out a ‘lying factor’ by asking intersecting  questions. But there is no time for this in an exit poll. So the accuracy of answers hinges entirely upon the respondents’ sense of security.

This is highest when conditions are “ normal”, the rule of law more or less prevails, and the conventions of democracy are respected. These conditions usually exist  when the state or country enjoys a stable party system in which both or all parties have been in and out of power several times and do not fear being voted out. In the polls described above Rajasthan , Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka meet these pre-conditions.

A second condition in which people are likely to speak the truth is when  there is an overwhelming popular consensus on issues. Respondents then draw their sense of security from being part of a large group.  This pre-condition was fulfilled before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014  by Modi’s promises of reviving growth and creating two core jobs a year. With ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ behind him, and  a benign party and prime minister who did not target political opponents, people had no hesitation in talking about how they have voted.

A third pre-condition  for exit poll accuracy is that no new factor of compelling importance should have come into play, that disturbs the equilibrium described above. The Bihar 2015 predictions went wrong because exit pollsters were unable to take fully into account the impact of the formation of the Mahagatbandhanin the state, when converting votes  into seats. This is the single biggest stumbling block in predicting the results of any election based upon the simple majority voting system.

The pollsters got UP wrong for the same reason – they were unable to take the impact of the division of the vote between the SP and BSP fully into account while converting votes into seats. That bitter fight,  and the way it divided the Muslim vote while consolidating the upper caste hindu vote turned the exit poll results into a farce.  The results showed that the BSP-SP vote division had given the BJP 228 out of its 312 seats.

The SP had won all the  18 bye-elections in the state before the 2017 vidhan sabha poll, because the BSP had not fielded a candidate. As a result five sixths of the BSP vote had gone to the Samajwadi party. In this election if the BSP and SP have retained their shares of the 2017 vote, their combination alone will cost the BJP 46 out of its present 73 seats.

The other new factor that the pollsters have not even remotely taken into account  is the way in which Modi’s policies have unintentionally, but rapidly,  sharpened the class division in Indian politics to the point where the politics of caste and creed is gradually being transformed ito the politics of class.  It is not just that  industry has stalled and  jobs have been lost by the million when Modi had promised the opposite.   It is that every law passed by his government, and every bit of rope he has given to the VHP and other outcroppings of the RSS to enforce enactments such as the ban on cow slaughter; the unleashing of Gau Rakshaksupon cattle traders;  the invasion by aged cattle of the already crisis-ridden farmers’ fields;  the collapse of the cattle market, which has destroyed the prime mode of saving of the landless poor, and the systemic oppression and lynching of Muslims has brought in class into Indian politics in a way that could barely have been imagined five years ago.

All the economically and politically oppressed  in the country are poor. All of them are, to varying degrees, living lives of fear. Therefore very few of them are willing to tell the truth about how will they vote to strangers. But the vast majority  of them are behind the various raggle-taggle gatbandhansthat have been formed across the country to fight the BJP. This is why the exit poll predictions this time need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.




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An awful cancer has invaded the soul of India. This is the country where Gautam Buddha,  the greatest saint humanity has known, was born. This is the country where Bhakti and Sufi  poets and saints stripped Brahminical Hinduism and orthodox Islam of ritual, idol worship and clerical control,  and preached union with the almighty through  love and submission,

This is the country of Swami Vivekananda, who electrified the World Conference of Religions at Chicago in 1893, by telling the delegates that Hinduism did not merely tolerate other religions but accepted them,   because the great religions are  like rivers that have carved out  different paths but end in the same sea; like paths up a mountain that end at the same peak.

This is the country that produced  Mahatma Gandhi, who drove  the British out of India without  firing a shot at them. But today this same country is in the grip of a blood lust in which the only issue being discussed ad nauseamis ‘how many terrorists/ Pakistanis/ Muslims did “we” kill in Balakot?

Nowhere is the new bloodlust more visible than on Indian television,  which is being watched abroad with growing horror on Youtube. A report in the Washington Posthas summed up its irresponsibility with damning precision:

“More than two weeks after the (Pulwama) attack, our analysis finds that no news site had rectified the errors in their reporting, leaving these misleading facts as a matter of public record. Instead, the Indian media has ascribed to itself the role of an amplifier of the government propaganda that took two nuclear states to the brink of war. Many TV newsrooms were transformed into caricatures of military command centers, with anchors assessing military technology and strategy (sometimes incorrectly). Some even dressed for the occasion in combat gear. Speculation and conjecture were repeated ad infinitum, and several journalists even took to Twitter to encourage the Indian army”[1].

