Defence of Yakub and Contempt for social media

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing in the Indian Express, has expressed his contemptuous disgust at those who express their views in social media. The context in the immediate case – the hanging of Yakub Memon, one of the key masterminds of the dastardly 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people and injured hundreds more. Yakub Memon was hanged after he was given recourse to every conceivable legal option.

The sagely Mehta though did not stop at merely expressing his disgust at social media. He had words of advice for other too. But before we delve into the social media arguments of Mehta, consider a snapshot of the screaming,  front page, headline in the Indian Express on the same day that Mehta’s article was published.

IE Headline

So, in an irony which would have been supremely funny, were it not so fraught with frightening consequences, the newspaper with which Mehta has been associated for almost a decade now, and the paper he chose to dispense his advise from, does exactly what Mehta accuses others of doing.

Front page, double-bold screaming headline is telling a group of people that “They” hanged Yakub. Who is “they”?  The Supreme Court of India or the victims of Yakub’s diabolical plot?  Or could it be that the constitutional system of India is “they”?

And every “they” implies the existence of a “we”. Who is “we”? The only people who may legitimately consider Yakub as “we” are the plotters of 1993  – Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger  Memon and of course the Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. Who else is “we” in reference to Yakub as per the Indian Express?

Now consider what Mehta had to say about institutions in his article:

“Institutions are not considered mediators of conflict or truth. They are weapons in a partisan battle.”

Perhaps Mehta is right. Institutions are indeed weapons in a partisan battle. Clearly Mehta was thinking of the institution of media and the Indian Express too, which has taken considered view of who is “they” and who is “we”.

The Express does not stop at merely this. Just consider this para in a front page report, again in Indian Express, and again on the same day that Mehta thought it fit to advice one and all, about the Yakub hanging:

Indian Express report

 The Express, in a front page story, is seeding an idea in the minds of people who may not even have considered it – that the burial of Yakub is not to be treated as a closure but the starting of something !

Now consider another advice that Mehta offered in his article:

“The case has opened raw wounds, but in a way that is going to be politically explosive.”

Perhaps Mehta was right again that the Yakub case will open raw wounds. After all, the Express itself is planting those explosive thoughts in the minds of people.

Finally, let us return to the contempt that Mehta had for social media:

“Social media managed to create the postmodern equivalent of a medieval lynch mob, an almost cowardly but Talibanesque hounding of anyone who disagreed with the hanging.”

One of the things about social media is that it is free and open to everyone. There has been no other example of such a medium in the past where everyone could become a publisher and broadcaster of views without having to go through an intermediary. In every other form of mass dissemination, be it in print or TV, there is an intermediary, who is gloriously called an Editor but could also be referred to as a middleman, between the consumer of views (the reader) and the originator of ideas. Even if we dispense the other dubious connotations that are associated with middlemen, the ideological and belief systems of the middleman (in this case the Editor) would still play a very important factor in what gets printed in his or her newspaper. To consider an analogy, would I post on my Twitter timeline, views and articles which do not subscribe to my world-view?

The one medium which dispenses completely with middlemen, in the realm of ideas, is social media. It allows a free and fair play of every kind of idea and the best ideas over time build their own place in the market.  Indeed, just as free markets do away with the controlled crony-socialism, social media has potential to do away with the controlled crony-intellectualism. Therefore the contempt that Mehta has for social media, on the broad level,  is interesting.

In the immediate context, those on the side of hanging of a terrorist, convicted after the due process,  are described as cowardly. One presumes that this is in juxtaposition to the “brave” people who appeared on Television debates arguing in favour of Memon? If so inclined, one could ask many questions, those one-line rebuttals, to Mehta. Like, which kind of free democracy should allow speech only to the “brave” elite people and deprive the same to “cowardly” normal citizens? Or why should not everyone use all the platforms they can access, to voice their views? A few dozen “brave” activists had access to TV studios where they could cast aspersions of men of integrity, who had devoted their life to fighting terrorism, either by facing bullets themselves or by investigating terror crimes in face of extreme danger. Why should then ordinary, millions of “cowardly” Indians also not have a voice on a medium they could access, to express opinion on what they thought of a terrorist?

Or one could simply tell Mehta another truism about social media. There is an innate sense of decency in people, be in real-life or on social media. They abhor extremes. Additionally, since social media is free and a battle of ideas, people invariably coalesce around the ideas they like and the people who propound those ideas. The self correcting nature of social media ensures that sensible people invariably shun those who talk in the extremes. After all, who wants to be seen being associated with those who incite and provoke? That is why those who consistently talk in the extremes, on any side, have rarely more than a few thousand followers, if at all.

I suspect this is true in real-life as well. That is why, perhaps, the Indian Express has the subscription numbers which would make even a newbie on social media, with barely few thousand followers,  blush in the comparison of plenty. As on social media, I suspect in real-life too, people have taken a view after reading the content on the front page and opinion pages of the Express and taken a view as to who do they want to subscribe to and who not to. Of course, unlike social media, there is one major difference. Mehta continues to be associated with the Indian Express.

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Cause and Effect – NYT style

I have never understood the Indian mentality of not learning a thing or two from whoever is willing to teach us. This mentality manifests itself in its extreme form when the lessons come from the Western superior race. The moment a person or a group from West is seen even remotely trying to teach Indians something, the outrage meter starts howling about how dare anyone teach anything new to this 5,000 years old civilization and in the process completely drowns out any voice of reason and sanity that has taken out time to share its pearls of wisdom. It is this regressive mentality that keeps us in our third world ghetto, mired in poverty and corruption.

I also need to make confession – of pleading guilty to this Indian mentality as well. In the past I too have outraged, for example, when the Western press has taken out time to teach us how to twist facts, distort reality, manufacture events, and a host of similar other things. But fortunately for me, I had this moment of zen when I read this latest NYT Editorial and the  ‘immaculate conception’, of how to paint a narrative, dawned on me like a bolt of lightning from the sky !

