In Gujarat, the Aam Aadmi Party has a historic opportunity

(This article first appeared in Gulf News on 17 June 2022.)

In the elections to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation in April, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with its allies won 58 out of 60 seats in April. Guess who won the remaining 2? No, not the opposition Congress party. It was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The AAP did not even contest all the seats. Apart from winning 2, they stood runner up in another 2. This is not a state where the party invested any energy. These 2 surprise seats in a civic body election tell you a larger story of Indian politics today: Indian voters are desperate to fill the vacuum a moribund Congress party is leaving behind.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Circa 2022 is a golden period for new parties and politicians. Anyone who has the patience and courage to play the long opposition game today will be rewarded in a decade or three.

Luckily for the AAP, it has virtually no challenge in pitching itself as the new main national opposition party. It can happen as soon as the 2024 general elections.

A historic opportunity

An important milestone in this regard will be the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections. The Congress has left the field open for the AAP. It is for Arvind Kejriwal to prove his mettle and win more seats and vote share than the Congress.

Despite significant traction, the AAP is at number three in Gujarat as of now. But it has at least 5 months to change that. There is little doubt the BJP will win the state, and it will likely be a handsome victory. The contest is for the number 2 spot.

If AAP can make itself the main opposition party in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, it will be a huge announcement of arrival. Across India, it will be clear to non- and anti-BJP voters that the Aam Aadmi Party is the new Congress.

The last time the Congress party won a majority in an election in Gujarat was in 1985. Most Indians alive today were not even born in 1985. Yet the Congress, by virtue of being the main opposition party, has won at least 35% votes every election.

Imagine the frustration if you are a Congress voter in Gujarat. You keep voting for Congress every election, knowing your party is going to lose. If in such a situation the AAP can’t even become the second largest party, the failure will be that of the AAP.

Urban desire

The maths of the BJP’s dominance is that it sweeps the large urban centres in and around Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat. And then it picks up a few rural and tribal belt seats. The Congress wins almost nothing in urban Gujarat, and does middlingly well in rural and tribal seats.

There is no state in India where the urban-rural divide is reflected as acutely in elections as in Gujarat. In urban Gujarat, the Congress is not weak, it is non-existent. It is tough to even find a Congress worker in many booths. It is therefore no surprise that like Assam, the initial traction for the Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat began from urban municipal elections.

In the municipal corporation elections in Gandhinagar, the state’s capital populated heavily with government employees, the AAP won 22% vote share last year. This was mostly at the cost of the Congress party, whose vote share fell from 47% to 28%. The AAP’s 21% vote-share converted into only one seat but it was nevertheless a huge signal that many Congress voters are looking for a better alternative to take on the BJP.

Similarly the AAP has won 28% vote-share in Surat, 17% in Rajkot, 8% in Bhavnagar and 7% in Ahmedabad municipal elections.

From city to state

Riding on these impressive debut performances in civic elections, the AAP has become a serious player in the state assembly elections, due in December this year.

However, it is as of now being seen as a ‘vote cutter’ and not a Congress demolisher. For the AAP to replace the Congress and become the main opposition party in a few months is a tough task, but not an impossible one.

The AAP could either do a campaign like Delhi 2013, in which it overnight replaced Congress with just a few months of campaigning. Or it could end up like Goa and Uttarakhand, where the initial buzz around AAP fizzled out as voters couldn’t see the possibility of AAP replacing Congress.

The hurdle for AAP is to impress the rural voters, especially farmers. It has smartly tied up with Chotubhai Vasava’s Bhartiya Tribal Party to impress the tribal voter.

The party is launching a campaign to demand free electricity with an eye on farmers, claiming that they don’t get uninterrupted electricity supply and alleging that Gujarat has the most expensive electricity in the country. Focusing on the under-developed and neglected Saurashtra region will be key.

AAP has structural weaknesses which it may not be able to overcome in a few months. Firstly, it is weak when it comes to building and strengthening the party organisation.

The national hype around AAP and its governance claims and massive advertising can only take them so far. It is workers who get out the vote. And it is recognisable, ‘winnable’ local faces whom people like to elect as their representatives in the state assembly.

AAP is not only weak on these counts, it faces an aggressive BJP out to poach AAP’s leadership across India to ensure it is unable to convert sentiment into votes.

Playing the cards right

Given the challenges it faces in Gujarat, this is a good election to test whether Arvind Kejriwal has matured as a politician. If he is smart, he will focus on 15-20 ‘winnable’ seats rather than worrying about declaring a CM candidate.

