‘It will lead to the commodification of homosexuals’

Interview I conducted in 2009 after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality.

PURUSHOTHAMAN MULLOLI is general secretary of the Joint Action Council, Kannur-India (JACKINDIA) which intervened in the Section 377 case in the Delhi High Court. In an interview he explains his opposition to the case.

We are a 35 years old organization working on HIV-AIDS. I have myself been involved for the last 22 years. We started in Kannur, Kerala, but have been based in Delhi for ten years now to fight our battle at a national level.

What is your main opposition to the 377 case?
Homosexuals are branded by foreign-funded AIDS NGOs, such as the petitioner Naz Foundation in this case, as ‘high-risk groups’. This is not based on any study or scientific evidence. In our appeal we asked for evidence that homosexuals are a high-risk group. NACO was supposed to conduct a study that is till date incomplete and unpublished. The judgement and the media attention to it has completely ignored that the case was about AIDS. Homosexuals are already a marginalised group. If you brand them as high-risk then you further marginalize and degrade them. This is a violation of their human rights! Secondly, the NAZ contention was that they’re unable to work with homosexuals on safe sex because homosexuals go underground because of 377. They provide no evidence that homosexuals are going underground.

But at any rate, all that the judgement does is decriminalize private consensual homosexual sex. You don’t seem to be against that?
I am not against that at all. But 377 does not criminalise it at all! Read 377. It does not mention homosexuality at all. This is a fraud campaign that has been unleashed on this nation.

But 377 does criminalise all sex it says is against the “order of nature”?
But to prove that you need a victim and a witness. If it’s consensual there’s no case. Sow hy this fuss?

They say it is used for harassment.
But they don’t provide any evidence. Instead this is just going to divide the nation on the lines of sexual preferences!

But the judgement talks of diversity, inclusiveness.
No, on the contrary it produces a new class of people. This is like a reservation programme on the basis of sexual orientation.

But the judgement makes no special provisions for them, only allows consensual private sex.
But if you’re doing it in your home consensually where’s the victim to file the case? If you do it in Nehru Park then even heterosexual sex would be book for obscenity.

In that case the reading down of 377 is insignificant. Why are you opposing it?
It will lead to the commodification of homosexuals. That is a huge market waiting to exploit the opportunity. It’s a 15 billion dollars business. It ‘s a sex industry waiting to be exploited.

No, in India alone!

How did you get the figure?
It’s from a study that I will disclose at the right time.

But what will this business be like? And are you saying this was the motive of Naz Foundation?
Naz and others are the pimps of the sex industry. These are not GB Road like pimps but they pretend to be consultants. What will happen now is that they will open gay clubs and bars. That’s how the business will flourish.

But if there are straight clubs what’s the problem with gay clubs?
There will be prostitution all over. Gay sex is being allowed but there’s amovement of prostitutes demanding sex workers’ licence. If gay sex is being allowed why can’t prostitutes be given licences?

If prostitution is licensed then you will support the reading down of 377?
Then anything can happen. Then you can sit in your home and sell your father, sell your mother, negotiate the rates for your sister.

Coming back the AIDS argument, they say that this will help control AIDS by increasing awareness of safe sex amongst homosexuals.
But they don’t give any evidence. Five years into the case, NACO came up with a 21 pages long affidavit endorsing that homosexuals are a high-risk group but backed it with no study, no evidence. It’s a fraud of an affidavit. We have proven this in our report. NACO is anti-national.

But why is NACO doing this then?
Ask them. I am a villager and all I’m asking for is evidence of their claims. Do you know that till date there is no scientific reference of the isolation of the HIV virus, there’s no evidence that HIV causes AIDS, or that it is sexually transmitted? I’m just a villager. All I’m asking for is evidence of these claims.

But homosexuals are said to be high risk because of unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Give evidence.

You are virtually saying AIDS doesn’t exist, but you said you’ve been working on AIDS for 22 years. What have you been doing?
A lot. You will see when the time comes. Everyone’s clothes will be off, all the foregn-funded NGOs who make noise will be unmasked and their businesses exposed.

