The Political Alternative

The Political Alternative

With BJP’s almost invincible hold on the electorate and power in India, opposition politicians and political pundits are raking their minds on how to create an effective opposition in India’s democracy. Two alternatives have done the rounds. A revived Congress party or the Third Front. But neither appears to have life or sustainability. Perhaps it is time to look at a radical alternative.

The BJP’s appeal to the country is not its economic success or its welfare programmes lifting people out of poverty or its projected power in the world. Its main appeal is that it has given the common person in India an ‘identity’. It is not surprising that it continues to target Muslims, in order to consolidate Hindu identity, its main electoral base.

While economics, jobs and development are essential part of any delivery for electoral success, one of the vacuums at the heart of independent India since 1947 has been the question: What or who is an Indian? Is it an identity that has evolved over centuries or is it an identity created by the British on a map with half Punjabis, mostly Muslims, in Pakistan and half in India; Half Bengalis, mostly Muslims, in Bangladesh and half in India in Bengal. Most of Sindhis in Pakistan but some in India. And a significant number of Kashmiris in India and many in Pakistan. These geographic communities have been fragmented by an arbitrary line. Some became Indian and some Pakistanis.

What went to India was at least 25 or more ethnic dominant regions or Kingdoms that had a long history of their own, their language, their culture, their cuisine, their religious preference etc. Different regions had different favourite gods and belief systems that dominated their historical development. They had different folk heroes, folk dances and even customs.

There was no ‘natural’ India in 1947 except in the minds of the post-colonial elite. The first thing Nehru’s Congress did was to try and forge an identity to keep the ‘nation’ together. He tried the idea of European secularism and gave the Indian an identity of secular nationalism as opposed to the religious nationalism of Pakistan. Pakistan was built on the idea of a Muslim nation. India was to be on the idea of a country for all within its territory. There was some reconstruction of Indian history to justify ‘secularism’.

The experiment didn’t work. In 1984, in her desperation to win vote, Indira Gandhi targeted the Sikhs as the ‘other’ and went about on a killing spree, invoking latent Hinduism’s desire for identity and unity. It backfired on her and her party.

I said in a BBC interview in 1984, that metaphorically the State has taken on the Church and it is not so called Sikh fundamentalism that the Indian state has to worry but the next phase in this will be rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Hindu nationalism has tasted blood and was bound to grow bigger. The BJP was the natural inheritor that fed this appetite. It was clever enough not to target Sikhs but Muslims instead.

So there is the country, still desperately needing an identity, focusing on trying to find one, refusing to face a simple reality, that there is no natural Indian but an accident of post-colonial history. It is a passport identity. Most people in the State are still Gujaratis, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis, Tamils etc. They don’t identify first as Indian. The result is that a great deal of politics, rhetoric and energy goes to sustain the post-colonial identity, at the expense of much wanted attention to reduce poverty, create jobs and harmony among its people.

ALSO READ: India’s Fall From Democracy To Electoral Autocracy

Ironically, India has become like Pakistan, a country identified by a ‘religion’, rather than a secular entity. It appears that the founders of Pakistan were right in the idea of two nations.

Time is not going to go back. Congress’s ideology of the secular Indian is now a lost cause. Even its leader, Rahul Gandhi, is role playing as some sort of a Hindu Sadhu, knowing that the majority Indians want a ‘Hindu’ leader and not a secular leader. But politically the Congress has not come with an alternative version of a plural Hinduism. It is still tied to secularism. Moreover it is a family feudal outfit.

The other alternative, as anti-BJP coalition, is one that has no positive ideological message except anti-Modi or anti-Hindutva. That is not an ideology. It is negative politics.

The Third Front is what it is, a patched up coalition of wannabe leaders who cannot otherwise hope to become leaders of India. As coalitions without an ideological base, they will fall into internecine struggles as they did before.

The coalition does not offer Indians an identity since most of the partners run states along regional identities. The Bengali regional party of Mamata won the state on Bengali nationalism and not Indian national identity. The Punjab political parties win on Punjabi identity and not a pan Indian identity or even a secular agenda for the state. Hence the Nitish Kumar campaign to create a third front is a non-starter.

Even in development and economy, each of the regional parties champion their own state. What will be decided on the national level? Hence Modi with his large national party machine that offers a significant electorate a pan Indian identity of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and a united structure, remains the uncontested leader standing.

There is another alternative. It is to face history, the nature of societies in the post-colonial State called India and then develop a pan Indian political movement based on that. There is a need for a new political alternative that builds on strong federalism, on strong regional identities and accept that the natural identity of most people in India is the region they belong to. They can be Indian as a collective identifier but still be Gujarati, or Bengali etc as a nationality.

The alternative needs to be coalition of regional parties that set its agenda to strongly federalise India, reduce the powers and remits of the Centre and give the regions back their national identities. Some of it happened with the Manmohan Singh reforms on liberalising economic development when he gave the regions much greater say and freedom to develop their own economies.

Now it needs a second step to give the regions freedom to strengthen their own cultural identities their own political systems and their own economic prerogatives.

This model has worked in Europe. Europe now works as a superstate but as a coalition of nations. Most European nations have their own political systems but they agreed on some common principles of human rights and ‘democracy’ that remain their glue. They have freedom of movement, of economic activity, foreign policy and defence.

Of course, India does not have to go all the way as Europe. After all European Union was formed from existing distinct countries coming together. India on the other hand is a State already inherited from a colonial era as a common administrative unit.

Such a coalition will strengthen India. It will encourage fierce inter-state competition for development. The regional states will want to ensure peace within their boundaries by adopting inclusivity instead of divisiveness. Gujaratis can remain Gujaratis as Hindu and Muslim Gujaratis, proud of their state while Bengalis can remain Bengalis as Hindu and Muslims and other denominational Bengalis. Neither will be prey to a national party trying to forge a ‘national identity’ bigger than them.

A party committed to something like this will have a structure of leadership instead of a patchwork sewn together when a wannabe leader does not get a place in a ministerial post in BJP. It will even be better if the party was to declare itself as a federal party that will not compete in the regions for regional power.

Currently, both the Congress and the BJP try to win in the states and then win the states on a national level. A party that restricts itself to fighting only on a national level will appeal to the regions more as they won’t see it as a threat to their own bases of power.

If such a party does emerge, it could unleash a tremendous amount of energy and developmental potential. It will be a model that many other post-colonial countries can adopt. Most problems in post-colonial countries are similar to the problems that India inherited. They have tribes and nations forced into a territory that is seeking an identity of its own, stamping on the long evolved identities and languages of the regions. It is a common issue across commonwealth and even French post-colonial countries.

One just has to look at the neighbour Pakistan. Despite ‘Islam’ being the national identity, regional identities continue to struggle, whether they be Sindh, Baloch, Pathan etc.

As for the fear of the Indian Babu that such an experiment will lead to fragmentation, there is no justification in it. It is a fear inherited from the British administrative system. It is a psychosis that the Indian Administrative Service, seems to have failed to challenge in their training manuals. There is a common interest in the states working together for common defence, economic policy, foreign policy and common interests. The days of small States has gone.

A real alternative to the two monoliths, BJP and the defunct Congress, is a new bold, radical and imaginative political party that builds on what worked for South Asia for thousands of years. A party and State of nations rather than a hybrid nation, still struggling to find an identity.

