Pegasus has hit the headlines everywhere. From France’s President Macron to India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, politicians and celebrities are baying for blood. But of whose? It’s not clear. The Israeli cyber-arm firm NSO? The company only made the technology and sold it to countries to use for protection against ‘terrorists’ etc. NSO is not a country and cannot monitor or control who and how it is used once it is sold. Should people attack Israel? But NSO is a private enterprise. There is no international mechanism to monitor. So who?
That technology is advanced. That Intelligence Services have the means to get into people’s heads let alone phones is suspected by almost anyone with some knowledge of technology. So what’s all the fuss about?
The United States has been snooping, hacking, stealing data and conversations etc for decades now. How else do they know where ‘terrorist’ leaders are and which Dacha Putin is in or what is the source of sausages that Angela Merkel is having for breakfast.
That leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban try to remain one step ahead by communicating through sophisticated traditional non tech methods is also well known. How else would Taliban have chased the Americans out. Pegasus? ‘We have lived with Pegasus or its dad and granddad for decades,’ the Taliban might say.
It will not be a surprise if France was using some similar version of Pegasus to monitor its suspected terrorists, criminals, political trouble makers and possibly even minority groups. Sometimes technology boomerangs. What French intelligence services have been doing on others, yet others have been doing on Macron. Ah La Vache! Or Ooh la la, he is furious!
Pegasus has had its eyes on some leading British politicians, journalists and public figures. Possibly even billionaires. These people are lucky they have discovered the name of at least one technology source looking at or after them, depending on who is offering the narrative. Who knows which British Intelligence agency has also been keeping a tab on them, harvesting all their data, listening to all their conversation! Intelligence officers are the proverbial snoopy old lady next door with curtains drawn, looking through a chink. It takes a certain character to become one.
British intelligence infiltrates, snoops, hacks and sucks information from anything moving in UK including organisations representing disability, LGBT, children playing high tech games and even infants saying ‘boom boom’. That’s how little kids get thrown into ‘prevent’ programme, designed to flush out potential ‘terrorists’ and rewash their brains to become good royalists. Pegasus’s big Uncle, GCHQ, has been listening to everyone on British soil without warrants or legitimate reason. This country of privacy champions, likes to own everyone’s privacy. Just look at the number of snoopy cameras in any city, town and even village in UK.
The great Sultans of Arabia have acquired Pegasus from NSO through their previously public sworn enemy, Israel. NSO would have had to have clearance from Israel Govt to sell the programme to them. The Arab countries have been busy hacking and listening to anyone suspected of being against them. But 400 British have been on the list of UAE Pegasus. Surely these illuminati were not secretly crusading and conspiring to overthrow the ruler of UAE. Perhaps another Government asked UAE to do what it wouldn’t by law be permitted to do. Now who could that be? Three guesses and you can have your name printed here without benefit of Pegasus.
But the Craft master is always ahead of the game. The company that made Pegasus must have a little programmed bot in there to hack and spy on all the Middle East Majesties that have bought the programme. So no need to send spies, the Middle East Kingdoms are probably sending info to Israel and even paying for it. That is smart capitalism.
Pegasus, the mythical winged horse, has travelled to India too in the form of high tech. Rahul Gandhi is moaning endlessly. Despite his voice becoming hoarse, he won’t stop accusing Narendra Modi of listening to his (Rahul’s) phone anywhere and everywhere he gets a chance to say so! Simple answer, stop talking on the phone.
Perhaps he should turn to his mum for an explanation. After all Pegasus’s grandfather was brought into India by his father, Rajiv Gandhi, and then later under the watch of his mum. Some ancestor of Pegasus has been in India in the hands of intelligence services for three decades at least. And Israel helped with the technology.
Sikh insurgents, Kashmiri jihadis, and many political leaders of movements perceived by the State as ‘terrorists’ have long known that their phones are hacked, their conversations are heard, their every movement is tracked by GPS.
It has been used, as every law and means in India has been used for 200 years (since colonial rule), to listen to and stifle the opposition. In fact, Kautilya recommended it to rulers 2000 years ago before it dawned upon Pegasus and India’s IB. All this happened during the Congress rule and it should be no surprise that it is happening during BJP reign. Pegasus in India? Well what’s new Rahul Gandhi? Either the family never told him at the dinner table, or he is just trying to political point scoring out of something that every ‘with it’ Indian knows.
Many Indians know that phones, TV, and other gadgets all get hacked and Indian intelligence services have had the technology first acquired by his father, Rajiv. KPS Gill boasted of it. It was used on political opponents then and it is being used now. It was his grandmother Indira who started using the civil service to do her bidding to remain in power. The current PM is only doing what the family started in the best tradition of Indian politics. Using Pegasus to harvest info on opposition, what’s new?
The origin of the acronym, TINA (or There is No Alternative) is credited to the late British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party leader who was in office from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher used it as a slogan to lend credence to her belief that there was no alternative to a market economy where free trade and free markets were the only way to build and distribute wealth. Later, the phrase “TINA factor” was appropriated by Indian political commentators who have used it to describe situations where one powerful party or head of government seems so strong that there seems to be virtually no alternative to replace him or her.
Famously, the phrase was used for the late Indira Gandhi who was the second longest-serving Prime Minister of India (she served from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984). More recently, even as the present Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is serving his second term, the phrase has been cropping up again with various political analysts speculating whether there is a TINA factor at work and whether there is in reality no alternative to Modi.
With the near decimation of the only other significant national party, the Indian National Congress, which after decades of being in power, is now reduced to holding a mere 52 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha; and 36 of the 245 seats in the Rajya Sabha, the question of whether the Modi-led, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-dominant regime has anyone to challenge it in elections. In addition, the BJP, or alliances in which it participates, is part of the government in 18 of India’s 31 states and Union Territories and the party has publicly proclaimed its mission to have a “Congress-free” India.
