Prem Shankar Jha

Based on the current trend line of active cases, the growth may be slowing but India will hit its peak only when daily recoveries outpace new cases. There are signs this may be happening in Delhi, which is why other metros need to pay attention to its strategy.

How Long Will the Pandemic Last? Rate of Growth of Active Cases Holds Key.

A woman watches as healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) check the temperature of residents of a slum during a check-up camp for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India June 17, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas

Just over a  week ago, Prime Minister Modi asked his ministers to prepare “emergency plans” to deal with the spike in COVID cases in the five most severely affected states of the country. If one is looking for an admission from the government that its lockdown had failed, then this is it: instead of taking 21 days, Modi’s Mahabharata has lasted over 100 days. And the battle is only growing more intense by the day.

So how long will it last? How long before the case count reaches its peak and starts to decline? After how many deaths? If anyone in the government has an idea, she or he has kept it a deep secret. Mercifully, we have enough data now to make a reasonable estimate by ourselves. The news is not all that good, but the data on the rate of growth of active cases (i.e. total cases minus those who have recovered)  is sufficiently reassuring to make panic unnecessary. While across India, daily new cases are outpacing daily recoveries, the picture in Delhi is somewhat reassuring and could serve as a guide for what needs to be done if the duration of the pandemic is to be shortened.

The following table gives data, from  May 15 till July 6, for the total number of cases, the number of patients who have recovered, and the number of patients under active care.

May 15 has been chosen as the starting date because phase 3 of the lockdown had ended and normal life was just being resumed. It therefore gave the data a fairly uniform base, free of policy change-induced shocks. A comparison of the rates of change in these parameters makes it possible to discern the slowing down of the diseases and, barring, a surge in news cases, broadly map the trajectory of cases.

Of course, a caveat is needed. Two big confounding factors remain testing rates and the government’s denial of community transmission. Recovery rates do increase because that’s the natural course during a pandemic and we won’t discover more new cases unless we test more, which is why leading epidemiologists like Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil think most cases are going under the radar. For this exercise, however, we will take the government’s data at face value.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great betrayal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindutva Has Nowhere to Go Except Down the Road to Tyranny

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

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

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

Savarkar’s role in the rise of Hindutva

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

Savarkar. Credit:

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Photo:

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

Hindutva – the antithesis of dharma

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

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

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

Aseemanand. Photo: PTI

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

RSS’s goal of a Hindu India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mahmud of Ghazni. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

Hindutva’s selective memory 

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

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

Mongol invasion. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

Reconciliation between Hinduism and Islam

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor Akbar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

Dharma in Hinduism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soft Hindutva

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

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

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

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

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

What is Dharma

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

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

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

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

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

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

A critical difference

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

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

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By Going Solo in UP, Congress Demonstrates Its Penchant for Suicide

Rahul Gandhi. Credit: Twitter/@INCIndia

Apart from the two Nehru family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Congress is unlikely to win any seats in the Lok Sabha polls.


Until a month ago, I had firmly believed that the BJP’s days in power were numbered. The threat it posed to the future of not only the nation but to rival political parties whose leaders it has been hounding since the day it came to power, had been recognised.

I believed therefore that gradually but unmistakably, the outlines of a ‘grand coalition’ to save democracy had begun to emerge from the mists of the future. Other than pushing the BJP out, the coalition had no clear programme of action. It also had no leader whom it could pit against Modi on the billboards as the election approached. Most importantly, the distribution of constituencies between them still lay in the future. But one thing was beyond doubt: if it survived, the sheer weight of its numbers would push the BJP to an epic defeat.

That defeat has begun to look distinctly less likely today. The reason is not second thoughts among the smaller parties, but the revival of overweening ambition within the Congress. The obvious sign is its January 13 decision to fight both the BJP and the SP-BSP coalition in UP.

The Congress has presented this as a reaction to being shut out of UP altogether by the BSP-SP combine, which did not offer it a single seat. In reality, the BSP and SP’s action the previous day emerged from a failure to bridge the wide gap between the ten seats in UP that the Congress had initially demanded and the seven it was willing to settle for, and the two that the SP-BSP were prepared to give it – the traditional Nehru dynasty seats of Rae Bareilly and Amethi.

