Prem Shankar Jha

We do need to remember the horrors of Partition, to remind ourselves not to allow, let alone participate in, a destruction of the uniquely tolerant fusion of religions that India created over three millennia.

PM Modi, at the End of His Tether, Is Intent on Wilful Destruction of Syncretism

Had Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the long Independence Day panegyric to himself two years later, even his bitterest critics would have regarded it as nothing more than the starting gun of the BJP’s 2024 election campaign. But the fact that he chose to give it when he is not even half way through his current term in office shows that he is not only at the end of his tether but knows it. 

From failed economic promises to misbegotten economic reforms; from relentless communal polarisation, to the crushing of civil dissent and the destruction of citizens’ fundamental right to liberty, he has tried everything to shore up the superman image of himself that he has tirelessly built over the past seven years.

But, as India Today’s ‘Mood of the Nation 2021′ poll has shown, his approval rating as prime minister has plummeted from 66 to 24% in a single year. 

But Modi is a fighter and is not prepared to give up. That is the message he has sent out with his decision to commemorate  August 14 as the ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. The announcement is mystifying, to say the least. The slaughter and displacement of millions that it triggered have turned the memory of what should have been the most memorable event of my life into one that I have unthinkingly avoided for the whole of my life. Why is Modi reminding me of it now?

The government’s notification says that the country needs ‘to remember the Pain and Violence of Partition”. But BJP president, J.P. Nadda has been more forthright. “Partition,” Nadda intoned, “created the circumstances (opportunity) for the politics of appeasement and negativity to dominate our politics (Vibhajan se utpann paristhitiyon ne tushtikaran ki rajneeti aur nakaratmak shaktiyon ko haavi hone ka mauka diya).”  

Nadda’s remark does more than explain Modi’s purpose: it gives us a glimpse of a dark mind that confuses negotiation with cowardice, and compromise with surrender. And it gives us a terrifying glimpse of where this government could take us in the next three years in Modi’s determination to avoid both at no matter what cost to his country and people.

Partition did turn Indian Independence into an event that evokes only painful memories – a “horror”. But not because it involved any weakness or appeasement on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru’s part. On the contrary, because they had no previous experience of statecraft, both the Congress and Muslim League leaders dallied over decision-making and fought small battles with each other till the opportunity for fruitful compromise was taken away by others less scrupulous and more hungry for power than themselves. 

India’s last two prime ministers, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh, had understood this and come within a hairsbreadth of repairing the damage that Partition had done to the entire sub-continent. But in the last seven years, Modi has succeeded in undoing everything they had achieved. Today, with the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, and relations with both China and Pakistan at an all-time low, even the truncated India that Partition left us with is in greater danger than it has ever been. 

A file image of former Prime Minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with his Pakistani counterpart Parvez Musharraf. Photo: PTI/File

So, much as I would not like to, I too find it necessary to revisit the “horrors of Partition,” to learn how we allowed ourselves to be plunged into them, so as not to plunge into them once more. 

The first misconception is that the Muslims of India were bent upon carving out a separate state for themselves. Partition was not the original objective of the Muslim League. Jinnah’s goal, from the day he agreed to become the president of the newly formed Muslim League in 1916, was to obtain a guarantee of the rights of minorities, with one-third representation of Muslims in all legislatures, based upon reserved constituencies. This was why he remained a member of the Congress even after being elected the head of the Muslim League.   

Twenty four years later, the March 1940 Lahore resolution of the party, which is now universally regarded as its “Partition Resolution,” resolved only to create “an autonomous or semi-independent Muslim majority region within the larger Indian confederation.”

This was not only Jinnah’s preference but that of the two large Muslim majority provinces of the country, Punjab (which then stretched from Delhi till the Khyber pass) and Bengal. 

Punjab was ruled by the Unionist Party, in coalition with the Akalis and the Congress. This had been led, till his death, by Sir  Sikandar Hayat Khan, who was adamantly opposed to Partition because this would require “disrupting the Punjab and the Unionist Party, and he was not prepared to accept that”. Although the Muslim League had made impressive advances in the Muslim reserved constituencies, the Unionists had remained the dominant party in the province. 

Opposition to Partition was even more vehement in Bengal. Its Prime Minister, H.S Suhrawardy, was a stalwart of the Muslim League who shared Jinnah’s vision of a confederal India in which Punjab and Bengal would form the major part of the Muslim-governed areas of the county. When Lord Mountbatten unveiled an interim Partition plan in April 1947 that involved the partition of both Punjab and Bengal, Suhrawardy opposed it vehemently and proposed the creation of an independent, united Bengal. In a stirring speech on April 27 in Delhi, he said:

“Let us pause for a moment to consider what Bengal can be if it remains united. It will be a great country, indeed the richest and the most prosperous in India capable of giving to its people a high standard of living, where a great people will be able to rise to the fullest height of their stature…”

The significant phrase in his advocacy was ‘the most prosperous in India’

Unless this was a slip of the tongue, Suhrawardy did not propose the creation of a separate state of Bengal. He wanted a United Bengal that remained part of an as yet undefined Indian confederation. What is equally significant is that his proposal did not raise hackles in the Congress, for several of the party’s leaders in Bengal, like Sarat Chandra Bose and Kiran Shankar Roy, felt that there was a good deal of merit in it. The Congress opposed it only after it began to be interpreted, notably by Sir Fredric Burroughs, the Governor of Bengal, as a proposal to create a separate dominion of Bengal as one of three successor regimes in India.

So what was it that triggered the holocaust that followed? 

The short answer is the campaign of ‘Direct Action’, i.e ethnic cleansing – begun by an increasingly radicalised Muslim League to force the creation of “Pakistan”. Its chosen instrument was the Muslim League National Guard, which had been started in 1931 as a youth wing of the League, but been revived at a meeting of the League’s ‘Committee of Action’ at a Lahore in 1946 to serve a different, murderous end.  

Calcutta, after the 1946 riots. Photo: Public domain

By August 16, 1946, when it initiated the planned killing of Hindus in Calcutta, the Muslim Guard, as it came to be called, had 22,000 members. In Calcutta, ‘Direct Action’ served the radicals’ purpose by causing the angered Hindus to retaliate. More than 4,000 lives were lost and, in a preview of what was to happen a year  later, both Hindus and Muslims began to move to safer parts of the city.

In the ensuing months, ‘Direct Action’ spread to the NWFP and Punjab and culminated in an organised massacre of Sikhs in Rawalpindi. By December, it had forced virtually all the Hindu and Sikh traders and land-owners of the NWFP and Northern Punjab to flee to eastern Punjab, Delhi and Muzaffarabad in Kashmir. ‘Direct Action’ spread to Noakhali in Bengal in October 1946, and to the rest of Punjab in December.

The resulting breakdown of law and order that followed, in particular the communalisation of the police and lower bureaucracy, forced the Unionist-Akali-Congress coalition government, then headed by Sir Sikandar Hayat’s son Khizr Hayat Khan, to resign in March 1947. Only weeks later, ‘Direct Action’ achieved its purpose when the Congress reluctantly accepted the Partition of India, stating that  it was doing so only to prevent the ‘communal poison from spreading to the rest of the country and tearing its social fabric apart’.

There is thus ample justification for holding the Muslim League responsible for initiating the communal violence that tore India apart in the next 12 months, but none for laying the blame at the doorstep of ordinary Muslims. For the express purpose of ‘Direct Action’ was to break Indian Muslims’ traditional support of the Congress

To do this, the radicals in the League deliberately aroused two of the basest motives in human nature: greed and lust.

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The fact that the RSS has intervened to ensure the government does not implement the farm Acts is significant.

Centre’s Offer to Defer Farm Acts Is a Victory for Democracy. Don’t Throw it Away.
Farmers take out a tractor march as part of the preparations for their planned tractor parade in the national capital on Republic Day, during a protest against the new farm laws, in Amritsar, Friday, January 22, 2021. Photo: PTI

The decision by protesting farmers to not accept the government’s offer to defer the farm Acts could be the first misstep in what has so far been the most meticulously planned, responsible and peaceful mass demonstration that India has seen in recent times.

More than the number of people mobilised at the Singhu and Tikri borders, it was their discipline and organisation that demonstrated the strength of the movement and the support it commanded. It is these, rather than the implied threat of violence, that has made the government pull back.

All of this immense accretion of credibility and respect is under threat today because, for the first time, the farmers were split on whether to accept the government’s offer of an 18-month stay or not. The longer the split lasts, the more the farmers’ movement will lose its moral ascendancy in the eyes of a public that has been almost solidly behind it so far. The more that happens, the more will the accusations of the Modi bhakts in the BJP and the media, that this is a movement fuelled by an irresponsible political opposition, backed by Khalistanis, begin to sound credible to the common, apolitical public.

An even greater threat from the failure to arrive at an agreement is it will increase the possibility of a violent confrontation between the Delhi police and the farmers on January 26. This is something that the farmers cannot afford, now that the government has put the farm Acts on hold, because it will cost them much of the public support they now enjoy.