“It is male-to-male that is causing all the harm. Lesbians only end up in suicide.”

Bharatendu Prakash Singhal was a Hindutva ideologue, a retired IPS officer and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP. On a Sunday afternoon in 2009, I visited him to discuss his opposition to the decriminalization of gay sex by the Delhi High Court. He was preparing to appeal against it in the Supreme Court.

Singhal, brother of VHP leader Ashok Singhal, passed away in 2012. A shorter version of this interview had appeared in Open magazine.

Photo credit: Salman Usmani

So the judgement has not come in your favour.
What can you do when the judge does not even taken notice of what you have put forth as evidence? There is just one paragraph in connection with the averments made by us. There is massive propaganda from the other side, that they are being harassed under 377. In my 35 years in the IPS I saw not a single case registered under 377 and no case of police harassment.

If it is not used what’s the point in having it?
It is a paper tiger. It inhibits people from freely becoming homosexuals.

But what’s the point of having a law that is not to be implemented?
For implementation of any criminal law you need a complainant and a witness. Sodomy is being conducted in closed rooms and neither party will complain because it’s a mutual consent matter.

That is precisely what the High Court order applies to – consensual homosexual activity. What is the problem?
Now male-sex-male…

Or female with female?
No, we’re talking of male sex with male. 377 does not refer to lesbians or eunuchs.

Because it specifies that penetration has to take place.
Yes. They included eunuchs and all to give it the shape of a cause. This is fraud.

From your point of you only male-to-male is to be criminalised, lesbians are fine?
It is male-to-male that is causing all the harm. Lesbians only end up in suicide. Male-to-male breeds diseases. Female-to-female are harming themselves only. When lust takes over, men pick up boys, threaten them not to go to the police.

But if that’s been happening despite 377, so what good is the law?
It’s a paper tiger. 35 cases came to the courts in 140 years under IPC 377. It was not hurting anyone.

Another argument is that people who are gays feel that their desire, their very existence is being criminalised. Why? You don’t have to endorse it, but why do you to call it crime?
I have an urge to steal your motorcycle. Why should my desire be criminalised?

But in this case it’s consensual, it’s more like the lending of a motorcycle!
What about adultery – consenting adults? The whole question is that of morality in society, of social morals. That is the casualty.

The judgement recognises this, but quoting Ambedkar, it says laws cannot be governed by public morality. They are governed by Constitutional morality.
If the Constitution is lacking in enforcing public morality then there is something wrong with it or its interpretation. The Constitution prescribes not just fundamental rights but also duties. (Digs out his copy of the Constitution and reads.) Fundamental duties say, “Follow the noble ideas of our national struggle… to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture!” In this comes our public morality!

The high court judgement quotes Nehru as saying we are a nation that is inclusive.
Then we should not bother about arresting dacoits either. We should be inclusive.

Isn’t there a problem in equating homosexuality with dacoity?
Why? Homosexuals have also been transcending the law. How can you differentiate between the violation of one law and another?

In this case they’re saying the law is wrong.
That’s what they think, but so long as the law was there they had no business in indulging in it, but they were.

That’s why they challenged the law in court.
But all this while they’ve been violating a law equal to theft and dacoity! They talk of consenting adults, why should gambling be an offence? Five-seven consenting adults playing, what is wrong with it? What’s wrong with Sati, as a devout wife if someone wants to commit it?

But the argument about Sati is that public pressure forces the widow into Sati.
That is murder. (Narrates an example of a woman in Sitapur prevented from committing Sati, and the husband’s body didn’t burn completely despite a lot of effort.) She was not being forced and yet committed Sati.

Do you want Sati legalised?
I think it should be anybody’s freedom just like you want the right to sodomy! What suits you is okay…

You mean if Sati is legalised you will support consenting homosexual activity?
No! Sati was a crime because people were forcing widows to sit on the pyre. That is murder, not Sati. The rich heritage of our composite culture has to be taken care of…

That is fundamental duties in the Constitution, can’t be legally enforced unlike fundamental rights.
It is not possible to prove a negative thing in court.