On reading this Editorial, the uninitiated plebeian, but pretending to be a thinker,  may ask such facile questions as to what such disparate things as the Radia tapes and paid news reporting have to do with press censorship? True that some of the star Indian journalists were caught on tape acting as paid agents of Niira Radia, the corporate lobbyist. But how does this fact fit into the narrative of NYT Editorial that press censorship is creeping in India?

Or how does the fact that a Parliamentary committee, manned by politicians, indicted politicians themselves for paid news, fit into the narrative of lessening press freedom? The NYT Editorial also laments that DNA pulled down a factless but insinuation laden piece, authored by Rana Ayyub, from its website. And in making this defense of Ranna Ayyub, the NYT, inspired by the attitude shown by the redoubtable Ayyub herself , manufactured a fact on its own – it says Narendra Modi appointed Amit Shah as BJP President (and not the party itself through its top decision-making body which has 12 senior-most members of the party).

Quite naturally those outraging on social media like Twitter ( like this one ) will be hard pressed to find any coherence in the various random events quoted by NYT to arrive at the conclusion that there is press censorship in India. I can understand the plight of these small minds if they are looking to find any correlation between the cause and effect through their normal ossified Indian lens.  For example, this uneducated person trying to understand  how a correlation exists between ManuSmriti and open defecation practice in India would obviously not understand this high science !

I, on the other hand, learning from the masterclass of NYT, present to you this:

On October 31, 2009, President Barack Obama in his weekly address talked about the Recovery Act and said that it was creating more jobs. Just a few days later, on November 5, a gunman killed 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas.

On August 3, 2012, President Obama talked about the tax cuts for middle class in an address in South Court auditorium. Just two days later, on August 5, another gunman killed 6 people at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

On December 8, 2012, President Obama again spoke about tax cuts for middle class in his weekly address. Less than a week later, on December 14, a gunman killed 27 people in New Town, Connecticut.

On September 16, 2013, President Obama spoke on the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis. This time, on the same day, September 16, a gunman killed 12 people in a US Navy Yard in Washington.

On May 23, 2014, President Obama addressed a DSCC dinner in Chicgao  and talked about immigration reforms, jobs, minimum wage etc. Again on the same day, May 23,  a gunman killed 7 people in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara.

Based on the above facts, an unfortunate but necessary conclusion can be drawn that every time President Barrack Obama, throughout his Presidency, has spoken about the US economy a mass killing incident has taken place. Indeed, the situation has turned so grave that while earlier the killings took place only a few days later after he spoke, but more recently the outrage of the killer has vented on the same day itself. The US Congress has a responsibility to investigate this link and prevent such atrocities in the future. 

See how simple it is. You can link almost anything to anything without bothering for logic or consistency. Want to paint someone as intolerant, no problem: pick any unrelated few incidents of intolerance and assert that they are linked to the man you want to paint as a villain. Just the mere fact that you have asserted is enough to make it an undeniable fact. Later, produce your own undeniable assertion in past as evidence to further prove any equally outrageous theory in future. NYT proved that press censorship is creeping in India, I have proved that President Obama is responsible for every mass killing in US since 2009 !

Finally, I hope that people in India, especially those on the Right will learn something from NYT, just as I have learned. It is obvious, that unlike their counterparts on the Left,  those on the Right  are mentally inferior and this makes them immune from learning anything new. Hopefully, a day will come when they would stop displaying their inferiority in public by always arguing basis facts and figures, and would instead focus on the art of narrative building !

Fact free slander as journalism by NYT

“As journalists we treat our readers, viewers, listeners and online users as fairly and openly as possible. Whatever the medium, we tell our audiences the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it.”

This lofty claim, in the rather fancily titled “Ethics in Journalism” section of The New York Times, stands diminished, if not irreparably damaged, by the shocking piece of screed carried in the paper on September 17, 2013, titled “Campaign for Prime Minister off to a violent start”. While it is the absolute prerogative of The New York Times to take any editorial stance, one expects that facts will not be put in complete abeyance, and bigotry and racism will prevail, with a purpose to besmirch democratically elected leaders in other parts of the world.

Narendra Modi, three times elected Chief Minister of Gujarat, and who has been recently chosen as the candidate for Prime Minister in next spring’s election by his party, the BJP, is referred to as a Hindu chauvinist by the reporter who wrote this article. Did The New York Times ever describe President George W Bush as a Christian chauvinist for his overt Christianity and for appointing, for example, General William Boykin, who once told a Muslim warlord in Somalia: “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol”, to head the hunt for Osama bin Laden? This is the standard of bigotry and racism: treating a comparable situation differently based upon race and identity.

Modi is accused of “mass murder” (sic), informs the NYT to its unsuspecting readership. What the paper does not inform its readers is that the Supreme Court of India-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) has absolved Modi of every charge leveled against him and that there is no case of mass murder against Modi in any court of law. Neither does the paper inform its reader, that almost all of those who carried out a decade-long malicious campaign against Modi have been either found to have been forging evidence or have being accused of defrauding riot victims. “Complete, unvarnished truth” is what the paper claims to tell its readers. Had this been practiced too, The New York Times would have told its readers that Modi has faced a fiercely independent national media, a very independent judiciary, and an opposition federal Government for the last nine years, and yet not a shred of evidence has been produced in any court of law against him which could withstand legal scrutiny.

Indeed, whatever evidence that was presented was found to be forged or concocted by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.

