Mani Shankar Aiyar en Wed Nov 02 11:37:48 IST 2022 why-bjp-is-not-contesting-in-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah claims “there is no greater testament to the removal of Article 370” than the high polling percentages in the Kashmir valley. Then why is the BJP not contesting any of the three seats in the valley?</p> <p><br> The fact is that the reading down of Article 370—the principal boast of the BJP—is the key issue in all three constituencies where the main contenders—the National Conference (NC) of the Abdullahs and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of the Muftis—are fighting it out. Article 370 is seen as the symbol of the “identity“ and “dignity” of the Valley inhabitants, as the feisty daughter of Mehbooba, Iltija, who is making her political debut, keeps emphasising. It is also seen as the guarantor of the “rights” of the Kashmiri people. Most importantly, it is seen by Kashmir’s mainstream nationalist parties as their principal shield against the separatists. The National Conference’s candidate for Srinagar, Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, a prominent Shia cleric, affirms, “For us… Article 370 was a pro-mainstream and pro-democracy argument.” That is why all candidates of the principal parties contesting, irrespective of their other differences, are committed to advocating the restoration of Article 370, however hollowed out it had become. But the BJP, for all the empty boasts of the lieutenant governor, the home minister, and the prime minister about “restoring normalcy” by diminishing insurgency and street protests, bringing in lakhs of tourists, and undertaking massive infrastructure works, is hiding behind the skirts of their “proxies”: Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference, Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party, at least the latter two of which are set to lose their deposits.</p> <p><br> The problem with the BJP is that it does not understand at all the psyche of the people of Kashmir and Ladakh and not even of the people of Jammu. Their focus is on hindutva and what they choose to call “development”, but they do not recognise that “man does not live by bread alone”.</p> <p><br> In any case, long before the outrage on August 5, 2019, J&amp;K was far ahead of most states, especially the bastions of the BJP—Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh—on every indicator of economic and human development (such as education and health), and Central budgetary support to the state. Such largesse had not “bought” the Kashmiris either before 2019 or after, because while they are all, of course, seeking peace and personal security and getting better-off, like human beings everywhere, they also seek, like human beings everywhere, honour&nbsp;&nbsp; and respect, and value above all else their “identity”, “dignity” and “rights”. Instead of bringing balm to such wounds, the BJP has turned J&amp;K into “an open-air prison” to instill an atmosphere of fear.</p> <p><br> .They have also resorted to the colonial practice of “divide and rule”, most nakedly evidenced in their delimitation commission irrationally joining Anantnag, the fortress of the Mufti family, to Poonch-Rajouri in Jammu over the formidable Pir Panjal range. In my view, this violates the principle of “geographic continuity” which is enshrined in clause 3 of the Delimitation Act. But, worse, the BJP have “deepened the ethnic divide” of Pahari from Gujjar and Bakerwal by granting Paharis ST status on the very eve of the election in the face of strident Gujjar-Bakerwal protests. The National Conference have retaliated by naming Mian Altaf Ahmed, a spiritual leader revered by the Gujjars, who has thrice been an MLA and whose father and grandfather have both been elected to the state assembly, as the candidate to oppose Mehbooba. She has deplored such “peer-mureed” politics, but can she successfully oppose it?</p> <p><br> Again, the BJP is nowhere in the picture, the final proof of their politics in J&amp;K over Article 370 having failed.<br> </p> Fri May 31 17:40:00 IST 2024 modi-divides-and-rules <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the final phases of the general elections draw to a close, an increasingly panicky Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started upping the ante on the question of reservations for Muslims, once again attempting to rebuild his majority by forcing a Hindu-Muslim divide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, as the BJP has long been stressing, and Modi has been underlining, religion is nowhere mentioned in the First Amendment of 1951, which brought in reservations for Other Backward Classes, it is also necessary to underline that “caste” is also nowhere mentioned in this connection. The operative word is “classes”—a point stressed by Jawaharlal Nehru moving the legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the select committee set up by Parliament. “Classes”, of course, include both castes and communities. That is why Nehru, moving the amendment on May 29, 1951, described our aim as being “to realise an egalitarian society”, given the indisputable fact and social reality that, “infinite divisions have grown up in our… social structure”. He, specifically, described these infinite divisions as relating to “the caste system or religious divisions”. The use of the words “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) was clearly designed to address all backward groups whether of castes, or occupations, or religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, the Mandal Commission included a number of Muslim castes in their OBC list, as well as occupations common to Hindus and Muslims, such as butchers and barbers. Thus, right from the start, certain Muslim castes have been considered backward, the term not being regarded as exclusive to Hindu society. The issue has never been, as Modi seems to think, of whether or not Islamic theology recognises caste: Indian Muslims have always been categorised on caste lines (<i>arzal</i>, as the lowest). Modi implicitly recognises this when he hoots what he claims he is doing for ‘Pasmanda Muslims’. Why not reservations for them, especially as the Justices Rajindar Sachar and Ranganath Mishra commissions found that the Muslim community as a whole was almost as backward as SCs and STs and “more backward” than non-Muslim OBCs, excluding Muslims who fall in the ‘creamy layer’, as for everyone else?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem of including Muslim castes among OBCs has always come up against the barrier of 50 per cent being the maximum share of reservations laid down by the Supreme Court. This has proliferated the practice by states, especially the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, of providing Muslim sub-quotas within existing OBC quotas, thereby bringing a religion dimension into the quite different question of treating OBC reservations for backward classes of Muslims as “an extension of equality” and not an “exception to the principles of equality and non-discrimination”, as explained by Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor, Chanakya National Law University. This has been further confirmed in a series of Supreme Court judgments such as in Balaji (1962), Royappa (1973), and State of Kerala v/s N.M. Thomas (1975), besides the more renowned case of Indra Sawhney (1992).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To overcome the 50 per cent barrier, the Congress manifesto lays down a strategy to achieve the objective, beginning with a “caste survey” to move from “estimates” to facts on the ground. This will be the necessary preliminary to moving legislation to dismantle the 50 per cent barrier and giving OBCs of all religious persuasions a level ground to work towards removing their present educational and social backwardness, while otherwise tackling economic issues of rampant poverty and unemployment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the logical way forward. Modi seeks to give this a communal colour. That may have succeeded in the past elections, but the electorate are waking up to the reality that it is not the Indian Muslim or Pakistan that is the bugbear. It is their economic and social condition after a decade of the Modi <i>sarkar</i> that is making them wonder whether Modi’s promised “achche din” (good days) have really arrived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat May 18 11:43:48 IST 2024 modi-s-muslim-love-hate-hugs-and-kisses-for-sultans-contempt-for-ordinary-folks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I have long been intrigued by the prime minister’s desire to hug every passing sheikh and sultan and his contrasting contempt for the ordinary Indian Muslim. The contempt becomes particularly evident at election time when the audience are invited to identify the transgressors by their dress (<i>libhaz</i>), the numbers of their children, or as infiltrators and traitors (<i>ghuspait/gaddaar</i>). Where any other party leader would immediately be pulled up, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) does not appear to apply, in the eyes of the Election Commission of India as presently constituted, to the prime minister. Secular fundamentalists like me are outraged but clearly the general electorate, especially in the Hindi heartland, are only amused by these sly innuendos. Muslims—at any rate, Indian Muslims, it seems, are fair game—but woe betide any opposition candidate or leader who dares step on what passes for “Hindu sentiment”. Then the knives are drawn (in some cases, literally) and “appeasement”-bashing comes into its own. Reinforcing this contempt for the Indian Muslim is the portrayal of Pakistani Muslims as secessionists-turned-terrorists. Thus are the Indian and Pakistani Muslim linked together in the <i>sangh parivar</i> imagination as the “enemy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, thus, is carried forward the Savarkar-Hedgewar-Golwalkar thesis that the Muslim and the Christian can never be true Indians because while they may by birth and ancestry belong to the <i>“pitra bhoomi’</i> (the fatherland) of Bharat, this land can never be their <i>“punya bhoomi”</i> (sacred or holy land) because their land of worship is located to the distant west of the sub-continent. Regarding Muslims as essentially invaders from outside, the race theories of Hitler and his ilk held a special appeal for the leaders of the RSS. To imported Nazi notions of “race purity”, they added the fascination for violence that B.S. Moonje brought to Nagpur from a visit to Mussolini’s fascist Italy. It gave organisational structure to Savarkar’s belief that the “Hindu discovers himself only in violence” (cf. Vinayak Chaturvedi’s defining study of hindutva).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the eyes of hindutva bhakts, it is the ineluctable presence of a 200-million strong Muslim community in Bharat that comes in the way of the realisation of a Hindu rashtra, while the slightly larger number of Muslims in breakaway Pakistan makes impossible the realisation of a Hindu rashtra in ‘Akhand Bharat’. On the other hand, the Muslims of the Gulf region, and West Asia and North Africa in general, are in their own <i>punya bhoomi</i> and hence of no concern to the Hindu rashtra that the <i>sangh parivar</i> aims at securing in the <i>pitra-cum-punya bhoomi</i> of Bharat. 
Hence, hugs and kisses on the cheek for the rulers of Muslim lands but subversion of identity for the Indian Muslim; demonisation as <i>“tushtikaran”</i> (appeasement) of measures of compassion for a wretchedly deprived minority, economically, socially and educationally, as revealed by the Justice Rajinder Sachar Commission; fierce opposition to the hijab and a personal civil code for the minorities; perversion of history leading to the avenging of real and imagined happenings in the mediaeval past; rejection of our composite culture and the syncretic heritage of our great civilisation to which all communities have contributed, more often than not in creative partnership, in language, literature, poetry, music and song, dance, painting and architecture; threats to the security of life and limb for Muslims; the bulldozer for their humble dwellings; harassment and discrimination in their everyday existence; sneers for their clothing and way of life; obstacles in their places of worship and burial grounds; all of this leading to lynching, cow-protection related vigilante violence, rape and mass murder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, it is not Islam or the Muslim ummah to which the BJP objects. It is just to them being here!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat May 04 11:45:45 IST 2024 bjp-cant-scale-dravidian-wall <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Days before several states went to the polls on April 19, Prashant Kishor, the nation’s leading soothsayer, forecast that the BJP, a rookie in Tamil Nadu politics, is going to stun the nation by carrying off at least 16 of the 40 seats in TN (including one in Puducherry). On the other hand, Dayanidhi Maran, speaking for the DMK, has sneered at this suggestion, describing the BJP in TN as “a keyboard warrior” that thinks elections can be won on social media platforms and the internet without feet on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has additionally invested heavily in Narendra Modi, believing that his numerous visits to TN will more than make up for the near absence of any interest in the BJP in the past. There is also hope in the local leadership of the TN BJP president, K. Annamalai, a 40-year-old former IPS officer who is the new kid on the block. Third, there is the BJP’s alliance with the PMK, a party that claims to represent the extremely backward community of the Vanniyar, whose numbers are quite significant in the north of the state but electorally not significant. Fourth, flogging Katchatheevu, an issue resolved half a century ago. And fifth, thinking the <i>sengol</i>, placed by the speaker’s chair, will kindle Tamil pride. It doesn’t. It is a symbol of Brahmin domination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How does this face up to the ruling DMK whose alliance won 38 of the 39 seats in the state (plus Puducherry) in the 2019 Lok Sabha election? “Very poorly” would be the common sense response to that question. It is astonishing that any political commentator, however eminent, could believe differently now. For one thing, while the Dravidian movement took indigenous roots since more than a century ago when the Justice Party was formed, hindutva is an alien political philosophy with little or no resonance in the state. The Justice Party challenged the domination of the Congress in the 1920s. But by the 1930s, the Dravidian movement was radicalised by Thanthai Periyar E.V. Ramasamy Naicker and taken to the streets to demand “equality” in a society dominated by a tiny percentage of Brahmins, basing themselves on religion. Logically, therefore, the movement also became atheistic. While EVR’s refusal to participate in the narrower political field enabled Rajaji to form a Congress government in 1937, once the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha received the Rajaji provincial government’s backing, EVR undertook a long march from Trichy to Madras that sparked the Dravidian refusal to accept the imposition of Hindi on the state. This also sparked a parallel movement to return to the chen Tamizh (classical Tamil) of a rich cultural past, which added to the momentum of alienation from the Sanskritic and vedic propagation of an India that excluded the Dravidian Tamils, who were also racially distinct from the Aryans of the north. How can the BJP, representing the quintessence of everything the Dravidian movement rejects, turn the tables on this bastion of Dravidian assertion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the pent-up anger at other forms of BJP imposition, such as NEET and the forthcoming delimitation, which might reduce TN seats for dramatically regulating its population growth while rewarding UP, the worst performer in family planning, by increasing its seats from 80 to 140.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, atavistic vengeance on our mediaeval history, which is at the core of hindutva, is so absent from Tamil sentiment that the Dravidian movement has no bias against Muslims. As Dayanidhi says, “DMK is 100 per cent for secularism”. The minorities are “born here. They are part of India. Hence, the Ram Mandir issue has little traction”. And as for the Gujarat model and the UP “double engine”, Dayanidhi pertinently asks if these are so successful, “Why are people from UP and Gujarat coming to Chennai to work?” Good question! Round One to INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Apr 20 11:24:24 IST 2024 inequality-in-todays-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I happened to be a Union cabinet minister when Dr Manmohan Singh had his most spectacular achievement: GDP grew at 9.4 per cent, the highest rate ever and unbeaten since then. While the prime minister and Indian public opinion (particularly big business) were congratulating themselves on having broken the shackles of four decades of the so-called “licence-permit raj” and were eagerly anticipating double digit GDP growth to give China a run for its money, I got myself into deep trouble with the PM and the party by remarking at a meeting that 9.4 per cent GDP growth meant only that 94 per cent of Indians had grown at 0.94 per cent, while the fat cats who constitute 0.94 per cent of our population had grown by 9,400 per cent! It was clearly something of an off-colour joke at what I thought was a confidential get-together to discuss corporate linkages with panchayats, the portfolio I was handling. My remarks were leaked a few days later to the press and inevitably there was a huge rumpus leading to my being reprimanded at the highest levels in no uncertain terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am, therefore, relieved (if deeply disturbed) that the World Inequality Database has revealed that three decades of liberalisation have humongously increased inequality. Between the regimes of Jawaharlal Nehru and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the share in national income of the “top 1 per cent”, which in colonial times had peaked at 21 per cent, shrank by the early 1980s to just 6 per cent. At the start of the reforms, the gap in national income share between the “top 10 per cent” and the “bottom 50 per cent” was 11 per cent (down from 16 per cent in 1951). Post reforms, it soared to 42.7 per cent in 2022, with the top 10 per cent claiming nearly 58 per cent of national income. Reforms also helped the “top 1 per cent” to more than double their national income share to nearly 23 per cent. The bottom 50 per cent now gets only 15 per cent of the pie. This is clearly in violation of the preambular pledge in the Constitution to “equality, of status and opportunity” and “justice, social, economic and political”, besides the Directive Principle in Article 38(2): “The State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income.” The Narendra Modi government, desperate for a Uniform Civil Code, is in blatant violation of the far more relevant Directive Principle relating to income inequality by endeavouring to maximise, not “minimise inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We may have attained the global fifth position in overall national income but are floundering at virtually the bottom on global indices that measure levels of justice in the distribution of the wealth of the nation. It was not for Adani and Ambani and others of the “suit-boot” gang that we won our freedom. Yet, in complete contrast with the goals of our Independence struggle and our constitutional injunctions, “India,” under the Modi dispensation says JNU emeritus professor, Aditya Mukherjee, “is witnessing obscene levels of inequality”, with the top 0.1 per cent capturing 9.6 per cent of national income—almost to the last decimal point what I had foretold as a minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the incomes of the richie-rich have risen to stratospheric levels, there is the parallel tragedy of “stagnancy in income growth among the majority of the population” (World Inequality Database). Add to this the rampant unemployment among “casual labour”, the most deprived segment of our society, which plummeted from a share of employment of 28 per cent among men and women in 2011-12 to a dismal 23 per cent for men and a woeful 17 per cent for women in 2022-23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In consequence, a clear nexus emerges between wealth and political power, symbolised by Ambani securing from the government the conversion of a defence airport into an international airport for 10 days to facilitate a celebrity family event. Would this ever have happened for any other Indian (other, of course, than Adani)? So long as money makes the mare go round, there can be no elimination of “inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities” which was the solemn constitution duty laid down by our founding fathers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of which explains why I remain an unreconstructed Nehruvian socialist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Apr 06 15:12:55 IST 2024 caa-thin-end-of-the-wedge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With the announcement of dates for the coming general elections, the ruling establishment has suddenly found the courage to notify rules for the implementation of the nearly five-year old Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 [CAA], which had drawn the ire of the women of Shaheen Bagh and led to months-long demonstrations in Delhi, replicated all over the country, forcing the Modi government to back off from implementing it. By notifying the CAA rules on election eve, Amit Shah’s ministry has sought to overcome the setback they suffered in the winter of 2019/2020 when through prolonged day-and-night-long demonstrations in the bitter cold by poor, neglected, non-political Muslim women anchored themselves to the Preamble of the Constitution (and not the Holy Quran or the sharia) to point to the incompatibility of the CAA with India’s constitutional order. It was a brilliant strategic move that left the home ministry gasping as it challenged the standard construct of the demonstration as an Islamic movement with sectarian religious overtones. It was only the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-March 2020 that gave Shah’s ministry the opportunity to catch their breath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CAA was immediately contested in the Supreme Court which, after a long wait of close to half a decade on a crucial constitutional matter, has at last indicated its readiness to take up over 200 petitions that have been filed before it. And even as the issue becomes sub judice, the Modi government has notified the rules in flagrant disregard of constitutional propriety. In one reckoning, by breaking the nexus between the CAA and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) the government has negatived the apprehension of the minorities that the CAA is but a preliminary step to bringing religious compartmentalisation into our constitutional jurisprudence by explicitly excluding Muslim refugees from our neighbouring countries in an Indian law to open the constitutional path to rendering Indian Muslims as second-class citizens of our country. I do not think the independent women protestors of Shaheen Bagh are so naïve as to imagine that notifying the CAA rules before operationalising NRC amounts to removing the Indian Muslim minority from the crosshairs of this government. The overarching saffron goal remains to render Muslims as frightened hordes living on sufferance and dominated by the Hindu majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not an issue that concerns only Indian Muslims. It concerns all of us as the CAA is the first breach in a constitutional order guaranteeing “Equality”—the pledge in the Preamble—to all irrespective of religion, and the guarantee of “equal protection before the law” to “all persons” (not only “citizens”) residing “within the territory of India” (Article 14: Part III, Fundamental Rights).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, the principal contemporary humanitarian problem in our region is not the persecution of non-Muslims by the Muslim regimes of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh (the three countries covered by the CAA) but of Muslims in their own countries at the hands of both non-Islamic and Islamic regimes. The most looming of these issues are the Rohingya Muslims suffering genocidal murder and mayhem at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist rulers; Muslim minorities (Shia, Hazara, Ahmadiyya) battling jihadi Sunni Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Uighur Muslims threatened with cultural genocide in avowedly atheistic communist China. Besides, Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindu, Christian, Muslim) facing Buddhist racio-religious extremism in confrontation with dominant elements of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. If the CAA were really being driven by the humanitarian call of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, it would have addressed itself to these persecuted minorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, the CAA picks on a virtual non-issue only to propagate its hindutva political agenda and add to its hindutva vote-bank in an election year. What cynical, opportunistic hypocrisy!