Rightwing Politics Debars Progressive Women; Lok Sabha Reflects That

‘Rightwing Politics Debars Progressive Women; 18th Lok Sabha Reflects That’

Karen Gabriel, who heads Department of English in St. Stephen’s College, says the deep-seated gender biases that discourage women from entering politics have risen under Modi Govt. Her views:

Even though the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in 2023 as the Constitution (106th Amendment) Act, 2023, it will be implemented only after the next census is conducted. However, the passage of the bill by the BJP-led government should not be read as its commitment to women’s issues. For example, look at the gender ratio of BJP MPs, in the current, 18th Lok Sabha. There are 31 women MPs out of a total of 240 BJP MPs. This is just short of 13 per cent, far below the 33 per cent proposed in the new law!

In fact, the number of female BJP MPs has come down — from 41 in the 17th Lok Sabha, to the current number of 31. Even with higher numbers in the previous Lok Sabha, the absence of substantial legislative action points towards women’s representation as mere tokenism for the BJP.

Of course, there is a larger malaise that we have all noticed: women are discouraged from occupying political office in various ways. Out of the approximately 8,360 candidates who contested in the 18th Lok Sabha elections at the national level, less than 10 per cent of the candidates (only 800) were women. Many of them reportedly faced misogyny and mockery from their constituents and their parties. This is unsurprising since we have a long way to go for gender and social equality.

Moreover, many political parties are yet to create internal gender-equal policies, mechanisms and woman-friendly cultures at various levels that will promote women candidates. Finally, the contentions around caste-based reservation within the 33 per cent reservation for women need transparent, sustained consultation.

Having said this, one must say that the deep-seated gender biases that discourage women from entering and staying in politics have only exacerbated under the successive Modi governments. BJP party members and allies, credibly accused of rape and sexual harassment, have been openly supported by their top leadership.

Brazen institutional and political support was given to Bilkis Bano’s rapists, Brij Bhushan Saran, Prajwal Revanna, and others accused of sexual misconduct and rape. The increasing Hindutva-isation of the socio-polity in the last decade has only intensified pervasive patriarchal cultures and various forms of caste and community-based gender violence. Any programme to counter the Hindutva agenda must include proper, representative, women’s reservation as a fundamental means of political and social action.

ALSO READ: Bilkis Lives in Fear While Her Rapists Are Lionized

It is a mistake to think that being a woman automatically makes one feminist. By feminist, one indicates women, men and other genders, who, while accepting the fact that women are profoundly subordinated, also recognize the intersections between women’s subordination and other forms of subordination.

Women, who promote hate politics, are not interested in a better society, or in any form of social change or progressive solidarities. Like, patriarchal men, they too are invested in the status quo and the privileges that they enjoy — however precariously. They too exploit, ignore or invoke the oppressed, disempowered, marginalised, persecuted and the precarious, as it suits them.

Not a single BJP woman MP spoke up during the ‘Sulli Deals’ controversy, the world champion women wrestler’s protracted protest, the Manipur carnage, and the public spectacle of the brutalization of women by a blood-thirsty mob, or the ‘hijab’ ban. In fact, Meenaskhi Lekhi actually ran away from media questions, while Smriti Irani, predictably, remained her callous self.

Typically, Rightwing politics – whether in India or abroad – demands allegiance to deeply gendered community identities over cross-cutting forms of solidarity. Moreover, it is imperative to understand that Rightwing religious politics is a close and constant bed-fellow of economic Rightwing-ism, which, again, only magnifies political and economic cleavages over solidarities.The growing participation of and allegiance of women to Rightwing politics and movements is a source of serious concern for progressive women’s movements globally.

I think that all progressive movements have come under enormous pressure from the onslaught of the ‘State-Corporate’ agenda. They are all struggling to comprehend and deal with carefully planned but rapid and exorably violent changes from above. They are all coping with increasingly policed and even militarized public spaces.

The many women’s movements in India have had to deal with multiple challenges over the last couple of decades: issues of communal and caste polarization, those of liberalization and class disaggregation, questions of (sexual) identity politics, mass-migration and increasing State repression.

The efflorescence of social media is a game-changing mixed bag. Attacks on intellectual and academic freedom continue to take its toll, the criminalization of dissent and restrictions to common spaces is only intensifying. To add to this, all movements are starved of money.

Local and global solidarities, coordinated and continuous mass movements, diverse modes of protest, and radical forms of courage and action, are the only way forward — through the shamelessness of the elite nexus that is on display right now. This magic has happened before, and it will undoubtedly happen again.

(The narrator is Director of the Centre for Gender, Culture and Social Processes, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. Her recent publications include, ‘Unpacking Patriarchies: Feminism and the Humanities in India’, ‘The World Humanities Report’, Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, 2022, ‘Towards Alternative Histories: Gandhi and the Interconstitutive Impact of the Colonial Encounter’, ‘Inheriting Gandhi: Influences, Activisms, (eds.) Satishchandra Kumar, Kanchana Mahadevan, Meher Bhoot and Rajesh Kharat. New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2022, ‘Close Encounters of an Imperial Kind: Gandhi, Gender and Anti-Colonialism’, in ‘Reflections on Mahatma Gandhi: Global Perspectives’, (eds.) Terry Beitzel and Chandrakant Langare, Delhi, Rawat 2021, ‘The Algorithms of Desire: The Field of the Pornographic’. SAGE Handbook of Global Sexualities, Chiara Bertone, Zowie Davy, Saskia Wieringa (eds). London: Sage, 2020, ‘Whose State is it Anyway: Reservation, Representation, Caste and Power’, (with P K Vijayan) in ‘BR Ambedkar: The Quest for Justice. Vol II: Social Justice’. Aakash Singh Rathore (ed). New Delhi: OUP, 2020.)