Bringing new dynamism

To breathe new life into the state party unit, Rahul Gandhi promised to bring new dynamism – what he described as a “440-volt jolt” – to the party’s organisation in UP. His secret weapon has turned out to be his sister, Priyanka Gandhi, whom he has appointed the general secretary for eastern UP. She will have the final say in the choice of candidates for eastern UP and will campaign vigorously for the party in that part of the state at the very least.

Rahul will be relying upon her palpable honesty and commitment to the nation, her physical resemblance to her grandmother Indira-amma and her appeal to women voters, to turn the tide in the Congress’ favour.

All these factors will undoubtedly play some role in the choices of the voters. But will they suffice to restore the grand old party’s pre-eminence in UP? To have a chance of taking a majority of the seats away from the BJP and SP-BSP combine, the Congress needs not only to raise its share of the vote from 7.53% in 2014 to at least 35%, but to take it equally from the BJP and the SP-BSP combine. One look at the voting pattern in eight statewide elections over the last twenty years, four for the Lok Sabha and four for the vidhan sabha, shows that the task is not well-nigh, but absolutely impossible.

Let us take the BJP first. Its vote jumped from 17.5% in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to 42.6% in 2014, and from 15% in the 2012 vidhan Sabha elections to 39.7% in the 2017 elections. These colossal increases were a product of the ‘Modi wave’, which was made up in equal parts of disappointment with the Congress during the last three years of UPA rule and belief in the grandiose promises that Modi was making. This wave has now visibly declined.

Since almost 11 points of the 25% increase in its share of the vote in 2014 came from the Congress, Rahul and his advisors obviously believe that this can be brought back to the party. But one look at the BJP’s share of the vote in the 2017 vidhan sabha elections shows that this would be wishful thinking. For despite losing every single bye-election to the vidhan Sabha to the Samajwadi party between 2014 and 2017, and despite the shock of demonetisation, the BJP still held on to 39.7% of the vote in 2017, less than 3% fewer than in 2014, capturing 312 out of UP’s 404 vidhan sabha seats.

The reason for the anomalous result was that since Mayawati did not contest any of the bye-elections to the vidhan sabha in this period, nearly all the BSP vote went to the SP. But Mayawati came back into the fray in 2017 determined to defeat not only the BJP but also the SP, all on her own, and fought the SP for every seat.

To make matters worse she specifically tried to woo away the Muslim vote, by putting up 100 Muslim candidates. Akhilesh Yadav was forced to follow suit with a somewhat fewer number. This played into Amit Shah’s hands: all he had to repeat tirelessly throughout the campaign was that if the caste Hindus did not stand solidly behind the BJP, the Muslims (backed by Dalits or OBCs), would come to power.

The coming together of the SP and BSP will harden this sentiment in UP. So it would be folly to expect any further decline in the BJP’s vote. But if the BJP’s vote is unshakeable, what about the SP and the BSP? The answer is that shaking this bastion of caste sentiment is even more difficult than shaking that of the BJP. The combined share of the two parties has ranged from 44-56% in the vidhan sabha and 42-51.5% in the Lok Sabha over the past 20 years.

It is also worth noting that even during the Modi hurricane of 2014, the combined vote of the two parties was less than half a percent short of that of the BJP. In the 2017 state elections, despite being routed in the number of seats they gained, their share was 5.5% higher than the BJP’s. With Dalit votes having gone consistently to the Samajwadi party or the Rashtriya Lok Dal in bye-elections between 2014 and 2018, it is a safe bet that these votes simply aren’t transferable to any other party.

BSP supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Credit: PTI


Two questions

Two other questions remain: Whom can Congress reach out to in UP with any hope of gaining their support and how strong is the Priyanka factor likely to be?

As to the first, one group that may still not have made up its mind is the twenty-odd million young voters who will be voting for the first time this year. After eight years of jobless growth, demonetisation and the bungled GST, and after Modi has failed to fulfill any of the promises he made to the electorate in 2014, it would be surprising indeed if these were not looking for a new party with a different and credible programme for reviving the economy, restoring the rule of law, cleansing politics and making the state accountable to the people, to which they can anchor themselves.

But even if Rahul Gandhi has such plans , he has not taken the people into his confidence so far and with the elections only months away, the time for doing so is all but lost.

As for the second, bringing in Priyanka only months before the next elections is an admission of despair. Is the collective memory of the Congress so short that it does not remember what happened when it tried to do exactly the same thing with Rahul Gandhi in the 2007 vidhan sabha elections?