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 23 14:33:06 IST 2024 north-south-divide-is-growing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The prime minister reminds me of the Tamil parable of the man who pinched the baby to make it cry, and then rocked the cradle to calm it down. He first creates a north-south divide by putting in place fiscal structures that favour the north and discriminate against the south, then denounces the opposition in Parliament for dividing north from south. He then sets out on a tour of southern Indian states to mollify the outraged people and has the gall to claim in Tamil Nadu, where his party is a non-entity, that the state is on “the cusp of a historical political change” that will bring it into the BJP net.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We would have long ago become the fifth largest global economy if the north had matched the south’s rates of economic growth. And our per capita income levels would be much higher than the global low at which we stagnate if the north had controlled its population growth and undertaken human resource development as effectively as the south, particularly Tamil Nadu, has done. The expatriate community of little Kerala contributes a disproportionately high share of remittances that have raised our nation’s foreign exchange reserves to over $600 billion. And it is the IT crowd from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh that dominates the Indian contribution to this fast-growing premier sector in the US and Europe, reflected in remittances to their home states. And, of course, the capital of Karnataka, Bengaluru, is the shining hub of our pioneering position in information technology and the export of services which drives our impressive foreign exchange earnings, while Tamil Nadu is the manufacturing hub besides being the nation’s granary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, it is principally these states of the south that are being severely discriminated against when it comes to raising national tax revenues and then distributing their share of the divisible pool to the states. Praveen Chakravarty, the top data analyst of the Congress, has shown that the taxpayer in states like TN and Kerala averages Rs20,000 yearly in contributing to the national tax kitty, but the average contribution of the Bihar taxpayer is a measly Rs4,500. And while “the average person in Bihar, UP or Madhya Pradesh gets back Rs260 for every Rs100 paid in taxes, the average Kannadiga gets back only Rs40”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is this fair? Does it not amount to fiscal punishment for outstanding economic performance? Does it surprise you that virtually the entire Karnataka cabinet fetched up in Delhi for an unprecedented demonstration to protest such discrimination? Or the statements emanating almost daily from other southern chief ministers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the Modi government that has created this lop-sided fiscal structure. In 2014, it came into office just when the 14th Finance Commission submitted its report recommending that the states’ share of “the divisible pool” be raised from 32 per cent to a whopping 41 per cent. It presaged, everyone thought, the onset of genuine “cooperative federalism” in fiscal relations between the Centre and the states. But then, as pointed out by K.M. Chandrasekhar, Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet secretary, the Modi government perverted the process by resorting to “cesses and surcharges that do not have to be shared with the states”. They also ensured that two-thirds of the increase in states’ share came from adding, for the first time ever, plan expenditure to non-plan expenditure in measuring the states’ share. And sharply increasing the states’ share of financing centrally sponsored schemes. It is this trompe l’oeil (illusory trick) that has been passed off as implementing the 14th FC’s revolutionary recommendation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Cooperative federalism” has thus been rendered a farce, played out at the cost of all states but particularly the faster growing, better performing southern states, none of which is run by a “double engine sarkar”!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 09 11:24:28 IST 2024 pak-army-defeated-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a given among our Pakistan experts that elections or no elections, the only winner is the Pakistan army for even a democratically elected civilian government is soon brought to heel by the <i>faujis</i>. And so, the conventional wisdom goes, should a political government go out of line, the army will bring it down. It will even hang the incumbent civilian prime minister as witness the extra-judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I always doubted the logic of this argument. Which is why five years ago I attributed Imran Khan’s massive win at least as much to his immense personal popularity as to the alleged backing he received from the Pakistan army. It seemed to me more as if the army were riding his wave than getting their puppet elected over the will of the people. That the army believed the Pak election of five years ago was their doing, I have no doubt. After all their media (and, to the extent it matters, our own) were proclaiming the generals as the real power behind Imran’s spectacular win. For a year or two into Imran’s regime, it seemed the standard view of Pakistan’s democracy as a farce enacted by their armed forces might indeed be true, but as the Americans moved out of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role as a strategic American asset diminished before disappearing altogether, Imran started hewing his own path without orders from, or consultation with, the medal wearers. Differences reached such a point that Imran’s supporters actually attacked the home of the corps commander in Rawalpindi. The army moved in swiftly and had Imran’s government not only dismissed but Imran himself put in prison. His principal political opponent, Nawaz Shariff, was encouraged to return to Pakistan with immunity from further prosecution despite having been driven into forced exile on these very grounds by the same forces now welcoming him back. It seemed the army playbook was again open, and Imran would suffer persecution at the hands of those who had been pleased to back his electoral bid five years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Imran was imprisoned, effectively for life with the judiciary doing the army’s bidding, his party was dissolved, his symbol—the cricket bat which he had carried to victory for Pakistan so often—was taken away from him, and none of his supporters were permitted to stand in the February 2024 general elections except as independent candidates with individual election symbols that differed from seat to seat. They were also deprived of the time required to familiarise the electorate with their new symbols and could claim no title in their individual campaigns to their party’s name. The army sat back smugly to view the outcome of their exertions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I happened to be in Lahore on polling day. Peace and tranquility reigned. Patient queues formed at polling booths. There were virtually no incidents of violence. It was generally believed that the populace was resigned to its traditional place as the silent spectators of manoeuvres in high places to deny them their true voice. Results were expected to flow in within hours of the closing of the polls. Instead, to everyone’s astonishment, counting went on through the night giving trends that betrayed the army’s expectations. Independents in their hordes were surging forward. The moral victory was the people’s voice. Imran-backed independents scored a century. Nawaz was left trailing at 30 per cent less seats; Zardari-Bhutto got less than half Imran’s score. The real loser was the army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A government without Imran’s party may indeed be formed, but February 8, 2024, will be chalked up as the historic day on which the people of Pakistan defeated their army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 24 10:56:57 IST 2024 isnt-the-ram-temple-in-ayodhya-a-victory-for-jinnah <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who is the big winner from the inauguration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya on January 22? The hindutvist PM, of course. Yet, is not the bigger winner Muhammad Ali Jinnah? For we are now an avowed ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Jinnah always maintained that whatever its pretensions to secularism, independent India was in fact a ‘Hindu Raj’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi sought to counter such a thesis by making Hindu-Muslim unity the fulcrum around which an independent Indian nation-state would be spun. In spiritual terms, this emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity was expressed in the ineluctable belief that different religions are but different paths that lead to the same Truth. In political terms, Gandhi made Hindu-Muslim unity the leitmotif of the freedom movement, beginning with merging the demand for the restoration of the Khilafat with his non-violent civil disobedience satyagraha. In his personal life, his close associates included the Ali brothers, Dr M.A. Ansari, Dr Zakir Hussain and, above all, Maulana Azad. On the Dandi March, he stayed the last night before picking up a fistful of salt with a Muslim host and nominated Abbas Tyabji to lead the satyagraha in the event of his arrest. Above all, it was his designating Jawaharlal Nehru as his true successor that demonstrated his unwavering conviction that independent India, whether partitioned or not, could only be true to itself and its heritage by refusing to be a sectarian state. To this, Nehru added the coda that the state would have no religion. Now we have a prime minister who has displaced the four Shankaracharyas to emerge as the chief Hindu priest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru distilled the essential truth of the evolution of Indic civilisation as being inscribed on “ancient palimpsests” that are placed one upon the other without quite obscuring previous texts. From that arose a process of absorption, assimilation and synthesis that transformed military conquests into a composite heritage that drew the best from every source, victor or vanquished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, it was precisely over the period of the Delhi sultanate (1192-1526) that the <i>Bhakti</i> movement (and its Muslim counterpart, Sufism) got under way. It was over six centuries of Sultanate and Mughal rule (1526-1858) that Ramanujacharya and Swami Ramanand, Sant Tukaram and Krishna Chaitanya, Sankardev and Ravi Das, Kabir and Surdas and Mira, and then the ten gurus of Sikhism defined <i>bhakti</i> as the most popular form of religion. Indeed, Acharya Goswami Tulsidas began his famed “Ramcharitmanas” in 1574 in Ayodhya in the very shadow of the Babri Masjid built in 1528, without once mentioning the destruction of any Ram temple. Now we have the vice president informing the JNU convocation that the “pain of 500 years has ended” with the inauguration of the Ram Temple. Yet, the biggest Ram bhakt of them all, Mahatma Gandhi, never felt that “pain”. He never mentioned the Babri Masjid and unlike the hindutvists celebrating what the Supreme Court has described as the “egregious violation of the law” in violently bringing down the masjid, actually ensured that all mosques and shrines of the Muslim community in Delhi were returned to the Muslims when, at partition, Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan started occupying them. Hence, argued Nehru, while Pakistan could become an “Islamic nation” if it wished, India would not follow suit by becoming a “Hindu nation”. It would remain “secular”. B.R. Ambedkar agreed and the nation concurred. At least till 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What, after all, is “secularism”? At its most basic, it is the right of Indian Muslims to remain Muslim with the same constitutional and legal rights as Indians of other faiths. Now, under the assault of Hindutva authoritarianism and majoritarianism, that national consensus on a secular India is being radically transformed—in the direction that Jinnah had affirmed it would.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Feb 09 14:39:08 IST 2024 what-makes-mohamed-muizzu-so-angry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On November 3, 1988, a group of well-armed mercenaries recruited by dissident Maldivian expatriates disembarked in Male, capital of the Maldives, and within a few hours succeeded in capturing most government buildings, including the presidential palace, and holding hundreds of civilians and one government minister hostage. The president, Abdul Gayoom, escaped their clutches and appealed to India for help. Rajiv Gandhi immediately sent in Air Force planes to undertake reconnaissance and thereafter landed Army personnel who quickly took control of the situation and restored the Maldives to its elected president who had won his third term with a majority of 95 per cent. Gayoom expressed his “deep gratitude” to India for bringing the Maldives back to freedom and democracy. Rajiv Gandhi informed the leaders of the opposition of the action taken and next day made a statement in the Lok Sabha explaining our policy and announcing that the withdrawal of Indian troops would begin the same day, leaving behind only a small contingent for “mopping up” operations. He emphasised that the Indian armed forces had been called in only at the instance of the Maldives itself whom he described as “one of our closest and friendliest neighbours”, to whose rescue we came because of “our commitment to peace and stability in our region” and to demonstrate “our belief that the countries of the region can resolve their problems in a spirit of friendship and cooperation, free of outside influence”. India was seen as a benevolent and friendly presence in South Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the advent of the Modi government, all that has changed. India is now seen as an interfering bully. And Muizzu has been elected as president on his campaign slogan, “India Out”! He has demanded the removal by March 15 of the 77 [Indian] Army personnel and 12 military medical officers as well as the return of the helicopters and Dornier aircraft we have loaned the Maldives in the name of surveillance and undertaking hydrological surveys. He has also visited China and forged a “strategic” partnership with them. It is India out and China in, with Pakistan slavering on the sidelines. What has transformed the India-Maldives relationship since the Modi-Jaishankar team came to office?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several factors, foremost among them the discrimination against, and hounding of, the Muslim community that ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is inflicting on our largest minority. The Maldives is 100 per cent Muslim. Second, India’s blocking of SAARC which the Maldivians (and much of South Asia) regard as the sole instrument for binding South Asia closer together. Third, India blindly opposing the Chinese Belt &amp; Road Initiative which the Maldives see as their economic lifeline. Fourth, the attempts by the <i>sangh parivar’s</i> drumbeaters to promote Lakshadweep as an alternative tourist destination to the Maldives, little realising that tourism which separates the bikini from the burkha in tourist atolls is the basic reason for the Maldives far outwitting Lakshadweep as an international high-end tourism spot. Fifth, the contrary efforts by a BJP-appointed administrator, Praful Patel, to impose Hindu cultural and dietary values on Lakshadweep-Minicoy whose inhabitants are as one hundred per cent Islamic as the Maldives. Sixth, insensitivity toward the linguistic bonds between Minicoy and the Maldives where the common language is Divehi. While Rajiv Gandhi carried schoolbooks in Divehi as his gifts to the Maldivian people, the Modi-Jaishankar duo have nothing to offer but arrogance. Indeed, it is the policy of projecting the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ of Bharat as the hegemonic South Asian power by right and India as the world’s Vishwaguru that has caused the apple cart to tumble over. <i>Abh samjhe ki Muizzu ko gussa kyon aata hai</i> [Now you understand why Muizzu gets angry]?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 27 11:09:46 IST 2024 when-the-rebuilt-somnath-temple-was-inaugurated <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the leaders of the INDIA alliance mull over the invitations they have received to the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, this column makes bold to remind them of a similar occasion in 1951 when the rebuilt Somnath Temple was inaugurated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story begins with the integration of Junagadh state with the Indian Union in November 1947. It was immediately announced on the spot that the temple at Somnath, located within the state, which had been destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in the early eleventh century, would be rebuilt. The Union cabinet was seized of the issue in December 1947 and the minutes recorded that it had been agreed that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple would be undertaken at state expense. When Nehru was informed of this, he was furious. Denying that any such decision had been taken, he had the minutes altered accordingly and ordered K.M. Munshi, his minister of works and housing and the most determined proponent of the project, that a secular country could not possibly undertake such an act of historical revenge funded by the treasury. Asked whether, in that case, there would be any objection to finding the means to do so from private sources, Nehru agreed that so long as the state was not involved, there could be no objection to such a private initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munshi, backed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then set about raising funds through crowd funding and massive donations from some industrialists. By 1950, enough had been collected to begin the reconstruction of the temple. This too was completed by 1951 and the organisers were all set for a grand inauguration when a further complication arose. They wanted the president, Dr Rajendra Prasad, to be present. Prasad was keen to go. Nehru, totally alarmed at this wanton display of state patronage to a private religious function, convened a cabinet meeting that passed a resolution requesting the president not to go as this would be violative of the fundamental principle of our constitutional democracy that the state has no religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the president insisted on going, the cabinet again advised him, in the interests of preserving a strict line between personal religion and state action, not to go. This stymied the president as the Constitution specified that the president could return for reconsideration any decision of the cabinet but not if it were reiterated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prasad then enquired whether he could go in his personal capacity. Nehru’s view was that he was free to do what he wished as a private citizen but not as one holding the highest constitutional position in the land. Which meant that neither protocol nor security could be provided to Prasad at Somnath. At this point, Morarji Desai, home minister in Bombay, came up with an alternative. The Bombay Province Fairs and Melas Act provided that it was the state‘s responsibility to ensure law and order at fairs. As such, this act could be tweaked to provide the president, albeit in his personal capacity, with the protection he needed. The organisers would look after protocol. Thus, the separation of the state from religion was preserved but could not be portrayed as anything but vengeance on history and holding our largest minority responsible for whatever their co-religionists might have done a millennia ago. This to Nehru was anathema.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On emerging from the challenge to his secularism from within, Nehru, on Gandhi Jayanti, 1951, gave the nation his understanding of secular activism: “If anyone raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I will fight him till the last breath of my life, whether from within the government or outside.” Thus, was laid the foundations of secular India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 13 11:04:11 IST 2024 restoring-dignity-to-parliamentary-proceedings <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While accepting from the Rashtrapati the outstanding parliamentarian award for 2006, I publicly pledged never again to participate in the disruption of parliamentary proceedings. Through approximately my first decade in the Lok Sabha (1991-2001, with some interruptions) I had served in a house where debate was the norm and disruption the exception. In the period of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s premiership (1999-2004), when the Congress was in opposition, dignity, decorum and discussion began giving way to frequent disruption of proceedings. Our then chief whip, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, was the guiding light for such unparliamentary behaviour but he was backed to the hilt by opposition MPs. Entering the well of the house, carrying placards into Parliament to catch TV’s eye, and demonstrating at the foot of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue gradually displaced sober debate as the preferred mode of protesting government’s policies, thought and action. This brought no public opprobrium on the Congress as we succeeded in winning the 2004 general elections and becoming the ruling party for all of a decade (2004-2014).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lesson the BJP, in opposition during that decade, seems to have learned is that demonstration, and not discussion, is the way back to power. During the decade of UPA rule, the BJP outclassed the previous Congress record of expressing dissent through demonstration. Both Somnath Chatterjee, presiding over the lower house, and Hamid Ansari, presiding over the upper house, begged, scolded, and reprimanded parliamentarians for boorish behaviour designed to close down proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With both halves of the house eschewing debate in favour of disruption, India, that is Bharat, has rapidly descended to the nadir now reached. Is there a way out? I commend the suggestion proposed by Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research in a newspaper: instead of the day’s agenda being set by the government for the entire week, bar the two-and-a-half hours set aside on Friday afternoons for private members‘ business, specific days of the sitting be reserved for opposition business. I would add that the house then sit for at least 180 days in the year to give both sides adequate space and opportunity to voice their concerns. That might, just might, render Parliament less dysfunctional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notwithstanding such a systemic response to the current establishment view of treating “disruptions as a disciplinary problem” that has led to the suspension of virtually all opposition MPs, it seems to me that the fundamental problem remains of few MPs being given adequate time to express their views whereas demonstrations give all concerned MPs the opportunity to participate in the proceedings on an equal footing. Also, while a good speech requires careful preparation, disruption requires no preparation at all! How does one tackle that psychological issue? Only by restoring dignity to parliamentary proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the earliest Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabhas, coinciding with Jawaharlal Nehru’s premiership, parliamentary proceedings went smoothly, with the press carefully reporting summaries of the main arguments made, so that notorious disrupters like Mani Ram Bagri were decried. This was essentially because Nehru made a point of frequently attending Parliament, particularly when he and his government were under attack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, on my first visit to Parliament in 1960, I watched bewitched as Comrade Dange lit into Nehru for dismissing the communist government in Kerala. The house and the prime minister heard him out without any interruption. The current prime minister devalues Parliament by almost never being in the house and then leaning on presiding officers to be particularly harsh on the opposition and restrained on his own MPs. That is the current crux of the problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Dec 29 14:47:22 IST 2023 whats-similar-between-hindutva-and-zionism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Attending a conference in Johannesburg on solidarity with Palestine, I said, “Let me begin by clarifying that I am not here on behalf of my government….” Thunderous applause greeted that opening line. It reflected the extent to which the “Arab street” has been grievously alienated by Narendra Modi’s declaration of “total solidarity” with Israel, a 180-degree turn from our rock-solid stand with the Palestinians for most of the past century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To understand the Arab shock, we need to go back to the view that Mahatma Gandhi expressed in 1938 even as the question of Jewish settlement in Palestinian lands began to assume proportions that threatened the very lives and livelihood of the indigenous Palestinian people and even their existence in their traditional homeland. Gandhi<i>ji</i> wrote in his magazine <i>Harijan</i> (November 26, 1938) with reference to the racial and religious discrimination the Jews had faced for millennia and the vicious pogroms in Europe, east and west, climaxed by Hitler’s “final solution”—the liquidation of the entire community—that, “My sympathies are all with the Jews, but my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me….They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart.” He formulated his basic position in a famous aphorism: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense as England to the English and France to the French.