Talking of heritage, scholar named Devdutt Patnaik has written about the presence of homosexuality and a broad-minded view of gender in ancient times.
Nobody denies it. But there was nothing loose about the morals.

According to one story he quotes, Shiva bathes in the Yamuna and becomes a gopi just to be able to dance with Krishna.
So what? Where is the immorality about it? When no other man is permitted there Shiva converts!

He says according to one’s karma one could be born as a man with a woman’s heart ot vice-versa.
I can’t understand this. Let’s focus on 377.

I’m talking of culture and heritage. The UK Hindu Council’s general secretary Anil Bhanot has welcomed the judgement and has said that Hindu scriptures describe the homosexual condition as a biological one and although they give parents advice on how to avoid a homosexual child during insemination, they do not condemn such children as unnatural.
In Manusmriti punishment was described for homosexuality…

Mild punishment.
Punishment was punishment even if it was to stand in the sun for a few hours.

Certainly not ten years in jail.
Those were ancient times.

Queer rights activist Ashok Row Kavi wrote a letter to the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan when the film Fire was being attacked. He wrote in the letter that LGBT communities have always existed in India since he time of the Vedas and the Puranas, and says that Hindu mythlogy regonises ten different male genders alone. He said Hindu religion has been more sophisticated on the question of gender than Western culture. He says 377 comes from St. James’ Bible!
When Manu has prescribed a punishment ages ago, you can’t play fraud by saying it’s Victorian. Progress is defined by the spiritual evolution one gains on the planet. Progress is not measured in terms of money or physical pleasure.

There’s this book, Same Sex Love in India, which says same-sex love has flourished in India since ancient times.
Aberrations can’t be quoted as flourishing. There was a survey by Wikipedia in 2004 of 44 countries asking if they would like this to be an offence. 83% in India opposed it! So that is our culture.

But recently, on the eve of the pride parade in Delhi, a newspaper survey said 51% people have no problem with homosexuals.
Neither do I! I don’t have any problem with homosexuals. Do you? Homosexuality has existed since the beginning of time, doesn’t mean it’s a healthy thing. The Center of Disease Control in the US has done a study on how homosexuality breeds diseases. Besides it’s completely unnatural. The anus is designed only for exit of things. It is not for entry. Therefore the mucus membrane of the anus is soft and can be torn with the slightest of rough material. Whereas the vaginal mucus membrane is tough. If it was natural the anal mucus membrane would have been equally tough. Secondly, when a woman is desirous of sex, the entire vaginal canal is irrigated by a very slimy fluid to make coitus pleasurable and easy. No such lubrication takes place in the anus.

Why is why gays use lubricants.
Yeah! Artificial lubricants! They’re doing an artificial job! You can’t call it natural.

Okay may be it’s unnatural.
That is all that our fight is.

But lots of things are unnatural. Like we’re not born with clothes but we wear them.
Why is obscenity a crime? It provokes. A nude woman will provoke so many boys on the street. It hits our culture.

But if people are doing it in private?
They were doing it in private already, who was stopping them?

377’s fear, guilt, criminality, harassment by the police.
That is all bogus and imaginary. I asked them, please give examples. They said there were any number of cased but the only example they ever had was the Lucknow example. I will tell you what happened in Lucknow. When the police raided this place in Lucknow, they were boys and boys, and they were supposed to be doing HIV-AIDS work, teaching them condom and all that sort of thing. The recovery memo shows video cassettes, explicit sodomy taking place, provoking them. There were all things that were promoting homosexuality. No condom was found, it was a gay orgy.  (Tries to find the Lucknow memo in his papers, instead hands over an internet printout of something else.) See, in America they do detailed study, unlike India. Risky behaviour, promiscuity, low life-span… You can say what’s the problem if they are reducing their life span but they’re infecting others.

But WHO, UNAIDS have all welcomed the high court order…
Remember this, USA controls WHO and has millions of dollars at stake in promoting this.

