1984 to 2020 – State Riot Machine At Work

Sociologists and hardened journalists know it too well. No violent communal polarisation or riots, killings, arson and mayhem can last for more than a few hours if the local administration, the top police brass, and their bosses, don’t want it. 

It is impossible to stretch the bloody destruction of public and private property, ransack and burn schools, kill innocents in cold blood, or move as armed mobs shouting blood-thirsty slogans as a terroristic public spectacle, if the government of the day does not want it. In that sense, the onus of all communal violence in any locality across geographical zone lies with the administration and the law & order enforcement machinery.

Besides, there are grey zones in all kinds of violence which are driven by identity and hate politics. Riots can be termed ‘spontaneous’, based on years of conflict and tension, brewing and simmering, which suddenly flare up for no rational rhyme or reason. For instance, a tiff in a barber shop, a minor roadside accident, a heated argument, a mindless scuffle – they can all lead to spontaneous violence between communities. However, if this simmering conflict which is usually buried and allowed to pass, is stoked and instigated by interested lobbies for vested interests, with a certain diabolical twist in terms of motive, timing or location, then this spontaneous violence can be actually called socially and politically engineered.

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There could be also situations that communal violence is engineered deliberately and with precise planning even in a totally peaceful scenario where communities have shared local space, public/social functions and festivals, trade and agriculture, friendship and neighbourhood life, for prolonged periods of peace and harmony. Then, a vicious mind can introduce a virus than can suddenly become an epidemic with help from certain planned and hidden factors, inflammatory speeches and rallies, and acquire brutish and nasty dimensions which can rip apart the harmonious social structures built painstakingly since decades. And, then, the wounds just refuse to heal, thereafter.

This is exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur and its highly fertile rural areas in western UP months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which never had a history of communal strife or conflict. This is a green revolution belt, with flourishing sugar cane and mustard fields, a stronghold of the inheritors of Jat leader and former prime minister Chaudhury Charan Singh, and stretches across the rich and laid-back townships and villages of Shamli, Kandhla, Baraut, Baghpat and Meerut. The BJP had no presence here, except among the trading communities in Saharanpur etc.

The engineered riots were galvanized using the fake news of ‘Love Jihad’. That Muslims were enticing Hindu girls into love marriages, etc. This sparked off local violence, deaths, killings, mass rallies, mahapanchayats, inflammatory speeches and a vicious rupture that has never been witnessed ever in western UP.

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The BJP’s dream project materialized in the 2014 elections: the Hindus, from upper caste Jats to landless and divided Dalits, among others, united against the Muslims who were cornered and pushed to the wall. The BJP swept the elections here for the first time, while Charan Singh’s followers, including his son, lost out badly.

At least 60,000 Muslims were rendered homeless. And it took a while, fact-finding teams, and some brave reporting by reporters, to prove the fact that the Love Jihad propaganda was a diabolical ploy which succeeded; there were casualties among both the communities though the Muslims took the brunt, and scores of Muslim women were assaulted. Some of the most militant and popular hardliners and rabble-rousers among the local BJP leadership emerged from this ‘engineered’ communal violence.






Relatives of victims of Delhi communal violence mourn outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in New Delhi on February 27

More sinister than this phenomenon is what is called a ‘State-sponsored’ communal carnage. This happens when the State itself aligns with a community or powerful lobbies or violent vigilante groups, and thereby unleashes concerted and relentless violence of the most grotesque kind against another community, its own citizens, for political, hegemonic and social reasons. This is nothing but ethnic cleansing in a certain transparent form, like the Whites did with the Blacks in America, the Serbs did with thousands of Muslims in Bosnia, the Taliban did with the Hazaras in Afghanistan, and what the ISIS and Wahabi Jihadis continue to do with the Yazidis, Kurds and other communities in Syria and the Middle-east.

This includes massacres, mass murders, killings as public spectacles and total destruction of life and property of the victim communities so that they are savaged and ravaged and can never find justice against the violence inflicted on their bodies, minds, families and homes.

This is what happened in 1984 in Delhi and in 2002 in Gujarat. This kind of ethnic cleansing is called a pogrom: master-minded, planned, organised and executed by the State machinery and its ideological and sundry goons, with the full power and might of the State apparatus against a helpless and innocent community. This is what happened to the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. 

A State-sponsored massacre.

This involves total destruction of their economy, shelter, community life, religious places and well-being, effectively rendering them as second/third class citizens, oppressed, brutalized and crushed.

