Why has media coverage of protests against missionaries in Chhattisgarh been so one-sided?

A lightly edited version of this article appeared on Firstpost here.

In Los Angeles, a crowd of protesters gathered around a statue of Junipero Serra, a missionary who had been tasked with converting and suppressing the native people during Spanish colonization. Elders from the indigenous community told stories of their ancestors and recounted the crimes of Serra, who had been declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 2015. The cries from the crowd grew louder. Ultimately, some of them tied a noose around the neck of the statue, and pulled. The statue of Serra bearing the cross was ripped from its pedestal, and came crashing down upon the ground, face first.

In the United States, it was the summer of discontent following the death of George Floyd. Black lives matter, they said. As well as the rights of indigenous people everywhere who have been subjected to colonization, conversion and racial prejudice for centuries. The world cheered. In Britain, protesters tore down a statue of a colonial era slave trader in Bristol. The following year, activists in Canada beheaded a statue of Queen Victoria outside the state legislature in the province of Manitoba.

While these were technically speaking acts of vandalism, much of the world saw them as good, positive outcomes. Because every issue is ultimately about how the media frames it. Why then has the media coverage of protests by tribal people over the last few weeks in Chhattisgarh been so one-sided? Why is the media insisting on reducing the matter to a single video showing a young man breaking a Catholic statue outside a church? To this, they added the usual commentary about “rising intolerance” in India. Western media got involved as well, covering the supposed attacks on Christianity and raising the bogey of Hindutva.

Why not turn around this gaze?  And for once, talk about the anxieties of people as the Church pushes demographic change in India. And the historic as well as continuing role of the Church in suppressing indigenous cultures around the world. After all, what makes a protester breaking a statue in California a “liberal,” but a “fascist” in Chhattisgarh? And what is a fascist anyway? It actually describes an ideology that has historically been sponsored by the Church itself. Let us talk about such things. Because as the African proverb goes, until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify only the hunter.

Conversion is an attack on India’s sovereignty

What is organized religious conversion, whether in India or anywhere else? Our ancestors have lived in this land for thousands of years. We worship this land, its mountains, forests and rivers. Every tree that grows here, and every season has its own special significance in our culture. These traditions are much older than Christianity, and in some sense older than history itself. Imagine someone coming in from outside to say that we are fallen, sinful or worse, devil worshipers. And then offering to save our souls. How? By becoming loyal to the Pope, a monarch who rules over Vatican City, a kingdom located in Europe.

That is colonialism. In order to rule effectively, they divide up our country into their own administrative divisions, which they call dioceses. The Vatican appoints an officer to oversee each diocese. He is called a bishop. And thus inside our borders, they are building a state within a state. A state whose interests may or may not be the same as those of India. Ask the activists carrying Vatican flags who stopped the construction of Vizhinjam deep sea port in Kerala a few months ago.

The problem of conversion by enticements

Because they have rich donors from the West, the church is able to build schools and hospitals, which can be used as bargaining chips for enticing people to convert. And where that does not work, there are always things like “miracles.” These are events where large numbers of people are cured of all sorts of diseases, organized by preachers who are well-practiced in the art of performative deception. Incidentally, what is the official criterion for someone to be declared a “saint” by the Vatican? It is two “confirmed miracles,” whatever that means.

No wonder that these efforts are targeted at people in the poorest parts of the country. We are talking about tribal regions of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. There is no way for state capacity in these areas to compete with foreign money. And even if they tried their best, it wouldn’t work. By its very nature, the state has to distribute its resources uniformly across all parts. But the church is a private entity. It can concentrate its spending in specific areas, and target them for conversion. On top of that, these targeted areas quickly become votebanks for “secular” political parties. One more reason for these parties, whenever in power, to ignore the problem of religious conversion.

The church is now a player in our domestic politics. It also understands the faultlines in Indian society. And how to play off one against the other: the south against the north, or the northeast against the rest. In the 1993 Rwandan genocide, church priests played a major role in turning the Hutus against the Tutsis. What might happen tomorrow in a country with as many competing identities as India?

Conversion is a European colonial project

In 1935, the world watched with horror as Mussolini’s Italian troops invaded and occupied Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia. At the time, Ethiopia was a sovereign member of the League of Nations, one of the last remaining places in Africa that had not been colonized by Europeans. But the Vatican announced its support to Mussolini. The invasion became a holy war to “civilize” the native people and bring them under the banner of the Roman Catholic Church. And that is how the fascists justified their aggression before the world.

In fact, the collusion between the church and the fascists goes much deeper. As part of a 1929 deal, Mussolini gave the Pope the power to rule over Vatican City as a sovereign state. In return, the Pope recognized the fascist regime in Italy and praised Mussolini as a man sent by God. Four years later, the church signed a similar agreement with Hitler, legitimizing the Nazi regime in return for special religious privileges. This was just after the Catholic party gave Hitler the votes he needed to amend the constitution and give himself absolute power. Incidentally, both these agreements remain in full force even today, with the modern Italian and German states  enforcing these special privileges of the church.

These are not unique examples. Across continents, from Africa to Asia, and from Australia to the Americas, religious conversion has always been part of the colonial project. And not just for the Catholic Church. Even the more enlightened colonial officers, such as Montstuart Elphinstone, the governor of Bombay after whom Elphinstone College is named, believed that upliftment of the native people would eventually lead to them converting to Christianity. 

Just as the first millennium saw the cross firmly planted in the soil of Europe, and the second in that of America and Africa, so may the third Christian millennium witness a great harvest of faith on this vast and vital continent.” These were the words of the Pope during his 1999 visit to New Delhi. The colonial tone of those words can hardly be missed. How much has really changed?

The long resistance of Indian people against the Church

On Dec 24, 1899, tribal people in Chotanagpur region, now in Jharkhand, began a series of attacks on missions run by Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in the area, as well as local zamindars loyal to the British. Their leader was the 24 year old Birsa Munda, now remembered as a legendary freedom fighter of the Indian independence movement. The British suppressed the Munda rebellion of 1899. Birsa Munda was captured the following year, and tortured in a Ranchi jail, where he died in 1900.

As a child, Birsa had actually attended a missionary school, where he had been given the name of “Birsa David.” But when he grew up, he rejected Christianity, returned to the original Munda traditions, and began a movement against missionary activity. Our names contain our history, the stories of our ancestors. When you take away our names and our traditions, you are cutting us off from our land. Birsa Munda understood this. He knew that the people had to resist.

Why won’t the  ‘activist’ class speak up for people to keep their way of life?

Speaking of resistance by indigenous people, where is the ‘activist’ class? This class has given intellectual covering fire even to organized terrorist activity against the Indian state. Members of the elite with obvious connections to the banned CPI(Maoist) and other left wing terrorist groups are often hailed as poets, and human rights activists in intellectual circles. While violence is always wrong, the recent troubles in Chhattisgarh are nothing compared to the scale of Naxalite violence in those same parts. 

If these people had been protesting against a new factory, a new railway line, or a dam, it is more than likely that the activist class would have supported them. But not against missionary activity. Why? Because people in those parts don’t need jobs, but they do need churches? Because the Indian state is supposed to be an outside force in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh, but the Roman Catholic Church is an insider? 

All over the world, the activists say they are for the rights of indigenous people to keep their way of life. But in India, they support religious conversion by the church. Why?

I will tell you why. Because India is a living civilization, the last of its kind in the whole world. The descendants of the great Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans and the Aztecs and the Incas have all been subdued by one of the Abrahamic faiths or by Communism. But in India, we still grow up with stories, culture and traditions that have remained unbroken for thousands of years. 

Remember the statue in Los Angeles mentioned at the beginning of this piece? In 2021, the governor of California signed a bill to replace the toppled statue of missionary Junipero Serra with a monument to indigenous peoples. But that is really lip service. The fact remains that the civilization of Native Americans has been almost entirely wiped out, and their land colonized forever. This lip service today does not cost the liberals anything at all. If our indigenous culture were wiped out tomorrow, I am sure that the activist class would pretend to show the same courtesy to us. 

But what if we want to save our living civilization? You know, before it is reduced to museums. Then, they will say that we are “fascists.” Or worse.

FIFA World Cup 2022: How Qatar has shown liberalism is a weapon of mass distraction

A lightly edited version of this article appeared in Firstpost here.

World Cup soccer is now in progress. Just before the event kicked off this week, the host nation of Qatar decided to go back on yet another promise. There would be no beer sold in the stadiums. Under Sharia law, alcohol is tightly regulated in the gulf state. Drinking in public is punishable with a six month prison sentence. It is possible to buy alcohol to take home, from one single government owned retail store in the entire country. But for that, one must purchase a permit, attest that they are non-Muslim, bring proof of immigration status, and a formal permission letter from their employer on company letterhead. It goes without saying that much of the same applies to the sale of pork products.

Some time ago, the authorities in Qatar had assured people around the world that at least some of these rules would be relaxed for the duration of the tournament. The joke is on everyone who believed them. Perhaps on a much more serious note, Qatar will not allow the sale of cooked kosher food to Jewish visitors. And soccer fans who tried to wear rainbow shirts or hats in support of LGBT rights were thrown out. 

Such behavior raises an important question. And according to the global left, it is the following. Are we Qatarphobic? The concept of ‘Qatarphobia’ was introduced by Mehdi Hasan many years ago, when Qatar first won the right to host the world cup. Do you disagree with Sharia law in Qatar? Do you support the rights of women, Jewish minorities or LGBT individuals in Qatar? Then, you might be Qatarphobic. Most of the Indian liberal elite would be familiar with Mehdi Hasan, formerly of Al Jazeera and now with MSNBC. He is considered a star for his stinging criticism of beef bans in India, as well as for comparing Hindutva to Nazism.

Did someone say Al Jazeera? The prestigious television network is known for raising all sorts of awareness around the world. Most thinking people among India’s liberal elite, journalists, filmmakers and artists have been to Al Jazeera at least once to raise supposed issues of civil liberty and human rights in India. This is not surprising. After all, Qatar is ranked 119 in press freedom, far ahead of India which languishes at 150! Then why would Al Jazeera sit it out over issues surrounding the world cup in Qatar? Journalism is not a crime. I think Al Jazeera started that hashtag.

How Indian liberalism feeds the Qatar exploitation machine

They say that as many as 6500 migrant workers have died since Qatar began preparing for the world cup. The fact that the world is willing to play soccer over their bones should have been one of the greatest human tragedies of our time. But it wasn’t. Qatar has no concept of workers’ rights, neither unions nor collective bargaining. The workers cannot even leave the country without permission from their employer.

There is a special point for India to consider here. Among the workers that died in Qatar, the single largest group was from India. What if these workers had been building say Vizhinjam port in Kerala, or one of Asia’s largest refineries at Ratnagiri in Maharashtra? What if they had been building the bullet train from Mumbai to Amdavad, a dam on the Narmada river or the POSCO plant in Odisha? Then, there would have been an outcry. Over land acquisition, workers’ rights, environmental concerns, everything.

