The Hindu

Rafale: So they found “Shastra Puja” a Hindutva act

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The first of 36 Rafale jets of the first batch was acquired on Tuesday. It was a seminal day, not just because India acquired a massive defence shield but also since it coincided with Vijaydashmi or Dusshera, the day which Indians have celebrated as the win of Good over Evil for centuries now.

Somehow, matters which warm the hearts of millions of Indians causes heart-burn amongst a few who are well-identified now. “The Hindu” mocked the celebrations with “Wait-Its-Due-Only-Next-Year” front page headline; the (Rajdeep) Sardesais and Ghoses (Sagarika) and Dutts (Barkha) were silent as if in a funeral and so were the Gandhis: Priyanka is showing off her Hindi skills on twitter and Rahul Gandhi, well, he is heard less these days than even his brother-in-law. Yet, one of Congress’ leaders, Sandeep Dikshit, couldn’t hold back and reflected the grumpiness of this brigade: “Why link the acquisition (Rafale) in a religious context,” he contended.

Dikshit was upset that defence minister Rajnath Singh had done a “shastra puja” of Rafale which involved putting lemons in front of its wheels, placing a coconut on its nose and drawing an “Om” on its side cheek. In Dikshit’s book, it was a religious assertion, an assertion of Hindutva, and a “secular” state indulging in communalism. (Err, Mr Dikshit, your thoughts on the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, choosing the day of Sonia Gandhi’s birthday–December 9, 2006—to declare that Muslims have the first right on the resources of the country. Was it secular?).

Understandably, it found echo amongst the young and impressionable. So here it is, an attempt for rationale to prevail over outbursts:

“Shastra Puja” is a routine marker with our armed forces on new inductions of weaponry. It happened when MiGs, Jaguars, Tejas, practically every new addition, was made to the Indian Air Force. Every ship which slides off keels is always launched with coconut-breaking ceremony. Even the Supreme Court has said that “Shastra Puja” doesn’t impinge on secularism.

The induction of Rafale happened on the 87th anniversary of Indian Air Force. “Vijaydashmi” might’ve been coincidental and not necessarily the reason for choice of date.

It’s a flawed approach to view “shastra puja” as an assertion of Hindu identity. As it would be to view the reading of “kalma”as Islamic when Tejas was inducted on July 2, 2016.  When soldiers are greeted with garlands and tilak on return to their villages, is it communal? Besides, placing of lemons in front of tyres, applying “Om” on its steering and breaking a coconut in front of the vehicle are common actions millions of us do before a newly bought vehicle reaches home.

But trust our spoilsports to keep taking the matter to absurd lengths. A twitterati argued thus: “But buying a car and doing all this is personal. Whereas in Rafale was an act by the ruling government. Don’t they know that India is secular and state and religion must not cross each other’s path?”

First thing first. India wasn’t a secular state to begin with. This happened when our Constitution was arbitrarily changed by a chaffed Indira Gandhi during the Emergency without the consent of the lawmakers of the Parliament. There are various articles in the Constitution—like freedom of propagation of own faith for monotheist religions like Islam and Christianity—which can’t be termed secular.

Now, if the Indian state indeed is “secular”why does it interfere and control Hindu temples? As writer and scientist Anand Ranganathan points out : Governments of five southern states control 90,700 temples; TN Temple Trusts own 478,000 acres of land. Tamil Nadu state government alone controls 36,425 mutts: It gives them billions of rupees. By a rough estimate, the total revenue earned from temples by state government till now would be somewhere between Rs 10-15 lakh crores.

Is this secularism? That Tamil Nadu government has a temple in its logo is secular? If you want religion should be out of bounds for the State then the State should also keep out of religion.

Famous Indologist David Frawley has posted a YouTube video where the “war-cry” of various battalions are mentioned.  For Gorkha Rifles it’s “Jai Maa Kaali.” Rajput Regiment exhort with “Bol Bajrangbali ki Jai”; Rajputana Rifles with “Raja Ram Chandra Ki Jai.” For Dogra regiment, the full-throated call of “Jwala Mata Ki Jai” is the motivator; Jammu & Kashmir infantry enjoin with “Durga Mata Ki Jai.” So it is with Naga regiment (Jai Durga Naga); Bihar regiment (Jai Bajrang bali) and Kumaon regiment (Kalika Mata Ki Jai). Yet these traditions would be communal in the eyes of pseudo-seculars.

On a different note, the in-your-face “Shastra Puja” hasn’t gone unnoticed to the discerners. A confident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer embarrassed in asserting the cultural identity of the nation. And to hell with those who portray it as tyranny of the majority, communal Hindutva and minority-in-crisis narrative.

 

Shah’s rousing speech in Bengal which Lutyens Media fudged

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Since Lutyens Media—Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times and The Hindu—is so hopeless, I took to computer to read the local daily, The Telegraph and catch the action from ground in Kolkata this morning.

The event I was excited about was Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to the capital of Bengal—the first since the 2019 Elections in May which all but buried the ruling dispensation of Trinamool Congress. Shah was visiting Kolkata and inaugurating a pandal of “Durga Puja.” He later addressed a crowd of 11,000, mostly BJP workers, at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.