In Delhi, for instance, the homes and shops of Sikhs were burnt and looted in full public view with the police either watching or becoming tacit and overt accomplices of the looters and murderers. In Trilokpuri, Sultanpuri, Jehangirpur, among other spots, where humble and modest, hard-working Sikhs lived simple lives, they were killed in the most macabre manner and their homes burnt. Gurudwars too were not spared. This was a Congress government sponsored massacre led by its politicians in Delhi with the full backing and support of the police and administration.

Besides, in other towns and public transport, Sikhs were hounded and killed. Indeed, it took decades to get a minimal sense of justice for those who suffered unimaginable tragedies and brutalities. The graphic realism of the massacre was made public in a report by the PUCL-PUDR, ‘Who are the Guilty’, perhaps the first decisive report of the bloodbath.

Unlike 1984, the Gujarat carnage of 2002, with Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs, was well documented from day one, though there was no social media at that time. Print and TV journalists did their job with precision and exposed the fault-lines where the violence was master-minded by the State, with its Bajrangi and Sanghi footsoldiers on the ground, enacting massacre after massacre, mass rapes and burning of women and children alive, hacking and burning of people, and organised mayhem with active support of the police machinery.

This reality has also been documented by several fact-finding teams, tribunals, filmmakers, among others. Some police officers testified about the dirty deeds of top politicians, and BJP leaders like Babu Bajrangi and Mayaben Kodnani were found guilty, among several local functionaries. For the BJP, it was yet another test of ethnic cleansing with State backing that would not only destroy the Muslims, but also reassert their masculine, xenophobic and Hindutva brand of politics.

This is exactly the ‘Gujarat model’ that they tried in Northeast Delhi last week. True, there were occasional retaliation and violence by Muslim youngsters, but by and large, this was a State-sponsored violence, with a loyal police in tandem, striking at will, burning and killing, destroying markets and schools, hosting a flag on top of a mosque, surrounding women and children, and running amok, like they did in Gujarat.

This could not have happened without the tacit and overt approval of the Union home minstry and Delhi Police. This could not have happened without the mobs being allowed full freedom to ravage and savage residential areas, shouting Jai Shri Ram, now a blood-thirsty war cry for masked goons with sticks guns, iron rods and petrol bombs.

People from both communities have died and a majority has died of gunshot wounds. Investigations are likely to be fudged in the days to come, as they did in Gujarat, but, still, the reality cannot be hidden. Indeed, it was Kapil Mishra who triggered the violence with his speech. That even the Delhi High Court is giving him space, after another judge had sought an FIR against him and other BJP leaders a day before, points to a certain pronounced institutional collapse of Indian democracy, where many believe that the Constitution itself is in danger.

In that sense, clearly, this was no CAA polarisation, though that was the pretense. The fact is that majority of the anti-CAA/NRC protests, including in Shaheen Bagh and all over Delhi, led by women, have been transparently and relentlessly peaceful.

Clearly, this was not spontaneous, as Amit Shah has claimed. Scores of innocents have died. The number will only increase. Surely, and tragically, this was brazenly and blatantly organsied for communal polarisation to target one community. This was State-sponsored. And the whole world knows whose first and final trump card this kind of organised hate politics is.

Is Hindutva Hanging By A Thread In Bengal?

Hindutva is no longer the rabble rouser vote bank as it was in the last national election. When the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party won an emphatic victory in the recent Delhi assembly election, opposition leaders were quick to point that the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to recalibrate its strategy of polarisation now that it had been roundly rejected by the electorate of yet another state.

However, it would be extremely difficult for the saffron party to abandon its majoritarian agenda in the forthcoming state elections. For the BJP, hardline Hindutva, strident nationalism and communal talk is an article of faith.

Hindutva seems to have worked for BJP in the last election. It probably sees the current run of defeats as aberrations. Besides the Hindutva strategy helps divert attention from bread and butter issues at a time when the economy is tottering. An election is the occasion for the BJP to propagate its ideology.

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In fact, the BJP’s high-decibel poll campaign in Delhi with its focus on the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act was meant not just to consolidate the Hindu vote in the Capital but also to send out a message across the country that this agitation is led by minorities and that the amended citizenship law actually enjoys popular support.

