Posts Tagged ‘Gujarat’

Should Indian TV introduce ‘equal coverage’?

31 October 2013

modibse

The relationship between Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and the media, especially “English maedia” as he puts it, has followed two distinct trends over the last ten years.

The first trend was of unbridled distrust on either side. Modi had nothing but contempt for those who sought to buttonhole him on the ghastly incidents of 2002. He walked out of TV interviews or stared blankly at interviewers who reminded him of his role, if any. Ours was not to question.

The media, not surprisingly, responded with circumspection bordering on suspicion.

The second trend emerged in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat, which Modi used as his launchpad, first to become the chairman of the BJP campaign committee and thereafter as the BJP’s self-proclaimed “prime ministerial candidate”. Suddenly, influential sections of the media were eating out of his hands.

International news agencies were getting soft-ball interviews, top journalists were asking if there was a middle-ground; media groups with corporate backing host tailor-made conferences; friendly newspapers were getting 16-page advertising supplements; “bureau chiefs” were finding stories that showed Modi’s detractors in poor light.

Why, the coverage of Modi seems to have been a key editorial driver in the recent change of guard at The Hindu, and—pinch yourself—Modi was launching an edition of Hindu Business Line.

The key player in the turnaround of the Modi-media relationship, however, has been television, which has unabashedly been used and turned into a soapbox for advertising the latest detergent from the land of Nirma that promises to wipe Indian democracy clean.

To the exclusion of all else.

As Modi—decidedly more macho, muscular, articulate and telegenic than the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi—drives his brandwagon around the country, most news TV channels have dropped any pretence of trying to stay non-partisan, covering every speech or parts of it, conducting opinion polls, setting up nightly contests, etc, as if the end of the world is nigh.

All this, of course, is before the Election Commission’s model code kicks in.

In the Indian Express, Shailaja Bajpai asks an important question: has the time has come to consider “equal coverage”—where all players, not just Modi and Rahul but even leaders of smaller parties get equal space and time—so that the field is not unduly distorted?

“Countries such as the United States try to follow the idea of equal coverage especially in the run-up to an election — and especially after a politician is declared as the official candidate, as Modi has been.

“Recently, the Republicans threatened that TV channels, NBC and CNN, would not be allowed to telecast the party’s next presidential debates because NBC had planned a TV series and CNN a documentary about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Indian news channels don’t let minor matters like equality trouble them. They’re obsessed with the man, to the point that Modi-fixation has become a clinical condition which may soon require treatment.”

Read the full story: The chosen one

Photograph: courtesy NewsX

Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective  TRP

POLL: Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi in 2014?

21 January 2013

The contours of the next general election are becoming ever more clearer with the expected “elevation” of Rahul Gandhi as the vice-president of the Congress. Given the repeated rumours on the state of Sonia Gandhi‘s health and her reported desire to retire from politics at the age of 70, it is obvious the leadership of the 130-year-old Congress party has passed on to a fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

But Rahul Gandhi is no Rajiv Gandhi. His father was 40 when he became PM, Rahul is 42. His father was thrown into the deep end all of a sudden, Rahul has been around for several years. And more tellingly, despite his travels across the country and his exertions in several election campaigns, Rahul Gandhi has not quite been the vote-magnet that Congressmen suspected he would be, having lost Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

But all that is in the past tense now. As the new, official No.2, the silence that Rahul Gandhi adopted as part of his mystique (he has only barely attended Parliament and spoken even more rarely on the issues of the day)—and the reluctance that he conveyed through his swift disappearances after parachuting into the rough and tumble, allowing lesser mortals to face the flak for his failed experiments—is no longer a luxury he owns.

For politics is a game played with a scoreboard, and push has come to shove for the scam, scandal tainted party that is facing diminishing returns across the country despite a slew of well-meaning social welfare schemes designed to fetch votes by the bucket.

Although the BJP is in no better shape, the word on the street is that Rahul Gandhi’s elevation will serve as an impetus for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to assume a bigger, larger role in the BJP before the next general elections. With his hat-trick of wins in the State and with his advertised record as an administrator, Modi has a headstart over Rahul Gandhi, nearly 20 years his junior.

Indeed paradoxically, Modi, 62, is seen as more of a youth icon than Rahul Gandhi, who was missing in action when, say, the Delhi gangrape was scorching the party or when Google, Facebook and Twitter were being clogged up by the Oxford and Harvard educated geniuses in Manmohan Singh‘s government.

However, elections in India is not a zero-sum game.

So, given all the imponderables that swing into play—caste, allies, secularism, communalism, etc—who do you think will come up trumps if it is Modi vs Gandhi in 2014? Does Rahul, who has the Gandhi surname, have the pan-national appeal that goes beyond the urban middle-classes? Which of the two could garner more allies, so crucial in a coalition era? Which alliance will triumph—UPA or NDA?

Also read: What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul baba is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

CHURUMURI POLL: How many seats for Mr Modi?

3 December 2012

If elections were just a bunch of opinion polls and television shows and magazine covers and advertisements and 3D shows, it would seem as if Narendra Modi has already won the Gujarat assembly elections and the Congress and the other opposition are only there to help him do so—although polling begins only after ten days from now.

In a house of 182, the ABP News-AC Nielsen poll gives the Gujarat chief minister 124 seats, up seven from the current tally of 117; the Congress 51.  The India TV-C-voter poll gives 120 seats; the Congress 55. The India-Today-ORG poll predicts a landslide. The CNN-IBN Hindustan Times poll says he is urban India’s most preferred choice to be PM. Etcetera.

In the face of such drum-beating about Brand Modi and Vibrant Gujarat, and against the backdrop of constant invocations of development and growth, key issues that help a voter make up her mind have been swept under the carpet. There is no talk of the three-cornered contest, even less of education, poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, pollution, law and order, etc—all very live factors in Gujarat as in other parts of the country.

Nonetheless, who are we to poop such a party? So here’s a simple question: how many seats do you think Narendra Modi and the BJP will walk away with?

‘Yediyurappa, not BJP, in power in Karnataka’

20 July 2011

The Bharatiya Janata Party increasingly resembles a franchisee operation like Nirula’s or McDonald’s. Its flag flies high in a number of States, but each of its regional satraps—be it Narendra Damodardas Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh or Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh—scripts his own story.

Prof Narendar Pani of the national institute of advanced studies (NIAS), Bangalore, extends the argument to Karnataka, in Mail Today:

“When the BJP formed its first government in Karnataka it was seen as a victory of the party’s ideology and the first step in a deep ideological push into the South. Halfway through its term that beginning seems a distant memory. The State government is in the news more for stories of corruption and defections rather than anything more positive.

“While this could be dismissed as a part of the preoccupations of the media, it is difficult to miss the defensiveness on the part of the party’s usually aggressive national spokespersons when talking of the Karnataka government. And, what is even more significant, the national leadership of the party appears to be unable to do very much about it. What began as a BJP government has somewhere along the way been turned into a Yediyurappa government.

“This apparently incomprehensible transformation may well have a very simple explanation. If we look at what has happened in Karnataka from the perspective of local grassroots politics, rather than national ideological concerns, it does seem that the BJP and others in Delhi may have exaggerated the ideological content of their electoral victory in the State.”

Also read: ‘How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of the South’

‘Sushma Swaraj’s better bet than Narendra Modi’

2 November 2009

Professor Dipankar Gupta, a former profesor of sociology, currently fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum, in conversation with Sheela Bhatt of rediff.com:

Sheela Bhatt: One columnist wrote that the 2009 general elections was the ‘semi-final round’ and Narendra Modi has been knocked out. Do you agree?

Dipankar Gupta: Some people are good at the regional level and some at the national level. He has done well at the regional level not because of the BJP, nor because of its ideology. What he has done is maintain Gujarat’s position as the top economic state. It was not he who put it at the top. The state has always been ahead. Modi didn’t let it slip from its position. He inherited a functioning, economically prosperous state. Gujarat was at number three and is still there.