In the absence of a comparably strong and cohesive party to challenge the BJP at the national level, the alternative in the form of a challenger could, at least theoretically, be a coalition of parties—strong regional ones or one that can be led by the Congress but comprising many smaller parties. Some political analysts have punted for the Mamata Banerjee-led All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC) as a possible key player in evolving a coalition of regional parties. That view has gained ground in the aftermath of the recent West Bengal elections in which despite the BJP’s deployment of a high-powered campaign, Ms. Banerjee comfortably cruised to victory, effectively retaining chief ministership for the third term.
Stable coalition governments are common in many parts of the world, including, in particular, in Europe where in countries such as Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Italy, and Germany, it is almost a given. In India, both at the national as well as the regional levels, coalitions are not novel arrangements. They have been tried but the outcomes, at least in terms of stability, have been mixed. Unless led by a single party that has a significant clout in terms of the number of seats it wins in Parliament, coalition governments have been short-lived in India. In 1996, after a fractured electoral verdict, when the BJP, led by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, emerged as the single largest party in Parliament and was invited to form a government and cobble together a majority (by wooing other smaller parties), it failed to do so and collapsed in 13 days.
It was replaced by the United Front, which was closest to a copybook version of a political coalition with 13 different parties coming together to form an alliance. The coalition formed two governments between 1996 and 1998, the first headed by Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, and the second by I. K. Gujral. The United Front managed to stay in power for less than two years.
The current crisis in terms of finding a worthy challenger to the BJP is accentuated by the fact that the Indian National Congress’ strength has been getting dissipated over the past few years. Its leadership, which for all practical purposes, rests with the Nehru-Gandhi family, has been unable to provide either cohesion or expansion. Rahul Gandhi, who briefly became head of the party between 2017 and 2019 has been an enigmatic leader, often appearing reluctant or indecisive. In recent months, the party has witnessed an exodus of key young leaders, many of whom could have been groomed to lead the historic party whose origins go back to 1885. Many of these young leaders have left to actually join the BJP, the Congress’ arch rival.
Partly it is hard to make the concept of a coalition government functional at India’s national level because of the nature of the nation. India is a pluralistic society that is like few others. The sheer diversity of a country with a population of 1.4 billion that is more like a continent made up of several “countries” is what makes things particularly difficult when it comes to forging alliances between different parties. The differences in languages, cultures, economic development, among several other parameters, is so wide-ranging that very often it is difficult for outsiders to grasp the enormity of the complex politics in the country. There are differences between regions (north and south, is an example); between states that can be neighbouring ones (each of the southern states has a different language); and between castes and gender.
Coalitions work better in countries where the population is small and less diverse. In Europe, governments made up by alliances of political parties with seemingly different views and ideologies have been comparably more stable than similar arrangements in India. Besides being easier to govern because of their size (some European countries have populations that are smaller than those of large Indian cities), the degree of plurality when it comes to ethnic diversity, cultures, language, and so on, is much smaller than those that exist in India.
To be sure, however, even the ruling BJP-led government is a coalition. Modi is the Prime Minister of a coalition government formed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which comprises at least 14 different parties. Besides being united by ideology (most of the NDA’s constituents are right wing oriented), in the BJP it has a powerful leader: of the 334 seats in Lok Sabha that the NDA now controls, 301 are BJP members. That is the kind of strong glue that makes coalitions work in India. For regional parties, such as Ms. Banerjee’s AITC, it can be difficult to achieve a position where it can provide such a cohesive glue. The same goes for other regional parties such as, for example, the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh; or the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. All of them have the potential to score electoral victories in their respective regions but have little political leverage when it comes to making it big on the national scene.
It is 36 years since the ill-fated Prime
Minister of India, Indira Gandhi ordered India’s Army to attack one of the
holiest and iconic places in South Asia, Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple). The
attack exposed more about 1984 India, its Army, its lack of self-confidence,
its intellectual bankruptcy and the hollow nationalism of Congress party than
the Sikhs. It was a junctural moment as the Indian colonialist worldview and
institutions came face to face with the still unfinished simmering indigenous Swaraj
movements that had brought the mighty British Empire down.
The Nehruvian vision of post-colonial ‘westernised’ India began to crumble on the day of the attack as it took on the institution (Golden Temple) that had given impetus to the decolonisation movement in British India in 1920s. The colonial ideological rot that had infected every sphere of Indian institutional, academic and literary life was to unravel.
There were bigger than life personalities. Leading the post-colonial State was Mrs Indira Gandhi, daughter of the first Indian Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru and a formidable lady who brought in the Emergency in 1976 to secure her power, overthrew the Pakistan Army from Bangladesh and outwitted all her opponents in the Congress. Her last act was to order an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib on 1st June 1984. She paid for it with her life on 30th October 1984.
Leading the challenge to the westernised Indian State was Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a charismatic personality and steeped in the knowledge of traditional Indian discourses and driven by Sikh aspirations. He died in the attack in June 1984.
Few if any of Indian analysts saw the attack
and subsequent civil unrest in Punjab in historical terms. The narrative
propagated by the State was echoed without critique by the intellectuals. The
State’s story was that a religious fanatic based secessionist movement pursuing
its aim through terrorism was threatening the ‘unity’ of mother India. Critique,
if any, was around human rights rather than the conflict of ideas, expectations
and visions in post-colonial India.
The Indian intellectual was fed and bred on the idea of the perfect country and civilisation to be the secular, liberal and socialist entity in the image of the post-enlightenment European States and political culture. In this worldview, other cultures had to embark on this trajectory to progress from their primitive pasts.
In this ‘future’, there was little of 5,000
years of Indian civilisation, its philosophies or its worldviews in the
foundations. India had to be Europeanised whole sale, root and branch. India
set itself to become a ‘modern developed country’ both industrially and
intellectually, whatever that meant.
What remained of native India was cultural
idiosyncrasies such as language, dance and religious rituals. The public sphere
post-1947 was the triumph of western concepts as if 5,000 years of intellectual
thought in India had only saree and curry to offer.
