State of Play

The government has become a spur to disruption and chaos

A fair lot has happened in the six months since India’s crown was sundered, downgraded and hammered into a prison-house sans parallel. Today is six months since the hobnailed silencing of Jammu and Kashmir. That silence has since flown the imposed suffocations of the Valley and become an uproar ringing across the nation: Aazaadi! It’s not a cry seeking secession, it is a cry seeking riddance of what is palpably cold and hard-hearted. Like tiny tots in a school being hectored in and out of police interrogation rooms by a State that has skewered them on the needle of sedition. Or grandmothers out shivering on a justice picket jabbed with daily insult and invective. Like a young scholar bashed to bleeding by a mob, then handed a ticket for violence. Like a pacifist shot at close range by a fanatic, then told his oozing blood was pretence: tomato juice. That cry echoing all around is a denunciation of such prejudice and excess and an assertion of what’s rightful. It’s a cry provoked by the agonies of calculated intimidation under the triple-antigen of CAA-NPR-NRC. It’s a cry bemoaning the fundamentals of this nation being thrown to the bonfires. It’s a cry leaping off the Preamble to the Constitution, it is being fanned by the Tricolour. It refuses to die because it is sought to be killed. The nation has these past six months been subjected to recurrent ugly whiffs of the Kashmiri condition.

Never has a government, the custodian entity of the nation, turned so menacing and merciless on its people. It has turned into a bully State that will gleefully torment and torture. Its chief actors are dog-whistlers and gas-lighters, they are inspiring marauders – a lone-wolf here, a choleric mob there – to medieval ways of settling medieval scores. Let there be little doubt about this: a government recently and resoundingly entrusted with the safekeeping of the national contract is actively tearing it to shreds. It has become a spur to disruption and chaos. It has tossed away sanity as a thing of repugnance. Notice the number of pleas and petitions written out these past weeks piled up discarded in the bin. Read through the list of signatories – teachers, writers, poets, artists, jurists, diplomats, bureaucrats, scientists, historians, economists, some of the finest observers and interpreters of society, the learned and the educated.

But education is ‘elite’ and therefore effete. Education isn’t what we need, what we need is eradication. “When you decide to paint your house anew, the first thing you do is scratch out the walls and cast the old away.” That was the prime minister, Narendra Modi, at an election rally in Delhi this week. It’s the kind of diabolical metaphor that Modi excels in. It is also, on the evidence of what has transpired since 2013, spectacularly effective; it has caught the populace in a reckless hypnosis. It is a hypnosis that will readily prompt a delirious scratching of the house walls in the quest of the new one Modiji has promised. That hypnosis is the womb of the “goli maaro saalon ko…” clamour. That hypnosis is what twists young men like Rambhakt Gopal and Kapil Gujjar to fits of violent lunacy.

In Modi’s house of hypnosis, it no longer sounds odd or objectionable that the prime minister demonizes a whole section of people, India’s largest minority, by calling them out for what they wear and how they look. It appears only normal for Amit Shah, the home minister of the country, to refer to opponents of his divisive project as termites, or rodents and reptiles. It has also become a thing of applause that he prescribes electrocution of the adversarial electorate. It is just fine that Anurag Thakur whips up frenzies of “goli maaro saalon ko…” from the election stage, then preens up with slicked hair and crisp jacket and assumes the chair as junior finance minister for an explanation of the Union budget – schizophrenia personified, you couldn’t connect one Anurag Thakur with the other. Nor do these acts of hypnosis seem ever complete without the appearance on stage of Adityanath, the man who has turned India’s largest state into a blistered showcase of chauvinism.

When he was handed reins of Uttar Pradesh, it was clear Modi had brought the D word to Uttar Pradesh’s centre stage – not development, as he had promised, but divisiveness, as he had always threatened. Few can match the unwavering sectarian virulence Adityanath drags into the public discourse.

About the only institution Adityanath, aka Ajay Singh Bisht, originally from Garhwal, had ever presided over before becoming chief minister was Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath Math. As mahant of the Math, he had become used to wielding unquestioned authority and expecting blind obeisance. Such, that he often brooked no restraint from the law and flagrantly violated it. Jailed once in 2007 for encouraging Hindutva rioters and flouting prohibitory orders, Adityanath has often not been ashamed to play outlaw. He hasn’t baulked at bringing peril to social peace. He has shared a stage with hate preachers and those that have made open exhorts to violence against minorities. Much of what Adityanath has to say from the public stage probably deserves no repetition because it is patently violative of constitutional values, the law and good sense. But for those that might seek a sense, social media sites store an abundance.