While endorsing John Kerry against President Bush in 2004 US Presidential election, The New York Times accurately summed up the evidence that was presented by Bush Administration as justification for Iraq war: Rumour and forgery about purchase of critical material from Niger and a concoction by a low-level analyst, but with full knowledge of senior administration officials, about purchase of aluminum tubes. This deliberate falsehood unleashed a war in Iraq in which, by conservative estimates, over a 100,000 people were killed. Despite this evidence, has The New York Times ever described President Bush as being accused of mass murder? This is the standard of bigotry and racism: Treating a comparable situation differently based upon race and identity.

On August 27, 2013, in Muzaffarnagar town of Uttar Pradesh, Shanawaz Qureshi, who was sexually harassing a 14-year-old girl for some time, was allegedly attacked by a knife by Sachin Singh and Gaurav Singh, brothers of the girl. A bleeding Qureshi later succumbed to his injuries in a hospital. Meanwhile relatives and friends of Qureshi allegedly caught the two brothers and lynched them in a drain. The Uttar Pradesh Police caught all the eight accused in the murder of the brothers the same night. As video sting operations aired by multiple TV channels in India now bring out the story, Azam Khan, a senior Minister in the provincial Government in Uttar Pradesh, and which is an ally of the Congress ruling at the Centre, allegedly intervened and got all the accused illegally released. The officials who had promptly arrested the accused were transferred and the family members of the brothers were now falsely made accused! At a Friday religious meeting on August 30, Qadir Rana, Noor Salim Rana (legislators of an ally of the Congress), Sayeed-uz-zaman (former Member of Parliament from Congress) and other local politicians made highly incendiary communal speeches. These speeches are on tape and have subsequently been telecast on Indian TV. Demanding justice against the alleged favouritism shown by the local administration, a large rally was organised on September 7, in which politicians of various parties, including the BJP, participated. Participants of this rally, while returning home, were brutally attacked. It was this sequence of events that sparked the riots on September 7, in which 44 people were killed, and not some circulation of a fake video on Facebook, as is suggested by The New York Times. In a region where internet penetration density is in low single digits and where power is available for not more than few hours a day, Facebook is hardly the medium of communication in the remote villages, where the rioting took place.

This sequence of events is important to detail because The New York Times, alleges that, “not coincidentally” (sic), rioting broke out in Uttar Pradesh concurrent with Modi being named as Prime Minister candidate by BJP. The BJP made the announcement on September 13, 15 days after the first incident took place and a week after the mass rioting took place. The entire thrust of the article, apart from presenting prejudice as fact, has been to mendaciously link the nomination of Modi with the unfortunate rioting in Uttar Pradesh.

On August 3, 2012, President Barack Obama talked about the tax cuts for middle class in an address in South Court auditorium. Just two days later, on August 5, a gunman killed 6 people at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. On December 8, 2012, President Obama again spoke about tax cuts for middle class in his weekly address. Less than a week later, on December 14, a gunman killed 26 people in New Town, Connecticut. On September 16, 2013, President Obama spoke on the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis. This time, on the same day, a gunman killed 13 people in a US Navy Yard in Washington. As per The New York Times standard of causation, would it be fair to argue that every time President Obama speaks about the US economy, not coincidentally, a mass killing incident takes place? Certainly more evidence has been presented to arrive at this causation than was presented by The New York Times reporter while making allegations against Modi. This is the standard of bigotry and racism: Treating a comparable situation differently based upon race and identity.

The reporter makes other startling claims in his article which have not been substantiated or presents facts in a manner which hide the truth. Assertions by the reporter, such as, “Most of India’s Muslims hate him (Modi)”, are presented as facts. Maulana Vastanvi, former Vice Chancellor of Deoband, South Asia’s most respected Islamic theological school, and who comes from the state of Gujarat, is on record having praised the governance of Modi. “Gujarati Muslims had benefited from the inclusive development policies of Modi’s Government”, he said. This is substantiated by the fact that in most development indices, such as per capita income, per capita bank account deposits, reach of Government schools and health facilities in Muslims dominated clusters, Muslims in Gujarat fare far better than their counterparts in any other State. Not surprisingly, in the recent state elections in December 2012, BJP legislators have won from almost all constituencies where Muslims form a substantial portion of the electorate.

CP Scott, the legendary British journalist, gave this standard for journalistic ethics, and which has become the standard bearer by all respected publications throughout the world: “Comment is free but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful.” It would seem, that for all its opposition to George W Bush, The New York Times relies more on the Bush doctrine of fact presentation than Scott’s ethics.

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This article was originally published in Niti Central on 25th September 2013. Here is the link:

Modi – An Idea whose time has come !

Sadanand Dhume is an internationally acclaimed writer and thinker. It is not without cause. He is a fellow at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), regularly ranked as among the best in the world.  Dhume is also a prolific commentator on political and other public issues in the South Asian region.  Naturally Dhume would then have a position on Modi and to his credit, it has been a consistent one. That Dhume is on the side of right of center discourse on most public issues, and yet variously opposed to Modi, makes his commentary that much more interesting.

It is for these reasons that I read his latest post in WSJ, “ Don’t Bet on India to Elect the Thatcherite” with some interest. However, after reading the post, I must admit I was left disappointed. The post offers no new insights and completely fails to understand the Modi phenomenon.  We will get to there but let us first list out some of the reasons why Dhume thinks that Modi may never make it to the top job and why he may be wrong on each count.

1. Popularity in opinion polls not enough: On the face of it, this seems a compelling argument. India does not have a Presidential form of government and therefore individual popularity of political leaders is circumscribed by the realities of parliamentary system.  That BJP is competitive in only 300 odd seats out of a total 543 (Dhume’s hypothesis) would seem to limit its, and thereby Modi’s, appeal goes the argument.