Among the opposition leaders, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appears most vulnerable in this regard. Determined to add West Bengal to its kitty, the BJP has opted for a brazenly communal narrative to dethrone Banerjee. Having met with remarkable success in the last Lok Sabha election when it surprised everyone by winning 18 seats and increased its vote share to 40 percent, the BJP has every reason to persist with this strategy. It remains undeterred by the fact that its attempts to focus on Article 370 and triple talaq did not cut much ice with the voters in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

It will not be surprising if the BJP’s polarising and divisive rhetoric gets more shrill as it begins preparations for next year’s assembly election in a state which has a 27 percent Muslim population.

The very fact that the BJP has re-elected Dilip Ghosh as president of the party’s West Bengal unit, is a clear message that the saffron party has no intention of going back on its communal agenda. Known for using vitriolic language, Ghosh is constantly stoking controversies with his inciting statements. Ghosh was in the eye of a storm recently when he described the anti-CAA protesters as “illiterate and uneducated” who are being fed biryani and “paid with foreign funds” to continue with their agitation. He constantly refers to the issue of infiltration in his speeches and has, on several occasions, thundered that all Bangladeshi Muslims in the state will be identified and chased out of India!

ALSO READ: ‘NRC Will Be A Disaster In Bengal

Not only has the BJP campaign reopened the old wounds inflicted in the communal riots during the state’s partition of 1905, it has also been helped by the fact that Mamata Banerjee is seen to be appeasing the minorities. The Trinamool Congress chief who is personally leading the prolonged protests against the amended citizenship law as well as the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, has given the BJP enough fodder to push ahead with its communal agenda.

Undoubtedly the Delhi defeat came as a rude shock for the BJP but, at the same time, its leaders believe the party increased its tally from three to eight seats and improved its vote share from 32 to 38 percent because it made the anti-CAA protests as the centre piece of its campaign.

It’s still too early to say if the BJP’s strategy will succeed but, at present, Mamata Banerjee has the first mover advantage over her political rival. While the saffron party lacks a strong party organisation in West Bengal and has no credible chief ministerial candidate, the Trinamool Congress chief is already in election mode.

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Like Kejriwal, she has stopped taking personal potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is instead emphasising her governance record. She has also taken the lead in articulating the dangers of the amended citizenship law, the NPR and NRC. Mamata Banerjee is taking no chances as she realizes she can ill-afford to underestimate the BJP as she had done in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

But before it goes for broke in West Bengal, the BJP will test the waters in Bihar which is headed for polls later this year. Not only does the state have a 17 percent Muslim population, the opposition (the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress) has staunchly opposed the CAA, reason enough for the saffron party to polarise the electorate on religious lines.

Besides, the BJP is banking on its alliance partner, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (U) president Nitish Kumar to act as a buffer against its strident campaign. Though Nitish Kumar has endorsed the CAA, he has not framed his support for the law on communal lines. Moreover, the Bihar chief minister measures his words carefully and is not known to use extreme language. This, the BJP feels, should help the alliance offset any possible adverse repercussions of the saffron party’s high-pitched tirade against those opposing the CAA.

However, if Mamata Benarjee can repeat AAP’s massive success in Bengal, voices in Bengal may start questioning Hindutva. Hindutva may be hanging by a thread.

‘Traffic At Shaheen Bagh A Mess But A Small Price For…’

Mohammad Atif, a 24-year-old M Tech student who stays in Shaheen Bagh, says the cause to save our Constitution is bigger than the minor inconvenience for the local commuters in the locality

I belong to Lucknow but have been staying in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area for several months at my cousin’s house. I came here to complete my M. Tech dissertation which coincided with the eruption of Jamia protests and the aftermath. And what a time it has been to be in Shaheen Bagh!

I had to visit my institute in South Delhi daily when the protests were in full swing. I did have to take a longer route to reach because of the arterial 2.5 km stretch at Shaheen Bagh being closed. The protest site isn’t disturbing people as much as the excessive blockades /barriers put in place by the administration even when some feel they are not needed.

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Even newspapers/websites are now reporting that a few of the alternative routes didn’t even need to be blocked and is causing problems to people unnecessarily, especially those travelling to and from Noida, Sarita Vihar, Kalindi Kunj, Jamia, and an alternative route to Faridabad.

Indeed travelling into and out of Shaheen Bagh is even more cumbersome for a daily commuter. For me too, with petrol prices remaining consistently high, travelling the extra stretch to reach my institute on a bike has increased the budget for sure, though not considerably.