Adityanath has, in the past, compared Shah Rukh Khan to the JuD chief and terror patron, Hafiz Saeed. He had pejoratively labelled Kairana, a Muslim-dominated pocket in western Uttar Pradesh, as Kashmir, a “hub of anti-nationals”. He is the one who inspired the “love jihad” campaign a few years ago, blaming upon the minority community a civilizational conspiracy to gain ascendancy of numbers. Later, using “love jihad” as leitmotif, he played militant proselytiser, peppering the heartland with aggressive calls for a counterblast – “We must do the same with their girls, I will celebrate each one of their girls that comes into our homes, each one that becomes a Hindu and enhances our national pride!” Asked during the run for Uttar Pradesh if he believed India was for Hindus alone, he batted not an eyelid and said: “India and Hindus are two sides of the same coin. India belongs to Hindus, the time has now come for everyone to accept and follow this.”

When Adityanath is commissioned to come campaign for the Modi-Shah bid to grab Delhi from the Aam Aadmi Party, his opening gambit is: “Boli se nahin maanega to goli se to maan hi jaayega… (If they will not be persuaded by words, they will be persuaded by bullets…)”

But if it can be unembarrassed about its bigotry, the Modi cast is capable of an unashamed vulgarity as well. When photographs emerged recently of a robustly bearded Omar Abdullah serving incarceration in Kashmir, Giriraj Singh, another eminence in the Modi government, tweeted: “We have abolished Article 370, not razor blades.” The Tamil Nadu chapter of Modi’s party, perhaps on cue, couriered to Abdullah’s address a whole set. It’s those razors whose edge they’ve put this nation on.

The shadows that dropped on Kashmir six months ago have only just begun to darken.

State of Play

India is complicit in the dismemberment of the Idea of India

“Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wo seher to nahin (This stained pitted light, this night-bitten dawn/ That we were waiting for, this is not that morning).”

Traitorous felony as it might have become to a fair many to quote Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Communist, Pakistani, Mussalmaan, in other words, as vile an alchemy as it can get – there it is, as apt a description of our station as it can get this New Year’s morning.

The year just gone by was The Year of the Taking Down of India. Or, at any rate, the unabashed inaugural rites of it. That requires a single testament to assert, no more: Indian rejoicing the plunder of another Indian with whetted wickedness. It has been the year, let not the crossroads eruption of current vigils delude us, that Indians wholesomely mandated a regime to go after Indians. The reasons that powered Narendra Modi’s 2019 romp to power were radically different from those that secured him helmsmanship in 2014. These reasons were not about vikas, these reasons had nothing to do with rage or ennui at a dispensation that had descended into corruption and paralysis, these had nothing to do with hope or aspiration for a surging modern India. Modi had not delivered credibly on any of those to have secured a more robust endorsement. What he had begun to deliver on was his core, and often deceitfully unspoken, promise: Hindu rashtra.

The rushes of what was to come had been screened ahead of the vote of 2019; it should be none of Modi’s fault that folks did not see or absorb the meaning of it. The sectarian lynchings and the recurrent commendation of crime. The spur to ‘Go to Pakistan!’ The oft-repeated rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshaan-kabristaan, as naked a trope for minority-flogging as it gets. The showcased dishonouring of sacred customs and symbols. The deification of Nathuram Godse and the flagrant belittling of Nehru. Sniper attacks on the Constitution from the ruling ramparts. The promotion of Adityanath, hate monger and avowed chauvinist, as potentate of our most populous province. Any surprise that the paragon of uncouth prejudices, Pragya Thakur, followed suit into Parliament on a record vote?

The outcome of May 23, 2019 brought just reward to the potential the Modi regime had demonstrated in the preceding five years, the potential of what it could wreak upon India given another opportunity and a more robust mandate. To me, the single reason Modi was voted back resoundingly still resonates in the words of a young man in Varanasi.”Ek kaam 70 saal mein nahin hua thha, woh ek kaam Modiji ne kar diya.” (There was one job left undone in 70 years, that job Modiji has done.)

There’s no code to understanding what job; it’s an open-code thing, it’s the thing that chorused from the rostrums throughout the campaign just gone. But if it still needs explaining. No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and Othering of India’s largest minority, its formal notarizing as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the useful construct of the enemy.