One of the least analyzed Lok Sabha elections, with respect to BJP’s rise, is the 1989 general elections. In the preceding Lok Sabha election, BJP had won a paltry 2 seats. The erstwhile BJS, the earlier avatar of BJP, had never even won half of the 85 seats that BJP won in 1989. These geographical or other limitations did not seem to matter as BJP surged ahead in 1989. So what was different in 1989, as compared to previous elections, that helped BJP take such gigantic leaps? A fresh new idea that BJP had and a compelling general disgust that a corrupt Congress government invoked. Sounds familiar for the script in 2o14?

2. Modi’s electoral appeal as yet untested outside Gujarat: This is an argument that has been made in some form or the other by both serious commentators like Dhume as well as recruits on social media sites like Twitter. This is also an argument that I find that has the least merit. Vajpayee had not been tested electorally at the national level before 1996 either. But that did not prevent BJP from nominating him in 1996.  It would seem a facile argument to hold other parallels of Vajpayee and measure Modi on those but never mention this parallel. The fact is Modi has not been on offer to the electorate at any level outside Gujarat ever. The electorate, outside Gujarat,  has never been asked to vote for an idea and policy, the implementation of which Modi will preside over.  Modi’s campaigns, for a few days in assembly elections, can only supplement the electoral realities of leadership in that respective state and not supplant it. The only reliable metric of Modi’s appeal at the national level at this point of time are the opinion polls and post 2014 election, the national vote.

3. Consensus builder vs. polarizing leader: What is the difference between Vajpayee of 1996 and 1998? He was not a consensus builder in 1996 but suddenly became one in 1998? We can agree that leaders evolve and thus perceptions of their rivals or those not allied with them also evolve. But did Vajpayee evolve so drastically within a span of just 1.5 years? And yet, the position of other political parties barring Congress did change drastically between 1996 and 1998. So what happened?  In terms of seats in 1998, BJP won an additional 21 seats over 1996 and an additional 5.3% votes. That changed and nothing else. The other level of argument that TMC or TDP may be coy in allying with Modi for fear of Muslims votes would hold ground if either they were willing to ally with BJP under some other leader (they did not under Advani in 2009) or there was evidence that Muslims are lining up to vote for BJP sans Modi. In fact the contrary may be true, as evidence in Gujarat suggests.

4. Social Media popularity is not same as electoral win: The responsibility placed on social media to translate into electoral outcome is one of the most bizarre arguments to have ever gained traction and disappointingly Dhume uses it too.  Why is the same responsibility not placed on Wall Street Journal where Dhume is a regular columnist, or on other media houses? Does NDTV, for example, go out of business because Rahul Gandhi and Congress party flopped spectacularly in UP elections in 2012? Do commentators stop commenting on issues, or the medium where they comment lose validity, if an electoral outcome is not in accordance? Are traditional media houses only about politics and not about a host of other social issues? Does Times of India, for example, measure its worth only by the way it can influence electoral politics and not by the way it comments on other social issues? Why this extra responsibility on the medium of social media and the commentators on the platform?

One of the fundamental mistakes many commentators make is in analyzing how the social media is supposed to work in general and more specifically in case of India. While social media does aggregate the national mood in some senses and therefore a barometer of the way at least the middle class is thinking, there are many other ways in which social media is affecting the political process. The Indian public discourse has hitherto been disproportionately dominated be left of center writers, columnists and thinkers. It is primarily this monopoly that social media challenges since the set that watches English TV channels or reads English newspapers ( the medium where national agenda is many times set) is almost entirely a subset of those active on social media.

This challenge has many consequences. First, most of the public commentators, who ideate on new policies and ideas, have a presence on social media too.  In as much as they influence the national discourse, the social media has influence on them. The instant feedback mechanism of social media cannot but influence the influencers. The lies about Gujarat riots of 2002, for example, would not have been so completely exposed and characters who have been awarded national honors made so redundant in absence of this power of social media. It is this power of social media that Modi is utilizing to change the national discourse and his success is self-evident.

Second, the oft-repeated claim is that it is the people in the villages and the policies that are designed for them, like NREGA, that get the votes and not what nonvoting classes in urban centers, exactly the same as seen on social media, think or want. This argument has some basis. However, what is lost sight of is the fact that policies like NREGA, which have ruinous effect on the economy, are first given intellectual legitimacy in the same nonvoting circles. In the era previous to social media, it was much easier to have sanitized debates in national media where policies like NREGA were legitimized. Social media by its very nature does not respect pedigree. That is why, it is much more difficult to build a case for FSB today, despite choreographed interventions by likes of Amartya Sen, than it was for NREGA in 2005-06.  A politically salable argument such as FSB is anti farmer was first propounded on social media and later picked up by likes Yashwant Sinha.  If socialist policies like these are intellectually delegitimized, the political outcome is bound to be reflected even in the voting preferences of the rural populace.

5. The Idea of Modi: The central premise of Dhume’s column is that past electoral precedent would suggest that Modi may not make it in 2014.  Actually precedent here is both useful as well as not enough to analyze the Modi idea. To understand how, it is important to understand the basic difference between electoral appeal of Congress and BJP and the level at which they seek votes.

Congress seeks votes from people at their default level – as Dalits or Brahmins or Patels or Muslims or Christians or Jats or Vokkaligas.  That is why someone like Rahul Gandhi can proclaim his Brahmin credentials in one speech while let the world know the caste of Sam Pitroda in another. It is also the reason why a Congress MP in Andhra Pradesh can claim in a public rally that vote of Congress is vote for strengthening Christianity while Congress can simultaneously ally with a party like MIM in the same state. It helps the Congress to keep people at their default divided level and then seek votes.