Narendra Modi has cleverly given Gujaratis the impression that the Centre is against Gujarat and he is fighting for Gujarat. He says we pay so much tax but what do we get back? You might remember in the 1970s Jyoti Basu played the same card effectively. He said Bengal is undermined by the Centre. For 10 years he did very well on that point.

In Gujarat, Modi’s winning card was that the ‘Centre is not looking after us.’ Outside Gujarat Modi was not a crowd puller. North Indians were not impressed as much as the Gujaratis. Modi’s identity as a Gujarati is very strong. He will remain in Gujarat. He will have a strong role to play within his party and will become the BJP’s longest surviving chief minister.

I think the BJP and he himself has realised his limits. On a national scale you need to have a national presence. Vajpayee and Advani had it, but Modi is too much of a Gujarati.

Sushma Swaraj is a strong candidate, she is difficult to handle and is much tougher to fight than Modi because she is a woman. She is articulate and has an all-India image. Arun Jaitley does not have that image yet. He is still very much an organisation man.

If you are talking in terms of going out and fighting an election I think Sushma Swaraj is a better bet than Narendra Modi.”

Read the full interview: ‘Sushma Swaraj is a better bet than Modi’

Also read: ‘Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi

A single shoe is mightier than a pen and a sword

9 April 2009

unni-9-4-09

Nothing captures the Indian political sitcom/tragicomedy of tu-tu-main-main better than a strong political cartoon, and nobody does it better than E.P. Unny day after day in The Indian Express.

Indira Gandhi‘s killers were hanged inside four years of her assassination, but the killers who killed in her name were roaming around free for 25 years, fighting (and winning) elections in a serious disadvertisement to the “wisdom of the voter”, and the wisdom of the “majority”, in whose name a million crimes are committed.

Jagdish Tytler has now pulled out of the race for the Lok Sabha elections, giving the single shoe of the journalist who flung it at home minister P. Chidambaram an unheard-of power.

Who will throw the shoe at the televised perpetrators of Gujarat?

Or the televised hate-mongers of Pilibhit (and countless other places)?

Or the televised killers of Nandigram (and countless other places)?

‘Godse’s way of thinking is alive and influential’

31 October 2008

The following is the full, unexpurgated text of the convocation address made by the Kannada literatteur Prof U.R. Anantha Murthy at the Jamia Milia Islamia on Thursday, 30 October 2008:

***

Dear Chancellor, Vice-chancellor, Deans of faculties, Teachers and Students,

When I say it is an honour for me to be the chief guest in this convocation of Jamia Milia Islamia, it is not a formal statement prefacing all such addresses. I mean it because in these difficult times for most of us, the vice-chancellor of this great University has shown the courage to act properly, and humanely that would have been the correct action by a head of an institution in normal times. But the hysterical attack on him by his critics prompts me to say that he has defended the ideals that our Constitution upholds and nothing more.

Nobody who is sane can defend the terrorists.

Let us not forget that Gandhiji was killed because he was perceived to be a friend of the Muslims, and an enemy of the Hindus while he strived against the violent actions of both Hindus and Muslims, and fasted to make his own disciples in power to give to Pakistan what was its due, legally.

The stridency with which some top political leaders speak now a days makes one feel that Nathuram Godse‘s way of thinking is yet alive and influential in our country. We want not only the terrorists to be punished for their inhumanity, but the political and cultural malaise that gives succour to terrorism to end.

***

I studied in the great Maharaja’s college of Mysore University which had a British principal. This living legend who was opposed to the Quit India movement, did not allow the police to raid the College without his permission.  That was the story handed down by generations of students. In his eyes, the “erring” students were under his care. He was of the opinion that all students were under the care of the head of the University, and s/he must play the role of a parent.

I cannot make this point better than my friend and fellow writer Mukul Kesavan:

I have a son who, in less than two years, will go to university. If, god forbid, he finds himself in police remand for whatever reason (murder, armed robbery, menacing the faculty, fraud), I’d want his University to behave as if it were acting in my place, in loco parentis. I would expect the proctor of the University to liaise with the station house officer to make sure that such rights of visitation as he might have in that ghastly circumstance were given him, to hire a lawyer to see if he could be released on bail, and if the nature of the alleged offence didn’t allow that, to try to have him transferred to judicial custody.

Police remand is a dreadful form of imprisonment in India; unlike judicial custody where the procedural restraints of prison manuals apply, the police in their station-house lockups have a free hand in working suspects over. Any university that washes its hands of its students the moment they are arrested by the police because it doesn’t want to be associated with notoriety or (as in this case) the taint of terrorism is a cringing and wretched institution undeserving of a citizen’s respect or a parent’s trust.”

Prof. Mushirul Hasan, as vice-chancellor, has stood by the traditions of this great University. The founding fathers of this institution were inspired not only by the anti-colonial Islamic activism of Khilafat, but some of them belonged to the politically radical section of Western educated Indian Muslim intelligentsia.

It is important for me that both Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, who were skeptical of the European ideal of a strong, centralized nation-state, built on the notion of  ‘one language, one religion, one race’, imagined India as a great civilization of multiple cultures and religions and yet united in an advaitic sense: they blessed this institution.

Let me quote again Mukul Kesavan to make clear what is at stake in our times now:

When people, policemen and political parties buy into the narrative of a priori Muslim guilt, they run the risk of turning this remarkable republic into an ordinary, ugly, majoritarian State.”

I know how some of my Muslims friends have begun to feel these days. The media is largely responsible for this.

When any arrest is made for suspected terrorism, you invariably hear a Muslim name. Then you are told that the arrested have confessed.

Who will not confess under police torture?

I do not know if I would not confess to acts that I am not guilty of if I am subjected to physical and mental torture. This so-called “confession” is not valid evidence, however, in a court. By the time we learn that the arrested person is not guilty, the damage has been done.

It is an assault on our psyche to be informed everyday that a Muslim has been caught by the police or killed in an ‘encounter’. We never know whether the encounter could have been avoided. How can the dead speak of what really took place? There is a constitutional guarantee that every ‘encounter’ killing is homicide unless proved otherwise through an impartial and transparent enquiry.

Our nation-state does not seem to take this provision seriously for everything is okay if you can generate a mass hysteria.

In my state of Karnataka, I now hear everyday that the “master-mind” of the terror attacks has been caught. If we doubt the authenticity of the story we are considered unpatriotic and anti-national. This surely is the beginning of fascism.

As a citizen I want to ask this question: Why should the media give out names of all the arrested under suspicion before they are proved to be guilty? Some restraint is necessary in a civil society, for, even after they are cleared of their guilt, the damage is done. Many like me have begun to feel that we are living in a nightmarish Kafkaesque world.

The whole nation seems to be neurotic.

The rulers have to prove that they are efficient and therefore I have a suspicion that they randomly pick someone to create an illusion of safety among the citizens. (Any party in power or in opposition desiring to capture power has the next election in view.)

This feeling “safe and secure” is also a momentary illusion, for, tomorrow you hear again of some terrorist attack and of more Muslim names getting arrested. We are also shown on TV channels dangerous explosive material supposed to be in their possession for bomb making.

Do we believe in the much-hyped “Breaking News” of the TV channels? Yes and No. Feeling torn between belief and suspicion, even as one recognizes their need to sensationalize and closely compete for TRP ratings, is itself a mental harassment for common citizens like me.

Don’t we have children whom we want to return safely from school?

The harassed police are also under pressure from their nervous political bosses to find the guilty as quickly as they can. The inhuman terrorists, who abuse the word ‘Islam’, also know how poor the intelligence network in the country is; and the State seems to be serving their interest in arresting anybody who has a Muslim name, for, the terrorists hope to demoralize the rest of the Muslim community in the hope that they would join them, or at least sympathize with them. They carry such attacks in a Muslim country like Pakistan too. This is the story of powerful Bhasmasura, who tries to destroy his creator. This is true of the policy pursued by the USA for hegemony in the world; they have to now suffer for their karma.

The minorities are thus alienated from the mainstream of our nation.