That ticket handsomely encashed, Modi has lost no time in bringing to bear the promise to his votaries. This has been the year of the bearing of bitter fruit; the year of one Indian privileged with the plucking of it, another Indian pulverized with the stuffing of it. This has been the year of the applauded throttling of India. This has been the year of the scalding of her soul. This has been the year of the gnarling of her body. This has been the year of the perversion of her mind. This has been the year of the poisoning of her voice. This has been the year of the mutilation of her crown.

India is no longer a composite geography whose longitudes ring with the romance of Kashmir to Kanyakumari; now, if at all we celebrate a diversity, it should be termed a Ladakh to Lakshadweep diversity. Get used to the ring of it, for Kashmir is no longer our prided crown, it is a castrated, humiliated Union territory which can, at best, aspire to the will of a municipality. A muffled, jackbooted municipality that does not even enjoy the right to transmit its voice to itself, much less to the world. Such is the thing we have made of what classical metaphors named paradise. Ayodhya was ceded, by the fiat of a judiciary that cannot bring to effect the fundamental writ of habeas corpus, with no apology, much less punishment, for the unembarrassed vandalism of December 6, 1992. And then comes the toxic triple-antigen called CAA-NPR-NRC, a separator vaccine administered to the body politic with no intent other than to render it rabidly torn. Everybody, proponent and opponent, is aware of the reasons and results of that triple-antigen: civil war is being injected into this nation’s bloodstream. It is the ‘Othering’ litmus, you are either us or you are them. Recognize them by their clothes, those clothes are not us. And the sight of those clothes will beg that infamous question asked in Nazi Germany of the Jews: “Your papers please?” Those clothes have already enacted before us the roll-out of our own Kristallnacht. Recall the wanton lynchings. Please pay heed to what has recently happened in minority precincts in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Sectarian vilification. Organized violence by uniformed men in select localities. Targeted arrests and torture of Muslims and their sympathizers. Unlawful, and showcased, collection of protection money from the community. The replay of human power and prejudice in a transferred geography, in transferred times, is shudder-worthy. And yet we seem to be, largely, at peace with what transpires around us, quietly pleased, if not merely indifferent. This is what Daniel Goldhagen wrote of the state of mind of Germans during Nazi ascendancy in his critical work, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: “[T]he evidence indicates not Germans’ ‘indifference,’ but their pitilessness. It is oxymoronic to suggest that those who stood with curiosity gazing upon the annihilative infernos of Kristallnacht… looked upon the destruction with ‘indifference.’ People generally flee scenes and events that they consider to be horrific, criminal, or dangerous. Yet Germans flocked to watch the assaults on the Jews and their buildings, just as spectators once flocked to medieval executions and as children flock to a circus.”

All of this, the vocal excess of the people of India validated and voted for, let there be no mistake. This is of our making. But let us be warned for what we applaud; let us give ourselves no excuses for saying we did not know. We do know. And we are happy for it, for the dismembering of who we are. The 2019 Modi manifesto was a ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto, it laid bare the ominous plans he had. This nation endorsed it; the consequence of that endorsement this nation must bear. Or denounce.

But is there a denouncing of the ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto anywhere in evidence? Doubtless, the eruption of protests across datelines has revealed a rebellious bone in us. But not yet a spine. Are we to believe that a people who handed Modi formidable numbers just half a year ago have had a sudden change of heart? A change of heart has perhaps indeed happened, but that change is that we have revealed ourselves to be heartless.

The temptation is to resort to the dark audacity of rephrasing Faiz: “Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wohi to seher hai.”

Have a peaceful and prosperous year ahead, country people; and remember that governments come and go, nations, good nations, transcend them.

State of Play

Happy Birthday Bapu: The nation and its practitioners of unspeakable things

Several years ago, in a rural recess of Bihar where I come from, a girl, barely ten, woke up one morning and slipped out into the open to relieve herself. Returning, she came upon a crop of spinach and coriander leaves. She gathered a clump in her palm and pulled at it. She was caught in that act. They chopped her fingers off, as they would the spinach and the coriander.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

In 1989, in a village called Logain near Bhagalpur, a mohalla was set aflame. When the rage had calmed, the dead, probably even the near-dead, were carted to a field and shoved under the earth. Presently, the field was seeded with mustard and cauliflower. It was kites and vultures hovering overhead that caught the stench and blew the cover on the crime.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