The BJP on the other hand asks people to vote one level above their default level. So in the nineties, BJP sought votes in the name of Hindutva, which was in essence asking people to rise above their default caste levels. The social engineering that Kalyan Singh fashioned in UP was an example of bridging this gaps between the default levels of people. More recently, at the state assembly level, BJP has asked people to vote for regional pride or governance, again in essence asking people to rise above their default level. Sometimes BJP asks people to vote even two levels above their default level – to vote on issues like national security or foreign policy. When Modi gets rapturous support from young people in Tamil Nadu or Assam, it is not because he is of their same caste or speaks their language, but because he has connected with them at a level above their default level.

 The Congress way naturally has a head start and would work in any default election. For the BJP way to work, it needs two things in place – an idea and a credible messenger. Whenever these two things have been place, the BJP has always trumped the Congress, be it at the national level or at the state level. It is only when one or both of these have floundered, that the BJP floundered too, as was the case in 2004 and 2009 national elections.

In the nineties, BJP 1.0 in many senses, the idea was Hindutva and a robust national security policy and the messenger was Vajpayee. BJP 2.0, long in the making, now finally has that idea – governance and a better future of India, and the credible messenger of that idea is Modi. Even precedent, the base on which Dhume builds his argument, suggests that 2014 may be Modi’s election just like 1998 was Vajpayee’s.

However, the idea of Modi transcends mere precedent. Between the late nineties and today, India has undergone a transformation unmatched in any other similar period.  The national teledensity stood at below 5% in 1998 and rural teledensity at less than 1%. In January 2013 the figures stood at 73.97% and 40% respectively. This transformation along with similar changes in other forms of connectivity – roads, spread of television, migrant economic activity, etc, is cataclysmic for the way things were done. The word of mouth now spreads at the speed of light and not at the speed of sound. People are no longer satisfied with how things were done – they want them better and sooner. If precedent were to hold, the left front would not have been thrown out in West Bengal and Laloo made a non player in Bihar. If precedent were to hold, Punjab would not have defied history and voted back a government for the first time in 2012. The aspirational politics that is sweeping India sees politicians either thrown out or retained, depending on their delivery levels. This was not the case earlier. It is because of this aspirational politics that the message from Modi, that he has ensured uninterrupted power in Gujarat, has spread to even hinterlands of UP and Bihar. As the Modi election machinery rolls in the coming months, this message will reach every household in many creative ways. As thousands of Muslims from Gujarat get ready to fan out nationally and talk of the development politics and how it has changed their lives for the better, the word of mouth will spread in hitherto nontraditional BJP pockets too. The 2014 election is not going to be judged by historical standards – it may well create a new history.

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Updates :

1. This piece was first published on Centre Right India (CRI) website on 4th June 2013. Here is the link .

The Italian albatross !

My friend Jaideep Prabhu,  has written a very well researched and argued post on the Italian Marines case – “The Italian Job” . As is wont between friends, picking up some arguments with him. Here goes:

First,  the decision to send the Italian Marines for Christmas was NOT taken by the SC, as Jaideep  suggests in his post, but by the Kerala HC. It is only in the second instance, when they were sent for voting, was the SC involved. The difference is vital. As Jaideep himself points out, while sending Marines for Christmas, the court ( Kerala HC) demanded and ensured a bond of Rs. 6 crores. The SC, which is the highest court in the land, settled for no surety when sending the Marines back a second time for voting. The question is why?

Second, between the Marines going for Christmas and returning and Marines going back again for voting, one vital, important and perhaps defining event took place. When the Marines went to Italy for Christmas and returned, their appeal in SC regarding who had jurisdiction to try them  – India or Italy –  was still pending. That matter was settled by SC unambiguously on 18th Jan 2013 – that India had jurisdiction. That is why when they returned the first time around, they had and incentive and hope that the SC might rule in their favor and the matter would end. When they went back a second time, that hope was gone. Thus the perfidy.

Third,  Jaideep seems to suggest all the while that India might have been better off dealing with this diplomatically from the start. Actually India did try this. When an equivalent of “blood money” was offered to settle the deal outside courts, GOI facilitated it. However, once a case is in court, as all murder cases must go, since it is not a private case, only the courts have the final view. So the blood money settlement deal offer went to SC which struck it down, emphasizing that there is no concept of blood money in IPC. The Supreme Court tied down GOI’s hands for any diplomatic deal and unless the GOI itself were to disregard the SC, how could it have settled the mater diplomatically?

Fourth, Jaideep seems to argue that going forward, India’s legal options may be limited. As has been argued by many, Italy through its ambassador, became a litigant in the SC. Someone who claims to enjoy diplomatic immunity from Indian laws, does not then become a litigant under the same law. Because if they do, perforce they are conceding that the law applies to them. Consider what Italy did – it appealed in SC, hoping to get a judgement in favor. Had it gone in favor, they would have argued that matter settled as even SC does not buy GOI stance. But Italy lost. Their argument now is that irrespective, let’s settle it diplomatically. That is like having the cake and eating it too. To now argue, that India should help settle is diplomatically, is actually asking India to help Italy have its cake and eat it too.

Fifth, When Italian ambassador approached the SC a second time in February 2013, to let the marines go for voting, implicit in the appeal was the acceptance of 18th Jan 2013 order that India had jurisdiction. So the talk of India not having jurisdiction , or that now India itself should take the matter to international arbitration post SC order, as some others have argued, is beyond pale. In addition the Italian ambassador submitted a signed affidavit in SC. That one only does, when one submits to the jurisdiction of the court and appeals to the court based on the laws that govern the court. Common sense would tell, a sense to which Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Harish Salve, former counsel of Italy agree, that once having submitted to jurisdiction of a court, one cannot revert later that the court has no jurisdiction. Therefore, diplomatic immunity, as is being claimed now, would also seem to not hold and the Italian ambassador can be clearly held in contempt and sent to jail.