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, therefore, India, under Jawaharlal Nehru, still suffering the pain of the partition, should have been one of the few countries to vote in the UN in November 1947 against the partition of Palestine. Notwithstanding the onset of the Cold War, the proposal to partition Palestine had brought the Soviet bloc together with the US-led bloc of white Christian nations to atone for their centuries of sins against the Jews by pushing the Jewish issue out their domain and into the Arab heartland. Given that the Jews in Europe had been safe and privileged only during the 700 years (711-1492 CE) of Muslim rule in Andalusia—present-day Spain and Portugal—Gandhi’s advice was the only one that could have led to the Jews and Arabs living together in harmony in a joint homeland. Echoing this view were the two Jewish rabbis attending the Johannesburg conference on behalf of “Jews against Zionism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “one-state” solution was championed by Gandhi’s favourite disciple, Nehru, as prime minister. When this was not accepted, the UN proposed an alternative “two-state” solution in 1967. It has been on the table for the last half-century, but Israel is adamant on ridding themselves of, or subordinating to second-class citizenship, the Arab residents of Palestine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has reversed the long-held Indian position principally because hindutva is premised on same parameters as Zionism: hostility to Islam. Zionism is not Judaism even as hindutva is not Hinduism. Modi, as an avid hindutvist, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as an avid Zionist, are as similar as two peas in a pod because, as Christophe Jaffrelot points out, “Hindu nationalism and Zionism are rooted in a long history of hindutva’s admiration of Zionist ethno-nationalism.” Jaffrelot adds that this is “possibly because both have found a common enemy in their country’s largest religious minority.” I would only change “possibly” to “certainly”. For, as V.D. Savarkar had written from a diametrically opposite angle to Gandhi’s, “If Palestine becomes a Jewish state, it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends.” Little wonder then that Modi stands in solidarity with Netanyahu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Dec 15 18:11:42 IST 2023 india-alliance-should-get-its-act-together <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the results of the five assembly elections taking place will be available to the reader at just about the same time as this column, it makes little sense to speculate on the outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that time and again, especially since 2003, it has been shown that these five assembly elections, always held on the eve of the general elections, are not the heats for the final to be run a few months hence. No one learned this lesson more bitterly than Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, on the basis of these elections won handsomely by the BJP in 2003, decided to advance the Lok Sabha poll by six months—and suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a Congress-led opposition that came together by circumstance more than design at virtually the last moment. Apart from a determination to oust the BJP from the Centre, there was little or nothing by way of seat-sharing and no single manifesto. The common minimum programme came after, not before, the post-election formation of the United Progressive Alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This shows that for all the handwringing over the INDIA alliance not having faced this round of assembly elections with any element of joint purpose, there is still plenty of time for the alliance to show its composite face. However, it would be best to not attempt a repeat of the 2004 <i>jugaad</i> but embark on defeating the BJP in a more scientific manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fundamentals are already clear. In 2014 and even more so in 2019, the BJP won a formidable victory, not because a majority voted them in but because the majority vote (of around 69 per cent in 2014 and about 63 per cent in 2019) was hopelessly fractionated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This shows that “getting their act together” is the principal task before the INDIA alliance. With Sonia Gandhi present in Mumbai (she was not there in Patna), they were able to give themselves a name and set up committees to prepare for one-on-one contests in as many seats as possible, as well as to outline an agenda to present to the voter. This was not for the assembly elections but only for the national elections as they did not have in the five state assemblies the common stake they definitely have in the outcome of the next general elections. As such, with the assembly elections out of the way, the time has come to give teeth to the alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Giving teeth” is an exercise in both arithmetic and chemistry. The arithmetic lies in coming to mutual agreement on which seats are going to be allotted to which member of the INDIA alliance to forge the largest possible number of one-on-one contests with the BJP in as many seats as possible. This definitely does not mean maximal agreement. Even 300 seats in states where the BJP either won marginally or won preponderantly—essentially the Hindi-speaking Gangetic basin from Gangotri to the Sunderbans—will place on its head the arithmetic of the BJP’s overwhelming victory in the two previous national polls. But, in and of itself, arithmetic alone won’t do. The favourable maths should also spark a chemical reaction that will alter voter perceptions of the prospects for themselves and the INDIA grouping over the next five years. Some of the elements of such a promising joint outlook have already become clear in the present round of polls. There are pointers, too, to what might hold even greater appeal in the near future. Putting all these together is INDIA’s next task—and please pardon the pun, for it is also Bharat’s next task.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 02 11:44:49 IST 2023 just-as-yuval-noah-harari-had-envisioned <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Yuval Noah Harari has emerged as one of the 21st century’s most recognised public intellectuals. In the midst of the Israel-Palestine war in Gaza, it is useful to revisit his <i>21 Lessons for the 21st Century,</i> published in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He writes that ‘terrorism’ is a “strategy almost always adopted by very weak parties who cannot inflict much material damage on their enemies”. They resort to terror because spreading “fear is their main story”. Most important of all, “There is an astounding disproportion between the actual strength of the terrorists and the fear they manage to inspire.” He goes on to say that terrorists calculate that when the “enraged enemy uses his massive strength against them, he will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create”. He further underlines, “Provoking the enemy to action without eliminating any of his weapons or options is an act of desperation taken only when there is no option.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although in 2018, when the book was published, Harari, like most Israelis, took virtually no note of Hamas (there is only one passing mention of Hamas at p.173), as he, like most Israelis, was totally complacent that Israel’s military and intelligence had the Palestinians completely cowed, his extraordinarily accurate perception of “desperation” leaving the oppressed with “little choice” but resort to foredoomed violence is that “since they are very weak, and have no other military option, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain”. That is why Hamas unleashed its limited stock of missiles in virtually one go, then broke through the Israeli barricades to capture about 200 hostages to bargain for the release of their own men and women—some 2,000 of them locked in Israeli jails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They knew, of course, that Israel would retaliate—and retaliate inhumanely, viciously, and disproportionately. As Harari had predicted, “Fear and confusion will cause the enemy to misuse his intact strength and overreact.” So that, “Mistakes are made, atrocities are committed, public opinion wavers, neutrals change their stance and the balance of power changes.” For, again as Harari says, “Terrorism is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There can be no peace without justice. And it is justice of which the Palestinians have been deprived. For 75 years, Israel has been driving Palestinians out of their millennial homeland. To do this, it was Israel that introduced terrorism to West Asia. Organs like Irgun, Palmach and the Stern Gang secured independent Israel. At least two of their leading men became PMs of Israel: Yigal Allon and Menachem Begin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yasser Arafat, in retaliation, set up the Palestine Liberation Organization, but, after violence failed, sent his team for secret negotiations in Oslo. It led to the accord that brought Arafat back from Tunis to Gaza City but instead of a Palestinian state got only panchayati raj in the Gaza Strip, solving nothing. In consequence, Hamas won a free and fair election over the PLO. Ironically, it was Israel that funded Hamas to divide the Palestinian resistance. Now Hamas has shown its true mettle to morally defeat Benjamin Netanyahu, exactly in the manner predicted by Harari. Harari even foresees this when he links “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Netanyahu” (p. 179) as peas sprouting from the same pod.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hamas will fight and Israel will retaliate until and unless the Palestinian resistance turns Gandhian and shakes the world’s conscience as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did by basing their liberation movements on relentless, determined non-violent resistance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Nov 18 11:13:36 IST 2023 our-sporting-icons-are-found-by-chance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As a former Union minister of sports (2006-08), I am deeply distressed to hear of India’s bid to host the 2036 Olympic Games. I witnessed with my own eyes the ghastly corruption that the much smaller Commonwealth Games engendered; the false promises and outright lies that made it possible for the Games to be awarded to India; the humungous expenditure, estimated at Rs60,000 crore by well-informed observers; the giddy egotism of those running the organising committee; the mess they made of it; the ill-repute that India won internationally from all the shenanigans; and the consequential termination of the outstanding political career of the chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit and the less regrettable ending of the career of the principal heavyweight, Suresh Kalmadi. It was also the Commonwealth Games that signalled the beginning of the end of the Manmohan Singh government. Fortunately, for me, I opted out by begging to be relieved of this ministerial post before irretrievably staining my reputation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feared this bid was in the offing when the prime minister, congratulating the 100 or so medal winners in the Asian Games, announced that this showed India had become “a sporting nation”. It has not. As one of our most impressive international gold medal winners, the champ shooter Abhinav Bindra, put it, “If we as a nation are going to embrace sport”, we cannot look at it through “just one prism: winning medals”. We need, above all, to devise ways and means of enabling our children and youth to have easy and affordable access to sports facilities in every panchayat and every mohalla of our vast country. The Tamil Nadu government, back in Karunanidhi’s day, had demonstrated how as many as seven different games and sports can be taught and played in a single acre of land. That will never happen countrywide so long as the Union government prioritises the meretricious hosting of international games events over spending even a fraction of the munificent amounts involved in starting playgrounds and appointing coaches in every one of our 2.6 lakh village panchayats and uncounted lakhs of urban bastis and mohallas. That is where the sporting talent of India lies hidden. What talent we are now finding is almost accidental. Our sporting icons are found by chance, not by systematic scientific search for talent over a wide spectrum of sports in every nook and corner of our country, and then assiduously training and investing in them till they emerge as world champions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we invest enormous resources in becoming a “sports-hosting” nation, the ones who suffer the most would be our children and youth who could well use that humungous expenditure to truly use “the power of sports to take it to communities and build character through the medium of sports,” as Bindra so tellingly puts it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PM Modi does not seem to have seen the irony of his hosting the Olympics on the very centenary of Adolf Hitler having hosted the Berlin Olympics in 1936. American journalist William Shirer said, “No previous games had seen such a spectacular organisation nor such a lavish display of entertainment… Goring, Ribbentrop and Goebbels gave dazzling parties for the foreign visitors…(the) “Italian Night” gathered more than a thousand guests in a scene that resembled the Arabian Nights”. You can bet that is the PM’s aim. British historian Alan Bullock said, “Germany’s new masters entertained with a splendour that rivalled the displays of the tsars of Russia”. To go by the sheer ostentation of G20, we can be sure our government will match the tsars display for display. That is the object of the bid. We, as a nation, would be foolish to fall for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Nov 04 11:05:43 IST 2023 no-peace-possible-without-justice-to-persecuted-palestinians <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As Benyamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi are cut from the same majoritarian-authoritarian cloth, it is hardly surprising that Modi has overturned decades of India’s Palestine policy to affirm total solidarity with Israel in the face of Hamas reviving the Palestinian resistance. And it has taken the ministry of external affairs nearly a week to restore a faint measure of balance by issuing an anodyne statement aimed at appeasing outraged Arab sentiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our Palestine policy has been fundamentally founded on Mahatma Gandhi’s famous observation in 1938: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England belongs to the English and France to the French.” While Britain dilly-dallied over relinquishing its League of Nations mandate over Palestine, the Zionists, through a host of organisations—Haganah, Lehi, and above all, Irgun—introduced terrorism to Palestine, laying mines and sparking explosions; shooting dead numerous British policemen and army personnel; assassinating the UN mediator, Count Bernadotte; blowing up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, and mercilessly murdering countless Palestinians. How ironic that the Israelis now complain of Arab “terrorism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The principal plank of Zionist policy has been to drive out the Palestinians from their homesteads and relentlessly implement state discrimination against those who remain. Horrified at the treatment being meted out to the Palestinians, a leading Zionist philosopher, Martin Buber, as far back as 1950, condemned Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. To understand the import of Buber’s condemnation, readers need to be reminded that he was the Rabindranath Tagore of the Zionist movement and had been expressly sent to India in the late 1930s to persuade Mahatma Gandhiji to view the Zionist cause more favourably. Gandhi, however, stuck to his position that while indeed the Jews were an admirable people who had suffered centuries of persecution at Christian hands in Europe, Europe could not compensate them for their terrible misfortunes at Hitler’s hands by taking away from Arabs the land that indubitably belonged to the Palestinians. The Zionists retorted that there were no such people as the Palestinians and that, therefore, “a people without land were entitled to a land without people”. Thus did Zionism seek to efface millennia of existential Arab reality. No wonder the Palestinians refer to the creation of Israel as Al Nakba, the Catastrophe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There can be no peace between Israel and Palestine without justice to the persecuted Palestinian people. There was a flicker of hope when the UN in 1967 adopted the “land for peace” resolution that envisaged a “two-state” solution—Israel and a Palestine state living next to each other in harmony. But Israel has consistently refused to countenance a sovereign state for the poor Palestinians. It never even sincerely implemented the Oslo Accord with Yasser Arafat, or the White House Rose Garden understanding brokered in 1993 by US President Bill Clinton. Indeed, Israel, particularly under Netanyahu, has gone further and created heavily fortified (and illegal) Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The resistance has, therefore, shifted to the Gaza Strip where Hamas has secured total dominance and continues to defy Israel in sharp contrast to the bullied and cowed down Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah in the West Bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India took all this into account in determining its Palestine policy. Now, Modi has upset the apple cart, leaving a bewildered MEA to somehow pick up the pieces. Perhaps they should first begin by getting our leading West Asia expert, Talmiz Ahmed, ex-IFS, to tutor our prime minister in the rudiments of the region’s history in, perhaps, the vain hope that it will kindle a little compassion in Modi’s stony heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Oct 21 13:14:32 IST 2023 learnings-from-nam-1983 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Readers might recall Rudyard Kipling’s famed poem Recessional that he wrote for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebrations: “The tumult and the shouting dies/the captains and the kings depart/still stands thine ancient sacrifice/a humble and a contrite heart.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that “the tumult and the shouting” over the G20 summit has “died” down, and “the captains and the kings” have departed Delhi, it is time for the Modi government to show some signs of being “humble” and “contrite”. Yet, all we have seen is empty boasting and vain arrogance. I cannot but contrast the NAM summit of March 1983 and the G20 summit 40 years later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months before the seventh non-aligned summit was due to be held in Baghdad, NAM member-countries decided against going to Baghdad and requested Delhi to host the summit. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi agreed. Natwar Singh was designated secretary-general and I was named the conference spokesman. Thus, I had a ringside seat to both the horrendous logistical problems to overcome in a mere 180 days, besides familiarising myself with all the controversies—particularly the Kampuchea question, which were dividing the movement—to conduct press briefings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whereas India that is Bharat had years and years to prepare for the G20 Summit, we had only six months for NAM in 1983. Moreover, against about 40 delegations who came in September 2023, arrangements had to be made 40 years ago within an extremely narrow time frame to accommodate and cater to the security and other requirements of 99 heads of state/government, and 40 guests and observers. And whereas the Modi summit cost the nation over an estimated Rs4,000 crore, Hamid Ansari, as chief of protocol, spent a tenth of that amount looking after 100 more delegations and was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his outstanding performance. And as all of us know, went on to serve in two successive terms as vice-president of India (that is Bharat). And he got both distinctions without having to hide the shame of our poverty behind green draping. None of Modi’s guests were fooled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As to the outcome, Ukraine was to the G20 summit what Kampuchea was to the NAM summit. And where Indira Gandhi secured the highest common factor for the conference consensus on Kampuchea, Modi only got way with the lowest common denominator on Ukraine. For whereas the Kampuchea paragraphs (112 and 113) in the final documents of the seventh NAM summit, set out all the main elements that eventually brought Cambodia back to civilisation from the barbarity of the worst genocide known to history (Pol Pot, backed by the US, massacred a third of the country’s population in his ‘killing fields’), the Modi-engineered consensus only left everything as it was with no setting out of any basis for an eventual pacific settlement of the war in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Consider that the NAM summit listed all the elements of the final Cambodia settlement: “reaffirmed their support for the principles of non-interference” and “inadmissibility of the use of force”; “a comprehensive solution” to provide for “the withdrawal of all foreign forces… thus ensuring full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states in the region” and sought a “process of negotiations and mutual understanding” for the “people of Kampuchea” to “determine their own destiny”. That is exactly what came to pass and if Cambodia is one of the most peaceful countries in the world today, it is because the seventh NAM summit showed the way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast, the Modi ‘consensus’ on Ukraine (para 8) merely reiterates “national positions and resolutions” and does nothing to signal how the war may be ended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Oct 07 10:56:23 IST 2023 difference-between-islamisation-and-hindutva <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I have described in my recently released <i>Memoirs of a Maverick</i>, I reached Karachi just a few weeks before President Zia ul-Haq declared the Nizam-e-Mustafa, the rule of the Prophet—the first step in what came to be called “Islamisation”. So, Karan Thapar, interviewing me on my Pakistan chapter, asked me against whom Islamisation was targeted. “The impious Muslim,” I replied. “Not,” I was asked, “against the Pakistani Hindu?” On reflection, I said the blasphemy laws have been used against Pakistan’s main minority, the Christians. But Hindus? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, thinking about this exchange, I wondered against whom hindutva was targeted. Clearly the Indian Muslim. On further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that hindutva has nothing against Islam per se nor against the global Muslim community. That is why Modi wanders the world hugging every passing Muslim leader—sheikhs, sultans and their ilk. Interestingly, he does not do the same with Indian Muslims. Why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer perhaps lies in the contestation that took place about a century ago, in the 1920s and 1930s, between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists who virulently disagreed on everything but ardently agreed on one thing—that Hindus and Muslims belonged not to two religions within a common nation but constituted two incompatible nations. While this curious agreement-cum-disagreement had its roots in the post-1857 intellectual ferment, it did not acquire political traction till after the first elections held in 1937 under the British-sponsored Government of India Act, 1935, which provided for separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1937 elections were a disaster for Jinnah’s Muslim League, which secured only 5 per cent of the Muslim vote in Muslim separate electorates. But in his role as the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in fuelling a separatist sentiment among his Muslim followers that, with British blessings, left a vivisected subcontinent as the last colonial legacy. That final contest was essentially led by Mahatma Gandhi, fighting for a united India, and Jinnah fighting for a separate nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an intriguing contest for Jinnah was so ignorant of Muslim ritual that he could not even say his <i>namaz</i>, while Gandhi was so steeped in religious discourse that readings from the Holy Quran and the Bible were integral to his daily prayer meetings: <i>“Ishwar Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagwan.”