On 1 June 1984, this colonial ingrained
India attacked the India that had survived thousands of years, tens of
invasions and Empires and several attempts at changing its core pluralist
civilisation. What the Mughals and the British could not achieve, the Congress Party
had set its mind to accomplish. It was determined to destroy the past, the
fabric of South Asian civilisation and transform it. The mission for India is
revealed in Nehru’s book, Discovery of India,
and it is writ large in the Constitution of India.
The Constitution, drafted from German, Irish, American and British sources, to this day puts its belief in secularism, despite thousands of years of history of pluralism or Bahuda. The modern Indian State obediently carried on the colonial strategy of marginalising indigenous Indian philosophical and political thought into the bracket of personal religion, thus making their thoughts irrelevant to the political public space. The inevitable tension between an alien political theory without hinterland in Indian thought and indigenous ideologies, first came to fore violently in 1984 at the doors of Sri Darbar Sahib.
It was the willingness of the Army to attack its own people and institutions that bewildered Sikhs around the world and many India observers. At least one to-be Chief of Army refused to indulge in Mrs Gandhi’s fantasy. In 1983, Lt General Srinivas Kumar Sinha advised gravely against it. He was bypassed and General AS Vaidya obliged becoming Chief, only later to pay with his life.
An Army is a trained killing machine, fed on the idea of hostile invader enemies. The Indian Army was established by the British to treat the Indian as the enemy in order to protect the British from Indians driven by ideas of usurping the Crown in India. Post 1947, little was done to re-educate the Army to see itself as a force to defend Indians from invasions alone. It has been a pliable instrument to use in the hands of Indian political masters.
Even the Chinese Army refused to attack its own people in Tiananmen Square episode. Currently, the US army has indicated its unwillingness to carry President Donald Trump’s orders to crackdown on domestic protests. Armies don’t solve political issues, they just kill. That’s what happened in 1984. Perhaps the Indian Army has changed now and become truly nationalist protecting borders rather than acting as the Praetorian Guard for an ineffectual governing elite.
In 1984, the political class and the bureaucracy was also on a rollercoaster colonial train with no brakes. It was simply new management running a defunct system that had been rejected by the Sikh uprising in Punjab and Gandhi’s Swaraj movement. Incredibly, like the evil character in a horror movie, it survived intact after 1947. The political class and bureaucracy had loads of instruction sheets left by colonial masters augmented by Oxbridge educations on running a colonial Governance but had no access to a repair manual when things went wrong.
Consequently, the system threw the same set
of tools at every problem including the challenge from Bhindranwale. This was a
cocktail of detention laws, police excesses, Central rule and then emergency
powers bringing in the Army. The solution was run on automatic memory from
colonial days when the British saw Indians as the enemy. No originality or
creative political solutions have emerged in a post-colonial state badly in
need of major institutional and constitutional change by engagement with people
after the violence of colonialism.
In this state of an alien governance system run by an indigenous elite, a leader from one of the natural community of the many communities in India was seen as a primitive village preacher turned terrorist challenging the ‘post-colonial enlightenment vision’. Bhindranwale was called a feisty preacher turned delusional politician until February 1984 in almost all of the Indian Press and by Indian Congress politicians.
As his appeal and his hold on the people of Punjab, particularly the Sikhs, grew and grew, a shaken Indira Gandhi decided to label him a terrorist in February 1984. No new action or legal charges had taken place to justify that label, nor was there a warrant for his arrest. But it was a story that the scribes obliged as did some of the western liberal media to prepare the grounds for an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib. No Indian editor asked, where is the warrant of arrest?
The story of Bhindrawale as an illiterate village preacher threatening India’s rapid advance towards becoming a mirror image of a Germany or United States was also promoted by Indians around the world. These were Indians desperately aping their white role models caricatured brilliantly in the 1990s British sitcom ‘Goodness Gracious Me’. The irony was that Mrs Gandhi herself was only a Matric pass. The difference was one could speak English and the other could not, the only criterion by which a literate Indian from an illiterate Indian was judged by post colonial Indians.
Bhindranwale was a brilliant orator who could command the attention and awe of the Punjabi masses, especially the Sikhs. He was head of the DamDami Taksal, an influential Sikh seminary. Brought up in the best traditions of Sikh chivalry and fearless courage when faced with great odds, he had gained a huge following. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he knew how to articulate the hopes and expectations of the masses. In Punjab they did not want to become Brown Sahibs as fading copies of the white sahibs who had left, but to remain part of the Dharmic tradition of Sikhi and to find expression within the system of governance denied to indigenous political ideologies. This has never been analysed by Indian academics whose work often at best resembles polished journalism rather than exploration of deeper currents of history and ideas. Journalists and writers have concentrated on the personality and actions rather than the clash of visions and hopes in a narrative set for them by western academics.
Bhindranwale, like many Sikhs, was
disturbed by the recurrent political campaigns in Punjab around economic and
political autonomy to restore Sikh values in the regional system. This had been
going on since 1947 and rearticulated in the 1971, then the 1976 Anandpur Sahib
resolution. He felt the Akalis were either too weak or had been using the
Anandpur Sahib resolution as an opportunist political manifesto to harvest the
Sikh vote in Punjab without wanting to resolve it.
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was based on a 1929 Lahore Agreement between Sikh leaders and Congress. Having witnessed the successful Gurdwara campaign in Punjab, Congress sought to get Sikhs on board for its struggle. The agreement was that Punjab would be autonomous in a Federal India and Sikhs would have a veto on drafting of Constitutional articles that concerned them. the resolution was passed every year by Congress until 1947.
In 1931, Gandhi had advised Sikhs that if
his party ever betrayed the 1929 agreement, Sikhs were morally justified to
take up arms against the State. This agreement was reneged by Congress in 1949.
Bhindranwale decided to take control of
the unsuccessful rallies around Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Astutely he first used
Congress to rise to prominence, then distanced himself from it and took it head
on having found his base among Sikhs and other Punjabis.