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Many people who earlier used to get picked up and dropped at their respective houses for their offices in Noida now have to take the Metro as the cabs can’t enter inside Shaheen Bagh. This might be a difficult thing, especially for women who get dropped during the night. Moreover, travelling in the Metro also cause a dent in many people’s pockets. Middle class might not feel the pinch as much, but the lower income group for whom every penny is important, is finding it more difficult.

However, most locals are considering it as their contribution to nation-building and don’t mind suffering a little bit if the protest makes their voices reach the powers that be. Ambulances and school buses are moving easily though.

WATCH: ‘Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger’

The protest site is near the commercial hub of Shaheen Bagh, so many a shop, outlet etc. have been closed for two months now. It is affecting the livelihoods of people, but again they feel that they are contributing in saving the Constitution and all that it stands for. We just hope that a solution is reached soon and the government initiates a dialogue with the protesters.

There are a few residences near the protest site and I wonder how they are handling all the sounds from loudspeakers day in and day out, though I have been told and have witnessed too ke protest bahut tameez se ki ja rahi hai. Poora khayal rakha ja raha hai ke kisi ko koi pareshani na ho (The protests are being done in a very nice manner and care is being taken that nobody suffers because of the protests).

Will JP Nadda Come Out Of Shah’s Shadow?

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Delhi assembly election has not proved to be an auspicious beginning for the party’s month-old president JP Nadda. Though it is true that it was Union Home Minister Amit Shah who led the party’s high-decibel campaign in Delhi, history books will record the result as BJP’s first electoral drubbing under Nadda’s stewardship.

Out of power for over two decades, the BJP was predictably desperate to take control in Delhi. But the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party proved to be a formidable opponent and the BJP fell by the wayside once again.

Well before Nadda took over as the BJP’s 11th president, it was widely acknowledged that he will not enjoy the same powers as his predecessor Amit Shah did but, nevertheless, would be called to take responsibility for the party’s poll defeats as well as organisational matters.

Nadda began his tenure with a disadvantage as it is difficult to live up to Shah’s larger-than-life image. Amit Shah, who served as BJP president for five years has easily been the most powerful party head in recent times. Known for his supreme organisational skills, Shah is chiefly responsible for the BJP’s nation-wide expansion, having built a vast network of party workers and put in place formidable election machinery. No doubt Modi’s personality, charisma and famed oratory drew in the crowds but there is no denying that Shah contributed equally to the string of electoral victories notched by the BJP over the last five years.

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Given that Shah has revamped the party organisation from scratch and placed his loyalists in key positions, there are serious doubts that the affable, low-key and smiling Nadda will be allowed functional autonomy. Will he be able to take independent decisions, will he constantly be looking over his shoulder, will he be allowed to appoint his own team or will he be a lame-duck party president? These are the questions doing the rounds in the BJP as there is all-round agreement that Shah will not relinquish his grip over the party organisation. This was evident in the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls as it was Shah and not Nadda who planned and led the party’s election campaign.

In fact, it is acknowledged that Nadda was chosen to head the BJP precisely because he is willing to play the second fiddle to Shah. Party leaders maintain that the new president is unlikely to make any major changes in the near future and that he will be consulting Shah before taking key decisions. For the moment, state party chiefs appointed by Shah have been re-elected, ensuring that the outgoing party president remains omnipresent.

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Though Nadda has inherited a far stronger party organisation as compared to his earlier predecessors, the new BJP president also faces a fair share of challenges. He has taken over as party chief at a time when the BJP scraped through in the Haryana assembly polls, failed to form a government in Maharashtra and was roundly defeated in Jharkhand. The party’s relations with its allies have come under strain while the ongoing protests against the new citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register have blotted the BJP’s copybook.

These developments have predictably came as a rude shock to the BJP leadership and its cadres who were convinced that the party was invincible, especially after it came to power for a second consecutive term last May with a massive mandate.

WATCH: Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger

Nadda’s first task has been to boost the morale of party workers and make them believe that the recent assembly poll results were a flash in the pan and that the BJP’s expansion plans are on course.

After Delhi, the Bihar election poses the next big challenge this year. The party’s ally, the Janata Dal (U), has upped the ante, meant primarily to mount pressure on the BJP for a larger share of seats in this year’s assembly elections. Realising that the BJP cannot afford to alienate its allies at this juncture, Amit Shah has already declared Nitish Kumar as the coalition’s chief ministerial candidate, which effectively puts the Janata Dal (U) in the driver’s seat. This has upset the BJP’s Bihar unit which has been pressing for a senior role in the state and is even demanding that the next chief minister should be from their party.          