As told to Amit Sengupta

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Why Modi 3.0 Won’t Implode

Why Modi 3.0 Won’t Implode, But I.N.D.I.A. Might

It’s been nearly a fortnight since India’s election results came out but the feeling of happiness still remains in the air. That feeling, akin to euphoria, surprisingly is not as pronounced among the supporters of those who won in the elections as it is among those who actually lost. 

Narendra Modi created history by becoming the Prime Minister again for the third successive term, a feat that we are repeatedly reminded matches India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s three consecutive terms till he died in 1964. Yet on June 4 when the results came out, the Opposition seemed more upbeat than the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which, with 293 of the 543 Lok sabha seats, got to form the government. Modi and his party had proclaimed during campaigning that the BJP would win 370 seats and the alliance would cross 400. As it happened, the BJP got only 240 and its alliance brought in another 53. The Opposition and its supporters celebrated a moral victory, pointing out that voters had lost faith in Modi and his party. 

Those celebrations and the euphoria may be misplaced. Yes, the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), a motley electoral front comprising more than 30 mostly regional parties and led by the Congress, won 232 seats; and yes, the BJP did not manage a majority on its own as it had in 2014 (when it won 282) and 2019 (303), but the fact is that in 2024, the BJP and its allies have a more than comfortable majority of 293 seats. 

The fact also is that the Congress, which leads the INDIA front and whose leader Rahul Gandhi was perceived as Modi’s challenger in the recent elections, managed a tally of only 99 seats in the polls. It is a big improvement over 2019 when it won a paltry 52 seats and 2014 (44) but 99 is still a small fraction of 543–and certainly not a big reason to celebrate.

Much of the hope, optimism, and euphoria that has spread among Opposition parties and their supporters is because Modi 3.0, as the Prime Minister’s third term has been labeled, is one where the BJP’s allies play a key role in providing the NDA with a majority. Modi’s political detractors point out that some of his key allies, such as Nitish Kumar, who heads Bihar’s Janata Dal (United), N. Chandrababu Naidu, who heads Andhra Pradesh’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and Chirag Paswan, who heads Bihar’s Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), without whose wins in the elections the NDA wouldn’t have had a majority, can be a check on Modi’s government and his style of governance.

Some in the Opposition probably also hope that players such as the JD(U)’s Kumar and the TDP’s Naidu, who have had a chequered past in coalitions, could even pull the plug on Modi and lead to a collapse of the NDA’s numbers in Lok Sabha, causing the government to fall. After all, Kumar has changed his political allegiances several times and, confoundingly, it was he who convened the Opposition’s INDIA alliance last year before ditching it to join the NDA. 

ALSO READ: Modi 3.0 Must Focus on Jobs, Rising Inequity

So, will Kumar and/or Naidu pull the plug on the NDA? Many believe both the leaders and their parties could have fundamental differences with the BJP on issues such as the latter’s Hindu nationalist stance, and could, therefore, oppose any Modi 3.0 actions, which could, for instance, be perceived to be anti-Muslim or affect affirmative action for certain underprivileged castes. 

Will they really? Probably not. Both Naidu, 74, and Kumar, 73, are in the twilight of their political careers. Like Modi, they share a common hope: of building a legacy. The difference is that while Modi is building a national legacy, Naidu and Kumar are focused on their respective states. At this stage in their careers, the national stage doesn’t beckon anymore.

Instead, both the regional leaders want special category status for their states. A special category would mean that the states get proportionally more central funds for projects as well as other development incentives. Whether they will get that or not remains to be seen but it would not be a surprise if Modi offers them sops so that they remain NDA loyalists and not come in the way of his governance.

Many had thought that in a more precarious coalition government, Modi would have to offer some key ministerial berths to BJP’s allies but that has not happened. The key ministries in his Cabinet are still with heavyweights from his party. So ministries such as home, finance, defence, foreign affairs, and so on have been largely allotted to his trusted party colleagues who ran them in the previous terms.

What the Opposition Must Do

The election results have been analysed to death by now. The thing to remember is that even though the INDIA alliance did well, the major victories for it (and, therefore, the setbacks for the NDA) came because of the performance of the regional parties and not because of how the Congress fared. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, where the BJP suffered a defeat that directly affected its total tally, the Congress had an alliance with the Samajwadi Party but it was the latter that won the most seats by strategically widening it traditional base of Muslims and Yadavs to garner the support of voters from other castes. In Maharashtra, another state where the BJP fared badly, it was the factionalised regional parties and their internecine rivalries that caused the setbacks. In West Bengal, it was to the regional Trinamool Congress that the BJP lost and not to the Congress.