I took to The Telegraph after the Lutyens Media failed me in terms of details of Shah’s address. Every line in Lutyens Media was honed in on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a Supreme Court-mandated exercise which was taken recently in Assam and excluded over 19 lakh citizens.  Lutyens Media, not one of them, sees logic in throwing out infiltrators which the NRC is all about. Instead, the projection is that the right-wing Centre is hell-bent on making life miserable for Muslim minority. What is infiltration is persecution of minority Muslims in their eyes.

But I found The Telegraph worse. It has put Amit Shah’s speech as lead story of its edition today. The newspaper prepared me for its bigotry with the headline itself: “Shah shifts focus, assures all but one.” In the text, it quotes Shah: “I assure all refugees—Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian—that the government of India would not ask any one of them to leave the country.” The newspaper then adds a line of its own: “The home minister of the Union of India did not mention one community.”

The Telegraph, of course, was stoking the fears of Muslims. That they are being targeted by a “communal” right-wing government in the Centre. It was pulling wool over the eyes of its readers by blurring the distinction between refugees and infiltrators; between Citizenship Bill and NRC.

Citizenship Bill is aimed to provide shelter and dignity to lakhs of Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian refugees who have fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh due to religious persecution. NRC, on the other hand, is an exercise to stop infiltrators who have sneaked in into India and can’t be called refugees. In terms of definition too, refugees and infiltrators are two completely different things. Refugees are fleeing state persecution. Infiltrators are coming in with devious motives of their own.

But our newspapers are hell-bent in sensationalizing and distorting the ground reality. One has no way of checking Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s claim of 19 deaths so far due to NRC fears since her writ runs large in the state. But clearly she is desperately pulling all stops to ensure her Muslim vote bank stays intact. Politicans, who project themselves as protectors of a community, are known to heighten their fears and insecurities for their own benefit. What if lives are lost and families ruined in the narrative manufactured by them?

Most newspapers have given a miss that Amit Shah called out Mamata Banerjee on her doublespeak—she was the one who on August 4, 2005 demanded infiltrators be thrown out of Bengal in the state assembly. Now the shoe is in the other foot!

They have also left out Amit Shah’s perceptive comments on Bengal of today:

That at the time of independence and now, Bengal’s industrial production (27% then, 3.3% now), industrial jobs (28.9% then, 4.2% now), medicine production (70% then, 6% now), bank deposit numbers (22% then, 6.3% now) have shown  staggering fall.  That, those were the years when Bengal was known for its literature, music, religious and spiritual leaders, and scientists? “Where’s the Sonar Bangla we all dreamt about,” Shah had thundered, “Is this why you removed Communists?”

Shah touched a raw nerve of ruling dispensation of Bengal when it reminded the gathered audience in his unique, compelling way. “Are you happy that Article 370 is abrogated,” he asked the jam-packed stadium. As a deafening noise of approval went up, Shah chipped in with his punchline: “But do you know that TMC (MPs) walked out in protest when Article 370 was being abrogated in the Parliament,”?

The rising cultural assertion among the masses of Bengal led to BJP cornering 18 seats to 22 of TMC. “Now no one stop you from delaying the “visarjan” in Durga Puja…nobody has the guts to stop Durga Puja  or Basant Puja, Saraswati Puja, Ramnavmi and Janmaashthmi,” said Shah which struck a chord with the audience. As is known, Mamta Banerjee postponed “visarjan” on more than one occasion to let muharram be observed on its scheduled date. Shaken by the 2019 general polls, she is now rushing and practically inaugurating every major Durga Puja pandal in the metropolis in her bid to woo Hindus.

Political battles are ok and certainly partisan but the nation is hurt when newspapers forsake their objectivity and neutrality. None have bothered to bring the larger picture of Shah’s address to its readers. Instead, the method is manipulation. None have questioned the shambolic law and order situation in the state. None have bothered to train their investigations on Narada, Sharada or Rose Valley scams. None have pointed out that at least 30 BJP members have been killed in the fourth months since 2019 General Polls.

(Post script: For the benefit of readers, here’s the link where you could see Amit Shah’s address in entirety).

 

Tax Reforms: All cheer but for Indian Express and The Hindu

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The corporate tax reforms of Friday are seen as the biggest in India since 1991 when India opened up its gates to the global headwinds of liberalization.

By slashing up to 10 per cent of the existing tax burden on the corporates, the Modi government has now made them internationally competitive, inviting investments both from within and abroad which in turn implies more growth, more jobs and more income—the surest way to spurt in consumption.

Good things under Modi government usually leave its opponent red-faced and into attempts at spitting the moon. Praise is impossible; prejudice is palpable and putsch is the goal.

Indian Express has an army of lowbrows and it’s always fun to see its toxic factory working overtime when good things are brewing.

So, this is how Indian Express reacted to Modi government’s Big Bang reforms of Friday:

“Analysts (no one is named or quoted) raise question over whether corporate would (indeed) reinvest the surplus, or (opt for) reducing debts or high shareholders’ returns.”