The BJP has to necessarily treat its allies with kid gloves as they have been complaining  about the saffron party’s “big brother” attitude and that they are being taken for granted. While Shiv Sena has already parted company with the BJP, other alliance partners like the Lok Janshakti Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal have also questioned the BJP’s style of functioning.

The crucial West Bengal assembly election next year will also be held during Nadda’s tenure. The BJP has been working methodically on the ground in this state for the past several years now and has staked its prestige on dethroning Mamata Banerjee.

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But the Trinamool Congress chief is putting up a spirited fight, sending out a clear message to the BJP that it will not be so easy to oust her. Banerjee has declared war against the Modi government on the issues pertaining to the CAA-NRC-NPR and also activated her party cadres who have spread across the state to explain the implications of the Centre’s decision to the poor and illiterate. The BJP, on the other hand, is struggling to get across its message.

As in the case of Delhi, Shah can be expected to take charge of the Bihar and West Bengal assembly polls while Nadda will, at best, be a marginal player. Again it will be left to Shah to mollify the party’s allies as it is too sensitive and important a task to be handled by Nadda.

Like all political parties led by strong leaders, a BJP defeat will be seen as Nadda’s failure while a victory will be credited to Modi and Shah.

Challenger To CM: ‘My Fight Is Against False Promises’

Manoj Sharma, 32, who lost his job as a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus conductor in 2018, has decided to contest election against CM Arvind Kejriwal to mark his protest

I was a conductor in DTC in 2018. I am jobless today. Therefore, I have applied for the vacant post of legislator from New Delhi assembly constituency. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised regularisation of all of the contractual jobs in Delhi but he didn’t deliver. Many of the contractual employees including me from the DTC staged a protest for about two and a half months for regularisation of their jobs and all of them were sacked.

These politicians have no idea how hard it is for us to take care of a family in such a small salary and without any assurance for tomorrow. We fought for our rights and ended up being jobless. Now it’s time to contest elections against those who garnered votes making false promises.

Contractual jobs of grade four employees are the worst in India. With minimal payment and no safe prospects, running a family is a Herculean task. We do the same job as other government employee do but are paid lesser. Nor do we get benefits such as insurance, pension and medical sops. Contractual employees don’t even get paid leaves. Even if they fall sick or face any exigency, they have to forego their payouts for that period.

Chief Minister Kejriwal garnered our votes on the pretext that our (contract workers) employment will be regularised. But it turned out to be just an election gimmick. Now we are jobless. By fighting this election against Mr Kejriwal, I wish to bring attention to the plight of state contract workers and false assurance given by politicians. It’s not vengeance; it’s a democratic protest of sorts, in line with our rights in the world’s largest democratic country. I am a graduate. When there are no jobs even for skilled people, what can a simple BA degree holder do? 

I have learnt a valuable lesson while filing my papers for this election. When I came at the Jamnagar House, where electoral nominations were being filed, I saw a long queue. Many people like me, ordinary men struggling to make money to take care of their families, were in the queue. I witnessed how each and every person was treated equally. The Election Commission’s office gave me a feeling that each citizen of this country is equal. This gives me hope. I will continue my fight against all those governments who come to power making false promises. We need jobs and we need them now. The politicians need to understand this.

I don’t know how many votes I will get, nor do I care. I was a bus conductor, so nobody knows me here. But one thing is sure that if people start following the same and contest elections against those who are in power, India will be a great country, like it was a thousand year back.

Delhi Elections: Kejriwal Sidesteps Shah’s Communal Bait

Outsmarting the heavy-handed, powerful and well-funded electoral juggernaut engine of the BJP in the coming Delhi Elections, Arvind Kejriwal is playing by his game plan, frustrating Amit Shah’s well known strategy of communal and divisive politics. The Delhi Election is only a week away. The capital has eluded the BJP for 22 years. It is desperate to ‘own’ it.

Predictably, the saffron party’s campaign, led by home minister Amit Shah, has been aimed at polarising voters along religious lines. Its infamous and well tested strategy of dividing the opposition, isolating a minority and infusing a communal agenda in the election is being thrown at full force to wrest Delhi from Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party. But Kejriwal is avoiding a counter attack. The question on people’s mind is whether he will buckle.