The campaign under Bhindranwale’s leadership was met by State excesses such as extrajudicial executions, illegal detentions, torture of detainees and mass shootings into rallies. The Punjab is one state in India where such measures have always backfired from Mughals, the British to modern India. And it did. The result was a cycle of State and counter State violence that culminated in the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib. That precipitated a new chapter of violence and deep political chasm.
When asked about Khalistan, Bhindranwale
said he wasn’t campaigning for one but if the Indian State offered it, he
wouldn’t say no this time. This was making a reference to an alleged offer by
Lord Mountbatten’s secretary offering a separate State to Sikhs around 1947 but
Sikhs apparently didn’t take it seriously.
However, Bhindrawale did say that an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib would lay the foundations for a Khalistan. Thirty six years later, these words continue to fuel political aspirations in the world of Sikhs. The attack marked a substantive turn in Indian history.
In a provocative interview by BBC Asian programme in July 1984, I said that secular India does not need to worry too much about Sikhs. The real movement that will destroy it now is resurrection of Hindu fundamentalist nationalism because metaphorically the State has taken on the Church. Its effects will be far ranging. Neither he nor Indian academics understood the conceptual frameworks on which this statement was made. About 20 years later, the BJP was in power. Rest is history.
For many Sikhs the idea of Khalistan, a
land where Sikhs can establish a system of governance formed from Sikh
political theory, continues. In the flow of history, significantly, on 6th
June 1984, the adulterated vision of a secular westernised India started dying
at the gates of Sri Darbar Sahib and a new history began.
In that fated year, the death of two powerful personalities marked a crossover of Indian history. One, Bhindranwale, whose death started the resurgence of quest for a state based on thousands of years of indigenous concepts of Dharam. The other, Mrs Gandhi, died five months later whose death signified the end of the colonial project in the Indian subcontinent.
Modi has responded with alacrity and
vehemence to Rahul’s many insinuations. But his silence on this remains
inexplicable. Critics call him, half-in-zest, the first premier who could enter
the Guinness Book of Records for failing to hold a PC.
His ‘non-political’ televised talk with
Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar was not his “first press conference” as initially
announced on April 26. Nor was it an interview despite the use of that format. Now,
it has re-charged an issue on which the media and Modi observers had all but
India’s 16th premier in 73 years shuns the traditional media. He has done away with office of the Information Advisor. No impromptu media interactions and nothing that is not pre-scheduled.
That he speaks only to those who fully agree
and don’t ask uncomfortable questions is a given. He shows silent contempt for the
rest – mainly the liberal lot who take their adversarial role too seriously. He
has steadfastly stuck to “if you are not with me, completely, you are against
me” stance. This is another given.
Yet, Modi remains hugely connected to his chosen audiences. He is world No. 3 on Twitter and No.1 on Facebook and Instagram. With his official page ‘liked’ by over 43.2 million people, Modi tops the list of 50 most-followed world leaders on Facebook. It’s puzzling how and when he finds time and energy to be on the social media.
He connects with people through “mann ki baat” on All India Radio each
month for the last four years. His Hindi oratory, the turn of phrase and
coining of new slogans help him communicate like no other premier before. His
penchant of talking about himself helps.
His media appearances have largely been
limited to his archetypal rallies, conferences and joint appearances with world
leaders whom he hugs. But a hug at home is a no-no.
Despite social media posts, broadcasts and
scripted TV interviews with selected TV channels, his communication remains
limited. There is a wide difference between mass media and media of masses.
He chooses the media; the media have no
choice. Bulk of them has fallen in line. Reporters and editors do not matter. An
ownership overhaul, direct or remote, has ensured his overwhelming presence. A friendly
TV anchor calls his not giving press conferences a “new paradigm of
communication.” Critics are mostly
marginalized to web sites.
He honed his media skills long ago. An ever-smiling
official at the New Delhi headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
Modi nurtured rapport with the BJP ‘beat’ media. Things changed when he became
the Gujarat chief minister in end-2001. He courted controversy within weeks with
sectarian violence under his watch. A thousand, mostly Muslims, were killed. The
Supreme Court’s strictures on his government’s handling embarrassed the Vajpayee
Government. Party hardliners saved him from being sacked.
That was India’s first televised violence.
Local media was divided, but the one from the national capital (hence labeled
“national media”) was intensely critical from where the global media took the
As chief minister, Modi was keen to shed the
‘communal’ baggage and mount the ‘development’ platform. He did so with fair
success, projecting the “Gujarat model”, despite criticism that made him a
pariah in the West.
Once a Supreme Court-appointed probe
cleared him, he doggedly shunned any questions and twice walked out of
interviews when questioned about those riots. He never regretted his role and
once compared riot victims as “puppies coming under a speeding vehicle.”
His silent war with the media continues. Yet,
obvious, even if ironical, has happened since became the PM. The very media he
shuns spend millions to report him. Media junkets, particularly the foreign
ones that had become the norm since the 1970s, are passé.
Why recall these details that are unsavory
to all? The government-media relationship seems unlikely to change, no matter
who wins the elections. The era of ‘Comment is Free, but facts are sacred’, as
celebrated British journalist C P Scott once wrote, ended long ago.
The media lost relevance to public life
with its conversion from the Fourth Estate to private mint to print money for
owners. This was long before Modi’s advent on the national scene. As one who
can cause fear and distribute largess, he is certainly a big beneficiary.
Now, journalists who do not speak or write
agreeably are called ‘presstitutes’. At least two of Modi’s ministers have
publicly used that term. Social media troll has become everyday affair.
The media’s role and the respect journalists
enjoyed in the past are arguable, but not denied. One of the largest in the democratic
world, it has changed, for better or for worse.
Back to the press conference issue, since
one can’t return, one can at least recall better times. Jawaharlal Nehru held
press conferences annually and they were copiously published. Old timers recall
the mix of humour and argument. Relationship was adversarial, but due to
Nehru’s stature, also reverential.
Lal Bahadur Shastri galvanized the nation
during difficult war-times during his brief tenure. The media role was highly
Indira Gandhi’s Vigyan Bhavan PCs, were
long-drawn, moderated by H Y Sharda Prasad, her Information Advisor. Haughty
when she chose to be, she rarely shunned the media.