Smart alec isn’t it. I mean don’t we have the instance under UPA when provident funds of employees were swindled by powers? That scamsters like Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya were given loans to pay off their existing loans? That real estate barons took our money and diverted it into other projects? That subsidies and cash-sops meant for the poor were siphoned off by profiteers? What’s the guarantee that present tax-sops would help the nation and not the corporate-honchos?

Indian Express has of course obscured a crucial piece of the jigsaw. It’s how attractive Indian companies would now be to foreign funds. India is now as attractive as any other Asian country, or almost all, for multinationals to invest or move their production/assemblage operations to India.

Both Indian Express, and its comrade-in-arms, The Hindu, have lamented the fiscal deficit which would grow after Friday’s measures. Tax-cuts would mean lesser revenue for the government and hence the income and spending divergence would grow further. Both have shed copious tears.

But, as economist Surjit Bhalla tweets, the fiscal deficit arises from within. It’s endogenous, an outcome of policies…government budget deficit should be neither the goal nor the instrument of good policy. It’s the byproduct of good policy…Alas the lessons in Econ 000 escapes all the opposition and a large majority of professional economists in India.”

The Hindu goes at length to measure every penny which India would lose by way of these tax-cuts.  It says: “Ms Sitharaman said the revenue foregone is Rs 1.45 lakh crore…the bounty of Rs 1.75 lakh crore received from the Resere Bank of India, as dividend is obviously a cushion and it is this money that the government has now given away.”

Who are we to tell these foggies that no foreign investor invests in India because the “fiscal deficit” is not remarkable. They do it for growth since most of the world is starved for growth.

Sitaram Yechury, the known Modi-government baiter, is up to his old tricks: “Enriching Corporates: Heaping further miseries on people. Misappropriation of RBI reserves of Rs 1.76 lakh crore is now being transferred to corporates instead of being used for increasing public investment that will generate employment and boost demand.”

Kids’ stuff really. These were the same forces who were flashing a dipping Sensex as a sign that Indian economy has sunk. Now that Sensex has moved upwards like it never did in the last decade, they are suggesting that Sensex is no indicator of country’s economy!

Don’t think it would stop any soon. Modi would return from Houston and “Howdy, Modi” with a list of investments in India. It would rile these forces further. Sitaram Yechury is already saying that it’s a massive concession to foreign speculators.

I mean what do we do with such inimical forces who don’t see any good in Triple Talaq Act, Article 370 abrogation or Big Ticket reforms. When Parliament works at its optimum, there is a chorus what’s the rush in pushing through bills. When Ayodhya dispute is being unravelled daily, they have a problem with that too. Nothing which the citizens consider good for the country is deemed one by these forces.

Insufferables, I say.

(Post Script: Neither Indian Express nor The Hindu would tell you Prime Minister Narendra Modi used special powers to bring the ordinance to amend the finance bill to cut corporate tax rates before leaving for the US. Section 12 of the Cabinet rules empowers the PM to use the power of the Cabinet under special circumstances. Anything but Modi seen in good light.)

 

HINDI: In conversation with Mahatma Gandhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I conversed with Mahatma Gandhi in dreams last night. I was in heaven with a collection of his thoughts and words—“India Of My Dreams”—and spotted the Bapu in a corner spinning khadi wheel. He looked healthy, probably because the sinful Indian Express and The Hindu are barred from heavens. I touched his feet, squatted in front and opened the book which, truth to tell, pleased him. My subject was his views on Hindi language and I had bookmarked his specific utterances on the matter. I read on:

 “I have the greatest faith in the Dravidians someday taking up Hindi study seriously. If an eighth of the industry that they put in mastering English were to be devoted to learning Hindi, instead of the rest of India, remaining a sealed book to them, they will be one with us as never before…The Dravidians being in a minority, national economy suggests that they should learn the common language of the rest of India than that the rest should learn Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malyalam in order to be able to converse with Dravidian India” (Young India 16-6-’20)

Bapu, do you realize the folly of your words? That how profitable it is for local forces to keep the rest of India a sealed book for its audience? Sure, the Commie rags play their part: They never mention that Adi Shankracharya was a Dravidian; that a host of CBSE schools which teach Hindi are run by DMK/AIDMK leaders. If I was to make your words known to them, your statutes or framed images would be blackened or put to fire.

“Little does anyone know that almost all the Tamils and the Telugus living in South Africa can carry on an intelligent conversation in Hindi.” Young India (16-6-’20).

Again Bapu, how does it matter? Even Latin is compulsory in schools in England. But this is whataboutery. The ground reality is, a famous actor (Kamal Haasan) promises burning fields in his state if Hindi was introduced in the curriculum.

 “Bengal and Madras are the two provinces that are cut off from the rest of India for want of knowledge of Hindustani on their part. Bengal, because of its prejudice against learning any other language of India…” (Young India 2-2-’21)

Sure Bapu, Bengal and Madras remain cut off from rest of India to this day. Sure, Mamata Banerjee cries “Bengali pride” from rooftops. Sure, DMK leader Stalin (never mind he has a European and not a Dravidian name) has given a call for agitation against Hindi later this week. I only hope you were more discreet. Just imagine if Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to quote you on the subject?

