Prem Shankar Jha

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.
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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A broke government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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