Returning home one evening last month – to a precinct of Gurgaon, the ‘millennium city’ – I heard the destitute wailing of a man. It came from the belly of a jagged circumference of folks, arranged as though riveted on a snake charmer’s tricks. There was, instead, an auto-rickshaw with a shattered windshield. There were two youngsters in shorts and Ts, their limbs gym-toned to envy, their forearms and biceps copiously tattooed. They stood over a man sprawled in the dirt, bleeding. The wails came from him. They were taking turns to pummel him, a burst of fists, then a knock of the knee. One would retreat to a gleaming motorbike parked to one side, wipe his arms and watch. The other would take over. The auto-driver was a bag, a yowling, bleeding bag. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. This was a spectacle unfolding, cold, focused violence. The boys looked nowhere but at their victim; this is how it is best done, a blood ritual, with singular attention. There was nothing to suggest they would heed or halt. But one of them I was able to persuade to tell me the reason for their gory enactment. He took me to his bike and motioned to a splash of mud. It had rained. There was slush on the roadsides. The auto-driver had driven past with a spray of muck. It had landed on the boys’ bike; a few specks had also strayed onto the pillion’s shins. Therefore. “Don’t mess with these boys,” one from the crowd cautioned me, pulling me by the arm, “They are known goondas, they have backing, they will come back and touch you later.” Those words: they have backing. They will come back and touch you. The police, if it arrives or acts, will arrive and act later. By then, the boys will have “touched” you.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

A girl complains of serial sexual abuse by a charlatan who is also a well-connected political thug masquerading as a sanyasi. The thug first takes ill and has himself wheeled into an air-conditioned hospital chamber. From there he manipulates power levers to have the girl arrested for extortion. Her father is warned of consequences if he speaks out. Another young victim of rape. Another thug from the same gang. The girl loses her father, then gets smashed by a truck on a highway, loses her aunt and ends up precariously injured in hospital.

Videographed ceremonies are carried out by monsters of their primitive headhunting – fellow humans cursed, humiliated, kicked about, slapped, knived, killed. Those monsters are then either draped in the national flag or garlanded in the name of a Mata whose provenance is at best ambiguous and whose blessings for such savagery have nowhere been explicitly or implicitly cited.

Photographs have floated up of a certain Ratan Biswas, his ribs pressed hard against the membranes of his flesh, his skeletal wrist chained to an iron bed, his expression drained of the last dregs of hope. He is in detention in Assam for the alleged crime of not belonging, a prisoner of our collective prejudice. We plan to put many more where we have dumped Ratan, in huge facilities we have designated camps but where our unwanted human beings will be penned like livestock, like cows that have ceased to bear milk or offspring.

But we’ve already created the blueprint for such a human pen, have we not? It is the heaven called Kashmir, where we have driven the clamps on eight million people we call our own. For close to two months now, they have not been allowed the common courtesy of free communication with each other or the outside world. Their movements have been restricted, for the better part frozen. They live razor-wired and bayoneted. They have been stripped of political stature and personal dignity. They have been forbidden expression. They have been forbidden protest. They have been turned into an agency of dictation. They have been told it is bad manners to complain; you’re alive, be thankful. They have been interned sans allegation, imprisoned at home or thrown into faraway cells. On occasion, their dare has been brutally pelleted. But nobody has been hit by a bullet above the chest, we have been assured on good authority; what would we do for the lack of such favour? We are told they are happy. The sense of siege is the figment of a “few minds”. What is being done is for their best; this persecution will teach them a lesson they long deserved to learn, they will emerge better citizens from it. We love Kashmiris, we should hug each Kashmiri. Conditions apply. Abominable conditions.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

Last week, two Dalit children were beaten to death by villagers for defecating in the open. Their family had been denied toilet facilities by the panchayat, and so they went out. And paid. We have been told we are already an open-defecation-free nation. But we are routinely told lies. Those kids were done to death. There is another way of looking at how this works. You die defecating, you may also die clearing defecation. Fifty people died trying to clear the waste excreted by our bodies in the first half of this year, consumed by noxious sewer gases, hydrogen sulphide in the main. In ‘Swachh Bharat’, 740078 households still require manual removal of human filth each day; 182505 families in rural India earn their livelihoods yoked to daily manual scavenging. This nation stinks.

Someone just got awarded a high-voltage global honour for a slogan that our filthy reality daily mocks; it must by worn, if at all, as a badge in memory of those who are still dying trying to put away what we daily excrete. That same someone is also sought to be supplanted on this nation as paterfamilias, dislodging the noble one whose 150th anniversary it happens to be today.