Nobody cares about the CM candidate unless they were going to have a personality cult campaign around that face. Neither their state chief Gopal Italia nor their star face Isudan Gadhvi have the ability to carry a personality cult campaign.

Convincing Gujarat’s voters that most non-BJP voters are voting for AAP is what it will take to become number 2. Arvind Kejriwal has the fire in the belly to pull this off, but does he have the ability and skills?

The AAP’s impressive performance in Punjab, winning a landslide victory, has also been explained away by critics as an exception. It is a Hindu minority state, both Akalis and Congress were unpopular, the BJP was hardly a factor, and so on.

If the AAP can show some magic in Gujarat, it can change the course of national politics.

India has achieved its population target. Why aren’t we celebrating?

If you grew up in India in the ‘90s you often heard the government slogan. “Hum Do Hamare Do”, meaning ‘We Two, Our Two’, urging families to have no more than two children each.

A just-released government study says India has achieved this aim. It is a mystery why we are not celebrating this landmark moment.

The just-released National Family Health Survey-5, a government study conducted in 2019-20, shows India’s total fertility rate (or average number of children produced by a woman) has come down to 2.0.

The replacement rate is 2.1, when it is said a population size is stabilised. Below 2.1, the size of the population starts shrinking. In other words, India no longer has to worry about population “explosion”. India’s population size should now start decreasing.

This is a huge win for population scientists, women’s rights activists and public health experts who managed to get the Indian government to shift its focus to maternal health, access to contraceptives and awareness campaigns in the ‘90s. Credit also goes to “ASHA” or Accredited Social Health Activists who have taken the revolution to the village doorstep.

A win for democracy

This was a policy of emancipation of women and enabling families to make their own decisions, rather than forcing family planning on people against their wishes.

To that extent, it is also a win for India’s democratic ideals. In some years, India’s population size may surpass China’s, because China’s total fertility rate is even lower than India’s (1.7 in 2020). But in a few decades, India will be facing the same problem as China, an ageing, shrinking population with not enough young people to add to workforce.

Democratic India has always had the impulse to force population control upon people. During Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975-77, her out-of-control son Sanjay Gandhi made the government forcibly sterilise some young men. The move is attributed to be the main reason why she lost the 1977 election.

Don’t despair for Bihar

The state-wide variations are fascinating. Only 5 states are above the replacement level of 2.1. These are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Manipur. Before you despair, it is to be noted that even these states have seen a significant decline and are well on their way to reach 2.1 in a few years. At least UP, Bihar and Jharkhand here are proof that family planning is proportional to literacy and access to health services.

When a woman can’t get an abortion or easy access to abortion pills or a poor labourer is not given free contraceptives at a government hospital, it is the failure of the government. India’s population “explosion” has been defeated with these policy interventions.

It is telling to look at the urban-rural difference. The total fertility rate of urban India according to the survey is 1.6, whereas rural India is 2.1. So while rural India has reached replacement rate, urban India is far below it. People today no longer need extra children to work as child labour. They increasingly see children as a financial responsibility, not to be undertaken lightly.

In Bihar, the worst performer with a TFR of 2.98, the rural TFR is 3.1 and the urban one is 2.4. In populous Uttar Pradesh, the urban TFR is 1.9 and rural is 2.5.

The Muslim bogey

Population “control” has long been used as a bogey against Muslims. Majoritarian extremists have spread the canard that Indian Muslims deliberately produce more kids to ensure India becomes a Muslim-majority country. Every 5 years, the National Family Health Survey has been proving this myth wrong.

The TFR for Indian Muslim women as a whole has fallen from 3.6 in 1998-99 to 2.36 in the latest survey (2019-20). Indian Muslims have seen the sharpest decline in the fertility rate. If their TFR is still slightly higher than national average, it is proof that they are socio-economically worse off.

Just like the states of UP and Bihar, the TFR of Indian Muslims is directly proportional to literacy, and access to maternal health and family planning services.

Demographic opportunity lost

This achievement should be a cause for national celebration because people have worried about population size for decades. The worry was always a little misplaced, because a young population also means cheap labour. India failed to exploit this “demographic dividend” by missing the manufacturing bus.

In some decades — sooner than you think — we will have the opposite problem. We will be ageing and poor, and politicians will face the pressure for better services for the elderly.

But for now, we should celebrate. Anyone who has walked on an Indian street can tell there are too many of us. It is a relief to know most Indians now want only one or two children.