 “A knowledge of English opens up intercourse only with the comparatively few English-knowing Indians, whereas a possible knowledge of Hindustani enables us to hold intercourse with the largest number of our countrymen. (Young India 2-2’-21)

Bapu, they are doing well as it is. They pay income-tax for rest of India. It’s another matter most of it is recovered with interest from the Centre when Chennai drowns in flood once every two years. Most of its population reaps the benefit of Centre’s SC/ST schemes. Why bother?

 “If we were not living in artificial conditions, the people living in the South will not consider the learning of Hindi as a strain on them, much less a superfluity…. If it is to be for and of the starving millions, of the illiterate millions, of the illiterate women, of the suppressed ‘untouchables’, Hindi is the only possible common language.” (Young India, 18-6-31)

Sorry Bapu, they do speak for starving millions and “untouchables” when the Elections are around. They also speak about illiteracy admittedly though only of Muslims. I am afraid it’s nothing less than “imposition” you are suggesting. All you would do is to produce South Indian versions of Nathuram Godse.

 “The cry of “mother tongue in danger” is either ignorant or hypocritical. And where it is sincere it speaks little for the patriotism of those who will grudge our children an hour per day for Hindustani. We must break through the provincial crust if we are to reach the core of all- Indian nationalism. Is India one country and one national or countries and many nations.” (Harijan, 10-9-’38)

Bapu do you realize the monstrosity of your outreach? Do you realize you echo every syllable of BJP/RSS on nationalism? Who would now celebrate October 2 as your 150th birth anniversary in Dravidian India? How long do you think Congress would keep owning you up?

Bapu had long stopped spinning his wheels. He was staring me, long and hard. His spectacles had cracked. The poor goat of his had started bleating. He looked around—none of his favourites, Nehru or Azad, were in heaven. Sardar Patel was a neighbour but had long disowned him for betraying him with India’s prime ministership. The likes of Subhas Bose and Bhagat Singh were never enamoured of him. Gurudev Tagore had long turned sceptical of him. I felt sorry for the great man. The entire Congress party rode on his shoulders for close to a century. They mouthed platitudes on his every birth anniversary. Political leaders made a beeline for Rajghat on his death anniversary. His beaming face adorns nation’s currency. Yet they have shunned his ideology. Gandhi is not for defending; he is an ATM to encash for the dynasty.

The Hindu join hands with BBC: What’s your response?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If you were a Rajdeep Sardesai or Shekhar Gupta or Barkha Dutt, you would wish for a return of pre-2014 days.  You could write or broadcast what you wanted, unchallenged, unquestioned; behemoth of India’s media, sought by global media outlets; prime ministers and presidents, kings and queens, knocking at your door for interviews; film stars lining up as if for auditions. You were firmly in your ivory tower, never seen in grocery shops or bookstores, metros or airports, malls or traffic stops.

Then winds changed. India’s right-wingers took hold in Centre. Websites, such as OpIndia and Swarajyamag among others, began nicking the bubble. The lies were exposed, bigotry was unmasked, anti-Hindu stance was bared in public. History began breaking free from the narrative of glorious Mughals, valiant Tipu Sultan, soothing Amir Khusru and pacifist Ashoka. One began viewing a Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Audrey Truschke, Sheldon Pollock in the light they deserved. Amartya Sen and Raghuram Rajan lost their halo. The benign mask of neutrality dropped like shame around our film stars and directors. Writers and academicians were revealed to be peddlers. Jurists and legal luminaries were found to be men of straw.

An avalanche was thus set in motion. The ecosystem began drowning in the outrage of the masses. Narendra Modi won over the poor; the intelligent found the counter-narrative on social media. Eco-system upped the game, terming every threat as trolls or bhakts. Internet warriors, on their part, found new converts. Eco-system termed the rivals as fake news peddlers. Lutyens Media began organizing debates and seminars to save their turf. Anyone or anything which didn’t agree with them was “fake news”.  The entire game was one of credibility – and they were losing it. The 2019 Elections confirmed their worst fears.

Now a new round of conflict has been set in motion. The eco-system has realized they have been outnumbered. Social Media platforms are rallying such mass to grow in size. The “fake news” narrative hasn’t helped. So they have now launched a new initiative. This initiative doesn’t just have newspapers and news agencies, it has also roped in biggies like the Google, Facebook and Twitter. “Fake News” has been given a new name of “misinformation.” What was seen as “local” divide in Indian context, now has acquired “global” dimension. We might just have stumbled upon the global network which feeds and breeds this “eco-system” to disrupt India.

The Hindu has a front-page anchor today where it has grandiosely announced that it is partnering BBC and other global media outlets to fight the “misinformation” in public domain. That it wants to protect its audience. That BBC set it in motion through a “Trusted News Summit” earlier this year. That those in it together include European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Facebook, Financial Times, Google, AFP, Microsoft, Reuters, Twitter, BBC and of course The Hindu. That,they would alert each other when a “misinformation” is to be fought.

It’s a new challenge to India’s internet warriors. So far, we knew the bias of, say Twitter, which suspended accounts (e.g of  True Indology, Sonam Mahajan etc) made twitterati remove tweets (Paresh Rawal) while those with similar offence (Shehla Rashid etc) kept flourishing. Netizens were able to dig up the dirt on Raheel Khursheed, CEO of Twitter (2014-2018), on his pro-Pakistan bias. Parliamentarians were outraged enough to summon twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The clamour against Twitter’s alleged bias has only grown bigger in our times. Dorsey has admitted his staff could be overwhelmingly Left-leaning.

