The real master-mind or an NRI scape-goat?

Every time I sat down to pen this piece, I was stopped by a voice within. It shouted to me,

“You will be labeled a Khalistani. You will be abused, slandered and trolled by thousands. Your loyalties will be questioned, upbringing will be targeted and might even be threatened with murder”

I finally stood up and shouted back. The story started two weeks ago when Jagtar Singh Johal, a UK citizen was arrested by Punjab Police. He was travelling with his newly-wedded wife and a female cousin when their car was apprehended by plain-clothed police men and Jagtar was forcibly put into a van with a sack on his head. This incident happened around Jalandhar and his wife was told nothing except that he is being taken to Faridkot. Jagtar is a UK-born Sikh man with no immediate family in Punjab, except his grandaunt who lives in the ancestral village. He was on a visit to Punjab in order to tie the marital knot which he did with much fan-fare on 18th of October.

FreeJaggiNow-protest-pic

With the dramatic arrest, the ordeal had just begun. Jagtar wasn’t taken to Faridkot but instead to Bagha Purana and it took days for his kin to locate him. To add to it, there was no FIR filed against his name and nobody including his lawyers was allowed to meet him. When he was finally presented in the court, it was told that he was being held up on the grounds of financing the purchase of weapons used in the killing of prominent Hindu leaders in Punjab. The same day Jagtar alleged that he was being brutally tortured by the police through electrocution of his ear lobes, nipples, genitals and was being coerced into a confession. On the other side, the police also raided his in-laws home and harassed his wife’s family for multiple days. They took the male members of his in-law’s family into detention and allegedly asked questions from ‘when did you last go to Pakistan’ to ‘what do you think about the idea of Khalistan?’ The police also paid a visit to his grandaunt and after questioning her, disconnected her land-line phone which is her only means of staying connected with the family.

The Sikh population in UK has taken this episode extremely seriously and there have been wide spread protests to put pressure on the UK authorities to intervene. Earlier, the police wasn’t allowing British consulate officers to meet Jagtar but after 175 UK MPs came forward in Jagtar’s support, the officers were finally allowed to. The behaviour of the investigators has been strikingly notorious all the way, as an example, they did not allow Jagtar to retain the warm clothing that his lawyers and family brought for him. His supporters in UK fear that Jagtar has been targeted over his magazine that he runs highlighting the Sikh genocide in 1984 and amid claims that he was “influencing the youth through social media”.

What is worth noting is that the police is yet to ascertain what they want to charge Jagtar with. Over the days, they have come up with different stories. An officer who did not want to be named, told newspapers that the police has been keeping an eye on his Facebook profile from long and, “We visited every person who had made a comment on fiery posts of Johal endorsing Khalistan and other issues of radicals. Some key radicals were zeroed in on, and by using our sources in the UK we kept on tracking Johal’s links with other groups. It was found that he was actively associated with the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and knew some pro-Khalisanti forces in Pakistan as well.” In another account the police has mentioned that they are finding clues to ascertain whether Johal was aware of the money, which he was sending through hawala, was to be used for buying weapons for the killings or he was just made a scapegoat for using hawala money to park his business profits.

As Indians we are not startled much by such sagas and this seems just another story of police excesses. What is worrying though is the stereotypical trend that started to emerge in Punjab since the last year. As many would know, before the 2017 elections AAP had a strong wave and was poised to sweep Punjab as predicted by pollsters left and right. To counter some of the NRI support of AAP, Congress’s CM contender Capt Amarinder Singh was supposed to visit Canada but was legally blocked by a Sikh organization of North America. He was so miffed that he vowed not to ask for NRI support and threatened them with the idea of not letting them ever visit Punjab if he came to power. The strategists in Congress came up with the idea to use the blockage to their advantage. They started pitching AAP as a party funded by Khalistani NRIs and as a result won handsomely on the urban and the Hindu vote. Had it stopped at just being an election strategy, it wouldn’t have been troublesome but since then, Capt has disagreed to meet Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, spoken openly against newly elected Canadian NDP chief Jagmeet Singh and openly labeled Canadian Govt and its several ministers as pro-Khalistanis. In Jagtar’s case, through the Punjab Police DGP, Punjab government has attacked the British government for being complicit in Khalistani terrorist activities. The exact statement was, “We have enough leads with us that the British government was aware about such plots being run on their land and the mingling of ISI sleuths with the Sikh extremists in that country.” The fear I want to express here is about the subsequent alienation of not only the NRI Punjabis but of responsible and developed countries worldwide. In his quest of appeasing the specific radical Hindu base, Capt Amarinder might end up pushing Punjab into the black days, intentionally or otherwise.