But those workers would have been much safer, working in their own country. And India would have gained expressways, bullet trains, deep sea ports, refineries and steel plants. All those assets that would have been ours to keep. But India’s liberal elites create unrest every time a big project is about to take off somewhere in India. Do they realize that their actions are actually feeding a modern version of slavery in countries of the gulf? I do not know, but I refuse to give them the benefit of doubt.

A virtual theme park of repression

Qatar is not a democracy, not even nominally. It is an absolute monarchy run by Sharia law, which is enforced by a brutal religious police. There are strict dress codes for women. Couples are not allowed to show affection in public. Unmarried couples cannot share rooms. There is no concept of bodily autonomy. Seven years in prison for having sex outside marriage! Homosexual acts carry the threat of death penalty, especially for Muslims. There is no question of religious liberty either. Islam is the state religion. Converting out of Islam is considered apostasy, again punishable by death.

In other words, if you were putting together a virtual theme park of repression, what would it look like? Probably like Qatar, and the rest of the gulf states. Except that those who live in Qatar are neither props nor actors, but real people. 

And there is one big difference. Qatar has money. In fact, it is the richest country in the world. And their theme park of repression answers the question: could you buy the silence of liberals on every ideal that they claim to stand for? Absolutely, yes. And how did Qatar become so fabulously wealthy? From fossil fuels. The environmentalist lobby of course has nothing to say about that.

How Qatar bought up the global liberal ecosystem

Okay, so if you have money, the activist class will give you a pass. But could you go further? Could you get this activist class to become your cheerleaders? Again, yes! Qatar is nothing without its flagship television network Al Jazeera. Through this network, the liberal elites in every country can get paid handsomely. They can reach a global audience in order to push their agenda. Compared to most media organizations, Al Jazeera has a huge budget and near unlimited resources. And so the platform can boost the reputation of anyone on the global activist circuit. Why would they ever want to speak up against Qatar?

There is even the glitzy AJ+, made specifically for the internet. It is targeted at young people who no longer consume news in the old television based format. The AJ+ platform has the power to transform regular internet influencers into superstars of journalism. With such prospects and perks, why would they speak up against Qatar?

These incentives don’t just affect those who work for the Al Jazeera network. With its massive budget, Al Jazeera is positioned at the top of the global media ecosystem. For every one person who works for them, there are a hundred others who would like to have the same career prospects. Or at the very least, copy what they are doing. Everyone wants to be like them. Think of it like the IITs or the UPSC. Only a few thousand actually make it to IIT. But the entrance exam shapes the lives of millions of young people.

So why was Al Jazeera really founded?

You do not have to take my word for it. In a professionally produced video titled “The Qatar blockade: Start here” on the Youtube channel of Al Jazeera English, they explain:

Qatar also launched a television network called Al Jazeera. And this isn’t a plug, it’s actually a very key part of the story. You see, while Saudi Arabia had been dropping its support for certain political Islamist groups like the Muslim brotherhood, Qatar didn’t follow suit. And Al Jazeera gave the voices of political Islam, and others, a platform.”

So Al Jazeera was founded with the deliberate aim of giving a platform to Islamists, and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood. That is a startling admission. Do Indian liberals, who often appear on the network to talk  about the dangers of Hindutva, make this clear? How many people in their audience know about this? It would also help to know that the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood were inspired by Haj Amin-Al Husseini, the Nazi collaborator who came together with Hitler on a common platform of hatred against Jews. After the war, the Muslim Brotherhood arranged for the escape of Al-Husseini to Egypt, where he became their representative for Palestine.

In other words, Al Jazeera is fighting an information battle. Through this network, they are able to insert themselves into every conversation and push their narrative with opinion makers around the world. That includes India, of course. This is a remarkable feat, which would otherwise be well beyond conventional military and diplomatic abilities of a tiny nation such as Qatar. 

And Qatar is by no means alone in this realization. Other countries get it too. The BBC performs a similar function for the British government.  Seventy five  years after the end of colonial rule, Britain still has the power to influence our internal affairs. Simply the prestige of the BBC means that many of our opinion makers would want to work for it, or align themselves with their perspective. Similarly, there is France24, and Germany has Deutsche Welle. The US military industrial complex has the New York Times and the Washington Post. How many of our leading intellectuals would be willing to embrace their perspective in the hope of being featured in these newspapers some day? Quite a few, I would say. This is of course legal. But it would be good if the rest of us understood the implications of this.

Islamists asserting dominance in their global alliance with leftists

One might even understand if a repressive nation like Qatar, ruled by strict religious law, has a problem with alcohol, sex outside marriage, or homosexuality. But why ban people in rainbow hats? Why are they going to such an extent to poke the liberal establishment in the eye? Because they want to send a message. In the global alliance between left liberals and Islamists, the Islamists are in charge. And the world cup is one of the big global platforms where they can show off their dominance.

On its part, liberalism has always cowered before Islamism. Everyone knows for instance, that Indian liberals would never dare ask why Muslim daughters still get only half the inheritance that a son would get. Even on the most basic human rights issues, the so-called liberalism exists in a state of total surrender to Islamism. But because their ally has such a medieval bent of mind, we are watching in Qatar the ritual humiliation of liberalism by Islamism.

The left liberals also understand how to manage their status as junior ally. They have made some perfunctory noises about human rights in Qatar, to serve as disclaimers later on. The left wing Guardian for instance, wrote about worker deaths. But only two or three times last year. And that was probably the highest for any mainstream liberal outlet. In between, the Guardian must have done a hundred pieces on the supposed threat of Hindutva. But now they get to claim journalistic integrity, as well as equate Hindutva with Islamism!  

Wokeness as a weapon of mass distraction

In the recent case of Sam Bankman-Fried, the kingpin of the FTX scandal who stands accused of diverting $10 billion of customer funds, a correspondent for the left wing outlet Axios raised an important question. What if Sam Bankman-Fried had been a woman? If a woman had shown up in shorts and a T-shirt, would people still have handed over billions of dollars? A spirited discussion followed.

You know what? The left wing correspondent is absolutely right. Sam Bankman-Fried, now known mostly by his initials SBF, did benefit from his male privilege. We should do something about that. But notice how the correspondent tried to switch the topic from something which appears far more relevant in this case. Let us call it “Biden donor privilege.” The individual in question was the second largest donor to America’s ruling liberal party. Should we not focus on that? But that is not what the liberal media wants. The Washington Post and Vox want you to know that SBF poured millions into preparing for the next pandemic. Now that his fortune has collapsed, the world is in trouble. SBF used to be our savior.  Do not ask questions about corruption, please.

Observe carefully how the wokeness machine works. It raised genuine issues, such as male privilege, or the need to prepare for the next pandemic. But in this case, these issues were weaponized to distract from real corruption among the power elites. Similarly, racism is a horrible thing. But during the pandemic, whenever the public tried to ask real questions about the lab leak theory, they were told to shut up or risk being accused of anti-Asian racism. 

Wokeness is now a language. And once translated into this language, one can use its keywords to push almost any agenda. There are left wing school districts in the US that now target kids with video messages preaching “food neutrality.” What is food neutrality? It is the idea that just as you should not discriminate between people on the basis of race or gender, you also should not “discriminate” between healthy and unhealthy foods, such as between a candy bar and a carrot! The comparison is ridiculous, of course. But observe how keywords like “non-discrimination” are being used in a perverse manner to promote something that is bad for us. No wonder that the liberal “experts” featured in these video messages from left wing school districts turned out to be connected to companies that make unhealthy snacks.

The idea of ‘Qatarphobia’ is quite similar. Our best instincts about respecting other cultures and celebrating diversity are being weaponized to prevent us from asking basic questions about human dignity, fairness and justice. We should not fall for this.

One question remains unresolved. How did Qatar manage a press freedom ranking of 119, when India was ranked much worse at 150? In what sense is Al Jazeera free? Are they free to criticize the government of Qatar? Then what definition of freedom were they using? The answer might lie in this old joke that the great Ronald Reagan liked to tell: An American and a Soviet are arguing about who has more freedom.

In my country, I can walk into the Oval Office,” the American decides to boast, “I can slam my fist on the desk, and say,  ‘Mr. President, I don’t like the way you are running this country.’

No big deal,” the Soviet replies, “I can do that in my country too.

You can?” the American asks with great surprise.

Of course,” the Soviet replies, “I can march into the Kremlin, slam my fist on the desk and say. Mr. Gorbachev, I don’t like the way President Reagan is running his country.

The Nehru supporter’s sleight of hand and the tragedy of India’s V-shaped trajectory

A lightly edited version of this article, written jointly with Ajit Datta, appeared on News18 here, and on Firstpost here.

In 1947, Jewish leaders around the world drafted Albert Einstein to write an extensive personal letter to Jawaharlal Nehru. The United Nations was set to vote on the creation of Israel. In his appeal to Nehru, the world’s most famous scientist pointed out that the Jewish people had been victims of persecution for centuries. Much like the masses of India. India was the most influential among the newly decolonizing nations in Asia and Africa. In order for Israel to be accepted among the countries of the world, the Jewish state would need India’s support.

For the record, India voted no, along with a dozen other members of the UN. These were mostly Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but also Cuba and Greece. The UN resolution passed with 33 votes in favor and 13 votes against, with 10 abstentions.

This episode brings some perspective to the forever unfolding “Nehru vs Modi” war on social media and public discourse today. Look how PM Modi is raising India’s prestige, BJP supporters say. They point to India’s growing stature on international forums such as the Quad, meetings of the G-7 and the G-20 countries, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the World Economic Forum, and so on. Recently, the New York Times began speculating on whether Prime Minister Modi would take the initiative in bringing both sides to a final settlement in the war on Ukraine. Such an article would never have appeared without sanction from the highest levels of the US military industrial complex.

Look at the crowds that turned out to hear Nehru at Hiroshima in Japan in 1957, the Congress supporters sneer right back. Or watch this video of Nehru being welcomed at the White House by President Eisenhower in 1956. It is just after he has concluded his meeting with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Do you now see the towering statesman that Nehru was? But then, the question is this. If India had all this power and prestige, what happened to it?

Oddly enough, the Congress supporters might have a point. But for the worst possible reasons. To understand this, we offer a hypothesis that is both painful and provocative. From 1947 to the present day, India did not always trend upwards. Instead, our trajectory was more like a “V.” For over 40 years, Nehruvian principles made India move steadily down the global order. The bottom was reached around the crisis of 1991, when these principles were finally abandoned. After that, India began its rise. 

As a result, most Indians do not have a memory of ours being a powerful country. When India is celebrated on the world stage today, it feels like something that has never happened before. But it used to happen. Then, we sabotaged ourselves.

Sounds unbelievable? Consider this. In 2021, India became the world’s fifth largest economy, and it was the sixth largest in 2020. What was the rank of India’s GDP in the 1950s? Also sixth! In between, India’s rank dipped as low as 12th in 1991! That is the stark “V” shape we were talking about.