The Congress-led INDIA’s strategy in the elections was mostly reactive. The INDIA parties, including the Congress, did have manifestos, but does anyone recall what they promised? What did they say about ensuring jobs, checking inflation, or tackling inequality? Much of the Opposition’s campaign rhetoric focused either on local issues–not surprising, given that most of the constituents of INDIA were regional–or targeted against Modi and what he was saying during his campaigning. 

The BJP’s public campaign, which was single-handedly led by Modi, was focused on his promises about making India the third largest economy in the world; about making India a developed country by 2047; and of playing an even more important role in the emerging global order. Plus, because of his incumbency, Modi could list all of his government’s achievements: infrastructure, social welfare, digitalisation, and so on. Issues such as youth unemployment, inflation, and growing inequality were skirted and even though he gave scores of interviews to the media, “friendly” interviewers glossed over them. 

Unemployment and inequality are the two biggest issues that Indians, especially the young, worry about the most. Most of India is young (65% or 910 million are below the age of 35) and youth unemployment is a burning issue, which if not tackled can have serious consequences. So is the issue of growing inequality. A study by the World Inequality Lab in March this year declared that “The Billionaire Raj headed by India’s modern bourgeoisie is now more unequal than the British Raj headed by the colonialist forces.” The study found that during the inter-war colonial period from the 1930s until India’s independence in 1947, the top 1% held around 20 to 21% of the country’s national income. Today, the 1% holds 22.6% of the country’s income.

For the Opposition, restricting the BJP and NDA’s tally in the elections is actually a small beginning of what it could really do: mobilise India’s youth.

INDIA, as mentioned earlier, is an electoral alliance of mainly regional parties. In order to continue to be relevant, these parties should start grassroot movements to organise the youth in each of the regions that they politically dominate. That could, conceivably, become a powerful aggregation of a mass of young Indian voters whose support could be the fundamental base on which INDIA could forge a strategy of being a relevant Opposition in Parliament for now and to fight elections in the future: both at the state level as well as nationally.

Unfortunately, INDIA has shown little signs of such resolve. It is exulting in the wake of its recent electoral gains as if that has been a massive achievement. It has, no doubt, been an achievement: dozens of Opposition parties coming together is a demonstration of how even in a loud, noisy and crowded arena such as India’s, democracy can work. By no means, though, is it a massive achievement. Modi 3.0 will not implode on its own. The BJP’s reduced tally should actually be read by the Opposition as a rallying call to organise itself. Unless it does so, it is INDIA that could face the risk of implosion; not the NDA.

Rahul Gandhi as Leader of Oppn

How Lok Sabha Elections 2024 Became a Referendum on Indian Constitution – II

Neither the BJP nor the Congress should be credited for making the Constitution an electoral issue. There was a third player behind the scenes who did not aspire to claim credit. It was the network of non-government organisations in India, loosely termed as the Civil Society. It started talking about the Constitution proactively after GE 2019 results and later embedded it in its core programme on ‘Constitutional Values’.

The Invisible Hand

It is contextual to note that the civil society that constituted the National Advisory Committee (NAC) of Sonia Gandhi during UPA-1 and UPA-2 governments had worked upon rights-based changes and brought in important legislations like Right to Food, MNREGA, Right to Information, Right to Education, etc. Post-2014, things changed fundamentally when the incumbent regime started using community rights to create communal conflicts. We could easily see this from the right to worship in Sabarimala case to the right to assemble and protest in JNU sloganeering and Kathua gangrape case.

Earlier, constitutionally guaranteed rights were aligned with ethical and moral considerations. After Narendra Modi led NDA came to power, his supporters started using rights for immoral and unethical concerns that created a culture of impunity for the violators of constitutional rights.

As feminist Ranjana Padhi writes in her seminal article, “In a sociological sense, a collective conscience is understood to have emerged when morally less critical societies gradually evolved certain basic beliefs and tenets, which they collectively affirmed as the highest common good. In the prevalent social and cultural ethos, there is the manufacturing of an altered collective conscience to suit a majoritarian agenda. This is being done by injuring, damaging, and reducing the worth of the “other”. This made-to-order collective conscience is employed at majoritarian will. The Preamble of the Constitution affirms “We the People” but the ascendance of majoritarianism is unmaking rules and laws for the “other’. Addressing today’s refabrication of the collective conscience requires discerning the strands of hysteria whipped up craftily each time”.

So, the myth of collective conscience post-2014 made rights-based regime almost redundant by turning it into a battle of identities and binaries. This not only disturbed the highest seats of power in the judiciary but in the civil society too, confirms Satyam Shrivastava, a forest rights expert and a social activist. He says, “Back in 2019 many social leaders and judicial leaders were deliberating on how to work upon constitutional values, not rights”.

There was an intense internal debate and deliberations in the civil society on how to translate an intangible thing like constitutional value into tangible action. And then came COVID, when all constitutional rights were suspended during lockdown in the name of protecting the citizenry from a deadly virus. It was an opportune moment in disguise for the civil society to change gears.