Sixth, the author laments that fact that Sonia Gandhi’s name has been brought into the case rather unnecessarily. Consider the facts of this case first, and some other instances :

A) Kerala HC, which let the marines go first time, imposed much stricter clauses before letting the marines go.  This when they still had incentive to come back. When matter came to SC, and when GOI was now arguing (instead of Kerala state earlier), and when marines had no incentive to come back, no such conditions were either demanded  by GOI counsel nor  imposed. The question is, why?

B) The SC in its 18th Jan order asked for setting up of a special court, in consultation with the SC,  to try the marines. How much time should it take to do the same? GOI itself did it very expeditiously in case of the unfortunate Delhi gang rape case. In this case though, when the matter went to SC again on 23 rd Feb, the GOI, a month later, had still not moved on setting up the court. The Supreme Court was aghast at the delay and asked in anguish:

‘”If the special court had been expeditiously set up, the trial could have been over by now. Why is the Centre dragging its feet over the matter? Nobody has initiated any consultation process till now”.

The Supreme Court further asked the GOI counsel, P.P. Malhotra, if they intended to initiate the consultation? To even this, GOI counsel had no answers !  The GOI counsel, who presents in court the argument which his client, in this case the GOI, asks him to, had no idea whether GOI intended to set up the court at all. The question then is – why would the GOI drag its feet on a SC order? Under what compulsions? What was the motive?

C) When the Bofors scandal broke, it was argued that no connection should be made to a family even though Quattrocchi had been named. It would be “xenophobic” to impute such a connection, argued some.  However, events slowly offered a peak  into the true  nature of what was the actual deal. When then Indian foreign minister, in a Congress regime, intervened to let Quattrocchi walk free in 1993, there were protests in India. The foreign minister had to resign. However, it was still argued that there was no evil design in this. The next Congress regime,  on taxpayers money, sent its Law Minster to England to free Quattrocchi’s sealed back accounts. Which government is so benevolent towards a citizen of a third country? Yet, it was again argued that no sinister motive in this. Do we beleive the protestations of innocence in Quattrocchi case ? If not, they why not?

D) The Augusta Westland scandal is is too well  known to bear repetition. “The Family” has been named as the prime recipient of the kickbacks in the case. Who is  referred to as “The Family”? When in 1987, the Bofors story broke, many found it implausible to believe that there could be a connection with Quattrocchi and a family. Hardly anyone doubts it now. Same pro forma arguments are being offered again that no connections between “The Family” and kickbacks in Helicopter deal. Does anyone beleive it in light of past experience?

As James Bond famously said, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.” Arun Jaitley agrees too. Who does not?

Response to Ashok Malik’s conscientious objection to Afzal Guru’s hanging

Ashok Malik is a very well-respected political commentator in the Indian media. It is not without cause. He has experience of many decades, both as a reporter and a commentator on matters of public importance. That Malik writes for all the mainstream publications in India is a testimony to the wide readership and credibility he enjoys. It is for this reason that I read with great interest his conscientious objection to Afzal Guru’s hanging.  Unlike commentators of leftist persuasion, Malik has mostly a right of center view on most public issues and therefore his views against  Guru’s hanging have an extra salience.

After reading the piece, I must confess, I am left disappointed. The piece covers no new ground and mostly restates many already touted reasons. However, what is surprising is that Malik’s piece actually introduces a rather startling formulation of addressing political problems by commuting death penalties. We will get to there, but first let’s list out the other reasons that Malik offers for his conscientious objection and why I think each of them is wrong!

1.  No Direct role of Afzal Guru in Parliament Attack (13/12): This is an argument that has been advanced by most leftist, bleeding-heart supporters of Afzal Guru and therefore a bit surprising that Malik too chooses to consider this to be an important factor. In criminal conspiracies, there is hardly ever going to be a written contract on stamp paper, delineating the role of each conspirator, and thus leading to recovery of hard evidence, and not just circumstantial evidence, to nail the conspirators. In terror cases like 13/12, laughable to think that there ever will be any evidence beyond circumstantial. Malik concedes that there is precedence of hanging conspirators who were not present on scene of crime but nonetheless argues that life term would have been sufficient in case of Guru.  To advance Malik’s logic, would it apply in case of Hafiz Saeed too for 26/11 case, should India ever get him? Unlike Guru, Saeed was not even in the same country at time of 26/11, an even more mitigating circumstance ! What about Osama Bin Laden for 9/11? The US did not give him any trial, forget a fair trial, but in Malik’s world, had Osama been apprehended alive, would he qualify for hanging or life term?

2. Delay in deciding on mercy plea: Malik correctly states that mercy petition of Guru was filed by his supporters AND NOT by Guru himself, as is the case in most cases of death convicts.  In fact there is nothing on record to suggest that Guru ever regretted his role. Yet, the state ought to have shown mercy to him? That there has been a mistake because of delay in doing the correct thing therefore the mistake must be further compounded by showing mercy to a non-repentant terrorist is a strange logic to make.

3. Political calculations in Congress decision to hang Guru : This argument has been advanced at two levels – one, that Congress took the decision in partial response to Modi’s rise at national stage and two, that while Maqbool Butt’s hanging in mid 1980s had at least some national purpose, Guru’s hanging is purely in Congress party’s interest. As Supreme Court has argued multiple times in a different context, the motive of a person making a complaint against a corrupt official is irrelevant as long as there is merit in the complaint. Similarly, Congress party’s calculations are irrelevant as long as decision to hang Guru was the right one. That political parties will try to time decisions for their own partisan benefits is sine qua non. Which party will ever wake up one day and say “let’s do something today which will harm our political interests? ” The only relevant factor is, whether the decision was correct one?