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Wrestlers Protest

Daughters Against Dictators

The medieval Raj Tilak of a self-styled messiah in a modern, constitutional, secular democracy, in an overtly religious procession with Hindu priests, will mark a new low in this darkest era of acche din. The other historic low has been the brutal crackdown on our world champion women wrestlers, stamped by jackboots, dragged on the streets, manhandled, humiliated and brutalized, and thereby jailed, their tents and mattresses dismantled at Jantar Mantar, even while scores of women have been arrested, while the history-sheeter/abuser/bahuhabli belonging to the BJP apparently sat cushy in the new Parliament building, sans 20 opposition parties.

Certainly, and undoubtedly, the BJP and its arrogant and ageing leadership, obsessed with the infinite lust for power, will pay a heavy price for this perverse dialectic enacted as a grotesque public spectacle in Delhi. And the way this repressive roller-coaster is rolling, with the capital turned into an armed cantonment and its borders sealed, history might repeat itself much before the final countdown of 2024.

In a front page lead article (May 23, 2023) in the Indian Express, Vinesh Phogat wrote: “We would have regretted it for the rest of our lives. What is the point of the medals around your neck if you can’t fight for justice? We are fighting against the system so that the next generation of women can wrestle and play and compete in a safe environment…”

On May 23, Vinesh, her friends, Sakshi and Bajrang Punia, both international medalists, among other conscientious athletes like Sangeeta Phogat, and die-hard supporters in solidarity, marked one month of their peaceful struggle. They have been sleeping out in the open in this heat-wave, surrounded by mosquitoes, dust and pollution, with bad toilets, and outside the cushy comfort zones of the well-off classes in Delhi. They are stoic, solid, steadfast – and their morale remains as high as ever.

Barring the thick-skinned ruling apparatus, their struggle has touched a deep and enduring chord across the national landscape, especially among mothers, sisters, daughters. They are the brave betis who are now staking their young life and times as iconic role models for the entire womanhood in India, much greater, or, as great as when they stood on global podiums in glittering, packed stadiums, with their medals, while the national anthem played in the background. Their names will now be etched in a rainbow of gold, carved eternally in the memory of the nation, for all times to come. Despite the jackboots!

Besides, they took on the entire might of the State machinery, against all odds, and despite being threatened, remained unflinchingly brave, resilient and resolute. In their heart of hearts, inside their deepest political subconscious, every woman in India, and every democratic and secular citizen, is sending a salute of gratitude and admiration to these young brave-hearts, and wishing them success after this prolonged and hard battle against a notorious bahubali from Eastern UP, brazenly backed, and so shamelessly, by the ‘beti parao, beti bachao’ fake apparatus!

ALSO READ: Women Wrestlers Grappling For Justice

Ironically, this regime is not realizing the infinite damage this protracted struggle is going to do to them in the short and long run. By protecting a history-sheeter, accused by seven women wrestlers, including a minor, in clear testimonies, what is the message they are sending to the nation, and to the mothers and daughters of India?

Those who are on the edge of aspirations, those who are surmounting all odds to break the entrenched barriers, those who are wanting to soar high with their eclectic, kaleidoscopic dreams – what is the message they are getting from the BJP top brass? That you might score an international medal, while coming from the mud and soil, and after a hard life of impossible toil, and that they can make the nation proud, but we care a damn when it comes to protecting one politician. You can very well go get damned!

That is how they have damned some of the finest young minds, with a history of brilliant scholarship, condemned with cooked up charges, while ritualistically patronizing all kinds of sleaze-balls. Umar Khalid, Gulfisha, Sharjeel, Khalid Saifi, among others. Their crime: they were peacefully protesting against the communal and anti-constitutional CAA! And they all happen to be young, bright, inspiring Muslim intellectuals.

Indeed, in a deeper sense, only a mediocre leadership such as this, bereft of any compassion or feeling, or knowledge system, would have a tendency to hate the young and the brilliant with such deep mistrust, especially those who choose dissent and challenge its ossified tyranny! In a deeper sense, there is something pathologically perverse in a system which chooses to penalize the finest in the land, young men and women, because they refuse to succumb to injustice!

Umar Khalid, among others, has been imprisoned for more than 1000 days now. Wrote Apeksha Priyadarshini, his friend and comrade, in a facebook post, after meeting him for the ninth time in Tihar Jail (April 28, 2023):

We spoke some more about life inside before it was time to go. I asked him how he was holding up and he said, “You know, I’m trying to be as rational and prepare myself for what lies ahead as much as is possible, but, sometimes, you can’t help but think about whether those who knew us, those who fought alongside us, are starting to forget that we are still inside…” While I did assure him that this wasn’t true before I left, as I stepped out and walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some truth to his words. Are we getting used to their unjust incarceration? Are we getting accustomed to the violence that Muslims are being subjected to on a daily basis in this country? Is it now part and parcel of our lives to forget about every instance of injustice with each changing news cycle? …May our skins never grow thick enough to not be haunted by these questions…

Umar and others might draw inspiration from Vinesh and Sakshi, and others, who braved the barricades on Sunday. They must have surely heard about the valiant struggle waged by our brave women wrestlers and their comrades. Despite the brutality inflicted on them, they know that the resistance to fascism often comes from unpredictable and unexpected quarters. History is not unilinear; it takes us all by surprise! Who would have otherwise known that Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia would emerge from nowhere, carve their name in history, and lead a resurrection for Indian democracy and women’s empowerment against a cold-blooded regime?

Surely, we cherish them and admire them and we want them to fly on the wings of freedom, success, victory. This is because, be it the footpath of Jantar Mantar, or, inside the walls of dingy, claustrophobic prisons, they have taken us, stoically and unafraid, to the edge of the zone of infinite possibilities; they have taught us precious and valuable lessons — optimism in despair, stoicism in suffering, the resilience of the imprisoned, and how to live and play, be joyful and dream, and fight on — come what may! Something dictators in self-love can’t even imagine in their wakefulness or insomnia.


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Desecration of Dancing Girl

The Desecration of an Ancient Dancing Girl

The desecration Mohenjo Daro dancing girl

My introduction to the Indus Valley civilisation happened in history class in school, of course, but also at home. My father was a history buff and among the many replicas of historical artifacts displayed in our small living room’s glass-fronted cabinet, was a tiny one of the famous Mohenjo-Daro Dancing Girl. 

Highly regarded as a work of art, the Dancing Girl is a bronze statuette created by “lost wax casting” over 4,500 years ago, circa 2300–1750 BCE, and is a rare and unique masterpiece. It was found in the ancient Mohenjo-Daro site in 1926. The statue is a cultural artifact reflecting the aesthetics of a female body as conceptualized during that pre-historical period. The figurine, which is nude, shows vigour, variety, and ingenuity. The right arm of the dancing girl rests on the hip and the left arm is heavily bangled.

The significance of the Dancing Girl statue lies in its artistic value and its reflection of the aesthetics of the female body during that period. It also signifies that there was knowledge of blended metal casting in that era and that dancing may have been a part of the cultural activity then. The Dancing Girl statuette, 10.5 centimetres in height, is an iconic representation of art and culture during prehistoric times in the Indus Valley civilisation.

Well, now, with some contribution from the ruling regime in India, that icon has been desecrated. On May 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the International Museum Expo 2023 by unveiling a life-size mascot for the event. The mascot is supposedly a “contemporised” version of the Dancing Girl. 

The original statuette was dark in colour and was a nude depiction of the girl. In the so-called contemporised version, the five-foot replica shows the statuette with a pink skin tone and clad in bright pink and yellow clothing. This has led to a controversy in social media and public discourse. 

In recent years, particularly after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India, fiddling with history has become commonplace. A pink, clothed replica of the iconic Dancing Girl is another instance of the attempts to distort India’s history–and in this case, pre-history. The controversy over changing history textbooks by tweaking or blanking out events and facts that pertain to eras and periods in India’s History that don’t sit well with the ruling regime’s perceptions and beliefs about “Hinduism” are rife. What this achieves besides distortion of history is difficult to comprehend. 