So how should internet warriors respond to this openly-aligned forces against them? First, it must leverage its numbers. Every sixth of twitter’s worldwide users is from India. Is has grown in leaps and bounds in last two years. This collective might must be leveraged by netizens, hopefully under the benevolent gaze of the government.

The time perhaps has also come for India to come up with their own micro-blogging platform such as one of Sina Weibo which China has. It’s a mix of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. India could thus also protect its own data. The internet giants would have no option but to fall in line.

Importantly, The eco-system is getting ready to bite you—what’s your response?

 

 

Barkha Dutt’s bizarre rant on P. Chidambaram in Tihar jail

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

On the two sides of political divide, India’s Right and Left-Liberals, only a handful enjoy a persona such as P. Chidambaram. He is an elite among elitists, second only to Gandhis, and his gravitas in public appearances suggests of a man bred in arrogance. He isn’t of a light-banter type, back-slapping his friends. Never a dhoti and a khadi shirt has been worn with a swagger which could put  rockstar in shade.

Chidambaram wears a smile which he could patent. It’s a benign, patronizing smile, never warm, only a favour which he is bestowing to his audience. When he speaks, there is this cocked eyebrow judging you on your incompetence. He is that Pope of politics who is used to reverence from his audience.

In a sense, it’s a classic cloak borrowed off from the Nehru-Gandhis: A benevolent knight, God’s chosen one for his people, who must have his cake while the masses must revel in the crumbs. A blue-blooded Congressman never questions the scions; and never lets down the coterie and sycophants who must do his bidding.

The morning after Tihar got arguably its most famous occupant, Lutyens Media who breed and multiply like mosquito do in sewers and gutters, were busy treating the moment as a victory of sorts. Hindustan Times lettered “Chidambaram, Karti get relief from arrest”;  Times of India made much of Supreme Court disapproving of High Court judge quoting Enforcement Directorate (ED) note; The Hindu didn’t forget to mention Chidambaram and son got anticipatory bail in Aircel-Maxis money laundering case;  and Indian Express, the daddy of them all, front-paged “Judge-slams-agencies”.

I mean a heavyweight-like-few-others is in notorious Tihar jail. Chidambaram is a thread which could showcase the entire gamut of alleged corruption in the decade (2004-2014) of UPA rule, reveal the arteries and veins which gutted body India, arguably institutionalized corruption; sterilized bureaucracy and defanged investigating agencies. It has a far bigger implication for the present and the future then a mere judicial custody. Yet our Lutyens Media has just taken a note of his arrest: There are no sermons, no digging up the dirt, no editorial – nothing.

The servile TV channels for once were not too keen on TRPs. None of them stationed their cameras in front of Tihar Jail for images which could have lasted them a week. No helicopters like they did once as Sanjay Dutt was being whisked to the Yerwada jail. These were the very channels who were aghast when CBI men were jumping the fence of Chidambaram’s residence. Yet the TV grabs of the year were not shot, nor archived for posterity. As if they wanted to erase people’s memory, sanitize history.

I scanned the timeline of Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose etc on twitter and found nothing this morning. JUST NOTHING.  The one of Barkha Dutt though was outrageous. She may have changed media affiliations faster than actors change clothes in a song sequence but her crooked logic is unimpaired.

Ms Dutt is aghast as to why Congress is not taking to the streets on the matter of P. Chidambaram! Could you believe it! Ms Dutt is asking Congress to mobilize public opinion and come out in support of its two stalwarts (the other one being DK Shivakumar). She would rather have the party alienate the people than dump the allegedly corrupt. She is exhorting Congress to defend the two infamous.  She views DK Shivakumar as a fire-fighter for Congress; and can’t get over the fact that the Party has done no better than depute its legal luminaries or arrange just a press conference for P. Chidambaram. She is asking Sonia and Rahul to sit outside PC’s residence and court arrest alongside him. She is asking if Priyanka Gandhi could accompany Robert Vadra, why not here? Barkha sure is a queen of the bizarre.

It is no different to how Lutyens Media treated the Sunanda Pushkar murder (yes, murder now that it has been established she was poisoned). There was no journalism of courage, no intense gaze which could penetrate the layers of deception. Or how they treated the Sonia-Rahul bail in National Herald case, AgustaWestland and many other scams: just in passing. It’s different from the anniversary they run on an Akhlaq and a Pehlu Khan; a Gauri Lankesh or an Asifa Bano.

There is no escaping the fact that a few luminaries and media houses are part of this “eco-system.” This eco-system is willing to ignore corruption, blood stains, violence, seditious conduct and harm to this country as long as it serves their agenda. Their sense of democracy and secularism has a skewed prism. Never lose an opportunity to hang them out to dry.

RTI Amendment Bill 2019 & the fake charade of Tharoor

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Andimuthu Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) calls it “a dark day for democracy.” Shashi Tharoor of the Congress sees  it a bid to remove “the two greatest armours of institutional independence” and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, views it as an attack on “our democratic right to information.”