4.  Selective commuting of death sentences: On the face of it, this is a logical argument to make. Also interconnected with this question is the larger debate on the way the mercy petitions are handled in India.  In the specific case that Malik mentions though, of Bantu, it is worth noting that Guru did not file his own mercy petition but his supporters did on his behalf. Bantu, however, filed his own mercy petition. If one is looking at potential to reform, this is the first point to start looking. Secondly, Bantu, by available info (subject to correction),  was a one time criminal. Yet, considering the gravity of his crime, he correctly got the death sentence. Guru, on the other hand, was a former terrorist, who went through the farce of surrender, and then conspired to attack the greatest symbol of Indian democracy. Does that look like a man who could be reformed?

On the larger question though, the way mercy petitions are dealt with definitely needs reform. It is criminal to keep petitions on hold for years. The parliament ought to amend the law limiting the maximum time frame in which mercy petitions must be disposed off, capping the time limit at say 3 months. In addition, post a decision on mercy petition, further judicial intervention must only be allowed in case mercy petitions are entertained (and thus going against SC judgement) and not when they are rejected. Cases like that of Rajona would automatically become infructuous.

5. Gesture of goodwill to Kashmir Valley: This is perhaps the grand argument that Malik wanted to make in his piece, and the other objections to Guru’s hanging were merely a build up to arrive at this narrative. But let us quote Malik himself in an earlier part of the piece before he makes his “goodwill gesture” argument:  “When the mercy petition becomes a political plaything, it  becomes inherently problematic.” So it is all right to do politics of one kind over mercy petitions but not politics of another kind? What else is the goodwill gesture towards Kashmir, if not politics?

However, since this is the central thesis of Malik’s piece, let us examine it in some detail. Tavleen Singh in her recently released autobiographical account, Durbar, recounts in some detail the difference between the historical Kashmir problem and the modern Kashmir problem.  In an earlier post , I have reviewed Singh’s book and this is discussed in some detail. Briefly, historical Kashmir problem was more or less over with the signing of Indira-Sheikh accord in 1975 and free and fair elections in Kashmir in 1983. What we witness today is a distinct,  modern Kashmir problem – one which started in 1989 and which is primarily an Islamist problem and part of the global Islamist revivalist movement. The leaders of modern Kashmir problem are all Islamist, their dream is a Sharia state, their rhetoric is Islamist and they have not balked at endorsing terrorism towards achieving their political goal. Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleansed during this modern Kashmir problem and not when Sheikh Abdullah was fighting for what he thought was a just cause. To argue that “goodwill gestures” to such Islamist movements will somehow make them see reason is missing the woods for the trees. As the noted historian Bipin Chandra argues, making goodwill gestures to extremist movements almost always ends in having the opposite result than the indented one.  The reason is simple – if the extremist were to become reasonable post a goodwill gesture, he would become jobless. He must therefore invent some new grouse to keep himself occupied. Periodically, new extremists also rise, who to earn their spurs, invent new causes to make their careers, the demands escalating each time.  Pander to their demands for mercy to Guru and they would whip up some other demand to keep relevant. Else who will pay attention to them? Have we not seen this cycle repeat endlessly? Banned Satanic Verses as a goodwill gesture and 25 years later, Viswaroopam was being censored inside drawing rooms of aggrieved thekedaars of sensitivities !

Malik’s formulation has another dimension – statesmanship. The argument is that the nation must sometimes show statesmanship in face of provocations,  terror or even attack on Indian state. Statesmanship is a peculiar disease that only afflicts third world countries and their leaders.  Never in history, has any consistently winning side shown statesmanship in dealing with those it sought to defeat as part of its national effort. Only consistently losing sides have taken refuge in statesmanship. Did the coalition powers show statesmanship towards a defeated Germany or did they go ahead with Nuremberg trials? Did the United States show statesmanship towards Iraq post 1991 Gulf War? Was Gaddafi treated in a “statesmanlike” fashion? India on the other hand shows statesmanship at vital times – Nehru in 1948 by going to UN, Shastri in 1966 by signing away Haji Pir pass, Indira most famously in 1972 in Shimla pact. What has been the result of these “goodwill gestures” or bouts of grand statesmanship? Ever wondered why India is disregarded in its neighborhood despite being so enormously bigger than most  of its neighbors? Consider the developments in Male as latest example. Because India does not avenge the assassination of its Prime Minster at the hands of Tamil terrorist, it does not avenge an attack on its parliament, it does not avenge an invasion through the sea and it does not avenge the beheading of its soldiers inside its own territory.

The argument can be made that in this case we are not talking of gestures between nations but towards our own people. True. But such gestures should be shown to people way below a threshold  – say the stone throwers in Kashmir who were arrested, and not to those who attacked Indian Parliament. Likewise, goodwill gestures should be shown, for example, to ordinary tribal caught in the Maoist belt and not to the murderous Naxalite leadership. Else, Malik’s logic extended, will apply in the case when India does it grand peace bargain with Pakistan – pardoning of Hafiz Saeed and perhaps sharing a platform with him will be part of the deal!

Response to The Guardian Article on Modi

The Guardian published an article by  Aditya Chakrabortty on 19th Nov 2012. Reproduced below is an email I have sent to Readers’ Editor of The Guardian to protest this highly objectionable piece of political propaganda .

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Dear Mr. Elliott,

This letter is in reference to an extraordinary diatribe published in http://www.guardian.co.uk/ on 19th November 2012. The column is titled “Why David Cameron is doing business with India’s ‘modern-day Nero’ ” and is written by Aditya Chakrabortty. Below is a link to the said article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/19/david-cameron-india-narendra-modi?CMP=twt_gu

While it is the absolute prerogative of The Guardian to take any Editorial line, one expects that facts will not be completely put in abeyance. So it the right of The Guardian to take an editorial stance against David Cameron and use any news source or event –  fact or fiction – to further this agenda. What is not kosher though is that liberties are taken to besmirch democratically elected leaders in other parts of the world towards partisan domestic British politics.