On that occasion, Rahul had at least worked in UP as the secretary of the youth wing of the party and tried specifically to induct youth into the Congress. The Congress had convinced itself then too, that Rahul would work the miracle of reviving the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Instead, the party’s vote share went down from 8.96% in 2002 to 8.61% in 2007.

So what will fighting all the seats alone actually achieve for the Congress? The answer is brief and depressing – nothing. The most that it will get is the two seats it already holds and the SP-BSP combine was willing to offer it – Amethi and Rae Bareli. What then is it risking by going it alone? Again the answer is depressing – the very future of the congress party.

In 2014, the size of the victory in both constituencies, but in Amethi in particular, was assured for the Congress by the Samajwadi party not putting up a candidate for either seat. If it and BSP jointly field a candidate now, there is a possibility that the BJP, which made a strong showing in Amethi in 2014, could walk away with the seat. Rahul Gandhi is therefore risking his own seat and the political future of his family, which means also of the Congress party, in the one state where he has the least chance of winning.

Would even the most addicted and reckless gambler in a casino risk his money against such odds?

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Most of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s supposedly chameleon-like behaviour, and his failure to act decisively at critical moments, stemmed from his conviction that the battle against Hindu extremism could only be fought from within the Sangh parivar.

When Vajpayee Failed to Stand Up to Modi in 2002, He Changed the Course of Indian History


There is no limit to the lengths to which politicians will go to deceive the public. Facing a general election that they can lose, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have got the jitters. So they have suddenly developed a profound admiration for Atal Behari Vajpayee. Ministers in the Uttar Pradesh state government went out carrying urns containing his ashes for immersion in the 16 rivers of Uttar Pradesh. But it is this same party that rejected each and every tenet of government that Vajpayee had espoused, carried out an internal coup d’etat against his successors L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, rejected Advani’s nominee for leadership of the party, Sushma Swaraj, and handed the baton to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. And it is Modi who has handed over Vajpayee’s BJP, which was a mildly right-wing, only culturally Hindu party, to the RSS. That is what has wrecked the Indian economy, and turned India into a county ruled by vigilantes.

What has given Modi and Shah the opportunity to turn Vajpayee’s death into an apolitical circus? It is the English speaking, Left-leaning, secular intelligentsia of this country. Instead of remembering Vajpayee for his contributions to peace and communal harmony, one writer after the next has delved into his motives, with the purpose of showing that he was either ‘the right man in the wrong party’ or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That was all that Modi and Shah, with their so far infallible killer instinct in politics, needed.

What our secular intelligentsia missed, or did not wish to acknowledge, is that it was not Vajpayee who changed during the 65 years between his joining the RSS in 1939 and his resignation from prime ministership in 2004, but the world around him. Most of his supposedly chameleon-like behaviour, and his failure to act decisively at critical moments, stemmed from his conviction that the battle against Hindu extremism could only be fought from within the Sangh parivar. His ambivalence resulted from the compromises this harsh truth imposed upon him.

It must be remembered that Vajpayee joined the RSS in a completely different world. It was a year before the Muslim League had even committed itself to the creation of a separate Muslim state at Lahore. At that point the RSS was still headed by K.B. Hedgewar, who was a Hindu nationalist, but not virulently anti-Muslim. In his youth, Hedgewar had belonged to the Anushilan Samiti, a revolutionary group that counted Shri Aurobindo and Bankim Chandra among its members. Hedgewar founded the Hindu Mahasabha, which became the parliamentary wing of Hindu nationalism. The extent to which it was part of the nationalist mainstream is reflected by the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru asked its leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee to join his cabinet, and Mookerjee accepted.

All that changed, of course, with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. We know very little about how this affected Vajpayee, who was a very junior member of the RSS, having become a pracharak only six months earlier. But an essay he wrote many years later suggests that one of the things that had attracted him to the RSS and possibly made him decide to stay in it was its explicit rejection of caste within its cadres. His brother had joined the Sangh before him, and at its first training camp had refused to share food from the common kitchen. Vajpayee wrote, not without a touch of humour, that it had taken the Sangh only 44 hours to make him change his mind.

But there can be little doubt that on other issues, Vajpayee found himself increasingly at odds with the RSS as it developed under Hedgewar’s successor, M.S. Golwalkar. The key issue, that Ramachandra Guha has so succinctly described, was Golwalkar’s virulent hatred of Muslims. For, in the same essay, Vajpayee wrote:

It was Islam, not Hinduism, Vajpayee went on, that found it difficult to come  to terms with religious pluralism, because of its Messianic origins.