If you are a Muslim you can hardly get a rented house in a decent middle-class locality in the IT city of Bangalore. On learning the name, they are politely told that the house has already been taken.

With the elections round the corner, Hindu rioters—a safe word for the Hindu communalists to mark their difference from Islamic fundamentalists—are attacking churches.

In a Kannada newspaper, one with the largest circulation and owned by a prominent Indian newspaper group, published a few days ago an irrational and abusive article on the evil designs of Christians to annihilate the Hindu religion, which had the full support of their leader Sonia Gandhi. The article was right in the front page, which continued in the inner pages. The excuse was that by publishing the article the issue of conversion had been opened for impartial debate. Some months ago, the same paper conducted an SMS campaign against me for criticizing a communally poisonous novel against Islam by this very author, who has now launched himself against the Christians.

(more…)

A Durga Pooja gift from the East to the West

8 October 2008

Ashok Desai in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The relocation of the Nano plant to Gujarat was not the doing of Gujaratis; it was the government of Narendra Modi that was responsible. And whatever its politics, it is a government that works with dispatch and without hitches.

“Modi is careful about the use of his time. The hangers-on that are characteristic of chief ministers are entirely absent in his case. He spends far more time than they on administration, and much of it on making decisions and pushing people to act.

“A chief minister who rewards action creates administrators around him who act quickly; and Modi’s habit of ringing up people responsible without bothering about chains of command and seniority wakes up civil servants all the way down.

“This style is Modi’s own, and may not survive his passing. And even he has been so effective because he has tamed his party and vanquished his competitors; this is not the natural state of a party in India. Nor should the context be forgotten: he rules over a people who stick to their own practical affairs and shun public demonstration.

“He is a ruthless man, and his prejudices are certainly not such as would serve the country well. But he has shown what even a politician can achieve in this country; as he said, taking Nano to Gujarat is only a small part of it.”

Read the full article: What Modi has shown

If there’s poetic justice, it is here, it is here

7 October 2008

Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat sent Qutubuddin Ansari to West Bengal. How ironic that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should return the favour with the Tata Nano.

How ironic that BJP ruled Gujarat should quietly trump BJP-ruled Karnataka in the race for the plant while B.S. Yediyurappa and team (and Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy and Vilas Rao Deshmukh) were running all over the place.

And how ironic that the plant which ran into trouble over 400 acres of agricultural land in Singur should now be located on 1,000 acres of land donated by the Anand agricultural university in Sanand.

And how might it further add to the halo around Modi’s “leadership”?

Illustration: courtesy Surendra in The Hindu

‘Bomb blasts are now doing what riots used to’

2 October 2008

AMARESH MISRA writes from Bombay: The recent series of bomb blasts that have rocked India—a series which has become a proverbial dark tunnel where no end is in sight—denote a new pattern.

Till now communal riots were engineered by communal forces and the fascist part of the Indian state machinery to polarize society. This trend reached its apogee in the Gujarat 2002 riots.

The communal forces both inside and outside the Indian State machinery learnt some important lessons from Gujarat; chiefly that in this time and space, in the 21st century, it is very difficult to get away with organized pogroms. Ultimately you have to pay a political price which the BJP did in the 2004 elections.

The communal forces then conjured a new phenomenon: why not start engineering bombs first in Hindu dominated areas, and then in Muslim areas?

The trend began with the July 2006 Bombay serial train blasts in “Gujarati Hindu dominated” first-class compartments of the Bombay local train service; soon there were blasts in Muslim areas of Malegaon and Hyderbad.

In 2008, with elections just around the corner in April-May 2009, and the BJP getting relegated to the third position in electoral calculations in the post-nuclear deal vote phase, the bomb blast phenomenon has become endemic.

From July 2008 at the time of writing this piece here have been several blasts—in the past week, blasts have occurred almost daily.

One thing is clear: it is not that bomb blasts are being engineered to create communal riots. That (communal riots following bomb blasts) simply has not happened. The new mantra seems to be of bomb blasts replacing communal riots. This means that if in the past riots were engineered to create communal polarization the same kind of polarization is being sought to be created by engineering bomb blasts.

So the pattern: four blasts in a Hindu dominated area; then one or two in a Muslim dominated area. So Malegaon and Modesa after Bangalore, Ahmedabad and the two blasts in Delhi.

This is a foreign pattern for even Indian communal forces; this trend has been seen in areas where Mossad and CIA operate; a similar/exact phenomenon was seen in Lebanon where Beirut, a beautiful and cosmopolitan Asiatic city was turned into an arena of sectarian Muslim-Christian conflict with bomb blasts being engineered every day in respective Muslim-Christian areas, something which now even Hollywood films (see Spy Game) admit as a CIA ploy to destroy Lebanon.

The post-American invasion Iraq situation too sees a similar thing—of sectarian Shia-Sunni violence being generated by the bomb blast phenomenon, engineered by the CIA, private US mercenary firms like Blackwater and the US forces.

A third region is Pakistan where too blasts take place respectively, in Shia or Sunni, Sindhi or Mohajir, NWFP or Punjabi or Baluchi areas alternately and with regularity. Here the western game is clear: America and Israel have been working for decades to dismember Pakistan and control its nuclear arsenal.

India was spared of this ordeal till 1991 as Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and even Rajiv Gandhi, did not allow Mossad-CIA penetration.

Before liberalization during Narsimha Rao‘s regime, Indian passport holders could not travel to two places: Israel and South Africa. India was at the forefront of the International crusade against apartheid and the denial of a homeland for Palestinians.

Why is it that after liberalization, which was initiated soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, India recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations, and then the Babri Masjid demolition incident occurred?

So three things are related: liberalization of the Indian economy, the change in Indian foreign policy from an anti-imperialist, pro-Third World position to a pro-American, pro-Israel stance, and the increasing persecution of Muslims, in an institutionalized form.

See that these three developments occur side by side, and now in 2008 we see India being turned into another Lebanon.

The biggest delusion of the RSS-BJP is that by blaming organizations like SIMI or Muslim “terrorists” for the recent blasts they are doing some service to the nation. On the contrary, by not exposing the foreign Mossad-CIA hand, they are going against the interests of India.

Why did the BJP-RSS not cry foul over the flight of Ken Haywood from India after the email sent by the so-called “Indian Mujahideen” group was traced to his computer in New Bombay?

Why was there no demand for a probe into the role of this dubious American national with shady evangelical, anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim connections in America? These connections can be seen by clicking on links like this, this or this or this, or even this or this.

Let this be very clear and sound today, supporting the persecution and the arrest and the torture of thousands of Muslim youth, is tantamount to being anti-national.

Today being anti-Muslim is tantamount to being anti-national.

What India needs today are not just protests. We need a special prevention of atrocities against minorities Act, something which makes refusal of housing and flats to minorities, refusal by a police officer to register a FIR by minorities, or to act in their protection, failure of a district magistrate or a senior superintendent of the police to prevent a riot or a bomb blast, the picking up of Muslims and other minorities without a formal charge, the very idea of detention of Muslim youths after blasts, or encounter killings, the calling of Muslms by the name Laandiya or Katua, a stringent crime with due punishment.

India already has a prevention of violence/atrocities against Scheduled castes act; it is a crime to call a Dalit a chamar; or not to register his or hers FIR. Why can’t a similar act, be enacted for the minorities?

In India the so-called war against terror, against SIMI or the Indian Mujahideen is a fictitious, bogus war. The recent bomb blasts were engineered by security forces, and foreign agencies and RSS-Bajrang Dal.

The real war is against Muslim/minority persecution, the appropriate response to Batla House type fake encounter killing, and the extension of civil liberties guaranteed in the Indian constitution.

See the history of nations:

In America and Europe mere constitutional guarantees were not enough. Specific new laws had to be enacted from time to time to abolish slavery, protect minorities, and end persecution, segregation and racism.

America passed through its civil rights moment in the 1960s. India has to confront its own civil rights moment now. There is a simple message to Indian liberals. Either support the demand for a special civil rights act for minorities or perish. For, soon the fascist forces persecuting Muslims will turn against you.

