Mahatma Gandhi is arriving shortly

By Shivam Vij for The Print, 30 September 2019

When the scorching heat of the Indian summer gets beyond unbearable, the monsoon rains arrive. No matter how little or how abundant the rains are, they carry with them the promise of life.

Like the summer heat, people suffer growing oppression as a test of their patience. Eventually, a hero emerges, overthrowing the oppressors. Continue reading “Mahatma Gandhi is arriving shortly”

Is Jealousy The Reason For Hindutva’s Biryaniphobia?

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in HuffPost India on 8 September 2016.)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On orders of the Gau Sewa Ayog, or the Cow Service Commission of the Haryana government, the state’s special task force to check cow smuggling and slaughter will go around collecting biryani samples in Mewat. The Mewat district is 79% Muslim, and is always an area of suspicion in Hindutva eyes.

The Cow Service Commission says it has received many complaints of beef in Mewati biryani. Whether or not anyone needs to support their complaint with evidence to get the Gau Raksha Ayog and the Haryana police into action, is not clear. But now they want to look for evidence.

The troubling question is, why only biryani? While they are at it, why not collect samples of curries too? Continue reading “Is Jealousy The Reason For Hindutva’s Biryaniphobia?”

India should revert its citizenship laws to Jus Soli – citizenship by birth

[This article first appeared in ThePrint on 2 January 2020.]

We have all heard of NRI families who consciously choose to have their baby in the United States so that the child is automatically a US citizen from day one. For this ‘privilege’ of jus soli, or citizenship by birth, NRIs must thank this man:


In 1857, when Indians were mutinying against the British Raj, Dred Scott was a slave in the United States who appealed to the US Supreme Court for his freedom and that of his family. The US Supreme Court ruled that African Americans like him were not US citizens, even if they were born in the US and lived all their lives there, in slavery.

Read more.

Indian liberals must reconsider their rejection of Mahatma Gandhi

By Shivam Vij for The Print, 2 October 2019

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Westminster Square in London. Photo by Shivam Vij

Was Gandhi gay? Was he racist? Did he assault his nieces? Wasn’t his food faddism a bit too comical? Was he the enemy of Dalits? With questions like these, over the decades, Gandhi has been assailed and brought down by the holier-than-thou radicals of the world. In doing so, they have helped the world forget the central reason why Gandhi mattered: his political techniques of resistance.

You don’t have to agree with Gandhi on anything at all, and you could still be inspired by satyagraha, by non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Some years ago, when Anna Hazare sat on a fast, there were people who were irritated by his use of Gandhian means of politics. What a fraud, they said, he is not Gandhian, he’s an RSS agent. Yet, even Narendra Modi once sat on a Gandhi-style ‘Sadbhavna’ fast. Continue reading “Indian liberals must reconsider their rejection of Mahatma Gandhi”

What Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could learn from Mahatma Gandhi

By Shivam Vij for ThePrint, 6 September 2019

Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration by Soham Sen for ThePrint

When Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa in January 1915, someone asked him how much time it would take him to start a people’s movement in India, just like he had done in South Africa. He thought about it and replied, “five years”.

As it happened, it took him only two-and-a-half years. Continue reading “What Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could learn from Mahatma Gandhi”

How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones

(This essay has appeared in the July 2019 issue of the journal ‘Seminar‘ under the title ‘Modi was the message’.)

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Narendra Modi’s use of narrative as a political tool is akin to how a versatile batsman plays cricket. He can deal with any kind of ball thrown at him, exploiting opportunities to score sixes and warding off threats to remain on the pitch. Continue reading “How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones”

Why BJP will rule India uninterrupted for the next 30 years, till 2049

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 5 June 2019.)

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In a job interview, the hiring manager decided to put the candidate at ease with small talk. He asked the candidate, what’s your favourite fruit? Considering it is the season of mangoes, surely you like mangoes?

Instead of giving a simple answer, the candidate replied, “I do Vipassana”. The manager was flummoxed. What’s Vipassana got to do with any fruit? Continue reading “Why BJP will rule India uninterrupted for the next 30 years, till 2049”

In UP’s Unnao, voters back a BJP MP who curses and insults them, never shows his face and does no work

Sakshi Maharaj

By Shivam Vij for ThePrint.in, 30 April 2019 Continue reading “In UP’s Unnao, voters back a BJP MP who curses and insults them, never shows his face and does no work”

Inside Valsad, the bellwether seat that always votes for party which goes on to rule India

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 22 April 2019.)