(This article by Shivam Vij first appeared in Gulf News on 27 May 2022.)

The life and times of the 1.5 GB Indian

There are three Indias: India Unlimited, India Unconnected, and, in between those two, the India of 1.5 GB.

The Unlimited Indian has “unlimited” internet plans on both mobile and Wi-Fi. The allotted data is hundreds of GBs a month. It never runs out. It lets you keep binge-watching the streaming shows.

The Unlimited Indian is able to understand, even be comfortable with, the Unconnected Indian. Poor people who have neither literacy nor money to be on the internet.

The Unlimited Indian has a harder time understanding the 1.5 GB Indian — people with prepaid mobile internet plans that give them 1.5 GB data per day.

Cut your coat according to your cloth

Imagine watching a show and the data runs out just before the detective was to reveal the whodunnit. The Unlimited Indian thinks we have left behind such a shortage economy. In reality, most internet users in India live a life that is limited, rationed, allotted. The 1.5 GB limit defines their lives.

The universe tells them: these are your boundaries. You have to become another person to be unlimited. Try harder. Try again. Refresh. To go from 1.5 GB a day to limitless data is a rite of passage. You’ve joined the top echelons of Indian society.

The disconnect produces strange encounters. The unlimited Indian calls their domestic staff on Whatsapp, often because the unlimited Indian lives in a gated colony or a high-rise with poor mobile network. The rising rates of cancer have convinced the unlimited Indian that it’s the mobile towers which are causing abnormal cell growth in their bodies.

All the scientific fact-checks sound good but nobody wants to rent out their terrace in the posh colonies for a mobile tower. The poorer the mobile signal in urban India, the richer its occupants.

So the unlimited Indian uses fibre cables to call their domestic staff on WhatsApp. What time are you coming in today? The Unlimited Indian discovers she can’t get through to the domestic staff, who often turn off their mobile internet. They turn it on only when they need to use it. That’s how they make the 1.5 GB day last till midnight.

How to make 1.5 GB last full 24 hours

On their preferred search engine, YouTube, they use the audio-to-text option to find out: how many MBs in 1.5 GB? How does one make 1.5 GB data last a full day? What does one do if it runs out? Any tricks that don’t involve buying a special data pack?

Helpful videos in Indian languages, made by working class people looking to earn fame and dollars from YouTube, tell you to switch off auto-updates of apps, among other tricks to make your data last longer. Yet, it‘s tough to not be watching YouTube videos and wonder if the data will run out soon. It has to be preserved for better things.

When there’s a shortage of things, you have to prioritise. Often there’s only one smart phone and many sets of eyes at home. The working class patriarch reaches home at night, his wife and children waiting to get their hands on the smartphones.

They want to video call friends and family, watch the latest viral videos, or just the downloaded movie. Whether or not the man has left any data by dinner time can affect marital life and family harmony.

Watch later

For the Unlimited Indian, downloading songs and movies is a distant memory. Remember video players to run those movies? For the 1.5 GB Indian, streaming movies is a bad idea. They share pirated links on Telegram or other apps that let you know how many MBs a file is. (Apps that the Unlimited Indian hasn’t even heard of.)

That’s when they decide whether they want to download it today or there is something more important to do with the data.

The downloaded movies are watched later at leisure, without the stress of data running out. The sort of leisure with which the Unlimited Indian streams video online. The streaming apps have found a way to get into the hearts of the 1.5 GB Indian: they offer you free 28 day subscriptions with the 28 day recharge pack.

But the 1.5 GB Indian prefers to watch the downloaded movie files, often sharing it with friends via Bluetooth. Remember sharing media on Bluetooth? One man’s past is another man’s present.

The 1.5 GB Indian was put to a severe stress test when life went under lockdown. Free time at home needed more entertainment. Fine, watch TV. But children needed the internet for online classes. The Unlimited Indian’s children had online classes over Zoom. The limited, 1.5 GB Indian’s children had online ‘classes’ over WhatsApp groups.

What do you do when you have one phone and two children? You prioritise the male child, of course.

There are, of course, far too many WhatsApp chat groups. These are a nuisance when you are trying to conserve data. The 1.5 GB Indian thus exits WhatsApp groups faster and knows a WhatsApp setting the unlimited Indian does not: turn off auto-download of media on WhatsApp. They decide on a case to case basis whether they want to download a photo or video forwarded by a friend.