If there is a civil war in India on this issue, so be the case; in any case with direct American intervention in Pakistan, conflict between America and India is very near. Liberals do not understand this but the Indian army does. So there is bound to be a double civil war in India. One against foreign intervention in the Indian sub-continent and the other against anti-national fascist forces.

(Amaresh Misra is the author of Mangal Pandey: The true story of an Indian revolutionary (Rupa); Lucknow: Fire of grace (HarperCollins), and more recently War of Civilizations: India, South Asia, Europe and the World)

Also read: When my conspiracy theory is better than yours

‘Sangh Parivar is destroying Hindu civilisation’

17 September 2008

By U.R. ANANTHA MURTHY

What has happened in Dakshina Kannada is a shame.

The Christians in the past had made contribution to the development of modern Kannada. Rev Kittel who composed the first Kannada dictionary was one of our revered ancestors. The Christians continue to run hospital and schools. Most of the gentle and caring nurses in hospitals are Christians.

What is happening now is a cynical move on the part of the government in power. Our Chief Minister had said that he would make Karnataka another Gujarat. His ideal seems to be Narendra Modi, for B.S. Yediyurappa, once a leader of poor peasants in my home district Shimoga, now speaks of Modi-style development.

The BJP knows that they can’t get the Christian minority votes in Mangalore and Udupi, as they are traditional supporters of the Congress. By attacking Christians now they can make a solid Hindu vote bank. This is most cynical.

Raising the question of ‘forced conversions’ for justifying the attacks on Christians is irresponsible on the part of a government which should protect law and order.

Who converts to Christianity?

Mostly those who come from low castes and feel ashamed to reveal who they are and what caste they belong to. Christianity gives them a respectable identity and they may be tempted also with jobs and money.

If we had a great saint like Narayana Guru of Kerala born into a low caste who took to reforming the decadent Hindu society, there would have been no room for Christians to convert low-born Hindus. Narayana Guru was an advaitin, perhaps the greatest advaitin after Adi Shankaracharya.

Attacking people who are praying to whatever God is the most irreligious act on the part of Hindus.

The Sangh Parivar is destroying Hindu civilization.

The way out now is for civilian society to raise its voice. The police are under the BJP government which seems to have turned a blind eye. It may not be openly supporting the attacks of the Sangh Parivar but there seems to be a tacit understanding between the two.

The Gujarat drama of violence is being reenacted here.

As a Kannada writer I feel ashamed and angry and feel helpless too.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Also read: ‘Bajrang Dal doesn’t belong in Mangalore’

‘Is saving souls a good way of saving democracy?’

Why the US is right to deny Narendra Modi a visa

1 September 2008

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Waking up at five, switching on the computer, making myself a cup of coffee, and checking mails (and what the world has been upto) has become a daily, early-morning routine for me, before the kids wake up.

This morning, I did all that. But I also whistled silently when I came across E.R. Ramachandran‘s irony-filled piece on the denial of a US visa to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi: “Do only Gujaratis have asmita? Don’t we Indians?

Ah, an individual’s travel hassles wrapped in the tricolour. Sounds suspiciously familiar, I thought to myself.

Then, as the caffeine kicked in, I pondered the irony in Mr Ramachandran’s defence. The BJP has said “nobody was dying to go to the United States” and “nobody was looking for a certificate from it”. So, why this spirited defence on churumuri.com?

To turn the question around, if the BJP itself doesn’t have asmita about the denial of visa, why should we Indians?

But there was far greater irony in lawyer-cum-BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad‘s revealing defence. He says the US gives visas to dictators, fascists, murderers etc, but a “democratically elected leader of a federal state of India” was being denied the same.

Mr Prasad doesn’t tell us, nor does the author, that the same Narendra Modi employed an image management firm that polishes the images of dictators, fascists, murderers etc to buff up his image for the 2007 Gujarat elections, with the express intention of gaining a US visa.

If you can put that lapse down to poor memory, what if the United States had relented and given Modi a visa? Would Prasad still be saying that thing about the United States giving visas to “dictators, fascists, murderers etc,”?

You may call it a counterfactual question; the psychologists call it a Freudian slip.

Like all things with the BJP today, the ultimate irony was the contorted bid to twist and turn the facts to paint the issue as part of some vast anti-Hindu, anti-BJP, anti-Indian conspiracy. Mr Ramachandran says it “appears” as if the Congres-led UPA government is “happy” at the visa denial.

“Appears”?

To whom?

Secondly, he claims, the government isn’t asking questions?

Excuse me.

When Modi’s visa was revoked in 2005, the Congress-led UPA government had “lodged a strong protest“, called it “uncalled-for”, and said it displayed “lack of courtesy” to an elected leader. The Congress leader of the opposition in Gujarat had termed the decision unfair.

Well, it “appears” to me that it has done so this time too, because as Mr Ramachandran points out, nobody’s hands are clean and some Congress (and Shiv Sena, RJD, NCP, CPM, DMK, SP, etc) men and women with blood on their hands may have to travel abroad too.

What more should the government of the day be doing? Sit on a fast-unto-death outside the US consulate on Warden Road?

Then again, surely, the granting of a visa is a “sovereign right of any State”?

But the mother of all ironies is the sight of an ordinary citizen batting for an extraordinary leader—a 56-inch barrel chested man who thumps his “chhappan ki chaati“—when it should be the other way round.

# Hundreds of young, intelligent, ambitious, hard-working young men and women are denied a visa by the United States (and other countries) to study and work for the flimsiest of reasons.

# Hundreds of elderly men and women are denied a visa by the United States (and other countries) to join their children and kin for physical, moral and emotional support.

# Hundreds of adult men and women are denied a visa by the United States (and several other countries) despite a spotless record in life and their careers.

Where is our moral outrage at the discourtesy to our countrymen and women, all legal citizens of the “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” of India with passports issued under the seal of the President of India?

Why, suddenly, does our heart beat for someone whose partymen (and affiliates) stopped the heartbeats in several hundred men, women and children, some unborn, because somebody, somewhere decreed that the action in Godhra deserved an equal and opposite reaction in the rest of Gujarat?

(more…)

CHURUMURI POLL: Is an ‘economic blockade’ OK?

11 August 2008

A common feature of post-Godhra Gujarat and the Amarnath shrine row are whispers of an “economic blockade” of Muslims by Hindus.

In Gujarat, it was reported that pamphlets were distributed urging “all Hindus to boycott the entire Muslim population in all possible ways including not hiring them or working for them in their establishments, not buying from or selling to them, and even not watching films in which Muslim actors/actresses worked”. Recipients of the unsigned pamphlets were asked to distribute it to ten more Hindus.

A similar situation is being played out in Jammu, where fruit traders in the Kashmir valley are allegedly not being allowed to transport their produce to the rest of the nation, through Jammu. There is talk of a shortage of drugs, baby powder, and other essential supplies. The implication again is that Hindu-majority Jammu is seeking to starve Muslim-majority Kashmir to have its way. It’s a charge the BJP has taken upon itself to deny, calling it a “myth” concocted by separatists”.

Questions: Is an “economic blockade” a legitimate way of “teaching a lesson”? If terror-mongers (in Gujarat) and separatists (in Kashmir) are the target of the blockade, should ordinary Gujarati Muslims and Kashmiri Muslims be made unwitting targets? Is an “economic blockade” likely to show “them” where to get off, or is it only likely to further accentuate tensions and harden feelings for generations? Is an “economic blockade” likely to drive Kashmiris closer towards Pakistan?

Also read: ‘Economic blockade can rebound’

‘All politics, no blockade’

When my conspiracy theory is better than yours

2 August 2008

AMARESH MISRA writes from Bombay: The Ahmedabad blasts mark a turning point in Indian political life. Till now, whenever and wherever a blast occurred, the blame was put squarely on Muslim terrorist organizations; there was unanimity amongst all major Indian political parties, whether in power or sitting in the opposition, over the central role played by Muslim extremist outfits in planning and executing lethal bomb blasts.