India’s economic decline in the Nehruvian years

Looking at the arduous efforts of the government to internationalize the rupee today, it is difficult to imagine a time when entire foreign countries used the Indian Rupee as their currency. But in the 1950s and the 1960s, the Indian Rupee was used all over the Middle East. As central banker, India enjoyed enormous power over the economies of all these countries where millions of Indian workers now toil for a pittance. In 1959, the Reserve Bank of India introduced the Gulf Rupee specifically for these countries. Initially, a Gulf Rupee was worth exactly one Indian Rupee.

But as India’s economy weakened under the weight of Nehruvian socialism, other nations no longer wanted to be under India’s umbrella. Kuwait left in 1961, and Bahrain in 1965. As India’s economic crisis deepened, the RBI was forced to devalue the Gulf Rupee in 1966. The Saudis stopped trading in Indian currency. One by one, Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman gave up on the Gulf Rupee and introduced their own currencies.

By 1966, famine-like conditions prevailed in India. And our economics took an even harder left turn. In 1969 and 1970, India nationalized all banks. But forex reserves continued to decline. By 1974, India imposed the harshest possible capital controls, forcing foreign firms to flee. India had shut its door upon the world. And the world did not look back.

If India’s economic disaster under Nehruvian socialism can be captured in a single data point, it is this. In 1947, India’s per capita GDP was 18 percent of that of the world. In other words, the average Indian earned only 18 cents for every dollar that the average person around the world earned. By the 1991 crisis, this collapsed to one-third of that, to just 6 cents for every dollar In other words, India actually became 3 times poorer in the first four decades after independence! After the 1991 reforms, India began inching back upwards again. By 2014, it rose to 14 cents. Where is the average Indian today? We have climbed back to 18 cents. That is where we used to be 75 years ago!

The undermining of India’s military

When Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the leader of Egypt in 1967, began the moves that culminated in the Six Day War, he first had to contend with the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) that was stationed in the Sinai desert. The commander of the UNEF was Maj. Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, a World War II veteran of the Indian Army. Similarly, when the first Indochina war ended in 1954, it was decided to have an international commission to hold free and fair elections in Vietnam. Who would be in charge of this commission? Canada, Poland and India! It has been a long time since India enjoyed such clout in international affairs.

In 1962, the Indian Army fought a hopeless battle, with World War I vintage .303 bolt action rifles against the Chinese who used AK-47s. It was the result of fifteen years of stagnation in the Indian military. The sense of urgency advocated by generals such as Thimayya was ignored by the duo of Nehru and defense minister Krishna Menon, who promoted their own favorite commanders. Security threats were systematically neglected. And perhaps worst of all, for ideological reasons. “Our policy is non-violence. Scrap the army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs,” Nehru is reported to have said.

Such thinking was perhaps at the root of decisions such as the premature ceasefire in 1948, choosing to take the Kashmir issue to the UN. Or the decision to not put the Indian army in charge of the frontiers with Tibet until 1959. The Chinese had occupied Tibet in 1950, and by 1957 they had built the Tibet-Sinkiang highway through Aksai Chin. The highway remained undiscovered for nearly two years. Under the terms of the 1948 ceasefire, Nehru did not allow Indian fighters to carry out reconnaissance missions from the airfield at Srinagar. It was a sad state for a military that had served with distinction in two world wars, from the capture of Haifa in 1918 to the liberation of Italy in 1943.

If the Indian military received much needed attention after 1962, most of the gains from the military victory of 1971 were lost at the negotiating table. India handed over 90,000 prisoners of war back to Pakistan, but the Kashmir issue was left untouched. In the east, the chicken’s neck remained narrow as ever. The north-east remained tantalizingly close to the Bay of Bengal, but without sea access, cut off by a strip that is only 50 kilometers wide.

Nehruvian Idealism as foreign policy

The simplistic argument, that India’s international clout was simply due to its stature at the time and not because of Nehru’s statesmanship, can be made easily. After all, foreign policy has always been the favorite punching bag for Nehru’s detractors, since they believe that this was the front on which he made his Himalayan or “Nehruvian” blunders. However, his checkered legacy on this front, and how it can be reconciled with his undeniable statesmanship, must be examined in a more mature manner. 

The answer lies with the approach that Nehru adopted when it came to dealing with the world. His statement at the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in 1961 best sums up his perception of the international stage and how he believed it should be acted upon.  “The time, the place, the occasion are now and here to take up the question of war and peace and make it our own and show to the world that we stand for peace… The power of nations assembled here is not military power or economic power; nevertheless it is power. Call it moral force,” he said. 

With the end of the second world war and the process of decolonisation, a new world order had begun to take shape. Nehru was perhaps the only important world leader of the time who, with the advent of the United Nations and other such phenomena, whole-heartedly bought into the idealist myth that this world order was propounding. This, despite the discrepancy between the words and the actions of the order’s leading powers from the very onset. 

The term “moral victory” has now become a joke. Take a moment to imagine how one of the important powers in the world actually functioned for decades on the international stage with the objective of scoring one moral victory after another. The fundamentals driving Nehru’s foreign security policy, would be considered liberal or idealist (a disparaging term) in the study of international relations, based on the theory that an international system with no conflict or competition is a real possibility. This is normative theory, meaning a theory that does not describe reality as it is but prescribes or tells you how anything should ideally be. India was perhaps the only power of any consequence at the time which was naive enough to actually walk the talk on such an approach, an approach which according to most scholars, continued till the end of the Cold War with certain deviations. Naturally, like anybody chasing one moral victory after another, India’s fortunes on the international front began to sag.

How the Nehru Doctrine undermined India

The Nehru Doctrine’s prescriptions on every front, therefore, were in line with these idealist fundamentals. “There is also no doubt at all in my mind that it is inevitable for India and Pakistan to have close relations – very close relations – sometime or the other in the future,” Nehru had said about Pakistan in a speech at the Indian Council of World Affairs. In his mind, it was not the peace but the hostilities that were the aberration. When it came to China, Nehru’s position prior to the war is well-known. On many occasions, he alluded to how similar China was to India- an ancient civilisation, a victim of colonial occupation, a backward country trying to uplift its large population. On the floor of parliament, he flayed the UNO for choosing to recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China instead of Communist China, calling it a breach of the organization’s charter and spirit. India even supported Hong Kong and Macau’s “reintegration” with China. And according to many sources including Shashi Tharoor, diplomats have claimed that India turned down an offer for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Nehru believed that China should have the seat.

Such was the faith in the idealist world order that Kashmir, which was a domestic issue since the treaty and terms of accession were no different from any other Indian princely state, was unnecessarily internationalized. After its unnecessary internationalization by India, the internationalization itself was used to justify why India could not integrate the state fully. “The accession is complete. Accession, however, must be distinguished from integration. Jammu and Kashmir State acceded first and then integrated, as the other states had done… but in the nature of things, we could not follow a similar policy in Kashmir where a war, which had almost become an international issue, was going on,” Nehru told the Indian parliament in 1953. On the question of nuclear weapons too, Nehru used the same idealistic framework to conclude that the world was on the brink of peace since everyone wanted it, and that amassing large armies and nuclear weapons was detrimental to this movement.  “The whole course of history of the last few years has shown a growing opinion spread in favour of the concept of non-alignment. Why? Because it was in tune with the course of events; it was in tune with the thinking of the vast numbers of people, whether the country concerned was non-aligned or not, because they hungered passionately for peace and did not like this massing up of vast armies and nuclear bombs on either side,” he said in 1961.

Therefore, as he went about preaching from this moral high-horse, the rest of the world did not mind. In fact, the rest of the world quite welcomed it. Yes, they were lectured about non-violence, non-alignment, how the US-led bloc and the Soviet-led bloc were infringing on the independent foreign policies of other countries and how they were creating instability all over the world. But lectured by whom? Not only was he harmless, he was buying into their idealism and systematically undermining the substantial clout that his own country enjoyed. So long as his ego could be fed by accepting the moral certificates he liked to issue, at least a major power would be kept in check.

This is not merely a theory, for how the world perceived India and its idealism became evident in the wake of Goa’s liberation. Here too, Nehru’s India had followed an idealist approach, trying to convince Portuguese dictator Salazar to give up on his colony for more than a decade. In 1961, perhaps upon realizing that the strength of its moral argument was proving to be ineffective, the Indian military walked into Goa and sent the Portuguese packing. Now remember, this was a period when the erstwhile colonial powers were still supposedly repenting for their actions, and Salazar was the kind of brutal authoritarian who would get “elected” with a vote-share of hundred percent. But what was the revolutionary rules-based liberal democratic world order’s reaction to India liberating Goa? “India, the Aggressor,” screamed a headline from The New York Times. “With his invasion of Goa Prime Minister Nehru has done irreparable damage to India’s good name and to the principles of international morality,” the article said. “Goa, of course, is the former Portuguese colony that preachy, “nonviolent” India grabbed in 1961 in what still lives as a world-class instance of post-colonial hypocrisy. It would have taken a special perversity for Commonwealth dignitaries to relax at the scene of India’s permanent conquest . . .,” The Washington Post wrote. When President John F Kennedy met the Indian ambassador, he is said to have told him, “People are saying that the preacher has been caught coming out of the brothel.” Instead of replying that the Americans would know best about this, India quietly swallowed the insult. Those were not the days of Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and perhaps somewhere, our policymakers really believed that they had sinned by strongly asserting India’s interests. 

The comparison that is drawn between Nehru and Modi today is for obvious reasons- no Prime Minister has enjoyed such a clout on the international stage since Nehru, and no Prime Minister since Nehru has advocated for non-alignment or strategic autonomy as strongly either. The comparison is instructive, for the approach that Modi has adopted better illustrates the shortcomings of the Nehruvian approach. Today non-alignment is pursued not for some hippy ideal like world peace but for India to emerge as a pole in a future multipolar world order. Non-alignment is pursued not by keeping away from great power politics, but by leveraging great power politics to advance Indian interests.

Under Modi, India has signed foundational military agreements with the United States, and at the same time, it maintains ties with Russia, especially on the defense equipment and energy security fronts. India has gone all-in on the QUAD with the United States among others to restrict China’s influence, and at the same time, it is all-in on initiatives like BRICS and SCO, which seek to dismantle a US-led world order. Never have both China and the West’s bluffs been called out by India at such regular intervals, and without it affecting their relations. India has thriving relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and every other important Middle-eastern power, and is reaching out to regions like Southeast Asia through Act East, completely independent from any other great power. Today, articles praising Modi’s statesmanship in the international media are rare, but the red carpet is rolled out for Modi across the globe. Whether it is the vaccines or Ukraine, he is increasingly the man they turn to. But the red carpet is rolled out for a different reason- because they need India, not because they need a moral certificate from Modi personally. 

The Nehru supporter’s sleight of hand

Remember how we talked about India’s exalted role in world affairs in the 1950s? Unable to explain where all this power went since then, the Nehru supporter uses a clever sleight of hand. In the Nehruvian myth, the power and prestige of India in the 1950s was due to Nehru’s supreme personal qualities. According to them, we have not had a leader of Nehru’s caliber since then. And therefore, we lost prestige.

