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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has become one of the most reviewed books since and even before its publication in June 2017. The antici...

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Past several days people have been comparing the current situation of intolerance in India to those dark days of internal emergency of 1975. The truth is that there happens to be a fundamental difference between the two situations separated by over 40 years. The internal emergency by Indira Gandhi on June 26, 1975 was managed and fueled by vast bureaucratic machinery and all those excesses committed during that era, despite being driven by Sanjay Gandhi and his cahoots had bureaucratic zeal and imprimatur. The popular support didn't exist and was confined to the workers paid from the coffers of the Congress party that had been reduced virtually as a fiefdom of the family. The population was less polarized and united in its opposition to the mere idea of emergency and the entire thing crumbled once that emergency unraveled.
The current situation represents a much more serious threat than the emergency of 1975 posed at any time. This in no way means that emergency and its aftermath did not do a lasting damage. But the current situation is being played out of fascist playbook. The government does not have to declare emergency because they have co-opted a vast section of society that has been brainwashed through jingoistic nationalism mixed with religious extremism. The coming to power of Modi just represented a culmination of a movement that rabid Hinduvta elements had started and Modi becoming Prime Minister merely represented a take over of the central government by those forces. And this regime does not depend entirely on bureaucracy to carry out its nefarious plans because it has its large vigilante class ready to do the dirty work. And those vigilantes have managed to infiltrate every strata of society be it media, academic, business or government. I doubt if those storm troopers of Modi will allow next elections and if elections are held they will allow anybody else to win.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Gujarat files-the modus operandi

In the movie version of All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward played by Robert Redford is seen to ask Harry Rosenfeld, the editor in-charge of local news at the Washington Post, who was Charles Colson. Harry Rosenfeld turned around asked Bob Woodward to sit down and said, “I am glad you asked me that question. The reason is because if you had asked Simons or Bradlee, they would have said: “We will have to fire this schmuck at once because he is so dumb”.” Howard Simons and Ben Bradlee were, at the time when the Watergate Scandal had just broken out, managing editor and executive editors, respectively. On June 17, 1972, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Building in Washington DC and editors at the Washington Post assigned Bob Woodward, a novice reporter at the newspaper, to cover arraignment of those burglars in a local court. That marked the beginning of investigative journalism by Bob Woodward and his equally bumbling colleague, Carl Bernstein into something started as a small time break in and turned out to be a big time labyrinthine criminal enterprise being run from the Nixon White House that ultimately led to resignation of Richard Nixon as the 37th President of United States of America. That was the first president ever to resign from the office. For Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the line between success and failure was utterly thin and mostly invisible and they badly stumbled at times. One particular moment when they prematurely named Bob Haldeman, the chief of staff for Richard Nixon and faced ire of indomitable Ben Bradlee, could have ended not only the entire investigation but their careers in journalism as well. But the editors, Ben Bradlee, in particular stood with them when everyone else doubted the foundations of entire story. Though, the Watergate investigation was much more complex involved many investigators and prosecutors but it started with dodged grit of two novice reporters who just had arrived and dug into murky world of Nixon White House through diligence and most importantly their editors never let them down.

A young reporter from Tehelka, Rana Ayyub donned the persona of a US based film maker, Maithali Tyagi to get story from those very people who played central and dubious part in one the worst communal riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002 and also into several incidences where several individuals were conveniently eliminated from the scene by local police and investigating agencies in highly contentious circumstances. Where Rana Ayyub were to run into a wall during her earlier stint in the state, Maithali Tyagi gained confidence of the people thick into incidences that would not have been divulged unless they felt secure to unburden themselves. Though, it may be mentioned that it had been through Rana Ayyub’s earlier investigations on stage-managed killings that led to the arrest of Amit Shah a right hand man of Modi and the home minister in the state at that time. It marked a first in the country’s history that an in office minister in charge of law and order had been arrested for criminal instigations. The range of politicians to bureaucrats Maithali Tyagi could gain access marks the who’s who of Gujarat from its worst period in history. Without reproducing the actual transcripts from the book here, most of the facts given were already known through previous sources that included many investigations that all ultimately ran into eventual ground; nevertheless, a few very disconcerting new features do emerge in Gujarat Files. One of the fig leaves behind which most of the unscrupulous people in power and media took shelter had that courts never found Modi guilty for any of the crimes that were committed in Gujarat. That is where Maithali Tyagi brings the fact home that the reasons no investigation or court could find Modi guilty for all those zillions of crimes he committed in Gujarat comes down to his nefarious modus operandi. That modus operandi is lucidly detailed in Gujarat Files. Modi operated on verbal orders directly over the heads of conscientious officers and there was never any meeting where he had said anything of the sort. The bureaucratic make over by forces of Hinduvta provided a fertile ground for Modi and his henchmen to operate. One of his main henchmen, Amit Shah who currently for all purposes happens to be the second only to Modi in power and clout, had absolutely no qualms in physical elimination of the persons he deemed obstruction to their power or path. Another revelation that has been alluded to by one of the reviewers pertains to a caste-based exploitation. There clearly emerges a pattern of selective use of officials belonging to lower castes for nefarious deeds and leaving them in lurch when caught by machinery of law.