The situation was such that after every blast no matter if they happened to occur in Muslim areas, Muslim youths in their hundreds were picked up by the various State Police departments of the Indian Union.

After the 11th July 2006 Bombay blasts, hundreds of Muslims youths, most of them found innocent by the Mumbai Police later, were not only arrested without warrants but tortured as well. Similar was the case after terrorist attacks in Uttar Pradesh, the Malegaon and the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts. 

After each blast some obscure, new terrorist organization, which was never heard of before, and which was usually never heard of after as well, popped up to claim “responsibility” for the violence. After the recent Ahmedabad blasts, too, the name of never heard of before “Indian Mujahideen” group popped up; the pattern was sickeningly similar and every secular indeed Indian feared for Muslim youths in Gujarat.

But suddenly, things started changing—the familiar pattern was disturbed; the UPA Government at the Centre appeared reluctant to toe the Gujarat BJP’s Government line about the involvement of a Muslim organization executing the Ahmedabad blasts. Bombs started appearing in Surat and elsewhere in Gujarat—the police was conveniently informed about them before they could explode.

Then came the bombshell: BJP—the party which had always been the most strident about blaming “Islamic terrorism” for the blasts, the party which was in forefront of open Muslim persecution, the party which always demanded the most strict measures against not only terrorist organizations but often Muslims as a community, the party which advocated revoking draconian black acts like TADA and POTA, which suspended civil liberties and put Muslims in a dock—that party went on record to state that the Congress-UPA Government at the Centre planned and executed and blasts in order to divert attention from the “cash for votes” scandal following the confidence vote in the Indian Parliament over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The allegation is shocking all the more since the BJP is a known Muslim baiter—in the past, it has not only refused to listen to reason that how could a new Muslim organization pop up every time after each blast, but it has also been consistent in standing firm with Indian security agencies, however absurd their version might be on the arrest and torture of Muslim youths.

In fact, in several cases, especially the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, the terrorist attack on the Red Fort, and the 11th July 2006 Bombay blasts, the BJP appeared to have advance knowledge of the events.

Then in other cases, most famously in the Nanded blasts at Bajrang Dal Headquarters,  bomb attacks in Vashi and Thane, Hindu terrorist outfits were found by the police to have been involved in executing blasts. Most of these organizations were affiliated to the BJP-RSS combine.

The attack on RSS Headquarters in Nagpur turned out to be a hoax, a set-up where attacking terrorists, officially shot down by the Nagpur Police in an encounter, were found to be victims of “encounter deaths”, about which even the Nagpur police was clueless. In Tamil Nadu, members of the Hindu Munaani, affiliated to the RSS have been charge-sheeted officially by the Tamil Nadu Police for planning the terrorist attack on RSS’s Madras headquarters.

Thus, accusations that blamed the BJP for organizing both the Bangalore and the Ahmedabad blasts for political mileage after the formation of the Mayawati-Left alliance threatened their 2009 electoral fortunes, carried credibility.

In the past the BJP brushed these allegations off by blaming secular and “pro-Muslim” forces of planting “conspiracy theories”. Now in the post-Ahmedabad blast phase, the BJP itself is constructing a conspiracy theory, blaming the Congress Government for facilitating the attack! Has anyone ever heard of anything like this before?

For the first time in recent Indian history, the glare of terrorism, has shifted from Muslims; by accusing each other, both the Congress and the BJP are in a way promoting conspiracy theories; both these parties are also going out of their way to say that the attacks happened as part of a plan to shift focus away from a political objective.

Now, Left and other secular forces have been saying time and time again that a deeper enquiry has to be conducted into the nature and pattern of Indian bomb blasts; that it is insufficient to blame Muslim extremist organizations; that the angle whether Hindu fundamentalist organizations or rogue and communal elements in various State and Central agencies might be involved in the blasts, should also be probed: subtle hints have been given out about the hand of foreign agencies as well; in a country which has seen the assassinations of two Prime Ministers in which the hand of foreign agencies is still suspected; where one of those Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi) went on record blaming CIA for conducting covert-subversive activities in India; in that country the possibility that a conspiracy exists first, to carry out bomb blasts and terrorist attacks by some forces or an alliance of forces—and then make Muslims a scapegoat—at the top—both within and outside India—cannot be discounted. 

But in the past, the Left and secular forces making these points have been laughed at; now, after the BJP accusations, these very forces stand vindicated.

The issue is not whether the BJP charge is true or false; the issue is that a mainstream political party, a known anti-Muslim force is blaming not Muslims but the Government of India; this is the time when all persecuted Muslims and secular elements ought to stand up and demand justice for injustices committed in the past; the fracas over the Ahmedabad blasts between two main Indian political parties reveal that there indeed is a big conspiracy—involving the BJP, Congress and even some elements of the Samajwadi Party at various levels—often in collusion but opposition as well—behind bomb blasts that keep happening in India.

If secular elements miss this moment, in which there seems to be a momentary collapse of the subtle understanding between the BJP and the Congress over the Muslim persecution issue, then another similar opportunity might not come by for some time.

(Amaresh Misra is the author of Author of Mangal Pandey: The true story of an Indian revolutionary (Rupa); Lucknow: Fire of grace (HarperCollins)and more recently War of Civilizations: India, South Asia, Europe and the World)

Also read: Can not reviewing a book become anti-national?

‘If a journalist cannot write, then who else will?’

2 July 2008

A two-judge vacation bench of the Supreme Court of India has restrained the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat from arresting sociologist Ashis Nandy, for an opinion piece titled ‘Blame the middle class’ he wrote in The Times of India in January this year.

Justice Altamas Kabir: “There is no ground for harassing a journalist. Let him live in peace. You [Gujarat] are prosecuting this man for his article. There are worse things happening in this country. If a journalist cannot write then who else will? I have read the article and I find nothing is objectionable. They look for a soft target to catch but not even a single politician or small municipal councillors are caught. He [petitioner] is 71 years old and is a soft target for you…. What is the grievance of the complainant? How does it [article] bother him? Is he a staunch nationalist?”

Justice G.S. Singhvi: “People coming from the land of Mahatma Gandhiji have become so intolerant that they can’t even tolerate an article.”

Also read: “A DISGRACEFUL ASSAULT ON MEDIA FREEDOM’

‘Intimidation won’t help restore Gujarati asmita’

Cross-posted on sans serif

‘NRIs embarrassed by Indians and Hindus in India’

26 June 2008

Ashis Nandy, facing criminal charges for a think-piece he wrote in The Times of India on Gujaratis after the victory of Narendra Modi, tears into non-resident Indians and their support for Hindu nationalist “causes” back home, in an interview with Sheela Reddy of Outlook:

“There is huge support for Modi among First World Gujaratis and that support also often translates into money for Hindu nationalist causes. It is guilt money. The more they and their kids make a beeline for McDonald’s and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), the more they feel that they have to donate for “Hindu” causes.

“Moreover, NRIs are defensive about the status of India in the outside world because that status impinges directly on their self-respect in their adopted country. Indians and the Hindus back in India always seem to embarrass them. They are ever ready to fight to the last Indian in India for the glory of India outside India.”

Read the full interview: ‘Democracy is now psephocracy’

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’

‘Intimidation won’t help restore Gujarati asmita

CHURUMURI POLL: No justice under the BJP?

12 March 2008

First, the Supreme Court shifted the Best Bakery case from Baroda to Bombay after all the 21 accused were acquitted. Then it shifted the Bilkis Bano case because the victim and Central Bureau of Investigation were both apprehensive that witnesses may come under pressure. Last month, the Centre asked the SC to transfer the trial in all the major cases in Gujarat outside the State as, among other reasons, “generally the conduct of the police has been such as not to inspire confidence.” Today, the apex court shifted the Prof Harbhajan Singh Sabharwal murder case (the professor was done to death by activists of the BJP’s students’ wing ABVP after he declared a student election null and void) from Ujjain to Nagpur.