If blame can be ascribed to any single individual, it has to be Prime minister Narendra Modi, who is willing to stop at nothing  to win the next election. But why have the media , that pride themselves on being the Fourth Estate of democracy (“The Nation wants to know”)  joined in so enthusiastically? The short answer is that the audience to whom it panders is not the India that has existed for ages, but a  new India being created mainly in the urban areas today.

That India and its proponent, the RSS, are products of modernity and the rupture it creates with the past. For this India  religion begins and ends with the robotic performance of ritual,  poojato idols, pilgrimages to Vaishno Devi and Amar Nath, and ‘purifying’ baths during the  Kumbh Mela at the confluence of  the  stinking Ganges and Yamuna rivers that they have not the slightest intention of either reviving or cleaning up.

This new India is still very small. Even in 2014, barely 31 percent of the electorate voted for Modi. So why are there no defenders of the old India out there? While many factors are responsible, in the political sphere the answer seems to lie in the cultural vacuum at the core of the Congress, the largest party in the opposition. The leader  of the Congress is a lady born in Italy and raised a Catholic. The President of the party is only one quarter Hindu by blood, and not Hindu at all by nurture or education. Neither of them has a gut  understanding of the core values of Hindu society; its syncretic, accepting, pluralism; its willingness to adapt, live and let live. So neither of them is able to  feel the anger that the  degradation of Hinduism, and  perversion of  its core values by the RSS has created in caste hindus of the old India, and the fear it has inspired in the Dalits, some of the backward classes and the Muslims.

This emotional vacuum at the top has led the Congress into the trap of trying to compete with the BJP by peddling ‘soft Hinduism’, instead of opposing  the ‘hard Hindutwa’ of the RSS, tooth and nail. Before the Gujarat elections Rahul Gandhi visited temple after temple, came out of them with a teekaon his forehead and proclaimed that “I am a Hindu” in much the same way as a convert to Islam or Christianity would proclaim that he or she is now a Muslim or Christian.

This “soft”  Hindutwa explains why he was so quick to accept Pakistan’s culpability  in the attack, why he   described it almost sentimentally as  “an attack on India’s soul” and,  without prior discussion, committed not only the Congress but the entire opposition to “fully supporting  the government and the security forces” in their actions. By doing this he legalized in advance every action that Modi has taken against Pakistan.

“Soft Hindutwa” also explains many of his subsequent silences and omissions, such as why he did not point out that Pakistan was only indirectly to blame because the suicide bomber was a Kashmiri youth; why he did not immediately condemn Modi’s dangerous brinkmanship in launching a pre-emptive attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammad madrassa and training camp  at Balakot, and why he did not immediately condemn Modi’s calculated silence  over the expulsion of thousands of Kashmiris from apartments, rooms and hostels by frenzied mobs across north India. To the minorities, as well as to the Hindus of the ‘old’ India , it conveyed the disheartening news that for the Congress too political expediency trumped the rule of law. So why bother to vote for it?

This lack of courage  has allowed Modi to turn the tables on the opposition. Whereas it is he who is playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship in a desperate effort to win an election he was almost  certain to lose,  with the help of the ever-subservient media he has been able to  portray  the opposition as unprincipled, opportunistic politicians who care two hoots about India’s security and standing in south Asia and the world, and are only intent upon ousting the BJP from power at any cost.

As a result, Modi has been able to make a significant part of the population of the country forget, at least for the moment, the collapse of the economy, the crisis in agriculture, the stagnation of industry, the  11 million jobs lost by it over the past five years, and the hollowness of  the grandiose promises he made to them when he came to power. Whether Modi  will be able to make their amnesia last till the general elections remains to be seen. But Rahul Gandhi’s silence on this front too is not going to shorten it.

Unfortunately this is not the end of India’s misfortune for, having made one major mistake, Rahul Gandhi seems intent on making another, even bigger one. This is not to understand the imperative need to avoid fracturing the anti-BJP vote at any cost. Instead through his lack of experience and his want of leadership qualities, he is doing the exact opposite: in state after state he is  allowing the shortsightedness and greed of his  party rank and file to make him demand far more seats in than the Congress’ share of the vote merits, and thereby  disrupt the building of a common front against the BJP.

In Delhi the Congress has flatly refused  to make any  seat-sharing agreement with the Aam Admi Party, and has decided to fight all the seven seats by itself, despite the fact that it does not stand a snowball in Hell’s  chance of winning even a single seat,  and can only divide the vote in favour of the BJP. This has been made abundantly clear by an opinion poll based on  a mammoth 18,750 person sample has  shown that while the AAP still holds 52 percent of the vote, the Congress share is a paltry 5.5 percent.