ALSO READ: Why Kejriwal Still Has The Edge

The young Aam Admi Party is proving to be a tough and smart competitor. The Delhi chief minister has refused to take the BJP’s bait and deliberately steered clear of engaging with the saffron party on the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protest, a recurring theme in Shah’s speeches.

The home minister and the BJP’s army of campaigners has launched a vicious attack against the protest, describing it as an anti-national act. They have accused opposition parties of supporting the agitation who, they charge, are speaking Pakistan’s language. While inciting violence, the BJP has also gone as far as to describe Kejriwal as a terrorist.

Kejriwal’s AAP is, however, treading cautiously. Well aware that it is ill-equipped to counter the BJP’s brand of communal politics, the party is keeping the focus on its government’s achievements. Despite provocation from the other side, Kejriwal has not deviated from this carefully-crafted strategy of continuously highlighting how his government reduced power and water bills, improved the quality of education in government schools, set up mohalla clinics to provide health facilities in slums and introduced free bus travel for women.

ALSO READ: Amit Shah Is Playing With Fire

The subtle message of his “positive” campaign is that good governance benefits all sections of society and is not aimed at appeasing any one caste or community. On its part, the BJP has attempted to discredit Kejriwal for not delivering on his promises by pointing to the poor conditions in schools and the non-functioning mohalla clinics. But this has not cut much ice with the people. The underclass is firmly with the AAP. However, it is not clear if the BJP’s polarising campaign is having an impact, especially on the middle classes which are known to be taken in easily by its majoritarian agenda.

Kejriwal has always been adept at playing the victim card. When he entered politics seven years ago, he was constantly at war with the Modi government which, he charged, was meting out step-motherly treatment to Delhi only because it was led by the AAP. He complained that his government’s proposals were deliberately kept pending by the Centre and that he was not even allowed to appoint officials of his choice. But he has changed tack over the past year. Kejriwal stopped attacking Modi and even supported the Centre’s move to abrogate Article 370. Instead, the Delhi chief minister concentrated on propagating his government’s achievements and kept himself busy, launching a slew of schemes before the declaration of elections.

ALSO READ: If Shah Can’t Budge, Shaheen Bagh Too Won’t

As he fights to retain power for a second consecutive term, Kejriwal got another shot at playing the victim when BJP leader Parvesh Verma described him as a terrorist during the ongoing poll campaign. Instead of adopting a combative stand, which had become his trademark, Kejriwal struck an emotional note, saying he gave up his government job, sat on hunger strike in his fight against corruption and worked tirelessly to improve the education and health facilities in Delhi despite being severely diabetic. “I leave it to the people of Delhi to decide if they think of me as a son, brother or a terrorist,” he said plaintively.

This is not the first time that Kejriwal has donned a new avatar. He came into the limelight during the 2011 anti-corruption movement, demanding the immediate enactment of a Jan Lokpal Bill to scrutinize corruption cases against government officials and politicians.

But the activist-turned-politician quickly shifted his stand after the formation of the Aam Admi Party. Though he came to power on the anti-corruption plank, Kejriwal instead found merit in wooing the poor jhuggi jhopri residents and the lower middle classes by promising them cheaper power and water and better infrastructure, thus successfully hijacking the Congress support base.

The choice of a broom as his election symbol was another masterstroke as the scheduled castes immediately related to it as they believed it gave them dignity. At the same time, the broom symbolised the sweeping away of corruption and the promise of a cleaner government. Kejriwal also surprised mainstream political parties by building a strong party organization in a short span of time.  His band of soldiers kept a low profile and worked tirelessly and silently in the slums as well as tony upper-middle-class colonies. He shocked his political rivals when the AAP won 67 of the 70 Delhi assembly seats in 2015. 

For the BJP, the Delhi assembly election has become a prestige issue. For fifteen years, it tried but failed to dislodge the Congress. Today, it has put its entire election machinery at work to oust Kejriwal’ AAP, its new political enemy Unable to corner Kejriwal on the issue of poor governance, the BJP decided to go back to what is its trump card: communal polarisation. Besides demonizing the Shahbeen Bagh protesters, the BJP leaders are also highlighting the abrogation of Article 370, the triple talaq bill and the new citizenship law as the Modi government’s achievements to woo voters.   

