All posts by Chinmoy Banerjee

Modi’s India

All about winning

Politics must be muscular, majoritarian with a no-holds-barred campaign to invade the minds of citizens, embedding in them the mirage of change for the better.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the inauguration of the Synthetic Track of the USHA School, via video conference, in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI Photo / PIB (PTI6_15_2017_000222B)I worry for my country.

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo are establishing new norms for both the government and politics. For Modi, the machinery of government is meant for self-propagation. Government is a vehicle to announce, through means fair and foul, new water-marks of performance, whether or not they have any reference to reality. Ends justify the means. For Shah, the new idiom of politics is to belittle all that happened prior to 2014 and to build a larger-than-life image of the BJP. For both, facts are irrelevant, only perception matters. Politics must be muscular, majoritarian with a no-holds-barred campaign to invade the minds of citizens, embedding in them the mirage of change for the better.

The duo, with these ends in mind, attempt to cajole, threaten, and, if necessary, capture the narrative that serves their political objectives. They regard the CBI and other investigating agencies, including the ED, the NIA and the state investigating agencies where the BJP is in government, the departments of the Government of India or state governments, who do their bidding. The media, particularly the electronic media, is no longer a platform for disseminating news to allow viewers the freedom to decide for themselves, but a propaganda vehicle for the government as well as the BJP. Business houses, potential recipients of beneficial government policies, sing paeans for favours. Vulnerable to proceedings by taxmen, they are susceptible to surrendering national interest by doing the government’s bidding.

The Republic has been taken for a ride. The nature of the Indian state has changed since 2014.

On the ground, we see the rise of an intolerant, aggressive majoritarian mindset. Hindutva, which has nothing to do with Hinduism, is represented by vigilantes, ready to kill human beings to save a cow. Anti-Romeo squads, love jihad and the conversation on triple talaq embolden the embers of intolerance. Consequent fires are stoked by some electronic channels and the army of soldiers on social media platforms seconded, perhaps by the BJP, who run amok with threats and abuses to silence opposition. There is no scope for discussion or debate. There is no nuanced position on any issue.

Demonetisation was successful because the prime minister was decisive in his intent to target black money, even though millions lost their jobs and more than 100 people died in queues. Its impact is still felt by sectors of the economy which are struggling to recover. Surgical strikes epitomised nationalistic fervour and the commitment to punish those who seek to intrude across the border. This one-off was projected as a panacea, ensuring that Pakistan dare not foray across the border again.

We are told that the entire opposition is corrupt and the government is scandal-free. Three years of a BJP government, the duo says, have transformed India. There is hope for the common citizen. Shah says that what the BJP has done in three years, the Congress did not do in 70. The BJP, we are told, got rid of nepotism and caste-based politics, yet Yogi Adityanath provides soap and sachets of shampoo to Dalits before he visits them. Dalits at Una are flogged but that has nothing to do with caste.

The inauguration of the Dhola-Sadiya 9.15 km bridge, connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, construction of which began in 2010, and the longest road tunnel (9.2 km) inaugurated on April 2, 2017, cutting the distance between Jammu and Srinagar by 30 km, for which construction started in May 2011, are photo-ops for Modi. They claim that GDP continues to grow above 7 per cent and the Sensex being at a record high are achievements of this government. The people, according to the duo, must celebrate every day for the transformation of India as it moves to be a $20 trillion economy in the near future.

It is as if the history of India started in 2014 and all the years before that, since Independence, were a washout. That there are no jobs for the 12 million kids who move out of school will never make headline news; nor will these be topics to rant about in a channel which is perceived as the alter ego of the government. That only 1.35 lakh jobs were created in 2015 and over 2 lakh jobs in 2016 is a matter of little concern because Shah now says that it is not for the government to create jobs. That a world moving towards automation will leave millions jobless in India is of no relevance since the duo’s politics is to win the next election. Thoughtless rollbacks in the education system will disempower our children. We need to prepare our children to compete in a global environment. That is not a matter of much concern, both for the media and government. That institutions of government are being saffronised with RSS pracharaks being selectively picked in utter disregard of the quality and culture of our constitution is disheartening.