But there is an even greater price that the country will have to pay if the farmers do not accept the government’s offer. This will be a substantial weakening of the RSS in relation to Modi and his extremist base of support in the Sangh parivar. This is because the government’s decision to stay the implementation of its farm Acts by 18 months did not emerge from second thoughts that Modi may have had on it, but from an unambiguous directive issued by the RSS.

The government’s  decision came within 24 hours of a categorical statement by RSS general secretary Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi, the second-in command in the organisation, that “a middle ground must be found and both sides must work to find a solution”.

Bhaiyyaji’s statement needs to be read in full to appreciate its significance:

“Democracy provides an opportunity to both sides. I consider both sides right (in) their place. Agitators must consider that whatever they can get through dialogue, they must accept. The government must think about what more it can give. …So it is important to find that point where the two sides can agree and the agitation can end. Any agitation running for long is not beneficial. No one should have a problem with an agitation taking place. But a middle ground must be found. An agitation does not just affect people associated with it, but also impacts society, directly or indirectly. It is not good for the health of society for any agitation to run for too long. So a middle ground must be found and both sides must work to find a solution”.

As significant as the contents of the statement is how and to whom Bhaiyyaji gave it – in an interview to the Indian Express, a newspaper not known for its support to this government or the ideology that propels it.

Joshi went on to advise moderation to the farmers:

“Whenever a discussion is held, there can’t be an argument that my position is non-negotiable…The government is repeatedly saying we are ready to discuss, but (the protesters) are saying any discussion will take place only after the laws are repealed. How will a discussion take place like that. ..I believe farmers must have a discussion with the government over issues they have with the laws… There should be a positive initiative from both sides. If agitators also take a positive approach it will be good.”

It is against this remarkably candid reproach of its own government that the farmers need to determine their future course today. That this was not just another appeal being made from behind a veil of seeming impartiality, to put the farmers in the wrong, became clear when the government postponed the implementation of the farm laws by not a few weeks or even months but a year and a half. This is as close as any democratic government can come to admitting that it had made a mistake. To ask it to do more is to ask for the moon.

The political significance of the RSS’s intervention goes beyond the farmers’ struggle. It is a reminder to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that even if he does not consider himself to be accountable to the public, he remains accountable to the organisation to which he owes his present position. And that organisation did not appreciate his haste in announcing new decisions, and rushing new laws through parliament, without going through the process of consultation, with the party, the parliament and the public, which is the essence of democracy.

One swallow does not a summer make, but the possibility that Bhaiyyaji’s admonition is only the tip of a larger iceberg of dissatisfaction with this government’s performance cannot be ruled out. For the RSS’s credo, which is drilled into every pracharak during its orientation programmes in Nagpur, is to work quietly behind the scenes, and avoid the limelight at almost any cost. This is a credo that Modi began rebelling against in various small ways soon after the RSS made him its pracharak for the Gujarat unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad more than two decades ago.

It was only his organisational capacity, his irreproachable financial integrity and, regrettably, his handling of the riots in 2002, that kept him in its good books. But since he became the prime minister, the drawbacks of his personality – his haste, impetuosity and constant thirst for acclamation – have become more of a liability than an asset.

After Modi became prime minister, the RSS almost certainly did not expect to be consulted on every action of the government, for that would have gone against its entire credo of being a social organisation whose purpose was the revival and glorification of Bharat Mata. But Modi’s relentless presentation of every major decision of the government  as his and his alone with neither consultation before nor credit shared afterwards, could not have failed to disturb the parent organisation.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, August 15, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Despite the increasingly frequent blowback from Modi’s hasty decisions, the RSS stayed clear of intervening so long as these remained broadly within the parameters of Hindutva ideology, and of its stated political aims. Thus, Modi’s tacit support through silence of programmes like love jihad, gau raksha and ghar wapsi; his party and government’s determination to ensure that no one accused of a communal atrocity ever faced punishment; his determination to push “illegal” Muslim immigrants out of Assam and India no matter what the cost; his open invitation to RSS and BJP cadres to ‘help’ the police to break up the Shaheen Bagh satyagraha movement, which resulted in the North East Delhi massacres; and his abrogation of Article 370 after brutally crushing political and civil society activity in the state, drew no criticism from the parent organisation.

But RSS could scarcely have remained unaffected by his other blunders: his jump-the-gun demonetisation of 86% of the currency in November 2016 which forced most of 150 million migrant workers to stop work in the cities and go home when the facility for converting old currency notes for new ran out on December 31, and the new notes were not even ready for dispensation; his equally hasty and ill-planned introduction of the Goods and Services Tax and, finally his eagerness to be the first country to declare a lockdown against COVID-19 without his even realising that this would destroy hundreds of millions of livelihoods, and force ten million or more persons to start walking or cycling  home to villages from 60 to 2,000 km away in the heat of summer.

Finally, it would be surprising indeed if some, at least, in the RSS have not realised that Modi’s determination not to enter into discussions with the Chinese, and his systematic turning of economic screws on China’s trade and investment with India, are pushing the two countries ever closer to a war in the Himalayas that India can only lose.

If my analysis above is correct, then the RSS has broken its silence on the farmers’ struggle not only because this is the first mass movement that truly has no ideological, political or anti-nationalist moorings, that because it has been triggered by the first hasty action of Modi government that it cannot justify by invoking a policy espoused earlier by the Sangh parivar.

That is why it is imperative for the farmers’ movement to accept his government’s offer to stay the farm Acts and enter into a serious discussion of how they can be revised to get the best instead of the worst out of them. Needless to say, any meaningful discussion of this nature needs to be held within accepted parameters.

The first and most important of these is that the agreed reforms must be left to the state governments to implement. Agro-climatic conditions are simply too diverse in India to permit any-one-size-fits-all solutions. So every state will have to decide how to implement them within the constraints these impose.

Secondly, inter-state trade needs to be opened to the private sector, but once more, at a pace and in products that that is left to the states to decide.

Thirdly, farmers, particularly those who produce perishable crops, need to be empowered in various ways to increase their bargaining power against the traders. This requires the rapid creation of essential rural infrastructure – notably the provision of 24×7 power to facilitate the creation of village-level cold storages, and the creation of small bank branches in villages above a minimum size, for prompt dispersal of credit.

Lastly, the opening of export trade must be closely correlated with the establishment of buffer stocks of vegetables and dairy products in particular, that prevent the shocks caused by sudden natural disasters, such as drought or unseasonal rain, from falling  solely upon domestic supply and prices.

These are only the most essential first steps towards compensating farmers for the prolonged neglect they have suffered from our urban-centred planners and administrators. If the farmers’ struggle ends by bringing these to the forefront of policy and shifting the priorities of planned investment, it will have more than fulfilled its purpose.

Prem Shankar Jha is a Delhi based former journalist and editor. He is the author of Managed Chaos: The Fragility of the Chinese Miracle, and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger—Can China and India Dominate the West.

https://thewire.in/agriculture/farm-acts-centre-stay-victory-democracy

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The first set of relief measures will do nothing to avert the catastrophe that has befallen millions of migrant workers in Indian cities. And as they head home to their villages, some will carry the coronavirus with them.

Full Marks for Lockdown But Modi's Economic Fallout Plans Just Don't Make the Grade

Daily wage labourers, now out of work, are walking back to their villages which are at least 200 km away. Photo: Shome Basu/The Wire

 

COVID-19  has reminded the world of its essential interdependence and need for unity of purpose. It has done the same for India. For the first time since the Bangladesh war, the entire country has set aside its bitter and divided politics and reacted as one to the challenge it faces. The prime minister, who announced a three-week lockdown of the entire country on March 24, was not the eternally grandstanding politician we have become familiar with in the past six years, but a sober leader taking an incredibly difficult decision, announcing exemptions that would minimise the hardship being imposed on the people, and asking for their co-operation.

There is little doubt that he will receive it. But the economic cost of the lockdown will be high, and could become prohibitive if it has to be extended. Unfortunately, the first ‘relief measures’ announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman show that the government has little understanding of the enormity, or even the very nature, of the task it is facing.

The key feature of the lockdown is that it has broken the vertical and horizontal transport links that are the warp and weft of the market economy. With that, unless immediate measure are taken to prevent it, first consumption, and then production, will grind to a halt. As it gets prolonged, the market economy itself will wither away.

The list of exemptions announced by the government after Modi’s speech did not go beyond the need to minimise the immediate impact of the lockdown. Access to food and medical shops, and essential services, including the home delivery of food and medicine, have been exempted. But these make up only a  fraction of the total economy. And even here, the ingredients of production have to be assembled and the finished product transported to the consumer. Neither can be done, especially in India, without sustained human interaction. As for the rest of the economy – its agriculture, its industry and its vast services sector – not one of the ‘ten big announcements’ made by Sitharaman today even touch upon this challenge.