Reading Gujarat Files gives an eerie feeling; the people who ran a viciously criminal racket in the state are now running the entire country. It manifests labyrinthine failures in the society and those manifestations are still strong. It doesn't bode well. To implicate him required full support to the kind of diligence by Rana Ayyub, which unfortunately simply wasn't there. Lesser mortals at high places in media, bureaucracy and judiciary folded and capitulated. Not that makes Modi any less criminal; he ran an unambiguous criminal enterprise with relish of a mafia overlord. Should one dwell into the past of Modi, none of that would come as surprise. Modi had his teeth cut in Rashtriya Seva Sangh (RSS); an organization modeled on fascist organizations in Europe and later became closer to another rabid Hindu organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) than he was with his parent organization BJP. The riots of 2002 in Gujarat were instigated and conducted by people associated with VHP when Modi was firmly in saddle. Modi had become chief minister after ousting his predecessor Keshu Bhai Patel through intrigue and chicanery. William Dalrymple in a long article in the New Statesman, when Modi took over as prime minister after a thumping electoral victory, described trepidation of Vinod Mehta when the latter saw Modi first time. As per Dalrymple, Vinod Mehta described Modi as a bad news when latter had gone to see him prior to his becoming chief minister with some evidence against his predecessor from his own party.

After having read Gujarat Files, I felt cynical for the reason the gang that indulged in gross criminality has ended up in ruling the country and people are still going around with business as usual. There is a deep bleakness lurking on the horizon. If they succeed with their nefariousness in UP, things could get ugly. The idealism that pushed back Indira Gandhi in those worst days of emergency simply doesn't exist anymore. Bringing justice to the victims of Gujarat and to justice those who perpetrated those crimes would require diligence of kind that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein indulged in unearthing the conspiracy of Watergate scandal. But then they had editors who stood with them and there were enough upright people to prosecute the perpetrators. Both Shoma Chaudhury and Tarun Tejpal, editors of Rana Ayyub washed their hands by saying story had holes and that was the reason that web site did not run that story. What did those as editors do to fulfill those gaps when it must have been clear that by diligently pursuing the story they could nail the mail culprit? They could have moved judiciary; they could have used right to information (RTI) to get into details. Just issuing the statements of denial does not absolve them of their deliberate negligence and submissiveness in front of juggernaut of bigotry.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Two years and counting

Next week Modi government will have completed its two years in office and those two years have turned to be nothing less than a cauldron of unimaginable and hitherto unheard upheavals. The events and issues that arose in past two years were shrouded in an unforeseen and unpredicted surrealism. Before any dissection of past two macabre years, it would be imperative to dwell on the genesis of a phenomenon that put Modi in power as a prime minister instead of being indicted for his overt and covert acts of omission and commission while he was heading the state government of Gujarat.