The outrage over the desecration of one of Indian history’s most iconic artifacts has been limited. To be sure, the mainstream media in India, generally lemming-like in their behaviour, has reported about the controversy but has gone no further. There has been no campaign against what is yet another attempt to banalise and vulgarise historical facts–in this case, an important artifact. The net outcome: India’s rising breed of self-proclaimed moralists have scored another shameful victory.

Making sense of the Manipur violence

When it comes to the north-eastern part of India, which comprises eight states—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura (commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”), and the “brother”, Sikkim, India’s media coverage is scant and often superficial. Many of these states are socially and demographically complex with different tribes and ethnic diversities that are not adequately understood. In recent weeks violence has erupted in one of India’s north-eastern states, Manipur, and it has led to nearly 60 deaths, thousands left wounded, and 25,000 displacements. 

The violence has been between ethnic groups and has led to buildings being set ablaze and charred vehicles strewn across roads. The violence has also led to thousands of people fleeing their homes. The situation in Manipur is complex and has been fueled by a number of factors, including ethnic tensions, political instability, and economic inequality. The violence has also led to calls for a separate state in India.

The ethnic divisions in the Manipur violence are not simple and have been fueled by a number of factors. The valley area in Manipur is largely inhabited by Meiteis, while the hill areas are dominated by tribals – mainly Kukis. Small fractions of people from both communities live in areas dominated by the other, and these were the people caught in the crossfire first when the violence began. The Meiteis are the predominant ethnic group in the state and the majority of them are Hindus, while the Kukis, a hill tribe, are predominantly Christian. 

The ongoing unrest began when Kuki tribes organised a protest march that led to a clash with the Meitei community. The Meiteis form nearly 50% of the 4-million population of the state. The genesis of the violence was the Kuki (the community is classified as a Scheduled Tribe) protest against Meiteis also being classified as a Scheduled Tribe. The Scheduled Tribe classification is an affirmative action policy that is aimed at ensuring that minority tribes in India get reservations with regard to education and government jobs.

The Kukis believe that the Meitei demand for being classified as a Scheduled Tribe is not fair because as the dominant ethnic group they already enjoy advantages that minority groups don’t. The fissures between Manipur’s ethnic groups have a long history and violence between different groups has flared several times over the past decades.

India’s Opposition boycotts inauguration of new Parliament House

Several opposition parties in India have decided to boycott the inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28. The decision came after several Opposition parties demanded that President Draupadi Murmu should inaugurate the new building in Delhi instead of Modi because Parliament is a non-partisan institution. The opposition parties have cited various reasons for their decision to boycott the event, including the sidelining of the President and the violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Union Minister Anurag Thakur has criticised the Opposition for its decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building, saying it was an insult. Ex-bureaucrats and veterans have also condemned the Opposition for boycotting recent ‘non-partisan’ events of Parliament.

Modi, as most Indians are aware, has a penchant for inaugurating things–it could be a new train, an educational institution, an exhibition, metro lines, expressways, or even less. There is a comical aspect too to the pomp and drama that usually accompanies these inaugurations… but, hush now,  he also has a low threshold of tolerance for criticism. 

Modi’s Australian extravaganza

Prime Minister Modi likes acronyms and alliterations. Last week, when he received what the media called “a rock star” welcome by the Indian diaspora in Australia–an audience of 20,000 thronged a venue where the public meeting was organised, Modi said: “There are three Cs that defined our relationship with Australia: the commonwealth, cricket, and curry. But now it is three Ds: democracy, diaspora, dosti (which in Hindi means friendship),” he began. “Now there are also three Es that define the relationship: energy, economy, and education.”

The crowd, mainly comprising Indian diaspora, lapped it up. Indians abroad are always in awe of Modi. In the US, UK, and in Europe, Indians living abroad are drawn by the thousands to Modi’s events when they happen and their cheers and applause are always overwhelming. 

Even the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, appeared to be in awe of Modi. He was quoted as saying: “The last time I saw someone on this stage was Bruce Springsteen and he did not get the welcome that prime minister Modi has got. Prime minister Modi is the boss.”

No one did speak about the suppression in Kashmir, the insecurity of India’s Minority communities, the violence in the northeastern part of India, the ill-conceived introduction of 2000-rupee notes followed by their recent withdrawal, or the state of the mainstream media that cower like sheep when a wolf approaches their pen. Amen. 

Meanwhile, in Russia’s Ukraine war…

Last week, Russia’s attack on Ukraine entered its 15th month and it shows no signs of relenting. The war in Ukraine has seen major developments since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Ukrainian troops have made lightning gains in the east of the country, inflicting one of Russia’s worst military setbacks. But cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odesa have been hit by Russian missiles. 

Here are more recent updates: Power at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was lost for several hours. Heavy fighting continued around Bakhmut in the east of the country. Front lines in the south around Kherson were largely stable. Ukraine has also accused Russia of coercion in ‘sham’ referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions. Russia and Ukraine have held their first direct negotiations since March over grain exports, but without any immediate signs of a breakthrough, and missile strikes across Ukraine continue to be reported. The war continues.

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Nitish Kumar’

Nitish Kumar’s ‘One Against One’ Strategy is Quite Silly

Nitish Kumar’s “one against one” strategy is quite silly

No offence intended but the proposal, attributed in the media to the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, to have a single united opposition candidate to contest against the Bharatiya Janata Party in around 500 Lok Sabha constituencies, is a bit silly. According to media reports, Kumar, a wily and opportunistic politician who has frequently switched sides in order to achieve his political ambitions, has proposed a “one against one” strategy to defeat the BJP in the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

According to the Kumar formula (if we want to call it that), opposition parties should bury their differences and together field a single strong candidate in each constituency to defeat the BJP. In other words, what Kumar is suggesting is the formation of a new coalition. Only, he is doing it in a different way. He wants all parties opposed to the BJP to come together and have a convenor and a chairperson with the assumption that the convenor will be projected as the prime ministerial candidate. No prizes for guessing whose name Kumar, who will turn 73 before the elections, will likely suggest as the convenor.

Here’s why his proposal is a bit silly. First, it requires a buy in from the Congress party and several other oppositions parties—both at the national level as well as at the regional levels—with many of them agreeing to play second, third, or even fourth fiddle in Kumar’s grand plan. Second, in many constituencies, veteran politicians from opposition parties would have to agree not to contest and step back in favour of another party’s candidate who is considered to be stronger. Try making that work when you have politicians who consider their constituencies as personal fiefs. Also, try getting a senior Congress leader and former candidate to canvass and campaign for someone from, say, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Trinamool Congress, or someone else, and vice versa.

Third, and most important, is the fact that for the majority of Indians (we are not talking about politicians or the lemmings in media) the single vote that they have the power to exercise represents a lot. The poorer the voter the more important that single vote is to him or her. The media often deploy the rather inelegant word “anti-incumbency” to describe the phenomenon where a ruling party is unseated by the electorate when it votes and elects a party that is opposed to it. In reality, it is a voter who is disappointed with the ruling regime and wants and hopes it would get better governance from another party or alliance. The majority of voters vote in the hope “for” something not “against” something.

Kumar’s “one against one” strategy is probably the veteran politician’s attempt to get a shy at the top office in Delhi. That’s understandable for an ambitious politician in his twilight years. It, however, also reeks of desperation and a detachment from reality. If India needs an alternative to the BJP, it will have to be a robust one: not a rag-tag ensemble conjured up to fuel one man’s ambition.