One smartphone, two children

Telecom companies quickly came up with special data packs for ‘work from home’ but data, like money, is never enough.

As the pandemic shrunk the economy, jobs were lost, there were people who went from unlimited to limited data. Incomes declined and jobs were lost, but online education, work from home and the anxiety of Covid needed more money to buy phones.

The cheapest smartphone could be more than what a daily wage labourer could make in a month, before Covid. India has among the cheapest internet access in the world — but cheap for whom?

Day dreaming with 1.5 GB

Yet it isn’t all that gloomy. The 1.5 GB data fills the lives of the aspirational Indian with great joy. He has the world in his hands, and instantly transfers money online without any fees. He hopes to go unlimited one day, and the smartphone will help him get there. Meanwhile, the unconnected Indian hopes to get to 1.5 GB a day to begin with.

The transition from one tier to another could take a generation. Who knows what technology may be like by that time? Perhaps the Wi-Fi-emitting fibre cables will reach the working class Indian in some years. We have nothing if we don’t have hope.

For now, he waits for the clock to strike 12 at night, so that the daily data limit is reset, and he could start dreaming with eyes wide open.

(This article by Shivam Vij first appeared in Gulf News on 21 October 2021.)

Narendra modi has become a prisoner of his own politics

Modi sees any retreat as surrender. Sometimes, not surrendering gets you taken hostage.

(Yamraj at India Gate. Illustration by Orijit Sen)

The ten years the Congress was in power, leading the UPA coalition, it used to be quick in making people resign to diffuse any scandal. Yet no resignation seemed to stem the political decline of UPA-2. Au contraire, the government only looked weaker for it. It looked like the government was pleading guilty and asking for forgiveness.

In the Modi-Shah system, firing people is rare. Even rarer is Modi going back on something because he is pressured to do so by the media or opposition. And apologising? Out of the question. 

In 2013-14, a section of the media was after Modi to apologise for the 2002 riots but Modi refused to do it. He would only have looked weaker for it, and liberals wouldn’t have forgiven him either.

Rare retreats

The incidents when Modi has made a retreat are so rare you can count them on your fingertips. There was the first act, amendments he wanted to make to the land acquisition law, which he dropped after Rahul Gandhi said Modi’s was a suit-boot ki sarkar. Since then, Modi hasn’t dropped any law. He enacts them through ordinance or last-minute surprise in parliament, causing a furore. If the public reaction makes the law untenable, he just doesn’t issue rules, putting the law in abeyance. Technically, nobody can say Modi’s gone back on CAA or the farm laws. They’re just not being implemented. 

When a junior minister, MJ Akbar, faced sexual harassment charges from a number of women journalists, the Modi government tried to hold off on sacking Akbar for many days. Eventually they had to do it only because the headlines won’t go away. The Himachal BJP chief was sacked recently on corruption charges, the Uttarakhand chief minister was changed because MLAs threatened revolt. 

Surrender is suicide 

These exceptions only prove the rule. Even as BJP chief ministers get low popularity ratings, they are not changed. Be it ML Khattar in Haryana, Vijay Rupani in Gujarat, Biplab Deb in Tripura — nobody is a liability for Modi and the BJP. Be it Sadhvi Pragya’s statements against Mahatma Gandhi or Devendra Fadnavis’ nephew getting an out of turn vaccination, nobody seems to have to pay a price. The economy may keep sliding but the finance minister won’t be changed. A Covid second wave may wreak havoc on Modi’s image but the health minister won’t be fired. Yogi Adityanath can oversee an incident like Hathras that threatens Modi’s Dalit outreach but he won’t be changed. Any sacking, any change, would be an acknowledgement of error. It would amount to capitulation. 

The Modi playbook doesn’t allow for capitulation. That makes him look weak. Not retreating makes him look strong. It makes people say, ‘Look how powerful he is, he gets away with so much’. He gets away with demonetisation and a poor implementation of GST, he gets away with unemployment and with hiding away an unemployment report, he gets away with rising fuel prices and with migrant labour dying while walking back home, thousands of kilometres. He gets away because he makes sure he doesn’t buckle under pressure and  finds a scapegoat. He doesn’t stand before reporters to offer a poor explanation. He just moves on to the next jazzy slogan. 

Sometimes you need to surrender 

Yet, Modi has now become a prisoner of his own politics. The idea that one must never come across as surrendering, is behind the crisis he finds himself in with the second wave of Covid. 