As a layman, it is hard for me to believe that a master-mind of numerous killings will come all the way from UK to India, endangering his freedom when he was anyways getting his plan executed comfortably from UK. On the other hand, it is relatively easier for me to see this as an attempt of the current dispensation to serve their narrative, but maybe it is just me. If for a moment we do believe the story being projected by the police, even then the treatment being meted out to Jagtar is uncalled for. Would the police and the administration have behaved in the same manner had it been a white guy from UK? Ponder over this thought and you would understand why all of this is happening to Jaggi, the name Jagtar’s friends know him by back home, in Scotland.

 

Advertisements

Why doesn’t India like Jagmeet Singh?

I’m officially launching my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

This was Jagmeet Singh’s first tweet after being elected as the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) – the third biggest political force of the country. Singh became the first ever visible minority member to lead a major national party in Canada. Born to Punjabi Sikh parents in Scarborough, Ontario this kid went onto become a successful lawyer, a martial artist, a budding politician and now a potential future-PM. Normally even a humbler achievement than this of an Indian-origin person invokes thunderous applauds and victory sagas back home in India, but this one did not.

site_197_Punjabi_462240

Jagmeet does not have many friends in Delhi. He has always been a staunch anti-Congress voice due to the party’s role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and has been the strongest force in Canada with respect to getting these riots termed as a ‘genocide’. He has also maintained the stance that the riots were an attempt by the government to extinguish the Sikh community from India and thus he was denied the visa to India by the UPA government back in 2013.

It is worth noting that Jagmeet does not restrict himself to speaking for the Sikh justice alone. His holistic approach of standing in solidarity with the side-lined and minorities in general has won him many followers in Canada. For this very reason, along with the Congress, he has also been a critic of Narendra Modi – due to Sangh’s active role in numerous anti-muslim riots. He strongly believes that minority voices in India are stifled and critics of the government are victimized. The hyper-nationalist BJP government of India doesn’t see him as a natural ally either. This was apparent during Jagmeet’s campaign, as there were numerous reports of Indian High Commission in Ottawa meddling in his affairs and trying to influence people against him. Jagmeet claimed that many of his donors backed out at the last moment alleging pressure from the Indian government. Few of the Hindu organizations in Canada actually campaigned openly against Jagmeet and asked people to avoid voting for him.

This was all at the central government level, and in spite of being a Sikh, Jagmeet isn’t popular with any of the political parties in Punjab either. This was made apparent recently after one of his interviews in which Jagmeet categorically said that he considers self-determination to be ‘a basic right’. He added that such a demand can be in Quebec, Catalonia or Punjab. Punjabi politicians from Capt. Amarinder Singh to the Akali spokesperson to AAP head Bhagwant Mann pounced on him in one voice rejecting his thought process. It is worth noting that Jagmeet has been raised in Canada, a country where freedom of speech, expression and self-determination is engraved as tenets. He isn’t labeled as an anti-national by the nationalist Canadians when he says so for Quebec – a province in Canada. In any of his speeches or interviews he has NEVER supported or called for an armed rebellion against the state of India. He has never said that terrorism in Punjab was justified. All he has ever asked for is giving the people the right to choose.

Indian political discourse has miles to go before it can even think of matching what Canada achieved on Oct 1, 2017 and Jagmeet Singh’s election is not just his win, it’s a win for democracy, tolerance, humanity, it’s a win for Canada.

Hamid’s only fault – being an Ansari

 

2

Hamid Ansari, the former Vice President of India, in an interview to Karan Thapar right before leaving the office, agreed that there is a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity among the Muslims in the country. It is apparent that he made these remarks in the backdrop of numerous incidents of intolerance and cow vigilantism against the Muslim community in the past few months. Did he say that he himself felt insecure? No. Did he say that in his assessment an average muslim feels so? Yes. And is he alone in saying this? Definitely no.

Amnesty International in its June 28, 2017 news reports said, “The attacks have contributed to a growing sense of insecurity for many Muslims, and intensified religious tensions.” A joint report by two other rights groups, Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) and the UK-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has accused the BJP for the spike in communal violence post its 2014 election win. A US government report, released by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says, hate crimes against religious minorities, their social boycotts and forced conversions have escalated dramatically in India since 2014.