Though the BJP’s strategy of focusing on national issues did not yield the desired results in the recent Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly polls, the party  is banking on the fact that as residents of  the country’s capital, voters in  Delhi have far greater exposure to national issues and are more influenced by them than voters in other states. It is equally true that the BJP has no choice but to highlight its ideological agenda as it is finding it difficult to corner the AAP on the issue of governance.

Anti-Citizenship Law Protest In Delhi

‘If Amit Shah Can’t Budge On CAA, Shaheen Bagh Won’t Either’

Shaheen Kousar, a 44-year old protester at Shaheen Bagh, tells LokMarg why Muslim women have come out to resist Modi government’s move on Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizen

Yes, I am Shaheen from Shaheen Bagh. And I, along with many other women, have resolved to take this battle forward with my faith and inner strength. The Modi government has to listen to what we have to say about CAA-NRC. Is the government wondering as to why the Muslim women who did not take to streets even when the Triple Talaq Bill was brought in, have now come out in such a strong manner? Because now the very existence of our children and our own existence and this country’s social fabric is at stake.

Our protest site is located near NH-24 and is known as the Shaheen Bagh Highway. While some people are complaining that our protest is affecting traffic, many other people from other parts of Delhi are coming to us and interacting with us and telling us that they support us.

It is heartening to see that people from all religions are showing their love and support to us. It’s not like we don’t feel cold and tired. We go home only for 4-5 hours every day. But till the time we are at the protest site, people who have their residence near the site have opened their homes (including their kitchens and washrooms) for us.

People used to say that in big cities people don’t even interact with their neighbours, but look at the beauty of it, how people are now trusting complete strangers because they believe in a common goal. To put it succinctly, the warmth of human interactions isn’t letting us feel the cold.

Moreover, we are protesting in an organized manner. We have divided duties among ourselves. Some people are responsible for food, others for sanitation, and a few others for security. Thankfully the organisation of the protest has been so good that no untoward incident has taken place. Is bar aar ya paar wali bat hai (This is a do or die situation). If our Home Minister isn’t ready to go back an inch, then we are also staying put here.

It’s not like we don’t understand the nitty-gritties of what an act like CAA entails deep down. Having to manage chilly weather, biting winters coupled with rains, police batons, household work as well as office work, nothing is going to weaken our resolve that the government take this act back.

Amit Shah as well as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi have said it is just about giving citizenship to people (except Muslims) from three countries. Fine, but then what are these detention centres being prepared for? It is for those inside the country who won’t be able to prove their citizenship. The government is giving confusing signals whether detention centres exist or not. This time we aren’t going to take things at face value.

If they can hurt unarmed and vulnerable students in Jamia and JNU, who is to say that things are going to be better later on? The NRC exercise in Assam showed there were only 19 lakh people who couldn’t prove their citizenship, then the government brought in CAA. Now they are talking about NPR (National Population Register).

I am a director at a school and by God’s grace, like many other women, I have been able to manage my home, my professional life as well as coming to the protest site. We are doing all this for our nation, for our children and we hope God will keep providing us with the strength to carry forward. If the kids can be strong and fearless in the face of brutality fir to hum bhi beraham aur tang-nazar logon ke samne aawaz utha hi sakte hain. Magar hum wo aawaz shanti se uthana chahte hain. (if students can show their resistance to police brutality, we too can raise our voice against a suppressive, and narrow-vision regime. But we want to raise this voice democratically and peacefully). Our resolve should speak volumes.

When Economics Nibbles At Politics

Two of India’s most credible voices spoke as if in unison on November 29 and 30 at events organized by major media houses. Their well-meant, well-timed warnings are that the economy is in bad shape, something the government of the day is doggedly denying.

The oft-repeated phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid!” comes to mind, but it will not suffice. Bad economic management has combined with widespread perceptions of fear in political and social arenas.

The TINA (there is no alternative) factor that had emerged only six months ago after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the alliance he leads won a bigger mandate than 2014 is sliding.  

Both, former premier Manmohan Singh and veteran industrialist Rahul Bajaj linked economic governance to a vitiated social climate. Fear, they said, was generated, not by those in power alone, but also by those who draw inspiration and support from them and act with impunity.

Singh’s warning was confirmed the very next day, doubly more than he had expressed last year. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen to 4.5 percent, the lowest in over six years, when Singh and his government, accused of policy paralysis, were in office. The GDP growth then was 8.5 percent. It had crossed ten at one time during his tenure.   