Along with the Opposition, media critics
were imprisoned during the Emergency, when “watchdogs became lapdogs”, as
veteran L K Advani put it. Some Indira favourites wrote books lambasting her
when she lost office. But after she returned to power in 1980, they survived to
tell their stories.
“Why should I tell you? Then, my task will
fail,” was Morarji Desai’s ascerbic style. Media’s allergy to his advocacy
against alcohol was known. Typical of politicians of his era, he once dismissed
an inconvenient question by one Mr Thomas saying, “you are Doubting Thomas” and
one Mr Chakravarty was told, “you are from Bengal, then you must be a
communist.” His laughter, and laughter all around diluted severity of the snub.
Chaudhary Charan Singh expected
traditional obeisance from the media. He was once upset when told that journalists
rise only for the President. “At least, respect my age,” he chided. Newsmen
Rajiv Gandhi spoke well when well briefed.
His inexperience showed when he dismissed his Foreign Secretary at his Vigyan
Bhavan PC. V P Singh was a media favourite, but his only PC as prime minister was
a disaster when he came late, did not apologise and then ran into very hostile
questions. Another media favourite, Chandra Shekhar’s tenure was just four
months, but he remained among the most accessible politicians.
P V Narasimha Rao’s silence was
mysterious. He would choose not to speak, but when he spoke little, softly and
with determination, it was effective.
H D Deve Gowda’s only PC had a Western
journalist asking a loaded question. “You have never seen a prime minister in
dhoti?” he quipped with a mix of anger and amusement. The only ex-premier
around, he shed tears at a PC recently.
His successor I K Gujral, known for his
measured diplomatic pronouncements, was ready Punjabi jhappi.
Manmohan Singh, a good communicator as
Economics teacher was heard with respect at conferences. His PCs, one in Egypt
and another back home, however, had officials scrambling for damage control. Derided
as “Maun Mohan Singh” by Modi, he took sweet revenge recently on the latter’s
silence on economic failures.
Assuming Modi wins a fresh mandate, an
avalanche of questions awaits him to deserve a PC. Will he? Won’t he?
We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty.
If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger.
This is our vision & our promise.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 28, 2019
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also termed as “historic” Gandhi’s announcement, saying it will mark a turning point in the lives of the downtrodden.
The announcement comes four days ahead of the interim budget to be presented by the Narendra Modi government before the Lok Sabha polls due before June this year.
It also follows the NDA government’s decision to give 10 per cent quota to the economically backward section in the general category and a likely announcement of a relief package for farmers grappling with falling prices of their crops and to tackle distress in the farm sector.
The BJP said Gandhi’s assurance is like its “hundreds of other announcements” which were not meant to be implemented and an “off the cuff” announcement made “without any preparation or any provision for funding or proper agenda”.
“The Congress has decided to take a historic decision…The Congress-led government is going to give minimum income guarantee. This means, every poor person in India will have a minimum income. This means there will be no hungry, poor people in India (any longer),” Gandhi said.
Asserting that he gets done what he says, Gandhi added the minimum income guarantee would be implemented across the country.
Later, he tweeted, “We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty.”
“If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise,” he said in his tweet.
“We don’t want two Indias. There will be one India, and in that India, the Congress will give minimum income to every poor person. No government in the world has done this till now. The Congress is going to do that, it will be a historic feat,” Gandhi said at the rally.
The BJP-led Union government wrote off Rs 3.5 lakh crore worth of loans of 15 big industrialists but “did not waive the loans of the country’s farmers”, he alleged.
Continuing his attack on the Centre over the Rafale figher jet deal, he reiterated the allegation that the government ensured a “benefit” of Rs 30,000 crore to industrialist Anil Ambani in this “world’s biggest defence contract”. Both the Government and Ambani have rejected the allegation.
On the contrary, the BJP-led governments cited lack of funds whenever the Congress demanded farm loan waiver, Gandhi alleged.
“Narendra Modi and the BJP want to create two Indias — one of loan waiver (for industrialists), Rafale scam, Anil Ambani, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi and Narendra Modi. In that you will get whatever you want…if you want Rafale contract, you will get it. If you want land, water, electricity, you will get it,” Gandhi said.
“The other India is of the poor, the weak, farmers, the youth. You are not going to get anything in that India. There you will only get ‘Mann Ki Baat’, 24 hours only ‘Mann Ki Baat’,” Gandhi said, referring to the prime minister’s monthly radio address.
Gandhi also said the Congress had promised to waive farm loans in Chhattisgarh within 10 days of coming to power, but implemented the decision within a day after forming the government.
He also distributed loan waiver certificates to some of the beneficiary farmers during the event, which was attended by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and senior Congress leader P L Punia.
The Congress posted a massive victory in last year’s Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, winning 68 of the total 90 seats and ending the BJP’s 15-year rule.
Garibi Hatao (“Remove Poverty”) was the theme and slogan of Indira Gandhi’s campaign for the 1971 Lok Sabha elections which was won by the Congress under her leadership giving her a second term as the prime minister.
“People of India know the reality of Congress and have seen through its games,” BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“Gandhi’s claim to provide minimum income guarantee for the poor is like hundreds of Congress announcements which are not meant to be implemented. His party remained in power for 58 years at the Centre and made thousands of announcement. If they had been implemented, the face of the country, including of the poor, would have been different,” Prasad said.
In a series of tweets, Chidambaram, a former union finance and home minister, said 140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014, when the Congress-led UPA was in power.
“Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s announcement at the farmers’ rally in Chhattisgarh is historic and will mark a turning point in the lives of the poor,” he said.
Chidambaram said the principle of Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been discussed extensively in the last two years and the time has come to adapt the principle to the country’s situation and the needs and implement the same for the poor.
“We will explain our plan in the Congress Manifesto,” he said. Chidambaram is the chairman of Manifesto Committee of the Congress for the 2019 polls.
The Congress leader said “the poor in India have the first charge on the resources of the country and the party will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi”.