This statement is of profound significance because it defines the limits of his “Hindutva” and explains his growing distaste for the direction in which the RSS was trying to drag the Hindu community, which is Hindu majoritarianism. For while his observation was probably true for the Muslims who wanted Partition and left India in its aftermath, it was not true for the 45 million who did not leave, and showed, with their feet, their trust in free India.

Narendra Modi, A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. Credit: PTI/Files

Narendra Modi, A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. Credit: PTI/Files

In the decades that followed, Vajpayee could not but have noticed what the RSS so studiously chooses to ignore – that while sectarian strife continued and became more entrenched in Pakistan, there has not been a major Sunni-Shia riot (an annual feature in British days) in India in the half century since independence. What this showed him was that the Hindu ethos of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava”, enunciated explicitly by Swami Vivekananda at Chicago in 1893, and explicitly rejected by Muslims in Pakistan, had been increasingly internalised by the Muslims of India.

This was the understanding of India that Vajpayee brought to the BJP, and when the chance finally came, to government. It explains why he did not speak, at least publicly, at moments of crisis like the destruction of the Babri Masjid, or after the Gujarat riots. For the dilemma he faced is perhaps the oldest in politics: “Will I achieve more by resigning, or by staying in office and waiting for an opportunity to repair the damage?”

It explains why he took the BJP into a merger with the Janata Party in 1977, instead of simply lending support from the outside. It explains why he initially opposed the party’s withdrawal from it. It explains his distancing himself from Advani’s Rath Yatra; it explains his determination (shared by Advani) to broaden the base of the BJP by opening its doors to scholars, journalists, retired administrators and army officers who had had nothing to do with the RSS. It explains his willingness to jettison core elements of the RSS’s agenda, such as the imposition of a uniform civil code, and the revocation of Articles 370 and 35(a) of the constitution to abolish Kashmir’s special status within India, and a tacit decision to put Ayodhya on the back burner where there was neither a mosque nor a temple but, by implication, every one was free to worship whomsoever they wished.

Vajpayee’s true nature surfaced when he became the prime minister in 1998. He began by not including a single member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in his cabinet. The VHP took its revenge by raping Christian nuns, burning churches and killing missionaries in the Dang region of Gujarat, and thrusting him right back into the dilemma that he thought he had escaped. Vajpayee responded by repeatedly demanding that the BJP state government control the situation. When it did (not could) not, he went on a fast unto death. Given his love of good food and drink, it is doubtful that he would have sustained it for long, but it had the necessary shock effect on the state government, and the attacks on Christians stopped.

Four months later, Vajpayee muzzled the zealots in the Sangh parivar by hammering out an agreement with his coalition partners to control the extremists in the Sangh parivar if they stopped criticising the BJP in their public utterances. To implement this, he created a coordination committee with defence minister George Fernandes as its convener. When the Ahmedabad riots broke out and Modi refused to take Vajpayee’s frantic phone calls through the morning of February 28, it was George Fernandes whom he sent to Ahmedabad to call out the army late that afternoon.

As has been extensively described, Vajpayee’s vision of peace extended beyond the boundaries of India and encompassed Pakistan and the whole of South Asia. It is difficult not to conclude that he chose to swallow the personal insult of the Kargil war, declared a unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir in 2000, and extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan from Srinagar in April 2003 because he understood that Indian Muslims would remain a threatened species so long as India-Pakistan tensions continued. Finally, while his overtures to Kashmir and Pakistan are well remembered, no one has commented on the way in which he blocked the dispatch of Indian troops to Iraq at a meeting of the cabinet committee on security in July 2003, hours before they were scheduled to board the ship for Basra, after this had been agreed to by both Advani and Jaswant Singh during their visits to the US.

Vajpayee's Asthi Kalash Yatra in Allahabad. Credit: PTI

For me, however, Vajpayee’s finest hour was the way he accepted the NDA’s defeat in the vote of confidence in 1999, and submitted his government’s resignation to the president, when he knew that the vote had passed only because Giridhar Gamang, who had already taken over as chief minister of Odisha, had come back  to vote against Vajpayee because he had not yet submitted his resignation from the Lok Sabha. It was not only his, but Indian democracy’s finest hour.