</i> In contrast, the advocates of hindutva from Savarkar to Modi know nothing about Islam and care little for it. This is not because hindutva has anything theological against Islam or against Muslims outside Bharat. It is because the presence of a 200-million strong Muslim minority in Bharat dilutes the exclusively Hindu identity of this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, the key difference between the Islamisation of Pakistan by Zia and the ongoing project of hindutvising our country is not that of making better Hindus of 1.4 billion Indians but of showing the minorities their place in Hindu Bharat. As a truly believing Muslim, Zia was the most pious Muslim (arguably the only pious Muslim) that Islamic Pakistan has ever had at its head. Zia wanted to fashion his country, conceived and born in the name of Islam, into a truly Islamic nation (according to his lights) notwithstanding the country’s elite who wanted to dilute strict Islam with a few drops of the waters of Scotland and winking at Friday <i>namaz</i> and the rigours of fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramzan. Hindutva, on the other hand, has no agenda of further Hinduising Hindus but concentrates on diluting the Muslim presence in what they believe should be a <i>pak</i> (that is, pure) Hindu nation. That is the crux of the conundrum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 23 11:30:50 IST 2023 modi-government-is-a-gross-failure-in-confronting-chinpak <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Narendra Modi government’s gross failure in foreign policy is best illustrated by our being at loggerheads with our two biggest neighbours—China and Pakistan. They have actually merged into one ‘enemy’, Chinpak, for the Chinese are no longer behind the Himalayas but poised inside Pakistan on the banks of the Sindhu (Indus) river just about where Alexander was in 326 B.C.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How far we have drifted from the halcyon days of December, 1988, when, in quick succession and within the same month, Rajiv Gandhi became the first Indian prime minister to visit China and Pakistan in 32 and 28 years, respectively, to open new doors to good neighbourly relations with both. It may be contrasted with the continuing logjam in China-India relations and the total absence of any meaningful engagement with Pakistan since 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us take China first. What Xi Jinping is showing his Indian counterpart is that you can’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hare at the same time. Do we believe with the Americans that China is a dangerous enemy whom we must confront in coalition with like-minded countries? And is that why we are so eagerly in the Quad? Or are we seeking a settlement of the border to resume cordial relations with our great civilisational neighbour? While nominally sharing a swing in Ahmedabad and photo-ops in gorgeous Xian and Wuhan, and swallowing idlis together in Mahabalipuram, Xi wanted to gauge whether what Modi was whispering to Xi squared with what he was vouchsafing Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. For with the US presidents, Modi was signalling his readiness to play footsie with an international ganging-up against China, while pretending to Xi that the days of renewed ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ were just around the corner. Xi was having none of this and moved his troops further forward along our northern border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The foreign minister claims this is in line with our traditional non-alignment. It is not. For non-alignment was about not aligning with either. Our present stance, in contrast, is a saga of confusion, akin to a young woman alternately pulling out the petals of a flower asking, “Will he?”/“Won’t he?”. It would seem Modi wants to remain a “natural ally” of a west that is hostile to China while talking to China at the highest level even if they are in occupation of what we consider our own. What other explanation can we give for the Indian government spokesman describing as “pleasantries” what video clearly showed was Modi in Bali initiating, apparently without success, a conversation with Xi? And then in Johannesburg last month claiming through the foreign secretary that Modi and Xi had held an “informal conversation” during which both “had underlined that the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas” required “observing and respecting the LAC” as “essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship.” Egg was all over the Indian face when the Chinese spokesman riposted that Xi had only met Modi because India had asked for it while turning down a Chinese request for “a more structured dialogue”. The Chinese then rubbed it in saying “both sides should bear in mind the overall interests” of ties and “handle properly” the border issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Pakistan, the government has declared times without number that “talks and terror can’t go together”. Well, it has been nine years and if there is now no “terror”, then why can’t talks start? And if, despite this rhetoric, there is still “terror”, then is it not time to rethink this tired old cliche?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If “no dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and “no structured dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis China, then are you surprised at China roosting on the Indus?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 09 11:09:48 IST 2023 nation-needs-more-compassion-and-less-hypocrisy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The prime minister has done it again. Misusing the platform provided to him, he converted the grand celebratory occasion of Independence Day into an opportunity to score cheap political points against those banding together against him in the name of I.N.D.I.A. This column will restrict itself to challenging him on his charge of “tushtikaran”, which the <i>sangh parivar</i> translates into their English as “appeasement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his renowned biography of Winston Churchill, <i>The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940</i>, the author, William Manchester at p.101 gives the dictionary meaning of appeasement as “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions, usually at the sacrifice of principles” and cites F.E. Smith Lord Birkenhead as first using the expression in the House of Lords to condemn conciliatory tactics towards advocates of Indian independence, calling those who did so “appeasers of Gandhi”. The term was seized upon by Churchill to derogate the British policy of conciliating Hitler by forgiving him his successive invasions of the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. “Appeasement” reverberated in the English language political vocabulary during Chamberlain’s handling of Hitler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, “appeasement” is used with respect to enemies. Are our Muslims “enemies”? Then what does it mean to accuse political opponents of <i>tushtikaran?</i> Does that not show that for all his citing diversity, the inflexible assumption of Modi’s policies is to regard non-Hindu minorities, especially Muslims, as “enemies” whose ancestors brought upon us “1,200 years of slavery”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the proposition that has been peddled by Hindu extremists from the end of Mughal rule in India, and then through the writings and propaganda of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, and constitute the core of the <i>sangh parivar</i>’s view of Indian’s nationhood. That is principally what hindutva is about. Hence the dog whistle “appeasement” to hint at the essential enemy—the poor, wretched Indian Muslim. From the allegation of <i>tushtikaran</i> spring ‘love jihad’, lynching, the ‘hijab’, azaan, and namaz controversies, the ‘bulldozer’ mentality, bullying non-Hindu victims to repeat ‘Jai, Shri Ram’ till they pass out, the fiddling with textbooks, the passing of laws with an evident communal bias, and all other acts of viciousness with which the history of the past nine years is littered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The civility of a nation is measured by its treatment of its minorities. Gandhiji embodied this principle. So did Nehru. That is why the Mahatma insisted on the return of all occupied Islamic places of worship to Muslims at the time of Partition. And “appeasement” is indeed the rationale presented by Nathuram Godse for assassinating the father of the nation. Therefore, when the ‘Vishwaguru’ describes kindness and consideration to our minorities as “appeasement”, that is, “conciliation of the enemy”, it makes an enemy of our minorities. It derogates from our civilisational heritage. It also derogates from the constitutional duty to regard all sections of our composite nation as equal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do Muslims of India require special treatment? Yes, for their share in Parliament has fallen under the present dispensation to an abysmal 4 per cent, while they were assured of equitable representation through the goodwill of the majority in the constituent assembly. Do they need special privileges for their educational progress and economic emancipation? The Sachar committee returned a resounding verdict of “yes” to this question. And, yet, this is called <i>tushtikaran</i> even as Modi seeks a vote bank among poor Muslims (the ‘pasmanda’) by dividing the Muslim community. The nation needs more compassion and less hypocrisy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 26 11:25:18 IST 2023 lies-damned-lies-and-statistics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>First things first. This column owes its all to two explanatory articles by Udit Mishra of <i>The Indian Express</i> published sequentially in the wake of Prime Minister Modi’s assertion before the US Congress that India was already at position five in the size of its GDP, and then after Modi assured the nation at the inauguration of the Bharat Mandapam in July that “during the third term of our government, India will be among the top three economies of the world”. Fair enough, even the IMF says so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what has been hidden by Modi is that the growth rate in India has dropped by one hundred percentage points between 2004-2014 and the nine years that Modi has been PM. For we grew under Dr Manmohan Singh by 183 per cent in the UPA decade and that decennial growth rate has fallen by exactly 100 percentage points to 83 per cent in the Modi years. Had the Manmohan rate of growth been maintained, we would have overtaken Germany and Japan, the current two and three, many years ago. Our present ranking is thus much more the contribution of Manmohanomics than Modinomics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, it is not so much because India is growing but because of virtual stagnation or low growth rates in most of the other top 10, after the global financial crisis of 2008-09, that we have forged ahead in relative terms. But the gap between the top two and us is so wide, while the gap between each of the remaining eight is so narrow, that all eight of us are “also-rans” as compared with the US and China. We eight are overtaking each other not to get to the top but only to not be declared last!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, we may be fifth, and might even become third in GDP by 2027, but the gap in GDP between no.1 (the US) and no.2 (China) and India is at present so wide as to be nearly eight times lower than the US and nearly five times lower than China. We are bunched way below the two giants with a group of countries ranked three to ten whose combined GDP is US dollars two trillion less than the US, and fifth to tenth is three trillion lower than China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It gets worse when we look at per capita figures. For the US per capita income at $80,000 is some 38 times higher than India’s ($2,600) and China at $13,700 is some six times higher than India. Indeed, Germany and Japan, who we will be overtaking shortly in absolute size, are, in per capita terms, 26 times and 17 times higher than India. What boots it to come third in overall production when Indians languish at below 100 in per capita ranking and continue to lie in the 130s on the UN’s human development index? While Modi’s business friends scale international heights in terms of their personal wealth and make India rich on the PM’s metric, PM seems to forget that Indians on every other metric are poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PM’s boast is also in derogation of our Constitution which clearly lays down in Article 39 (c) that “the State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing… that the operation of the economic system does not result in concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” and in Article 39 (b) that “the ownership and control of the material resources of the country are so distributed as best to subserve the common good”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was another prime minister, [Benjamin] Disraeli, who denounced “lies, damned lies—and statistics”. Modi might want to lend him an ear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 12 11:07:38 IST 2023 uniform-civil-code-and-the-rajiv-gandhi-precedent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the highly controversial issue of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is obviously a dog whistle aimed at rallying the faithful to his standard divisive agenda on the eve of the general elections scheduled for 2024, when the INDIA alliance threatens to derail his long run of electoral victories.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In doing this, he brings to mind the precedent of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case (1985), placing UCC in Article 44 of the directive principles of state policy on a higher level of imperative action than all other articles in the same part of the Constitution. Thus, while Article 39(c) directs that the state shall ensure that there is no “concentration of wealth”, Adani and Ambani have risen to the highest global levels on personal wealth scales while all indices indicate an obscene widening of income inequalities in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faced with the fury of the minorities at the prospect of their personal laws being abrogated by a parliament in which they are woefully under-represented, Rajiv Gandhi found an ingenious way out of the conundrum. He reconciled the directive in Article 44 to “endeavour” to work towards a UCC and the requirement in Article 39 (a) to treat “men and women equally” with the continuation of community-based personal laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The constitutional validity of the act was challenged by Danial Latifi, a highly respected jurist, through a writ petition filed in September 1986. A constitutional bench held, in a judgement delivered in November 2001, that far from “reversing” the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgement, the impugned act had actually “codified” that judgement. How?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of denouncing Muslim divorce practice as seventh-century Arab “barbarism“, Rajiv Gandhi and his law minister, Ashoke Sen, actually took the trouble to carefully listen to and meticulously study what the <i>shariat</i> said on the subject. It was clear that Muslim personal law on divorce was actually highly enlightened in that provisions for monetary settlement were strictly laid down to ensure due compensation for divorce, and maintenance thereafter for the divorcee and her children was guaranteed by the male members of her family of birth, failing which the waqf was charged with taking care of the woman and her children. Complementing this was Muslim social practice that not only permitted but actually encouraged remarriage. (In consequence, a 2019 study by Abu Saleh and others found that 78 per cent of divorced Muslim women find another husband within two years of divorce).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem was the reactionary <i>mullahs</i> (clerics) who enforced the <i>shariat</i> in personal matters. To rectify this, Rajiv Gandhi’s 1986 act upheld the right of Muslims to their own personal law but brought its enforcement within the ambit of secular civil law by empowering magistrates to “order” state waqf boards to provide adequate maintenance to divorced Muslim women and their offspring, failing which the waqf authorities would be hauled before the magistrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past two decades, all Muslim divorce disputes are consolidated before the highest court of the land and even-handed justice dispensed to Muslim women who might otherwise have faced the most terrible gender discrimination. This shows the way forward. For instead of attacking the roots of ‘unity in diversity’ by calling out others as barbaric, which is what Modi’s dog whistle is all about, let our many different religious communities have their own personal laws but bring enforcement of gender equality within the civil jurisdiction of the courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 29 11:43:47 IST 2023 does-modi-really-care-for-pasmanda-muslims <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since July 2022, PM Modi has been attempting to drive a wedge between the Muslim community by underlining that 85 per cent of Muslims are lowly “pasmanda” and only 15% are elite “ashrafs” whom earlier governments appeased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in 1973, Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU edited his monumental magnum opus, <i>Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India</i> (expanded second edition in 1978), where he and his co-authors pointed out that caste “exists and functions among Muslims” and there is a “hierarchy among the Muslims” based on “deference structures, emphasising inequality of social status” despite the strong Koranic injunction to treat all human beings as equal. They highlighted the ‘Lal Begi’ scavengers as the bottom of the Muslim social ladder, and also found that “higher Muslim castes refuse to eat” with or marry the lower orders. They also emphasised “regional variations” (as with Hindu caste practice). The persistence of caste among Muslim converts, was attributed by Imtiaz Ahmed to the “acculturative influence of Hinduism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, because the Gandhi-Ambedkar pact was limited to retaining scheduled castes in the Hindu fold, the Presidential Order of 1950 listed only Hindus among the scheduled castes. Muslim SC remain excluded to this day. Later, after Mandal, when salami-slicing of the OBCs led to a long list of OBC castes, largely based on traditional occupations, Muslims in the same “polluting” occupations were excluded from OBC categorisation—the most egregious example of which is Gujarati Muslim Modis who do not enjoy the categorisation of ‘teli’ (oil-pressers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These anomalies were emphasised by the Sachar Commission which made more widely known the Muslim social stratification of Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal (the latter two jointly called pasmanda). In consequence, Dr Manmohan Singh’s second UPA government prepared an ordinance that would have included a pasmanda Muslim sub-quota in the OBC list, but this was stayed by the Supreme Court. If PM Modi is really so concerned with pasmanda Muslims, why has his government not sought a vacation of the stay in the last nine years or amended the SC list to include Muslim SC?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, it is almost entirely Muslim pasmanda who are the victims of lynching, 97 per cent of which have taken place after the Modi became PM. Why are <i>sangh parivar</i> goons encouraged to shout slogans like <i>“Jab mulle kate jayenge</i>, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chillayaenge” (when the mullahs are slaughtered, they’ll scream Jai Shri Ram)? With, as the PM emphasises, 85 per cent Muslims being pasmanda, it is this 85 per cent that has been targeted (along with the much-excoriated 15 per cent) by <i>sangh parivar</i>-inspired jibes to “go to Pakistan”; controversies on hijab, aazaan, love jihad and namaz in public places; brutal crimes in the name of cow protection; bulldozer politics; razing of mosques; economic boycotts; films like <i>The Kashmir Files </i>and<i> The Kerala Story</i>; and the “exponential rise in hate speech” (Ziya us Salam in <i>The Hindu</i> of June 30).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The five main problems of the Muslim minority, including the 85 per cent pasmanda, are related to ‘identity’, ‘dignity, ‘security’, ‘agency’ and ‘representation’. There are only about 4 per cent Muslim Lok Sabha MPs now as against 8.3 per cent at Indira Gandhi’s second coming. Whatever the BJP may have done in fielding 61 Muslim candidates (out of thousands) in UP’s recent municipal elections, there is not a single Muslim Cabinet minister at the centre, no Muslim among the BJP’s 395 MPs in both Houses, and not a single Muslim candidate was even fielded by the BJP in recent state assembly elections to the 1,109 seats in UP, Gujarat and Karnataka! That is why Zia Us Salam decries the “invisibilisation of Muslims”, 85 per cent of whom are pasmanda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is ideologically opposed to recognising this despite the fact that he gives away gas cylinders for free without discrimination (while charging $1,195 for gas per cylinder—also without discrimination)!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 15 15:55:09 IST 2023 kashmiris-want-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I took one of the 41 daily flights to Srinagar, joining the 1.4 crore annual visitors to Jammu and Kashmir, which is the single most significant proof proffered by the Union government to proclaim the restoration of “normalcy” to the erstwhile state, now transformed into a Union Territory. There I met many Kashmiris, including <i>sarpanches</i> and activist politicians, teachers and students, sheep- and cattle-herders. The trip took me to the Daksum sanctuary, then over the snow-covered Margan Top at 14,000 feet, and across the breadth of the Warwan Valley that lies in the Chenab basin approximating the line that divides Jammu from Kashmir. The scenery was spectacular, but I was there also to gauge the general mood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was widespread agreement that there was peace in the air, the administration was functioning more smoothly than in the past, that government servants were much more regular in attendance instead of busying themselves with their private businesses, that teachers were coming to school on time and actually teaching, that development and infrastructure projects were being implemented, and that corruption was significantly reduced. Much like in Mussolini’s Italy where “the trains ran on time” but democracy was eschewed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The single most important demand was that elections be held so that the UT is restored to statehood, and a representative state assembly could work towards the “restoration” of Articles 370 and 35A. When I retorted that this would also mean the restoration of past misgovernance, it was accepted with little demur that there would be several downsides to popular government but that they accepted, indeed desired this ardently, as the government would then be their government, not one imposed from Delhi; that government servants would not be Hindi-speaking outsiders but would be administering in their language and in accordance with their culture; that they would not be humiliated by being under alien domination; and that they would be equal citizens instead of being denied their democratic rights only because they were Kashmiri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On being asked who would win the elections in view of the gerrymandering of constituencies that has been resorted to blatantly, none seemed to doubt that it would be the National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah and his current descendants. When asked whether the “good governance” provided by the lieutenant governor’s administration would not trump mere sentiment, the unanimous response was that it was only because the National Conference would be the big winner that the Union home ministry was dragging its feet on elections. No matter, they said, whenever the elections are held Kashmir will be restored to Kashmiris, our abject humiliation will end and we will be masters of our own house, whatever the faults of our governance and our politicians and leaders. “We do not want this beggars’ prosperity. We are quite capable of promoting our own welfare and prosperity. After all, even before Article 370 was abruptly removed without our consent, we ranked higher than most states in GDP growth and per capita income, and in health and education.” But what did the hollowed-out Article 370 contain for you personally? The answer invariably was: “Article 370 was the badge of our special identity. And it was from 370 that 35A flowed. It was our guarantee that prosperity in Kashmir would be for Kashmiris and not outsiders”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Pakistan, they were all aware of conditions there and the growing gap between a flourishing India and its fast-collapsing neighbour. In any case, they said, the best guarantee against both accession to Pakistan and ‘azadi’ was the National Conference. And why was dissatisfaction not turning to ‘intifada’? Only because we don’t want to give any excuse to the Indian government to further postpone elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 01 12:53:10 IST 2023 narendra-modi-s-saarc-ploy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has done more than anyone else to destroy the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), chose his invitation to the Hiroshima G7 meeting to air his views on south Asian unity. The setting was somewhat appropriate because just as the atom bomb destroyed the city of Hiroshima, his statement has nuked the idea of a south Asian union.