“140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. Now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India,” he added.
th August, to hold a rally in London and declare the referendum. The Government of India has been reacting to it and accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, to be behind the exercise.
The campaign has been called a waste of time, a gimmick or opportunist by many Sikhs, since it has no authorisation from any State or UN or other legitimate authority. Ironically most serious Sikh Khalistani (Sikh State) groups have opposed it. However their response has been muted because they don’t want to be seen to be on the same side as the more aggressive opposition by the Indian government to this referendum campaign.
Nevertheless, the fact that it has reached such proportion of debate in Indian press and within Sikhs is a victory of sorts for SFJ, even if nothing else may be achieved. It is also symptomatic of the frustration and resentment that has continued to fester among worldwide Sikhs since 1984.
The issues that have arisen recurrently between Sikhs and the Indian State are well known. The foremost is that the holiest place of the Sikhs, Sri Darbar Sahib was entrusted to Indian protection. But in 1984, the Indian Government, under Mrs Gandhi, sent in the Indian Army to invade the most powerful and influential seat of authority in the Sikh world, thus declaring a form of war without realising it. The attack led to calls for a separate State so that the Akal Takhat Sahib and Sri Darbar Sahib can be protected by a State of the Sikhs instead.
Closely following this and for many years were the unconstitutional methods adopted by the State in eliminating large number of Sikh youth to prevent a civil uprising. Over 60000 Sikhs have been executed extrajudicially and many tortured grotesquely. Some unique methods were developed by Punjab police, now copied by dictatorships around the world.
The other major incident was the organised massacres of Sikhs by the Congress party that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in November 1984. New Delhi’s contribution to world civilisation was the invention of burning alive of people with tyres around their necks. Over 4000 Sikhs were massacred with iron bars, long knives, axes and burning alive in a free orgy of violence over four days. The police looked the other way and the Army, stationed only half an hour’s distance away, remained in its barracks.
The Sikhs of Punjab responded to the attack on Darbar Sahib by executing Mrs Gandhi, the Chief of Army (Gen Vaidya) who ordered the attack and the Chief Minister (Beant Singh) who gave the police carte blanc unconstitutional powers to kill as many political activists as it could. The Sikhs of Delhi put their trust in the Indian judicial system. 34 years later they have been fed 11 Commissions of Enquiry but no incarceration of any senior Congress member.
It should not surprise any analyst why 34 years after 1984, resentment and hurt festers below the surface among Sikhs, leaving the community susceptible to those who imagine themselves as wannabe messiahs on a mission to lead Sikhs to freedom from this pain or worse prey to political and economic opportunists. Even the Akali Dal regularly exploits Sikh issues when in opposition but goes quiet when in power.
However it is simplistic for victimhood within Sikhs to see Hindu India as a hostile, cruel inhuman country and hope for justice and restoration of mutual respect. The Indians themselves are imprisoned in a Kafkesque nightmare from which they don’t know how to step out. Physical colonialism came to an end in 1947 in India but the institutions and political concepts of colonialism remain intact even 70 years after the British transferred power.
[caption id="attachment_29480" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Presidents of India have been trapped in ceremonies left by the British.[/caption]
India is a colonial edifice, to the last brick of its foundation. All modern Indian institutions were established by the British to govern ‘over Indians’ and protect themselves from the natives or promote interests of the occupying colonialists. Whether it is the constitution founded on the 1935 Act which the British enacted to rule ‘over’ Indians with some punitive accountability to ‘natives’, or the police which was to keep the natives in check while applying different rules for the Sahibs, or the Army which was orientated to protect the British from Indian mutinees and rebellions, to the legal system which was meant to usurp indigenous value systems and implant British Victorian values and system of rule or whether it is the civil service which was established to administrate Indians on behalf of the British. Nothing has changed in the founding frameworks of these institutions.
The Indian State follows the blue print left by the British colonialists to rule India as conquerors. The British didn’t leave behind a repair manual nor sent revision sheets or updates, and so to date Indians haven’t found a way to solve any of the regional or cultural conflicts. Strengthening colonial era laws on detention, making colonial era torture methods even more painful and sending in the Army to protect the ‘rulers’ against the ‘natives’ is a recurring pattern of response to challenges, where politics should seek solutions instead.
The political class behaves like managers. The institutional framework of British India was enacted for the British in India to act as managers on behalf of the Crown or rather British Parliament. They were not meant to govern. Government was in UK.
[caption id="attachment_29482" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Viceroy’s Carriage pre-1947. Little has changed except the logos.[/caption]
Unfortunately the Indian political class acts as managers and has been managing the edifice since 1947 waiting for guidance from some mythical power above it. India has been in management mode since 1947. 70 years later it has yet to start governing and take bold decisions, such as a new contract with the people, change of colonial era laws, overhaul of an imperialist constitution, and instil in the army that it is there to protect the borders, not kill Indian citizens etc.
This is the intractable dynamics in which Sikhs and the Indians are locked in. The Sikhs are hoping India will give justice. Individually Indians weep when told about stories, the massacres, the tortures etc, but Indians as the State simply don’t know how to untangle the shackles of colonialism and transfer that empathy with minorities into solutions. Like all such scenarios, in which those in power are powerless, there is recourse to diversion such as calling secessionists as ‘dreaded terrorists’ and blaming others, such as ISI for troubles of India’s own inadequacies.
The Sikhs like some other regional minorities do not expect Congress to address the issues that divide them from the State. Congress after all was the Government that attacked Sri Darbar Sahib. Congress is in fact the penultimate party of WOGS if there is such a creature. Since 1947 it has been managing a failed colonial mission, to change Indians into a poor image of European society.
RSS vision is to make India a Hindu Rahstra.
There was hope when Modi came to power that he will bring in a fresh and bold approach to solving issues such as those of the Sikhs. But his own party has been riddled with conceptual ideologies which have little to do with Indian civilisation. The identity Hindu and the name of the country, Hindustan, was given by Muslim invaders. Both RSS and the BJP have internalised these as missions, to make India a Hindu State and take pride in calling it Hindustan. Pakistani Muslims must be smug that their forefathers gave identity both to the people and the country.