This document that you have given me for instance, from nationalmorality.com, has a lot to say about the Bible and family values. Seems to be coming from Christian evangelist propaganda.
And what you have given me is coming from gay propaganda!

Unprotected sex can spread AIDS amongst gay and straight alike. The argument is that decriminalising homosexuality helps NGOs like Naz work with homosexuals on safe sex.
The Lucknow case is a classic case where they were caught red-handed. There was not a whiff of AIDS control. Only pornography. Why do they need it for AIDS control. They were running a brothel. Which is still an offence, you may remove 377 but running a brothel is still an offence.

Sir somebody who says he’s gay and desires sex only with a man, is not attracted to women. What will you say to such a person?
What will you say to a person who says he wants to have sex with only a dog. They will say this is absurd, there’s no connection. Why not? It’s a question of physical attraction too. The moment you start talking of love it’s disgusting! You can say it’s a question of lust and I want to satisfy it. That’s okay.

There is indeed lust, and there are people who want to satisfy it with only their own sex.

They have been having it.

But you are against it.
No, not at all!

So what are you against?
I am against that anything be done openly which promotes and provokes others to follow it.

But if anything is obscene it’s illegal anyway.
Did you see the kind of obscene actions they did during the parade here? Did the police take any action?

Yours is a nuanced position.
I feel homosexuality is a crime against humanity. You may punish it or not. That is why it carries a strong stigma in society.

But if you are against homosexuality then don’t you want the loopholes in 377 done away with and prosecutions to go up and reduce the incidence of homosexuality in society?
No! There are so many things the government has to do. This is something society has to take care of. That is why there’s a stigma about homosexuals. (In a TV studio) one of the activists told me sir, when I walk on the street people call me (pauses to think) the Hindi word for catamite. He said they abuse me. I said if you indulge in it why do you consider it an abuse. You should wear it as a title!

Biometric-Wala: An encounter with the newly sought-after craftsman who fashions an identity for you—or, at least, a UID card

First published in The Caravanuid2.jpg, 1 October 2011

CONTRARY TO WHAT HIS NAME SUGGESTS, Bechu Lal Yadav, 29, isn’t a seller of goods. He is a recordist of identity. And he is among a new breed of technical professionals who have come up overnight—the Biometric-walas.

Originally from Bhadohi district of Uttar Pradesh, Bechu Lal makes biometric “smart” cards for zero balance bank accounts. They may resemble ATM cards, but in the absence of ATM machines in villages, the second embedded chip is used to verify the card through thumb impressions and record cash transactions. He owns a few such zero balance smart cards himself, and is proud of it.

Bechu Lal had been making these cards for the company eGramIT when the firm discovered an even bigger client than retail banks: the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Across the country, companies like eGramIT have been subcontracted by UID “registrars”, which fall into almost any kind of government department or agency, to help issue Aadhaar (12-digit identification) numbers.

For a brief period, he could be found at the Life Insurance Corporation of India in Lucknow helping people fill forms, be photographed, iris-scanned and fingerprinted. But after a so-called fight, about which he does not know much, the enrolment came to a standstill and he was sent to Lajpat Nagar in South Delhi for a month to lead a team.

His company has rented out a large hall in the Sitladevi temple complex in Lajpat Nagar. “We may be shifted out of here because we are now hearing it’s not allowed to have centres at temples or mosques,” he says. The enrolment centre opens at 10 am, but it’s also where Bechu Lal sleeps at night. Even before he is awake at 8 am, people start knocking on the door. “Can you accept our forms?” they ask. “Can I please wash my clothes?” he replies.

He and his team of five manage to enrol roughly 250 people a day. Restive crowds become angry—middle-class people want to push their way up the queue, leaving working-class people behind, and some kick up a fuss. But Bechu Lal never loses his cool—less because of his temperament and more because of a certain Mr Mittal from the temple board who sits at one end of the table and manages the crowds. “The people here are good,” says Bechu Lal. “In other places there’s a lot of fighting.”