Healthcare is for the rich; public health facilities for the poor are shoddy. The real estate market has collapsed; interest rates are down and the economy is stagnant. The offtake of bank credit is negligible and inventories in factories have dampened the prospects of enhanced productivity. The small and medium-scale sector, the backbone of our economy, is dormant and needs hand-holding. Black money is back in circulation along with fake notes. Demonetisation has not deterred terrorists. GDP numbers, no longer relied on, are for academics to debate. Yet the government keeps on patting itself on the back.

Both government and politics in India are far removed from the concerns of the common person. The brazen attitude of establishments to take their partisan agenda forward is disquieting. The state’s constitutional commitment for bringing peace and tranquillity is not a priority. This exclusive duo wants an exclusive India. That is their hope. We must get together to challenge the duo and ensure that in 2019, we start afresh.

The writer is a Congress leader and former Union minister

Uphold independence and freedom of press

SANSAD News-release June 8, 2017

Uphold the Independence and freedom of the Press

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the Central Bureau of Investigation raid on the offices of NDTV and the residence of its owners in and around New Delhi on June 4 as a blatant politically motivated attempt to intimidate and silence its independent and critical voice. NDTV is one of the most respected and influential media outlets in India, and one of the very few such voices left in an increasingly gloomy mediascape. The current raid is the latest of a series of episodes of harassment faced by NDTV, which the government had tried to shut down for 24 hours in 2016 as punishment for its coverage of the terrorist attack on the military base in Pathankot.

Journalism in India is in a state of acute crisis. Most of the mainstream media is owned by a small number of corporate houses whose owners are also intimately connected with the ruling BJP and the government of Narendra Modi. Indeed, NDTV too is indebted to Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India and owner of Reliance corporation, and has promoted the interests of the BJP and the multinational, Vedanta. Such corporate and political domination ensures that the media presents the official narrative of the party and the government without question and has established hyper-nationalism as hegemonic. Any dissent is branded “anti-national” , with the cry taken up by an increasingly mobilized section of the populace affiliated with the party or its various social forms who hound the culprit  on social media or attempt to silence her/him with physical violence. In addition, any media attempting to cast a critical eye on the government and its friends is  branded “Presstitute” by the ruling politicians and their supporters bringing the media into disrepute. Since Modi’s coming to power in 2014 it has become almost impossible to expose manipulated data and opaque government operations. This is the background against which the President of India recently affirmed in an important speech to journalists that discussion and dissention were essential to a vibrant democracy and public institutions had to be held accountable for all their actions and inactions.

India has 406 news channels in various languages and tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines. Yet this year it has fallen 3 places to 136th among 180 countries ranked in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which places India below Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates. This is not surprising given the Hindu nationalist’s rampage to cleanse India of all “anti-nationalist” thought, as a result of which in 2014 at least 114 journalists were attacked, with only 32  attackers arrested, and between January 2016 and April 2017 there have been 54 attacks reported though the actual number is much higher since many attacks are unreported because of threats from politicians, police, and the vigilantes.

We, members of the South Asian diaspora in Canada stand in solidarity with the many brave people of India fighting for democracy against fascistic developments and with the courageous journalists and independent media engaged in the struggle for press freedom, which is the bedrock of all democracy.  We applaud the declaration of NDTV that it will fight all attempts to bully it. We demand that the government of India stop using the institutions of the state to attack the freedom of the press and take appropriate action against those who use violence to silence critical voices.

Being Here Differently: SANSAD youth forum

Being Here Differently: South Asian Youth Voices

Public Forum: Surrey Centre Library, Ambedkar Room: # 418, 10350 University Drive, Surrey, June 24, 2017, 2 PM – 5 PM

Despite many differences the South Asian community shares several concerns. First generation immigrants maintain their link with their homeland, often engaging passionately with issues there, struggling to preserve the old culture in the new land, even as they establish themselves here and fight for their recognition and rights. The generation born here have a very different experience. This is their homeland and yet they are always different: they are different both at home, where they bring the new culture and its concerns into a space that doesn’t quite understand them and outside, where their difference of origin is almost always an issue.

How is this difference experienced? What strategies do youth use to deal with the tensions they must cope with? What are the problems they share as South Asian youth? How do their concerns differ from the concerns of the older generation? These are some of the questions that will be explored by a panel of South Asian youth. The goal is to understand what engages South Asian youth and how to build a bridge to communication.