Such a long career in politics cannot be without its blemishes and Vajpayee is no exception. The two that stand out in my mind is his staying on in the RSS after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and his ringing endorsement of Modi at the Goa meeting of the BJP’s national executive in April 2002, when the killing and post-riot persecution of Muslims had still not ended.

Speaking for myself, I can try to understand the first, but cannot condone the second. Vajpayee knew from intelligence reports that Modi had ordered the corpses of the Godhra victims to be sent to Ahmedabad because the RSS and VHP had well laid plans to start a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat. It is now common knowledge that he intended to sack Modi at the national executive meeting in Goa two months later. So when he was checkmated by, among others, Arun Jaitley, who brought and presented Modi to the assembled members as the hero of Gujarat before Vajpayee’s address, why did he not assert his pre-eminence and explain to the audience why Modi had to go inspite of having won the Gujarat assembly elections? Worse, why did he go on the dais and put the blame for the riots in Ahmedabad on a still-to-be-proven Muslim conspiracy in Godhra?

The truth is that this single failure of nerve has set off a chain of events which today jeopardises India’s very future as a viable nation state. Its first victim was he himself. As both Ram Bilas Paswan and Chandrababu Naidu said while leaving the NDA after the 2004 election defeat, they and the coalition paid the price for Ahmedabad in the 2004 elections. Its second victim was the moderate, forward-looking BJP that Vajpayee and Advani had fashioned in the years after 1991. The RSS pinned the blame for the defeat on “the Vajpayee line” of cosying up to the opponents of a Hindu rashtra, staged an internal coup within the BJP and reimposed hardline Hindutva upon the party.

Vajpayee’s evasion thus changed the course of history, for had the NDA won in 2004 there would not have been the revolt in the RSS against Vajpayee and Advani’s attempt to modernise and civilise the BJP. Narendra Modi would have remained in Gujarat; Amit Shah would probably have been in jail for murder; the Kashmir dispute would have almost certainly been resolved; and the economy would not have collapsed, robbing 40 million youth of their future, after 2011. Most important of all, India would have remained a country governed by law instead of vigilantes posing as saviours of Hinduism

Today, the budding opposition alliance does not have to take on the Modi government’s performance point-by-point to prove its ineffectiveness and its contempt for the canons of democracy. All it has to do is to hold up the mirror of the Vajpayee government’s performance to Modi’s face, and let the public see the image it reflects.

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What really happened at the not-at-all-secret meeting with former Pakistani officials at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house.

When Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi threw Mani Shankar Aiyar to the wolves after he described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a ‘neech kism ka aadmi‘, he presented Modi with a juicy target. On December 8, at a rally in Banaskantha, Modi alleged that after he became prime minister in 2014, Aiyar had travelled to Pakistan to get him “removed” to improve relations between the two countries. Modi said the Congress had then tried to muffle the episode, and did not take any action against Aiyar.

Two days later, at a pre-election rally in Palanpur in Gujarat, he roared, “Now, news is that the Pakistan high commissioner, the foreign minister and Manmohan Singh met at his (Aiyar’s) house just before the Gujarat polls…This is a serious issue. I want to ask what was the reason for this secret meeting with Pakistanis”. To this he attached a seemingly unrelated statement: “Former Pakistan Army Director General Arshad Rafiq was willing to help make [Congress leader] Ahmed Patel the chief minister.”

Political mudslinging is routine in democratic elections, and its pitch invariably rises as voting day draws near. But I can think of no parallel in history to this relentless public demonisation of a single individual who holds no political office and has been disavowed by his own political party. It tells us two things about Modi: that he is seriously rattled by the feedback the BJP  has been getting from Gujarat; and that he will stop at nothing to secure victory in Gujarat.

Here is a list of falsehoods that Modi has been relentlessly propagating.

First, as almost everyone who attended the dinner (including this writer) has emphasised, there was nothing secret about the meeting. The invitations were not sent on WhatsApp, Express VPN, Viber or any other encrypted messaging system, but on ordinary Gmail. The first invitations were sent out almost a month earlier and were followed up by Aiyar’s office. This was followed by phone calls from either Aiyar or his secretary to determine if one was coming. It is difficult to imagine that none of these calls are monitored.