That makes little sense. Because the real reason was India’s sharp decline in the first four decades after independence. You cannot gain prestige in the world, nor hold on to it, when your people are getting 3 times poorer! The respect that the leader of a country gets has only to do with the power they have. A fumbling Biden, however senile, is still the President of the United States. 

The other sleight of hand is calling the Nehruvian years a ‘foundation’ for modern India. But what kind of foundation building makes a country three times poorer and internationally irrelevant in the process? 

Yes, India had a lot of nation building to do in the 1950s. The British had left India devastated and poor. But the question is compared to what? In 1947, India was the largest economy in Asia. It had railways and ports better than anywhere else on the continent. India had a manufacturing base, and universities where knowledge was being produced. China was entering a bitter civil war. Japan had been bombed out. 

Now pick up a globe and have a closer look at the Indian Ocean. Run your finger along the entire east coast of Africa, to the Middle East, and then all the way to Indonesia, formerly called the Dutch East Indies. All those countries were decolonizing in the 1950s and 60s. India lies at the heart of this region, with the potential to control all those trade routes in the Indian Ocean. India’s factories could have fed the demand in those newly independent countries, all of which were less developed than India at the time. India could have fed the Middle East oil boom, or the rising demand in the ‘tiger’ economies of South-East Asia. To think what India could have been!

India has just finished its first full year as the world’s fifth largest economy. That is one rank higher than 1950, when we were sixth. By all accounts. India will become the world’s third largest economy by 2030, and quite likely several years before that. But we must remember that constant rise is by no means guaranteed. And therefore, while we must honor the patriotism, intent and contributions of Nehru and his heirs, there can be no myth-making regarding their policies or their persona. The tragedy of India’s V-shaped trajectory should therefore be well known and widely acknowledged. If myths take hold, we risk falling back into the abyss of the same V.

Wire-Meta debacle: 6 questions that Indian liberals must answer before moving on

A lightly edited version of this column, written jointly with Ajit Datta, appeared on India Today here.

Do you know, I always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, too?  I never saw one alive before,” Alice asked.  The unicorn replied, “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” Now consider this. An online news portal claims to have uncovered a secret app used by India’s ruling party to target journalists and critics online. Some of these journalists and other like minded folk rush to write columns about this in leading international publications such as Bloomberg and the Washington Post. 

India’s Tek Fog shrouds an escalating political war,” runs one headline. “Modi’s machinery of online hate,” crows another. 

Then for the second time this year, the online news portal The Wire announces the discovery of something resembling a ‘fabulous monster.’ Apparently Meta, the tech giant that owns Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram has given the BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya the amazing ability to take down any social media post that he does not like. Effectively, this makes him the ultimate information czar on planet earth. Not the United States government, not the CIA, but Amit Malviya is in charge.

This time however, it all came crashing down. Meta denied the allegations. The purported emails, the date and time stamps, the screenshots provided by The Wire were all discredited one by one. Two independent experts who The Wire had claimed were in their support, denied having said any such thing. 

The Wire has now pulled down its stories on both Meta and Tek Fog. But judging from the way these stories were received and spread around the world, sections of the media and India’s liberal elite must now be confronted with the most basic question of all. Does truth matter?

Who takes responsibility for the story?

Anyone can make mistakes, but where does the buck stop? In its statement on their website, The Wire claims that they were deceived by a member of their Meta investigation team. So there was a team, which would presumably be subject to editorial standards and oversight. Especially before putting out such a fantastic claim about the world’s largest social media platform and the world’s largest political party.

In fact, there are at least three reasons why the senior editorial staff at The Wire cannot possibly disavow responsibility for the story now. First, on Oct 11 when The Wire was still defending its story, their article claiming to have more ‘evidence’ against Meta was bylined by one of the founding editors, as well as a deputy editor.  Second, founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan has repeatedly taken to Twitter to insist that their story “came from multiple Meta sources – whom we know, have met and verified.” And finally, in an interview published by the Platformer on Oct 19, when Varadarajan is asked about Devesh’s credibility, given that concerns have been raised about his reporting on Tek Fog as well, Vardarajan answers, “I don’t think we should make this about Devesh, frankly. This should be equally about me, I was hands on involved in the story.” How can Devesh now be blamed for everything?

Why is a section of the commentariat trying to make excuses for The Wire?

No sooner had The Wire story collapsed than a curiously dishonest argument began doing the rounds. The Wire, they said, is essential for Indian media and even Indian democracy itself! And for that reason, they deserve to be above criticism. Beyond the obvious ironies, this takes a very dim view of our media, our democracy, and even truth itself. Any kind of ‘ideological truth’ is not ‘truth’ at all. It is actually called propaganda.

The second round of these arguments came right after The Wire pulled down its story. We were told to move on quickly and assume good faith, even praise The Wire for its ‘honesty.’ But why? If someone seems to have been caught, does it prove their innocence? And the political environment is so polarized right now that sections of the commentariat do not even assume good faith on part of someone sporting an ‘angry Hanuman’ sticker on their car. Is this commentariat unable to turn an equally unforgiving lens on itself? And is this commentariat really any different from an apologist for any other alleged crime, only because it has a halo of eminence around its head?

After Amit Malviya filed a criminal complaint, and Delhi Police seized electronic devices from the homes of the founders of The Wire, the criticism has grown. Some people say that the publication should only be held accountable by “peers and civil society.” First of all, in case the documents involved have indeed been forged or fabricated, how is it not a case for law enforcement? Does India have a different code of criminal conduct for the media, wherein the standards of scrutiny for fabrication and defamation differ from those for the ordinary citizen? If sections of the media are making the argument that the law taking its course actually infringes on press freedom, then are they not essentially demanding a free pass to break the law? Second, we should note that The Wire itself has lodged a police complaint against Devesh. If trials are to be conducted only by civil society, should Devesh not get the same treatment?

Why didn’t Amit Malviya and the BJP  get an apology?

The Wire apologized, but only to its readers. The publication pulled down the Meta stories, but only admitted to falling short of its own supposedly high standards. In other words, their apology effectively became a form of self-praise. But more importantly, nowhere did they apologize to Amit Malviya or the BJP, who are clearly the injured party here. Nor have they apologized to Meta, nor to any of the individuals whose communications appear to have been fabricated, for that matter. Was this because of partisanship, a general lack of humility or an overwhelming sense of liberal privilege? Either way, what does it do to the credibility of The Wire and those who consider the publication as essential to our democracy?

Can all the misinformation surrounding ‘Tek Fog’ be stopped at this point?

In some ways, the Tek Fog story is even more damaging than the Meta controversy. Because of how long the story stayed around, and how far it traveled, before The Wire finally pulled down the articles. The ‘investigation’ surfaced in January of this year. Since then, it was not just widely reported on Indian television, but also covered in columns in leading international publications such as Bloomberg and Washington Post. It was even reported by the French language newspaper Le Monde.

In India, there were calls from the opposition for a Supreme Court monitored investigation into the alleged existence of the Tek Fog app. Several opposition MPs wanted the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs to look into the matter. In fact, Tek Fog even finds a mention in the latest report by Freedom House, which rates India as “partly free.” Who takes the blame for the damage to India’s reputation due to these Tek Fog allegations? Given how the internet works, is it really possible to scrub the mushroom cloud of misinformation after nearly ten months?

Would an Indian entity have been able to force a similar retreat?

On Oct 19, the Bengaluru based social media company ShareChat began reminding The Wire about its demands to take down the Tek Fog story. By this point, The Wire was clearly on the defensive against Meta. On the other hand, the story on Tek Fog and their supposed investigation associating this mysterious app to ShareChat had been up for nearly ten months. 

Earlier this year, a court ordered The Wire to take down as many as 14 articles on Bharat Biotech and Covaxin. Many of these articles had been published at a critical time for our country, when vaccine hesitancy would have had lethal consequences. Back in 2019, the Supreme Court had even remarked on “yellow journalism” while dealing with a case against The Wire filed by the son of a union minister. The argument being made today about the Meta story being a one-off error, is therefore quite disputable. But be that as it may, it is notable that these incidents, however serious, did not turn into the kind of major public relations disaster that the news portal is facing today. 

Thus, one cannot help but wonder. Had The Wire not dragged Meta into the controversy, would it have blown up in their faces at all? Perhaps it would have remained unresolved, or ended softly, with a whimper. 

Was this the Whatsapp University moment for Indian liberalism?

One aspect of the entire controversy remains mysterious. For nearly ten days, the two sides battled each other online, over email headers and screenshots. Why were our renowned fact-checkers, some of them believed to be deserving of a Nobel prize, so silent? 

Both were fantastic stories, on Meta and on Tek Fog. One was about the secret superpowers of the BJP’s IT cell head. Another was about a secret app that could cast a spell of misinformation over the internet, taking over the minds of the human population in minutes. But it spread, easily and quickly. Through a community of people who wanted to believe, and who did not want to check. Across prime time shows, newspaper columns and even think tank reports. 

We believe this is the phenomenon that Indian liberals, so smug and self-satisfied, like to call ‘Whatsapp University.’ Except that jibe is never used against the most privileged in our society. You would never hear it being used for editors of The Wire, who went to town with a conspiracy theory for days, or for a non-PhD holder who believed she had landed a faculty position at an Ivy League institution by virtue of being a news anchor. The ‘Whatsapp University’ jibe is used against those who forward innocuous ‘good morning’ messages. And sometimes those who end up taking a little bit of extra but harmless pride about UNESCO and Jana Gana Mana, or about something new and shiny being built in our country. The jibe is used against seniors who are still coming to terms with technology. It is used against a poor young man who had few opportunities in life, and who misspelled a word, thus calling to “Bycott” Qatar Airways.

The Whatsapp University jibe has nothing to do with an appreciation for facts over beliefs. It is a social class based smackdown used by liberal elites to put the masses in their place. Don’t expect liberal elites to learn anything from the current fiasco.

Why ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ is a result of Congress buying its own propaganda

A lightly edited version of this article appeared on Firstpost here.

On the internet, there are all kinds of trolls. But if you observe carefully, different trolls say different things. If you mess with someone on the right, they will accuse you of being selective with facts. If you do that to someone on the left, they will say that you are from the now infamous ‘Whatsapp University.’ In other words, they believe that you do not know any facts at all.

Despite the usual disclaimers, this divergence does reflect thought patterns of people on the two sides. Both sides think that the other is evil. That is far from ideal. But it is normal, perhaps even healthy in a democracy. But only one side believes that the other is unintelligent. And I would say that is why the Congress expects their “Bharat Jodo Yatra” to succeed. Because they have bought into their own propaganda that the rest of us are not very smart.

Every day now, the Congress puts out images of Rahul Gandhi doing things. Their leader can walk, run, stand in the rain, bend to his knees, eat sugarcane, and so on. The camera angles, as well as the production quality of these images and clips is outstanding. These are then shared by party leaders and influencers across all social media platforms. And of course by “pliable” journalists (to borrow an expression from Rahul Gandhi himself) who often post these pictures and videos with the most fawning commentary, Urdu couplets and so on. And all with the same underlying thought: Rahul Gandhi has come of age, see? What more could India possibly want?