It is interesting and worth noting that none of these organizations came under such a zealous, hateful and systematic attack by India’s right as Mr. Ansari did.  After his interview, the national executive member of the BJP women wing, Priti Gandhi tweeted, “For 10 yrs my Hindu majority nation accepted you with open arms, placed you at the pinnacle of power & you still feel uneasy. Agenda kya hai?”. We might never know Ansari’s agenda but hers seemed obvious. She wanted to point out that Muslims are able to live in India thanks to the kindness of the Hindu majority and they should be thus grateful for it. Seems it does not matter that Ansari dint say that he was uncomfortable, because Mrs. Gandhi made full effort to suggest that the VP himself felt uneasy despite his high post.

An RSS leader, Indresh Kumar addressing a gathering in Nagpur, alleged that Ansari who remained secular for his whole tenure has now become a hardliner. According to Mr. Kumar, holding a sympathetic opinion about ones fellow community people is enough to qualify one as a fundamentalist. So much for Sangh’s own community outreach programs and cries for Hindu nation. After Indresh, it was the turn of Ansari’s successor, Venkaiah Naidu. He said to a PTI correspondent, “some people are saying minorities are insecure. It is a political propaganda. Compared to the entire world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and they get their due.” I wonder, what makes Naidu, a Hindu leader’s comments dismissing Muslim victimization, any less political and communal than Ansari’s?

Many more BJP and RSS leaders took blows at Ansari but a worthy mention goes to dear PM Modi.  His jibe and sarcasm was extremely stinging and direct. His exact words were, “A major part of your tenure as a diplomat has been spent in West Asia. Many years of your life were spent in that circle. You lived in that atmosphere, that thought, the debates among those people. Even after retirement, your work was the same, be it the Minority Commission or Aligarh University, your circle was the same”. He suggested explicitly that Ansari has been surrounded by ungrateful Muslims all his life, who thrive on victimhood mentality and will never be able come out of it. I would like to know if someone will ever mention the analogous to Mr. Modi? Would anyone dare to tell him how all his life he’s been surrounded by Sangh and like-minded people who must have made him a loathing Hindu and a Muslim-hating bigot?

It is worth mentioning that right wing’s peculiar liking for Abdul Kalam, another prominent Muslim who held a high constitutional post in recent times, bears from the fact that all his life, Kalam never raised an issue which was exclusive to the plight of Muslims. For the BJP, Kalam was, is and will remain the educated, vegetarian, bachelor – ‘good’ Muslim whose appointment as the President of India served as an emergency rescue for BJP’s tarnished image after the 2002 riots. Had Kalam gotten up and spoken openly about the Muslim killings of those times, presumably the right would have lynched his image the same way or even worse than Ansari. It is wonder-able as to what exactly is minority-appeasement that the right in India talks about? Till a Kalam, an Ansari or a Manmohan Singh latches on to his seat without saying a word about his community’s state or persecution, he is treated as a symbol of Hindu tolerance and large hearted-ness; and as soon as he utters a word, the tag of a Pakistani or a Khalistani is always mere few inches away.

Nobody should have an iota of doubt that casting aspersions on Mr. Ansari is way more convenient and main-stream than on the Modis or the Naidus, just because he’s a Muslim. This goes beyond political leaders and extends to media personalities and influencers likewise. As an example, it took Sudhir Chaudhary (Editor-in-Chief of Zee News) a tiny column in DNA to label Ansari an equivalent of Pakistani propagandist. Mr. Chaudhary went on to remind Ansari how India in-spite of being a Hindu majority nation has been so kind to the Bollywood Khans. He for sure took his inspiration from Mrs. Gandhis tweet, mentioned earlier.

Another interesting and provoking piece on the topic is from Anand Vardhan at Newslaundry. He not only praised Modi for calling Ansari out for his ‘minoritarian alarm’, but also lent a lineage to Ansari’s comments and behaviour by linking it to Aligarh Muslim University. Maybe Mr. Vardhan wants a tank at AMU after one has been installed at JNU already. Again, according to him, a Muslim VP pointing out the fallacy of the current government by voicing his honest opinion on the condition of Muslims is an un-statesman like behaviour. It seems his main objection is to Mr. Ansari’s perception of labeling ‘every day’ skirmishes as ‘hate crimes’. I guess he also needs to look at the above mentioned independent agency reports and judge for himself if killing of innocent Muslims in broad daylight by blood thirsty Hindu mobs should be called a skirmish or an act of communal violence. He goes on to confidently say that directly elected political leaders like the PM, have the right to be perceptive, have an opinion and even express it but others like Mr. Ansari should be cold and rely on critical scrutiny. This seemed an extremely sad and desperate attempt to defend the even sadder Mann Ki Baat series of PM Modi and the daily venom that comes out of one or the other BJP MP’s mouth.