Happy Birthday Bapu,

We remain,

Yours ruefully,

The Practitioners of Unspeakable Things

State of Play

Kashmir: It’s Been a Month

Human beings probably best reveal themselves in how they regard fellow humans. In pronouncing upon the other, by word or by deed, they often pronounce upon themselves. A fortnight before I watched the lockdown shroud descend on Kashmir on the night of August 4-5, I happened to be crossing the Valley on another assignment — a remembrance, part personal, of 20 years since the war over Kargil.

The Amarnath Yatra was in bustle, protected convoys were whistling up and down the road from Srinagar to Baltal, the preferred base camp to the holy cave. For a while, I journeyed lodged in the belly of one such column; the road is narrow and often only permits single-file traffic. An hour out north of Srinagar, between Ganderbal and Wayil, the pilgrim carriers came to a halt. It was a hamlet called Nunner. Habitation hugged the road close on either side; in a recess stood a copse-like opening shaded over by robust summer foliage; some village folk hung about outdoors, mostly idling. Presently, men began to leap off their buses, as if to a common trigger, and lined up along the wayside.

They dropped their pyjamas and trousers — those wearing shorts were swifter on the draw — and began to relieve themselves on the village walls, someone’s home, someone’s shopfront, someone’s little lumber depot. Some among the impromptu party chortled, their delight not entirely on account of the unburdening of bladders; their delight, clearly, also a sensation of achievement. Others wiggled their pelvises and scored abstract patterns with their discharge. Yet others called out to mates to participate in the collective and wanton violation; many declined, but some were willing.

No native of Nunner motioned them off their property, much less utter a word in reproach. The pilgrims had the company of armed jawans, in buses fore and aft. This was a secure desecration. I should state I tried to reason with their wrongdoing and suggested a more open space, just a little down the road, near Wayil perhaps, where Sindh nullah flows. I was shown a middle finger by one who wasn’t yet done fastening his drawstring. Another said, as if to spit on me: “Tuu bhi inhi mein se hai kya? (Are you also one of them?)”

The Indian male is notoriously unmindful and indiscreet about letting off pressure below his belly-button, but this was no lone-ranger act of furtive opportunism. This was a mindful, methodical dose of abuse, of which I was only a collateral recipient. That man had the bully’s post-barbarism cheer to his tone. Nunner — or Nunner by any other name — was always going to be their chosen place for defilement; there was, to the whole passing spectacle, a retributive triumphalism — here, this is what we will do to you, take it.

Nunner’s scars were already beginning to evaporate as the buses departed; the pilgrims had revealed a few indelible things about themselves.

Our book of revelations has proceeded infamously apace since that brag, brazenly made, in the summer of 2014 by one of our elected eminences — it can now be said that it is possible to have a majority government in this country without the support of… (read India’s largest religious minority; also read Majoritarianism). What did that reveal to us of the dispensation that governs us?

What do we reveal of ourselves when we ascend the high pulpit and brandish the rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshan-kabristan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we motion compatriots to banishment in Pakistan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we slaughter a youngster for the headgear he sports? What do we reveal of ourselves when we lynch because someone reads another book, follows another faith, eats another meal? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make a celebration of that lynching? What do we reveal of ourselves when we endorse the devilish marauders of a little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make common cause to obstruct justice for the parents of that little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we cheer the assassin of the man we still call the Father of the Indian Nation? What do we reveal of ourselves when we collaborate to deliver landslide mandates to each and all of such unabashed purveyors of bigotry? What do we reveal of ourselves in turning lusty champions of hatred? What have we revealed of ourselves in Kashmir?

We have revealed that we can weaponize the prejudices of the party that profaned Nunner. We have revealed, too, that we can do to a whole people what Major Leetul Gogoi did to that young shawl-weaver called Farooq Dar. Only, Dar was far more fortunate. He was trussed up with ropes and was sent on one round astride the bonnet of an army jeep. Kashmir is trussed up in concertina wires, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed to speak, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed its say, and it has been a month. Kashmir is no longer Kashmir, and it has been a month. It was stripped and demoted through the mechanics of a diabolical subterfuge, and it has been a month. Kashmir’s supreme will came to reside in a governor who, until the dawn of the night of long knives, was professing he knew nothing of what the fuss was all about, and it has been a month. Kashmiris pronounced that will, through their governor, with their voices muzzled and often interned, their conversations abrogated, their movement frozen, their neighbourhoods sealed, their aspirations and anger tear-gassed, their protests pelleted, their prayers quartered. They make the biggest jailhouse of this democracy, nearly eight million inmates. It has been a month. It’s a patent lie that Kashmir is normal; to label reports of a populace seething and stifled propaganda is the most pernicious propaganda.