People are dying to get themselves an Aadhaar card—sorry, number (UIDAI insists it’s not a card but a number, even though people will get cards). Coming from Lucknow, Bechu Lal claims that one driving factor behind the sense of urgency is the notion of a permanent ‘Delhi identity’. “People see that their fingerprints and eyes are being recorded, and it’s obvious to them there can be no identity card more foolproof than this,” he says.

Some people have even taken an entire day off from work to wait for hours to enrol. They fear that without the Aadhaar card they might not be able to receive subsidised food grain or be able to operate bank accounts, and perhaps even be asked to leave Delhi. “I don’t know if other cards will become obsolete,” he says. “It hasn’t even become operational.”

What will he do after everyone has been enrolled for Aadhaar? “No worries,” he says. “The biometric field has a lot of opportunities.”

Rumors on WhatsApp are leading to deaths in India. The messaging service must act.

First published in The Washington Post, 9 June 2018.

“Suspected child lifters are carrying sedatives, injections, spray, cotton and small towels. They speak Hindi, Bangla and Malyali. If you happen to see any stranger near your house immediately inform the local police as he could be a member of the child lifting gang,” said a message circulated in India on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app.

The message led to mob violence that killed seven people in Jharkhand state in eastern India last year.

Since then, the Indian government and WhatsApp have not been able to stop fake rumors on WhatsApp. The deaths continue. At least nine people have died this year in violence linked to WhatsApp messages including two men in the northeastern state of Assam last week. The men had stopped their motorcycle to ask for directions. The common thread in most of these cases has been a video — purporting to show a child kidnapping — being forwarded by one person to another, warning people to keep their children safe.

Victims in different parts of India have included a 55-year-old woman innocently offering sweets to a child; a man who unknowingly entered a mango orchard and didn’t speak the local language; a transgender person in Hyderabad; an a man whose only crime was that he seemed to be wandering aimlessly in a village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Despite the deaths, neither WhatsApp nor the Indian government has deemed it fit to warn the public against such rumors. The platform’s largest market is India, and as India heads into an election year, the misuse of WhatsApp, a critical platform for political parties, is likely to grow.

Facebook and WhatsApp cannot shrug off their responsibility. Both companies have said almost nothing publicly about the deaths. When people are losing their lives to rumors spread through WhatsApp, the company needs to not only say but also do something about it.

For many Indians, WhatsApp has become everything. Be it work, or catching up with friends, sharing jokes or participating in political conversations — everything happens on WhatsApp, much more than on Facebook or Twitter these days. The number of Internet users in India is about to hit half a billion this month. There has been a rapid increase, from 277 million users  in 2015 to 481 million in 2017 . The growth is faster in rural areas than in urban India. India has 200 million WhatsApp users, compared with 270 millionFacebook users. At a time when the Indian government is feared to have been increasing online surveillance, Indians prefer to trust the encryption of WhatsApp. The downside to these new adopters of the Internet, particularly in small towns and rural areas, is that many take everything they receive at face value. They don’t know that forwarded messages are to be taken with a pinch of salt, and be subjected to verification from trusted sources. The problem of fake news forwarded on WhatApp has grown so huge that mainstream news sources, top journalists and even politicians have been falling for hoaxes.

In Hyderabad, police marched through the city with loudspeakers asking people not to believe in rumors spread on social media. Some people have been arrested for forwarding false messages, too. In some states, the police are beginning to keep a watch on viral messages and videos online in general. The police are also beginning to design their own social media messages, spreading awareness against fake news and rumors through social media itself.

What makes the WhatsApp rumors particularly difficult to tackle is that WhatsApp is a secure, peer-to-peer platform. There is no link for a shared message, no database to search. Since it has end-to-end encryption, the company says it can’t look at the messages. The only server they are stored on is the user’s phone.

A U.S.-based spokeswoman from WhatsApp told me that users can contact the company from within the app, and even share screenshots with the company to report. “We’ve made it easy to block a phone number with just one tap — and are constantly evolving our tools to block automated content. We’re working to give people more control over private groups, which remain strictly limited in size. We’re also stepping up our education efforts so that people know about our safety features, as well as how to spot fake news and hoaxes.”