Hamid Ansari, the grandson of a renowned freedom fighter, has displayed exemplary service ethics and behaviour in all his public postings ranging from IFS, United Nations representative, Indian high commissioner, Ambassador and many others. To bring him down to the level of trolls is a grave injustice and mistake on the part of the trolls, few of which I have highlighted above.

 

No state deserves a KPS Gill

Thousands of mothers await their sons even though some may know that that the oppressor has not spared their sons’ lives on this earth. A mother’s heart is such that even if she sees her son’s dead body, she does not accept that her son has left her. And those mothers who have not even seen their children’s dead bodies, they were asking us: at least find out, is our son alive or not?1

-Jaswant Singh Khalra, human rights activist, killed October 1995

kps-gill-759

KPS Gill’s tale begins in 1988, when he came to Punjab as the Director General of Police. Punjab back then was a state reeling in militancy and facing it’s darkest times. To understand the Punjab phenomenon, we need to go further back, to around 1977 when after losing an election, the disgruntled former CM, Giani Zail Singh cooked up a strategy with Sanjay Gandhi to create an alternative sikh power house against the rising Akali Dal. This event marked the emergence of Sant Bhinderanwale and little did the Congress party realize that they had created a Frankenstein. Bhinderanwale, due to his radical ideas and exemplary oratory skills, became a rage in the revolutionary minds of Punjab and after realizing the extent of his hold and influence, he stopped heeding to his masters all together. The 1980s in Punjab witnessed a decade-long insurgency by Sikh militants, primarily attempting to procure greater autonomy. Militants were responsible for numerous excesses, including the killings of Hindu and Sikh civilians and assassinations of political leaders.

The Indian state reacted to all of this with utmost force. The particular state action which catapulted Punjab into a black hole was the 1984 army invasion of the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, Harmandir Sahib. The state attack was not just on the religious centre, but the political mecca of Sikhs as well. Along with the militants, thousands of innocent pilgrims were massacred and the holy building was almost completely destroyed by the army tanks. This attack affected the Indian Sikh psyche (even the moderate ones) more than anything ever had and it started to seem that India might lose Punjab. As a result of the simmering anger, in October 1984, the Sikh bodyguards of Indira Gandhi assassinated her. What followed the Indira Gandhi killing is the bloodiest riot in the history of independent India (leaving the partition). More than 10,000 Sikhs were killed by Congress party supporters (primarily Hindus) across the country. If anything could make the Punjab situation worse, it was this.

From May 11, 1987 to February 25, 1992, the Indian government dismissed the elected government in Punjab and imposed President’s Rule. This coincided with the time when KPS was brought in to try his iron hand on the terrorists. Also, the National Security Act was amended to allow detention without trial for up to two years in Punjab for acts prejudicial to the security or defence of India. Along with this, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987 gave rights to the police for using confessions in the court as admissible evidence. The police brutality that ensued saw thousands of terrorists being killed and prosecuted but a much greater amount of innocent Sikhs being framed in false cases and killed in fake encounters. Reports from different human rights groups, media houses like BBC, and the US state department explain in detail how Punjab police under KPS was worse than even the militants. What KPS promoted is called ‘meeting targets’ in today’s marketing lingo. A police officer who could bring a certain number of dead bodies of ‘alleged’ terrorists was rewarded and recognized highly. As a result, there were villages which ended up with no Sikh male at all in the age range of 15 to 40. They were either arrested, killed or they escaped to save their lives. Innocent or terrorist ceased to matter in KPS’s time, and then the families of those who ran away were often tortured while other measures like destruction of property and livestock were also used extensively.

In early 1995, human rights activists Jaswant Singh Khalra exposed over 6,000 secret cremations by the police in just one of then 13 districts in Punjab. Later, in the same year he was arrested by the police, but no records were shown of his detention. He was never found after. By the time Gill retired from the IPS in 1995, 500 Punjab police personnel were facing lawsuits already. By 1997, it increased to 1200 and the government had to disburse lakhs of rupees as damages in umpteen number of cases that ended up in victim’s favour. There is no dearth of such incidents, reports, evidence and court rulings that clearly dictate the mismanagement and brutality of KPS’s time.