When Singh had last year darkly predicted a two percent GDP fall, then Finance Minister, late Arun Jaitley, had hinted at Singh’s going senile. Lawmakers and leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been more direct in using harsh words.

Singh has been spared abuses this time – not that anybody in the government is taking his words kindly. The counter-response is only more resolute since the government apparently sees Singh straying into political arena by alleging that a “toxic combination of deep distrust, pervasive fear” is “stifling economic activity and hence economic growth”.  

More ire has been reserved for Bajaj, who has pierced through the bubble of India Inc.’s silence. To be fair, he was in the past critical of Singh’s economic management as well. And Singh, braving doubting Thomas all around in those early years, had been dismissive of that criticism. India’s entrepreneurial class is grateful to Singh, the reforms’ pioneer, whether or not they would admit it.

With formidable ministers Amit Shah (who is also the BJP chief), Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal on stage, Bajaj spoke of corporates afraid to criticize government, of an environment of impunity for phenomena like lynching and of terror-accused Pragya Thakur’s political journey to Parliament with the BJP’s full backing and support.

The ministers, particularly Shah, denied or defended it all. He compared his government’s record with that of the Singh Government, of all things, on cases of lynching of Muslims and Dalits by vigilantes belonging to his party or its affiliates. Official figures prove his claim hollow. Shah has got to deny this since RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat who guides his party has decried the very term ‘lynching’ as something alien to Indian culture.  

While building its industrial base, the Bajaj family has a history of speaking up against the government of the day, especially that of the Congress. Rahul B. dared fellow-captains of trade and industry at the conclave to speak up, but none responded. Only leading woman entrepreneur Kiran Shaw Majumdar has taken the cue from Bajaj.

Come to think of it, India Inc. hails most Budgets and praises most finance ministers, as long as its purpose is swerved. It has always moved cautiously, sensing the political climate before speaking out on economic issues. In recent memory, the year 2013 was one such time when the Singh Government was besieged with political protests.

Behind this new churning, unmistakably, there is the Maharashtra factor. Sharad Pawar has sewn together government of an unlikely alliance of known ideological adversaries united to keep the BJP out of the richest state. His emergence, like Bajaj (incidentally, both have their respective bases in Pune) has confounded many calculations and put some life into a beleaguered Opposition.

New Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has taken some decisions responding to public concerns like environmentalists’ pleas against felling trees in Mumbai’s wooded area and has announced withdrawal of cases against the Maoists imprisoned under stringent anti-terror laws. The controversial Indo-Japanese Bullet train project, half-way through, is slated to slow down, if not ended. The latter two issues are bound to cause friction with New Delhi.

But he has compulsions. By reinforcing continued adherence to Hindutva that he shares with the BJP, Thackeray has had to keep future political options open. He cannot afford to shed his ideological moorings strengthened along with the BJP over the last three decades. Friction with secular allies is in store.             

Significantly, the BJP slide in recent elections is not because of, but despite, a weak Opposition. It remains divided and has nothing to offer to the people. The recent months have witnessed the rise of regional forces, Pawar being the best and the most promising of the lot. 

The Congress remains in deep slumber, as if running on autopilot. It merely reacts to events, unsure at times about its stand, only to be bashed back by the BJP and its voluble social media supporters. The Gandhis are seen as doing a holding operation, ineffective in office and indecisive about their own role, even as the party gets reduced to third or fourth position.

There are other fears surrounding enforcement of law to detect ‘outsiders’ or ‘infiltrators’. Everyone but the die-hard BJP supporters (read Shah supporters) think this would open the Pandora’s Box. Potentially, just about anyone among the millions who migrate for work or due to a natural calamity can come under suspicion for lack of documents that prove his/her domicile status.

The Modi Government faces long-term decline in economic growth. The latest GDP numbers merely certify what has been experienced on the ground for a long time now. What is striking about the slowdown this time is that it hits the most vulnerable sections of the population. Agricultural distress combined with the disastrous demonetization experiment, has hurt those that serve as the real economic engine.

How far the Singh-Bajaj-Majumdar observations reflect and impact the public mood remains uncertain. It would be premature, if not naïve, to expect anything radical. It is a long grind.

Truth be told, Modi remains popular among large sections and his government/party wield greater money and muscle power than all opponents combined.    

But message is clear: National pride and religion certainly have their own place. But people want jobs and basic necessities first, over everything else. To revive the economy, Modi will have to review the social and political ethos and philosophy. Nothing less will help him and the country.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com