When asked whether WhatsApp had a responsibility in the deaths, I did not receive a response.

The platform needs to think of more innovative technological solutions to the problem. It should also join hands with the Indian government to spread awareness against its misuse. WhatsApp is rolling out a new feature that will let users know whether a message they have received was originally created or forwarded. This should help. The answer to WhatsApp’s problems will lie in WhatsApp itself. The company should disseminate videos educating people about how information flows on the Internet. There could be videos in various languages, by national celebrities and local public figures, which could be circulated on the app.

First-time Internet users need education about what they should and should not trust, and how they should verify what they receive. The Indian government can’t do this alone. WhatsApp and Facebook need to step up before more Indian lives are needlessly lost.

The Indian obsession with Pakistan has nothing to do with Pakistan

First published in The Friday Times, 3 August 2018.

It was funny to hear Imran Khan complain about being portrayed by the Indian media as “a Bollywood villain”. The Bollywood reference was endearing, a reminder of the things that bind us. But it was unexpected to hear the prime minister-designate complain about the Indian media in his first speech. By doing so, Imran Khan gave the Indian media way more importance than it deserves.

The impression that the Indian media is so influential in Pakistan boosts my ego as an Indian journalist.

Perhaps it helps Imran Khan’s popularity in Pakistan to be told that the Indian media dislikes him. The truth is that way too many Indians see Imran Khan fondly as the accomplished cricketer and the glamorous playboy, the heartthrob of the ‘70s. Any number of aunties will tell you how they would throng to the stadium to catch a glimpse of him.

Nobody thinks that any change of leadership in India or Pakistan can make any difference to the intractable conflict the two countries have been locked in. There has, for instance, been no substantive change in India-Pakistan relations since Manmohan Singh’s chair was occupied by Narendra Modi. Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister will not be able to change much, and we all know that. There will be more of the same: pretence of talking about talks, a terror attack or three, nasty exchanges at the United Nations and barbs over Kashmir.

This writer has only one request for Pakistanis: please stop taking the “Indian media” so seriously. It is not as if people who watch Arnab Goswami’s Repuberty TV take it seriously. It is entertainment, a farcical comedy. One day a Modibhakt friend (our ‘youthias’ are called Modibhakts and, yes, I have some such friends) was watching Repuberty TV and his dad entered the room. “Put on the news,” his dad said, with no hint of irony. The channel was changed to India Today. Repuberty TV is not even considered news. I call it Repuberty TV because it is Arnab Goswami trying to re-live his heydays from his earlier channel, Times Now, which has become so right-wing we now call it Times Cow.

I do not watch these channels. Not that I watch any channel because I am a cord-cutter. I don’t have a cable connection. I took out my dish antenna so violently one day my neighbours thought I was attacking Pakistan (just kidding!)

Noida to North Korea

Repuberty TV is unlikely to grow up anytime soon. Like Benjamin Button ageing backwards, our channels have been regressing with time. Donald Trump is shaking hands with Kim Jong, Narendra Modi is visiting Indonesian mosques, Rahul Gandhi is finally adulting, Pakistan has stopped having de jure coups, China is becoming the new US, Elon Musk is no longer cool…the only thing that’s regressing is the Indian media.

Repuberty TV and Times Cow will not grow up because, like their Hindi equivalents, they are fighting a race to the bottom. These channels, like the internet’s fake news industry, are competing to be more outrageous than the other. The more they shock, the more people will watch them. For TRPs, editors and owners of these channels will do anything.

The only thing they won’t do is go against the Modi government, because you don’t target Dear Leader in a democracy, not until he starts losing elections. This is why they have earned the moniker ‘North Korean channels.’ So the next time Imran Khan complains about the Indian media, he should clarify whether he is referring to North Korean channels or regular Noida studios.