The sins of Gill though, do not just end with his retirement. After leading the described reign of terror, he just went away from Punjab and never ever returned back. He did not care to fight for his junior officers and a lot of them ended up in jail while he lived a life of luxury and power. A few of those police officers committed suicide, the case of Ajit Singh Sandhu being a famous one. KPS Gill later ran another super mismanaged organization, the Indian Hockey Federation and got embroiled in the charges of nepotism and incompetence. Also, in 1996, he was convicted for sexual harassing a lady IAS officer named Rupan Deol Bajaj.

Despite all the known facts, there are many main-stream journalists like Shekhar Gupta who carry and propagate a very rosy picture of KPS Gill and his role in bringing peace to Punjab. Mr. Gupta’s hate for anything remotely related to Sikh identity and autonomy is well known and can be observed in his anniversary writings about Operation Bluestar. A more surprising piece of writing though was the recent opinion article by Hartosh Singh Bal in scroll.in, where he based his entire 2500 word essay on facts and numbers from an organization named Institute of Conflict Management Data. He did not mention even once that this particular body was founded and headed by KPS Gill himself. It’s not only strange but disrespectful towards the thousands of innocents killed by the same man. The only argument that Hartosh might have, is the first line of his piece, “Anything I write on KPS Gill cannot be unbiased.”

 

 

Why does the right suddenly love Bhagat Singh?

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.20.12 PM

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people. People cannot be really happy until they have been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion”

These are few of the lines written and quoted by Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) against religiosity, doctrine and communalism. If he was alive today, there is no doubt that he would have been an ‘anti-national sickular‘ in the eyes of BJP, RSS, the supportive twitter trolls and the conforming media channels. So it amazes one and all when PM Narendra Modi regularly tweets on every 23rd March (since last 2-3 years) about how inspiring Bhagat Singh’s sacrifice was and how Bhagat was the real son of the soil.

If we go back 85 years, things were never rosy between Bhagat Singh and the Sangh. During the late 1920’s, the founder of RSS (1925), Hedgewar was completely focused on developing the organizational framework and he steered clear of the anti-colonial politics. He was so busy in strengthening his clutch on the Hindus that he never showed interest in even the Congress’s efforts towards the freedom struggle. Likewise, British never considered Hedgewar a threat and labeled him the same in their annual intelligence reports. Finally, when Bhagat Singh was executed, Hedgewar was busy in Varanasi arranging RSS programs and he had absolutely no views to express on this gross travesty of justice.

Another Sangh ideologue of the time, Savarkar was busy bringing together the upper-caste Hindus and the untouchables during the days when Bhagat Singh was hanged. Savarkar was more pro-British than even Hedgewar and was released by the British from jail after he pledged to never practice politics again. Also, Savarkar was typically infamous because of his multiple pleading letters and requests of mercy to the British. We can take a pause and compare this with what Bhagat Singh did instead. In the end, to set the record straight, Balasahab Deoras, the third chief of the RSS went on to the extent of calling Bhagat Singh and his contemporaries ‘stupids‘ in one of his writings.

From the very beginning, the RSS thinking and ideology is expressed in its regular magazines/newspapers and there is not a single line challenging, exposing, criticizing or confronting the inhuman rule of the British masters in the entire literature of the RSS from 1925 to 1947. It is also well documented that the Sangh did not take part in the Quit India movement but there is more to it than just maintaining the status-quo.  Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who was then the Hindu Mahasabha president and later founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (which subsequently evolved to BJP) collaborated with the British to kill the Quit India Movement.

So, how on the earth does today’s BJP try to own up Bhagat Singh, a young maverick whose only life goal was to see an independent India; and on top of it, he was a Marxist, a word that cannot go down the throat of a single Sangh affiliate today or back then. Bhagat Singh is not the only one though, whom the Sangh tries to grab from the history books. Now and again, they vehemently lay a similar claim on Sardar Patel and Ambedkar. In the absence of any national hero of their own, this vulturism seems to be their only option and a well-read populace should be able to un-code their sly agenda.