The irony of Gujarat due to its history of recurrent communal violence and its shift to rabidity of communalism wouldn’t be lost on any student of history with an interest in the study of sectarian strife. The word irony was used in the context of Gujarat as being the home state of Gandhi who inspired non-violence world over. The public opinion in India under Modi has shifted towards idolization of the Nathram Godse, the man who shot Gandhi.  As a member of Hindu Mahasabha, Godse was incensed over what his organization perceived as Gandhi’s tilt towards Muslims and appeasement of Pakistan. The last act of Gandhi happened to be his fast against Indian government’s non-payment of financial dues to Pakistan in the aftermath of the partition of sub-continent. Gujarat that Modi presided had been inspired more by Godse than Gandhi. Modi acting strong against Muslim population and his well-recorded invectives caught imagination of increasingly communalized Indian population that paved his path to power at the federal level. Through application of any conventional laws, Modi would be indicted for either inciting gory killings of Muslims or at the very least for his failure to act in time to prevent mayhem under his watch. In one of the well-publicized cases, Hinduvta henchmen attacked a Muslim majority residential colony and the neighbors sought protection from a politician and former member of national parliament, Ahsan Jafri. Little did they know Mr. Jafri would himself become the symbol of atrocities committed by the men who owed their allegiance to none other than Modi?

Many say that Modi became prime minister, despite those acts in Gujarat or his aficionados would have everyone believe that it was his Gujarat model of progress and wealth, which he himself sold during a slick election campaign of 2014 in flesh and holograms. Truth be told it wasn’t despite and it most certainly was the case of in spite; it was his act of showing Muslims their right place that caught fancy of overtly Hindu epoch fed Indian middle class with a slanted sense of history. That would still require paraphernalia to make an electoral success plausible and possible. Anyone with an understanding of the machinery of government in a continental sized country would know the oversized supremacy of bureaucracy and right wing Hinduvata forces grasped that wisdom much earlier and more efficiently than anyone else. The task of infiltration of bureaucracy at all strata started in earnest early on, but that gained a zealous momentum when Jan Sangh, a forerunner of BJP entered national government as part of a conglomeration under the banner of Janata Party in 1977 following the electoral defeat of Indira Gandhi. The reality and depth of that incursion by rabid communal forces of Hinduvta was brought to light by Liberhans commission that went into events leading up to demolition of Babri Masjid. Deliberate dereliction of duty by so many officials on that day of national shame happened to be more than just an unintentional fortuitous quirk on their part.

Nevertheless, the final push towards consolidation of bureaucracy that included civilian and military, in Hinduvata column was attained through meticulously crafted process during six long years of BJP government of Vajpayee from 1999 through 2004. The fully partisan bureaucracy made change of government and ascension of Congress led UPA in many ways redundant. Though, to be on the side of fairness, the UPA government, particularly in its second term played no less part in undermining itself. That government suffered an inherent contradiction because of being run as an overtly neoliberal government that ran counter to the basic welfare agenda of Congress party. Though main blows to that government came from the partisan bureaucracy that undermined its agenda at most crucial moments through selective leakage of documents, coupled, at later stages, with RSS backed anti-corruption campaigns. By the time of 2014 elections the erstwhile government was barely creaking.

That scenario provided a fertile ground for Modi to plough into and that he did with relish of an accomplished conman by launching a fact free campaign. It was the campaign based on perversion and mauling of history that brought him to power massive mandate. That was the first time since 1984 that a single party had majority on its own.  In recent days many members of Modi government had been harping on the theme of a Congress-free India, sarcastic reality would make it amply clear the Modi through his early on acts in government made India rather BJP free through forceful retirements and brutal sidelining of doyens and veterans of that party. As a matter fact what he instead created has been a dangerous coalition of people steeped in garish personal loyalty and ultra Hinduvata rabidity personified by Ratko Mladic like Amit Shah with Modi himself as a Radovan Karadzic doppelganger and the government for past two years has run on the rabid agenda of that coalition.

If there were one feature to characterize two years of Modi government, nothing could match the phenomenon of a steep anti-intellectualism with deep-rooted hatred and loathing for scholarship. That profound hatred and distrust and in many ways fear of education or anything remotely related to it has formed running theme for the regime that continues unabated to this day.  Keeping in essence with that nihilistic agenda, mediocrity and mythology has supplanted genuine scholarship. Centers of learning and education all over the country are under attack with deliberate efforts underfoot to mold history slanted towards myth at the cost of reason and evidence. Not that the government has attained any laurels in any other sphere. The perceived precedence of foreign affairs through extravagant jamborees abroad of Modi proved nothing more than egomaniac acts trips with state of affairs involving near neighborhood in complete shambles. Any successive government, though, can correct course through different actions. But the damage through assault on education and scholarship will have affect on generations and generate crowds of intellectually handicaps; that would be the lasting and definite legacy of Modi government of two years. But those who could perceive knew exactly the kind of government India was getting, any other notion would be utter delusional.
-Rajiv Kumar