As the media and opposition demanded Modi to suspend rallies in West Bengal, he just wouldn’t do it. When people are worrying about Covid spreading through rally crowds, he was praising the size of the crowds. The least he could have done was to not extol the size of the crowd, but then he does it in every rally. In every election rally Modi says this is the biggest crowd ever, like Apple describes every new iPhone as the best iPhone ever. It’s Modi’s way of creating an election hawa for the BJP, so why should he not do it just because a few liberals are screaming about Covid? 

The SARS-COv-2 pathogen is not as predictable as our politicians. The cases and deaths started rising so fast, like a street dog who comes charging at you slyly and bites you from behind. Modi was sure the dog won’t bite because 1.6 lakh deaths wasn’t considered a dog bite. It was considered an achievement.

Modi needed to cut his losses, cancel his rallies for the fifth phase of the West Bengal election. But doing what critics want him to do would be conceding, retreating, capitulating, surrendering. And surrender is suicide. Doesn’t go with the logic of power. 

Yet Modi had to surrender anyway, because power ultimately needs the legitimacy of public opinion.

It was the same with the Kumbh in Haridwar, it was the same with opening up vaccination for 18+ people. The mutant forms of the virus have also upended Modi’s standard playbook. 

This time it’s different

Modi continues to make this mistake with the Central Vista redevelopment. It is clear that the making of a new capital for Modi’s vanity is not going to look good as Covid ravages India for many months ahead. But Modi’s script says he can’t let his critics have their way. It’s bad enough that Rahul Gandhi gets to say Modi is following his advice on Covid. If Modi retreats now on Central Vista, who will think of him as all-powerful? And if Modi doesn’t appear all powerful, how will we say there is nobody to replace him? How will anyone say ‘Aayega to Modi hi’? How will the leader appear invincible, inevitable? 

Yet this time, Modi is over-estimating his playbook. It’s not a lynching or a riot. It’s not one man lynched or even 1,000. This time it’s much, much bigger. And a new house for the prime minister, a new parliament to show off, a new row of government offices is not going to make Modi look powerful. It won’t have the legitimacy of public opinion. If we are still having elections, that will matter.

A building is set on fire. The Indian media and commentariat respond.

[This is a Whatsapp forward doing the rounds. I am not its author. I hope the people named below take it in its stride and are not offended at my posting this here. — Shivam]

The Hindu: Building set on fire

TOI and HT: Page 1 single column with 100 words on fire. Page 2 full page analysis of every fire and why we keep seeing fires. No one to blame.

Indian Express: Features the fire in the city pages.

The Wire: This is what is happening in Modi’s India. The building manager neglected his duty to go attend an RSS shakha.

ThePrint: What the building fire tells us about how well Modi understands Indian politics and how he is redefining it.

Quint: Here’s our video on who said what about the fire.

Scroll: Here’s a chronology of building fires since 2014.

Swarajya: As Vajpayeeji asked: Who started the fire?

OpIndia: Aag kaa badlaa aag.

ANI: ‘picture of shakha men dousing fire’.

AltNews: ANI uses old photo…

Rahul Kanwal: This fire is a masterstroke by BJP’s Chanakya strategists.

Sudhir Chaudhry: Rashtrawadi Zee News aapko bataeyga ki des ke kis kis gaddar ne yeh mag lagayi hai.

Amish Devgn: Kya sirf Hindu hi aag laga sakta hai? Kya mulleh-maulana aag nahi laga sakte? Aaj ki bahas. Kya.. kya kaha apne? Thodi to maryada rakhiye…

Rubiqa Liaquat: Modiji, aap to aag ki tarah athak sulagate rahte hain har samay, kabhii dhiimii aanch pe to kabhii prbal ujjwaltaa ke saath ke puure andhere kaa naash kar aag bhuja deN. aap thakte nahii hain?

ABP News: Kya alien ne lagayi thi aag? Janiye ABP news par.

Aaj Tak: Aag ke peecha Dawood Ibrahim ka haath.

India TV: Kiski bhatakti aatma ne lagayi yeh aag? India TV ne kari atma se do-took baat.

Navika Kumar: Viewers and friends, today Times Now has exclusively accessed Rhea Chakraborty’s private Whatsapp chats! Every third message by her to her friends says ‘lit’ with a fire emoji. Clearly proves her role in the fire.

Smita Prakash: Sources tell me the fire is a handiwork of anti-Modi forces.

Shishir Gupta: Revealed: How NSA Ajit Doval facilitated the paradropping of bravehearts from RSS at site of fire.