The finance minister’s package

I will not dwell on these in detail, because there are more urgent issues to raise and discuss. But suffice it to say that

  • four of the 10 provide relief to the rural population when COVID-19 and its impact is centred in the cities;
  • one, that is by far the most important, provides essential insurance protection to two million health workers but involves no immediate expenditure;
  • two offer direct cash and food transfers to the poor but again make no distinction between the urban poor, who are under lockdown and the rural poor who are not;
  • The remaining three are intended to benefit workers in the organised sector whose jobs are not threatened and who already have all the access they need to essential services through primary health centres and the kendriya bhandars and ration shops.

The common feature of all the 10 measures is a continuation of the top down handout system of distributing benefits that has been the bane of the poor since the very first years of India’s self government and is still prone to leaks and diversion.

In the urban areas, the lockdown has completed the disempowerment of the already desperately vulnerable poor. Small- and medium-sized owner-managed enterprises are not only dismissing their workers but throwing them out of the accommodation they have provided them on the pretext that their presence is a health hazard to the family. Grocery and medicine shops that do not need to close have opted not to open because the reduced sales no longer make it worth their while to keep them open. And far too many of them are laying off their staff, at least till the lockdown is over.

No modern economy can withstand such disruption for very long. When a factory, a hotel, an airline, a bus company, or a shop downs its shutters it does not cease to incur costs. Interest and amortisation payments on loans continue to accumulate; buildings and machinery have to be maintained; rents on shops have to be paid, costs incurred on electricity have to be met. And in the organised sector, few employers will be willing to lay off their key workers even temporarily, without offering them some compensation to tide them over the period of shut down.

If this is to be minimised the government must meet these costs during the period of the lockdown. But only one of the ten measures that Sitharaman announced has even touched upon this need. And what it has offered – the payment of three months of employer and employees’ provident fund payments to companies with up to 100 employees in which 90% of the staff is paid less than Rs 15,000 per month –  is simply pathetic.  In most enterprises, fixed costs make up 30 to 40% of the total cost. The wage bill, by contrast almost never goes beyond 30% and is usually lower. The combined EPF contributions come to a fifth, at most, of this 30%.  Thus all that the government has offered is to meet one fifth to one-seventh of the fixed costs of a small fraction of the modern economy.

Since they are no longer able to earn, most of these enterprises will start cutting costs wherever possible. The only area in which they can do so is labour. And here the axe has already begun to fall most dramatically in the unorganised sector. With enterprises forced to close, work stopped, and the government not even aware of the need to keep them going if the economy is to restart smoothly after the lockdown, labour has become redundant anyway. So why not throw your workers out and let them fend for themselves? And with 94% of India’s 500 million-plus non-agricultural labour force belonging to the unorganised sector, with no contracts and no union to protect them, layoffs are easy and have already begun.

Crisis for footloose labour

A steel fabrication plant in Unnao, UP, has simply thrown its workers out of the accommodation it had given them and told them to fend for themselves. With nowhere to stay and little money, they are walking home in the blazing sun to towns and villages as far as 80 kms away. On the very morning before the lockdown, The Hindu had carried a photograph of migrant workers in Chennai waiting at the central railway station for a train to take them home. One can only wonder where they are now and how completely abandoned they must be feeling.

According to the 2011 census, 139 million, or more than a third of India’s labour force, worked in places far away from home. Of these, the Economic Survey of 2017 reported, about 9 million were working in other states, from where they can only go home by train or bus. These nine million must be the government’s first responsibility.

Keeping them safe is not an act of charity. If even one in ten of the country’s 139 million migrant workers gets home, and only one in a thousand of them is a carrier of the virus, then India’s villages will be inundated with nearly 14,000 new focal points for its spread. If that happens we will learn the true meaning of that much overused word, pandemic.

India is not China

The government’s response to the threat has so far been pathetic, but this is not because it does not care. So far, all of it has been  predicated on the unspoken assumption that the pandemic can be brought under control in three weeks. But this is wishful thinking. China is the only country that has succeeded in stopping the spread of the virus through a lockdown so far. But India is not China.

India has more than 600,000 villages, and its central and state governments have little or no knowledge of what is happening in most of them. By contrast, the Chinese Communist Party is present, and has a committee, in every single village of the country. It is able to have these because it has 70 million members. This is four times the combined strength of the central and state government bureaucracies in India, and these 70 million function in a country where accountability to higher authority is close to complete.

Despite having such resources, China imposed a total lockdown only in Hubei province, where COVID-19 started. And it had to keep it going for three months – not three weeks – to bring the virus under control. In India, once the virus reaches the villages only the extreme heat of summer will be able to check its further spread and that effect, while likely, cannot be taken for granted.

The first thing that the Central and all state governments must, therefore, do is to make sure the virus remains confined as far as possible to the 80 cities which are under total lockdown today. This will require a marshalling of all the power and organisational capability of the state. The surest and fastest way will be to call out the army and put as large a part of the paramilitary forces as possible at the disposal of the state governments. Two brigades of the army are already deputed to come to the aid of civilian authority in  every state. While this provision was intended to help them maintain order in a crisis that had gone beyond civilian control, it can, and should, be used to harness their organisational skills and medical capabilities to cope with the present health emergency. Indeed, why Prime Minister Modi did not invoke its aid on March 24th itself is one of the puzzling features of his address to the nation that evening.

The armed forces and Central paramilitary forces have the logistical and medical capability to set up and administer relief camps in open areas – such as parks, sports grounds, stadia, and the outskirts of the cities, provide them with food and skilled medical care, and enforce social segregation within them through the period of quarantine.  But can they handle even the 9 million out-of- state migrants who face total abandonment today, let alone the 130 million in-state ones?

Carrot and stick for unorganised sector employers

The solution to this longer term problem lies in the Indian state making the employers of unorganised  labour responsible for its safety and security during this time of crisis. It can –indeed, must – do this  by instituting an appropriate set of  incentives and imposing a corresponding set of penalties to make sure that they do so.

The incentive should be that, based upon their previous year’s tax returns, or in the case of household enterprises their verified accounts, the central and state governments will meet all of their fixed and the labour portion of their variable costs provided they continue to house and feed their migrant workers, and to pay at least half of the salaries of their local employees. This will not only save the lives of the migrants and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the villages, but prevent the economic crash that is bound to follow the sudden cessation of economic activity in the country.

The penalty for not doing so, or evading the commitments they make when receiving government support must be prison.

Loosen fiscal and monetary policies

Given India’s dismal record in the management of its economy during the past eight years,  and its surging fiscal deficit today, this move is likely to be opposed by bean counters in the RBI and the Ministry of Finance. But the government must, for once, overrule them – because further bean counting will complete the ruin that was already staring the Indian economy in the face before the coronavirus arrived.

Nirmala Sitharaman has now to  listen to the real macro-economists in the system – like Pranab Sen, Rathin Roy, Rajiv Kumar, and her own chief economic adviser – who can explain the vast difference between increasing the money supply in a healthy economy in normal times and doing so when there has been a sudden collapse of demand caused by an external calamity. The first increases consumption and can trigger inflation. The second sustains present consumption in order to protect future production and growth. Strictly speaking therefore, it is not consumption but an investment whose returns will come in the near future.

Economists all over the world have warned their governments that the recession which lockdowns without pump priming will trigger could prove as costly as the pandemic, even in terms of human life. In the US, they have warned against a “Rolling Recession”:  first a collapse of demand as people cease to buy; then a sharp drop in production as retailers postpone new ordering; then layoffs of workers and a further shrinkage of demand.

In New Zealand, which imposed a 4-week total lockdown only a day ahead of India, they  have predicted a rise in the unemployment rate from its current 4% to between 15 and 30% .

Even in Italy, the worst affected European country, Edoardo Campanella, an economist at UniCredit Bank in Milan, warned against too drastic a response as recently as last Tuesday, saying “The global health crisis is rapidly morphing into a global recession, as there is a clear tension between preventing infections and ruining the economy.”

Learn from the world

To combat this impending recession, more and more countries are returning to Keynesian pump priming to sustain demand till the COVID-19 crisis is over.  Some idea of how much pump priming will be needed  may be had from the bill President Trump has introduced in the US Congress. It is for contra-cyclical spending of  $ 2 trillion in the next few months. This is ten percent of the GDP of the richest nation in the world. Trump has done this in a nation (and as the leader of a party) that is wedded to neo-liberal economics because both have gained the most from forcing neoliberal doctrines upon the rest of the world. He has done this not to win an election but because US unemployment benefit claimants have surged in the wake of its lockdown from 211,000 to 3.28 million. Other industrialised country governments  are following suit regardless of their differing political perspectives.

Critics of the Modi government are right when they point out that it should have thought through all this, before announcing the lockdown. But we do not live in an ideal world. Decisions have to be taken under pressure, and while Prime Minister Modi can be accused of excessive haste on other occasions, this is not one of them. However, now that the decision has been taken, the government must rely upon common sense and intuition and not go through the rigmarole of setting up “multi-layered task forces” and allowing them to come up with a “consensus-based policy”. For by the time they do so, desperate migrants who have not either starved or been felled by heat as they trek hopelessly homewards, will have begun to reach their villages. After that, only the extreme heat of the summer might be able to help India avoid the pandemic that will follow. And that is not yet a given.