What went wrong for AAP in Punjab?

ak

Every Punjabi voter irrespective of the party choice, every journalist that visited Punjab in these last few months, every newspaper’s editorial section and even the opponents of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in private unanimously expressed a common thought before the March 11 results. The thought being, AAP will secure anywhere from 45 to 75 seats in the new assembly and be the major player in government formation. AAP leaders, aware of this strong perception were not at all modest and could be often seen making tall claims, some even vouching for 100+ seats in the 117 member assembly. Along with the public mood, they had other more reliable cues to be as confident as they were. Lakhs of Punjabis turned up in hundreds of rallies that AAP organized in 6 odd months before the elections. Having not relied on distributing liquor, money and other favours to attract the crowd, it made the leaders, the volunteers and the supporters extremely confident of a landslide victory. So did something change suddenly? Why did Congress come out victorious in the Punjab battle? Did anything transpire behind the scenes that completely falsified and destroyed the virtual AAP-wave? Let us divulge into few of the post-result theories to explain this unexpected result of AAP ending up with just 22 seats.

Looking at the constituency-wise polling data, the most obvious reflection is that the worst areas of performance for AAP were the urban centres and the Hindu-dominated pockets. What deficiencies did AAP suffer from that it ended up repelling this demography completely? It is extremely intriguing because out of Kejriwal and his opponents Capt Amarinder and Prakash Singh Badal, he is the one and the only Hindu face. To understand this, we should go back 18 months to the time when the AAP-wave started emerging. The Sikh groups were up in arms because of the inability of the Akalis to nab the culprits responsible for numerous sacrilege incidents of the Guru Granth Sahib. The disenchantment with the government was at its peak and the only one that listened to all these folks was Arvind Kejriwal. He came to the Muktsar Maghi Mela and roared, promising to punish the culprits in front of this crowd of lakhs of Sikhs. The Panthic vote that normally used to sway elections in the favour of the Akalis started moving towards AAP. This shift continued when AAP pandered to the affluent NRI Punjabis in Canada, US and rest of the world. The NRIs (mostly Sikhs) not only donated large amounts of money but also came in droves to campaign for the party. All seemed to be going well for AAP until the strategists in the Congress decided to turn the tables. It is noteworthy here that thousands of Punjabis left India and took asylum in different foreign countries during the dark days of militancy. After being unsuccessful in attracting any NRI support for these elections, Congress decided to take its chance and took an anti-NRI stance. Capt in his speeches started blaming AAP for using Khalistani money in its campaign and for cozying up with anti-national secessionist forces. This rhetoric did strike well with the Hindus, also because they have suffered historically at the hands of Sikh extremists. To add to the fear, just 40 days before the polls, a right-wing Hindu leader was shot dead in Ludhiana by unidentified gunmen and just 4 days before the polls, a blast ripped through a Congress political rally at Maur near Bathinda. Nobody has till date been arrested for any of these two incidents and it seems nobody will ever be.

An outsider might tend to think of Punjab as a Sikh state which is without any doubt an ignorant and faulty assessment at multiple levels. Hindu voters have always been the deciding factor in Punjab elections, be it when they helped Congress of 2002 topple the Akalis or when they sided with BJP-Akali alliance in 2007 and 2012. Even within the Sikhs of Punjab, divisions run deep on the lines of caste, urban-rural divide and even the occupation. Affluent urban Sikhs along with the service-class could not come around supporting a risky, macho and unconventional party being run on the ground by young and passionate volunteers. They just could not believe that AAP had it in it to give them a stable government. The same slogans of Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann that drew and attracted thousands of rural voters every single day, fell flat in front of this group of people. This was supposed to be the silent voter that could take AAP across the 59 seat mark but on the voting day it spoke up for the tried and tested leadership of Capt Amarinder. AAP did realize this mistake around a month before the polls and even came up with a special manifesto for the government employees, but maybe it was too late.

One of the main reason why AAP could not come across as a stable option was its inability to project a CM-face. This gave the opposing parties a chance to spread numerous conspiracy theories such as AAP importing a parachute CM from outside the state. For a state known to always elect a Sikh CM, this uncertainty was too much to digest. AAP on the other hand, feared creating factions within the party and thus kept several leaders like Mann, HS Phoolka, Sukhpal Khaira, Kanwar Sandhu and even youngsters like Harjot Bains and Himmat Shergill in fray for the CM post. It did not want to pitch the supporters of these leaders against each other by announcing any one name. These leaders belonged to Punjab and given a chance, anyone of them could have carved a niche in people’s hearts and minds but with uncertainty looming over the heads of these leaders, the voters always perceived them as one rung below the Delhi appointed duo of Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak. Punjabis are known to be loving, kind, affectionate and accepting, but they are also known to be people with pride. When Congress and Akalis told the voters again and again about people from UP deciding AAP’s candidates and thus their future, AAP suddenly started to seem as the outsider party to the voters. The same voters who had passionately chosen AAP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections now seemed hesitant. Even the well thought and researched AAP strategy of attacking Akalis on the rampant drug usage in Punjab was projected by the Akali-BJP alliance as a ploy of some outsiders to malign the Punjabi youth.