How to measure a nation’s true power

The measure of a nation’s true power is a combination of several things. It includes a country’s economic strength (measured by GDP and more relevantly, per capita GDP), its military might, its productivity, and its population. There could be several other factors as well, including softer ones related to a nation’s influence on culture, lifestyle, and so on.

In a recent feature on China, the Economist delved into the concept of measuring a nation’s power by looking at how China measures what is known as Comprehensive National Power (CNP).

While China has attempted to measure its own CNP in various ways, worldwide there are scores of different ways of doing it. According to the Economist, there were 69 different versions of measuring a country’s powerfulness. And, of course, the Economist added its own measure. In its version, there are “three essential ingredients of national power: economic heft, productive efficiency and military might”. Its “hard-power index” takes into account GDP per person as a measure of efficiency; defence expenditure as a measure of might; and non-military GDP as a measure of economic heft. To arrive at the index these are multiplied together.

How do countries fare according to the Economist’s hard-power index. The top eight countries on the basis of their 2021 hard-power index were in this order: US, China, Russia, India, Germany, Japan, Britain, and France.

While the Economist’s feature was on China, it is interesting to note that India ranked number 4 on its list of top eight hard-power countries in 2021.

One more episode in India’s endless corruption saga

Instances of the Indian police and other authorities trying to extort money from the affluent are not uncommon. In fact, we still marvel when a person in authority turns out to be doing his duty honestly, something that is expected to be normal practice. In October 2021, a few young people, including the Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son, Aryan Khan, then 22, were arrested on charges of consumption and possession of drugs while aboard a cruise ship bound for Goa from Mumbai.

To be sure, last year, Khan was cleared of the charges. However, there is now a new twist to the tale. One of the officers of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on Khan’s case, Sameer Wankhede, has now been charged by India’s apex investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of trying to extort Rs 25 crore from the actor Shah Rukh Khan to in exchange for “diluting” the case against his son. It has also been found that Wankhede has accumulated disproportionate assets, including several flats in Mumbai, and has spent on many personal trips abroad that are not commensurate with his income. In other words, Wankhede has been accused of several instances of corruption. Sad but not surprising.

US report is scathing on religious freedom in India

The US State Department’s Religious Freedom Report, 2022, has called out several countries including India, China, Russia, and Iran for targeting adherents of certain religious communities. India has been ranked eighth among 162 countries of the highest risk of mass killing.

India’s Constitution declares the nation to be secular. In fact, although 80% of 1.4 billion Indians, according to the 2011 census, are Hindus, 14% is Muslim and 2% is Christian. The report has called out India on several grounds including the fact that religious conversions are banned in some states; attacks against minority communities have been spreading; and  instances of cow vigilantism, which often results in killings and lynching, have been increasing.

India’s official reaction to the report has been predictable. The ministry of external affairs has said that “such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding”. The fact is that since 2014 when the current BJP-led regime came to power, Hindu nationalism has been on the rise. And while the government would like to sweep allegations such as those made by the Religious Freedom report under the carpet, minority communities have never been more insecure in India than they are now.

Can AI get as clever as humans? Or cleverer?

Even as the debate about the threats and risks that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may pose to humanity, a new debate about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) has already begun. AGI is a theoretical form of AI where a machine would have an intelligence equal to humans; it would have a self-aware consciousness that has the ability to solve problems, learn, and plan for the future. AGI is different from traditional weak AI, which is restricted to specific tasks or areas.

In theory, therefore, AGI could rival humans and use its abilities to act independently and autonomously, and, in the hands of the wrong sort of people, it could wreak havoc. The good news is that we could be still far away from the emergence of AGI. Some experts believe that we could be several decades away from the emergence of AGI; others believe it could take centuries to evolve.

What if those experts are wrong? After all, few expected AI to reach the levels it has so quickly. What if the road to AGI is traversed at an exponential field? Ponder that.

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Home In The World, Homeless In India

A senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) official who is also a member of the Lok Sabha from West Bengal remains allergic to all the accolades, including the Nobel in economics, that have come in the way of Professor Amartya Sen for his path breaking work on economics and philosophy and his championing the cause of society’s weaker sections. But this worthy Dilip Ghosh who like many other politicians in the country will not lay any claim to academics but shows his rawness whenever he talks is always looking for an opportunity to run down the global icon in the crudest fashion possible. All his charges against Sen including Sen’s running away from the country, his “theories never helped the country or West Bengal,” a “land grabber” at Santiniketan and his “multiple marriages” go well beyond human decency.

The worlds of Sen and Ghosh will never meet and the latter must not ever have read anything on economics or philosophy or the more recently published memoir Home in the World by Sen. Then why should Ghosh be behaving this unseemly way? Or for that matter why is the vice chancellor of Visva-Bharati, a central university remains unrelenting in first raking up the baseless issue of Sen remaining in unauthorised occupation of 0.13 acres over the 1.25 acres that the university originally gave on lease to his late father Professor Ashutosh Sen and then harassing him in every possible way, including an eviction notice and moves to recover “unauthorisedly occupied land?”

The answer to why all this harassment is happening instead of finding an amicable solution to the land issue, if there really is one, is not difficult to find. Sen has been critical of the policies pursued by the BJP government since it came to power in 2014. Many others too have been critical of the BJP administration to the extent of saying that there has been abridgement of democracy in many ways.

But anything coming from Sen is widely read and discussed both within and outside the country. Much to the concern of New Delhi, the major world newspapers from New York Times to Financial Times to Le Monde will seek interviews with Sen to know what he thinks of the goings on in India. And that is the reason why the powers that be in New Delhi are so sensitive about views expressed by Sen, who is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard.

Earlier this year, in an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, Sen opened up on major national concerns like never before. Here is an encapsulation of what he said. He described the Modi government as one of the “most appalling in the world.” The government’s treatment of the Muslims and the fact that it has no Muslim representation in either house of Parliament are “unacceptably barbaric” to the Professor. The way Muslims are treated is not only unjust and wrong… but it makes India’s culture limited.” India has always been a multi-ethnic country, but the Modi government’s “communitarian and majoritarian policies amount to reduction of India.”

The multiple pluralistic nature of the country is seriously compromised if only the Hindus are counted as Indians. All such things that Sen says leave the government in fits of anger and fury, which is using people like the vice chancellor and Ghosh and also the outfits of BJP such as its IT cell to behave with him nastily. BJP alone might have won 303 seats in 2019 parliamentary election and 353 seats with its allies in NDA. But since the party’s vote share was 37.36%, Sen would categorically maintain that it doesn’t have the support of majority of Indians.

ALSO READ: Amartya Sen – A Life Without Walls

Modi demonetised high-value notes in November 2016 thinking that this would mark the end of unofficial transactions and therefore, generation of black money. To Sen, however, “demonetisation was a despotic action that has struck at the root of the economy based on trust. It undermines notes, it undermines bank accounts, it undermines the entire economy of trust. That is the sense in which it is despotic.” His rebuttal of many other policies of the Modi government, specially the moves that hurt the minorities is long. No wonder there is no love lost between Sen and Modi.

Democracy demands tolerance of what critics may have to say. Going further such opinions if read with consideration they deserve gives a chance to the government for course correction. Unfortunately what we are seeing instead is ministers and BJP party officials harassing the likes of Sen in every possible way. Seeing the agonising times Sen is having over a piece of land Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, is constrained to recall the response of President Charles de Gaulle when he was asked why no action was taken against the famous existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre for his seemingly act of treason asking soldiers of the French Foreign Legion fighting against Algerian war of Independence to abandon the campaign. de Gaulle in his characteristic haut en couleur fashion said “one does not arrest Voltaire.”