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A quarter of a century ago, at the formal  White House press conference that followed Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao’s one-on-one meeting with President Bill Clinton during his state visit to the United States in April 1994, President Clinton had heaped lavish praise upon  India for doing what no other modern country  had succeeded in doing before. This was to create  a stable nation  state  using the tool of democracy, instead of War. Clinton  said this because it was the very opposite of the way in which nation states had been created  in Europe in the tumultuous century that had preceded the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, in 1648.

Till the advent of globalization, the archetypal European Nation State  had hard frontiers, a unitary political structure and a culturally homogeneous population  with a single national language. This uniformity had been imposed upon its citizens through a mixture of education, cultural assimilation and ethnic cleansing.

The process had been violent. It had begun with the Hundred years War , the most bloody and ruinous that Europe  had experienced till then. It reached its Valhalla in the 31-year period of the 20th century that embraced  two world wars, the Russian revolution, the Turkish pogrom of Armenians, and the  Holocaust. Altogether, this ”Age of Catastrophe”  claimed more than a hundred million lives.

But human perceptions have been slow to catch up with reality. So, even after  the second world War the European Nation State remained the only accepted model for a viable  modern state.  In the Age of Decolonisation that followed, 131 new nations became members of the United Nations. All but a few started out as democracies but only two, Costa Rica and India,   succeeded in sustaining and stabilising it.

The similarity, however, ended there: Costa Rica is a very small, unitary State with a population of just over 4 million. India by contrast is the second largest nation in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion, with 12 major and scores of smaller ethno-national groups, most of which have their own language, long histories as independent nations,  and  strongly defined cultural identities.

Under the sagacious leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress party was able to fuse them into a single nation because, unlike the majority of the other newly emergent nations, it  made no attempt to create a replica of the European Nation State.  Instead it celebrated India’s diversity and used democracy and federalism to create unity  within it.  What emerged after three decades of fine tuning was  a “federation of ethnicities” – that the Indian Constitution explicitly describes as a ‘Union of States’ in which each ethno-national group enjoyed an equal place within a framework defined by the Indian Constitution.

The Mortal Threat India Faces

This is the  unique achievement that is now under mortal threat. For in the elections to the national Parliament held in  2014, power passed decisively from the Congress party, into the hands of its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which considers India’s religious and  ethnic diversity to be not its strength but its weakness,  and is committed to replacing it with a muscular , hyper-nationalist Hindu Rashtra ( Hindu nation), bound together by  Hindutwa ( Hindu-ness) a Hindu cultural identity,  in which non-Hindus can  be accepted,  but  never on equal terms with the Hindus.

In contrast to Hinduism, which is less a religion than a way of life and is at least three  millennia old, both Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra are synthetic concepts, created only 96 years ago, in 1923. Their progenitor was a Maharashtrian intellectual,  Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who  passionately believed that the ethnic and religious diversity of India was the main stumbling block to the creation of a revolutionary movement strong enough to force the British out of India.

Savarkar argued in his now famous book,  Hindutva, that Hinduism had to develop the cohesion that Muslims all over the world had shown to resist Britain’s abolition of the Caliphate, whose titular head had , for centuries been the ruler of the Ottoman empire.  It was the rapid spread of this  Khilafat ( opposition) movement among Indian Muslims that gave concrete shape to his concept of Hindutva. The Muslims, he argued,  were capable of uniting rapidly to defend an institution located a quarter of a world away that they barely understood, because of the unity their religion gave them.  Hindus who had no church, and no clergy comparable to those of Islam and Christianity had no such capability. If they wished to free their motherland from slavery. they needed to develop it

The three essentials of Hindutvahe concluded, were a common nation (rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common culture or civilisation (sanskriti). The impress of European Fascism  on his thinking  was 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 (genus), because their sanskriti (culture)  and their prophets originated outside of the Hindu civilisation.

The threat to India arises from the fact that economic globalization has made  the European model of the  Nation State obsolete. The BJP and RSS’ effort to duplicate it in India has therefore come a hundred years too late. The most they can hope to achieve now is to turn India into an extreme Right wing citadel  State. But, as the  European experience with German fascism and the  disintegration of the Soviet Union  has shown,  this  is foredoomed because it  can lead only to war or rebellion, followed by disintegration.  Either of these will bring about the end of the great democratic experiment of building a modern nation state through democracy that Gandhi, Nehru and their colleagues in the Freedom movement embarked upon in 1947.

Averting this looming disaster is going to be a Promethean task. It cannot be done  by appealing to traditional caste loyalties and deal-based politics to overthrow the BJP any longer. Since the BJP’s challenge is an ideological one, it can  be fought only by exposing its  hollowness and inherent destructiveness and remind all Indians of true religious and ideological mooring, which is in religious syncretism – the constant effort to create harmony between religions and cultures, in place of conflict.

The Congress’ constant  description of itself  as a ‘secular’ party  has made it an easy target for the votaries of Hindutwa,  because of the aura of irreligiosity that surrounds the word. The guiding philosophy that has underpinned not only the modern Indian state but all major empires in India’s history, and from which India’s comfort with ethnic and religious diversity springs,  is not secularism or even pluralism, but religious syncretism. This springs from the philosophy and practice of  ‘Dharma’.

 Dharma -the antidote to Hindutwa

Dharma is the original faith of Vedic India. There is no reference in the Vedas, the oldest texts of the Indo-Aryan civilization,  to a Hindu Dharma, because the word ‘Hindu’ was coined by the Persians 3,000 years ago to describe the land of the Sindhu ( I.e Indus) river. It was brought to India from Persia more than two  millennia later by the first Muslim invaders who came through Afghanistan and Persia.

Dharma was not a religion in the modern,  exclusivist, sense of the word, because the Messianic religions that are now the subject of  most discourses on religion had not even been born when the word was coined. Dharma prescribed the right way of living: it dwelt at length on how people needed to relate to each other and to the wider world and the cosmos that surrounded them.

The Rig veda differentiates between different forms of dharma, such as prathama Dharma ( the first duty), Raj Dharma (the duties of the King to his subjects) and Swadharma ( our duty to ourselves). But every one of these centers around the concept of human duty, which is “to uphold, to support, to nourish”.

“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. Buddha’s use of the Vedic term suggests that he considered himself to be a social reformer of Dharma ( the Buddhist Dhamma) and not a prophet founding a new religion.

A critical difference

Describing Buddhism as one of several prophetic religions, as most students of comparative religion in the west habitually do,  has obscured a critical difference between Hinduism, Buddhism and other mystical religions on the one hand,  and the Messianic ones—Judaism, Christianity and Islam, on the other. Messianic religions have to be professed. Belonging to the latter requires a profession of faith in it and a repudiation of other faiths. It is a surrender of oneself to the ‘true’ God, and its reward  is the possibility of gaining absolution for one’s sins through repentance, in this life.

Mystical faiths, of which Dharma is the oldest,   have to be lived. Only virtue in this life can gain the soul freedom from the chain of rebirth. Dharma  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” ( This is my duty) that capture its essence.

The idea of Religion as a set of beliefs that have to be practiced and not merely professed is not limited to Hinduism and Buddhism, 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.

But in the sharpest possible contrast, the encounter  between Dharma and Islam in India has been peaceful. Dharma’sfirst encounter 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 an Afghan invader, Mahmud of Ghazni,  attacked the famed Somnath Temple ( Temple of the Moon God) in Gujarat, the Arabs who had by then been living there for generations, joined in the defence of the temple and died to protect it. 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 by another Afghan invader Muhammad Ghori, in 1193 AD.  The period that followed  is the one  that the RSS would like to erase from Indian memory, if not from history.

But it was a period in which there was an unprecedented flowering of art, music and literature. It was the time of Amir Khusro, the first Indian pet who wrote in Persian. It was the time when Indian and Persian music and dance fused to create a distinct new Genre, the khayal gayaki and the Kathak dance.  It was the period during which 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 in India. It was the time when the Indo-Islamic architecture that has given the world wonders like the Taj mahal, and Humayun’s Tomb, was born.

Hindutva’s selective memory 

The ideologues of Hindutva ignore all this and prefer 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. This is a manufactured litany of defeat, that  they use to fan hyper-nationalism, Hindu religiosity and hatred of the Muslims.

But here too,  their  ‘memory’ is selective and distorted. The Rajputs, who then ruled most of north India were ,admittedly, driven into the wilds of Rajasthan. But their defeat 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 again 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. Like other impoverished groups from the Asian steppes, the Mongols first tried to invade India. Their first foray, in 1243, took the Delhi Sultanate by surprise and the Mongols  were able to come all the way till Lahore, now Pakistan’s most beautiful city,  and sack it to their leisure.

But that was the last time they were able to enter the plains of India. Ghiyasuddin Balban, the ruler in Delhi at the time, 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, another warrior king of the Delhi Sultanate, 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, like that of invaders everywhere else in history,  was pillage not forced 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 Hindu 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 ( devotion) anti-Brahmin movement in south India had been doing since the seventh century, well before the arrival of the Muslims. Far from being a blot on the conquerors, these conversions were an impeachment of 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 the villagers  faced in their everyday lives. The importance of ritual in Hinduism therefore declined and that of Dharma increased.