When things returned to normal, dozens of organisations started fellowships and training programs on the Constitutional values throughout the country. For example, as of date, more than 1700 fellows have been trained in constitutional values through various fellowships. These fellows are individuals, organisational leaders, community workers, activists, journalists and cultural activists.

He says, “If a single fellow would have talked to a hundred people, just imagine the impact of this initiative”!  And the numbers are increasing. More and more NGOs and civil society organisations are now aligning their projects with constitutional values.

Satyam says, “It was heartening to see hundreds of social workers engaged in the elections in Maharashtra. I have just returned from my visit. I have seen people working day and night to ensure the participation of voters and educate them on the issues. They do not belong to any political party but they have taken the election in their stride”.     

Most recently, Vikas Samwad, a non-government entity in Madhya Pradesh advertised its constitutional values fellowship for journalists. The stipend is handsome. A few organisations that have already run the fellowship are trying to build upon it by transforming the workshop content into digital form for wider dissemination. One such organisation We, The People Abhiyan is curiously named from the Preamble.

The Three ‘C’s

India Development Review (IDR) is Asia’s largest independent media platform that advances knowledge and insights on philanthropy and social impact. Halima Ansari and Saba Kohli Dave have rightly explained in their article on IDR that “constitution is a journey, not an event”. In their article, the writer duo suggest that “civil society and the government can ensure that constitutional values get translated into their work with communities on ground”.

This translation of Constitutional to Communitarian has many dimensions, one of which is Cultural. They write, “Connecting one’s local cultural heritage to the values in the Preamble is another way of nurturing acceptance of the Constitution”. This understanding was badly missing in the left-liberal intellectual discourse. Traditionally the left-liberal practice has been limited to the slogans of Qaumi Ekta and Ganga-Jamuni sanskriti. Even during GE 2014 when the fearmongering of Modi coming to power was at its peak, social activists were campaigning only in Muslim localities of Varanasi. They never cared to engage the Hindu voters.

This is one of the main reasons why the third ’C’ (culture) became a monopoly of the right-wing in the last few decades. The ideology of the RSS is called ‘cultural nationalism’. Any ideological counter to the RSS has always overlooked the element of ‘culture’ and primarily focussed on economic and political factors. Due to this, social activists have consistently faced hurdles in engaging with the everyday socio-cultural practices of majority of people and communities. We have witnessed a spate of attacks on social activists and journalists in the last few years on issues ranging from emotional to cultural. On the other hand, socio-political space for engagement has also shrunk, not to talk of the dissent itself.

One of the initial responses to this ‘cultural’ crisis could be witnessed in Maharashtra but it was limited to Dalits and Pasmanda. In North India, a novel initiative was undertaken by Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi, a human rights activist of Varanasi, when he organised the Benares Convention in 2014 just after Modi came to power. This event was almost ignored by the civil society of Delhi. The well-articulated ideological context and background of the Benares Convention can be read here. He continued with the idea of blending the question of culture and constitution with his second initiative Neo-Dalit Convention organised just before general elections 2019. This convention saw the participation of a few prominent faces like Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and senior journalist Urmilesh. Still, the question of culture remained an outcast in the civil society’s fraternal deliberations on Constitution.

The Benaras Convention 2014

Dr Lenin says, “We are dealing with corporate as well as communal fascism. The communal issue is not only inter-religious, it is intra-religious too. When communitarianism imagines its identity vis-à-vis the opposition of an ‘Other’, it immediately becomes communal. Therefore secularism also entails working on caste, class and patriarchal divisions within a community”.

This question of intra-religious secular practice was raised prominently in a couple of meetings organised by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind in the run-up to General Elections 2024. With the events unfolding, this understanding has gradually seeped down the social activism circles recently. The now widespread constitutional value fellowships have helped a lot in emphasising the political significance of intra-religious communitarian work on caste, class and patriarchy. 

The coming together of Culture, Community and Constitution is working, as we have witnessed in these elections. In Uttar Pradesh, the non-Yadav OBC and the non-Jatav SC block co-opted by the BJP in the last few years is now breaking away. This is the start of a new social formation. This, coupled with the disillusionment of the RSS cadre has enraged the BJP.

Change?

Winds of change may deceive too. With the 24×7 onslaught of reels, short videos and WhatsApp messages upon our collective minds, it is never easy to speak categorically about what our senses feel and much more difficult to comprehend what is being told to us.

All talk of ‘change’ started with the low voter turnout in the initial two phases. Both sides claimed that low voter turnout was in their favour, but somehow the snowball effect leading us to the last phase of polls has created some sort of consensus that the incumbent government is not coming back. After a series of Prashant Kishor interviews, veteran psephologists like Sanjay Kumar and Yogendra Yadav have made course corrections and now predicting around 250 seats for the BJP.

If the Constitution is a journey, elections are at most events. The final outcome of elections is always a situation that never changes the prevalent but rather consolidates it irrespective of which party comes to power. The process is significant, not the situation. In this regard, the electoral process of GE 2024 has been qualitatively different from all elections held to date. After the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26 1950 it has never been the question and issue of the masses. This election has challenged its inertness. 

As INDIA candidate from Karakat, Bihar Comrade Rajaram Singh says in an interview with Dr. Gopal Krishna, “This election is a referendum on the Constitution”. This was a profound takeaway statement, but not the final truth because this is happening for the first time in India. This election is certainly the first referendum on the Constitution, but not the last.