</p> <p><br> SAARC was first proposed in 1979 and initially received with considerable skepticism. Yet, by patient negotiation, the parameters were put together over the next five years for SAARC to be launched in Dhaka in December 1985. Although its achievements were modest, it provided a useful forum for SAARC leaders to get together for regular bilateral talks on the sidelines.</p> <p><br> The main Indian reservation about SAARC was that it could provide a hostile platform for attacks on India, not only by Pakistan but even by monarchical Nepal and a Sri Lanka over-run with internal ethnic insurrections. The geographical asymmetry was duly noted: that India alone had common land or sea boundaries with the other members, none of the others having contiguous frontiers with each other. Therefore, the most fundamental parameter laid down was that bilateral issues, especially political differences, would not be on the multilateral table, where the focus would be on issues of regional development cooperation, especially where complementarities could be availed of for mutual benefit. Infrastructure and common public health issues were kept in the forefront and the cultural diversity of the association was highlighted and celebrated.<br> While sensitive bilateral political issues were off the SAARC agenda, the multiple days’ presence of the leaders afforded them opportunities for bilateral interaction, such as Modi’s own secret interaction with Nawaz Shariff organised at the Kathmandu summit in 2015 by a business intermediary (after Modi had publicly snubbed the Pakistan prime minister).</p> <p><br> Having sabotaged SAARC by his refusal to attend the Islamabad summit, Modi, in Hiroshima, brought up a concept of a South Asian Democratic Union. “Democratic” effectively expels Taliban Afghanistan from the earlier SAARC grouping and provides the window through which the proposed new grouping could eliminate Pakistan. To be a grouping of “democracies” members would be subject to invasive external judgements on whether or not they complied with “democratic” norms. Indeed, authoritarian India, under the present regime, which has seen the country tumbling on all accepted international indices of democratic governance, would be under the microscope. SAARC had carefully excluded such unwarranted interference from near and far.</p> <p><br> Worse, much worse than this, is Modi’s premise that the proposed South Asian Union must be among those who share a “common history and culture”. This is clearly designed to exclude Islamic countries, like Pakistan and Afghanistan, and even the Maldives, who proclaim the religious character of their states in their constitution and would hotly contest the suggestion that they share a “common” history and culture with India. Bangladesh would find itself in a pickle because although it is described as “secular” in its (amended) constitution, it is clearly Islamic in its overall nature. Modi’s formulation also unwittingly excludes Buddhist states like Sri Lanka and Bhutan who would reject the notion that their history or culture is indistinguishable from India’s. Perhaps when Nepal was a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, under the now deposed monarchy, it might have accepted the idea of a shared history and culture, but today’s fiercely independent, nationalistic and secular Nepal would certainly ferociously object to its history and culture being subordinated to India’s.</p> <p><br> For that matter, does an India that is at war with itself over “Aurangzeb ki aulad”, have a common history or culture? We are united as a nation only because of our “unity in diversity”. That alone can be the basis of south Asian unity.</p> Sat Jun 17 11:16:17 IST 2023 double-engine-sarkar-has-wreaked-havoc-in-manipur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While Manipur is no stranger to violence and ethnic clashes, the communal rioting seen this year is essentially the consequence of the majoritarian authoritarianism that characterises the BJP’s approach to “forced assimilation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The largely Hindu Meitei population of the valley has lived in relative accord with their largely Christian tribal neighbours of the hill areas, owing to deep sensitivity to each other’s separate identity, reinforced by constitutional arrangements for a degree of autonomy through district councils and hill administration councils under Article 371 C, and political accommodation through reservations for ST in the assembly and including tribal representatives in the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But ever since the BJP stole its way to power to overturn the outcome of the 2017 election, a strident majoritarianism has pitted the Vaishnavite Hindus of the valley against the Christian tribals of the hills leading to the present outbreak that has been simmering over the six years that N. Biren Singh has been chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A dissident Kuki MLA of the BJP, Paolienlal Haokip, has described the Biren Singh administration as “the best example of inept handling of everything”. Ineptness is evident in the BJP government’s drive against the cultivation of poppies, cannabis, and marijuana, launched in February this year, to clear reserved forest lands that, it was claimed, had been “encroached” upon by tribals in general and particularly by “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar across the border. This is a good illustration of the “double engine sarkar” at work, for it is the Central government that has looked askance at the Muslim Rohingya and Zo tribals fleeing Burmese junta persecution by refusing to grant them ‘refugee’ status and the local Manipuri BJP that has attempted to cow down the tribal minority instead of working towards their gradual emotional integration into a composite Manipuri identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the origins of the problem may be traced to the British having been “insensitive to kinship ties” across the Manipur-Burma border, the current aggravation arises from the inhuman outlook of the Manipur government that has condemned the Zo tribals fleeing genocide as “illegal immigrants”; sought an NRC, as in Assam, to identify “foreigners” in the Kuki-dominated districts; and roughly handled delicate issues of land rights and cultural identity. Large swathes of Kuki-Zomi-Hmar lands have been declared reserved forests or otherwise put out of bounds to the locals without following “established procedures”, leading to severe economic disruption as the unyielding hills are more easily cultivated by slash-and-burn methods known as “subsistence swidden farming” than back-breaking terracing for settled farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As underlined by Kuki public intellectuals of repute, the police have been “deeply communalised”; the authorities, as a whole, have been “biased” rather than “equidistant”; and civil society organisations have been incentivised to “propagate a more radical brand of Meitei nationalism”. In consequence, a vicious spiral of mutual violence has been spun. The inbuilt majority of Meiteis in the assembly (39 of 60) has in March 2023 withdrawn the suspension of operations agreement with two major Kuki and Zomi armed entities. And into this cauldron, the Manipur High Court has directed the government to prepare the ground to declare Meiteis as Scheduled Tribes, thus removing the last safeguard of the existing hill ST. Such has been the loss of confidence in the fairness of the Biren Singh government that almost all BJP Kuki MLAs and opinion-makers of the Kuki and other minority tribal groupings have demanded a “separate administration” by placing the hills under the sixth schedule, as in neighbouring Mizoram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such is the outcome of substituting “unity in diversity” with BJP-style “unity through uniformity”. Manipur in microcosm is the fate awaiting the Indian Union if saffron rule is continued in 2024.</p> Fri Jun 02 17:29:32 IST 2023 we-cannot-wish-pakistan-away-and-we-should-not <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude, that is, delighting in another’s troubles. In India, there is considerable schadenfreude over the mess in Pakistan, where everything—politically, economically and in foreign policy—seems to have gone wrong at the same time. The civil polity is hopelessly divided, with the army threatening to bring back order once again through the barrel of a gun. The economy is in the doldrums. Pakistan has ceased to be the springboard for determining the outcome in Afghanistan. The world has lost interest in Afghanistan but not the Taliban in wanting to dismantle the Durand Line. And India merely scoffs at Pakistan’s increasingly frenetic rhetoric that seeks to refocus world attention on Kashmir. The world is not listening. And might the Chinese (“the all-weather friend”) turn Gwadar into a Hambantota, effectively snatching the strategic port away from Pakistani sovereignty to get themselves reimbursed for their humongous investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At just this juncture, our foreign minister has chosen to be rude to the point of crudeness to his Pakistani counterpart in the latest instalment of a personal quarrel that Jaishankar sparked in New York and got back as good as he gave. Is this in our long-term interest? What do we gain from Pakistan’s collapse? More, to the point, is Pakistan collapsing?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan came into being because the Muslim elite, in large measure, did not wish to become a minority in someone else’s dispensation. That sentiment constitutes the bonding adhesive of their nationhood. It makes Pakistanis more patriotic in times of crisis than when the going is good. In normal times, they enjoy mocking their leadership. But when the unity or integrity of their nation is threatened, they band together. We need to understand this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have seen in India, particularly in the ghastly era through which we are currently transiting, how “hurt religious sentiment” can be transmuted into political gain. Religion, the raison d’etre of the birth of Pakistan, can quickly and effectively be invoked if India is seen as taking advantage of Pakistan’s woes. The reaction in Pakistan to Jaishankar’s snarl at Bilawal in Goa only proves that the higher the level of India’s schadenfreude, the greater Pakistan is incentivised to come together. Of course, Jaishankar’s primary goal was to please his boss and establish his credentials as a true saffronite; but if he thought his huffing and his puffing is going to blow the Pakistan house down, his hopes will be belied for his rhetoric only solidifies Pakistan’s desire not to revert to being India. This in turn means that a turbulent Pakistan remains a neighbour of India and an indivisible part of our shared subcontinent. We cannot wish them way—and, therefore, should not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, while Pakistan is no longer a key ally of the US and is being increasingly displaced by Joe Biden’s outreach to Modi, it is difficult to imagine the US looking away when the eighth largest country in the global community—Pakistan—is being dismantled against the will of Pakistanis. So, as in the past, so in the future, the Americans will grudgingly bail out their former partner, if only to stop China from becoming their sole benefactor. Hence, Pakistan will be helped to weather out this crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given that Pakistan is here to stay and has the potential to restore its broken polity and economy, what we have to decide is whether to continue our nearly decade-old disengagement with Pakistan. It is clear that if Modi wins in 2024, this disengagement will continue, but given the imperative necessity of uniting the opposition to forestall that outcome, at the appropriate time Pakistan policy has to be inserted consensually into the joint opposition agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat May 20 11:19:51 IST 2023 diminishing-the-mughal-period <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The National Council of Educational Research and Training claims to have “balanced” the burden on 12th class school children by substantially reducing their learning and understanding of the Mughal legacy. In fact, they are only playing ‘Their Master’s Voice’ by carrying through the ideological obfuscation of the ruling saffron establishment. They claim to have given the vacated “space” to regional histories of Hindu dynasties but have, in fact, only added a few pages about the Vijayanagar Empire, leaving out any substantial additions to the Pallava, the Chola, the Pandya, the Chera, the Rashtrakuta, the Chalukya, the Sena, the Pala, the Ahom, and a host of others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a reason the earlier texts gave more pages to the Mughals. These reasons were basically the same that covered the findings of the pre-Aryan Harappan heritage, the Vedic Age, the Buddha and Mahavira, the Asokan Empire, the Guptas and Adi Sankara, namely, that these were more nation-wide and had a longer cultural and civilisational impact on the nation’s memory of itself. But the Mughals have been downgraded precisely because their empire stretched all the way to the deep south and the east/north-east. The Mughal empire in the north extended to Kashmir and northwest to Pakistan, and even most of Afghanistan. This cannot be said of any of the regional kingdoms. I could, therefore, have understood a separate paper on our regional kingdoms, which are taught in colleges, but the pretence that the Mughals are given too much prominence is a political prejudice that should have no place in the formation of young minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the cultural contribution of the Mughal period to our syncretic civilisation is far more significant than its political boundaries. For, it was during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate (1192-1526), predecessors to the Mughals (1526-1858), that the Hindawi language was developed (largely by Amir Khusrow in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Auliya) and has now become the Hindi of our times. It was also during the late Mughal period that Urdu arose and became one of the constitutionally recognised languages of independent India. Music and dance, painting, sculpture and poetry became at the time, under royal patronage, a precious national treasure rather than a sectional legacy. The architectural inheritance remains a proud part of our national pride. It was also during the Mughal period that the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, the Upanishads and the other masterpieces were translated into Persian for wider acquaintance to the non-Hindu minorities of India. It was a period of intense inter-religious interaction, for the Sufi and Bhakti movement, which underly almost all of contemporary Hindu belief and practice, unfolded during these centuries of Mughal rule in all their syncretic brilliance. Indeed, the origins of Bhakti movement may be dated from Saint Ramanuja who reigned spiritually from the Tamil country, synthesising the bitterly opposed Saivite and Vaishnavite traditions, when the Tughlaqs were on their thrones in far-away Delhi, but really flourished when Swami Ramanand, Tukaram, Chaitanya, Sankardev, Ravidas, Kabir and Mirabai spread their universal message of divine love under the benevolent gaze of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal emperors. It is indeed little recalled that Tulsidas wrote his Ramayan even as the Babri Masjid loomed over Ayodhya. And the apogee of the Bhakti movement under the ten Sikh Gurus came to final bloom when there were Muslim rulers on the Delhi throne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While there might be merit in strengthening text book passages that highlight the civilisational consequences of Sultanate and Mughal rule, at the expense of political and military history, there is none in making little Jinnahs of our children by filling their minds with tendentious two-nation theories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri May 05 16:46:12 IST 2023 can-a-govt-appointed-fact-check-body-be-effective <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union IT minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar must consider the Indian public to be most gullible if he thinks his argument for a governmental fact-finding body will wash. He argues that a wholly government-appointed fact-finding body without any countervailing authority to check its actions before it takes them within minutes in real time, is justified because government is the target of “most misinformation attacks” and “only the government has access to government data and so it is impossible for any non-government entity to effectively fact check content about the government”. And, so, he wishes to put in place a system where the government becomes the judge in its own cause! And the way is thus opened to removing all checks and balances on government evaluations and actions since in every case government would be entitled to claim that it alone is capable of determining what is what as it alone has all the required “facts”.</p> <p>We are treading dangerous constitutional ground here, threatening the very basis of our Constitution where justice is open and transparent, and no one, not even the government, is allowed to hide from the court’s stern view of all the germane facts and alternative perspectives on these facts. For, after all “Facts are sacred; opinion is free” as the famous <i>Guardian </i>editor, C.P. Scott, remarked and raised to the basic credo of frank, free, and fearless journalism.</p> <p>The press note issued along with the minister’s decision claims it seeks an “open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet”. It does nothing of the sort. It just seeks to control public access to significant facts and governmental interpretation of these since, according to Chandrashekhar, government is “the target” of “most misinformation operations”. But what of situations, increasingly frequent, of others being the target of government-inspired “misinformation” and “no information”—such as the genuineness of the prime minister’s educational qualifications, as declared to the Election Commission of India at the time of his filing his nomination papers, and the refusal of the prime minister to answer or clarify any of the questions raised by the (former) leader of the opposition on the floor of the house regarding his relationship with the discredited business baron, Gautam Adani? Not to mention scores of other issues pending under the Right to Information Act and the manifest illegality of detentions in J&amp;K? When innocents are as much the target of government “misinformation”, how on earth can it be assumed that the government is the only ‘target’ in need of protection? Why not rely instead on the courts that are open to all citizens as much as to government departments and personalities and the existing mechanisms of “a grievance office” and “GAC framework appellate” that the honourable minister invokes?</p> <p>He claims that government actions in this regard will always faithfully take account of the fundamental rights prescribed in the Constitution, but surely it is not for government to determine whether its own actions are ultra vires the “basic structure” and fundamental rights of individuals. Misinformation is best tackled in the open, not by hiding behind governmental access to “facts”.</p> <p>There are facts that governments hide and facts that are revealed only to the benefit of governments. The job of a free media (including social media) is to wheedle out&nbsp; “facts” inconvenient to the government in an atmosphere free of hatred, fear, and bile. And for government to respond, transparently and openly, if it has in its possession other facts or considerations on which it determines its approach.</p> <p>It is this freedom to offer an alternative view that enabled the BJP to access two terms in power. It now seems to think its predominance is final. That is the kind of hubris that overtakes most authoritarians.</p> Sat Apr 22 20:51:05 IST 2023 its-uk-indian-origin-pm-versus-scotlands-pak-origin-leader-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a delightful irony to Humza Haroon Yousaf, the 37-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants, having been elected the head of the Scottish National Party, and thus emerging as first minister of Scotland. For he now comes in direct confrontation with the Indian-origin PM of the United Kingdom in determining whether the UK will remain a united kingdom or split into two sovereign countries: Britain and Scotland. Partition was the price the Brits gouged out of us to grant us our independence. Now an ethnic Pakistani and an ethnic Indian will determine whether the United Kingdom of England and Scotland, twins joined at the hip in 1707, will remain twinned or be severed from one another. And even as the princely states hoped the departing Britons would succeed in carving out for them a separate Princestan, Wales and Northern Ireland also wait with bated breath to see whether the country to which they belong will be Balkanised, as India almost was, or survive as the rump Great Britain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yousaf’s clarion call has been “Stronger for Scotland”, and he has reiterated that his “would be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland”. To this end, he has declared that he seeks a second referendum to retest the outcome of the last referendum in 2014 that delivered a marginal verdict in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. Yousaf insists that he is not looking for a marginal but decisive victory in a second referendum. Rishi Sunak has countered that a referendum would “distract” from “delivering on the things that are top of the priority list for people across Scotland”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the hard fact is that it is “independence” that is at the top of Scotland’s priority list. For in the Brexit referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union while the UK as a whole marginally voted in favour of leaving. What Scotland now seeks is not only the dissolution of the Act of Union of 1707 but also the opportunity of rejoining the European Union from which, in the Scottish perception, Scotland gained a lot, reflecting Ireland’s view that EU membership grants a net reaping of benefits. Thus, a second referendum would be held in an overall scenario that is radically different to 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, polls suggest that support for secession from the UK has dropped in Scotland to 39 per cent, well below the 44.7 per cent who voted to quit the United Kingdom in 2014. Yet, the situation remains volatile as 58 per cent polled in favour of separating when Scotland’s pandemic performance proved far superior to England’s. Significantly, Yousaf was the celebrated Scottish minister who engineered Scotland’s impressive Covid-19 response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, for all his brave words, the Punjabi Indian British PM has his work cut out in his forthcoming battle with the Punjabi Pakistani first minister of Scotland. The last card up Sunak’s sleeve is that even a decisive referendum in favour of vivisecting the UK would not be the end of the matter. Westminster, where the UK parliament sits, has, according to the law, the final word. Unless the House of Commons accepts the outcome of any Scottish referendum, the partition of the UK cannot legally take place. Therefore, the ultimate irony would be if the British government were to set up a Cabinet Mission to negotiate their way out of the tangled mess that would be created by a successful Scottish referendum. It would parallel the imbroglio caused by the Indian elections in 1945-46 that required the despatch of the Cabinet Mission, whose leader, Pethick Lawrence came to be called “Pathetic Lawrence”!