Serious isn’t it. Who doesn’t know Raja or Tharoor or Chowdhury.  I mean we all have heard of 2G licenses,  Sunanda Pushkar and “gandi naali (drainage)” slur. They are our much-in-news parliamentarians who today have hogged our newspapers for faking their concern on the amendments to the Right To Information (RTI) Act 2019.

On Monday, Lok Sabha trembled to their din on the amendment to the RTI Act, 2005. As per the amendment, the Information Commissioners (ICs) will have terms and salaries decided by the Centre, instead of being on par with those of Election Commissioners. Tharoor bristled with rage: “Are you bringing this amendment because an IC asked the PMO to reveal the PM’s educational details?” Chowdhary found it an attempt to “keep tab on the Commission and kill its freedom.” NK Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party (never mind if you haven’t heard of him) is convinced the amendment is an attempt to benefit the Central government.

All this for defining the terms and salaries of Information Commissioners?

So, here are the facts. The RTI Amendment Bill 2019 in no way compromises the autonomy or independence of RTI Act 2005. The amendment leaves Section 12(4) of the Act, which ensures autonomy and independence of the Act, untouched.  The appointment of Information Commissioners (Section 12.3) is also not tampered with.

Now to the terms and salaries of Information Commissioners.  The present amendment bill seeks to amend section 27 of RTI Act 2005 which DOESN’T define the tenure and terms of conditions for the ICs in its present form!!! Does clearing “ambiguity” on RTI Act sound like a “dark day for Indian democracy” to you?

As per the RTI Act 2005, chief information commissioner is equal to Chief Election Commissioner and there by equal to a Supreme Court judge. Similarly, the state Chief Commissioner is equal to election commissioner and thereby equal to Supreme Court judge.

This itself is an anomaly, considering the fact that Election Commission is a statuary body while Supreme Court and Election Commission are constitutional bodies.

The other contradiction is that CIC and state information commissioners enjoy the status of Supreme Court judge but the verdict passed is liable to be challenged in the High Court.  The present bill seeks to correct this anomaly.  Besides this amendment hasn’t originated from the government alone but also held by several sections of society and judiciary.

For example, the Rajiv Garg vs UOI Supreme Court judgment of 2013 directed that decision be taken on uniformity of service condition of various tribunals. Similarly, the Second Reform Commission in its 13th report of April 2009 also recommended that there is need for greater uniformity in service conditions. The recent judgment of high court of Kerala states that the Chairman and member of the CAT do no occupy the exalted position of the judge of high court merely because they are given the same benefits.

The present amendment merely is enabling legislation which will authorize the government to frame the rules by amending Section 27 and to deliberate upon the tenures and terms of Central and State Information Commission through Section 13 and Section 16 of the RTI Act 2005. The amendment would further streamline and institutionalize the RTI Act and further facilitate its delivery.

BJP sources say that the commitment of Modi government to strengthen the RTI Act is manifest in the fact that it has introduced the 24-hour portal and a mobile App for convenience of filing RTI anytime, 24 hours, 365 days in a year.

The present government has also implemented Section 4 of RTI Act whereby suo motto (on its own) information is now available on all the government websites even without having to file an RTI to seek information.

The leader of the largest opposition party (read Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of Congress) is also a member of the selection committee when there is no recognized member of opposition in Lok Sabha.

And for all this good, Shashi Tharoor calls it a RTI Elimination Bill.

Said a BJP source: “Those who have vested interest in using RTI as a tool of blackmail are making motivated allegations against the RTI Amendment Bill 2019 which are totally unfounded and unsubstantiated.”

Oh is it? RTI as a tool of blackmail? So next time you read screaming headlines in the Indian Express or The Hindu or Times of India or Hindustan Times or any other Indian daily curse the mugger who might have gained behind this charade of “scrutiny” for public good.

Meanwhile, the RTI Amendment Bill was passed with 218 “yes” and 79 “no” in Lok Sabha on Monday.

 

 

Would Indian Express not mind a communal flare-up?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

On a day when every mainstream national daily has lauded the message of “peace and brotherhood” in the Shoba Yatra at Hauz Qazi to douse communal animosity, Indian Express has chosen to flare it up.

Times of India clapped the “peaceful procession”; Hindustan Times extolled Muslims in reinstalling temple idols and even The Hindu put “communal harmony on show” in its headline. But you read Indian Express and it seems they were at a different event than the one being covered.

Beginning with its headline – “On day 3 BJP MPs visit, VHP leader says: Can turn Hauz Qazi, Ballimaran into Ayodhya” – to its content, Indian Express has insinuated “saffron terror” in the form of massive Hindu turnout and speeches by a couple of insignificant entities. Still undone, they inserted a completely unrelated mention with these words: “The issue also figured on the latest cover of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, with the headline #Temple Vandalism Perils of Minoritarianism.”

Every reader who has read Indian Express today (July 10, 2019) would carry the impression of Saffron intimidation.  A reader would fear impending communal riots in an area where Hindus and Muslims have lived cheek-by-jowl for generations.  A reader would interpret the presence of 3 BJP MPs as a tacit acquiescence by the party leadership.