The struggle to save the Constitution will continue on the ground. But hypothetically speaking- what if our government changes on June 4th? Will the need to save the Constitution end? The problem is more substantial. I would like to end by quoting Slavoj Zizek:

“How do we transform the basic coordinates of our social life, from our economy to our culture, so that democracy as free, collective decision-making becomes actual- not just a ritual of legitimizing decisions made elsewhere”?

(This is the concluding part of the series. You may read the Part I Here)

It’s Advantage Rahul Gandhi

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which… All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others…
George Orwell, Animal Farm

Rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love.
Albert Camus

A cartoon by Sajith Kumar in Deccan Herald tells it all. A security guard outside the locked gates of what used to be the home of Rahul Gandhi, from where he was quickly ousted in what is being widely perceived as a petty and revengeful act, as he was from Parliament, makes a cryptic comment: “If we over do it, he will rent out a place in people’s hearts.”

If a cartoon can tell a thousand words like an epical moment captured in a sudden, photographic click, this eviction too seems to have clicked inside a million hearts. And these hearts seem to be beating with a rhythm which tells a story which is deeper than what we see and hear. There is something surely simmering in the air, and, as of now, undoubtedly, it is Advantage Rahul Gandhi!

There is no doubt that things are changing a bit too rapidly in contemporary India, since the stupendous success and mass support which captured the nation’s imagination during the Kanyakumari to Kashmir long march of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The slogan of ‘Nafrat Choro Bharat Jodo’ and ‘Nafrat ke Bazaar mein khol rahe hain Pyaar ki Dukaan’ clicked like a pulsating heart-beat across the kaleidoscopic and vast ‘unity in diversity’ of this country’s geography, like a sublime song of eternal idealism which sticks to the inner being like a dream sequence – like a pure, untouched memory from childhood.

Daro Mat’, Rahul Gandhi said, his white and pepper beard adding charisma, wisdom and renunciation (tapasya) to his personality, lowering down the communal temperature in many parts of this pluralist, secular country, its fanatic polarisation, especially in the Hindi heartland, spiked by the octopus-like, hydra-headed, hate-filled fronts of Hindutva and its patrons in positions of power.

Not only that, many messages were reinterpreted in the mainstream being and consciousness: mass unemployment and universal impoverishment, back-breaking inflation and price rise, totally sell-out section of media, especially on TV, wallowing in vicious hate politics, the rise and rise of Adani and crony capitalism, the bad deal for farmers, the terrible, everyday life of deprivation for the poorest and jobless daily wagers, especially of women, the dreams and aspirations of the young, including in small towns and remote villages, and, of course, the tragedy of the mothers and daughters of the soldiers who died in Pulwama before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The messages were transparent.

The final, cinematic speech in Srinagar, under white streams of falling snow, with no umbrella, in frozen winter conditions, was as stirring and epical as the widely shared picture of Rahul Gandhi in his T-shirt, giving an enlightened, brave speech in falling rain during the yatra, even as twilight-darkness crept up into the massive rally.

No wonder, this one-dimensional regime, self-absorbed in self-love, with no love lost for peaceful dissenters and the minorities, was ‘shocked and awed’ – shaken from its absolute, hegemonic, haughty arrogance.

Since then, they have made one mistake after another, refusing to read the signs from inside India, and that emerging from the world, including the West, which, you can ignore at your own peril. The ban on BBC and the raid, boomeranged. It became global news. The documentary was now being openly watched by thousands of students and others as an act of defiance. Did nobody tell the ‘Acche Din Messiah’ that anything that is banned becomes more popular and tempting!

ALSO READ: Gandhigiri To Pushback Goondagiri

The title of the Hindenburg report said it all — Adani Group: How the World’s 3rd Richest Man is Pulling the Largest Con in Corporate History. Overnight, the meteoric and unbelievable business empire of the best buddy of the Great Helmsman crashed. Rahul Gandhi’s incredible speech in Parliament, and the national and international media coverage, exposed the last, stinking skeletons in the rotting cupboard.

Is this being all mere chance – not really it seems. There is a pattern to this inevitable predictability. There seems a method in this chain of coincidences.

That the largest democracy has become a “electoral autocracy” was a well-researched declaration by a European think-tank; this is a perception widely shared across the political and academic circles in the West, and, especially, among the ruling Democrats in America, more so, among the currently influential ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders camp. Dismissing such perceptions with disdain and pseudo nationalist rhetoric is like declaring a stagnant quagmire as a garden of roses.

Look at this recent statement by the German government. “We have taken note of the verdict of first instance against the Indian Opposition politician Rahul Gandhi as well as the suspension of his parliamentary mandate. To our knowledge, Mr Gandhi is in a position to appeal the verdict. It will then become clear whether this verdict will stand and whether the suspension of his mandate has any basis. We expect that the standards of judicial independence and fundamental democratic principles will equally apply to the proceedings against Rahul Gandhi,” a German foreign ministry spokesperson has said.