It is not that Voltaire or Sartre will get off scot free for commitment of any crime. But at the same time democracy demands that such people should have the freedom to air views even if these cause great amount of discomfort to the powers that be.

Compared to that benevolent approach of de Gaulle to critics of the kind of Sartre, what is seen in India is painful. Patnaik is giving expression to the hurt sentiment of liberal Indians as he writes: “Amartya Sen is an iconic intellectual of this country, and he deserves the nation’s respect not only for his outstanding intellectual work but also for his steadfast commitment to the values upon which modern India is founded, values that have never been officially repudiated by any regime, no matter how much the right-wing may dislike them. And yet, he is being hounded in the most unseemly manner by Visva-Bharati, an institution in whose establishment and growth his family had played a significant role.” One doesn’t have to go beyond reading the chapter ‘The Company of Grandparents’ in Sen memoir to know how determined was Rabindranath Tagore to get Amartya’s grandfather Kshiti Mohan Sen with outstanding classical scholarship, liberal ideas and deep involvement in the wellbeing of society’s poorest people to join him at Santiniketan to “to help Tagore with his work on village reform and rural reconstruction, in addition to contributing to education.”

But salaries at Tagore’s Santiniketan then “were very low” and Kshiti Mohan had a large family to support and therefore, he was reluctant to join the poet for a long time. In great need of an “ally,” which he discovered in Kshiti Moha, Tagore, however, was never “ready to abandon hope.” Sen writes: “Ultimately, Tagore did persuade Kshiti Mohan to come to Santiniketan, where he spent more than fifty contended and productive years – being both influenced by Tagore’s vision and influencing the poet’s own ideas. They also became close friends.” Sen on his part, at the insistence of his mother Amita in particular, spent “ten engaging years at Tagore’s school in Santiniketan.”

Unarguably, Sen remains the most distinguished alumnus of the school and returns to the place where the family has a house called Pratichi (in the possession of the family since 1943) more than once a year from wherever he may be. In a recent tweet the Nobel Prize Committee says: “Amartya Sen’s bicycle played a key role in his research on the differences in baby boys and girls. After his assistant got bit by the children when weighing them, Sen decided to bicycle through the countryside of West Bengal, weighing the children himself.” What is not to be forgotten is the dignity that Sen lends to Santiniketan. Unfortunately, Visva-Bharati of which the Chancellor is the prime minister has its own agenda.

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Kashmir To Kerala

Kashmir To Kerala, The Propaganda Potpourri

It must be stressed at the outset that no film, once cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), should be banned or prevented from being shown to the public. No individual or group – political, social or religious – should be allowed to act as an extra-constitutional authority.

On the ongoing controversies, it needs to be noted that no Kashmiri will make The Kashmir Files and no Malayali will make The Kerala Story. Kerala, especially, has a record of good cinema. Filmmakers from Kashmir know their state well and also know the damage a misleading picture can cause.

The focus is on Muslims – men in The Kashmir Files and women in The Kerala Story. The likely content of The Bengal Files, supposedly in the making, can be guessed from the West Bengal Chief Minister’s claim. Her state has a significant Muslim population and borders a Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

The ‘honour’ for the two films goes to Bollywood. Although a pejorative, the popular name for Mumbai-based cinema, to the exclusion of a dozen other film-making centres, it has legitimate claims of a global reach. This underscores the global damage bad cinema can cause and is evidently already causing. Britain has stopped The Kerala Story showing.

To carry out these ‘jobs’, however creative and lucrative, marks deterioration for Bollywood which has a record, without a formal political label, of promoting secular values. It has creative people from all communities. It gave the world My Name is Khan… when the West was witnessing aggressive promotion of Islamophobia post-9/11.

The fact is that Bollywood’s leading lights are anxious to stay on the right side of the political divide. After a century-plus of being the entertainment hub, Bollywood, or its influential sections, are no longer afraid of taking sides. The motivation, besides money which is okay, is political.

Films have caused controversies, even violent protests – some even when they were under production – in the past as well. The recent ones are part of the political and social churning and have contributed to the widening schism. But that, again, is no reason to ban a duly certified film.

Films are powerful tools that shape ideas, attitudes and social norms. They have a greater ability to sway opinions and spread ideas compared to other media forms. As such, the sudden slew of political films and biopics, and the timing of their release have raised questions about politicians capitalising on the power of Bollywood and Indian cinema in general for political mileage.

Cinema and politics have often intertwined in India. Several actors have turned to politics post their film careers while Indian movies have also tackled social and political concerns in plotlines, albeit implicitly and allegorically.

ALSO READ: ‘We Must Counter Propaganda Films, Not Ban It’

The present spree is in time for the national elections a year away, interspersed by many assembly polls. Its justification can well be that when other arms of the media are profiting from participation, why single out the cinema? And of this medium, the over-the-top (OTT) platforms, where content is not subject to censorship, have yet to join the electoral bandwagon. If and when they do, it will be really no-holds-barred.

The picture is not very different from 2019 except that it is more strident. An in-your-face biopic on Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray, a derisive film on former premier Manmohan Singh and a highly laudatory one on the present incumbent, Narendra Modi were released. Potshots taken against Singh stood in contrast with the forceful hagiography of Modi. The release of the Modi biopic was so close to the polls that the Election Commission had to force a delay.

But these films would seem benign today when compared to the current crop, with more in the offing. The difference in the approach needs to be noted. The film fare of 2019 had the government of the day, while remote-controlling, seeking to appear neutral. It left all action to the party leaders and cadres. But the ‘files’ on Kashmir and Kerala have enjoyed direct, in-your-face, endorsement from the top-most political authority, especially during the recent Karnataka elections. That the voter rejected divisive discourse is a different, if reassuring, story. Unless there is an attempt at course correction, this is more likely to persist over the next year.

The partisanship has penetrated and widened this time. The maker of The Kashmir Files, who continues to court controversy long after the film’s release and the diplomatic fracas it caused when shown at the country’s most prestigious international film festival, is a member of the CBFC. If he participated in the certification process of his own work is beside the point. The real issue is that the authority that appointed him retains him in that post through the controversy and after.

As for The Kerala Story, the official and political endorsement has come amidst almost universal criticism of its content and treatment and brazen juggling of figures – from 32,000 women being affected to just three and then the film’s producer argues that the numbers do not matter.

The Kerala Story was banned in West Bengal but the filmmakers secured a stay on the ban from the Supreme Court. The apex court, quite appropriately in principle, but ignoring the political overtones, asked why the film is banned. Whatever the contents’ quality, the two films have been projected as box office hits. Meanwhile, some BJP-ruled states have declared The Kerala Story tax-free.

Film certification has been a central subject, a carry-over from the colonial era. It can be argued that this is untenable in a quasi-federal polity where many provinces, particularly in peninsular India, have cinemas that reflect their distinctive culture. But given the divisiveness that already exists, one hesitates to add to the list of issues ranging from language, land borders to river waters.

Like much else on the agenda of various political parties, the debate is about the extent to which cinema can influence the minds of the viewers as potential voters. Indeed, the minds that work in the darkness of the cinema theatre (or the cosiness of home) and the exclusively covered polling booth where the vote is cast are the ultimate battlegrounds.

While it is true that propaganda is no longer a candidly top-down process with the proliferation of social media, the experience of the last century shows that films that are undisguised and naked political propaganda are not able to influence people. People may watch them but they see through the design and reject their crudity in its entirety. We will know where the Indian viewer/voter stands next summer.