Coming to ticket distribution, the failure of AAP leadership to placate Navjot Sidhu should be seen as a major factor contributing especially to its dismal performance in the Majha region. It can however also be debated that promising the CM post to Sidhu would have resulted in Mann and Phoolka turning rogue and thus hurting AAP even more but in politics, you are expected to be astute and smart enough to manufacture compromises that suit multiple sides and Kejriwal failed to do so in this particular case. Another peculiar problem for AAP was the lack of funds with regards to certain candidates. Even if the party was willing to offer tickets to old time volunteers and workers, certain potential candidates were not well-off financially and could not garner sufficient donations to run a decent campaign. These tickets were thus awarded to the next best choice or to the most affluent one, which along with inviting dissent from the party workers also meant weak candidates.

In the end, what was supposed to be an AAP-wave ended up being Congress’s baby in spite of the Congress losing 2% votes in comparison to 2012. The main reason being, AAP severely denting the Akali vote-bank of 2012 and bringing it down by almost 10%. AAP did extremely well in the reserved seats in Malwa and gained some rural Congress vote-share too but the same Congress was able to snatch BJP votes and thus managed to produce terrific performance in cities across the state. BJP came out as the worst in these elections with just 3 seats out of the 23 it contested.

It is worth mentioning that post-failure, it is easier to point out the flaws and invent plausible theories to satisfy the outcomes but it should not be forgotten that a 4-year old party is now the official opposition in the Punjab assembly while the 95-year old Akali Dal has been decimated to the third position. No doubt AAP has a lot to learn from this election, but it should take solace in the fact that its entire campaign was executed on the ground by inexperienced but passionate and hard-working youngsters who were extremely close to out-maneuver Prashant Kishore, who himself tweeted acknowledging this fact.

 

Anything for GDP?

6-trouble-spots-of-indian-economy

For anyone who understands or believes to understand the working of an economy, the latest GDP data release by the Modi government should come as a shock. The main takeaway from the release is that the horrendous exercise of demonetization did not have any negative impact on the growth rate of the Indian economy.

Did demonetization even happen? The sudden announcement, the subsequent scrambling for cash, the months-long chaos, the job losses, the massive drops in sales, the shutting down of small businesses and of course hundreds of deaths – was it all real or did we all sleep together and had a bad dream? The economists, stat-gurus, analysts and brokerage houses were all in sync predicting a decent drop in growth rate and pegging it around 6-6.5%.

Let us spend a valuable minute on understanding this GDP figure release and the ‘smart’ math behind it. To start with, the released GDP figures are a projection and not an observed fact. What this simply means is, the government ‘thinks’ (after a lot of calculations and projections) that the economy will grow by 7.1% in 2017 with respect to the year 2016. Around a year later from now, we will get to know how the economy actually performed and whether these projections were met or not. These are called ‘advance estimates’ – determining expectations about the economy and sadly these attract more attention than the real numbers which come out way later and are called the ‘revised estimates’. Due to this discrepancy in the attention these numbers receive, there is a smart game that the government can play and surely the current one did.

GDP growth rate is a relative metric, meaning the present figure relies on the previous one. For example, if the output is 106 units this year and was 100 units the previous year, the growth rate will be calculated as 6%, but the same output of 106 units will result in the growth rate of 7.1% if the previous year figure was 99 units rather than 100. If you look minutely at the figures released by the government, they have very subtlely decimated the figures of 2016 Q3 which in turn pushed the 2017 GDP growth projections way up to 7.1%. This served the BJP in two ways; a year ago when the 2016 GDP figures attracted attention, they were projected high; now the data that is attracting attention is for 2017, which as a result of decimating the old 2016 figures is sitting high at 7.1%. Simple calculation helps us realize that if the numbers for 2016 would not have been revised down, the 2017 GDP projections would have been around 6.4% instead of 7.1% and that would not have looked good on PM Modi’s resume for UP elections.