The US state department had, earlier, said: “Respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we’re watching Mr Gandhi’s case in Indian courts, and we engage with the Government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values — including, of course, freedom of expression… In our engagements with our Indian partners, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles and the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression, as a key to strengthening both our democracies.”

In a recent report by Reuters, the signs are transparent: The annual US report on human rights practices listed “significant human rights issues” and abuses in India, including reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents and journalists, the US State Department said. The findings come nearly a year after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some government, police and prison officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation’s rights record.

The report further says that Human Rights Watch has said that the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.

Meanwhile, it is bad news for all dictators and extremist power establishments. In the face of tens of thousands of people on the streets of Israel, everything from sea ports to airports to campuses and government offices shut, Bibi Netanyahu had to be airlifted in his own power turf, even as the police chief the Tel Aviv district and his own defence minister resigned in support of the protesters. Meanwhile, a reluctant and discredited Bolsonaro has finally gathered the courage to return to Brazil from Florida. And Donald Trump of the ‘Abki baar Trump sarkar’ fame, has been indicted by a Manhattan Court.

Check what seasoned journalist David Remnick rights about Trump in an essay called ‘An American Tragedy: Act III’ (The New Yorker, March 30, 2023): “Former President Donald Trump, twice impeached, yet impervious to shame, was indicted Thursday on criminal charges related to the payment of hush money to a porn star. There was a time in American history, almost impossible to recollect now, when such a sentence, such a plot point, would have been beyond our imagining. That has not been the case for a very long time… In early 2016, the ascent of such a clownish demagogue, a sleazy real-estate hustler who had only begun to reveal the full depths of his bigotry and authoritarian impulses, was a laugh line…”

Indeed, there are lessons for India and its political establishment, and all politicians across the spectrum, in all countries. Nothing is permanent. Not even power, privilege and pelf. All is ephemeral. Including, Acche Din

I Had Pegasus On My phone, Indian Democracy Under Attack: Rahul

I Had Pegasus On My phone, Indian Democracy Under Attack: Rahul

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack at the Centre during a lecture at Cambridge University, alleging that an attack has been unleashed on the basic structure of Indian democracy while also claiming that Israeli spyware Pegasus was being used to snoop into his phone.

Rahul claimed that he had been warned by the intelligence officers to be “careful” while speaking on the phone as his calls were being recorded.
Congress leader and ex-advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sam Pitroda shared the YouTube link of Rahul Gandhi’s address to MBA students at Cambridge Judge Business School on the topic of ‘Learning to Listen in the 21st Century’, on Twitter.

“I myself had Pegasus on my phone. A large number of politicians had Pegasus on their phones. I have been called by intelligence officers who told me, ‘Please be careful about what you are saying on the phone because we are sort of recording the stuff. So this is the constant pressure that we feel. Cases on the Opposition. I have got a number of criminal liable cases for things that should under no circumstances be criminal liable cases. That’s what we are trying to defend,” the Congress leader said in his address.

In August last year, the Supreme Court-appointed committee, set up to look into the allegations of the government allegedly using Pegasus for snooping, had concluded that the spyware was not found in the 29 mobile phones examined by it, but the malware was found in five mobile phones.

Reading the report of the committee, the bench had said, “We are concerned about the technical committee report… 29 phones were given and in five phones some malware was found but the technical committee says it cannot be said to be Pegasus.”

Rahul alleged further that constraints were being put on the Parliament, press and the Judiciary in the country.

“Everybody knows and it’s been in the news a lot that Indian democracy is under pressure and under attack. I am an Opposition leader in India, we are navigating that (Opposition) space. The institutional framework which is required for a democracy — Parliament, free press, the judiciary, just the idea of mobilisation, moving around — all are getting constrained. So, we are facing an attack on the basic structure of Indian democracy,” the Congress MP alleged.

Sharing a picture of himself in the presentation slide in which he is seen being held by the police personnel, the Congress leader claimed that the Opposition leaders were “locked up” in jail for “just standing” in front of the Parliament House to talk about some issues, while also alleging that such incidents have happened “relatively violently”.

“In the Constitution, India is described as a Union of States, and that Union requires negotiation and conversation. It is that negotiation that is under attack and threat. You can see the picture which is taken in front of Parliament House. The Opposition leaders were just standing there talking about certain issues, and we were put in jail. That’s happened 3 or 4 times. It has happened relatively violently. You have also heard of the attacks on minorities and the press. You get a sense of what is going on,” Rahul claimed. (ANI)

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Farm Laws: Winners, Losers And The Future

The long term collateral impact of the biggest sustained protest in contemporary history is yet too early to be assessed. Prime Minister Modi, whose public persona was crafted as a tough leader who never does a U-turn, has been forced to do just that by the relentless farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They had more to lose from these laws than Modi did with a U-turn. He has repealed the laws to every one’s relief, except the arm-chair warriors around him who wanted him to stand firm against his own citizens.

What was also remarkable was the unity of the farmers’ leadership. Sikh leadership rarely remains united beyond a few months. The Punjab-Haryana leadership in association with the inspiring and formidable Rakesh Tikait of UP also managed to de-communalise the struggle despite several attempts by the Government to make it appear a Sikh separatist campaign. Astute and intelligent leadership has emerged from this movement. The one to watch.