Hinduism  met the challenge from Sufi Islam by disseminating the core ideas of Dharma, already espoused and rejuvenated by the Bhakti movement,  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 had 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 as the Din-e-Ilahi, the religion of God, at the height of the Moghul empire. Some British historians have hailed it  as an attempt at founding a new religion based on universal tolerance. Others have dismissed it as a religion that never had more than 19 followers.

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,  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.

Akbar’s goal was not proselytization. Unlike the great Mauryan emperor, Ashoka’s Buddhist edicts of  1800 years earlier,  Akbar issued no edicts. Nor did he create a religious police to oversee their observance.

The significance of the Din-e-Ilahi lies  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. If any “ religion “ can claim to have emerged the victor in the grand ideological battle that ensued after thearrival of Islam in India, it is Dharma.

Among Hindus  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.

Even the blood-soaked partition of India and  Pakistan in 1947 did not kill off the syncretic impulse in Islam. It has led to a sustained study of the writings of Dara Shikoh, the grandson of Akbar, and his successor Shah Jahan’s eldest son and heir apparent in Pakistan.  Dara Shikoh was  a scholar of Sanskrit and translator of the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism’s holiest texts. He had made no secret of his fascination with Din-e-Elahi, and of his intention to propagate it throughout his realm, before  his life was cut short by his youngest brother,  Aurangzeb.

In 2010, the noted Pakistani 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 mystical traditions of both Hinduism and Islam spoke of the same truth.”

This is the awe-inspiring syncretism of religion in the land of Dharma. It is what has made Indian Muslims virtually immune to the lure of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq:  Against the 27,000 to 31,000 Europeans who joined it, the number of Indian Muslims was only 106.  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 India that  the votaries of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra are bent upon destroying . Hindutwa is therefore  the complete   antithesis of dharma.

From Where Has Hindutwa emerged?

In the 1920s, the desire to militarise Hinduism  could perhaps have been condoned, for  it was  a counsel of despair. The Congress was still only a middle-class debating society, Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of satyagraha (passive resistance in order to paralyse government)was still largely untried, and the British had taken to shooting down or  hanging freedom fighters after labelling them terrorists. But the last shred of this justification lost its raison d’etre when  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 Savarkar’s  ‘Hindu sanskriti’.

The one-third who stayed in India had therefore declared their alleigiance to India  with their feet. So what fuelled the frantic rage against Partition that the RSS vented in  immediate aftermath of Independence? Why did they rejoice openly when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and lionize his assassin, Nathuram Godse? And what has made them continue to demonise Indian Muslims after they had ceased to be a threat to “Hindu” India?

The explanation is that the RSS’s goal was not simply to oust the British from India, but to take their place in order to  create  a Hindu India moulded to fit their image of Hindu Rashtra.

Today, the Sangh parivar is trying to pass off Savarkar and Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, as freedom fighters. But 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 the Gandhian way of  satyagraha (passive non-cooperation),  and even offered its cohorts to the government to act as civil guards to quell the unrest that Gandhi’s call would generate.

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.

Caught by surprise by the  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. That got it banned for several years, but the seizure of power remained its unswerving goal through all its subsequent vicissitudes.

What happens now?

The BJP’s second victory in 2019,  has removed all the political and constitutional hurdles to achieving the goal that the RSS had set itself in 1923.  Narendra Modi has brought it to power on a wave that will almost certainly sweep through the state assembly elections as well,  and give it the  majority in the upper house of parliament that  it needs to change the constitution of India. But he, and the RSS are in a hurry and have little  appetite for the debates that wll rage in parliament and civil society when the government  presents bills for radically altering the structure of the constitution.   As a result it is resorting to legal sleight of hand to start ethnic cleansing, and to dissolve the constitutional safeguards that protect  India’s ‘federation of Ethnicities”.

 

Ethnic cleansing began in earnest within weeks of its coming back to power.  The government  finalised  a National Register of Citizens in Assam, that left out  1.9 million persons who had  lived in the state  with their families and children for five and more decades. To house them ‘temporarily’ till they are repatriated to Bangladesh or elsewhere, the government is   building “detention” camps for them all over Assam, and  has issued a directive to the administrative heads of all of India’s 724 districts to chalk out sites for building similar camps in their districts when the need for them arises.

That the intended targets are Muslims immigrants from Bangladesh became apparent when the BJP government in Assam asked for an  amendment to the citizenship rules that would allow it to limit the externment only to Muslim immgrants from Bangladesh.

The  assault on India’s religious syncretism has been launched in the one  place  where it had continued to flourish till well after Partition, and where it still survives today. This is the state of Jammu and Kashmir. On August 5, the government used a constitutional sleight of hand to dissolve the statehood  of Kashmir, and turn it into a “union territory” and administer it directly from Delhi, without any reference to its legislature or people.

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 President von Hindenburg and the German parliament to pass an enabling act giving him extraordinary powers,  declare him hancellor for life and thus destroy 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.

The Nazi experiment ended in the defeat, destruction and vivisection of pre-war Germany. The Hindutwa experiment has just begun, and we cannot predict with certainty where it will end. But the future looks grim. The Modi government has another four years and eleven months to go. Only an opposition,in parliament, and civil society, that rediscover Dharma, and pits it against  Hindutwa, has any chance of stopping the rush to disaster.

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The prime minister continues to demonise those who dissent, and that message has been made clear to his supporters.

The Struggle for India's Democracy Is Only Just Beginning
Protest against the CAA, NRC and NPR in Bengaluru on Saturday. Photo: PTI/Shailendra Bhojak

On December 22, India reached a crossroad in its tortured journey towards nationhood. For the first time in more than five years – and 17 years, if we count his time as chief minister of Gujarat – Prime Minister  Narendra Modi took a step back from a policy that he had previously committed himself to.

On that day, in the middle of a one-hour-and-37-minute speech at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, he declared that it had never been his government’s intention to create a pan-Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC) on the Assam model. In fact, he claimed that his government had never discussed a nationwide NRC at all.

The NRC, he claimed, was the brainchild not of the Bharatiya Janata Party but of the Congress, for it was born out of Rajiv Gandhi’s 1985 Assam Accord. It was the Congress’s subsequent failure to implement it that made the Supreme Court issue a directive in 2012 to create the NRC forthwith. The BJP had only obeyed the court’s directive. So the blame for the entire exercise lay with the Congress not having lived up to its 1985 promise. There would be no similar exercise, he promised, in any other state.

He also pointed out that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was intended to give citizenship only to non-Muslim refugees who were already in India. He did not say what he would do for Hindus and others who were persecuted in the three countries mentioned – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – in the future.

He went on to reassure Muslims that no Muslim born on Indian soil needed to fear the CAA in the slightest, because it was intended to benefit victims of religious persecution in neighbouring countries. His government had never said that it would turn away anyone who sought refuge from persecution in any of these countries. The purpose of the CAA was simply to sniff out migrants who had entered India surreptitiously in search of work, or for any other nefarious purpose.

The hope…

Was Modi’s assurance on an all-India NRC a pullback from an over-extended position – a tacit admission that the forces of democratic pluralism were too strong for his party to resist if it wished to retain people’s trust? There was enough reason to hope that it was.

By December 22, Modi had realised that he was facing the beginnings of a nationwide rebellion against the CAA and NRC. The governments of 10 states in “heartland” India – Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – had already announced that they would not implement the NRC and the CAA. The BJP was about to lose Jharkhand. A 12th state, Andhra Pradesh, had joined the other 11 and even in Karnataka’s Bengaluru, the crown jewel of the state has seen students coming out to oppose the government’s move.

In addition, the entire Northeast up in arms. So Modi had only Uttar Pradesh and six other states – Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat – behind him. His home minister, Amit Shah, had thundered in response that the states’ opposition was irrelevant because “citizenship is a central subject in the constitution”. But both of them knew that with Article 356 of the constitution virtually a dead letter after the Bommai judgment of 1994, and administration in the hands of the states, there was little they could do.

The BJP’s setback in Jharkhand – after those it had suffered in Maharashtra, and to a lesser extent in Haryana – had shown that the party’s post-election honeymoon period was almost over. So using the launch of his campaign for the Delhi state assembly elections as an occasion for beating a tactical retreat seemed like the logical thing to do.

… And the harsh reality

It is only when we examine the audience that had collected at the Ramlila grounds on December 22, and parse Modi’s 97-minute speech closely and relate it to what has been happening since then, that we realise what Modi had declared was not a tactical retreat but an open war upon Indian democracy.

The most noticeable feature of the crowd that had assembled was the absence of women. Among the 78-80 persons seated in the first seven rows of one of the enclosures captured by the camera, only five were women. Another view, of about 60 persons in the right one-third of the front enclosures, clearly showed only four women. A third, aimed at what was seemingly a VIP enclosure directly in front to the dais, showed 14 well-dressed women in a crowd of 83. There were small clusters of women visible in a few other pockets as well, but all in all, the men present outnumbered the women by ten to one, if not more.