The above referenced column is ostensibly about David Cameron. However, it comes out as a shocking piece of screed against Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Indian state of Gujarat. Almost every piece of information in the article, used to build a case against Modi, is factually incorrect and legally unsustainable. Below are a few examples:

1.  The writer in para 7 mentions that official figures of those killed in “pogrom” is around 1000 while “independent researchers” put it around 2000. Now I can understand that The Guardian might want to distrust Indian news sources as unworthy (former colony of Britain etc), so here is a link from BBC : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4543177.stm.

First, official stats from Government of India put the number of those dead in the riots at 1044 – 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. The government of India, since 2004, has been that of Congress party, an implicitly hostile government to Modi. The figures quoted have been provided by the Home Minster in the central government. It seems unlikely that they would under-report those dead in riots in an opposition state? Second, in a pogrom, members from both rioting / warring factions do not die. Else it is not a pogrom but a riot. How many Hindus died in the riot – 254. How?  By police firing mostly, and some in the riots. If it was a pogrom, which by definition is state sanctioned, state controlled police would NOT have fired at rioting Hindus. Seems logical, right? Yet, this discredited line finds place in The Guardian.

2. The para 8 of the article is the most stunning piece of lie I have ever seen in a mainstream paper. The writer mentions the Godhra train carnage, which preceded the riots, and in which 59 innocent Hindu pilgrims were brutally burnt alive by a mob of  Muslims. However the writer states: “it has since been suggested that it may have been an accident.”  There have been attempts in India too to peddle this line – that the train carnage was accidental. That somehow the pilgrims decided to commit mass suicide. But that line is vintage 2006. This is 2012. That line now stands discredited. Why? Because in 2011, an Indian court held 31 Muslims guilty of pre-planned conspiracy to kill the Hindu pilgrims. Here is a BBC news report (again BBC, just to make it more believable) on the same: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12534127

First, the prosecuting agency in the case was a Special Investigating Team (SIT), appointed and monitored by the Supreme Court of India. Therefore, the impartiality of the prosecution and the verdict has not been questioned by anyone, not even those critical of Modi. Second, if the writer absolutely fails to mention a judicial finding but continues to peddle lies and fabrications regarding the Godhra train carnage, and The Guardian allows it to be published, then the motives of the paper must be called in question. As mentioned, this is not 2006 when the discredited “accidental train fire” line was first floated. This is 2012 – when a judicial determination has been pronounced. Of course, The Guardian can choose to  take the line that Indian judiciary, Supreme Court of India included, are untrustworthy !

3. Para 9 of the article peddles another lie shredded by investigations – “Pregnant Muslim women had their bellies slit open with knives, and the foetuses pulled out.” This is an urban legend that was spun by the cottage industry which survives on anti Modi and anti Gujarat propaganda. The SIT, which investigated the case, has concluded that this allegation is false. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem on the lady in question, gave a testimony on oath that the allegations are patently false. A court gave verdict on this and other related cases, commonly known as Naroda Patiya case, on 31st August 2012. The court accepted the argument this allegation is fabricated. All human rights activists, who have for a decade campaigned against Modi, celebrated the judgment in the said case. Yet, this despicable lie finds place in The Guardian.

4. In para 12, the writer use the phrase “A modern-day Nero” for Modi and attributes it to the Supreme Court. The same phrase is also used in the headline of the piece. Can The Guardian quote any order by the Supreme Court of India where this phrase is used for Modi?

5. Para 12 has also this sentence : “A court-appointed senior lawyer recommended that the chief minister be prosecuted for hate-mongering.” As mentioned earlier, the Supreme Court of India appointed a SIT to investigate some specific 2002 riots cases including allegations against Modi. The SIT was given code of criminal procedure powers, a first in Indian jurisprudence, considering the extraordinary nature of the riots and the allegations. Such powers are only available to regular police force and not to special investigating teams. This case was made an exception. The court also appointed a senior lawyer to assist the court as an adviser. The SIT, after detailed investigations over a number of years, concluded that the allegations against Modi were without any substance whatsoever. The senior lawyer, who was acting merely in advisory capacity, agreed with almost all of SIT findings but suggested that Modi be prosecuted nonetheless. The Supreme Court gave the final authority, on whether to prosecute or not, to the SIT, since it was the SIT which had legal remit while the lawyer was merely an adviser. The SIT, after considering all aspects, including the lawyers opinion, decided finally that no case existed against Modi. The writer mentions the lawyers opinion but not the only legally valid opinion – in this case that of the SIT.

Opinion columns are free to take any position on subject to suit one’s biases  But must they necessarily be based on half-truths and complete lies?

As I was researching The Guardian webpage to locate a suitable email id to respond to the drivel by the writer of the piece, I came across the fancily titled “The Guardian’s Editorial code” Here it is, in case it has not been referenced in recent weeks: http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/guardian-editorial-code

The most important currency, for The Guardian, is trust, says the code. Several guidelines are mentioned, which ought to be adhered to maintain this trust –

A) Fairness – The voice of the opponent no less of friends has a right to be heard.

B) Verification – Trust in the authenticity and reliability of our sources is essential.

C) Editor’s Code 

  1. Accuracy – A press whilst free to be partisan, must clearly disgusting between comment, conjecture and fact.
  2. Opportunity to reply – A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies ….

As George Entwistl resigned last week, I leave it to your judgment to decide which of the above codes, or all, or even some more, is The Guardian in violation of. I will end with a quotation from C.P. Scott’s essay, published on May 5th, 1921 in the Manchester Guardian: “Comment is free but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful.” 

Regards,

Akhilesh Mishra

Gurgaon, India.

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 Updates: This blog was later published on Niti Central on 22nd November, 2012. 

Truth takes a beating in Guardian’s scurrilous attack on Modi