Kashmir is a hard and complicated place, no less because it also lies infiltrated and instigated by rogue instruments across the cantankerous fence. It is also a rending place because its soul was inconsolably cauterized by the gun-point hounding out of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90. Governments can be hard and complicated and rending in their ways too.

Our governments have been no exception; they’ve been serially hard on our people. In the Northeast, in Punjab, in West Bengal, in the troubled jungle geographies of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Jharkhand, all across this sovereignty during the Emergency. In the “defence of the realm”, governments have employed unspeakable excesses. But seldom has the celebration of such excesses been so wide and so untrammelled and unashamed. Let Kashmiris cry. Lock them up, starve them, be done with them, we care that they should be dealt with, now or never. Let them suffer. Let them be maimed. Let them die. It’s all well and just if Kashmir can be vacated of the Kashmiris who inhabit Kashmir. Kashmir is the paradise of our lusting, Kashmiris are the parasites that need extinguishing to make way for us. It’s what we have revealed of ourselves, one human to another, this past month. You must brush your teeth before you smell the coffee each morning; one morning, look yourself up in the mirror. It’s been a month, a fair time to reveal yourself to yourself.

State of Play

An unchallenged overlordship has come to reign, even within the government

For the thief in watchman’s clothing All eyes out, O you people, ho! On your vigil be unstinting What do they say_ Yes, Jaagte Raho! (4).png

A low shot should no longer be a thing of surprise or unease; applause for a low shot should be. Ravichandran Ashwin has been justly knocked for his unfortunate choice of manner to send Jos Buttler off the field. But then that’s cricket. What’s at play for the trophy of 2019 patently isn’t. So when the prime minister, Narendra Modi, makes a cheap crack, such as the shoddy and desperately conjured “sarab” (when, in fact, he was meaning sharaab) acronym for the challenger alliance of the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, it becomes occasion for applause and admiration. Or, when he twisted a student’s question on dyslexia to poke fun at Rahul Gandhi, he drew unseemly peals of laughter. Or, when his tandem mate and Bharatiya Janata Party president, Amit Shah, describes the Opposition as a collective of rodents, reptiles, insects and sundry other species other than human, it passes as if a just standard of political discourse had been set. Continue reading “An unchallenged overlordship has come to reign, even within the government”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A Splitting Headache

Kashmir is the campaign that New Delhi has lost in key places


Just a few hours before Sameer Bhat, better known as Sameer Tiger, a most wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was killed in a gun battle in Drabgam in South Kashmir this week, he had pushed online a short video of a local youngster being interrogated by him on suspicion of being an informer. Towards the end of the clip, Sameer Tiger pronounces a warning on an army officer that he surely meant for a much larger audience: “(Major) Shukla ko kehna sher ne shikar karna kya chhora, tujhe laga jungle hamara hai? (Tell Major Shukla just because the tiger had stopped hunting, you thought the jungle was yours?)” Major Shukla would take a hit in pursuit of Sameer Tiger soon after, his assault party would hunt Sameer Tiger down, but Tiger’s dire dare rings on: it’s a vicious survivor’s skirmish, Kashmir, and it’s often tough to tell hunter from hunted, one day’s trophy chasers can become another day’s trophies. Continue reading “A Splitting Headache”

2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A Scorpion Curled

The threat to a free media in India is never far away


One of the appointed margdarshaks of the Narendra Modi dispensation, L.K. Advani, was, at one time, minister for information and broadcasting. He ascended the job writing copiously on the derangements of the Indira-Sanjay Emergency regime (1975-1977) and issuing a rap on the media that still resounds as reminder of what must not be repeated: “When the Press was asked to bend, it crawled.”

A lead act of the same dispensation, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, himself a victim of Emergency-era excesses, seldom misses an opportunity to recall the menace and darkness of those 19 months, or to champion enshrined constitutional freedoms. In his Foreword to The Emergency, an essential memoir of the era by the journalist, Coomi Kapoor, Jaitley wrote: “Political developments during this period were all aimed in the direction of suppressing democracy and turning India into a totalitarian state. Fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, 21 and 22 were suspended… The newspapers quickly began to toe the government line… The most alarming aspect of the Emergency, as this book so vividly narrates, was that Indira Gandhi managed to demonstrate how easy it was to misuse the Constitution and convert democracy into a constitutional dictatorship. In this journey, she seemed to have picked up some clues from Adolf Hitler…”

Continue reading “A Scorpion Curled”