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Analysis

RSS chief sets BJP’s electoral agenda

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RSS volunteers

There was never any doubt about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) anti-minority electoral gambits but the agenda has now been unambigiously and forcefully articulated by the party’s friend, philosopher and guide, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Delivering the organisation’s customary message on the occasion of Dussehra/Vijay Dashami, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has left no stone unturned about what the Narendra Modi government should immediately do — which is to start building the Ram temple in Ayodhya even by enacting an ordinance.

By pointedly ignoring the fact that the issue is currently before the Supreme Court, the RSS chief has taken the party and the Hindutva brotherhood to the days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s when the saffron storm-troopers used to say that the courts can have no say in a matter of faith.

Apart from a reiteration of this aggressive “religious” stance, Bhagwat’s directive to the BJP to get down to business and not dilly-dally any longer on building the temple has scrapped Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision in 1996 to put in cold storage the three “core” issues of the Sangh parivar — building the temple, doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and introducing a uniform civil code

That the negation of Vajpayee’s wishes has been done in the year of his death is not without significance. It remains to be seen whether the RSS will give any “advice” to the government on the two other issues — Article 370 and the uniform civil code.

But why the sudden hurry about constructing the temple? There may be two reasons. One is that it is the last throw of the dice by the party and the parivar in an election season to consolidate its vote bank of communal-minded Hindus at a time when the less than favourable economic scene may make sections of the liberal Hindus, who voted for the BJP in 2014, drift away.

The other is the realisation in the saffron brotherhood that it is now or never where the temple is concerned since the BJP is unlikely to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by it may get it, but it will not be easy for the BJP to persuade some of its allies such as the Janata Dal (United) — which has opposed the BJP’s favourite triple talaq ordinance — and the Akali Dal to endorse a construction programme which cannot but alienate the minorities.

Notwithstanding BJP president Amit Shah’s conviction that the party will reign for half a century, there may be an awareness in the organisation that the 2014 outcome was the result of several unforeseen events — the Congress’s sudden and somewhat inexplicable collapse and Modi’s emergence (against the wishes of several in his party) as some kind of a messiah. From this standpoint, 2019 will not be the same as 2014.

Ever since the party and the parivar sensed that the mantras of neither “achhe din” (good days) nor “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) is evoking a favourable response, the focus of the saffron propaganda has been on Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

Whether it is extending the scope of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from Assam to other states or the removal of long-established Muslim names in Uttar Pradesh like Mughalsarai and Allahabad, the BJP’s aim has been to send the message that Muslims will be under pressure to prove the genuiness of their citizenship and that India’s multi-cultural past will be erased as Hindu rashtra takes root.

Along with the direct and indirect offensive against Muslims, the parivar is also intent on confirming its Hindu credentials by opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on the grounds it violates centuries-old beliefs.

The Sabarimala episode enables the RSS and the BJP to try and kill two birds with one stone. One is to project themselves as the standard-bearers of Hinduism, and the other is to flaunt a defiance of the Supreme Court.

The court has aroused the saffron lobby’s ire ever since it delivered a series of “progressive” judgments (of which Sabarimala is one) such as the one upholding the rights of privacy, which the government argued was an elitist concept, and the other was to decriminalise homosexuality in a case from which the government recused itself evidently because while the legalisation went against the BJP’s crusty orthodoxy, the party could not afford to be seen as living in Victorian times.

Sabarimala has given an opportunity to the RSS and the BJP to defy the apex court and suggest that it is not right all the time. The defiance may have also been motivated by the #MeToo movement which has claimed the scalp of a Union minister and persuaded another minister to say that those who support the movement are “perverted”.

Among the others who also answer to the description of being perverted are the so-called “Urban Naxalites”, a new form of abuse coined by the RSS and the BJP for the Left-Liberals who have always been called anti-nationals. Not surprisingly, another of the RSS chief’s advice to the government was to keep the “Urban Naxalites” under surveillance.

It will be interesting to know what those “secularists” who interacted with the RSS recently like former President Pranab Mukherjee and the business tycoon, Ratan Tata, think of the pitch for the temple and the castigation of “Urban Naxalites”.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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