The government was fully aware of the meeting because two of the guests, Manmohan Singh and Hamid Ansari, have  ‘Z’ category protection from the Special Protection Group (SPG). The SPG not only inspect the premises and cordon off access points if they feel it is necessary, but have to be given a full list of the guests for pre-vetting. Modi has asked why Aiyar did not “inform” (i.e. get permission from) the Ministry of External Affairs when he was entertaining the Pakistan high commissioner and foreign minister (he conveniently forgot the word ‘former’). The answer is that since Aiyar is neither a minister nor a government official, no such prior information is required nor expected.

Third, there was no speculation about Delhi’s hottest topic – the Gujarat elections. The polls were not mentioned at all at the meeting. Even the word Gujarat was not uttered during the discussions either before or after dinner.

Fourth, Ahmed Patel’s name never came up at any point during the meeting. Modi’s repeated assertion that the Congress party is taking help from Pakistan’s intelligence to oust the BJP in Gujarat and intends to make “their man” the chief minister is based on a single Facebook post by someone calling himself Sardar Arshad Rafiq. The post has been shunned by every news channel in India except the notoriously pro-Modi NewsX, and is almost certainly manufactured by the same BJP troll factory that dubbed ‘Pakistan zindabad‘ onto a video of the JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s February 9, 2016 speech on campus to facilitate his arrest and incarceration in Tihar Jail two days later.

How easy it is to do this was demonstrated on December 4 when, hours after Modi reminded listeners at a rally in Gujarat that Aurangzeb too had come to the throne because he inherited it, a fake video began to circulate on YouTube, showing Rahul Gandhi signing his nomination papers at the party office in front of a portrait of Aurangzeb. The video had been morphed from the real footage which showed a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Modi, of course, twisted history completely out of shape, for Aurangzeb came to the throne through war and fratricide.

So if the invitees did not talk about Gujarat or Ahmed Patel, what did we talk about? The short answer is the quest for peace. The bond that united everyone in the room was a firm belief that neither India nor Pakistan could ever achieve their full potential without burying the hatchet. And this could not be done without burying the past. Contrary to what Modi wants people to believe, the gathering was not one of doves. On the contrary, the majority of the former foreign secretaries and high commissioners to Pakistan present that evening were sceptical of the possibility of restoring peace in the near future.

The discussion centred on the obstacles that needed to be removed first in both countries. These included not only the intensifying militancy in Kashmir, but also the role of the Pakistani army in nurturing terrorism and of the ISI in Kashmir. Several of us asked what the point was in seeking a diplomatic solution, when the Pakistan army so obviously had the final say on relations with India. Some suggested that it might be better to involve the armies of both countries in the talks, but this did not gain much traction.

Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri took pains to dispel this pessimism. He reaffirmed, not for the first time, that there was indeed a four-point agreement between our countries signed by Manmohan Singh and former Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf; and that despite everything that had happened since 2007, this remained the only viable framework for peace. He  asserted, as he had in his book Neither Hawk nor Dove, that Musharraf had constantly kept four top army commanders, including former army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the ISI chief in the loop.

He was emphatic that this was the only way forward and that the Pakistan army was not as rabidly Islamist as the Indian media often portrayed it to be. He pointed out that by the time an officer got to be a general, he had spent several years obtaining a degree at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), where there were students from 30 countries, and had attended several courses at military academies abroad. Thus no matter where he began, his entire life was spent broadening his perspectives.

However, Kasuri expressed great anxiety over the worsening situation in Kashmir. “No government in Pakistan will be able to take a step forward towards a settlement if the situation in Kashmir continues to worsen.”

Why is Modi going to such extreme lengths to rouse Islamophobia in Gujarat? The only possible explanation is that some difference in the response of his audiences during his recent spate of rallies has made him sense the possibility of defeat in Gujarat. Islamophobia had enabled him to snatch a victory after the Gujarat riots in 2002. He believes that it will enable him to do so again.

At first sight this looks like exaggerated paranoia, for in the 2014 elections the BJP had secured a mammoth 60% of the vote in Gujarat, while the share of the Congress had plummeted to 33%. But a closer look shows that a large part of this resulted from the abstention of Congress voters from casting their vote. The voter turnout in Gujarat was the third lowest in the country, after Kashmir and Bihar.

This time, the turnout in the first phase, although still lower than in 2012, has shown a substantial recovery, especially in the traditionally Congress Saurashtra region. Reports from Surat suggest that a substantial protest vote has developed there as well. So Modi’s apprehension may be well-grounded. That would explain his willingness to play with fire and stoke Islamophobia once more.