And what could be the consequences? Hindus and Muslims gulping this poison within them, and not just in Hauz Qazi. A temple vandalized here; a mosque desecrated there, riots erupting; lives lost, police and security overcome by mobs, government in limbo and the unrest in India bringing in sharks from Western shores at the smell of blood in the pool.

Is this what Indian Express wants? Don’t they know that its 10 days to the horrible event and Hindus haven’t even picked up a stone? Aren’t they mindful that sensible Muslims of Hauz Qazi are coming out in droves to ensure no communal rupture erupts in the vicinity? Can’t they lend an ear to the temple priest who says “Today’s event (Shobha Yatra) was organized to stand up against such people (who desecrate a religious place.) We want to cohabit with all other communities.”

To be sure, newspapers seek different angle to make themselves distinct. Someone might choose to highlight Rahul Gandhi and his biggest win in 2019 polls from Wayanad, Kerala while others might find his ousting from family bastion Amethi, UP bigger news. Someone might droll over BJP’s remarkable Lok Sabha show in Karnataka; others might dwell on how Tamil Nadu and Kerala have shut the door on them in South.

But today’s Indian Express is not an interpretation. It’s insinuation. An insinuation, which could trigger something far more sinister. Which could affect our generation, our next generation, the unity of this country, the future of India. Another Partition; another horror; another vivisection.

This issue of vandalized temple is high on the mind of millions of Indians. What next? How would it play out? Am I in a safe neighbourhood? What do I do about my daughter who returns from college to our deserted lane late in the evening? Or my son who is back only when the dusk falls on the fields in Moradabad?

Those who want an “akhand bharat” (United India) want Hindus and Muslims to live in peace and amity. Those who want  a “dismembered India” want Hindus and Muslims to tear themselves apart. Today, I see Indian Express standing with the latter. It would be difficult for them to convince me that their report wasn’t projecting the fear of fundamentalist Hindus—when the rest of mainstream media has lauded the restraint of Hindus.

Am I overreacting to a “small incident” in a “small lane” at the backdrop of a “minor incident”?  Didn’t World War I begin only because a prince (Archduke Franz Ferdinand) was assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo; that a stray protest in Tunisia could herald “Arab Spring”; that Soviet Union would come apart only because Ronald Reagan, a continent apart, had made arms race too prohibitive; that a “Euromaidan movement” could bring down a Ukrainian government; that  American revolution could begin because the elites had refused to pay taxes?

Its time Indian Express opens itself to scrutiny. The governments and the press bodies would have their own reasons to shrink from hauling them up. But they owe an answer to Indians and their country. Come out and debate this issue with me in an open forum. When the country’s future depends on Hindu-Muslim relations, Indian Express can’t seek warmth in the glow of, god forbid, torched homes and burning pyres.

Manmohan Singh and the winter of public life

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The winter of public life is setting upon Dr. Manmohan Singh.  By all accounts, it is doing no good to his feeble frame. Or self-esteem, never mind it wasn’t on rack under the canopy of the Gandhis in the first place.

The 87-year-old former Prime Minister, twice over, is battling on many fronts and it isn’t just the aftereffects of multiple cardiac bypass surgeries he has had to endure on self. He seems to have been let down by his own women and men, or mother-son duo if you may, though the news doing public rounds is his anger the ruling dispensation of BJP at the Centre.

The latest bit is Dr. Singh’s refusal to accept the trimmed numbers of his personal staff to five—two each personal assistants and peons and one lower-division clerk—against the 14 he perceives is his right. Dr. Singh has been pretty dogged in pursuing the matter and given the number of letters he has shot across to PMO, one could only say that his one lower-division clerk is worth every single penny.

It’s a cry in wilderness for nothing. A man who was used to 500 persons crowding PMO for a decade, is now left with just five. It’s a cut as drastic as the surgical strike he did on state-command economy in the 90s. The setback is as much functional as psychological. You need translators and stenographers; Photostat operators and dispatch riders, drivers, carpenters and even cook!  There are weekly offs, one or two on leave due to marriage in neighbourhood, and who pays for overtime in case the assistant is asked to stay back for second shift?

There are bound to be letters and invitations to a man who once presided over the destiny of 1.30 billion people, even if by remote.  Phones must be ringing incessantly. Door bells being pressed all so often. A posse of doctors and nurses pacing up and down the hall. Rent-a-quote journalists from The Indian Express and The Hindu spread on the couches of the living room. It’s a fair bit of nuisance.

A prime minister leaving his office is still worth the rank of a cabinet minister, says the rulebook. But it’s only for five years after he demits his office. It’s Modi’s second term now. Privileges aren’t for life, you see.

Can’t Dr Singh engage his own staff? But then he is no longer a Prime Minister drawing a salary of Rs 1.6 lakhs. He is no longer a Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha too which is worth a lakh of rupees every month. (How he must be cursing the mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi who moved heavens to get an Ahmed Patel elected to Rajya Sabha but didn’t twitch an eyebrow in dumping Dr. Singh’s candidature).