In the crucial state of UP the Congress has already published the names of 11 candidates and intends to fight many more seats in spite of  having won only 2 seats out of 80 in 2014 and commanding barely 11 percent of the vote. In UP  too whatever little chance the Congress had of cutting into the BJP vote to win some seats has been destroyed by its tame acceptance of Modi’s leadership in dealing with the aftermath of Pulwama. Today, all that the Congress can do is to increase the number of seats that the BJP will win.

As if these setbacks are not enough, if reports in some newspapers are accurate, relations between  the Congress and Tejaswi Yadav’s JDU are also becoming strained in Bihar.

How costly Rahul Gandhi’s immaturity , and lack of leadership qualities,  can prove was  shown by the results of the Gujarat state assembly elections in December 2017. Long before  he turned on Mani Shankar Aiyar, the most eloquent speaker in  his  own party, when Aiyar defended  the Gandhi family against an unprovoked slur by Modi  by calling him  a neech kism ka admi, (which Gandhi misunderstood as a neech jaat ka admi) ,  he had already  ensured a BJP victory by spurning the  Aam admi party as well.

Well before the election,  Arvind Kejriwal had made three attempts to contact Rahul Gandhi in order to forge an alliance with the Congress in Gujarat. Kejriwal had understood that  while the AAP could not win any seats on its own, it did command a sizeable  share of the vote in Gujarat. He was therefore willing to put up AAP candidates in seats selected by the Congress, where the AAP had the greatest capacity to cut into the BJP’s vote.  Rahul Gandhi did not even bother to reply to his a phone calls. So  BJP came back to power by the skin of its teeth, winning 18 seats with a margin of 5,000 or fewer votes and nine with a margin of less than 2,000 !

Today the Indian nation is facing a crisis whose seriousness almost no one in the Congress party understands ( and the few who do dare not to speak). Thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s inexperience and indecisiveness  there is now a distinct possibility that the BJP will emerge as the largest single party after the next elections and be able to  form a government with disillusioned elements of the Mahagatbandhan.Should that happen, the dwindling but still substantial number of Kashmiris who   want azadiwithout losing their links with India  will lose all hope and  start backing those who  want to secede from India. India will  have lost  Kashmir forever. Worse still, a future BJP government’s  attempt to hold on to it by force alone, as Modi has done for the last five years,  will almost certainly precipitate a war with Pakistan.

In the Indian heartland democrats and dissidents will be silenced through a wholesale use of the sedition laws.  First the High courts and then  the Supreme Court will collapse under the burden of the cases that the victims will file. Vigilante rule targeting Muslims and Dalits will  gather momentum. As faith in the police and the judiciary dwindles first a few, and then more  Muslim youth will  conclude that it is better to die fighting than live in fear forever, and swing to terrorism  as hundreds , if not thousands,  of Kashmiri youth have done in the past five years. The police repression that will inevitably follow will destroy the last vestiges of democracy and the rule of law.

State governments not under BJP rule will not take this lying down. Their attempts to protect their democratic systems will lead to the splintering, and then disintegration, of India. The portents of disintegration are already visible: Modi has not held a single meeting of the National Development Council since he came to power, and questioned the very need for its existence in January 2015.

And the first signs of rebellion by state governments against arbitrary rule by the Centre have already appeared. Between November 2018 and January 2019 three states – Seemandhra, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh, have withdrawn their ‘general consent’ to Central enforcement agencies, to operate in their territory  without prior, specific permission, under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

The portents are unambiguous: if the BJP of the Modi era (not to be confused with the BJP of the Vajpayee era)  is returned to power  it is not only its democracy but its unity, and its syncretic culture that will be in mortal danger.



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While such electoral promises may garner votes, taxpayer money meant to safeguard India’s future is instead spent on an ever-expanding web of social welfare programmes that don’t really enable the poor.

As BJP, Congress Race to Promise the Earth to the Poor, Who Will Foot the Bill?Credit: Reuters

The approach of the next general election has reminded political leaders of the existence of the poor in India. This has set off a rash of competing promises to the electorate.

On January 28, three days before the budget, Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced that his party would guarantee a minimum income to every poor family in the country.

As of now neither Rahul, nor anyone else in Congress, has clarified precisely who will benefit from this scheme, but the cost will be prohibitive: At the prevailing minimum wage of Rs 321 a day (Rs 9,630 a month), covering 25% of the families of the country will cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 700,000 crore a year.

How the beneficiaries will be chosen is still unclear. The actual number could be much smaller – perhaps no more than 18% – if we count only those whom the National Sample Survey has placed in its residual category of ‘casual’ workers. But even casual workers make up 18% of the work force. So guaranteeing at least a minimum income will add Rs 500,000 crore to the central government’s expenditures.