It would be better, however, to not complain about them at all. There are some things that are a fact of life. We learn to ignore them, for better or worse, and focus on the good things in life. You can’t complain all the time about that garbage dump around the corner, for instance. At some point it gets ‘normalised’, to use the favourite word of 2018.

These North Korean channels exist like garbage dumps, they have great TRPs thanks to the money they pump into distribution, marketing and manipulating TRP numbers. That does not mean they are taken seriously. They have become so outlandish that they don’t serve well the cause of even being propaganda vehicles. A propaganda vehicle needs some modicum of credibility. Why will anyone trust some cartoon-like mad man shouting on TV all the time?

Pakistan as a real place

The truth is that almost no one in India cares about elections in Pakistan, who become prime minister, how free and fair the polls are, what the issues are – no, nothing. The hits on websites will tell you there’s been very little interest. The North Korean channels would bash not just Imran Khan but whoever won the election, because that’s their set script. Pakistan-bashing sells for its outrage value, not because people are actually interested in Pakistan.

Apart from the issue of terrorism and security, Indians have become indifferent to our western neighbour. Perhaps the same is true of Pakistani interest in India. We Indians are among the most inward looking people – our newspapers have the least coverage of foreign lands. That is what Pakistan has become: just another foreign country.

That may seem like a strange thing to say, given how many times we hear ‘Pakistan’ from Twitter trolls in India, and from politicians who keep invoking ‘Pakistan’ in domestic elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi does it too, every once in a while.

Sadly, the word ‘Pakistan’ in Indian politics is code for Indian Muslims. It is a metaphor, an idea, a ruse, a chimera, a mythical land, a place of the imagination, the other world, a different planet, a fantasy. The one thing it is not: a reference to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

So when an Indian politician says, “Pakistanis will burst crackers if I lose,” he’s trying to say the local Muslims are unpatriotic. When someone says, “Go to Pakistan if you want to eat beef,” he is trying to say Indian Muslims will have to live as per the diktats of Hindutva extremists.

As for Pakistan itself, no one cares. In the years to come, Imran Khan’s charismatic, if controversial, personality could perhaps change that. Here’s a quick-fix suggestion if he wants to become a Bollywood hero again: make the visa regime easier. Give a lot more visas. Unilaterally. Let Indians come and see the real Pakistan, as I did last winter. When they see your beautiful, colourful, diverse and warm country, they will realise how stupid they have been all this while.

To defeat Modi, the opposition needs to woo Nitish Kumar back

(First published in ThePrint, 3 July 2018.)

Nobody asked Nitish Kumar to join hands with the BJP. He did so on his own, blaming it on corruption charges against his deputy CM, Tejashwi Yadav. 

In truth it was a brazenly opportunist decision made with the calculation that the opposition had no prospect of dethroning Modi in 2019. “Nobody can defeat Modi in 2019,” Nitish Kumar had declared after switching sides.  Continue reading “To defeat Modi, the opposition needs to woo Nitish Kumar back”

The inside story of what Cambridge Analytica actually did in India

(First published in ThePrint, 27 March 2018.)

Alexander Nix and others of SCL Laboratories tried working in India on a project in 2011, but it collapsed in 2012 as Nix’s secret plan was accidentally outed. 

New Delhi: Cambridge Analytica, the controversial UK political consultancy, claims on its website that it worked on the Bihar assembly elections in 2010, and its clients won a landslide victory.

Formed in 2013, Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm is Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). It has worked in India through an Indian company called Strategic Communication Laboratories Private Limited. Company records show the firm has four directors: Alexander James Ashburner Nix, Alexander Waddington Oakes, Amrish Kumar Tyagi, and Avneesh Kumar Rai.

The first two are British citizens who were among the four co-founders of SCL in the UK in 2005. Amrish Tyagi is the son of Janata Dal (United) leader K.C. Tyagi. He also runs the firm Ovleno Business Intelligence, which now works with Cambridge Analytica in India.

But who is Avneesh Kumar Rai, the fourth director of SCL India? Continue reading “The inside story of what Cambridge Analytica actually did in India”