When Patriotism Becomes Treason

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Rahul has committed the cardinal sin of politics: he has abandoned his bravest general at the height of a battle that he could very well have won.

By disgracing Mani Shankar Aiyar and virtually throwing him out of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi may think that he has improved its chances of winning the elections in Gujarat. But if there is any conclusion that not only Gujarat’s but also India’s voters will draw from his hasty rebuke of the Congress party’s most senior, most loyal, most eloquent and most fearless member, it is not that the Congress is morally superior to the BJP, but that he is unfit to lead the Congress and unfit to govern the country. For Rahul has committed the cardinal sin of politics, and statecraft: he has abandoned his bravest general at the height of a battle that he could very well have won.

What is worse, he has cut down the only member of the Congress party who was doing any serious damage to the image that Narendra Modi has built of himself in the eyes of the people. That is, of course, why Modi singled him out for destruction. Instead of defending Aiyar or, better still, leading a counterattack on Modi, Rahul and the entire Congress party joined in his destruction. No matter what gloss his party’s spin doctors now try to put on this action, there is only one conclusion that the public can draw from this: Rahul does not have what it takes to be a leader, let alone the prime minister of the second largest country in the world.

To appreciate the sheer magnitude of Rahul’s loss of nerve, it is necessary to follow the train of events that preceded his public rebuke of Aiyar closely. While inaugurating the B.R. Ambedkar International Centre in Delhi, Modi said that the Congress had, for years, suppressed the memory of Ambedkar and belittled his contribution to nation building, solely to promote the “interests” of one family. No one was left in any doubt about which family he was referring to.

Modi’s remark was, to say the least, in poor taste. As the British had found out during the first Round Table Conference in 1931, Ambedkar was an ardent nationalist and the respect the Congress held him in is writ large on every page of the constitution. The Ambedkar Centre was conceived by the Congress government of Narasimha Rao in 1992, and if there was any reason for the delay in its creation it has to be shared by every political party in the country including the BJP. Modi could have taken credit for expediting it, but it was a truly national project so there could not have been a better moment to remind all Indians of their common commitment to the removal of the inequities of caste from our country. But Modi could not resist the temptation to take a cheap, unsubstantiated dig at not just the Congress, but the Gandhi family.

It would have been surprising indeed if this had not left a bad taste in the mouths of many of those present. So Aiyar had every right to voice his distaste for what Modi had said. Why, then, did Rahul turn so hastily, and so publicly, upon him? The official excuse is that by calling Modi a “Neech kisam ka aadmi”, he had given Modi a chance to claim that the Congress was denigrating him as a member of a ‘neech’ jaat (caste). This would alienate some of the lower castes who traditionally supported the Congress and give Modi a victory in Gujarat. Rahul swallowed this hook, line and sinker. As Congress president, he did not even ask Aiyar for an explanation first. He simply joined Modi in denigrating a senior and loyal member of his own party.

Rahul is so far removed from the party he now commands that he did not remember that Modi had tried to play the same card when Priyanka Gandhi had similarly called him ‘neech’ during an election rally in Amethi in 2014. But Modi’s ploy did not work, for the Congress candidate won in Amethi by 1.07 lakh votes. He should have remembered, because he was the candidate.

In Hindi, there is no automatic connection between the words ‘neech’ and ‘jaat’. The closest translation of ‘neech’ in English is ‘immoral’ or ‘unsavoury’. But Modi’s attempt to link it to caste in Gujarat had nothing to do with attracting lower caste votes. His precise statement was, “They have called me a neech jaat. This is an insult to Gujaratis.” This was therefore an appeal to Gujarati nationalism, but one designed to capture the vote of upper caste and upwardly mobile Gujaratis only – so the Patidars. That he felt compelled to use it again shows how uncertain the BJP is of retaining the Patidar vote.

How much damage has Rahul’s abandonment of his own general done to the Congress? There is no way to tell for sure, but it will be greatest among the swing voters who voted for the BJP and forsook the Congress for the first time in 2014. The BJP’s vote share jumped by 12%, from 48% in the 2012 assembly elections to 60% in the parliamentary elections of 2014. The Congress’s vote fell by 7%, from 40% to 33%. If the 12% switch back to the Congress, the BJP will still have a wafer-thin margin of 3%. This is what Modi is sparing no effort to retain. Rahul’s action has made it a lot easier for him to do so.

Rahul Gandhi Is Narendra Modi’s Strongest Ally

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