It will remain to be seen what happens next in the talks. Will the leadership remain focussed and united? Will it successfully continue to be a one purpose campaign, keeping away opportunist politicians eying the potential vote bank?

While the immediate win is obvious, it’s the collateral impact of the protest that could be even more powerful. Struggles in the Punjab have often shaped the course of events in South Asia, sometimes the world. The cracks in the Mughal Empire were first split open in Punjab in 1710. Within 20 years the Mughal Empire began to unravel. It was the fall of the Punjab in 1847 that led to consolidation and expansion of the British Empire. It was the five year sustained protest movement in Punjab in 1920s for regaining control of Gurdwaras that started the collapse of the British Empire. The British invited the Congress in 1932 to talk about possible transfer of power. Why Congress and Gandhi dillydallied for another 15 years has not been looked at by historians. Once India became free, the rest of the British Empire fell apart like dominoes.

It was the communal violence in Punjab in 1947 that continues to dominate geo political issues in South Asia. And it was the Punjab Sikh agitation against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 that weakened her and the Congress. It started the rise of the alternatives. It was the Sikh uprising after 1984 invasion of Golden Temple that led to final disintegration of Congress, rise of BJP and Hindutva.

The Punjab rarely gains much politically from its struggles but creates waves that quantumly precipitate other upheavals in South Asia and the world.

What will this movement precipitate? It is possible that a coherent federal Indian movement might arise as a collateral from the weakening of BJP. It is possible that the ‘small farms’ issue could become internationalised and small farmers around the world might rise against the encroaching corporate agri business. It could be the beginning of dismantling of stranglehold that global corporate sector has on power. Struggles from Punjab influence events in many ways and the consequences of this struggle remain uncharted yet.

Equal winners in the struggle were the women of India. The women of Punjab, Haryana and UP have shown a strength, resilience and daring that is an inspiration to the world. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and many times endured far more. They refused to go back to the villages and instead brought their children and grandchildren with them. They dared the Government and refused to bow.

It is difficult yet to predict the personal and political impact on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People who have met him personally often say that he is a pleasant, charming and a warm person who empathises with the concerns of others. But the BJP electoral machine had built him as an Indian Thatcher, decisive and never taking a U-turn.

Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister who destroyed the coal mines and the Unions, is famously remembered for her rhetoric, ‘You turn, the Lady is not for turning’. Yet in her reign, she did many U-turns, most infamously in the very unpopular poll tax. Similarly Modi has done a few U-turns, with the repeal of Farm Laws as the most spectacular one in full public gaze.

Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to say he lost. He bowed to democracy. He is a leader of a democracy. When he sensed that that the protestors were gaining increasing support from Indians from all corners of the country, he did the decent thing. He ignored his image makers and took a personal decision. He decided to repeal the laws. He may initially have stood his ground against the farmers, but ultimately he defied those who ‘made’ his public persona.

ALSO READ: Farmers Protest – Solution Lies With Canada Sikh MPs

The greatest losers in this have been Canada and Australia and their big Agri businesses assisted by WTO rules set by western powers. It was Canada and latterly Australia that have relentlessly been gunning at the MSP (minimum support price) for farm produce in India. Australia brought a formal complaint against India in 2019 with Canada joining the ‘arbitration board’ to decide whether India has broken World Trade Organisation rules by given 150% MSP (or MPS in WTO language) for wheat and 185% for Sugar Cane.

The Indian Government was under immense pressure to scale down MSP to a mere 110% or bring in the private sector. Both Canada and Australia were drooling when farm laws were introduced and Modi stood firm. They are of the opinion that due to miniscule profit margin under WTO rules and free market, small farmers  will stop growing wheat and other food grains thus pushing India to buy these products from Canada and Australia instead. They had the GDP obsessed IMF on board too. India is a huge potential market for the mega farms of both countries. It was no surprise that Sikh MPs in Canada maintained a studious silence on the Punjab Farm Laws.

If Modi decides to stand by Indian farmers and accepts their demand for MSP to be legislated at 150% or more, this will be a great blow for the 30-year campaign by Canada and recently by Australia to break into the Indian grain market.

With growing dissent within the WTO for its pro-western and pro-corporate orientation, this protest may spur India to lead the developing countries and force change in WTO.

Perhaps the greatest winner of the protest and the Modi U-turn is India’s otherwise dysfunctional democracy. Often appearing to be faltering and surviving in Intensive Care, India’s democracy has in fact shown itself to be adaptable and a great survivor.  Despite many hiccups, election violence, wannabe dictators, it has shown its resilience time and time again. It broke Indira’s Emergency and it has forced BJP to repeal the laws.

Whatever happens next, whether the BJP starts to lose grip of near total power or federalism emerges as the way forward, democracy will survive in India for long time to come. It will make and break leaders. It is the wider collateral impact on the world that is to be watched from this protests.

Survey of Madrassas

India’s Fall From Democracy To Electoral Autocracy

By virtue of its having a population of close to 1.37 billion and holding elections to Parliament and state assemblies every five years as required under the Constitution and on the basis of adult suffrage, India has logical claims to the status of the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, to popular concern, India is not faring well as a democracy in the eyes of independent global watchdogs.