The writer can be contacted at

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Rahul Gandhi with supporters

Karnataka Opens ‘Mohabbat Ki Dukaan’

Obviously, Bajrang Bali has been deeply offended, despite the 26-km-long road show held by a desperate PM, staring at inevitable defeat in Karnataka. Even the Jai Bajrang Bali slogans did not seem to appease the good-old Monkey God, who carries Sita and Ram inside his chest like a classical Raja Ravi Verma painting, while always celebrating Jai Siya Ram as greeting and salutation.

Besides, the muscular Jai Shri Ram slogan by Hindutva fanatics is a misnomer; in the entire Hindi heartland, it is Sita, Siya, who precedes Ram! In the same manner that in the Brajbhumi of Mathura and Vrindavan, the first greeting is always Radhey-Radhey, while Krishna plays his melodious flute in the background.

In their desperate up enthusiasm, they made the same mistake in Bengal, which worships the female Shakti, Jai Kali Kalkatte Wali, and Bolo Durga Mai ki Jai, apart from, the profound and liberating synthesis of Ramakrishna Paramhans and Vivekananda, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Lallan Fakir and Geeta Govinda; and great renaissance and reform icons like Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Raja Rammohan Roy and Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Jai Shri Ram was a box-office disaster in entire Bengal, even while the two Gujarati politicians, landing ritualistically on helicopters with the hyperbole of muscle and money, obsessed with their totalitarian power, totally lost the plot.

In a spoofy irony, the PM tried to reincarnate himself yet again into a white-bearded Rabindranath Tagore – which was taken with a certain sense of wry amusement by the Bengali intelligentsia and the masses, much as they love Tagore for his dislike of sectarian nationalism, and pluralist globalism. Besides, Bengal has watched with intense anxiety the destruction of the prestigious Viswabharati University at Santiniketan in Bolpur (like JNU), while a highly respected Amartya Sen has been hounded with a vicious and relentless zeal by the VC, whose sole claim to fame is that he is a BJP loyalist.

Bajrang Bali, clearly, hated being used as a cheap electoral bait, even while the 40 per cent commission slogan became viral across the landscape, including coastal Karnataka, another Hindutva lab, where, reportedly, the BJP did not do as well. The rest of Karnataka has therefore voted against the Naftrat ka Bazaar, and ushered in the Mohabbat ki Dukaan, while looking at Rajasthan where the Congress government has reduced gas cylinder prices to ₹500, and accepting the pledge of Rahul Gandhi that in the first cabinet meeting itself the five guarantees for women, the poor and ordinary folks, and the educated young will be fulfilled. No wonder, the margins have voted overwhelmingly for the Congress, defying the domination of the dominant castes.

The minister who banned Hijab in schools has lost. Not only that, a Muslim schoolgirl has topped the Board exams in Karnataka. The educated young, especially women, and the masses of Karnataka, almost always extremely decent, polite and soft-spoken, believed in Rahul Gandhi, in his quintessential white T-shirt and loose trousers, as he interacted with admiring female students and working women inside buses and bus stops in Bangalore. While the BJP did the usual, with the PM literally parking himself out there (despite Manipur burning with more than 60 dead), using the propaganda props of a polarizing Kerala Story which did not sell or jell, using Hanuman with such opportunist frenzy, falsely castigating Sonia Gandhi and branding her a secessionist — all their jaded, faded, time-tested ploys collapsed like a pack of feku cards.

ALSO READ: ‘The Slogan 40%-Sarkara Has Struck A Chord With Voters’

Only the joker could be seen flashing his spoofy smile – because the joke is finally on Modi, and it is a dark joke, with prophecies of a dark future, enclosing the darkest narratives of infinite injustice, inhumanity and indecency witnessed by India in the ‘acche din’ since May 2014!

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi’s 22-day long march through the hinterland of the state during the fantastically successful Bharat Jodo Yatra had created an unprecedented wave of anticipation, with great admiration for the young, humble and open-ended leader, who endeared to every heart by hugging them, walking with them hand-in-hand, and, most crucially, listening to them, with intense intent, and with a certain depth of seriousness not seen among politicians in recent times. Especially, in the current scenario, where authoritarian arrogance, disregard for civilized discourse and conduct, and total disdain for constitutional and democratic propriety, has been displayed so brazenly for the world to see.

Clearly, as a social media post said, they chucked him quickly out of his MP bungalow in Delhi, and the entire Karnataka opened the doors of their hearts and homes for Rahul Gandhi! Did the BJP pay a heavy price for yet another desperate act by removing him from Parliament on a flimsy charge? Yes, and as has been widely perceived, they have paid a heavy price in Karnataka, and they will inevitably pay a heavy price in all the other states in the days to come, as Rahul Gandhi has said in as many words in his first press interaction after the verdict.

Indeed, so why did the BJP top brass, never shy of a cacophonous chorus, suddenly becomes so cocooned, ostrich-like, in their singular soliloquy? Indeed, as former PM, HD Deve Gowda, said, that assembly polls are fought on local issues, and here is a PM fighting as if it is 2024! He is obviously right. The defeat in Karnataka is a transparent sign that it’s a bleak, bleak scenario waiting for the PM and his one-man party in the days to come, even as four more states go to the polls now, and even as the PM seems eternally on an election mode, despite the myth that he works 24/7 and never ever sleeps.

Sleep or insomnia, the farce is certainly going to be followed by a nightmare. Immorality is surely commonplace, despite the lofty promise of Na Khaoonga, Na Khane Doonga, but, immortality, too, is commonplace, as great poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote. From here to eternity, there seems no light in this dingy, narcissist tunnel for the fake messiah, and the clean sweep of the Congress, plus the resounding drubbing of the BJP, is the latest, prophetic, writing on the wall.

With the South now BJP-mukt, and fortunately so, and Punjab, Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, outside its grasp, even while they broke the Congress to make a government in Madhya Pradesh, all they are now left is the original hate lab of Gujarat, and the newest hate lab in a backward UP, where the vicious politics of caste and communalism still rules supreme. There is no hope from Akhilesh Yadav or Mayawati, and the Gujarat Congress is in shambles; hence, the BJP will call the shots there.

However, in the rest of the country, the monologue of a boring Mann Ki Baat is not working. Witness, among others, nurses in Chandigarh missing the hyped-up 100th anniversary programme on radio, despite strict instructions. Consequently, they have been punished – even as the International Nurses Day was celebrated all across the world as a tribute to their dedicated devotion and selfless hard work. So why are the nurses compelled to hear this or that show? If this is not a sign of compulsory adulation for a dictator, then what is it?

The answer, as the song says, is blowing in the wind! It is blowing at Jantar Mantar in Delhi with our valiant world champion women wrestlers’ dogged struggle against a history-sheeter bahubali who is shamefully backed by the PM and his one-dimensional regime. With Adani still in doldrums, and with Mukesh Ambani apparently missing from the scene, and despite its deep pockets, their humiliating defeat in Karnataka is an abject sign that their acche din is all but over.

The Opposition has sensed it as well. Mamata Banerjee has hit the nail hard by promptly declaring that it is the end of the road for the BJP. Besides, given the fact the party has become a one-man show, the BJP, as a party, too, might find the ground slipping from beneath its feet with the fall and fall of Narendra Modi. In that case, it might end up as a picture in contrast, and a pleasing, picturesque picture I must say — finally, and at last, a BJP-mukt, secular, pluralist, democratic Bharat!