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kashmir conflict-revisited

In early1980s, walking through the lush green fields, on crisp spring and summer mornings, on my way from the student hostel to the chemistry department in Kashmir University or while looking out from the window of my room at three peaks of Zabarwan hills of mystifying beauty, my head would be bedeviled with all-consuming Kashmir issue that would linger from discussions with fellow students coming from virtually every corner of the valley. Kashmir has remained one place where one could avoid anything but being political. I grew up with a constant talk of freedom, with processions demanding self-rule and any disturbance anywhere in the world would turn into an issue against occupation of Kashmir by an external power. The perception that early years of 1980 decade were times of apparent tranquility and relative prosperity with Kashmir as a settled issue or so powers to be thought, particularly those in Delhi, was nothing more than a delusional mirage. From my interactions and discussions with people and the place, I had a lingering feeling of a reality that was at odds with canonical wisdom of the time; I harbored perennial doubts about the long term viability of an apparent mismatch that had been fostered on the place through various machinations and historical quirks. The place, to me, seemed like straddling deeply faulty political tectonic plates. The ensuing collision could not be avoided nor could the impact of the impending cataclysm be predicted. And when that collision happened it defied the worst predictions, if anyone had made any. While geological collusions occur through the course guided by forces of nature, the unscrupulous external forces and powers to be with absolute lack of imaginations hastened the eruption of political fault lines in Kashmir and result was a war that engulfed the entire populace. What had completely defied any prediction was an utter fragility and total collapse of the state even when the war was in its infancy; the later regrouping of the state came in form of a strategy based on counter insurrection that out did rebels in tactics and torture and veritably in brutality.

Completely engulfing conflict became all-consuming and not a single demographic group escaped its trepidations and effects; the war obliterated an old order or perhaps that old order failed to see its obsoleteness and that it had outlived its utility. Many from that old order either escaped or embraced new reality and for those whom neither option existed were left to fend for themselves. The armed insurrection of 1989 did not happen overnight and as a matter of fact it had been on the anvil for a long time; it was there to see for anyone who wanted to read signs. The seeds of future conflict in Kashmir were already sown the moment an instrument of accession was signed in 1947; both Indian leadership and representatives of Kashmir harbored visions that were at complete cross purposes from one another. The former more interested in an idea of a monolithic unified Indian state than anything else and the later holding to dream of an autonomous entity. One of the fundamental facts remained that accession to the Indian state never gained acceptance and legitimacy in the valley, which was further complicated by forced and inhumane demographic engineering in Jammu province at the behest of the then Dogra ruler. For Indian state it didn’t take long to lay bare its naked ambitions through dismissal of the Sheikh Abdullah government in 1953 and from then onwards all it did was to run a charade of stage managed democracy in the state. Nevertheless, the decades of 1970s and 1980s, in my opinion, were watershed in pushing the valley into the inferno of 1990s. The changed geopolitics of the subcontinent in early 1970s did not leave Kashmir unaffected and in part led to an accord of 1975 that brought Sheikh Abdullah back to power in the state, albeit, in a much diminished form.

The Indian government with its known propensity to be short sighted failed to perceive changes taking place in the international arena, in particular the revolution in Iran that overthrew Shah and eventually brought Shiite clergy headed by Ayatollah Khomeini into power and global forces unleashed in its aftermath; it continued with its unreformed vehemence in1980s in its dealing with Kashmir after the death of Sheikh Abdullah that not only alienated the people further but led to hardening of opinions against what was now seen as nothing more than an oppressive state. Twin disasters, the state governor in the form of Jag Mohan, twice over, and botched elections of 1987, could be in many ways thought as the catalysts for the disaster that befell valley in 1990s. The increased tenuousness of the situation in the valley accompanied with ever increased brutality by security forces of the state. The question whether rebellion would have been otherwise circumvented is hard to answer; the disaster, nevertheless, always lurked in the shadows owing to very faulty underpinning of the entire enterprise; perhaps the abyss into which Kashmir eventually fell, was avoidable or at least could be cushioned. The war that engulfed Kashmir has seen many narratives enumerating the causes and consequences but most of those utterly failed due to overt tendencies towards linearization and simplifications. History, as a historian friend would always scold me, is more than a mere narration of events; events affect people and they are the ones who live through the times bad and good. As a matter of fact history parallels lives of the people that live through and is best understood through their ordeals and travails. The decade of war that ravaged the valley affected lives of those who were living their ordinary existence and saw themselves caught in the vortex of cataclysmic conflict and affected them irreparably whether or not they had wished for it. The stories of those individuals constitute the history of conflict and its genesis that resulted in a lost decade and cost tens of thousands lives in deaths and disappearances. In the context of struggle, the conflict was motivated for a cause that still remains subliminal.
-Rajiv Kumar