Praveen Swami: New group called Gali Mohalla Mujahideen had been planning fire, secret IB intercepts show…
…On the disaster that followed this hubris, the historian Thucydides wrote: “Sicily would fear us most if we never went there at all.” This, he explained, was because “that which is farthest off, and the reputation of which can least be tested, is the object of admiration”.

Arnab Goswami: Jalaa do inhe! Jalaa do! Ye aag nahii bujhegii friends! Ye aag nahii bujhegiiiiiiii!

Barkha Dutt: How I braved 1042 kms when I heard about the fire and could not stop my tears on the way thinking about the heartbreaking agony of the victims who have been singed in this singular catastrophe to have befallen north 24 Parganas

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: The duopoly of fire and water in a majoritarian democracy like India is a dangerous, unprecedented slide. It will take India decades to recover from it.

Abhijit Iyer Mitra: This is a new kind of threat. It’s ‘Fire Jihad’, and the libbie-lobby is whitewashing it.

Swati Chaturvedi: I had already exposed this fire in my book, people. Go read it. Here’s the link.

Rajdeep Sardesai: As Kishore da poignantly sang, Chinagri koii bhadke to saavan use bujhayye. Saavan jo agan lagaaye, use kaun bujhaaye. G’night friends. Shubhratri.

Karan Thapar: You may question why this fire took place. You may also question why a fire and not water. But can you question? I will now question the fire.

Shekhar Gupta: You may have seen all these reports on all these things and I’m sorry I’ve not been able to deal with it in Cut the Clutter earlier. But why is this an issue? For this we need to look at Indira Gandhi’s decision in 1975. (does jazz hands)

Rana Ayyub: I have some wonderful news to share. The International Fire Reporters Collective have just selected me for an award. Its an honour. I am humbled and will keep fighting untruths.

Sadanand Dhume: Unless Indian liberals come clean and condemn arson, such fires will keep taking place.

Yogendra Yadav: We need samnavaya and samvaad and not vivaad. English-speaking urban elite are incapable of comprehending it and need to introspect. Rashtra bhasha meN karnaa hogaa. KaThin hai prantuu ho saktaa hai

Vir Sanghvi: I interviewed Sonia Gandhi in Allahabad in 1999 and she told me Rajiv Gandhi was most concerned about the fires that plague India.

Ravish Kumar: Aag mein jhulajhte Huey gareeb kisan aur bhooke majdoor ki kahani kaun batayega? Kya Modi ji ke New India mein unki kahani raakh ke neechay dab ke reh jayegi?

Rohini Singh: Before I go to Khan Market and take one more selfie with my iPhone, will the UP Police please explain me why such fires are still taking place despite my Twitter activism against them?

Swapan Dasgupta: I was a firsthand witness to the fires that Sri Advani’s rath left in its wake – a reminder that historical wrongs need immediate and urgent redressal, as Nirad Babu reminded us quoting Churchill about the Great Fire of London 1666.

Aatish Taseer: I know what it’s like when a building is set on fire. It is this fire of hate that I lost my Pakistani father to. Did I tell you about my Pakistani father?

Aakar Patel: That one time when Hanuman set fire to the Dravidian Scholar Ravan’s Palace.

Devdutt Patnaik: Indians have long worshipped Agni, the Vedic fire god of the Vedas. Their refusal to take responsibility can directly be traced to this ancient practice

Shivam Vij: If only Rahul Gandhi had taken my advice and bought fire extinguishers…

Addendum based on suggestions after publication:

The News Minute: While an empty building set on fire in Delhi has become the centre of a national debate, what about fires that have caused severe devastation in South India? 20 years after Carlton towers….

R Jagganathan: The fire incident has to be studied with nuance. For one, it is not Indic enough.

Rahul Gandhi should adopt Modi’s scripted political communication style

Rahul Gandhi at a press conference | File photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint


By Shivam Vij for ThePrint, 30 April 2020

Rahul Gandhi’s 30-minute chat with ex-RBI governor Raghuram Rajan on a video call has made the former Congress president look better than any interview or press conference he has ever done.

He would do well to engage in many more such interactions on video call chats and put them out for public consumption. He could have such chats with Congress chief ministers and workers, with experts around the country and the world. This format suits Rahul Gandhi for many reasons. For one, it is not designed to make him face tough questions. Continue reading “Rahul Gandhi should adopt Modi’s scripted political communication style”

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”