Since the government in power in both States are run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi in Gujarat and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, the decision to shift the cases, opens up a simple question: What does it say about the process of law and order in BJP ruled that cases have to be shifted so often? Is the phenomenon of bringing pressure on the police, prosecution, and witnesses prevalent only in BJP states or is it there in other States too? Does it become a problem for justice to be served only when the majority community is perceived to be at fault? Has the time come for the BJP to introspect? Or is this just another pseudo-secular ruse to discredit the party?

Why Delhi 1984 is not the same as Gujarat 2002

5 January 2008

The Sikh pogrom of 1984 in Delhi with the Congress in charge is a ready excuse on the lips of those inclined to look the other way on the Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat with the BJP in charge. And doubtless, in years to come, the events of Nandigram 2007 with the Communists in charge will attain similar iconic status. But what kind of a society seeks cover and takes pride in “even-handedness” in the elimination of men, women and children?

Ramaswamy R. Iyer writes in The Hindu today:

“Undoubtedly, both Gujarat 2002 and Delhi 1984 were deeply horrifying events and profoundly disturbing in their implications. In both cases, what might have started as mob frenzy became an organised pogrom targeting a particular community. In both, the police and the State machinery in general either failed to perform their duties or were actively complicit in the violence. In both, the guilty remain at large. In scale, duration, and the number of people killed, Delhi 1984 was possibly worse than Gujarat 2002.

“However, in comparing the two events and trying to be “fair” and “even-handed,” we fail to note two points. First, it is meaningless to compare the two horrors; abhorrence, grief, and shame are the appropriate responses in both cases. One horror does not mitigate the other. Secondly, while some politicians and groups might have been actively involved in Delhi 1984, the Hindus of Delhi as a whole were not complicit in the anti-Sikh violence, nor did they condone it. Of course, the state was complicit, and ipso facto the citizens could be said to be indirectly complicit too, but we cannot say that the madness of those few days had social sanction.

“In Gujarat, one fears that the horrors of 2002 had, apart from direct participation by some, widespread social acquiescence among Hindus. In Germany, the people renounced the Nazi madness, undertook severe self-criticism and experienced remorse. One is not aware of any similar development in Gujarat; perhaps it will happen in due course. On the other hand, there is anger at “Gujarat bashing.”

Read the full article here: Gujarat elections: some reflections

In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy media

3 January 2008

GIRISH NIKAM writes from New Delhi: Now that the elections are over and done with in Gujarat, one needs to look at the role of the media in that State, its pliant nature and the increasing commercial angle in its reportage.

Whether newspapers or TV channels, the Gujarati language media by and large tried to avoid discussing “controversial issues” like the 2002 pogrom, the status of the riot-affected victims, or any of the raging controversies.

Angrezi media ki tarah, hum (Narendra) Modi ko ungli nahin karte (unlike the English media, we do not finger Modi),” was a revealing comment a Gujarati TV channel reporter in Ahmedabad made.

So much so, what was being heatedly discussed in national newspapers and TV channels based outside Gujarat, and also by some of the English language newspapers in the State, was completely avoided by the local language media. All through the campaign, Modi, who was visibly hostile to journalists from the national media or downright cynical, was seen in an unusually good mood on a Gujarati TV channel, while on a “live” programme.

There were no questions asked about the various allegations being made against him by the Congress leaders; no questions about the Tehelka expose which had brought out how the 2002 carnage was perpetrated, in the words of the perpetrators themselves; no questions about the status of the court cases; no questions about the Sohrabuddin issue.

“We are clearly told earlier, before Modi accepts to give an interview, that none of these questions are to be asked and we in the Gujarati media stick to it,” the TV channel reporter confessed.

In fact, the channel went out of its way to ensure during the claimed “live” programme that Modi did not have to face any “inconvenient” questions from the viewers. “It was not a ‘live’ programme. If it was ‘live’ and viewers were free to ask him questions, then why were no telephone numbers being flashed on the screen for the viewers to call,” a journalist of a leading English newspaper in Rajkot, pointed out.

If the tendency to toe a suggested line is worrisome, what is equally worrisome about the Gujarati media is the increased commercialisation of the news space.

“Whether it is the news columns or the editorial page, everything is available for a price in the Gujarati media,” a senior Congress functionary who was actively involved in the Congress campaign, revealed. “We had a separate budget earmarked for the media. If we did not pay, our news stories would not appear at all in these newspapers.”

In other words, the political parties not only had to pay for the advertisements which appeared under the party’s banner in these newspapers but also had to pay for the news items of any event or meeting held by it. “If we refused to pay to cover a rally or a meeting, and sometimes even a press conference, there would be no news about it next day, except for big rallies involving names like Sonia Gandhi or the Prime Minister,” the AICC functionary added.

This was corroborated by any number of reporters and agents cum reporters of various Gujarati newspapers across the State. “Paid news”, as it has become known in the media vocabulary in the State, has become a standard fixture, and the rates are fixed.

Pointing to a double-column story in a Gujarati newspaper, a stringer-cum-agent of a Hindi newspaper in Navsari district says, “See, for this story, the BJP candidate had to pay Rs 12,800.”

Who pockets the money? The stringer says 85 per cent of it goes to the newspaper’s management; the agent-cum-stringer of the town who gets it is paid a commission of 15 per cent. “Everyone in the edition shares it,” he adds with a tinge of regret as his newspaper is not “in demand” and he is losing out on the commission.

The “news report” is obviously heavily tilted in favour of the candidate who has paid for it, with all the positive reasons being written about how he is going to win. This kind of commercialisation has resulted in readers being left utterly confused, as they are unable to decipher what has been paid for in their newspapers and what come to them without any strings attached.

One of the leading newspapers, as if to keep its conscience clean, uses a technique to justify its decision to sell editorial space. “There is a dot (dingbat) at the end of the story, which signifies that it is paid news,” says a stringer-cum-agent of a Gujarati newspaper in Surat district, pointing to a story. But this is confined to only one of the leading newspapers. Others don’t have any such qualms.

Result: readers are left high and dry when it comes to getting honest news, views or trends about the elections.

A hotel owner in Himmat Nagar in Sabarkantha district expresses this confusion of the readers by pulling out the previous day’s leading Gujarati newspaper. On one page, side by side, are two stories, both double-column stories of the same size, about the two rival candidates in a particular constituency.

“Look at this, this story says this candidate is surely winning the elections, while the adjoining story about the rival candidate also says exactly the same thing, that he is going to win!” points out the hotel owner. “These newspapers are making fools of all of us. Sab bikhau hai (everything is on sale).”

The candidates have now come to believe that the only way they can get publicity is by paying the journalists. Even a journalist whose intentions are nothing but journalistic also is seen through the same eyes by the political parties and especially the candidates.

“When I went to talk to a candidate to get details about him and his campaign, I was asked, ‘Yeh sab chodiye, yeh bataiye kitna dena hai (that’s all right, just tell me how should I give)”, and he pulled out bundles of one -hundred and five-hundred rupee notes from his pocket,” revealed a young reporter of a Hindi daily newspaper in Surat.

After a fact-finding enquiry undertaken by the Editors’ Guild of India following the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, Dileep Padgaonkar had remarked about the role of Gujarati media: “I feel their prime interest is commercial.” It is only getting worse going by the recent experiences in the Gujarat election. The only people who stand to lose in this politician-media nexus are the ordinary readers, and of course, the cause of good journalism.

A translated version of this piece appears in the latest issue of Outlook Saptahik

Also read: ‘Media is now part of a conspiracy of silence

SUCHETA DALAL: How The Times of India sells its editorial space

SUNIL K. POOLANI: Selling editorial space; changing times

Cross-posted on sans serif

CHURUMURI POLL: Should US restore Modi visa?

29 December 2007

On the night of Narendra Modi‘s thumping win, Veerappa Moily decided to further expose the intellectual bankruptcy of the Congress. Appearing on a CNN-IBN show hosted by Sagarika Ghose, the former Karnataka chief minister, quoting a newspaper report, said Modi had hired a Washington-based image consulting firm called Apco Worldwide, that had previously burnished the image of assorted dictators around the world.