Valsad (Gujarat): Valsad is famous for three Ms — mosquitoes, mangoes and Morarji Desai. Continue reading “Inside Valsad, the bellwether seat that always votes for party which goes on to rule India”

On getting elections right and getting them wrong

 

Pro-BJP trolls on Twitter keep saying I’ve got no election right. Ever. 

The accusation is made repeatedly to delegitimise my reporting and views on elections. So here are some elections I’ve got right: 

Uttar Pradesh assembly election 2007: “The BSP is hoping not just to form a coalition government but one that lasts five years.” 

Bihar assembly election 2015: “Based on recent travels in Bihar, here is this writer’s admittedly subjective view of why the Grand Alliance’s prospects look better than the NDA’s in Bihar.” https://shivamvij.in/2015/10/12/10-reasons-why-the-grand-alliance-is-doing-better-than-the-nda-in-bihar/

Karnataka assembly elections 2018: “Perhaps there is a hawa — the hawa of a hung assembly. The perception that a hung assembly is likely might just result in one.” 

Gujarat assembly election 2017: Anger against the BJP will not turn into a victory for the Congress. 

Telangana assembly election 2018: “There are two reasons why the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) could overcome the arithmetic advantage of the opposition.”

In the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017, I did a deep dive into Kasganj, the state’s bellwether constituency, and clearly found the BJP was likely to win the bellwether seat.

Despite what bellwether Kasganj said, I wrote like many others there was no wave in UP and I stand by it. There was instead an undercurrent for the BJP, because a wave screams at you. But I did write on 22 Feb 2017: “The lotus could be blooming.”

Most recently, I stuck my neck out on 7 December 2018 to say the BJP was not going to win a single state on 11 December – not even Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh – and I did so even before the exit polls were out.

Only fools try to predict elections and one inevitably falls into the trap. There are very few people, if any, who get all elections right. Politicians and parties themselves get their assessments wrong. So-called scientific opinion and exit polls often get them wrong. And so do I. Most embarrassingly, I felt Mayawati would prevent the BJP from doing too well in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. That is what happens when you don’t travel and don’t talk to voters and theorise from Delhi.

One of my greatest regrets is to not have travelled in the 2014 elections. I was instead sitting on the desk and working my ass off to help a brand new website establish itself.  One of the reporters of this new site felt the BJP would win only 9 seats in Bihar, something that trolls wrongly attribute to me. I am also wrongly given the flak for another reporter who travelled by train from Assam to Kashmir and couldn’t see the Modi wave anywhere!

About the important Phulpur Lok Sabha by-poll in 2018, I wrote the BJP could win. I got it wrong because I didn’t speak to too many upper caste voters, presuming they will vote for the BJP anyway. As it turned out, they didn’t turn out to vote! Nevertheless, here’s the key thing I got right in Phulpur: the BSP’s Dalit voters were happy to vote for the SP.

The BJP and its organised troll armies make your life hell if you suggest the BJP is losing and it wins instead. I know journalists who maintain the default position “BJP is winning” only because they fear the consequences of saying “BJP is losing” when the BJP does win. There is at least one journalist who lost a job under BJP pressure only because she got an election wrong in this manner. Is it really a big deal to express one’s sense of an election to find out one was wrong?

Such is the fear of saying “BJP is losing” and getting it wrong that one news channels had dropped its Bihar 2015 exit poll because the numbers for the BJP looked too bad. That was the only exit poll that turned out to be right! I’m told the BJP’s organised troll armies have folders on liberal journos so whenever a liberal journo says anything against BJP/RSS/Hindutva, the folder is opened and the key words come out. Among them is “you never get an election right”. 

It’s okay to get elections wrong because it’s a pretty damn tough thing to get them right, for many reasons. One reason people don’t appreciate enough that public mood can and does change over the course of the campaign, from phase to phase. Many top editors, especially in news channels, have an easier time getting elections right because they have access to exit poll data collected during phases. The putting out of such data is prohibited by the Election Commission before the last phase.

It is not the reporter’s job to predict elections but it is the media’s job to gauge and reflect public mood around an election. This is incredibly important for democracy for many reasons. It’s important to know why people are voting the way they are. If, for instance, there’s a controversy about elections being rigged, you will need the media’s documented sense of the election as a reference point.