At the heart of this is a party and an ecosystem that refuses to rethink, nor admit any fundamental failures in governance. According to them, the only reason the Congress lost is because they could not adapt to a new age communications strategy. And for the last eight years, they have been looking for that strategy, that special kind of social media wizardry that will finally put them over the top. And now you can almost feel them counting the likes and the retweets, and thinking: this time it has to work.

The myth of “photoshop” and “event management” sarkar

The Congress is right about one thing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team are excellent at building a brand. The way they have packaged and presented both the Prime Minister’s personal life and the achievements of his government, so as to maximize electoral gain, is truly remarkable. Where the Congress goes wrong is that they think it is all packaging and no substance, that the public are somehow distracted. And they believe that if they just package Rahul Gandhi a little better, the Indian public will embrace him.

In the 2019 general elections, the NDA’s vote share was above 50 percent in as many as 13 states and union territories, including Uttar Pradesh. If you start from Delhi and travel southwards and westwards, there is not one Congress MP until after you cross Mumbai. Could the BJP have achieved this only through distraction? 

The problem is that the Congress saw the packaging, but not the real difference that the Modi government had made to people’s lives. There were toilets, gas connections, and electricity connections. There were the cheap life saving medicines supplied through the Jan Aushadhi program, the millions who had availed Mudra loans. People saw the houses being built under PM Awas Yojana. And for the first time, the welfare system really did work, with money getting deposited directly into bank accounts. 

For sure, the BJP used its formidable organization to knock on every door before the election and remind the voters of what they had got. They used PM Modi’s personal image to perfection. But it only worked because the voters could connect it to something real. Go to the North East and see the roads and railways being built for the first time ever. And don’t forget that India was the fastest growing economy in the world for four of the first five years of Modi sarkar. Inflation remained low, a far cry from the days of UPA2, when inflation averaged 10.4 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 12 percent!

The duty of opposition parties is to find fault with the government. But the Congress believed so deeply in its own propaganda of “event management sarkar” that it lost touch with reality. As a result, its criticisms often seemed simply unhinged. When 100 percent rural electrification was achieved, the Congress asked what about electricity in every home. When that was achieved, they asked what about 24 hour electricity. Fair questions, but not a good look for a party that has ruled nearly 60 years but failed to provide any of these.

Take the most recent example, of the steep fall in the rupee versus the dollar. Everyone knows that the situation is different from 2013, when the Indian currency was an outlier, falling against every major currency. Right now, every major currency is falling against the dollar. But the Congress assumes that we the people do not understand this. They think we are distracted by communal hatred, or by what they consider to be fake nationalism. And when you are convinced that the public is not smart, your campaign ends up not being smart either. So the Congress is still searching for that one really nasty joke or taunt about the falling rupee that will finally get the attention of the public. And they are wondering why the campaign isn’t sticking.

The real reason Rahul Gandhi’s gaffes get mocked so much

Did you hear the one about measuring atta in liters? Or the one where Rahul Gandhi said “pichattees,” or struggled to say “Visvesvaraya.” I bet you did. Because the BJP’s IT cell takes these clips, mocks them mercilessly and makes them go viral.

Not fair, the Congress always says. Everyone makes gaffes. In a tit-for-tat move, whenever PM Modi stumbles, the Congress makes video clips, adds a dash of taunts and tries to make them go viral. But somehow these never seem to amuse people as much. And the Congress can never understand why.

Because it is never really about the gaffes. It is Rahul Gandhi’s privilege that people are laughing at. PM Modi has decades of governing experience under his belt. And before that, decades of working up the party ranks, from worker, to manager, to leader. Rahul has none of that. All he had to do was show up and say a few words that his loyalists had written for him. When he cannot do even that much, the mockery is absolutely unforgiving. The same goes for the personal luxuries and creature comforts that the two leaders indulge in. The difference between earning something and winning a lottery. The Congress believes that people are so distracted by the packaging that they cannot make a simple distinction. 

The greatest Congress leaders were great brand builders too!

In 1949, the government of India decided to send a baby elephant as a goodwill measure, a “gift” to the children of Japan. The baby elephant was named “Indira.” For those making uncharitable remarks about PM Modi and the cheetahs, this should be a valuable lesson. In a democracy, all great leaders understand the importance of building a brand. That is why Nehru’s birthday is still celebrated as Children’s Day.

Indeed, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is arguably the most successful political brand ever built in the world. The Congress of 1947 was a big tent, with many towering leaders, thinkers and ideologues of every stripe. Within 20 years, the Nehru-Gandhis succeeded in turning everything into a family monopoly: the party, the government, even the memory of the freedom struggle. All of India became an extension of that brand, with every government building, scheme or project named after a member of the family.

And the family understood very well the importance of using their personal lives to advance their brand. Almost all of them “studied” abroad, but Indira or Rajiv never actually finished their college degrees. It didn’t matter. The tag of “returned from abroad” was used to impress post-colonial India. They rarely ever studied science subjects, but were ambassadors of “scientific temper.”  And it is not just the family that understood how to build a brand. Take Dr. Singh, who was involved in shaping India’s hard socialist Nehruvian policies since 1971. He held every position in the system, from Chief Economic Adviser to RBI Governor. And yet in 1991, Dr. Singh managed to rebrand himself as the visionary who brought economic reforms. At the time, India was 3 weeks away from bankruptcy.  What option did he have other than to accept the conditions set by the IMF?

Indeed, from time to time, the Congress brand managers would introduce someone as a “rebel.” Rajiv Gandhi was supposed to be one such rebel. But against what? That is why Rahul never took up a position of responsibility in the UPA government. The brand managers were waiting for the right time to introduce him as a “rebel.” One could say that in 2014, it was not so much that the packaging of Modi was successful. Rather, it was the packaging of Rahul that failed. 

The effect of smug liberalism

Coming back to my original point, the problem with the modern liberal is that they believe everyone else is unintelligent. If the only thing people want is a show, we will give them a show. This is the subtle taunt aimed at ordinary people each time the Congress shares another meaningless photo-op from their so called yatra. But people want substance. And as for the packaging, the Congress used to be very good at that too. 

A yatra can be a great thing in politics. Because it gives you a chance to listen. But when you are convinced that everyone else is unintelligent, you stop listening. The fear of “Whatsapp University” becomes a bigger problem than “Whatsapp University” itself.  And so it is that you end up walking across India trapped in your own echo chamber. You might as well have taken a flight from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi.

Backed by liberals, Islamists got away with Leicester violence and will come back for more

A lightly edited version of this article appeared in News18 here

A mob attacks a Hindu temple and sets fire to a religious flag. A day or so later, an elderly Hindu man arrives at the local mosque for supposed inter-faith dialogue. There on the steps of the mosque, tightly flanked by stone faced Muslim community leaders on all sides, he reads out a prepared statement for the media.  Both communities are united, he says. There is nothing to see in Leicester. There is only “peace.”

Over the next few days, there is nothing to see in Birmingham either, where a mob has surrounded a Hindu temple. And nothing to see in Wembley, where another temple has been surrounded. Everywhere, a Hindu comes out and makes a statement on camera, flanked by Muslim leaders who stand with their arms crossed and say nothing. There is peace.

The attacks on Hindus began a while ago. And by that, I mean one thousand years ago,  continuing up to the present day. Across the entire swathe of northern India, no major temple has been left standing. Until now, historians and the media would always try to cover up what happened. But not any more. Now the media takes the lead, proactively directing the hatred against Hindus, blaming the Hindus for everything. Why did the violence in Leicester happen? A journalist who writes in one of India’s most ironically named national newspapers (and a host of foreign outlets) explained that it was because the Hindus had entered a “Muslim area.” This was apparently in violation of global apartheid laws against Hindus. And so the Hindus deserved whatever they got.

In fact, what stood out in Leicester was how the media was effectively watching the backs of the rioters. The Guardian for instance, had its reporter on the ground, managing the narrative constantly. They found a Hindu man wearing a helmet, so he must be a terrorist. Yes, there were alleged reports of an alleged video showing an alleged Hindu flag being allegedly burned, but did you know about the local Muslims who stood guard outside the Hindu temple? All around there were Muslims carrying out acts of kindness, one who escorted a woman wearing sindoor to safety. Safety from who? Don’t ask. Read about the peaceful protests by groups of young Muslim men. Now people always suspect that large groups of young men are up to no good, and so they made sure to add that it was a peaceful group of young Muslims. And then there were the racist dog whistles, about the white English woman sobbing as she cleaned up the blood spattered on her window due to riots instigated by the brown skinned Hindus. 

Rioters trained in ‘woke’ language, and the bogey of Hindutva

If there is something we can generally agree upon, it is that street rioters are usually not educated nor thoughtful people. What surprised me most about the Leicester riots is how the instigators of the mob spoke an almost academic language. Some of them were known ISIS supporters. Some were actual operatives believed to have worked on the ground for ISIS in Syria. But they chose their words carefully. Don’t say “Hindus.” Just say “Hindutva” instead. Your supporters will get the message, and your allies in media and academia will be able to give cover fire to you. 

This is exactly what happened during the anti-CAA riots in India. How do you justify open calls for genocide? Just be careful enough to say that you want to dig the grave of “Hindutva.” You can blame “Hindutva” for almost anything. What was behind the Jan 6 riots at Capitol Hill? There was an Indian flag among those who had gathered, and so it must have been “Hindutva.”  The individual in question turned out to be a religious Christian, but so what? On major US television networks such as MSNBC, anchors like Mehdi Hasan explain that Anders Brevik, the white supremacist who executed over 50 children in Norway in the summer of 2011, was motivated by “Hindutva.” Incidentally, you can find an old video of Mehdi Hasan circulating on the internet, where he describes all non-believers as “animals.” He has learned to disguise his hatred now, by saying “Hindutva” instead of  “non-believer” or “kuffar.”

Who taught them this trick? It was their collaborators in the so called civil society in India. Any form of Hindu political assertion is stigmatized as a kind of Nazism. Eminent public intellectuals in India have written columns accusing Hindutva of seeking “global cultural dominance,” and dismissing the violence in Leicester as a mere backlash to the “ideology of hate.”  Hindus form a tiny minority in most countries of the world. How could anyone possibly believe that they are seeking global dominance?

But hatred does not work like that. The Jews were demonized just like this. Though a tiny minority, they were accused of conspiring to take over the world. In Pakistan, there is a fear psychosis about the ways of the “cunning Hindu baniya,” a caricature created to resemble the specter of the “Jewish money lender.” In India and the rest of the world, this caricature is replaced by the shadow of “Hindutva.” Anyone remember the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference held last year on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks? Their aim was to give the world a new enemy. Among the frank confessions at the conference was the statement that Hinduism is indeed inseparable from Hindutva. Among the most paranoid theories born at the conference was that of “radical inclusivity.” The thinkers noted with alarm that Hindutva does not appear to discriminate against women, nor homosexuals, nor members of the trans community. In other words, the Hindus may appear harmless, but it must be a cover for something really sinister.