The  men had a curious sameness about them. All but a very few were young and fit. Most sported moustaches, and wore orange caps, scarves, shirts or shawls. And against a lone tricolour planted directly in front of the dais, there was a forest of the BJP’s lotus flags waving in the field and obscuring the cameras’ views.

The relative absence of women, a total absence of children, the sameness of the men and the ubiquity of flags were a dead giveaway: This was not a spontaneous gathering to hear a popular national leader, let alone a popular prime minister. This was a hand-picked gathering brought to the Ramlila ground, as a BJP leader admitted to India Today, in 3,000 hired buses. The audience make up also strongly suggested that these were members of RSS shakhas from far-flung places in, and beyond, Delhi.

Ostensibly, they had been brought to kick off a Delhi election campaign, but Modi used the occasion for a very different, specific purpose. What this could be had been revealed in an expansive moment in February 2018, by the RSS sarsanghchlalak Mohan Bhagwat. Bhagwat had boasted that “his organisation could assemble its cadres to fight much faster than the Indian army could in a situation of war…The Sangh will prepare military personnel within three days, something the army would do in 6-7 months. This is our capability. Swayamsewaks will be ready to take on the front if the country faces such a situation and constitution permits us to do so.”

Bhagwat was talking about an external enemy, but Modi’s message to the assembled shakhas was that the threat was internal. All but the last part of his speech was designed to advise them that their time had come. The Sangh parivar needed them to come to the aid of the police in suppressing dissent, and restoring order in the nation. If they did not respond, then all that the BJP had done for the people of India, and for Hindutva, would be in vain.

Modi devoted the first 30 minutes of his speech to listing the many things he had done for the people of Delhi and the nation’s poor – housing for the poor, a health insurance scheme, the Ujjwala cooking gas scheme. Then he added:

“ We have never asked anyone their caste or creed before granting benefits, then why are the opposition and some persons allied with them, accusing me of doing so!”


Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at Ramlila Maidan. Photo: PTI

With his characteristic disregard for the finer points of truth, he omitted to mention that Delhi has been ruled for the past five years by the Aam Aadmi Party, and that every one of these schemes has already been implemented without consideration of caste or creed – but by the AAP. He also failed to mention that the AAP had already created a cheaper and more efficient network of mobile clinics that had brought medicine to the doorsteps of the poor in Delhi four years before he announced his health scheme last year.

Modi’s real message

All this, however, was only the overture. The true purpose of the rally emerged only halfway into the speech. All of a sudden, Modi became the people’s friend, having a cosy gossip with them: “When we came to power first,” he said with more than a touch of glee, “these people could not believe it. They tried to sabotage me even then, and they thought that I would be rejected in the next election. When the people brought me back with a larger vote the second time, they were struck dumb with amazement. Since that day, they have been looking for ways to create a storm in the country.”

Who are these people? Modi asked in a conspiratorial tone. Then, as if sharing a secret with them, he said: “It is these educated people, who live in cities, who speak  English, these urban Naxals. It is they who are instigating attacks upon policemen, and urging mobs to shoot and kill them as they do their duty.”

Then, over the roar of a frenzied audience shouting “Modiji ishaara do, Ham tumhare saath hain (Modiji give us a signal. We are with you),” Modi roared: “To protect the common people of Hindustan, 33,000 policemen have martyred themselves since we gained our freedom. This is the selfless force that these lawless elements, and those who hide behind curtains and direct them, are now stoning and killing.”

Killing? Yes, that is the precise word Modi used on that fateful evening. Nor did he leave any doubt in his listeners’ minds about who the hidden instigators are: “These are of two kinds: those who have never risen above vote bank politics, i.e the entire opposition, and those have profited from this vote bank politics, who think they own the state, who think that the history they write is the correct history, the future they aspire to is India’s future…who used to think that they owned the country. Now that they have been decisively rejected by the people, they have resorted to their old weapon: ‘divide and Rule’!”

Then, as the crowd’s roar grew to a frenzy, came the clincher: “Will you back the police?” The crowd roared, “Yes.”

“Will you honour them?” “Yes”.

“Will you show them respect?” Again the roar, “Yes!”

To swelling cries of “Aadesh, aadesh (Give us the order, give us the order)” from the frenzied young men in saffron caps and shawls before him, Modi said, “To honour their martyrdom we have built a monument to the police in the city. I ask all the people of the 1,700 colonies of Delhi, will you go to the police monument and offer flowers to the martyrs?…Will you respect the police? Will you treat them as your brothers? Will you honour them and give them the respect that is their due?”

To each rhetorical question, he received an enthusiastic assent.

Police as ally and accomplice of RSS

Modi has seldom said or done anything without a preconceived purpose. It is therefore difficult not to draw the conclusion that the main purpose of his speech, and probably the rally as well, was not to personally launch an electoral campaign in a state where the  BJP is likely to lose, but to forge an open compact between the police all over the country and 51,335 shakhas of the RSS.

For the police, crowd control is not only a risky but a thankless task. Not only can policemen be injured by a stone or, in extreme situations, a bullet, but they constantly face the risk of being prosecuted for an excessive or inappropriate use of force. Modi’s speech has absolved them in advance from blame for any criminal act they may commit “in pursuit of their duties”.

Policemen can now run after fleeing demonstrators firing their revolvers at them, as TV has captured them doing in Assam. They can smash students’ motorcycles and scooters at leisure, as they were caught doing on camera in Aligarh, in order to put the blame on ‘anti-social elements’. They can enter the homes of people and destroy everything in sight, claiming that they did so in hot pursuit of ‘miscreants’. They can pick up The Hindu’s UP correspondent and question him for hours, throwing vile communal slurs at him, because he is a Kashmiri.

Finally, they can kill demonstrators, as they have done in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. It is not accidental that, of the 25 demonstrators that the police have killed across the country since the protests started, 18 have been in UP, or that almost all of those killed have been Muslims.

Few in India will deny that the policing of public protests is a thankless task. Far too many are infiltrated by hoodlums intent upon creating chaos to facilitate theft. But the police are not saints either. A 2010 study of human rights violations by the police showed that 1,224 out of 2,560 ‘encounters’ between the police and alleged criminals that occurred between 1993 and 2010 were ‘fake encounters’, or extra-judicial executions by the police.

But in his speech Modi did not attempt to draw any fine distinctions, and turned student demonstrators into criminals, and the police into saints. The government’s camp followers have been quick to take the hint: within minutes, his pet TV channels, and their anchors, began to portray student demonstrators as destroyers of public property and the police as their victims.

Four days later, in an unprecedented departure from constitutional propriety, General Bipin Rawat – now Modi’s handpicked chief of defence staff – breached the wall that has separated the military from civilian matters and accused unspecified political leaders of encouraging acts of “arson and violence by university and college students”. And the Delhi police has added a new category of persons to those on whom it will use recently acquired automatic facial recognition software in tandem with drones, to identify in crowds: “rabble rousers and miscreants”.

Modi’s government still has more than four years to go. The fight to save religious pluralism, secularism and democracy is just beginning.

https://thewire.in/rights/narendra-modi-ramlila-maidan-rss-police-protests
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However, since Modi does not have a reverse gear in his psyche, a retreat by him is almost inconceivable.

Modi Must Change Course and Scrap the Citizenship Amendment Act
A police personnel walks past an anti-CAA wall writing in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

History is being made in India today.

For only the second time since Independence, virtually the entire political opposition has joined in the defence of the two core values of the Indian state: secularism and equality before the law.

The trigger is the Modi government’s passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, by brute majority, in just three days in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, without any prior consultation or discussion with other political parties or civil society organisations in the affected regions.

As Prashant Kishore, the general secretary of the ruling Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, has pointed out, it is the combination of the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act, that has struck at the roots of secularism and the rule of law in India. These have plunged the country into a witches’ brew of fresh anxieties just when it needs to focus all of its attention on combating the economic and unemployment crisis that has overwhelmed the country.

Seven state governments have already announced that they will not implement the Citizenship Amendment Act. These include not only the Congress ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab, but also Kerala, West Bengal and Bihar.

Tamil Nadu has not joined the boycott yet, but is likely to do so because the 3,04,000 Tamil refugees who have been living as stateless citizens in India for as long as 36 years have not been included in the Act.

Maharashtra is also teetering on the brink: the Shiv Sena had voted for the Bill in the Lok Sabha, but boycotted the voting in the Rajya Sabha.

Violence erupted in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. While many in Assam have joined the protest because exempting Hindu refugees will open the floodgates for swamping the Ahom culture, whose protection had been guaranteed by the Assam Accord sculpted by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, the five hill states are afraid that it will push those declared stateless in Assam now, and future migrants from Bangladesh into their lands. This is threatening to re-awaken an atavistic nationalism in a vast section of the youth of these states that bodes ill for India’s future unity.

This was underlined by the Imphal Times on December 14 in an extended opinion piece that sent a chill down my spine as I read it.