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mufti Sayeed

Besides many attributes, Mufti Sayeed will undoubtedly be associated with an exceptional political longevity. Mufti emerged in politics of Kashmir in 1960s during a period that can be benignly termed as synthetic or artificial in a long saga of charades played out in the state. That superfluous era in Kashmir commenced with dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah from the state premiership and his subsequent long incarceration. The politics in Kashmir became permanently tethered to illegitimacy that was propped and maintained in no uncertain manner by dangling carrots and stinging sticks on the hinds of those who became willing part of that masquerade. Mufti Sayeed was part of Democratic National Conference (DNC) that came to power following the assumption of the office of Prime Minister of State by Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq in 1964 and within a year DNC transformed into local branch India’s ruling National Congress. The Prime Minister Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, himself became Chief Minister together with a consequential transformation of the office of head of the state ‘Sadr-e-riyasat’ to that of Governor. The latter change was not merely invidious but it struck at the basic character of the state constitution. The state constitution had specific provision for head of the state as an official elected by the state legislature, in contrast to other states of the union that had governors nominated by the President of Indian Union at the recommendation of the union cabinet. That act not only eroded the unique character of the state guaranteed by the provisions of article 370 but happened to be blatantly illegal. Under the provisions of the state constitution any changes to the act could be carried out only with consent of the state constituent assembly, which had dissolved in 1957 under the chairmanship of none other than Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq.
Mufti Sayeed was very much part of that Machiavellian period that bereft of any democratic legitimacy thrived on intrigues and pleasures of the central government. He happened to be in Syed Mir Qasim group that dissented against and tried to dislodge Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq from the office until the true nature of their elected offices in the state and central legislatures was brought home to them by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Syed Mir Qasim did become Chief Minister of the state following the death of Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq in 1972 and Mufti Sayeed a cabinet minister. The accord of 1975 saw them relinquishing their offices and Sheikh Abdullah returned as the Chief Minister. That point onwards, Mufti Sayeed played less than a savory role in the state and left himself, to be guided by narrow political and personal expediencies that had dire consequences and in many ways could be partly held responsible for the tragic era that Kashmir went on to endure. But then he was not the only politician who contributed to the greater tragedy of Kashmir. The return of Sheikh Abdullah put the minions of that synthetic era into their proper place through complete and repetitive rout in properly held state elections from 1977 onwards. Mufti himself could not escape stinging defeat at hustings in his home constituency of Bijbehara.   
Nevertheless, even after being defeated in elections, Mufti was part of the plot that led to the ouster of Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 by that divisive Jagmohan at the behest of Indira Gandhi. That still did not constitute his most unpardonable act, which would come later in form of reappointment of Jagmohan as the state governor in 1989 when militancy in the state was still in its infancy. People in their thousands had yet to die and the migrations of the Hindus had yet to start. That act of Mufti Sayeed as the Union minister had tragic consequences far beyond anyone had imagined. After having switched parties and squeezed into parliament from a constituency in UP, he was inducted into the central cabinet of V. P. Singh as the home minister, in charge of internal security. His conduct during the kidnap of his daughter and his vengeance to settle scores with Farooq Abdullah had consequences beyond tragic. Though in later years he did resurrect himself and his fledgling party in the state electoral politics that too with substantial success and became Chief Minister in 2002, a tenure that turned out to be in many ways relatively successful. Then the lure of the office and tragedy of Kashmir once again in the very late stage of his life forced him into the blunder of joining hands with communalists, which will always remain a blot on his legacy.
At personal level Mufti Sayeed was always amiable and an approachable person. He died this morning at the age of 79.
-Rajiv Kumar