For instance, why would Hindus make up such a tiny minority in jails in the US or the UK, much lower than their percentage in the general population? Why can’t they be like certain other religious communities, which are far over-represented in prisons in the UK? According to the thinkers, the question is not what others can learn from the peaceful and successful Hindu community worldwide. The real question is who is behind the conspiracy to keep Hindus out of jail? Is it the global secret Hindutva network?

Liberal ecosystem is bigger than we might realize

A giant f***ing statue of a right wing bigot.” These were the words in which Telesur English described the State of Unity in 2018. They went on to describe how Sardar Patel was a despot who invaded and occupied Muslim kingdoms such as Hyderabad. Sardar Patel was a “right wing bigot?” And would you dare to use the F-word for Sardar Patel?

Now most Indians may have never heard of Telesur, and that is exactly the point. It is a massive network, often called the “Latin American CNN,” owned jointly by five governments, with a viewership base of 500 million people! The liberals are already on Telesur, poisoning the minds of people of South America against the Hindus of India. There is no Hindu community over there, and hardly any Indian watches Telesur. So there is no backlash, nobody to provide a counter-narrative. The liberals are scoring on a field that is wide open and empty. In 15 years, when India’s business interests stretch to every corner of the globe, Hindus will become aware of what has been done to their reputation in South America. We will be at a significant disadvantage by then. The liberals think ten steps ahead.

We in India talk a lot about the BBC, the New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, and so on. In reality, these are just a handful of outlets catering only to the English speaking world. They may dismiss us as haters and trolls, but they know that we are out there, keeping an eye on them. And this is bound to make them more careful in their coverage. Beyond this handful of outlets, there is an entire universe of France24, Deutsche Welle, TRT world and more. Watch any one of these and they will make the BBC look pro-Hindu. And remember we have no idea what newspapers in languages such as French or Spanish are saying about us.

The cauldron of Nazism, Communism and Islamism

Much of the academic case against Hindutva is based on smearing it as a form of Nazism or Fascism. How ironic! A supremacist ideology born in the cradle of Abrahamic religions and somehow the real villains turn out to be the last remaining ‘pagan’ civilization on earth. 

In reality, the story begins around 1915 with the Caliphate of Turkey, which carried out a genocide of 1 million Armenians during World War 1. After the war, the Caliphate fell, to be replaced by the Turkish nationalist regime of Mustafa Kemal. Among those inspired by Kemal’s project of an ethno-nationalist state based on genocide was the young Adolf Hitler. 

At the same time, another evil is rising in Italy, under Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party. By 1929, he had signed the Lateran treaty, ceding control over Vatican City to the Pope, winning goodwill from the Church in return. It is an essential step towards cementing his control over the devoutly religious country, which is just as suspicious of Jews. As the anti-Semitic Nazi juggernaut rolls through Europe, it wins many friends in the Arab world. The Muslim brotherhood organization formed in Egypt transforms itself into a pro-Nazi outfit. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem travels to meet Hitler in 1941, and promises to recruit Bosnian Muslims to serve in the Waffen SS. Recently declassified Vatican archives show that the Church was aware of Nazi atrocities, but told the Vatican newspaper to remain silent, in order to preserve good relations with Mussolini.

After the war, the Nazi regime in Germany is destroyed. But a number of Nazi criminals manage to escape Europe, some to places like Argentina with the help of the church, and others to the Arab world. 

Especially in the Arab world, the pro-Nazi sentiments slowly began to be incorporated into a curious framework of Islamism as well as secular leftism. From Nasser who denied the holocaust to Anwar Sadat who had been a Nazi collaborator during WW2, Egypt had two successive presidents from a pro-Nazi background. At the same time, left wing extremists all over the world began to make the Palestinian cause their own. The infamous hijacking of multiple airliners at Dawson’s field in Jordan in 1970, was carried out by the Marxist-Leninist organization Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, which was part of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Did I mention that Hitler began WW2 by concluding a treaty with Stalin to carve up Europe between Nazis and Communists? 

Such is the cauldron of Nazism, Islamism and Communism. But ask Indian liberals, and the Indian left, and they will tell you that “Hindutva” should be connected to the Nazis!

Hindu community leaders should not repeat the mistakes of the Judenrat

When facing oppression, one is confronted with very difficult, even impossible choices. In her 1963 book on the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt brings up the controversial question of the Jewish Councils (or Judenrat) in Nazi occupied Europe. She argued that perhaps more Jews could have saved themselves if they had not listened to the local Jewish councils that the Nazis used to maintain “order.”

In view of Arendt’s hypothesis, one has to wonder. Are Hindu community leaders around the world, who issue on camera statements of “harmony” in obvious hostage like situations, making a mistake? Again, these people are facing a very difficult choice. Should they diffuse each local crisis as it pops up and hope for the best in the long term? But when facing genocidal hatred, buying time probably doesn’t work. It is likely to make things worse in the future. 

The liberal and Islamist ecosystem got away with what happened in Leicester. They got away with the violence. They got away with blaming it on Hindus. They will come back for more. They will repeat this on an even larger scale. Would it not make sense to speak out now?

No real friends, plenty of implacable foes

Let me adapt the words of Robert Forczyk from Case White: The Invasion of Poland, 1939, to the Indian context. If history reveals any immutable truths, it is that India has no real friends, but plenty of implacable foes. Throughout its tortured history, India has been invaded and ransacked by some of the greatest armies ever raised…

Words that would ring true for any Indian Hindu. But we have our own powerful nation state today. And the voice of the Indian Hindu shall be heard. What is really behind the recent increase in global Hinduphobia? They are not used to seeing Hindus as equal to other groups of people. They expect the Hindu to be submissive, to minimize their own existence and identity. Not any more.

Gyanvapi Case Versus Waqf Board Act: Do We Have One Nation and Two Systems?

A mildly edited version of this post, written jointly with Akshita Bhadauria, appeared on News18 here.

Earlier this week, the residents of Varanasi found themselves facing massive restrictions as they prepared to go about their daily lives. The state government had imposed Section 144, and tightened security everywhere. A local court was scheduled to announce its judgment in the controversial and highly awaited Gyanvapi case. The administration did not want to take any chances. Eventually, with some 250 police personnel guarding its premises, the court pronounced its decision, which went in favor of the Hindu side. 

So what did the Hindu side win? Did they get the right to worship inside the Gyanvapi complex, as the five Hindu petitioners had requested? Not exactly. The court merely ruled that their suit was maintainable, and not subject to dismissal under the 1991 Places of Worship Act. In other words, the Hindu side did not win anything, just the right to present their arguments before the court. 

So this is going to take a while. Separate court cases on whether to  allow videography of the premises, whether to admit the videography as evidence, and so on. Each case may be judged and appealed at multiple levels, from the local court to the High Court, and most certainly the Supreme Court. Note that the remnants of the temple which was demolished to build the mosque are still clearly visible to all, and the case could be decided at a glance. But one has to trust the “system.” The first suit in the Ram Janmabhoomi case was filed in 1855. The case was finally decided in 2019. Because the state must be “secular.” And so, the Hindus must wait.

On the flip side, here is what also happened last week. The largely Hindu residents of Thiruchendurai village in Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu woke up to find that all their ancestral land now belonged to the Waqf Board. Not just some specks of land here and there, but the entire village. Because it now belongs to the Waqf, the villagers can no longer own nor sell their land. From now onwards, the land can only be used for Muslim religious purposes. 

The homes and lands of some 7000 mostly Hindu families. All gone. Along with a temple which is said to be 1500 years old, and thus would predate Islam itself. How can this happen in a constitutional republic with rule of law, a country with legally recognized property rights? How can this happen in India, where land acquisition is always the biggest hurdle for any new project? Because in the secular state, all religions are equal, but some religions are more equal than others.

How the Waqf Board can take away your land

Under Section 40 of the Waqf Board Act of 1995, the board can take away any property, anywhere in India, that the board has “reason to believe” might be Waqf property. First of all, what is a Waqf? Roughly speaking, it means a property that has been donated for Muslim religious charities. Unlike most property, it is inalienable, meaning that its ownership cannot be transferred or changed, including by the Waqf Board itself. This is how those unfortunate villagers in Tamil Nadu came to discover their plight. Someone tried to sell their land, which is when the local authorities informed them that they no longer owned it. The Waqf Board now owned it all. 

Now here is where it gets really scary. Who decides whether a piece of land belongs to the Waqf? The Waqf Board does. Once they decide it is theirs, the ownership of the property is instantly transferred to them. They may or may not even inform you. Usually, the Waqf Board writes directly to the local authorities, informing them that some piece of land is now Waqf property. If you receive a notice, be aware that the land already belongs to them legally. 

No, you are not entitled to compensation. On the other hand, you are now an encroacher, and the Waqf Board may impose financial penalties on you. In fact, the Waqf Board even has the power to impose penalties on civil servants for failing to prevent encroachment of whatever the board believes is Waqf property. From time to time, the Waqf board carries out surveys of the state to find out what land and property they might wish to take away. The cost of these surveys must be borne by the state government. That is the law.

Surely there must be some curbs on the sweeping powers of the Waqf Board, right? Well, before the Waqf Board takes away property, there has to be an “investigation.” Who will conduct this investigation? The Waqf Board itself. Could you appeal against their decision? Yes, but only before a tribunal of Islamic religious scholars constituted by the state government. Again, the law is clear that there is no right to appeal against the decision of this tribunal, even before a High Court. 

In short, could the Waqf Board take away your land or your house tomorrow if they wanted? Yes, they probably could. And there is basically nothing you can do about it.

In the 1990s, a wave of legislation took away rights of Hindus

In popular imagination, the story of Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya is usually seen as a situation where the Hindu side prevailed. The mosque no longer stands there, and a grand Ram Temple is scheduled to come up at the spot. For most common Hindus, it is a triumph of faith. For anti-Hindu elements around the world, it is proof of the rise of  “fascism.”

But something is missing from this picture. In the period leading up to and the aftermath of the demolition of the mosque built over Ram Janmabhoomi, there was a wave of panic legislation that took away rights of Hindus. The first of these is the Places of Worship Act of 1991. The act provided that the religious character of any place in India (with the possible exception of the mosque at Ram Janmabhoomi) cannot be changed from what it used to be on Aug 15, 1947. In other words, Hindus would not have any right to negotiate about their religious sites ever since the day Indians first got to have their own representative government. If the British left things a certain way, Hindus would have to accept that for the rest of time. How is that fair?

The Waqf Board Act of 1995 is in the same spirit, only even more outrageous. Let alone places of worship, the Waqf now received sweeping powers to seize the homes and lands of people anywhere in India.

A disturbing historical parallel with separate electorates

In 1916, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League came together to present a joint proposal to the British for a form of self-government in India once World War 1 ended. One of the compromises reached between the Congress and the Muslim League was to provide for separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims. This came to be known as the Lucknow pact.  Later, the British went back on the promises made to Indian leaders during the war. But separate legal statuses based on religion were here to stay.