Don’t you believe that only because he presided over a scam-ridden UPA regime, Dr. Singh is cash rich. For many a years, he drove Maruti 800. If Khushwant Singh’s book, “Absolute Khuswant” isn’t as fake as his Sikh history, and he wasn’t under the influence of wine or women or both, Dr. Singh once borrowed Rs 2 lakhs from him to fight the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. Dr. Singh’s progenies are academicians like him. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are saving for the rainy days. Besides, what could you expect from a man who publicly tore your policy papers in front of whirring cameras? Or a Congress who saw him fit for no role during the 2019 General Elections even though the party was fighting for its’ life?

Modi doesn’t look a man who would junk the rulebook. On his person too, Modi has a cash of only Rs 38,750 even though the fixed deposit is Rs 1.27 crores (as per the details in his 2019 Poll affidavit).  How could the present PM help an ex-PM? Could Dr. Singh appeal to former vice-president Hamid Ansari and his Muslim brethren given how charitable he was in declaring Muslims to have the first right on India’s resources? Could Capt. Amrinder Singh listen to the wails of a fellow Sikh  and override his seething anger against the High Command who have unleashed a barking Navjot Singh Sidhu on his coattails?

Dr Singh has practically come to an end to his public life. Neither his own men and women want him, nor does the ruling dispensation have any affinity for him. Public base for Dr. Singh in any case was flimsy.  He flourished on the benign grants of Congress’ aristocracy. The plank has now been pulled from under his feet. And he doesn’t even have a straw to clutch on to. But then when Lutyens Delhi has been kind to even its own deities?

 

Biggest push for Muslims in independent India: Pay attention

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised “sabka vishwas(everyone’s trust)”in his oath ceremony. Within a fortnight his government has announced 5-crore scholarships—50% reserved for girl students—over the next five years. There are “bridge courses” for drop-outs. Madarsa teachers are to be imparted modern, scientific training.

It’s the most significant decision taken in favour of Muslims—who are main minority–in independent India.  Yet Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Asaduddin Owaisi, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti—whose lifeline is Muslim votes—aren’t taking note. Our English mainstream media only took perfunctory note. The Hindu ignored the news completely.

The basic primary education of Muslims in India is distributed between madarsas, maktabs (religious schools of mosques) and Urdu-medium schools, the last one accounting for a whopping 50% of Muslim students. The drop-outs are alarming in higher education:  It’s ratio was only 4-5 per cent in 2017-2018, that too largely due to Muslim-dominated institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).  There are only 4.9% teachers from the community in higher education.

When education doesn’t enter from the front door, jobs fly out of windows. Government jobs, public sector banks, public sector undertakings, corporate India all become out of bounds. Without jobs, living standards, health, control-on-population suffer. The downward spiral continues generation after generation.

What have the governments done to alleviate the educational malaise of Muslims in India? Under the Congress regime various exercises were taken:  Gopal Singh Minority Panel Report  (1983), National Sample Survey report, Programme of Action under the New Education Policy (1986), revised NEP (1992), Sachar Committee Report (2006) etc. But all these remained on files only: Nothing happened; the stock of Muslims remained in a free fall.

Congress isn’t alone. Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is no better. In his nearly five-years of term in Delhi, nothing has materially changed for Muslims. No growth in jobs in Delhi Metro, Delhi Police, fire department etc. All these parties do is to sell hope and fear to Muslims: a bait which nearly always worked.

Let’s look at Sachar Committee Report. In 2004 General Polls, Congress had 141 seats to BJP’s 138—an advantage of a mere three seats. The coalition politics seated Congress in the Centre.  An important input wasn’t lost on Congress:  Muslim voters had played a major role in its victory.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn’t mind making a shocking communal statement: Muslims have the first right on India’s resources. Sachar Committee was formed within months to pin down the reasons and draw a roadmap for socio-economic growth of Muslims. Again, all on paper with little intent.

These are the same forces who stoked Muslims’ fears on Modi’s arrival at the helm. Can’t you see there is no Muslim candidates in polls? Don’t you remember Gujarat riots? What about Babri Masjid? Why there are no Iftar parties thrown by BJP? Every stray lynching, every stray remark was woven into the narrative.

Against this optics, the substantive proof of work on the ground was ignored. One isn’t even talking the obvious of  gas, toilets, houses, health, loan benefits etc. Or the raised Haj subsidy. That hike in aids to educational institutions is meaty. Former Chancellor Zafar Sareshwala of Maulana Azad Urdu National University says that Modi government even released the withheld aid of UPA government with a substantial hike of its own. The ramped up budget of Minority Affairs ministry is eye-popping. That jobs for Muslims in Central government have doubled in last five years. No Hindu-Muslim riot has happened in Modi era. Why, even RSS is hosting Eid-Milan parties.

Triple Talaq Bill is a symbolic, if not a seminal measure in freeing one half of Muslims into shaping the growth of their family, society and nation. The corollary of lower population is an obvious benefit of an educated, empowered women force.  Modi government is seeking the three Es (Education, Employment, Empowerment) for millions of Muslims in India.

This is a good moment for Muslims in India to take stock of reality on ground: (a) There is no protest from so-called Hindutva hardliners on Modi government’s latest measure in favour of Muslims; (b) On the other hand, none of their so-called “saviours” have applauded this boon to their community.  A hard-look would show them who stand for Progress and who for Propaganda.