If the Congress is peddling a bastardised ideology developed from nineteenth century European political theories calling it Indian secularism (if ever there was a word more nonsense), the BJP and RSS are hell bent on promoting concepts inherited from radical Islam strongly similar to Hassan al-Banna’s ideas of Muslim Brotherhood packaged in the nomenclature given by Muslim invaders, Hindu and Hindustan.
The trouble is that neither the Sikhs nor the Indians have introspection of their situation. Neither seems to be aware of the time warp they remain in, frozen in 1947. The Indians are caught in a Goldfish bowl, unable to break through it. The Sikhs expect empathy and solutions that the colonial institutional framework of post colonial India is not constructed for, hence unable to deliver.
This is why 34 years after 1984, Sikhs cannot make sense of the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, the extra-judicial executions, the massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and this is also why India has not been able to move an inch forward towards addressing the resentment festering within Sikhs.
Until one or the other side understands the dilemma and weakness of the other and starts to help the other come out if its crises, the Sikhs will continue to be victims of excitable gimmick like rallying calls such as Referendum 2020 and India will continue to make enemies of its own people with the political class acting as managers of an edifice and the Army gingerly killing the very people it is meant to protect. Neither side knows how to move forward.]]>
Four years into the Modi government, and some promises remain unfulfilled. The equalisation of pensions of soldiers of same rank and same length of service, or OROP, remains one, according to a section of ex-servicemen who have been protesting against the NDA government’s version of its own campaign promise. Lokmarg met Major General Satbir Singh, SM (Retd) to find out what these soldiers are so upset about:
Major General Satbir Singh is a disappointed man. But he is far from being dispirited. “We have been betrayed by the Modi government,” the 73-year-old thunders, moustache bristling as his usually gentle voice turbocharges instantly to an intensity that could reverberate across a parade ground.
Or a battlefield.
Because battle has been joined. The motto of the Indian Army’s Artillery arm that the general was commissioned into is ‘Sarvatra Izzat o Iqbal’—Everywhere Honour and Glory. That is the objective.
“We have been thoroughly let down by the people we trusted and supported,” the retired officer reiterates in the office at his home in one of Gurgaon’s tony residential sectors. There’s a heatwave on, and his part of the millennium city is experiencing yet another power cut, but there’s no stifling this man, now the leader of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM).
The general has cause, for he was there, on stage at a massive rally in Rewari with the great challenger Narendra Modi. This was on September 15, 2013. Three hundred thousand ex-servicemen were there too, cheering, as the man who would be Prime Minister promised to sort out their pension mess. OROP—One Rank, One Pension— was the catchword that made it to the headlines and the national consciousness in that campaign.
What is OROP?
OROP means one rank, one pension; it follows from the officially accepted definition, that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in rates of pension to be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
OROP existed since Independence in 1947 till it was ended in 1973 by the Indira Gandhi government.
Ex-servicemen and their kin account for about five crore votes; the Congress-led UPA tried to implement OROP in February 2014 but that went into cold storage as soon as elections were announced in March that year.
In November 2015, when the NDA government released OROP, it fell short of what ex-servicemen had been demanding. According to Maj Gen Singh, the OROP announced by the Modi government is essentially a one-time increase in pension and violates the basic premise of the accepted definition. Besides, he says it has a cascading effect on future pensions and will not do away with the fundamental defect in military pensions.
The anomalies in the Modi government’s OROP are: using 2013, and not 2014, as base year for refixing pensions, the refixing of pensions according to an average figure for rank and service and not the highest, revision of pensions every five years instead of every year, and payment of revised pensions from July 1 2014 instead of April 1 2014.
Almost five years later and four years of Modi government after, there’s been an OROP, but not in the way it was sought, and not in the way it was incorporated into the covenant of achhe din that the Bharatiya Janata Party made again and again with crores of citizens.
What did happen was, first, an inordinate delay in announcement of OROP by the Modi government. The government was sworn in on May 26, 2014 and approved OROP in the budget that followed that July. As late as December that year, Rao Inderjit Singh, junior minister of defence, reiterated the accepted definition of OROP in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha.
Despite this, the government continued hemming and hawing, and ex-servicemen began their protest at Jantar Mantar on June 15, 2015. On August 14, a day before Independence Day, Delhi Police cited security reasons and tried to evict the protesters, including old retirees and ex-servicemen’s widows. The action generated severe criticism from ex-servicemen countrywide, including a letter to the President from four former service chiefs who called it a “dismal spectacle”.
The next day, Modi spoke from Red Fort, saying in his speech that the OROP issue was “pending”.
It still took the government till November that year to implement its OROP scheme that was unacceptable to the retired soldiers — simply because it did not conform with the government’s own stated definition.
“We have been systematically degraded and ill-treated, starting with the action of the Indira Gandhi government in 1973 to drastically reduce pensions of retired soldiers. Since then, the men who have served their country in the best possible way have been given the worst treatment and denigrated vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts who continue to keep their nests well-lined,” says the general.
The movement continued to prick the government. In October last year, there was another attempt to clear the ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar, a National Green Tribunal order prohibiting protests at the monument the pretext this time. Lathis were used freely; many of the women were pushed around. Senior officers like Major General Singh—who called the action a “surgical strike” at the time— were among those manhandled. In what could have been the ultimate insult to such a proud Sikh, his turban almost got dislodged in the melee unleashed on the peacefully protesting ex-servicemen and their kin.
It’s not just about pensions, the veteran points out. “OROP is only one of our four basic demands. The other three are establishment of a commission for ex-servicemen, creation of options for a second career because soldiers retire much earlier than civilians, and a war memorial at India Gate.”
The OROP protest may have gone missing from the mainstream media and excitement-craving TV channels. But it’s not over. “Our struggle for honour and our rights will continue. If I die, there are others who will step into my place. We have second, third, fourth ranks,” declares Major General Singh, who’s added the recent decision of opening up cantonment roads for civilian transit to his campaign for honour.