How are the members of the Waqf Boards, which own over 7.5 lakh immovable properties across India selected?  They have to be chosen from Muslim members of Parliament, state Assemblies and Bar Councils. There are other members too, nominated or selected in various ways, but they have to be Muslims. The separate electorate mentality haunts us even today. 

An undeclared partition?

Compare the sweeping powers of the Waqf Board to the condition of the Hindu side which will likely still wait untold centuries for a real verdict in the Gyanvapi case. An obvious double standard emerges here. One group can just take whatever it wants at any time. Another group must file a case even to argue its case before a local court. 

The detractors of modern India like to complain about something they call “undeclared emergency.” But this looks more like an “undeclared partition.” Hindus and Muslims both living in India, but effectively under two separate legal systems. It is actually worse than that. While laws governing the majority community are made by the secular state, the minority community makes its own laws. This means that the minority religion is state-sponsored, while the majority religion is state-controlled.

The undeclared partition applies not just to our property rights and places of worship. It covers every aspect of our personal life: marriage, divorce, inheritance and even our bodily autonomy. And the system hurts those who are the most vulnerable among us. A recent Delhi High Court judgement, made according to religious law, ruled that a minor Muslim girl can “choose” to live with her “husband” if she wants. We are in the year 2022. India can certainly do better than this.

Sterlite Copper to Vizhinjam port: The history of environmental racism and why India’s development is opposed

A lightly edited version of this article (written with Akshita Bhadauria) appeared in Firstpost here.

Let us begin with three representative examples. Since 2016, the central government has embarked on the Char Dham highway project. This is an ambitious design to expand 900 kilometers of roads into an all weather highway in the mountains of Uttarakhand. Besides the benefits for tourism and industry, the government argued that it needed the roads to be at least 10 meters wide for army vehicles to pass, in the event of war with China. But environmental groups got into the act. And in 2020, they got the Supreme Court to pass an order restricting the width of the road to just 5.5 meters. 

After a long court battle, the government finally won the right to expand the road in Dec 2021. But think of the years lost in between. And what about the superpower on the other side? Do you think China is waiting for an environmental clearance to build roads and railways that can rush PLA troops to the Indian border? So who benefitted from this delay?

What if we asked the same question about the protests by environmental and church groups that shut down the Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu in 2018? Some 20,000 people who were employed, directly or indirectly, by this massive manufacturing unit lost their livelihood. Within 2 years, India went from being a net exporter to an importer of copper. Now we are hit with a copper import bill of around $2 billion each year. This money mostly goes to Chinese companies. 

In the most recent instance, there are now widespread protests against the construction of Vizhinjam deep sea port in Kerala. If the port had been completed, it would have given serious competition to Colombo port and Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean. But apparently, the project is leading to coastal erosion, and environmental groups say we can’t have that. Also, the church shares this concern for our coastline, and has thrown its full weight behind these protests. Again, China is so lucky.

We could go on and on with more examples, but the common features between them are already clear. First, India loses out on jobs, economic growth and suffers threats to its national security. Second, there is not much of a BJP vs Congress domestic angle to these protests. The only beneficiaries appear to be foreign interests, generally China. Remember that every delay comes at a cost. Even if protests and litigation are not ultimately successful, they have taken away time, money and resources that could have been used elsewhere. Even when they lose, they win.

How come environmental groups never threaten Western interests?

Now compare this to what is happening in Europe, and much of the western world in general. Ever since the war in Ukraine sparked an energy crisis, they moved swiftly to start their coal fired power plants back again. In an Orwellian move, the European Parliament voted to declare nuclear power and natural gas as forms of “green energy.” The EU also became the top investor in the world’s tallest dam, located in Tajikistan. But farmers in Gujarat cannot have a few meters added to the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam. Isn’t that right?

Where were the environmental groups? They pretended to make some noise. But they fell in line quickly. They tweeted against it, but did nothing on the ground. None of the European moves got bogged down in decades of protests and litigation as it happens here. The so-called civil society knows better than to go against the interests of the countries which fund their activities around the world. Instead, they unleashed a vocal campaign to shame India for increasing its oil imports from Russia!

That is a lot of hypocrisy, you might say. Yes, there is probably some of that. But what if I told you that the truth is much darker? 

The environmental movement was born out of racism

In 1916, a very influential book appeared, titled “The Passing of the Great Race,” written by one Madison Grant. The book theorized that white people, specifically northern Europeans with the lightest skin and blue eyes, were the superior race. With passage of time, the book warned, the dominance of the Nordic peoples would be threatened by an increase in population of other, inferior races. 

But Madison Grant, the author of the book, was no fringe element. Indeed, he was one of the pioneers of the conservation movement, chairman of the New York Zoological Society, and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. Back in the day, anyone could hunt or fish or pollute, and there were no rules. Madison Grant and his contemporaries pushed for the US government to set up more national parks, where nature would be protected. They led the earliest conservation efforts, such as bringing back the American bison from near extinction. 

There were others, such as Berkeley professor Joseph LeConte, Henry Fairfield Osborn of Columbia University, or David Starr Jordan, the founding president of Stanford. These were people who made environmental protection part of the public consciousness for the first time ever. In the early 1900s, they ran the Sierra Club, which lobbied against the construction of a dam that would provide drinking water to the city of San Francisco. Sound familiar?

Grant and Osborn and Jordan were among the leading thinkers of the Progressive Era in American politics. During this time, the idea of the government regulating big business, and protecting workers rights and the environment, was born. 

The problem? These thinkers also believed that the government had a duty to regulate the population itself, and get rid of the “inferior races” and “undesirables.” Their reasoning was simple, and chilling. The resources of the earth are finite. As the environmentalist groups say today, there is no Planet B. And so, these finite resources should belong to the “superior races.” For instance, Osborn was also a founder of the American Eugenics Society, which argued that Jews and non-whites did not deserve the same treatment as the Nordic peoples. David Starr Jordan was among the patrons of the Human Betterment Foundation. The aim of this latter organization, quite literally, was to “improve” humanity through compulsory sterilization of those deemed unfit. Other heroes of the modern progressive left, such as Margaret Sanger, dedicated their lives to reducing the population by getting rid of “undesirables,” including poor people, the physically or mentally impaired, and people of color.

It did not take long for these ideas to make their way to the Nazis. The young Hitler wrote a touching letter to Madison Grant, referring to Grant’s book as “My Bible.” Decades later, during the Nuremberg trials, Nazi doctors would cite this book as the “scientific” basis for their efforts to get rid of people and races considered not worthy of survival. No, the environmental movement was not about saving the unicorns and admiring the rainbows. 

Involvement of the church in protests is a form of imperialism

The most curious feature of these environmentalist protests in India is the involvement of the church. Both in the case of Sterlite Copper and now Vizhinjam port, the church played its hand quite openly. But why? From the era of Mussolini in Italy to that of Duvalier in Haiti, the church does not have a great track record of standing up for the rights of common people. From Galileo to Darwin, they do not have much of a track record of standing up for science either. All across the world, but especially in the United States, the Christian conservatives consistently deny the science of climate change. Could they care that much about environmental degradation in Tamil Nadu or coastal erosion in Kerala? 

We tend to forget that the Church is more than just a religious organization. It is also a sovereign state with significant influence in world affairs. It issues its own passports, and has embassies around the world which enjoy full diplomatic immunity. It has its own banks which own large assets, all of which lie outside our jurisdiction. Its bishops and archbishops in India, as in any other country, are not appointed by the local population, but directly by the Vatican. Would we let officers of any other foreign government, be it the United States or Russia or Pakistan, involve themselves so directly in political activity in India?

We have to discuss conversions, which are the stated objective of the Church. Or as the Pope himself put it during his 1999 visit to India, a “harvest of faith on this vast and vital continent.” What does it mean when someone, especially a ruler from Europe, refers to Indians in terms of a harvest? The Church divides India into its own administrative units, called dioceses, and appoints an officer to oversee each one of them, known as a bishop. The job of every such officer is to ‘save’ the local population, by securing their loyalty towards a ruler in Europe. This is just ‘white man’s burden’ all over again. How is this not imperialism?

Hinduism is an indigenous faith tradition, rather a collection of traditions that is thousands of years old. 

The geography of India, its mountains and forests, play an essential role within the faith. The waters of the Ganga, Narmada and Kaveri all play an essential role within the faith. Even our seasons, the crops we grow, the trees and the animals that we have here. A mango leaf would mean nothing to someone in America, for instance. Mangoes don’t even grow there. Hinduism is tied to our land, to Bharat itself.

Once upon a time, the world was full of such faith traditions, from ancient Greece to North America to Australia. One by one, they fell to the influence of Abrahamic faiths, and Communism. In this regard, the Hindu civilization of India stands out, perhaps as a last remaining outpost. As such, political activity by the church, whether under the guise of environmentalism or anything else, must be viewed as a threat to our sovereignty. A form of colonialism, I would say.

And in this respect, one must also question the modern progressive left. The environmental movement in particular, is supposed to be full of ‘woke’ individuals. You say that you are sensitive to past injustices, especially those against people of color. How come you have made common cause with missionaries who intend to strip away an indigenous culture, take away our stories and traditions, even our names until we are all called Jack, John and Mary?

India is a trailblazer when it comes to setting and achieving  climate goals

Do you know which is the only major nation that managed to meet its 2020 emission reduction targets under the 2015 Paris agreement? Ask the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP. It is India. While developed nations such as the US or Canada and most of Europe lag behind, India forges ahead. By 2030, India has pledged to meet a full 50 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. India’s installed solar power capacity has grown nearly 10 times since 2014. By 2070, India aims to achieve net zero. 

Anyone who sees the hundreds of shiny new electric buses on the streets of India’s major cities will know that this is a nation that is serious about saving the environment. And why is that? Not because of environmental groups, but because of the values inherent in our civilization. We worship this land, remember? It was given to us by our ancestors. We hold it in sacred trust for our future generations. We want to save this land, not an afterlife.

But instead of being lauded for our climate achievements, India finds itself bullied by environmental pressure groups and the church. They want us to give up our cultural identity, cripple our economy and sacrifice our national security interests. In return, they offer to save our souls.

Or they give us globalist, feel good rhetoric about how we are all in this together. Perhaps we are not. If we were, maybe developed nations would not be lagging behind India in meeting their climate goals. So any time an environmental activist says that we humans are polluting too much, do not let them off so easily. Yes, it is unsustainable, but let us dissect that “we.” Which particular group of people do you have in mind? Who do you think is taking too much? And who do you think is not entitled to the resources of the earth? If you dig into the history of the environmental movement and the incentives of those who run it today, the answers might surprise you.

How remission of sentences has enabled political murders in Kerala

A lightly edited version of this article appeared on Firstpost here.

In a fit of rage in early 2015, Kerala businessman Mohammad Nisham reportedly chased down a poor security guard with his expensive new Hummer car, ran him over and killed him. The following year, a court found him guilty of the murder and sentenced him to life in prison. So the justice system did what it was supposed to. Good.