Moily recounted the story, published exactly 36 days earlier, with great glee. That Apco had a record of boosting the images of corrupt African and Russian leaders who had fallen out of favour with their followers. That Modi’s government was paying $25,000 (approximately Rs 10 lakh) a month for the job. That Apco’s brief was to build and sell Brand Gujarat to the outside world, but any help in making Modi look better wouldn’t go unappreciated.

With which part Moily had a problem is obvious. But a juicy rumour now doing the rounds in Delhi is that India’s best known “image management and communications consulting firm”, run by a former journalist, too was in the running for the Modi account. But the firm backed out when it realised that, among other things, it was also required to polish Modi’s image to such an extent that it would pave the way for a United States visa for Modi.

Now, as everybody and his uncle knows, Modi’s US B1/B2 (tourist/visitor) visa was revoked in 2005 “for alleged violation of religious freedom”. His request for a diplomatic visa too was turned down. Modi said the United States had “insulted” India, and the Manmohan Singh government said the move was “uncalled for”, and that it displayed a “lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected chief minister.”

Questions: With Modi re-elected, should the United States revoke the revocation of his visa? Has anything materially changed in Modi’s standing from a legal and diplomatic point of view through his reelection for his visa to be restored? When scores of dubious leaders manage to get into the US, should Modi, with the backing of “five crore Gujarati people”, be blocked? Should Modi be bothered about a US visa at all? Can an image management firm pave the way for a US visa for a politician with a documented record of blood on his hands, when ordinary Indians sweat and toil for it? Will human rights activists succeed in blocking a US visa? Or will Gujarati NRIs succeed?

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

‘The Congress party has become a poltergeist’

29 December 2007

The pat post-facto rationalisation of the Gujarat verdict is that the Congress was hoist with its own petard because it was speaking a political language that not too care to follow in an India on the march. In other words, Sonia Gandhi, by hurling the “maut ke saudagar” grenade, reopened the Godhra wound ignoring the fact that Gujarati voters wanted to “forgive and forget” and “move on”.

Tarun J. Tejpal, the editor-in-chief of Tehelka, disagrees. The Congress, he writes, erred in not addressing the Godhra pogrom and Narendra Modi hands-on complicity head-on. Result: The century-old “keeper of the humane flame”, in whose crucible the idea of India was born and delivered, has forgotten what it stands for. It has become a poltergeist: its shape amorphous, its intentions shadowy, its substance insubstantial:

“The stupid spin doctors of the Congress who are now running a whisper campaign to blame Sonia Gandhi need to realise that maybe they got wiped out not because she made a direct assault on bigotry, but because none of them did. What they did was to show that they were not leaders in Gujarat but mere vote accountants, desperate opportunists. They wooed the bigots they were meant to fight; they relied on snatching and stealing vote banks, not inspiring and commanding them; they came not with a vision for the people or the country but with a game-plan to acquire power. There was nothing in their speech or conduct that inspired trust.

“Instead of taking on the travesty of 2002 directly, and eloquently appealing to the Gujarati to see the dangers of an unjust society, they decided to play the bigotry game. Today these same strategists who assured everyone they had the whole election stitched up are running for cover, spinning further dishonesty—bereft both of power, and the lustre that comes from having stood for the right thing and fought the good fight.

“In contrast the Italian-born lady at least addressed the fundamental issue, and understood that at the end of the day the moment may be about Modi but its final message is not. The final message is about contesting world views, the civilisational vision. Do we wish to travel on the miraculous road the founding fathers forged: democratic, liberal, inclusive, modern? Or are we going to careen off into jingoism, bigotry, retrograde religion, and the powermongering of political-corporate cabals? As a people do we look to becoming modern or merely prosperous? As a people do we understand that a free society, a democracy, is not just about winning elections but about creating and sustaining institutions that strive for equality, justice and fairplay?

“Might is not right. Majority is not right. Money is not right. In the good society, only right is right. And we all know, at all times, the difference between right and wrong.”

Read the full article here: To kill a party

Why young Indians in the West admire Modi

28 December 2007

B. Raman, former additional secretary, and director of the Institute of Topical Studies, Madras, in Outlook:

In the Hindu diaspora in the West, more young people admire Narendra Modi than grown-ups. Many of his young admirers in the US were born and brought up there and had the benefit of the best of secular education. In spite of this, there is a sense of pride in them that the Hindu community has at long last produced a leader of the calibre of Modi.

What is it they see in him?

His simple and austere living? His reputation as an incorruptible politician? His style of development-oriented governance? The fruits of his policy, which Gujarat and its people are already enjoying? His tough stance on terrorism? His lucid-thinking on matters concerning our national security? His defiance in the face of the greatest campaign of demonisation mounted against him the like of which only Indira Gandhi had faced from her political opponents and sections of the media in the 1970s?

All these are factors, which influence their favourable perception of him, and which have already been highlighted and analysed in the articles on his impressive election victory. But there is one factor, which is more important than these and which has not found mention in the analyses…

That is, for large sections of the Hindus—young and old, even more among the young than among the old—he gave them a sense of pride in their identity as Hindus. They feel that he removed from their minds long habits of defensiveness as Hindus carefully nurtured by the self-styled secularists.

Bharathiyar, the Tamil poet who inspired millions of Tamil youth to join the independence struggle under Mahatma Gandhi, wrote: “Tamizhanenru Chollada, Talai Nimirndhu Nillada (Say You Are a Tamil, Hold Your Head High).”

The growing legion of Modi’s admirers in the Hindu community all over the world are saying: “Hindu Enru Chollada, Talai Nimirndu Nillada. (Say You Are A Hindu, Hold Your Head High).”

Read the full article: The secular hypocrisy

‘Media responsible for Gujarat’s national impact’

28 December 2007

Swapan Dasgupta in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“In Gujarat, the media were neither disinterested observers nor merely biased against Narendra Modi; they were an active participant. From disseminating ridiculous stories about lack of crowds in Modi’s meetings and overplaying the Patel revolt in Saurashtra to Yogendra Yadav’s self-confessed doctoring of the exit polls, the media took it upon themselves to ensure Modi’s defeat. The suggestion that the English-language media were the worst offender is not true; for purely collateral reasons the Gujarati print media led the charge.

“Media activism ensured that a large section of India switched on to their TV sets last Sunday morning fully expecting the downfall of the man who has been painted as a cross between Hitler and Attila the Hun. The results helped catapult Modi to the national stage as the man who could dare—and win. If it hadn’t been for the media becoming a prisoner of their own fabrications, the impact of Gujarat would have been strictly regional.”

Read the full article: Merchant of victory

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

You’re a winner if you get one vote more. Still…

27 December 2007

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Narendra Modi‘s victory has deep-frozen the political discourse. The pseudo-nationalists are acting as if the kingdom is already theirs—for keeps. And the pseudo-secularists are acting as if the world is about to come to an end for royalty of the Janpath variety.

Meanwhile, breathless TV anchors are looking forward to their annual holiday in Goa.

Make no mistake, Modi won and won big. He won on his own terms, bucking all the usual cliches like anti-incumbency, caste, dissidence. But, even five days after the verdict, we are still to receive the clear-eyed analysis that we used to in the past.

Result: one side is talking as if for the first time since the dawn of human civilisation, voters like progress and development. And the other side is acting as if they didn’t know this at all.

***

Since the pseudo-national camp is punch drunk to even bother with the details, it is left to the pseudo-secularists to attempt a dissection of what happened in Gujarat and what it means.

CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai has exploded some myths. He writes: The BJP actually did much better in the non-riot affected areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat than it did five years ago. The BJP won 12 of the 13 scheduled caste reserved seats. The party performed impressively in the tribal belt of South Gujarat, while its tally actually went down in Ahmedabad city, it performed strongly across rural Gujarat, including those districts which conventional wisdom suggests have been left out of the vibrant Gujarat platform.