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Make in India

China Could Help Make the ‘Make in India’ Dream Come True

China could help the ‘Make in India’ dream come true

It is easy to slam the Indian government’s policies and initiatives, particularly those related to the economy and development. The Modi government’s “Make in India” initiative is one that has been the target of several brickbats. Make in India was launched by the Indian government in September 2014, barely four months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power and Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister, and it was among the earliest of the major economic policies announced by his government.

Make in India aims at encouraging companies to manufacture their products in India. The initiative is based on four pillars that have been identified to give a boost to entrepreneurship in India, not only in manufacturing but also other sectors: new processes, new infrastructure, new sectors, and a new mindset. The idea was to offer India as a base for manufacturing to both, foreign and domestic enterprises, by simplifying procedures, incentivising investments, and easing regulations.

To be fair, the Make in India model has been successful in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). If you exclude the extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic period, FDI inflow has increased by 23% post-Covid (during March 2020 to March 2022 it was reported at $171.84 billion) in comparison to FDI inflow reported pre-Covid (during February, 2018 to February, 2020 it was $141.10 billion).

Yet, it doesn’t take Indian manufacturing to anywhere near the world’s largest factory, In 2022 alone, FDI flows to China reached around $189.1 billion. There is, however, a silver lining for India in what is happening in China.

China is still the world’s largest manufacturer of a wide range of products, both consumer as well as industrial. Its surge to the top began in 2001 when its economy opened up and it joined the World Trade Organisation and multinationals made a beeline to invest in the country. But of late, things are changing and companies are looking at alternative bases for their manufacture. First, as China’s economy grows, labour costs have been rising. Second, there has been pressure from the Chinese government, which controls and regulates almost everything in the economy, to seek technology transfers to Chinese companies so that they could compete with Western MNCs. Third, there have been consequences of the Trump regime’s sanctions against China and the Covid-related lockdowns in the country. And, fourth, there has been significant decline in China’s relations with the West.

Now, Western foreign direct investors are trying to find alternative bases for their manufacturing activities. And, among other destinations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico, India is also increasingly finding favour.

Apple, the maker of the iconic iPhone, recently announced that it would significantly increase its production in India, including manufacture of its latest models. Other companies are intending to do the same.

There are still hurdles to cross. In comparison to China, India’s global supply chain linkages are still underdeveloped; infrastructure is still hobbled with bottlenecks: and regulations, although simplified, can still be overwhelming for investors.

By all indications, though, the Indian government is working on these. Investments in new ports and airports, railroads, and power generation are underway and efforts are on to simplify the red tape hurdles that investors often encounter.

Apple could also herald a change for the better. Foreign investors often display lemming-like behaviour. So, if Apple expands its manufacturing base in India, it could set an example for others to follow. At least the Indian government hopes that it would.

Congress dashes BJP’s southern dreams

The Congress party, which has had a poor track record of winning state elections in nearly a decade, roughly after the BJP came to power in 2014, pulled off a victory in the southern state of Karnataka, unseating the incumbent BJP-led government and securing an overwhelming majority.

Before winning Karnataka, the Congress ruled in only three– Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan—out of India’s 28 states. Now Karnataka adds to that tally.

While the Congress has called its victory a triumph over the “divisive politics” of the BJP, its win has several implications.

First, the BJP’s hopes of making an inroad into the southern states where its influence and sway is marginal have now suffered a setback. Second, the Congress’ victory could signal that it could still pose a challenge for the BJP in the coming parliamentary elections scheduled for 2024. Third, it implies that the Modi magic may be wearing thin—the BJP campaigned in Karnataka mainly by peddling Modi’s persona and image (he himself addressed nine rallies in the state). And fourth, it shows that money, power, and organisational strength, all attributes in which the BJP tops the Congress, may not be enough when it comes to winning the favour of the electorate.

Shinde (and confusion) continue in Maharashtra

If you are a bit confused about what’s going on in Maharashtra, I can assure you that you will stay confused after reading the following paragraphs.

After a split in 2022 created two factions of the Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra, a crisis followed when the Election Commission awarded the use of the title Shiv Sena and its recognisable election symbol of the bow and arrow to the faction led by the party’s rebel leader and current Maharashtra chief minister, Eknath Shinde, who had assumed office after Uddhav Thackeray, the son of the founder of the party, the late Bal Thackeray, had resigned. The controversy was about whether the state’s governor should have invited the BJP (in alliance with the Shinde faction) to form a government.

This was contested and last week the Supreme Court ruled that it could not order the restoration of the Thackeray government after he had resigned as chief minister of the state because he had done so without facing a floor test. The court, however, strongly criticised the then Maharashtra governor, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, for deciding to help the Shinde faction and in concluding that Thackeray had lost the support of the majority of his party’s MPs.

So, Shinde, who became chief minister because the governor had erred, remains chief minister: Thackeray gets some sort of moral win (although nothing material that would change things for him and his faction), and the status quo continues.

As promised, surely you are still as confused as you were before reading this item.

The mess in Pakistan gets messier

Pakistan’s former prime minister, the celebrity cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, 70, was arrested last week on corruption charges. The allegations were that he had benefited from receiving land as a bribe for political favours when he was prime minister during 2018-2022 and that he had also illegally sold official gifts that he had received when he travelled abroad on official trips. Then, after a couple of days, on an appeal to the courts, he was released on bail. The charges still stand although he cannot be rearrested on the same charges for two weeks, according to the bail order.

Meanwhile, as political crisis grows in Pakistan, the country hurtling into severe economic crises. Economic growth has been sputtering, and inflation has soared. Excessive external borrowings by the country over the years has raised the spectre of default, causing the currency to fall and making imports more expensive in relative terms.

million over the past year. There are fears that Pakistan could default on debt.

Mass shootings in the US: please do the math

Gun rights in the United States refer to the legal protections and privileges afforded to individuals regarding the possession, use, and ownership of firearms. These rights are primarily derived from the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

A judicial interpretation of that right that prevails states that “is that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms for self-defence within their home”.

What it means is that in the US, which considers itself as one of the most developed and forward-looking nation (disclaimer: it is their view, not mine), it is easier for an individual to get guns and keep them than it is in most other places in the world.

Now for some statistics: In the less than five months of 2023 that have elapsed, there have been 185 incidents of mass shootings in which 254 people have been killed, and 708 injured. Most of these have been unprovoked attacks aimed at innocent humans.

Please do the math: in less than 140 days, there have been 185 shootings and more than 250 innocent people have been killed. You won’t be at fault if you think the American Dream is really a nightmare.

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Jaishankar Bilawal

Indo-Pak Relations to Remain Strained

Coming soon after the recent Shanghai Cooperation Council’s (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Summit in New Delhi, India last week hosted the Foreign Ministers of the SCO at Goa. The common thread between these two summits was the tough posturing by India against its two neighbours Pakistan and China.

At the Goa meeting, India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, revealed that India had twice called out China and Pakistan at the summit for violating India’s sovereignty through their connectivity projects. The statement was made in response to a question on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Indian territory currently under Pakistan’s illegal occupation.

Earlier, India had sort of reprimanded the Chinese Defence Minister at the New Delhi meeting, on the issue of the stalled talks over the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India’s critique of Pakistan

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was in Goa to represent Pakistan at the SCO-CFM. A visit, which happened after a 12 years gap. The last Pakistani foreign minister to visit India was Hina Rabbani Khar, when she met her Indian counterpart SM Krishna in Delhi in 2011.

However, what soured the atmosphere this time in Goa, was references made by Zardari over Kashmir and Pakistan being a victim of terrorism itself. Though he also called for reviving the stalled talks.

India, in a strongly worded response to Pakistan’s overtures for talks, said victims of terrorism do not sit together with perpetrators of terrorism to discuss terror.