</p> Sun Apr 09 07:33:15 IST 2023 the-three-women-who-helped-mrs-chatterjee <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Rani Mukerji starrer Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway was released throughout India and worldwide on March 17. In Norway itself, tickets were sold out four days before the first screening. This shows that the issues raised by the film are not of concern only to Indians but also to Norwegians who suffer the heavy hand of the Barnevernet, the Norwegian Child Protection Service (CPS). The CPS has been empowered by a draconian law to protect child rights but, on the ground, acts without adequate institutional checks or balances, thus causing needless and sometimes endless suffering to parents who are deprived of their infants and children without any discoverable reason. Reasons are not discoverable because the right to privacy of the abducted child is heavily protected in the law itself, leaving the victim parents often quite bewildered as to why their children are being taken from them. While CPS is free to enter what evidence it wishes in Norwegian courts of law, defendants are simply not allowed to examine much of this “evidence” kept under wraps. Inevitably, the judge is obliged to list in the direction of the prosecution. And there is virtually no recourse to the executive because, it is claimed, the Norwegian system does not permit intervention by any ministry or minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This confers such arbitrary powers of immunity and impunity on CPS that the moot question is whether in protecting the child’s right to privacy the human rights of the deprived parent and the child are not being brutally violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film is based on the real-life story of a young Indian woman, Sagarika Chakraborty Bhattacharjee, whose infants were snatched from her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the allegations made against her was the accusation that she fed her children with her hand; that she smeared her daughter’s forehead; that the kids slept in the same bed as the parents. The social worker assigned to them was a young English woman, who mocked Sagarika that Indians were “running around naked” until the British “civilised” them, and that she knew how Indian parents brought up their children because she had seen Slumdog Millionaire! Sagarika was also charged with mental illness and instability for having fiercely resisted the attempt to take away her children. Besides, foster parents are so handsomely compensated that exploitation of child protection laws for pecuniary gain is an ever-present threat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the children were eventually repatriated to India through the intervention of foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj—at the instance of Brinda Karat, the fiery CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP at the time—it was only the dogged persistence of a pro bono Indian lawyer, my daughter Suranya Aiyar, that eventually reunited Sagarika with her children. They are both growing up happy and normal in the loving care of their mother who has had the grit to train herself in software engineering and give her children a good living by working in a multi-national company. The current state of the mother and children is the best proof that in stealing away her infants the Barnevernet had gravely erred. It also showed that if the Norwegian government puts its mind to it, successful executive intervention is possible, whatever the theology of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What lesson does all this hold for India? Only one. That with millions of NRIs travelling abroad and facing the rigours of child protection laws in all of the western world, MEA must become pro-active in helping Indian parents deal with such cases that are rife in the western world. To this end, perhaps a law needs to be enacted by Parliament to secure a binding commitment from the government to do so through its diplomatic and consular offices abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 25 11:33:46 IST 2023 why-we-secularists-must-fight-on-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The basic structure of our nation is the source of the basic structure of our Constitution. So, in protecting the basic structure of our Constitution, the Supreme Court is protecting the very basis of our nationhood, which is “unity in diversity”. Delivering their judgement, rejecting a petition moved by a hindutivist, Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice B.V. Nagarathna have stamped their judicial imprimatur on the idea of India that for the past nine years has been under its most serious challenge ever. As the honourable justices aver, “There is no space for bigotry in Hinduism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the forces who do not represent the Hindu religion but a political perversion of it, are symbols of bigotry seeking to lump all non-Hindus, especially Muslims, as “barbaric invaders”. The court rightly asserts the “golden principle of fraternity”, which is “enshrined in the Preamble”. The petitioner who decried “foreign invaders” as “looters” was rhetorically asked, “Can you wish away invasions from history? What are you trying to achieve?” It was unambiguously affirmed, “India that is Bharat is a secular country… wedded to the rule of law, secularism, constitutionalism of which Article 14 stands out as the grand guarantee of both equality and fairness in state action.” No politician has put it more clearly than that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Underlining that, “India is a secular state, this is a secular forum,” Justice Nagarathna pleaded, “let us not break society with such kinds of petitions, please have the country in mind, not any religion.” And Justice Joseph added, “I am a Christian, but I can say I am equally fond of Hinduism… Try and understand its greatness.” Saying that, “History cannot haunt present and future generations,” the bench warned against our becoming “prisoners of the past” and underlined that “this court should not become an instrument to create havoc”. And Justice Joseph concluded, “We have to understand our own greatness. Our greatness should lead us to be magnanimous.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addressing these words to the petitioner, the bench had much more than the petitioner in mind. The audience Justice Joseph and Justice Nagarathna were addressing was much wider extending to the nation as a whole and including all those who have been undermining our fraternity as a nation. The audience would include the ruling dispensation. While Rahul Gandhi’s plea to “open in the bazaar of hatred the store of love” might be construed as a partisan political jibe, when a similar view is expressed by a bench of the highest court in the land, it is imperative that the powers-that-be absorb the judicial message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no place in our nationhood for the targeting of minorities with lynchings or ‘love jihad’, or bulldozing the very modest homes of blameless Muslims, or holding them to be “Babar ki aulad”―expressions that are freely bruited about without a word of reprimand from their leaders, indeed with encouragement of one minister demanding “goli maro saalon ko”. It is, thus, that the ground is prepared for calls to genocide that go unpunished. The nation has been brought to a very dangerous place. The court has rightly warned against invoking history “selectively” to “create schisms in society”. Yet, this is the precise stock-in-trade of those who have risen on the ladder of the pogrom in 2002 and abuse of the civic and human rights of a section of our society. In the words of an earlier judgment of the Supreme Court, the “egregious violence” that went into the brick-by-brick demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be deplored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court is, in effect, warning against the stoking of religious vengeance-seeking. It is for the sangh parivar in both its avatars as the RSS and the BJP to heed the call of the court. I have no expectation they will. Which is why we secularists must fight on, confident that the Supreme Court is behind us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 10 15:08:30 IST 2023 why-congress-should-stoop-to-conquer-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When the Bharat Jodo Yatra climaxed at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, with Rahul Gandhi raising the national flag at this historic spot, I remarked to some newspersons who had gathered around me that this was the “inflexion point” at which a moral crusade would turn into a political campaign. Having roused the conscience of the nation against the hatred being spewed, and having galvanised the party through the length of the country, the moment had arrived when our thoughts would have to seriously turn to defeating the source of the divisiveness that has overtaken us as a people. That opportunity would come at the general elections scheduled for a year hence.</p> <p>By the time this column is in your hands, a giant step towards that end would have been taken at the plenary session of the All India Congress Committee in Raipur over the weekend of February 25-26. This is being written in anticipation of that event. What must the Congress do now to politically capitalise on Rahul Gandhi’s long march?</p> <p>The agenda would be complex, and there are many issues to tackle. But attention would be focused on the grand strategy for the general elections. Would the Congress be going it alone as the only party in the opposition with a national presence? Or will it do so in alliance with only those regional parties who concede in advance the premier position to the Congress? Or taking on board all regional parties in recognition of their regional hold while leaving it till after the elections to determine who will lead the coalition government if the grand alliance prevails at the polls?</p> <p>I think the party should hark back to the Chintan Shivir at Pachmarhi in 1998 where the consensus was that the Congress should go it alone. Then the Congress mind should turn to how events actually played out. After reverses in 1999, the Congress started seeing merit in allying with at least some regional parties to take on the formidable Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004. Vajpayee, for his part, was so convinced of his invincibility that he brought forward the 2004 elections by almost six months. As we now know, that proved to be misplaced confidence, and, instead of the BJP, it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that took the reins of government for 10 long years.</p> <p>What is often forgotten is that the UPA did not exist before the elections. The UPA coalition was put together and named as such after the results were out, not before. Who would be prime minister was also determined after, and not before, the election outcome. Later, when the Left parties baulked at Dr Manmohan Singh’s civil nuclear cooperation deal with the US and the Samajwadi Party stepped into the breach to secure parliamentary endorsement of the agreement, SP became part of the UPA.</p> <p>It is this history that suggests itself as the answer for 2024. The Congress on its own cannot take on the saffron forces. But it need not be on its own. Most meaningful opposition parties, including Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar in the two most populous states of the Union, are as dedicated to the principle of ridding India of the last decade of hindutva rule as any Congressman or woman. Therefore, it would be advisable for the Congress to “stoop to conquer” by not asserting its primacy as a national party so as to facilitate a gravitation towards a mahagathbandhan. The election results would then show, as they did in 2004, which of the parties of the alliance has how many seats. And, accordingly, the question of leadership can be evolved by consensus.</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Mar 02 14:45:11 IST 2023 let-jpc-probe-adani <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As a member of the joint parliamentary committees (JPCs) set up to enquire into the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of the early 1990s and the Ketan Parekh stock market scam of a decade later, I am disturbed that the current government has not promptly moved to set up a JPC to enquire into the hammering Adani stocks have received in the wake of the Hindenburg report detailing what it calls “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud”, and “poor corporate governance” in the conglomerate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charges are specific; Adani’s responses are vague. Regulatory supervision is the function of the government and its agencies. The key question is whether such supervision has in the present case been exercised with due diligence. Only the regulators can clarify, and only a JPC can compel them to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The principal finding of the Harshad Mehta JPC was that the regulators—armed with doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from Oxbridge-Harvard and flourishing their credentials as World Bank-IMF experts—either fell asleep at the wheel or were so thrilled with the economic reforms they were helming that they deliberately ignored the warning bells sounding in the Bombay Stock Exchange of the gross transgressions of the laws of the land. This was essentially because they believed the laws to be antediluvian. Rather than change the law, they decided to worship the market—and so did not realise that the market was being manipulated by unscrupulous brokers who found ready collaborators in public sector and private banks, domestic and foreign, LIC and UTI—just as we see happening today. The manipulators manipulate and the regulators find divinity in the volatility of stock exchanges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time the Harshad Mehta scam broke, the director the Enforcement Directorate was an IAS officer of unimpeachable integrity, Javed Chowdhury. The agony he endured has been well described in his 2012 memoir—An Insider’s View. I quote from pp. 134-136 because his words find such eerie resonance in the Adani matter that they could have been written about the present. He charged that “the nature of financial violation was brazen and executed so obviously in furtherance of the private profit of certain select individuals”. Change “individuals” to “individual” and you have a 1992 prism through which to view the events of 2023. Chowdhury goes on: “There was not the slightest tinge of introspection or remorse—there was only absolute confidence in talking one’s way out of the crisis.” This is how the government today is reacting to the Adani imbroglio. Chowdhury then delivers his final punch, “The attitude was that if laws have been violated, the laws are wrong—because they (economic tsars) understood economics and therefore what they say should be the law.” As the Congress spokesman put, “The Adani Group is no ordinary conglomerate: it is closely identified with Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the time he was chief minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, of course, these are yet-to-be-proved allegations. But the question immediately arises, what was the finance ministry’s high-level committee on capital markets (HLCC), set up on the recommendation of the Harshad Mehta JPC report, doing? It is chaired by the finance secretary and includes the top brass of regulators from governor, RBI to chairman, SEBI. What escaped their eye but caught Hindenburg’s attention? Especially as the small investors, who are the nation’s principal concern, seem to regard Hindenburg’s findings credible as they quit their Adani holdings in droves, and have stayed away from Adani’s FPO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An alert HLCC would have been able to provide convincing answers but, as in the Ketan Parekh scam, seems to have woken up only after its shoulders were shaken by Hindenburg. The only way of unearthing the truth is through yet another JPC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 11 11:12:14 IST 2023 mani-shankar-aiyar-amul-sodhi-ouster-anand-amit-shah <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it was announced in 2021 that the overburdened Union Home Minister Amit Shah was to be given additional charge of the newly constituted Union ministry of cooperatives, I frankly wondered what the motive might be. It hardly seemed par for the course that the virtual number two in the government should want to add such a minor portfolio to his bulging responsibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remembered meeting Dr V. Kurien at Raj Bhavan as part of my district training in Gujarat as an IFS probationer in 1964. Kurien had just started giving impetus to the milk cooperative at Anand that has now grown into the giant Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation with 3.64 million members, and procurement daily of some 26 million litres of milk. Kurien declared his ambition to make Amul cheese as good as Kraft. Now, Amul cheese has long become a household word while Kraft is remembered only by senior citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of those most responsible for Amul’s startling success is Rupinder Singh Sodhi, whose twelve-year term as managing director was suddenly terminated at the GCMMF board meeting on January 9, 2023. The abrupt dismissal letter, brusque to the point of rudeness, bluntly said, “…Your services as MD are being terminated with immediate effect… ordered that you hand over charge immediately”. No word of appreciation for services rendered. No expression of gratitude for 40 years of unstinted service to the organisation. No thanks for taking the organisation to an altogether different dimension. No reference to Sodhi having asked to be relieved when his term ended, and then being given an extension that he had not sought. Just an order to go, as if he had been hanging on undeservedly or had done something execrably wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sodhi himself took the end graciously. Like the gentlemen he is, he simply commented, “I have resigned… I have been telling the board I want to pursue other things.” He added, “It was my own decision.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has not convinced the media. One writer described Sodhi as having been “ousted”; another referred to the “shock and surprise” caused by his dismissal; a third said it “raises disturbing questions”. A journalist cited a board member saying, “…We were informed that it was the party’s decision to not allow Sodhi to continue… it was a decision from the party, and nothing could be done about it”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do you now see why I was concerned at the announcement that Shah had been given additional charge of cooperatives? His own explanation was that he had a long association with the cooperative movement. He did not add that this included a previous directorship with the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank that was at the heart of the Ketan Parekh stock market scam. I was a member of the joint parliamentary committee set up to investigate the shenanigans. The key to the scam was the huge sums of money borrowed quite illegally and often overnight by Parekh from the cooperative that ultimately bankrupted the bank. Parekh was arrested in August 2004. A few months later, the CBI court granted him conditional bail. But as Parekh was unable to discharge his debt of around 1800 crore to the cooperative bank, his incarceration continued. Controversies persist regarding the alleged connection between Parekh and the ruling party in Gujarat, but these allegations now stand lost in the labyrinth through which the case is wending its way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 28 14:28:05 IST 2023 the-real-toll-of-kashmiri-pandits-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The truth has a curious way of eventually emerging. Since 1990—that is for the last 33 years—the BJP has consistently maintained that the “targeted attacks” on Kashmiri Pandits since militancy began in January 1990 was communal and designed to drive non-Muslims out of the Kashmir valley. The principal proponent of this theory was the governor of J&amp;K, Jagmohan, and his line has since been taken up by the hindutva brigade and peddled without regard for facts or perspective. Indeed, the film, Kashmir Files, was part of this propaganda invective. It focused exclusively on the Kashmiri Pandits. The only Muslims shown were the terrorists. It deliberately ignored the Kashmiri Muslim victims of the terror.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For three decades the saffron forces have been toeing the line that it was Muslim communal terrorism that drove approximately 80,000 Kashmiri Pandits (perhaps more) out of their ancient homeland. The solutions looked for were, therefore, communally coloured. The reading down of Article 370 was similarly motivated by communal considerations. And the numerous arrests that followed—running to thousands—was also communally motivated. All Kashmiri Muslim dissidents were tarred with the same communal brush. Kashmiri Muslims were removed from positions of political power, and from senior police and civil servants’ posts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conclusive proof offered by the BJP of normalcy having returned to J&amp;K was the recruitment and posting of several Kashmiri Pandits into the civil services in Kashmir valley. When a few of them were gunned down, many (apparently most) of these freshly recruited cadre went on leave to their families in Jammu and refused to return to their posts in the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha confessed, “The country should stop seeing this issue on the basis of religion. A lot of other people have also been killed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been insistently pointing out since 1990 that the internal evidence generated by the J&amp;K administration itself clearly shows that both communities, and not just Kashmiri Pandits, had suffered at the hands of the terrorists. The principal proof I offered was from page 478 of Jagmohan’s My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, his account of his thankfully brief but disastrous governorship (January to May 1990). Jagmohan cites a report from the additional director-general of police, Srinagar, which “asserted that from December 1989 to May 15, 1990, 134 innocent persons had been killed by the militants. The killings of 71 Hindus during this period created fear in the minority community and accelerated the pace of migration of Kashmiri Pandits”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagmohan did not make the obvious calculation that if 134 had been killed, of whom 71 were Hindus, that must mean that the nearly equal number of Muslims killed was 63!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This refusal to acknowledge that the victims of terrorism were almost the same in the two communities continued over the next decades and became acute after 2014. At the height of the communal propaganda unleashed by the hindutva brigade, one P.P. Kapoor, a concerned citizen of Samalkha in Haryana, put in an RTI request to be officially informed of the numbers killed from each community. He received a reply from the deputy superintendent of police, Srinagar. The reply bore no. HQR’s/RTI/S-91/2021/1808-09 and was dated November 27, 2021. It unambiguously stated that the number of Hindus killed “since the inception of militancy 1990” was 89, while “the number of those of other faiths” killed stood at 1,635, more than 16 times that of the Hindus killed!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If even these numbers, generated entirely by the J&amp;K administration, will not persuade the LG’s administration to change course, that will only show that the biased communalism of the saffron forces cannot accommodate itself to the true situation in J&amp;K.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 14 12:12:18 IST 2023 the-peace-of-the-graveyard-bjp-gujarat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I think the lowest point in the Gujarat campaign came when Union Home Minister Amit Shah proclaimed that “such a lesson was taught in 2002” that it has since led to “akhand shanti (eternal peace)” in Gujarat. Yes, the peace of the graveyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was not speaking of the dreadful events at the railway signal outside Godhra, where more than 50 kar sevaks were burnt alive in their coach. For that was not riot, but murder, and those responsible have been sentenced to life imprisonment and death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “rioters” referred to by Shah were the inflamed Hindu mobs who massacred at least a thousand Muslims who had nothing to do with what had happened at Godhra. Shah has in fact portrayed the innocent Muslim victims as “those engaging in communal riots”. A few of the Hindu “rioters” have been deservedly sentenced to life imprisonment. Some have recently been released and at least one lot has been received back with garlands and sweets. What “lesson” have they been taught or learnt? That vengeance killing of innocents is to be commended?