But what about the reaction of civil society and its conscience keepers, both within the famously literate state of Kerala and in the rest of India? Did it spur silent marches, candlelight vigils and such? Did it lead to an outpouring of editorials on issues of power and privilege, class hierarchy and expressions of shame at what our society has become? No, because this did not happen in Uttar Pradesh. 

And how about the dominant Communist party in Kerala? Surely, they must have viewed this incident as a call to arms, right? Did they start a revolution? Well, not exactly. According to an RTI reply, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s government forwarded Mohammad Nisham’s name to the governor among a list of convicts whose sentences should be remitted. This was supposed to be part of official celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the formation of the state of Kerala. That would be November 1, 2016, by which time Nisham would have served less than 10 months out of his life sentence for murder. For the Communists, human life remains cheap as ever. 

This brings us to the age-old question. Is there a way to get away with murder? Now that the issue of remitting sentences is in the news, perhaps we can finally talk about how the Communists in Kerala have turned it into a method. You see, in a state with as many political murders as Kerala, committing a crime and then hiding from the police for the rest of your life is simply not an option for the large party organization. Or as a corporate executive might put it, that model is not scalable. Instead, there is a better way. Go get convicted, and then apply immediately for remission or parole. The boards that make these decisions are packed with party cadres anyway. So you get your pardon, remission,  parole or whatever, and then walk out of jail through the front door.

We are only remitting the sentences, not releasing the prisoners, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan explained in the Mohammad Nisham case. Did you understand? Me neither. In fact, the list of convicts scheduled for remission also included 11 individuals who had been convicted in 2014 for the murder of T P Chandrasekharan, a former CPM leader who had dared to rebel and break away from his party. Back then, the governor of Kerala blocked the releases by sending the list back to the state government, asking how the sentences could be remitted even before the murder convicts had served the usual 14 year period. It even caused a mild bout of embarrassment for the ruling, which had to remove a number of names from the initial list of 1911 convicts. But if you think that would put a check on the designs of the Communist government, you would be very wrong.

“A comrade who had selflessly loved the party and exhibited concern towards society. As a social worker, he had won the acceptance and love of all sections of people in Panur.” These were the touching words with which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan bid farewell to his deceased party colleague P K Kunjanathan in 2020. The entire Kerala Cabinet and the state CPI(M) followed suit, showering similar words of praise on the departed leader. 

But who was P K Kunjanathan? He was indeed one of the 11 convicts who was supposed to be serving a life sentence in the T P Chandrasekharan murder case that I just mentioned. A single 2018 report in the media states that he received parole 15 times in the first 20 m0nths after Pinarayi Vijayan’s government came to power. At the time of his death due to natural causes in 2020, Kunjanathan was also out of jail. How many times did he get parole between 2016 and 2020? I could not find any reporting on this. The media generally does not dig very deep in situations that may embarrass the Communists. It is part of the liberal privilege that comes with being a ‘secular’ party opposed to the BJP.

There is always more. In June of 2020, another murder convict made an appearance at the wedding of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter in Thiruvananthapuram. This individual was supposed to be serving a jail term for the murder of an RSS worker. But there he was, at the official residence of the Chief Minister, showing off his influence at the highest levels of power in the state. It should be noted that the incident took place during pandemic restrictions, with only a select 50 or so guests allowed to attend the wedding. After all, it is reported that the murder convict in question was a close relative of the groom Mohammad Riyas, now a first term CPI(M) MLA who has been inducted into the Pinarayi cabinet as minister for the Public Works Department.

In Bihar, there is a saying that goes : “More saiyyan bhaye kotwal,  ab darr kahe ka?” – When one of my own has become the kotwal (police), what do I have to fear? I understand that dominant political parties in Kerala, who love to take potshots at poor states such as Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, would be irritated by the comparison . But I could think of no better proverb to describe the situation. 

Again, the media did not dig very deep into the case of a murder convict attending the wedding of the chief minister’s daughter. It must be the liberal privilege.

I am not saying that Kerala is the only state where the ruling party has abused its power to grant releases to convicts. Like any other decent human being, I am appalled by the fact that the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case have walked out after just 14 years in jail. The sentences need to be much more harsh, and life imprisonment must really mean life imprisonment. It is also pathetic that a handful of people thought it would be a good idea to garland the convicts. However, it must be said that those people do not appear to be in constitutional positions of power. 

By contrast, allowing murder convicts to show off their influence at the Chief Minister’s official residence, as in Kerala, is an altogether different level of brazenness. Or with Pinarayi Vijayan and his entire party leadership paying tribute to murder convict P K Kunjanathan. Or take the recent case in Tamil Nadu, where the state government freed one of those convicted for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It is even more mind numbing to know that this was the fulfillment of an election promise, and that the released convict met Chief Minister M K Stalin soon after. And yes, there were garlands. 

Sadly enough, the same people who largely ignored these outrageous incidents will now probably turn around and accuse me of  “whataboutism”.  Along with the usual labels of being a “bhakt,” “IT cell” or “Whatsapp University.” As if one can compare the actions of a couple of individuals in Gujarat to those of top politicians and constitutional office holders in non-BJP ruled states. In fact, why is it that the only time we can even mention abuses of power in non-BJP ruled states is when liberals have decided to highlight something wrong in a BJP ruled state? What does that say about who controls the discourse, and about liberal privilege?

And as for Whatsapp University, what is that really? Yes, there is misinformation out there, as on every other platform. But the black market of information exists because we know that those who control the “official” discourse leave out a lot of inconvenient facts. So people pick up some of this “banned” stuff on the black market. What is wrong with that? For example, did you know who was the accused in the first ever political murder in Kerala back in 1969? Forget I said anything. 

No word was banned : How a routine parliamentary procedure was twisted by a disinformation campaign

A lightly edited version of this article appeared on India Today here.

Have you ever come across the conspiracy theory that India is secretly still under British rule? It might be true. If you turn to Article 395 of our constitution, it says that the Indian Independence Act of 1947 has been repealed. There it is, in our constitution itself. Independence granted in 1947, gone by 1950. How did they manage to hide this devastating fact for so long, that too in plain sight?

Please relax. No, India is not under British rule. In fact, that article does the exact opposite. As a sovereign nation, our independence cannot be based on the Indian Independence Act passed by the British parliament. Our constitution therefore repeals this act and proclaims India to be a sovereign republic in the name of “We the people.” The legal distinction between “independence” and “sovereignty” might not make much of a difference to our daily lives, because India became self-governing in 1947. Nevertheless, when India became a republic in 1950, this was an important act of book-keeping. 

But the above example shows how a mere technicality, written out in legal or bureaucratic language, might confuse the average person. The same applies to the recently viral misinformation story about a list of words supposedly banned in parliament. This includes expressions such as “corrupt” or “dictatorial” that have always been used by opposition parties to attack ruling parties. And also newly coined ones, such as “jumlajeevi” or “covid spreader.”

No word has been banned. Nor could it have been banned. Under Article 105 of the constitution, members of parliament enjoy almost total freedom of speech when speaking inside the house. This freedom goes well above the free speech rights that ordinary citizens are entitled to. It is a privilege granted specifically to public representatives so that they may raise issues of concern to the people, without any fear.

Every now and then, someone may object to a particular expression used by a member, and the Speaker may agree to remove it from the Lok Sabha records. Not just the speaker of the Lok Sabha, but also the respective speakers of the state assemblies. It is not only about the word, but also the context in which it was used. That is how a word such as “Bua ji,” used for the Prime Minister in 1981, came to be on the list.

The list includes all sorts of things. Who knows why the speaker of the Punjab Assembly expunged the word “anyay” back in 1960, or the Assembly of erstwhile Bombay state removed the word “khel” in 1950? More importantly, does anyone care? At the very least, you would have to be very bored, or particularly obsessive, to keep track of this. At the most, you might mildly amuse yourself by digging up these details.

But the state has to keep records of everything. And therefore, every once in a while, they sit down and make a list of all the words that have been expunged, everything that has been deemed “unparliamentary,” along with the reasons why. They have been doing this for ages. This routine bureaucratic task does not appear to be a priority, nor should it be. That is probably why these lists have been published at irregular intervals, such as in 1986, 1992, 1999, 2004 and 2009. 

In a quaint bit of parliamentary procedure, they don’t just collect such words from legislatures in India. Sometimes, an expunged word from a parliament in another commonwealth country, such as New Zealand, will make it to the list. Do you want to know why the word “boys” was removed by the Kiwis back in 2010? I most certainly do not. Because I have better things to do.

Perhaps not members of the public, but members of parliament would surely have known about this. And so, when the current Lok Sabha got around to publishing the latest version of this list, they could have just let it be, as always. But no, they did not. They claimed that the government had issued a list of banned words, that the voice of the opposition is being suppressed in parliament, Modi sarkar is “fascist,” and so on. You know the rest.

Why would they pile on like this? Was it desperation for publicity, or a desperation for retweets? By the way, what does it mean when the opposition has to invent fake fascism by making an issue out of routine bureaucratic procedure? It might mean that real fascism is in short supply. Perhaps we could call it one of the “seven signs” that there is no censorship. It is when someone has to pretend that they are being censored, in order to generate sympathy. And the all important retweets, of course.

If the opposition acted in pure bad faith, many sections of the media did not do much better. Several outlets reported the opposition charges as is, without any attempt to debunk them. A simple fact-check would have exposed the matter, but they allowed the claims to run wild, and even be magnified in opinion columns. When ruling party members hit back, these were reported too, but merely as counterclaims. But this was not a case of difference of opinion. As the cliche goes, if one team says that it is sunny outside, and the other team says that it is raining, you don’t just report the claim and the counterclaim. You are supposed to stick your head out of the window and check!

We live arguably in a time when speech in India is more free than it has ever been. This is a gift of modern technology as well as a result of the maturing of our democracy. Every speech in parliament is telecast live. Members often put up their speeches on social media, where they are examined, dissected and commented upon by more people than ever before. An age old bureaucratic custom of recording words that have been expunged, and publishing a report every five or ten years, could hardly be a form of censorship.

There are still many problems with free speech in India, but this list is not one of them. In 1951, barely a year after India became a republic, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to move the first amendment to the constitution. This would amend the free speech provisions and impose what he called “reasonable restrictions.” When S P Mookherjee objected to these restrictions, Nehru accused him of not being a “loyal opposition.” 

Protesting against restrictions on free speech makes the opposition disloyal? And who is the opposition supposed to be loyal to? The government?  

A charge like that would be unimaginable on the floor of the house today. It would go viral instantly on mainstream and social media. It would expose the government to an extreme level of public ridicule. Some things are genuinely better today. And we can be happy about that.

Finally, should we say that the myth about banned words in parliament is the “Whatsapp University” moment for Indian liberals? I will not be so generous. The much maligned “Whatsapp University” consists mostly of people innocently passing on information that they think is true. While we are on the subject of words and their meanings, it is important to understand the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation.” The latter is deliberate, spread with the specific aim of maligning someone. The senior members of the opposition who knowingly twisted an age old bureaucratic procedure and made it sound sinister have done exactly that.