“In each of the last four Assembly elections, the BJP’s support has kept increasing, from 42 per cent in 1995 to 50 per cent now, which in a two-party state ensures comfortable majorities. With the exception of the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the BJP has dominated every election in the state over the last 12 years, including at the panchayat level. This suggests the emergence of a saffron bastion, not too dissimilar to the Left Front in West Bengal,” writes Sardesai.

Vidya Subrahmaniam in today’s Hindu, has attempted a bit of number-crunching. And what she establishes is that the Gujarat election wasn’t the cakewalk it is made out to be for Modi (a point Mallika Sarabhai made on churumuri yesterday). But the Congress was lucky too.

The BJP won only one seat out of the 116 it secured for the first time. In all, writes Subrahmaniam, 48 seats were won with a margin of under 5,000 votes; 20 of them under 2,000 votes. But it is not as if only the BJP benefited from this, the Congress did too. While the BJP won 24 of these seats, the Congress won 23.

Shabnam Hashmi, the wife sister of the slain activist Safdar Hashmi, has been circulating a note in the pseudo-secular camp. She writes:

“While the whole media except a handful of journalists is under the spell of Modi’s magic, it is important to register the fact that, for example, in Gandhinagar, though 81,864 people voted for the BJP, there were 78,116 people who voted against BJP and Modi.”

Indeed, if you look at the table below of 33 constituencies, being circulated by Hashmi, you can come away with three conclusions. One, the race was certainly closer than we have been told. Two, in many constituencies, a third candidate or an independent (or the two together) secured more votes than the difference between the BJP and Congress. And three, Mayawati‘s BSP is making far greater inroads than either camp, or the media, will acknowledge.

1. RAJPIPLA: BJP 37722, Congress 37091, Difference: 631, BSP 2807

2 . MANDAL: BJP 34843, Congress 34166, Difference: 677, Independent 3818

3. KHAMBHALIA: BJP 40358, Congress 39560, Difference: 798, Independent 4275

4. KANKREJ: BJP 37930, Congress 37090, Difference 840, BSP 28934

5. JAMNAGAR: BJP 33021, Congress 31941, Difference 1080, Independent 1098

6. KADI: BJP 65835, Congress 64508, Difference 1327, Independent 3848

7. GADHADA : BJP 50579, Congress 49152, Difference 1427, BSP1478

8. SURAT CITY: BJP 39607, Congress 37908, Difference 1699, RJD 2584

9. ANAND: BJP 63745, Congress 61975, Difference 1770, Independent 12134

10. KALOL: BJP 27565, Congress 25255, Difference 1884, Independents 1427 + 1016

11 . CHIKHLI: BJP 59471, Congress 57204, Difference 2267, BSP 2708

12 . SIDHPUR: BJP 52610, Congress 50181, Difference 2429, Independent 2694

13. MANGROL: BJP 48256, Congress 45625, Difference 2631, BSP 3389, Independent 2782

14. BOTAD: BJP 69662, Congress 66474, Difference 3188, BSP 2134, Independent 3188

15. VIRAMGAM: BJP 47643, Congess 44327, Difference 3316, BSP 3286, Independent 3364

16. MANSA: BJP 44381, Congress 41011, Difference 3370, BSP 10478

17. GANDHINAGAR: BJP 81864, Congress 78116, Difference 3748, BSP 1766, Independent 5128

18. RAKHIAL: BJP 53993, Congress 50048, Difference 3945, BSP 1395, Independent 1428

19. DASADA: BJP 38174, Congress 34108, Difference 4066, BSP 3898, Independent 2408

20. SIHAR: BJP 50756, Congress 46638, Difference 4118, BSP 3501, Independent 2973

21. AMRELI: BJP 48767, Congress 44578, Difference 4189, Independents 3143 + 1397

22. VISAVADAR: BJP 38179, Congress 33950, Difference 4229, BSP 3399, Independent 2074

23. UPLETA: BJP 36602, Congress 31917, Difference 4685, BSP 1946, SP 4141

24. SOMNATH: BJP 61233, Congress 56004, Difference 5229, BSP 7099

25. BAYAD: BJP 40395, Congress 34711, Difference 5684, BSP 3107, Independent 3569

26. CHHOTA UDAIPUR: BJP 44422, Congress 38304, Difference 6118, Independent 8056

27. KALAWAD: BJP 39497, Congress 33225, Difference 6272, BSP 3449, Independent 3693

28. WADHAWAN: BJP 47466, Congress 40564, Difference 6902, Independent 23261

29. DANGS: BJP 56860, Congress 48977, Difference 7883, Independents 5010 + 4446

30. KUTIYANA: BJP 37130, Congress 27980, Difference 9150, BSP 3064, Independent 8060

31. VADGAM: BJP 50481, Congress 40776, Difference 9705, Independent 16372

32. ABDASA: BJP 39004, Congress 28985, Difference 10019, BSP 12397

33. CAMBAY: BJP 50163, Congress 40086, Difference 10077, BSP 3081, Independent 8684

We cannot make a big deal of the margin of the BJP victory in these constituencies. In a first-past-the-post system, electoral fortunes have been decided by single-digit margins, and then tilted again by a recount. So, the lotus bloomed whichever way you look at it. Still, there is a case for a sober-eyed view of elections and results than the puerile propaganda we have been dished out so far by both sides.

There is nothing to suggest that if the BSP or the independent/s were not there, the Congress would have triumphed in these constituencies. And there is no reason why they should have paved the way for the Congress. Still, as an arithmetical exercise, the numbers are interesting because they point to something we are not being told by the mainstream media which seems so in love of its own creations: “Moditva”, a national role for Modi, and what happens to L.K. Advani.

***

JamesScottyPreston, the former New Delhi correspondent of the New York Times who became the executive editor of the paper, writes in his memoirs that he always preferred not to predict which way an election would go. “An election is a secret communion between a voter and democracy.”

Both the pseudo-secularists and the pseudo-nationalists seem to be ignoring that cardinal piece of advice.

As Harish Khare wrote in The Hindu, “In a democracy an electoral defeat is always a sobering moment, but it would be doubly counter-productive for the Congress and the other secular forces to feel overawed by Narendra Modi’s victory… The Sunday win does not necessarily endow any kind of ideological legitimacy to Modi’s voice nor does it provide a licence to communal forces or even political respectability to his message outside of Gujarat.”

MALLIKA SARABHAI: “BJP was also plain lucky”

26 December 2007

Narendra Modi’s detractors in Gujarat and elsewhere might be squirming at his victory, but one of his most vocal and visible critics, Mallika Sarabhai, says the fineprint is actually encouraging. The Ahmedabad-based dancer and activist, daughter of the renowned space scientist Vikram Sarabhai, and an MBA and doctorate from IIM, Ahmedabad, has been on the wrong side of Modi since the Gujarat riots of 2002.

She was made to pay for this, when in 2003 a dancer in her troupe filed a case against her, alleging that she had cheated her in not taking her on a promised US tour. For more than two years, Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, which Mallika runs, was routinely targeted by the Modi regime on the basis of that case. It was evident that the complaint was politically motivated and the charges were finally dropped for lack of evidence in early 2006.

Mallika continues to strongly oppose Modi’s brand of politics, but is not all cut-up with his recent victory. She tells VINUTHA MALLYA why:

***

VM: How does it feel to see Narendra Modi back as chief minister for a third term?

Mallika Sarabhai: Initially, I was very depressed, but after watching the election analysis, I am feeling much better.

VM: And why is that?

MS: The victory margin by which the BJP has won in many seats is very narrow. In some seats it is as little as three votes! In the state capital, Gandhinagar, BJP has won 81,000 seats against the second candidate who got 79,200 votes. The BJP has won narrowly in as many as 70 seats. So, it is not as disastrous as we thought. They have won hugely by luck.

VM: What is your interpretation of verdict 2007?

MS: Just because Modi has won does not mean all of Gujarat is behind this man. It is just not true to assume that. The margins also show that not every single person in Gujarat is ‘brainwashed’. So, I believe that this election has in fact shown encouraging results.

Photograph: courtesy Darpana Academy of Performing Arts


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