The hidden agenda of the Government of India may be to replace the Mongoloid population with Aryan population. The strategy they have adopted is through population invasion-war without arms…The main focus of mainland Indians is how to keep the north-east people divided in the name of political parties, ethnicity and religion…The people of North-East view the Bill as a threat to their very existence. Many student organisations expressed that ‘We will not accept any law that will take away our Rights as indigenous people.”

To any government not blinded by an atavistic ideology and besotted by its recent success at the polls, the current unrest would have been a storm signal demanding an immediate change of course. There are many in the BJP who are fully aware of this. But the Modi-Shah duo is not among them.

Faced with student unrest in Delhi on Sunday the government has responded in a manner made familiar by Modi and Shah’s 12-year tenure in Gujarat. Modi has not only gone on the attack, but made the Muslim community the villains of the drama.

Police closed all roads leading to Okhla, broken down the gates of Jamia Millia Islamia, attacked students who, they claimed, had been pelting them with stones from inside the compound, broke into the library where students were studying for their examinations, manhandled them, and eventually arrested 50 of them.

From Jharkhand, Prime Minister Modi left none of the millions who heard him on TV in any doubt about the identity of “the mob” which was supposedly resorting to violence: “Bhaiyo aur beheno”, he said, “ you can tell who the rioters are by the clothes they are wearing”.

This is probably the first time the head of government in a democratic country has painted a target on a single community’s back in the way that Modi did in Jharkhand on Sunday.

And yet, the Modi-Shah duo is learning that it cannot rule India through terror as it ruled Gujarat till 2014. Student unrest has been spreading rapidly and has now engulfed Sikkim at one end of the country and Bengaluru at the other. In its desperation, the Modi government has  begun to treat more and more parts of the country in the way that it has been treating Kashmir: the internet has been, and remains, shut down for varying periods in Assam, the north-eastern states, four districts of Bengal, and Aligarh.

In Delhi, the Central government closed metro stations all the way till the north campus of Delhi university and the subway stations around JNU, to prevent as many students as possible from joining the protest in front of police headquarters on Sunday night.

But even a child could tell Modi and Shah that escalating repression has not worked in any country in the world, because it breeds the very opposition to the government that it is using force to crush.

The government still has time to make a face-saving withdrawal from the NRC and CAA in their present form.

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The home minister may be able to fool others on the Congress’s actions around Partition, but he cannot fool me.

Partition Lies and Amit Shah's Theatre of the AbsurdUnion home minister Amit Shah speaks in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. Photo: PTI

During the Lok Sabha debate on the Bill amending the Citizenship Act, Union home minister Amit Shah suddenly lost his temper and blurted: “Is desh ka vibhajan agar dharma ke aadhar par Congress na kari hoti to is Bill ka kaam nahin hota (Had the Congress not partitioned this country on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this Bill).”

His remark sent a shock wave through the Lok Sabha, provoking responses which were echoed within hours by civil society. But Shah, the master tactician, had got what he wanted – he had once again put India’s secular intelligentsia and the increasingly befuddled Congress party on the defensive. And that might have been just the extra edge the BJP needed to get this monstrous Bill through the Rajya Sabha.

Shah’s obvious purpose always was to hustle it through, as he did with the Unlawful Activities Act Amendment Bill before the opposition had time to muster its full strength. And he did it with great aplomb.

What is depressing is the fact that even 48 hours after he made this outrageous claim, no one in the Congress, or for that matter the rest of the opposition and civil society, has pinned down the outrageous lie that Shah spoke in the august halls of parliament on a Bill that, by changing the very basis of the Union of Indian, has begun the process of tearing it apart.

All have defended the Congress by saying that while it accepted the creation of two nations, it did not do so on the basis of the two-nation theory. To the vast majority of Indians, born well after Partition, this must sound like sheer sophistry. That is what Shah (who is only 55 years old) was almost certainly banking upon. It was up to the present leaders of the Congress party to checkmate Shah’s strategy. But that required an immediate command of history that Sonia Gandhi, who was sitting in the front opposition benches, did not have. So, in a manner with which we have grown wearyingly familiar, she stayed seated and remained silent.

It has therefore fallen to this 81-year-old former journalist to set the record straight. For what I know about the tumultuous last days of the British Raj and the first months of independence is not second-hand but living, first-hand knowledge. So Shah, whose knowledge is also necessarily second hand, may be able to fool others but he cannot fool me.

The Congress party’s resolution of 1947 accepting Partition gave a full explanation of why the party had felt itself left with no option. It restated in pain-filled detail why it had accepted Partition as the lesser of the two evils the country faced at the time (early 1947) despite its staunch and continuing opposition to the two-nation theory. Its reason was the urgent and imperative need to prevent the “poison of communalism” from spreading further and “tearing apart the social fabric of the country”.

The resolution reflects its leaders’ awareness that they were surrendering their own most cherished principle, but felt compelled to accept the lesser evil in order to avert a much greater one.

To understand why it felt this, it is necessary to go back in time to June 1947, when Mountbatten announced the partition plan. The ‘communal poison’ to which the Congress was referring was the Muslim League’s ‘direct action’ plan to deliberately inflame Hindu-Muslim animosity in order to garner support for its demand for partition. This had begun with the planned killing of Hindus in Calcutta of August 1946 that went on for two days, before the Hindu reaction engulfed Bihar in a bloodbath.

This was followed by a planned pogrom of Hindus and Sikhs in what was then the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in December 1946. This was a Muslim League conspiracy in the most evil sense of the term, because it occurred in a province ruled by the Khudai Khidmatgars (also dubbed the Frontier Congress) which had been stoutly opposing partition ever since it was mooted in 1940. The two minorities made up only 6% of the province’s population, but they were the richest 6%, consisting of traders, moneylenders and rich landowners. The pogrom was therefore aimed both at seizing the assets of the Hindus and Sikhs and simultaneously de-legitmising the Khudai Khidmatgars. (This was a pogrom that the British government had tacitly supported and enabled. The evidence is in the Transfer of Power Documents, Volume 12.)

Those who escaped fled to Rawalpindi, where they received little sympathy or support, and to Muzaffarabad where the Muslim inhabitants, despite the communal hysteria of those times, received them with open arms. But by then the Muslim League National Guard (modelled, like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Germany’s SA) had the bit between its teeth.

In January 1947, the League turned its attention to Punjab, where as in the NWFP, the Sikhs numbered 18% of its population but owned 30% of all the farmland and paid 50% of the land revenue to the British. Lahore, Amritsar and other cities were dominated by Hindu traders and moneylenders. So here too, the League used the lure of stolen wealth to start a series of communal riots and pogroms.

Like the NWFP, Punjab was also against the partition of India. It was ruled by the Unionist party, a party composed in more or less equal parts by Muslim, Sikh and Hindu feudals, under the prime ministership of Sikander Hayat Khan and after his death in 1942, by Sir Khizar Hayat Khan. Khizar Hayat Khan also opposed Partition but lacked the strength of his predecessor. As a result, the Unionist alliance had begun to fray at the edges when the Muslim League launched its communal riots in January 1947, following his resignation.

This brought the danger to the freedom movement posed by the poison of communal polarisation to the Congress’s doorstep. For Punjab stretched then from the Kabul river at the foothills of the Hindu Kush range till Delhi. If the capital went up in flames, then not only would freedom get indefinitely postponed, but the dream of a single independent country would be destroyed in the scramble by the rest of the country to prevent the poison from spreading into it.

It was to avoid this dire fate that the Congress accepted Partition. It reasoned that three quarters of a secular, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country was better than none. It was to save an inheritance of secularism that stretched from Gautama Buddha till Akbar and the Din-e-Ilahi, and embraced Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jews, in addition to Muslims, that it decided to cut that glorious India’s losses and accept Partition.

And while the Congress was fighting this epic battle for an ideal, what was the RSS doing? 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. It maintained a monumental silence on the Muslim League’s direct action programme and while it may not have instructed Nathuram Godse to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi, according to Pyarelal, Gandhi’s secretary, “Members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in to their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the ‘good news’.”

For the RSS to claim that it is amending the Citizenship Act to complete the work that was left undone by the Congress is beyond calumny; it is sick comedy. Unfortunately, as Nagaland’s extension of the requirement to obtain an Inner Line Permit to the whole of Dimapur district has just shown, it is comedy that could turn in a flash into tragedy.

https://thewire.in/history/amit-shah-citizenship-amendment-bill-partition-congress

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Despite his advanced age of 74, and the complete absence of any material or verbal evidence that he was involved in any of his son’s affairs, the Delhi high court and Supreme Court have refused to grant bail to Chidambaram.

The ED, CBI Role is Unsurprising in Bail Denial to P. Chidambaram, Not So the Courts
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram after leaving the CBI court in New Delhi on August 22, 2019. Photo: PTI/Ravi Choudhury

On November 15, a single judge bench of the Delhi high court once again refused to grant bail to former finance and home minister P. Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case.

This is the fifth time, between them, that the Delhi high court and Supreme Court have refused to grant bail to a 74-year-old man whose health has deteriorated dangerously while in prison, and who is therefore even less of a “flight risk” than the prosecution tirelessly alleges him to be.