Rebutting each of the points made by Zardari, EAM S Jaishankar said he (Zardari) was “a promoter, justifier and spokesperson for a terrorism industry which is the mainstay of Pakistan. The tough Indian response came after the news of death of five Indian Army soldiers in a terrorist attack near the Line of Control (LoC) on Friday, Jaishankar said Bilawal’s suggestion to sit together and talk was “hypocritical” and said India was feeling “outraged” by the incident.

India’s stand on China

Jaishankar had a similar position on China whose readout on the bilateral between him and its Foreign Minister described the situation on the boundary as stable. Jaishankar said that, there is an abnormal position in the border areas. We have to take the disengagement process forward. I have made it very clear. India-China relations will not be normal if peace and tranquillity in the border areas is disturbed. This message was on the same lines as delivered by the Indian defence minister to his Chinese counterpart, a fortnight ago.

Responding to Zardari’s diatribe, Jaishankar said Bilawal’s opposition to a G-20 meeting to be held in Kashmir had no basis since Pakistan was not even a member of that grouping. On Bilawal’s opening address at the SCO conference where he said the issue of terrorism should not be used to score diplomatic points, the minister said: “We are not scoring diplomatic points. We are exposing Pakistan. As a victim of terrorism, we are authorised to do so. We have put up with it. It speaks so much about the mindset of that country.”

He asked Pakistan to “smell the coffee” regarding its grouse about the abrogation of Article 370 as a violation of international agreements. “370 is history. Sooner the people realise it, the better.” Jaishankar said.

Indian response to CPEC

EAM Jaishankar also took an exception at the mention of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at the SCO meeting, both by Pakistan and China. And rightly so, as SCO is a multilateral forum, not a bilateral one and further India’s adversarial stand on the CPEC has been very clear from the beginning, as it passed through the PoK. India has consistently opposed the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC, as these projects violate India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Jaishankar very clearly stated that connectivity is good for progress, but connectivity cannot violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

Bilawal’s overture

On his part Bilawal Bhutto Zardari blamed India’s Kashmir policy for the “frozen peace” between India and Pakistan. The India-Pakistan relationship soured significantly after India announced the withdrawal of special powers from Jammu and Kashmir and the division of the state into two union territories in August 2019.

India has always maintained that it wants regular neighbourly ties with Pakistan while emphasising that the onus is on Islamabad to create a safe environment for such an engagement.

The tough Indian response to both Pakistan and China, mainly stems from its exhaustion with its neighbours, who in spite of several Indian initiatives to better relations, prefer to stick with their age-old stands on the contentious issues, preferring not to respond positively to any Indian efforts in this regard.

The SCO meet also showed yet again that body language speaks volumes in geopolitics and diplomacy. The distance between the two foreign ministers while posing for photographs was noticeably gaping. However, the cold Indian demeanour, a departure from customary diplomatic niceties, and continuing with its old parroting by the Pakistani minister were more targeted at their respective domestic audiences.

The Indian leadership in view of the forthcoming elections in Karnataka wanted to be seen as acting tough, while the Pakistani minister wanted to showcase his ability to rake-up old issues in the backdrop of the economic woes of Pakistan. But overall this posturing does not augurs well for friendly relations between the neighbours in the foreseeable future.

Asad Mirza is a senior political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at

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Wrestlers Protest

Women Wrestlers: Grappling For Justice

Respecting and ensuring the well-being of its athletes, from grassroots level to Olympic podiums, is an important aspect of encouraging sports and the sporting spirit for a nation. It is crucial to create an environment that promotes fair competition, equal opportunity and a nurturing environment for the physical and mental health of the sports fraternity. There have been occasions, when athletes, including sportswomen, have been vocal about their rights and have utilized public platforms to raise awareness and demand change when they encounter mistreatment or unfair conditions. Such voicing of concern and activism play a significant role in highlighting grave issues and pushing for reforms within sports organizations and federations.

Unfortunately, the current protests by women wrestlers to raise serious irregularities and injustices that plague the Wrestling Federation of India – allegations of sexual harassment (in many cases assault), unfair selection procedure, and prejudices – have been met with a patriarchal stonewall. These are no ordinary sportspersons; some of them have graced Commonwealth and Olympic podiums, others have World Championship titles to boot; they brought glory and recognition to the National Tricolor on global forums. Today, they are forced to spend nights on pavements at Jantar Mantar under an open sky.

At the center of the controversy is Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a Member of Parliament from the ruling BJP who heads the WFI. The defendant has denied all the charges against him and called the protests a conspiracy to remove him from the WFI helm. However, the nature of allegations demand a high-level investigation and scrutiny which has been missing. Such allegations can have significant consequences for the individuals involved, as well as for the reputation and integrity of the sports organizations. When allegations arise, it is important for appropriate investigations to take place to determine the facts and ensure justice is served. This can involve legal processes, disciplinary actions, and the implementation of preventive measures to create a safe and supportive environment for athletes.

The treatment of Olympians varies across different countries and contexts. Olympians are celebrated and honored for their dedication, talent, and achievements in their respective sports. They are often seen as ambassadors for their countries and receive support from their national Olympic committees, sponsors, and fans.

However in India, the mere allegations have disrupted and single-handedly unfolded the bleak nature of the Government of India, which has yet not taken any kind of action against the defendant. The athletes were very vocal about the nature of harassment they had to experience. They spoke about “atrocities and the tyrant-like behavior” of Brij Bhushan that often left female athletes depressed and distressed, angry and frustrated.

The issues surrounding sports management and performance in India are complex and multifaceted. While it is true that there have been instances of corruption and the presence of patriarchal attitudes within sports administration, it would be an oversimplification to attribute the lack of gold medals in the Olympics solely to these factors.

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Several factors contribute to a country’s success in international sporting events like the Olympics. These include the overall infrastructure and facilities for sports, grassroots development programs, training and coaching standards, funding and support for athletes, and the cultural and societal attitudes towards sports. It’s essential to address all these factors to enhance India’s performance in the Olympics.

Corruption within sports management can indeed hinder progress and impede the fair selection and development of talented athletes. When decision-making processes are influenced by personal gain or bias, it can undermine the integrity of sports and deprive deserving individuals of opportunities.

Patriarchal attitudes can also limit the participation and development of women athletes. Gender inequality in sports is a global issue, and India is no exception. Encouraging equal opportunities for women in sports, providing support, and breaking down societal barriers are crucial steps toward promoting gender parity and improving performance.

To address these challenges, it is important to implement systemic reforms in sports management, enhance transparency, and establish stringent measures against corruption. Promoting inclusivity, gender equality, and providing equal opportunities for athletes from all backgrounds can help harness the talent and potential of Indian sports.

Moreover, investing in grassroots development programs, modernizing infrastructure, and focusing on athlete-centric training methods are vital for nurturing talent from a young age. Collaboration between government bodies, sports federations, private sector entities, and the civil society can create a conducive environment for sports development and success.

India has produced some accomplished women wrestlers who have achieved success at both national and international levels. Wrestlers like Geeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat have brought pride to the nation by winning medals in various international competitions, including the Olympics and it is important for the government of India to listen to their voice and support them at every step. This recent event has however shown the brutal and delay in the action taken by the government of India regarding this crucial issue. A country should treat Olympians with respect, recognition, and support. Olympians dedicate years of their lives to rigorous training and represent their country on world stage.

It’s important to acknowledge that progress takes time, and building a robust sports ecosystem requires sustained efforts and investment. By addressing the issues within sports management, promoting transparency, inclusivity, and talent development, India can strive towards better performances in future Olympic Games.