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also made the outrageous claim that “in 2002, communal riots took place because the Congress people let it become a habit” and that “if there is anyone who has ravaged Gujarat through communal riots, it is Congress people”. Rubbish. In 1969, when the Congress was celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary, who was it that stoked such vicious riots in Ahmedabad that the chief guest, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, stalked off stating that such violence was totally anathema to Gandhiji’s philosophy? Of course not the Congress, because it would hardly wreck its own reputation on so solemn an occasion. It was the saffron lot. And who in 1985 converted a caste clash into a communal uprising but those whose basic philosophy is to spread hatred against minority communities, especially Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Strict action,” Shah went on to claim, “had been taken by the BJP government against those engaging in communal riots”. Really? Then why was Maya Kodnani, one of those eventually found by the courts to have been so mixed up in the rioting as to be deserving of a life sentence, retained in Modi’s council of ministers? Why was Babu Bajrangi allowed his freedom despite boasting that he had personally killed innocent Muslims until the courts took action years later? Why was Manoj Kukrani released on bail to campaign for his daughter after being convicted to life imprisonment for the heinous crimes he committed?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Vagra, Bharuch district, the same day, Shah asserted that “these people (the rioters) last showed courage in 2002”. Courage? Courage to spear an unborn child to death? Courage to stab a pregnant woman? Courage to assassinate such a noble exemplar of communal harmony as Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP? Courage to rape Bilkis Bano repeatedly in the presence of her daughter and do the same to her and other female members of the family while heartlessly murdering innocent boys and men for no reason other than their faith? Or was the word courage a mistranslation? True, as Shah said, some of “these people” were “one by one... sorted and put in jail”, but where was the Union home minister when, on their being released on the Gujarat government’s order, which is under challenge in the Supreme Court, these criminals were feted and felicitated as “sanskari Brahmins”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most laughable of his claims—but for how grim the claim was—was that the BJP government “tightened the noose of the law so sternly that it taught a lesson to those doing the riots”. In fact, the Gujarat government at best stood aside twiddling its thumbs and, at worst, was complicit in the horrors taking place under its watch. Extraordinarily, the Election Commission has let Shah off the hook. But election victories do not absolve lies and hate speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 31 11:26:17 IST 2022 nadav-lapid-kashmir-files-opinion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nadav Lapid, the Israeli head of the jury at the International Film Festival of India, described Kashmir Files—the official Indian entry for the competitive section of the festival—as “vulgar propaganda”. He said he and his fellow jurors were “disturbed and shocked” on viewing the film. “We all jury members shared exactly the same impression of the movie” as “very crude, manipulated and violent”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In subsequent comments to the Indian and Israeli media, he has further described the Vivek Agnihotri film as “ridiculous” and compared it with a “cartoon for kids” in the manner in which the “bad guys” are portrayed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, Lapid said, “A flat product… totally in service of an agenda”, which has left him “with a very bad taste”. He has confirmed that he is questioning the “aesthetic and artistic quality of the film” and not “questioning the veracity of the facts”. Indeed, he believes, “Tragic events like this deserve a serious movie… a piece of art that truly represents what happened with realistic values.” Instead, Kashmir Files has served up a movie with “fascist features” as shown by the manner the film was “pushed into the official competition due to political pressure by the Indian government”. He said, “Even if it did not actually make” the film, the Indian government “pushed” it “in an unusual way”. The movie, he elaborated, “is not equal to the tragedy… such serious topics deserve a serious film.” This, Kashmir Files is manifestly not because it is “a propagandist movie inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival”. It is only “manipulation, vulgar, violence…that can cause hostility, violence and hate between communities”. He has further dubbed the movie as “Islamophobic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before we go on, let us see who this Israeli is. He was invited because he is an eminent cineaste and film critic who has served as president of the jury in dozens of film festivals, including “the biggest ones like Cannes, Berlin and others”. As a filmmaker, he first came to international notice when he was awarded the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2011 for his debut film, Policeman, and went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his Synonyms. You cannot go much higher than that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In answer to the Israeli ambassador’s charge that he should be “ashamed” of himself, Lapid has tartly responded that he has not come to India “in order to serve the interests of the state”. That, he adds, is “a totally fascistic idea”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what is arguably his most compelling comment, he stresses that, “We must have the capacity to deal with things in a complex way.” By simplifying complex issues into bad guys vs. good guys, Agnihotri has not served the cause of truth even if, as he claims, all the ‘facts’ he has cherrypicked are accurate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I offer two telling facts to close this column. In his reminiscences of the exodus that occurred under his watch when he was governor, Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan says 138 persons were killed till March 10, 1990, of whom 75 were “Hindus”. He does not do the simple maths required to see that this also means 63 Kashmiri Muslims were killed over the same period! And to go by the RTI response of the deputy superintendent of police, Srinagar number HQR’s/RTI/S-91/2021/108-09, dated November 27, 2021, of all those killed since “the inception of militancy 1990”, 89 are Kashmiri Pandits and 1,635 belong to “other faiths”—they are almost all Muslims. It is by including that side of the story that Kashmir Files would have proved worthy of inclusion in the IFFI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 10 16:42:13 IST 2022 secularism-or-hindutva-ideology-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress has often—and justly—been criticised for waffling on ideological issues. Yet, when Rahul Gandhi takes a firm stand, there is no lack of those who criticise his bluntness. The rift valley in Indian politics is between those who believe that India belongs to all Indians equally and those who privilege the dominant religious majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our electoral system has over the last eight years passed the banner to those who wish to make India a Hindu Raj. The fact, however, is that while four-fifths of Indians subscribe to some version of Hinduism as a personal religion, only a third of Indians have voted for the BJP. Yet, our electoral system has granted two-thirds of the seats to those who have triumphed in only one-third of the nation’s votes. This has resulted in the skewed position of most of India’s peninsular and peripheral states voting for non-denominational parties while the heartland votes the other way. This has fostered the most divisive politics in modern India’s history. It is why Rahul Gandhi is undertaking his Bharat Jodo Yatra. The country needs uniting, not dividing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that Rahul’s raising the question of Vinayak Savarkar, the ideological father of hindutva, needs to be viewed. Were ideological waffling to continue, Rahul would be best advised to ignore Savarkar. If, on the other hand, ideological clarity is the need of the hour, then the yatra is designed to highlight the gaping void between the vision of India espoused by Savarkar and the idea of India that inspired the freedom movement and nation-building till eight years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For almost exactly a century, the Savarkar view, first articulated publicly in 1923, has been that only Hindus are Indians and only if the non-Hindus accept this proposition that they qualify for the right to live in this land. Savarkar was explicit. There were two nations in India—a Hindu nation and a Muslim nation—and as the overwhelmingly larger nation was ‘Hindu’, a genuine India had to be a Hindu nation. Jinnah eventually agreed. I stress “eventually” because from the initial espousal of the two-nation theory in the 1890s through the elaboration of this theory in Savarkar’s works through the 1920s and 1930s Jinnah remained, at least till 1927, the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. It was only in 1940 that he emerged as the champion of a separate homeland for the “Muslim nation”, as much a fiction as Savarkar’s “Hindu nation”, for although there was a Muslim majority in the north-west and East Bengal, the Muslim community permeated the Hindu-majority areas. Inevitably, therefore, more than a third of the subcontinent’s Muslims fell out of the Muslim-majority areas. The principal ideological question at Partition was whether India should follow Pakistan in becoming a religion-based state. Savarkar’s answer was yes. The Congress led by the Mahatma said, no. All Indians are Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhiji won us our freedom by emphasising that the ends never justify the means. For ends to be pure, means must also be pure. And by eschewing opportunism and sticking to ideological principles irrespective of the passing political compulsions of the moment, we won. Rahul’s remarks on Savarkar are part of this ideological belief and value system. If waffling on secularism has cost the Congress dear, Rahul has shown that it is not by becoming hindutva’s B-team but by standing up for its core beliefs that the Congress will partner the non-denominational parties to challenge the forces of hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We must remain ideologically consistent if in 2024 we are to unite the two-thirds of the electorate who, even at the peak of the BJP’s election winning streak, flinched from supporting the BJP’s ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Nov 27 12:51:33 IST 2022 governors-should-govern-themselves <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The bad example set by elevating the former governor of West Bengal to vice president as a reward for his running battle with Mamata Banerjee has, it would seem, signalled BJP-appointed governors to follow the Jagdeep Dhankhar path by insinuating the Centre’s preferences and priorities into the functioning of popularly elected state governments who are opposed to the BJP, thus undermining of our federal polity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have already seen this blatantly done in non-BJP run Maharashtra, Telangana, Jharkhand and, of course, West Bengal, but has now come to the fore in the two sensitive southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the CPI(M) and the DMK, respectively, have won impressive mandates from the electorate, reducing the BJP to ashes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kerala, the over-ambitious Arif Mohammad Khan, who has run the gamut of virtually every political party in the north—starting with the Congress, and come a cropper consistently—and is now in the tight embrace of the BJP (against whose religious majoritarianism he was a champion at the start of his long and convoluted political innings) has created a constitutional crisis, the latest manifestation of which is the lie that Jawaharlal Nehru invited the RSS to participate in the first Republic Day parade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whereas maintaining decorum is the first requirement of the holder of so senior a Constitutional office as governor, and above all keeping himself strictly above partisan politics in the spirit of the Constitution, Khan actually convened a press conference in Raj Bhavan where he levelled accusations against the Left government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, senior CPI(M) leaders and others ministers. Now, it is not only Khan’s right but duty to inform the CM privately of perceived shortcomings in governance and complaining to the President at whose “pleasure” he holds office, but to actually drag such dirty linen into the public discourse surely amounts to abuse of office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has publicly stated that, “Left parties are following communist ideology, which is a foreign concept that authorises the use of force to silence dissent.” He forgets that the CPI(M) is a duly registered party by the Election Commission that has checked its antecedents before granting recognition. It is all right for a political party to make the claim that he has made, but it is not for a governor to sneer in such a manner at a political party that has repeatedly been elected by the people of Kerala and created history recently by getting itself re-elected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Governor R.N. Ravi has withheld consent to as many as 20 bills passed by the state legislature. He has provoked all the parties of the alliance that runs the DMK-led government, to prepare a memorandum to the President to withdraw her “pleasure” since the governor lacks “basic knowledge, integrity and impartiality” and is “an embarrassment to the people” of the state. The memo indicts him for “incit(ing) hatred and creat(ing) communal unrest” by assertions such as India being “dependent on one religion” and propagating “conservative and poisonous ideas” amounting to “sedition” as they “attempt to bring hatred and contempt and excite disaffection towards a state government established by law”. Moreover, he has inflicted “deep wounds to Tamil sentiments and pride” by denouncing the state’s “Dravidian heritage”. He has involved himself in partisan politics by returning a bill against the Centre’s NEET and publicly rebuked the state government for rejecting the BJP’s National Education Policy. His latest transgression has been the allegation that the state government delayed bringing the NIA into the investigation of the Coimbatore bomb blast. All this and more “deforms cooperative federalism and destroys our democracy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does the Constitution allow the BJP to fire from the governor’s shoulder in states where the electorate have rejected the overtures of the sangh parivar?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Nov 13 11:15:08 IST 2022 indo-china-1962-war-military-drawbacks-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On October 20, 1962, the Chinese launched a pre-emptive counterattack to the threat held out to them by the Indian prime minister eight days earlier that he had ordered the Army to “throw the Chinese out” of the Thagla Ridge. Within a month, they had conquered all of NEFA; then, as their troops stood poised on the edge of the Brahmaputra Valley, the Chinese suddenly undertook a unilateral withdrawal from the territories they had conquered, including even Tawang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who was responsible for this humiliating disaster? Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon have been flayed for mistaken political assessments that led to the catastrophe. Air Vice Marshal (retd) Manmohan Bahadur raises the pertinent question: “Why was it that the Army top brass was not strong enough to stand up to the political interference in affairs that were purely military?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer has been given in the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report that was commissioned by the Union government in the wake of the military setback. The report was submitted a few months later while all the errant participants were still around. Since then, the “Army top brass” has succeeded in preventing the release of the report. Now, none of those indicted is around. And spending on the armed forces has risen precipitately. There is no comparison between the state of our battle readiness today and what it was in 1962. Yet, the braided generals refuse to let the defence ministry authorise the release of the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that that has stopped leaking the political conclusions so that the blame is comprehensively shifted to the civilian politicians involved. There is no denying their role and responsibility. Yet, cloaking the truth with regard to the Army generals involved continues. All we know is that from the chief of Army staff, General P.N. Thapar down, the entire Army leadership was officered by young men who received rapid out-of-turn promotions with the departure of the British. They just did not have the training or experience of higher command that they would have had if their promotions had come in the normal way. But apart from that one fact, what they did wrong remains a state secret—but, meanwhile, the political indictment has been leaked. What went wrong militarily remains out of bounds. The one exception is Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul, commander of the newly created IV Corps, who has deservedly been hauled over the coals, but only because his was essentially a political appointment without military justification. But of all the other commanders, there seems to be a vow of bureaucratic omerta that has compromised any objective analysis of what went militarily wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One is reminded of a conversation among German generals during the First World War:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ludendorff: “The English soldiers fight like lions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoffman: “True. But don’t we know that they are lions led by donkeys.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is to confirm or reject such a description of the Indian jawan and his commanders that requires the release of the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report of 1963. For, as AVM Bahadur argues, the war colleges of the three services “need to delve into what transpired during that fateful period”. He does not add that we might thus get over our national ’62 complex. This, in turn, might encourage us to a “fair and reasonable” settlement of the border as envisaged at the conclusion of Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988, which led five years later to the Treaty on Peace and Tranquility on the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi thought he would reinforce the treaty with a personal charm offensive but that only exposed the contradictions between his overtures to Xi and his contrary overtures to Trump. Galwan followed with the inevitability of night following day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 28 14:24:44 IST 2022 rss-is-complicit-in-systemic-polarisation-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By calling on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat have the five Muslim eminences served the cause of their community? Their spokesperson, S.Y. Quraishi, says his group believes in “dialogue”. Fair enough. But were he and his colleagues setting the stage for such a dialogue? Yes, because Bhagwat named four of his senior colleagues who will continue the initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Bhagwat’s own remarks, as reported by Quraishi, are far from encouraging. He had no convincing responses to the points raised by the Muslim team about “recurrent incidents of lynching”; calls by “Hindutva hotheads for genocide”; or “the marginalisation of the community in every sphere”. Instead, he packed them off with the risible claim that “Hindutva is inclusive”. He continued that “progress is possible only if communities are united” and that the “Constitution is sacred”. None of these bald assertions was apparently challenged by the distinguished Muslims present, who seem to have been more impressed with the “simplicity” of his office furnishings, his “punctuality” and his “patience”, than with getting to the heart of the matter. It brought to mind vividly Chamberlain being taken in by Hitler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of telling the delegation what the RSS was doing on the ground to rein in the hotheads and those who spoke of “genocide”, Bhagwat resorted to his usual “whataboutery” saying what about Muslims restraining themselves from eating cow-meat in the few states (mostly ruled by the BJP alone or in coalition) in which beef consumption is allowed. Then going on the offensive, asked the delegation to restrain their community from using words like “kafir” (non-believer). The delegation found at last the spirit to say what about “jihadi” and “Pakistani” as descriptions for Muslims but did not press the point that Shah-Modi should stop making such insinuations. Instead, they meekly accepted Bhagwat’s offer of interaction with four RSS representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Comically, Bhagwat’s only public reaction to Quraishi presenting him his magnum opus, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, has been to reiterate at a public meeting his totally bogus charge that Muslim fertility threatens Hindu identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, however, of exposing Hindutva hypocrisy, the highly respected vice chancellor of NALSAR, Faizan Mustafa, has weighed in with an impassioned defence of the Quraishi initiative. The “pertinent question”, says he, is what Muslims are willing to disown, not, extraordinarily, whether the RSS will disown their founders for putting out the lie that Muslims can never be true Indians for they turn to Mecca to pray and that there is no more to the record of Muslim rule than barbarity, conversions, rape and killing. Mustafa then recites a number of throwaway lines from Bhagwat that show him as denouncing lynching and seeking “equal” citizenship for Muslims but fails to cite even one concrete example of action taken on the ground—because there is none.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zakia Soman joins the debate with far greater relevance. Citing the stoking of “religious polarisation”, “citizens being reduced to merely being Hindu or Muslim”, “majoritarian triumphalism” and “Muslims being at the receiving end of every atrocity”, she perceptively underlines what the Quraishi delegation failed to stress: that the RSS is complicit in this “systemic” polarisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She goes on to point out that “from lynching to genocide calls, the onslaught on the Muslims has continued” and no steps are being taken to address the “core of fear and alienation among Muslims”. What has the RSS chief done to get the BJP “to shun its politics of religious nationalism”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the Quraishi team, which singularly lacks a woman in its ranks, should take Soman, president of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, to its forthcoming meetings with the Four RSS Horsemen of the Apocalypse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 14 15:49:08 IST 2022 congress-lion-is-now-roaring-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since September 7, Rahul Gandhi has been on the road. Accompanying him are hundreds of locally drawn Congressmen and women, while thousands line the road. Is this the moment of Congress rejuvenation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It would certainly seem so from the fright that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is giving the BJP, who are reduced to making cheap cracks about this being a ‘Congress Jodo Yatra’ (of course, it is—and how!) and silly observations on Rahul’s Burberry T-shirt. They are stupefied that even as they launch their own campaign to gain more votes in states they have failed to dominate, Rahul’s yatra passes through precisely those areas to consolidate the Congress vote and, by implication, the solid block of two-thirds voters who did not support the BJP in 2014 and 2019. The BJP possesses its two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha on the strength of one-third of the vote. The yatra is demonstrating that the denigration of the Congress as rudderless and leaderless is misplaced. After a long spell of political quiescence, the Congress lion is now roaring again. The non-Congress opposition is being signalled that the strength of the Congress remains undiminished in the areas of its strength, without damaging the regional strongholds of potential allies in the coming 2024 general election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That, perhaps, explains why Rahul is not walking west to east, from Saurashtra to Silchar, to retrieve territory lost to the BJP. Meanwhile, the BJP and its coterie are beginning to learn that India is not the Hindi heartland, that there is much more to India than the slices in which hindutva is dominant. Moreover, by largely avoiding states in which other opposition leaders are at the helm—Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra, Telangana—the yatra will certainly—indeed, already has—set the regional opposition parties, starting with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), on the path to rethinking their strategies for 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing is perfect. At some time in the spring of 2023, Rahul will end his yatra in Srinagar, with just about a year to go for the general elections. That leaves plenty of space and time for everyone who has lost out since 2014 to reconsider the path to defeating the BJP in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is more, the ongoing shake up of the top echelon of the party, with several aspirants entering or considering entering the election contest for the presidency, without a Nehru-Gandhi on the horizon, throws up the opportunity the party has not had in a quarter century to profile the party’s second-line leadership and the regional standing of those in that second line. For this is in accord with the history of the Congress where “leadership” and “presidency” have for long been in separate hands. Thus, the Mahatma was undoubtedly the “leader” of the Congress for three decades from 1919 to 1948, but was president only once (Belgaum, 1924) and was “leader” even when he was not even a primary member of the Congress. Equally, after the Mahatma, it was Nehru who was clearly the head of the party for 17 long years although lesser celebrities like U.N. Dhebar held the post of president. So, if a distinction is now being made between “leader” (Rahul) and “president” (Gehlot, Tharoor, X, Y, Z) it amounts not to a “puppet president” but a return to an old established practice of the leader and the president being different but working in tandem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For, if a schism were to develop between the two, as happened in the confrontation between Indira Gandhi (the leader) and the syndicate that provided the president (S. Nijalingappa), it would lead to the kind of internal strife witnessed in 1969-71. Now, with Rahul leading the yatra, while holding no formal office, even while presidential elections are in the offing, the Congress is reverting to type.