Not only did the judge, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, refuse bail, but his verbal opinion, delivered in court and reported in the Hindu, convicted Chidambaram of a variety of crimes even before the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate had framed a case against him.

The Hindu reported that the bench

“was of the opinion that the prima facie allegations against Chidambaram are serious in nature and that he played a key and active role in the case. While declining the bail plea … the judge said granting relief to such offenders would send a wrong message”.

Please examine the phrases italicised above and reflect on the fact that this was a bail hearing, not a sentencing. Chidambaram was not “an offender”. That had yet to be proved. Nor had the government adduced, or in the mass of conjecture it had released to the media, voiced anything but a suspicion that Chidambaram may have “influenced” the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to overlook certain “irregularities” in the INX Media case.

Chidambaram has a legal and constitutional right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. But the bench seemed not even to be aware of any such right.

The right is habeas corpus – in plain language, the right to freedom. The law allows this to be curtailed in exceptional circumstances. These are when the court has reason to suspect that the defendant will flee the country and escape its jurisdiction, and when there are solid grounds for believing that if left free he has the capacity to tamper with the evidence by bribing, intimidating, or killing  the prosecution’s witnesses.

What the law does not allow the prosecution to do is incarcerate a suspect before it has collected even prima facie evidence of his or her possible guilt. Even less does the law allow a government to imprison a suspect in order to give itself time to find, concoct, or coerce ‘witnesses’ into providing the evidence that it does not have.

Habeas corpus was, admittedly, a much abused right even before Modi came to power. But never before had it been used by a government to pick out and target specific political rivals, with the express purpose of wiping out all democratic opposition to itself. Yet that is exactly what the courts have made themselves a party to doing.

An examination of Justice Kait’s finding on the merits of Chidambaram’s request for bail shows that he has lifted paragraph after paragraph of the ED’s submission opposing the grant of bail, and presented them as his “Findings on the Merit,” on Chidambaram’s bail application. To say that he did not apply his mind would therefore be an understatement.

Sadly, the practice of simply allowing the ED or another prosecuting agency to,  in effect, write the decision of the high court is far from uncommon. Another Delhi high court judge did exactly the same thing in Rohit Tandon vs. The Enforcement Directorate in 2018.

The sole difference with what Justice Kait has done is that in the Rohit Tandon case, the judge copied the ED’s accusation into her judgment, which was perhaps more egregious than what Justice Kait did, which was to use it in his bail ruling.

Chidambaram is only  one  of hundreds, and if we include Kashmir , thousands,  of political leaders  and civil rights activists who are  languishing in jail without trial as the police, the CBI, or the ED search for evidence of real or imagined wrongdoing, with which to bring them to heel.

Their appeals for bail come up regularly before one high court or special judge, or another, and are routinely rejected. Is it possible that this egregious dereliction of duty is now universal in the Indian judiciary? The very thought is chilling, and its implications for democracy, and the future of our benighted country, dire.

Chidambaram’s case, however, stands out boldly even against this grim background. He was arrested by the CBI on August 21, just 16 days after the government turned Kashmir into an open-air prison, and, as of today has been in prison for nearly 100 days without any charge having been framed against him.


India’s former finance minister P. Chidambaram looks on as he leaves a court after a hearing following his arrest, in New Delhi, August 22, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis

He is being kept in jail to give the CBI, and the Enforcement Directorate – both now complete puppets of the ruling government – time to find the evidence  that might make it possible for them to secure a conviction.

The charge levelled against him  by the CBI and the ED is that in 2007 and 2008, he allowed his son Karti Chidambaram to use his  name to persuade the Foreign Investment Promotion board to regularise a clandestine infusion of Rs 305 crore worth of foreign investment into INX Media Private Ltd. For this, he is alleged to have accepted bribes amounting to $3 million.

So much has been written about this case for so long and with so much deliberate misinformation, that it is now virtually impossible to make sense of the allegations against father and son without going back to the very beginning of the alleged scam, which was perpetrated by Peter and Indrani Mukherjea in 2007.

Here, to the best of my understanding, is what happened and how the case against them has been concocted.

In March 2007, at the height of India’s eight year economic boom, INX Media applied for permission from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, to sell Rs 4.62 million equity and preference shares with  a face value of Rs 10 each to foreign investors . The Mukherjeas also applied for permission to invest a part of the proceeds in buying a controlling stake in a second company they wanted to establish called INX News Ltd.

In May 2007, the FIPB gave them permission to sell the 4.62 million  shares but told them that they needed to make  a separate, application for permission to create INX News. But by then, the Mukherjeas  had put the new shares on the market, so the sale proceeds had begun to flow in. But what came in was not Rs. 4.62 crore, the figure that the government and the media have been endlessly harping  upon today, but a whopping Rs. 305 crores.

The money came in through three companies based in Mauritius. Mauritius has been a thorn in the Income Tax department’s side since the 1990s, because after economic liberalisation, tax concessions given to citizens of Mauritius had made the island a tax haven for foreign companies wishing to invest in India. So, not surprisingly, this inflow caught the attention of the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance.

In January 2008, therefore, it alerted the Income tax department to the large inflow of funds into INX Media. This is the genesis of the money laundering charge that the Mukherjeas are facing, and of which Indrani Mukherjea has now been pardoned in exchange for testifying that both the Chidambarams had accepted bribes for regularising it.

There was, however, nothing inherently illegal about the inflow because in May 2007 the Indian economy was at the height of its explosive growth, and the market price of INX Media’s existing shares was Rs 862 per share . The inflow of only Rs 305 crore therefore suggests that the new share issue had fetched an average of Rs 660 per share.

This was a perfectly reasonable price because it fully discounted the likely fall in INX Media’s share price when such a large volume of new shares entered the market. But it left the managers of the share issue abroad with a large sum of money that could not be invested in the new company. It is possible, therefore, that this was chanelled back to INX Media through three companies headquartered in Mauritius.

The Mukerjeas got their second permission in May 2008. But by then, Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy and the global financial crash had begun. In India, the Sensex was nosediving from a peak of 20,000 in January 2008 to 9,000 by August. Advertisers stopped paying their bills, and the INX media group found itself headed for bankruptcy.

The Mukherjeas therefore sold INX Media in 2009 for whatever they could get for it and resigned from their posts in the group. By then, an audit of the company by Temasek holdings had raised the suspicion that they had siphoned Rs 150 crore out of the company, before jumping ship.

Nothing more was therefore heard of the INX media “scam” till 2017, a full nine years later. How did it get revived in 2017, and why was the target no longer Karti, but also his father? There is a single answer to this question: in 2015 Indrani Mukherjea and her husband Peter Mukherjea were arrested for the murder, in 2012, of Sheena Bora, her daughter by a previous marriage.

The police allowed it to be known that a financial dispute between mother and daughter was the cause of the murder. But for many in Mumbai, this confirmed a widely held belief that the Mukherjeas had parked the money they had allegedly siphoned off in an offshore account in Sheena Bora’s name.

Indrani Mukherjea may have come to the BJP’s notice in December 2016 when, at a trial hearing in Mumbai, she asked the court for permission to publish 700 verses from the Bhagavad Gita that she had translated from Sanskrit into English, and followed it up with a letter requesting this permission from the Patiala House court in February.

Whether this was so or nor, the fact remains that the CBI registered an FIR, alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance given to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 and accusing Chidambaram of using his influence as Union finance minister in May 2017 only three months later.

Both the Chidambarams have strongly disputed this allegation. Karti claims that he was never hired by the Mukherjeas to represent them. FIPB officials of the time have also deposed that they never even met Karti.

Karti was interrogated intensively by the CBI, arrested on February 28, 2018 and he spent 24 days in CBI custody before getting bail from the Madras high court and the Supreme court. In May this year, he was elected to parliament from Tamil Nadu, and remains, technically, a free man.

But his father has not been so lucky.

Despite his advanced age of 74, and the complete absence of any material or verbal evidence that he was involved in any of his son’s affairs, Chidambaram has been denied bail in anticipation, then bail by the CBI’s special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar, then bail by Justice Sunil Gaur of the Delhi high court (who was tipped to be appointed as the chairman of the Appellate Tribunal under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, but no formal announcement has been made public yet), then most surprisingly by the Supreme Court, and most recently by Justice Kait of the high court. 

Today, based on the sole and so far completely unsubstantiated accusation by a woman accused of murdering her own daughter, and who would say or do anything to avoid life imprisonment, if not the death penalty, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are coercively interviewing every friend and associate of Karti Chidambaram to establish how $3 million – the sum that Indrani Mukherjea claims to have paid to him and his father – have been siphoned away abroad through a dozen different shell companies. It is doing so in spite of the fact that Peter Mukherjea has categorically refuted Indrani’s allegation.

This blatant witchhunt has made a mockery of the rule of law. But what is worse, it has exposed just how seriously hollowed out not only the CBI and ED are, but also the judiciary, the last remaining pillar of India’s tottering democracy.

https://thewire.in/law/ed-cbi-bail-denial-chidambaram-courts-law

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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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