Panel: Safder Raza, Sejal Lal, Jovian Radheswar, Samia Khan, Anna Makhdoom
Moderator: Zahid Makhdoom

Music: Jovian Radheswar and Sejal Lal

Refreshments will be served.

SANSAD News-release May 29, 2017

SANSAD Hails the Fight-back against Oppression of Dalits

SANSAD hails the formation of the Bhim Army in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, as the instrument of fight-back against persistent caste discrimination and the recent spate of violence against Dalits. The Bhim Army, named after Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the great champion of Dalits, has been in the forefront of the opposition against upper-caste Rajput violence against Dalits in Saharanpur which has been aided by the state. Two Dalits have been killed in this violence and sixty Dalit homes burnt while the state has arrested several Dalits and is conducting a witch-hunt against the leader and members of the Bhim Army. In protest the Bhim Army organized a rally of thousands in New Delhi on May 22 at the popular site of Jantar Mantar in defiance of the police refusal to grant them permission.

The Bhim Army was created by the young Dalit lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad in 2015 in response to the discrimination experienced by him and his fellow Dalits in school, where they were beaten up for drinking water, not cleaning benches or sweeping floors, or for studying too hard and what he learnt of the ordeals of his father, who as a chamar, a member of the leather-working caste, had faced constant humiliation for his low social status despite being the headmaster of a school. In two years it has spread across several states and attracted more than 40,000 members. It also runs 300 schools for Dalit children in and around Saharanpur. Its tactics of direct action have appealed to long-suffering Dalits who are disappointed at the absence of mainstream Dalit politicians from the scenes of violence. Many have come out in support of the Bhim Army in the face of the former Chief Minister of UP and leader of the BSP, the party of Dalits, Mayawati’s comments (The Hindu, May 28, 2017) labelling the Bhim Army the creation of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, BJP. Prominent Dalit public intellectual, Anand Teltumbde has called the Bhim Army a byproduct of the failures of BSP and sees in it the “potential to transcend the BSP and present a new politics of emancipation of the Dalits” (Indian Express, May 29).

Against this background SANSAD commends Chetna Association of Canada, Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation, Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University, and Department of Asian Studies, Centre for India and South Asia Research, and Buddhism and Contemporary Society program at University of British Columbia for coming together to establish the annual Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver, BC. This important lecture series was announced at a celebration of Dr. Ambedkar Day held in Surrey Centre Library on April 10. The event was dedicated to the memory of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad who was pushed to suicide by societal, political, and administrative oppression in February, 2016.

Dr. Anne Murphy and Dr. Sara Shneiderman, representing UBC, said “Dr. Ambedkar has shaped our world today in fundamental ways, through his work as an activist-scholar; as architect of the Indian constitution and, through it, the implementation of structural forces for equity within an inequitable structure; and as Buddhist philosopher, organizer, and practitioner. Bringing greater knowledge of scholarship about Dr. Ambedkar and his work, as well as about issues related to caste and inequality in South Asian societies in broader terms, to students, faculty, and the public at large will allow for a fuller understanding of South Asian societies and histories, and will resonate deeply with ongoing issues in Canadian society.”

Institute for the Humanities, SFU said in a message: “Dr. Ambedkar, as well as Rohith Vemula, exemplified the moral compass that we so desperately seek today at a time when we are witnessing the ascendancy of a despotic intolerance.

 

Dr. Ambedkar once said: ‘cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.’ With the marriage of the corporeal and the corporate, we are at a unique juncture in human history that threatens to destroy the essence of our humanity. By instilling a passion and commitment to justice, education could provide the necessary counter force to this trend.

The Institute for the Humanities are committed to Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy of social liberation and justice. We are honored to be partners in this homage paid to this legacy through the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture, which embodies Dr. Ambedkar’s important message. ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’

The message from Hari Sharma Foundation read, “Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy remains vital because it challenges all settled beliefs and orthodoxy and calls for a fundamental examination of society  in order to topple its structures of oppression. It calls on scholarship to provide the ground for a social transformation in which the annihilation of caste will also be the annihilation of class and bring about the liberation that will be the coming into being of the truly Human.”

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) is proud to stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Dalits in India and the diaspora and honored to report the establishment of the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver that will extend this struggle.