The situation in Wazirpur is indicative of the plight of unorganised workers across Delhi. Credit: Amit Kumar

Not to be outdone, three days later, Piyush Goel – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s acting finance minister – announced in his budget speech that the BJP-led government would introduce an immediate income subsidy of Rs 6,000 a year to all farm families with less than two hectares of land. The government has estimated that 12 crore farmers operate on less than two hectares of land. This will therefore add Rs 72,000 crore to the Centre’s annual expenditure.

Goyal also unveiled an insurance scheme for unorganised workers in which the government will match the contributions of Rs 55 to Rs 100 a month of contributors starting from the age of 18, and guarantee them a pension of Rs 3,000 a month after they reach the age of superannuation. On the surface, this looks like a ‘pay as you go’ insurance scheme of the kind that continental European countries have adopted (but the UK and India have not). But it too bears the marks of haste and lack of study.

In ‘pay as you go’ schemes, the annual payout by the insurance company is met by the interest earned on accumulated pension contributions, supplemented by current premium inflows.

If such a scheme is open to anyone who is prepared to pay the required premium, a lock-in period of five to six years before contributors become eligible for its benefits is usually sufficient to make it solvent, without the need for any annual subvention from the exchequer.

But the imposition of a Rs 15,000 ceiling on eligibility for benefits will almost certainly pervert its purpose. For it will provide the employers with a big stick with which to dissuade workers who want a pay hike beyond Rs 15,000: “Stay below it or face the loss of half your pension when you retire”. 

Unwittingly, therefore, Goyal has made a similar mistake to what the Speenhamland Act made in England in 1795, when it promised to supplement private wages with a ‘filler’ to raise workers’ living standards to the minimum acceptable level. All that the Act succeeded in doing was to allow employers to lower their wage rates as far as the Speenhamland commissioners would tolerate .

The ‘Speenhamland Effect’ will also ensure that the total number of beneficiaries will far exceed the 10 crore that to the Modi government expects. There are more than 36 crore non-agricultural employees in the unorganised sector. Is there any good reason not to expect 30 crore among them to take out old age pension policies? 

If, or rather when, that happens, the government’s outgo on the scheme will rise to Rs 36,000 crore. If one adds to these two schemes the tax, and interest rebates that the interim finance minister has promised, this budget will increase budget spending by Rs 100-125,000 crore in a full year.

A woman tests LED bulbs after installing them onto a grid to make indicator lights inside an electrical manufacturing unit in Mumbai, March 22, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas

A broke government

Where will this money come from? Neither the Congress nor the BJP has said a word about how it will raise it, so one must conclude that they expect the annual increase in the government’s tax and non-tax revenues to cover the extra spending. 

But even a cursory look at the government’s finances will show that while this can happen when the economy is growing at 8-10% a year and industry at 9-12%, as it did between 2003 and 2011, it cannot when industrial growth is stuck at 3-4% a year. 

The harsh truth is that the government is broke. To balance its budget in 2017-18, it had to borrow money to meet close to 29% of its expenditure by borrowing money from the public through the sale of bonds by the Reserve Bank of India. The preliminary estimate for 2018-19 is only marginally lower. 

Had the borrowed money been going into the creation of infrastructure, as it did in from the ’50s to the ‘70s, it would have given no cause for concern because the additional assets it created would have generated more money and more jobs. 

But in 2017-18, very little of the borrowing is being done for investment. Of Rs 5,91,000 crore in 2017-18, Rs 529,000 crore was used to pay the interest on past loans. This is thus a self-contained circle that comes into being in which fresh debt is incurred to meet the cost of servicing past debt.

In short, the government is running the largest Ponzi scheme of all time.

The budget does contain a small allocation Rs 263,000 crore for its capital account. But this money does not create new fixed assets. Most of it goes into the maintenance of the fixed assets – roads, bridges, power stations and the like that were built in the past. 

In sum, very little of the money that the government now raises from taxpayers is intended to safeguard the future of the country by creating more and better infrastructure. Nearly all of it is being spent upon salaries and pensions of a bloated bureaucracy whose income is adjusted every five years for inflation, come rain or shine.

What little remains is being spent on an ever-expanding web of social welfare programmes that create immediate relief and garner votes in the next election, but do nothing that will enable the poor to stand on their own feet.

That security comes only with the acquisition of stable, permanent jobs. Neither Rahul Gandhi’s minimum income programme, nor Mr Modi’s Rs 6,000 a year to the superannuated farmer will assure his or her son, daughter or grandchildren a job. To revert to economists’ jargon, every rupee that the government spends on boosting consumption instead of investment, denies someone a job on some date in the not too distant future.

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