</p> <p><i><b>This column was written on September 23, 2022, proving that a week is a long time in politics.</b></i></p> Fri Sep 30 15:06:08 IST 2022 modi-is-no-subhas-chandra-bose-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Inaugurating the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the India Gate on September 8, the prime minister bemoaned that independent India “forgot its hero”, and that it is only now that Bose’s “vision” had been brought to the fore and governance has begun to “bear the impression of Netaji’s ideals”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such a travesty of truth cannot be left to go unchallenged. For Netaji, the supreme ideal was Hindu-Muslim unity, indeed the unity of Indians of all religions. His closest companions included Abid Hasan, the only one chosen to accompany Bose on his dangerous submarine journey from Kiel in Germany to a rendezvous point more than a hundred days later with a Japanese vessel off the coast of Madagascar. Does the prime minister have any Muslim as close to him as Netaji did?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Netaji called his army of liberation the Azad Hind Fauj, not the Bharatiya Swatantrata Sena. Should not Modi have reminded his audience that the Provisional Government of Free India was named the Arzi Hukumat-e Azad Hind (not Mukt Bharat Anantim Sarkar) in recognition of the composite civilisation that was India’s proud heritage? Does Modi accept Urdu on the same level as Hindi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While invoking the “brave” Netaji, should not Modi have lauded Major General Mohammad Zaman Kiani who commanded the first division that liberated Moirang in Manipur? And Colonel Shaukat Malik who first raised the tricolour on liberated Indian soil? Or Colonel Inayat Jan Kiani who commanded the Gandhi brigade that overran Palel airfield in Manipur? Modi has, however, told former vice president M. Hamid Ansari that it does not “suit me politically” to mention any good he may have done to Muslims. As for Colonel Habibur Rahman, deputy chief of staff handpicked to travel with Bose on his last journey, should not Modi have acknowledged this in claiming accord with Bose’s “vision” and acting in accordance with Bose’s “ideals”? Had Bose’s statue been able to talk back, it would have reprimanded Modi for driving not just a wedge but an entire rift valley between Hindu and Muslim by denigrating the Ganga-Jamuni culture that united the majority community to its largest minority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statue would also have reminded Modi that Netaji selected Colonel Cyril John Stracey, an Anglo-Indian Christian officer of the British Indian army, as his quarter master general, and entrusted him with the task of building a memorial to the martyrs of the Azad Hind Fauj on Singapore’s shores. Unlike our present prime minister, Netaji’s “vision” embraced all the communities of India. He made no distinction of religion among his followers. He never talked of “love jihad” and hijabs in classrooms. And until Modi realises this, he forfeits the right to talk of Netaji’s “ideals”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Netaji escaped from British surveillance in 1941, he was accompanied all the way to Peshawar by a trusted aide, Mian Akbar Shah. Does Modi have any trusted Muslim aide? In Peshawar, Netaji’s principal lieutenant, Abad Khan, found a Muslim Pathan, Mohammad Shah, to accompany Netaji to Kabul. Unfortunately, the final decision was to have a Hindu, Bhagat Ram Talwar, charged with this task. Talwar turned out to be a British spy code-named ‘Silver’ and so betrayed his companions that Abad Khan was tortured brutally in Lahore Fort and not released till after the war ended; and Mohammad Shah spent two years in hard labour incarceration. Should not Modi have mentioned that it was a Hindu who betrayed Netaji and numberless Muslims who faithfully served him—and paid heavily but readily for their acts. And why has Modi not followed his predecessors’ example of paying obeisance to Netaji’s ashes at Renkoji shrine in Tokyo?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And should Modi not have reminded his audience that it was Gandhiji who described Netaji as the “Prince of Patriots”? Is there any tribute Modi can pay that outshines the Mahatma’s?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 17 10:40:36 IST 2022 open-letter-to-ghulam-nabi-azad <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dear Ghulam Nabiji,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I thought you were going to lead our party out of the woods. Instead, you have chosen to walk out. Do you seriously expect to find a Congress destiny outside the Congress? Or, were you in the Congress only because it loaded you over four decades with every office in government or the party that was available—except prime minister and party president?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If it was your aspiration to lead the party, the opportunity was yours for the asking at next month’s party presidential elections. Would you have walked out if you, rather than Ashok Gehlot, had been the favoured one?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The step you have taken cannot lead to the rejuvenation of our party. You cannot rejuvenate a party from outside. And, if you think you can give a nation-wide alternative to the Congress by becoming a Congress party-in-exile, you will need more than a century and a quarter to accomplish that as the Indian National Congress has done since 1885. Had you stood in next month’s Congress presidential election, you might well have succeeded in rallying around your standard all those that are in despair over the straits in which the party finds itself today. Even if you had come second, we would have got a measure of how far disillusionment within the party has spread. It might have spread wide. Or it might be confined to those who have enjoyed perks only the party can bestow and suddenly find themselves deprived of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And if you answer, as you have done, that the presidential elections are rigged from the start of the process at the booth/block/district/state levels to ensure that the chosen one will be elected president, I would like to know whether such distortions of the democratic process began only after Rahul Gandhi became vice president in 2013? Might I take the liberty of reminding you that the process of making him VP had the full concurrence of the wholly nominated Congress Working Committee of which you were the leading member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CWC elections were held at Tirupati (1992) and Kolkata (1997) under non-Gandhi family presidents. It was only in 1998, and, thereafter, for 25 years, that all CWC positions have been filled by nomination. Those are the precise 25 years during which you were among the Congress president’s closest confidantes. I was confident that once Soniaji came to the helm, we would sincerely implement the Uma Shankar Dikshit committee recommendations—precisely because Rajiv Gandhi, as Congress President in 1990, had convened an extended meeting of the CWC to endorse the recommendations and then received the unstinted support for this vital step at the AICC session held in Mavlankar Hall, Delhi, in July, 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why in 25 years, when you were at the fulcrum of power, was the Dikshit report pulped to the point that not a single copy is available in AICC or anywhere else? You were general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu when I had the mortifying experience of hearing you instruct us in 1999 to not canvas for election to the CWC because it had been decided that all CWC posts would be nominated. Had we had CWC elections, a second echelon would have been thrown up, which could have picked up the gauntlet when the challenge was thrown by Rahul Gandhi in May 2019 to choose an alternative to him and his family. If no one had the guts to rise to that challenge, it was because the second line leadership was gutted by the decision to have all of them, including you, nominated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is tragic that the single most important challenger has fled the battlefield before battle is even joined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yours in profound sorrow,</p> <p>Mani (Shankar Aiyar)</p> Sun Sep 04 11:20:04 IST 2022 rajiv-was-right-governor-arif-khan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In his interview to The Indian Express (August 14, 2022), Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has once again lashed out at Rajiv Gandhi, telling the interviewer that “all these issues”—Shah Bano and The Satanic Verses—“were dealt with not on merit but purely to build sectional vote banks”. I am astonished that he has brushed under the carpet Rajiv Gandhi’s response to the charge that his action on Shah Bano was driven by “vote bank” politics. Whose vote was he securing, he had asked. According to Khan and his curious comrades-in-arms, all women of all religions, including Muslim women—that is half the electorate— thoroughly disapproved. Moreover, according to Khan &amp; Co., all non-Muslim men and modern-minded Muslim gentlemen joined their sisters of all religions in condemning Rajiv Gandhi. That totals over 98 per cent of the voters, leaving but a few Muslim clerics and a handful of Muslim “reactionaries” in the Congress camp. How does that amount to a “vote bank”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Khan knows—and perhaps contributed to—the writ petition filed before the Supreme Court by a renowned jurist, Danial Latifi (leftist, but a nominal Muslim) in September 1986, within three months of Rajiv Gandhi securing the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The petition challenged the constitutional validity of the act and incorporated arguments that Khan and others had been making in Parliament and outside. Khan must, therefore, know the outcome of that writ petition, namely, the Supreme Court judgment of 2001.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After carefully considering in detail the viewpoint put in the writ petition, the Supreme Court held “that the Act actually and in reality codifies what was stated in the Shah Bano case”. In other words, the SC rejected the allegation that the act “reversed” its 1985 judgment. What it actually did was incorporate into the civil law of the country the thrust of Muslim personal law on divorce. That, of course, is why the act promoted by Rajiv Gandhi has not been repealed by any successor Central government to Rajiv Gandhi’s, including the three BJP governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the current government of Hindu Hriday Samrat, Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court also determined that far from having mitigated or reduced the rights of Muslim women on divorce, “the Act of 1986 had, as a matter of fact, added to and augmented these rights through that legislation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, on the critical point of the allegation that the 1986 act violated three crucial constitutional rights of Shah Bano, the Supreme Court held that the “provisions of the Act do not offend Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India”. Article 14 relates to “equality before law”. The 2001 SC judgment held that the 1986 act did not “deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the law”. This constitutional right was, in fact, reaffirmed by the 1986 act and applied to all Muslim women on divorce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, neither Shah Bano nor any other Muslim woman suffered any violation of the “prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion” guaranteed under Article 15. The right to maintenance was now incorporated in the civil law of the country, was justiciable in the courts of the land and would be enforced by the arm of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, there was no infraction by the 1986 act of the assurance of “protection of life and personal liberty”, for Shah Bano or any other Muslim woman, provided as a fundamental right under Article 21.</p> <p>Why then does Governor Khan continue with his vicious propaganda against an assassinated prime minister who cannot answer back?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 20 11:02:52 IST 2022 act-on-pesa-says-mani-shankar-aiyar-in-open-letter-to-president-murmu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Respected Rashtrapatiji,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May I add my voice to over 1.4 billion of my fellow-citizens to congratulate you on your richly deserved elevation to the highest post in our country? Others have been doing so but adding a caveat that you must do something about the deleterious laws relating to tribals that are in the offing, such as the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1927, The Forest Dwellers Act, 2008, and the Land Compensation Act, 2013, that provide for tribal village panchayats to accord 80 per cent people’s approval for any project to be undertaken that would deprive tribal communities of their land. These suggestions, though vital, would take you beyond the ambit of your constitutional remit because you are permitted only to return once to the cabinet for reconsideration any bill put up to you for your signature. If the cabinet reiterates its legislative intention, you, madam Rashtrapatiji, would have no alternative but to go along with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, one law that directly impinges on the tribal community where you are authorised to act. That is the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, PESA. It is perhaps the only law that the Constitution under Article 243M(4)(b) has mandated Parliament to enact. This was duly done in December 1996 but has been largely left unimplemented by the fifth schedule states, that is, the nine states that have a non-tribal majority but a significant tribal minority. Indeed, the same schedule lays a special responsibility on governors of such composite states to report to you on progress in respect of tribal welfare. As these governors are the president’s appointees and serve at the president’s pleasure, you would be well within your constitutional rights, indeed in exercise of your constitutional duties, to require them to report to Rashtrapati Bhavan in detail on progress in the last quarter century on implementing PESA in letter and spirit. I request you to make this your top priority as our newly elected and widely hailed Rashtrapati.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am making this special request because you might have missed the front-page report on the Burkapal tribals in The Indian Express on the same day as you were sworn in (July 25). If you would kindly ask a staff member to retrieve it for you, you will find evidence of what the reliance exclusively on security forces to contain naxalism is doing to the lives of innocent tribals in the Sukma area, a story that has been replicated in scores of other Naxal-affected districts. In 2017, the CRPF ordered the sarpanch to gather all the adults of Burkapal village compulsorily for a meeting. They thought this might be to announce an employment project, perhaps on roads. Instead, 112 of them were rounded up and incarcerated in jail without trial for the last five years, before being released by the NIA court for want of any evidence against them. Five “lost years” and “destroyed lives”. To survive, their families “sold our cows , our pigs, our land”. And in accordance with tribal custom, most of their wives left them to live with other men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PESA deals with development. It does not touch on law and order or public order. How could the CRPF co-opt a sarpanch to bring people together to pick up over a hundred of them with not a shred of evidence that they were Naxalites? And that too “under the draconian powers that UAPA gives to the police”. PESA gives tribal communities the right to development with adequate untied resources to be able to plan and participate in their own development. Fully implemented, this would do more to rid us of Naxalism than all the CRPF. Please give PESA your unbridled attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Respectful regards,</p> <p>Mani Shankar Aiyar</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Aug 05 11:18:42 IST 2022 when-sc-contradicts-itself-ordinary-citizen-is-left-bewildered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Justice is always depicted as a goddess, blindfolded and balancing the scales to show that justice is guaranteed, notwithstanding whoever renders the judgement. Some recent developments have, however, raised questions about the objectivity of even our highest court. Of course, a judgement of the Supreme Court has to be accepted as final. One can understand the judgement of a lower court being reversed by a higher judicial authority. But when the highest court manifestly contradicts itself, the ordinary citizen is left bewildered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2004, Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court had said of the pogrom in Gujarat: “Modern-day ‘Neros’ were looking somewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were being burnt.” Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad has been playing on the same theme for the past two decades to secure justice for Zakia Jafri, whose husband, Ehsan Jafri, was mercilessly slaughtered in the same pogrom. A highly regarded former MP, Ehsan had spent the entire day of his assassination ringing everyone he knew in besieged Ahmedabad to warn them of the murderous mob that had entered his compound.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One would have thought that as a deeply concerned and committed citizen, Setalvad was entirely within her rights to do so, and that it was the law’s delays, rather than any negligence or malice on her part, that had led her to fight for 20 years as high as she could get for a cause she regarded as just. But after declaring that Setalvad lacked locus to name herself co-petitioner, the learned judges observed that she had “the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved”, and went on to say that all those involved in such an abuse of process needed to be “in the dock”. What is worse, the police took this observation as licence to arrest her. Justice Madan Lokur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, suggested that the apex court should issue a clarification that it was not its intention that Setalvad should be arrested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, courts have no right to order anyone’s arrest. That is the duty of the police. Yet, far from intervening afresh to secure justice for the arrested activist, the court has not sought to follow the injunction laid down earlier by itself that “we are supreme, but that does not mean we are infallible”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And why is Mohammad Zubair under arrest for a four-year-old tweet after which, as retired justice Deepak Gupta observed, “nothing untoward” has happened. Is it because as Zubair’s lawyer Vrinda Grover pointed out, “the real problem is Zubair’s name, faith and profession”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, another bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala said of Nupur Sharma, “The way she has ignited emotions across the country... she is single-handedly responsible for what is happening.” Yet, the police have not acted against Sharma the way they have against Setalvad. The reason? The honourable justices hazard an explanation: “She thinks she has backup power”. Of course, the police think she does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At school we were taught to “pray for justice”. It seems we should teach our children to pray for the right judge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 08 11:02:04 IST 2022 nupur-sharma-salman-rushdie-and-religious-sentiments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When back in the mid-1980s, Rajiv Gandhi decided to ban the import of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses on grounds of blasphemy (the author had, for instance, given the names of the Prophet’s four wives to four prostitutes in his novel), Left-liberal intellectuals rose as a man to condemn the move as unwarranted interference with freedom of expression. The right reactionaries were delighted with this addition to their ranks although their grounds for protest were entirely different; they damned the prohibition as tushtikaran or appeasement of the minorities.</p> <p><br> This unprincipled alliance of the righteous left-liberals with the reactionary right eventually led to the defeat of the Rajiv regime. That opened the road to the BJP ceasing to be an “untouchable” in Indian politics. The decade of the 1990s then saw a series of BJP-supported governments and BJP-led coalitions that has climaxed over the last eight years into the consolidation of communal hegemony in the guise of hindutva. The left-liberals who facilitated this are left barking on the sidelines over Nupur Sharma’s gratuitous offence. Only the Congress has remained untainted by keeping its political distance from the BJP and its ideological distance from the sangh parivar.</p> <p><br> I personally have no religious sentiment; ergo, I have no religious prejudices either. But that does not mean insensitivity towards the religious sentiments of others. Indeed, it enables me to be sensitive to the religious sentiments of all communities precisely because I entertain no religious prejudices either. For three terms in the Lok Sabha, I represented a constituency that contains tens of thousands of shrines and hosts some of the most important temples on the pilgrimage circuit in Tamil Nadu. Also, as approximately 15 per cent of the electorate is Muslim, mosques of all description dot the landscape. And there are churches in all cities and many villages. In consequence, I would be dragged to diverse places of worship where I would see the beatific expressions on the faces of the worshippers while being left untouched myself. So, why did I not walk out denouncing this devotion as nonsense? Only because of my secularism. For secularism does not mean privileging any religion or denouncing all religion. Above all, it means respecting the right of others to hold religious beliefs that you yourself do not hold.</p> <p><br> That is what the propagators of hindutva do not understand. They are not pro-Hindu so much as anti-Muslim. Which is why they have added nothing to philosophy over the hundred years since the term, hindutva, was invented. Their ideological guru, V.D. Savarkar, was no Adi Sankara. Their longest serving sarsangchalak, M.S. Golwalkar, was no Swami Vivekananda. Modi is no J. Krishnamurthy. They have not added anything to Hindu thought, but they have stretched out a long litany of complaints against Islam and minorities into a political campaign that has landed us where we are in hate-filled violence. It is because of the ethos in which Sharma has been soaked that she finds it normal to blaspheme the Prophet while insisting that the question of the Babri Masjid is not one of historical fact but of aasthaa—belief.</p> <p><br> That is what is at the root of the violence consuming our country. Religion-based violence is spreading to non-religious issues such as the rioting over the Agnipath proposal. Gandhiji had warned that any departure from non-violence on any one path will only lead to violence in all other avenues of national life. The one who most determinedly opposed Gandhiji’s non-violence and did more than any other to identify violence with hindutva was Savarkar. The chickens are coming home to roost.</p> Sun Jun 26 16:16:47 IST 2022