Considering the number of ex-servicemen across the country and the local impact they have, these are ominous words indeed for the BJP-led government one year before the next general elections.]]>
When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the 2004 parliamentary polls, I was asked by a TV channel if the party will survive. My reply that it would was not in keeping with the new mood. That footage was not used. The party is thriving today.
To a question posed about the Congress in 2014, my reply was similar. Political parties do not just wither away. Again, the footage was not used. Congress, India’s “grand old party”, in dumps since that debacle, is picking up pace, at last. On November 19 and 20, it sought to pick up pieces from its past and to move ahead with hope. A day after the birth centenary of Indira Gandhi passed, ignored by the government and without much commemoration outside of the party, came the announcement that Rahul, her grandson, will soon take over as the Congress President. A period of sluggish uncertainty may end, enabling the party to leap into an uncertain future. Rahul will relieve, substantially if not wholly, his ailing mother Sonia who has led the party for over 19 years, the longest anyone has. The ‘foreigner’ tag will go with Rahul coming in. But the Congress will have to live with the ‘dynasty’ jibes. Rahul will be the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan to head the 132 year old party. It is a paradox that the party needs someone from this family to lead. Difficult to condone it, but given the “crab culture”, anyone else would split it and weaken it further when it is already at its nadir. The existence of many more such families in India’s political firmament can neither be an excuse, nor a justification. It had worked before because a Nehru-Gandhi pulled votes. It worked with Jawaharlal Nehru and his charisma in the decade-plus after the Independence. It worked when Indira gave the right slogans and took actions that were pro-poor and anti-rich. Rajiv, too, gave hope to a young, emerging India. That ability of Sonia and Rahul, notwithstanding the tactical victory of 2004, has been seriously questioned as evident from a string of electoral defeats. Few expected great things from Indira, called “goongi gudiya” (dumb doll) by her detractors, when she became India’s prime minister. But she left behind a legacy, albeit mixed, of an “iron lady” who led the country resolutely through many crises. In this era of populism, it needs noting that if there ever was a populist leader, it was Indira.Now, few expect great things from Rahul, except die-hard Congressmen (and women) who are too used to a Nehru-Gandhi, enough to not even contemplate electing someone from among them.Although Nehru nurtured her into politics, it was Indira who set the trend of family rule, and of working top-down. Despite his halting efforts to democratize the organization, Rahul, himself a product of this process, may try, but is unlikely to undo it. Internal contradictions and a cycle of frequent elections may prevent it. The Gujarat polls campaign has seen Rahul spirited and biting, saying the right things mostly. He projects a ‘soft’ image in the face of Modi-led aggression. Although ‘programmed’ better by his aides, he speaks with spontaneity on substantial issues. After a dozen years of ‘probation’, he has arrived.But that is no guarantee he will defeat Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in their political backyard. Rahul’s leadership and vote-catching capacity will be repeatedly on test in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and other states that will go to the polls next year before the 2019 parliamentary polls. He will have to carry the party deadwood despite his understandable preference for the young. He will need to introduce a measure political and ideological clarity among party-men who are buffeted by the Left-Right-Centre confusion and by advocates of “soft Hindutva” who had misled his father Rajiv. Like Rajiv, Rahul too, lacks political training. To turn to Indira centenary, although Rahul tweeted that his Dadi was his mentor and his inspiration and guide in political work, the party missed the opportunity to unveil the leadership’s vision for a youthful India, especially when Rahul’s elevation, actually a change of designation, is being planned. In ignoring her centenary, like it had done with Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, the Modi Government has been true to its form, minimizing Nehru’s contribution and demonizing Indira as the perpetrator of the 1975 Emergency, and little else.It was left to African leaders at the 2nd New Delhi Summit to recall Nehru’s role in rallying nations emerging from colonialism in the last century. And it was Russia that issued a commemorative stamp to honour Indira. Political and ideological differences are expected in a democracy. But personal hatred seems to have made those suffering from an inferiority complex to ignore Indira’s contribution. Undoubtedly, she left behind a shaky legacy, of personalization of power and diminished institutional capacity. She took many wrong decisions after allowing crises to fester. To name just one, she sent troops into the Golden Temple and eventually, paid with her life. People suffered and this was painfully evident in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Yet, the country cannot ignore her role in ushering the Green Revolution, ending years of abject dependence on imports and when imports could not be afforded, through largesse like food shipments under the American Law PL 480. It paved the way for food sufficiency that India attained in later years. It needs recalling that Indira was the first to talk of Indian pride after initial years of struggle, ending much of that post-colonial sentiment. Under her leadership India decisively won the only war it has in a millennium, liberating Bangladesh and dismembering the inveterate adversary. It was a strategic masterstroke. Pakistan has never been able to recover from that blow. Who can forget that act of defiance, of a rally she addressed at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds while the war was still on? That was a time India invited sympathy from world community. Even as Western governments resented her moves, people in those very countries — the likes of Ted Kennedy, Andres Malraux, Beatles and Yehudi Menuhin — appreciated India’s humanitarian role in sheltering ten million refugees for nearly a year.She organised the nuclear tests in 1974 that earned India much opprobrium, but also grudging respect as an emerging regional power.Even world leaders like Richard Nixon found the hard way that she was not to be trifled with. They got clear message that with her leading India, no overt or covert action could destroy national unity.She was — after Mahatma Gandhi — the greatest mass leader India has seen, criticized by the middle class for her autocratic ways but connecting with the ordinary man and woman on the street or in far-flung villages in a way that no one has since, including the current Prime Minister. Late journalist-analyst Inder Malhotra listed two attributes that make her stand out among those who have ruled India since the 1960s. “One was her absolute refusal to compromise with India’s sovereignty, unity, supreme interests, honour and autonomy; the other, her matchless empathy with the poor. Whatever one might say about her radical rhetoric, the poor always believed that she cared.“She was truly a pan-Indian leader, drawing her strength from all communities.”
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