A thorough research is warranted to confirm whether such number playing has been done by earlier governments too, but this present instance of juggling confirms the reason for such rosy GDP figures in spite of the disaster, we know by the name of demonetization. Right from the time the numbers were released, things did not seem to add up. For instance, the IIP data shows that manufacturing output has not grown at all over the last year (0.2%) but the government data has projected 10% increase in the nominal output of the same. Another important distinction that needs to be made is, the GDP numbers rely majorly on the organized sector but the one hit the worst by demonetization is the unorganized sector. To measure the real impact of his actions, PM Modi will have to travel extensively throughout the nation and reach out to small vendors, stall operators, kiryana shop owners and rather than making them listen, he will have to hear their ‘Mann Ki Baat’.

In his election rally in UP, PM Modi proudly said, “Harvard se jyada dum hota hai hard work mein”. Yes we agree, this whole exercise of playing with and finding sweet spots in the GDP figures indeed would have taken some hard work, maybe not as hard as getting into Harvard but surely harder than writing attractive campaign slogans!

Why Virender Sehwag?

12“I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him. Because if there was no war, my dad would still be here. I fight for peace between India and Pakistan. Enough is enough.”

These were the words of a young Delhi University student and daughter of a martyr, which led to her being trolled, belittled, mocked, abused and threatened with rape. Her clear and bold message of peace over war and dialogue over violence rattled the insecure patriots within our society. To state in brief, cricketer Virender Sehwag mocked her, actor Randeep Hooda patronized her, RSS leader Rakesh Sinha accused her of exploiting her father’s death, Union minister Kiren Rijuju blamed her for playing into anti-national’s hands and another BJP MP, Pratap Simha equated her with India’s most wanted terrorist, Dawood Ibrahim.

In past couple of years, we have had numerous TV-debates and a few real ones on the rising intolerance of the right wing in India, so to save you from monotonous reporting, this blog post is dedicated exclusively to Virender Sehwag. Of all the twitter savvy celebrities, why did he choose to stress his brain and mock Gurmehar Kaur? Is there anything peculiar about him? Or did he just happen to be a jerk for the moment specifically?

We all know Sehwag for his unorthodox style of batting but many of us are oblivious to his similar style in entrepreneurship. In 2008, about 23 acres of prime land in Shilani Kesho village on Gurgaon-Jhajjar road was given to Virender Sehwag’s Krishna Drishti Educational Society on a 33-year lease to set up a sports facility along with a school. The lease amount was set at Rs 3 lakh per acre by the Congress government in the state after consultations with the panchayat of the village. However, even before the much-publicized sports facility, Sehwag launched an international school beginning academic year 2011. This school started charging around Rs 3 lakh per student for a single academic year and the villagers since then have been up in arms against it because what they were promised was a high-class sports facility for their children instead. To add to their frustration, the lease amount has been reduced to Rs 51 thousand by the government without consulting the panchayat. Is Sehwag getting this favorable treatment without any political patronage? Is it possible that Sehwag is cozying up to the BJP in order to make sure his golden hen stays blooming and fertile?

In 2004, there were numerous reports of Sehwag campaigning for BJP’s Sahib Singh Verma in Delhi. Now that we think about it, it does not appear as coincidental that in the same year, Arun Jaitley  (Law Miniter in Vajpayee’s cabinet) offered his official bungalow for Sehwag’s wedding ceremony. Recently, when voices were raised over Jaitley’s role in the DDCA scam, Sehwag was the first one to defend him. So I guess, nobody should be surprised if Sehwag throws his hat in as a politician wearing the “lotus” in 2019 LS elections. To put it straight, he has the full right to do so; fight elections, campaign for any political party and even make jokes or express himself. The point is, do we then have a right to judge him, sure we do! He acted as a silly troll against an intelligent, civil and well-mannered university student. The sad part is that even after being aware of the consequences of his trolling, which included rape threats for the innocent 20-year old girl, he neither apologized to her nor tweeted a single appeal to his fans or the BJP followers to stop the hate and abuse until Gurmehar withdrew from the peace campaign after 3 days of mental trauma.

Lastly, now that we know Virender Sehwag has political views and ambitions, will he come clean and transparent on the issue of Jat reservation? BJP government in Haryana is against it and Sehwag being a Jat himself should tweet soon as to what does he think of it. We all are eagerly waiting for his next placard photo.