These agencies use copiously collected social science data and feedback from a wide range of independent sources before they decide where a particular democracy finds itself in their indexes. The first blow for India came from Freedom House, a US based watchdog funded largely by the US Administration, which relegated the country to “partly free” status from the earlier “free” ranking.

Now a much harsher admonition for India comes from Sweden based V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute. In a major setback for liberal democracy, “the world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy,” says the V-Dem report. The country’s 23 percentage point slide on V-Dem scale since 2013 makes “it one of the most dramatic shifts (read in terms of erosion of democracy) among all countries in the world over the past ten years.”

Elaborating how democratic values got eroded in India, V-Dem says: “Autocratisation process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.”

But Pranab Bardhan, professor emeritus of economics at University of California, Berkley, says much of Indian media, particularly the TV channels are found “shamelessly” ingratiating themselves with the powers that be. What freedom of the Press can there be when media owners and journalists who matter have on their own drawn the Lakshman Rekha in a way offering comfort to the ruling party at the Centre and in states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. What is left of free media is some news and opinion websites run by some intrepid journalists and a magazine or two.

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Bardhan is surprised that BJP has the gumption to complain that the opposition is engaged in smearing the reputation of the country across the world. “But it is now imperative to say that the way democracy is being trampled in so many ways is giving the country a bad name. Let’s take the case of harassment of Disha Ravi (climate activist). Hasn’t this invited global criticism? I will say those who describe the protesting farmers and principled journalists as anti-nationalists are a blot on our democracy,” says Bardhan.

Bardhan, a global campaigner for equality of opportunity for human development, has strong distaste for doublespeak that BJP leaders indulge in. They, according to him, will say sabka saath sabka vikas (development for all) but when it comes to act they will spew hatred for the ones not of their faith. Why Bills are not discussed any longer and Acts are steamrolled through Parliament?

Bardhan thinks the fear of courting uncomfortable questions has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to hold Press conferences at all. The people are instead left with ‘Man ki Baat,’ a monologue that leaves no room for questions to be asked. (To put the record straight, Modi at least once sat for a long interview with the former Hindustan Times chief editor Sanjoy Narayan.)

Incidentally, Bardhan like many other front-ranking intellectuals is a strident critic of the NDA decision on demonetisation and the Covid-19 lockdown for the indescribable sufferings of the common man, millions of migrant workers and people dependent on the unorganised sectors. Now we learn from the periodic labour survey by National Statistical Office that the urban unemployment rate in the country shot up to 20.9% in April-June 2020 coinciding with the lockdown from 9.1% in the previous quarter. But what will go unrecorded are the physical, mental and financial pains millions of migrant workers suffered because of sudden declaration of the lockdown without giving them a chance to go back to wherefrom they came by train and long distant buses.

In a recent interview with the largely circulated Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Bardhan expressed his anguish over disintegration of the country’s federal structure. As policy decisions are getting concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), in a novel development New Delhi is regularly trespassing into areas reserved for the states. There are too many occasions when the centre without seeking the views of states are addressing subjects concerning education, health, agriculture, law and order and labour.

The winding up of the Planning Commission where the states could place their economic demands and subsequently get relief from the government was a blow to federalism. As for revenue mobilisation, every time New Delhi would impose a cess that will be a denial to states of their rightful share. This is not the case when revenues are mobilised by way of taxes.

Drawing an analogy with Germany in the 1930s where the Communists and social democrats locked in political bickering helped in Hitler coming to power, Bardhan strongly recommends that the Left, the Congress and Trinamool Congress should not allow their past differences, often quite bitter, to come in the way to stop BJP from wresting power in West Bengal.

ALSO READ: Battle For Bengal Is The Election to Watch

Bardhan says if the Left truly believes that ‘Ram in 2021 and Bam (that is left) in 2026’ then it is indulging in self-delusion. The left apparently doesn’t want to have any kind of understanding with Trinamool since its members and supporters had suffered a lot in the hands of ruling party members in the past ten years. But he says in the past ahead of the Left Front rule, the Communists were given a hellish time by the Congress. The left, according to him, will be showing wisdom if it is found ready to bury all such hatchets to stop the BJP juggernaut. He at the same time wants the Matua and Rajbangsi communities, which are befriended by BJP, to stay clear of the party with strong Brahminical leanings.

People from different parts of the country have over centuries made Bengal their home and in the process they have made rich contribution to the local economy and culture. Many Bengalis are uncomfortable that BJP is described by incumbent Trinamool as a party of outsiders.

Bardhan has an interesting take on this: “BJP has tenuous links with Bengali culture. Since the party doesn’t have a great Bengali intellectual to boast, it is busy paying obeisance to Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose. But it is impossible to reconcile BJP’s Hindutva with what these great Bengali minds wrote and said.”

Bankim Chandra will not accept that the country has made any progress unless the Muslims and everyone else have a share in it. Vivekananda wanted everyone to read the Bible and the Quran along with the Gita. Subhas Chandra was secular to the core. His strong disapproval when Syama Prasad Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha is well known. Finally, the world has known Tagore as a well wisher of both Hindus and Muslims and as someone desirous of their brotherhood.