Category Archives: Politics

It’s difficult for terrorism to survive without local support

The recent dastardly attack by Maoists reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my uncles. He was in the army when there was a great strife in the Naga regions of the country. The battles used to be bloody and cruel.

He was in the Sikh regiment perhaps (I cannot properly recall this). Many times the Nagas would capture Sikh soldiers, cut their heads, and leave the heads hanging from trees, tied with the decapitated soldiers’ long hair.

After that there would be a frenzy in the regiment, and they would go on a village-burning spree. He told me that most of the support for the warring Nagas, in terms of food and nightly lodgings, came from local villages, so these villages mostly became the targets of the army’s ire.

For every justified or unjustified uprising to sustain itself, the local support is invaluable. Without it it’s impossible to survive.

That’s why when local support in Punjab stopped, terrorism no longer remained an insurmountable problem.

It’s the same condition is Jammu and Kashmir: the extremists and terrorists get lots of support, whether voluntary or forced, from the locals. And so do Maoists. It’s very crucial to break that chain.

People in the areas of strife often complain that they get assaulted from both the sides: from terrorists and extremists for not providing enough support, and from the army and law enforcement agencies for helping terrorists and extremists.

The locals must be provided appropriate security and safeguards to isolate violent elements. In the harsh conditions of forests, barren lands and ice covered terrains, it will be difficult for them to survive even for a month.

In many cases the local population provides logistical support voluntarily, for example, in Kashmir, but there are also instances when they are threatened into compliance. Recently terrorists in Kashmir started threatening village sarpanches (village heads) and even killed a few to deter them from participating in the democratic processes of India. More than 40 sarpanches resigned en masse. It was a good opportunity for the Indian government to provide all possible security, if nothing else, then just to prove a point who is in the deciding position. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not availed.

The problem of insurgencies and terrorism, especially when the local population is embroiled too, must be tackled at three levels: neutralizing key trouble makers, cutting off local support, and providing maximum security to those who do not sympethize with terrorists and extremists active in their area. The third level is extremely important. Unless the situation is extreme, no local population wants to live in a permanent state of turmoil. Give them protection, give them reliable administration and deliver them swift justice, they’re always going to oppose extremist elements among themselves, unless it is a totally suicidal society.

India becoming Blockistan

Censorship in IndiaIndia’s tryst with censorship isn’t old. Whether it was religious censorship by Muslim rulers, political censorship by the British, or later on all pervasive censorship by our own politicians, we have had a nice stint with ideas, books, newspapers, and these days Twitter accounts and websites being censored and blocked.

The current spate of censorship had been expected for a long time. People in the mainstream media have always been at loggerheads with the free spirit of social networking websites that empowers everybody to express opinions and spread ideas. Mainstream media is nothing but the government machinery to suppress information, twist facts, confabulate public opinion and keep people generally in intellectual doldrums. Discourse is highly biased and debate is one-sided.

Twitter and Facebook, and before these, blogs, on the other hand, are like a whiff of fresh air. Information no longer belongs to those who control the media. Everybody can become a publisher and everybody can broadcast provided he or she can log onto the Internet and express consistently.

As soon as the UPA government came to power (with the Congress at its helm, of course) it began to curtail the freedom of bloggers by blocking widely used blogging services such as blogger.com. Within a couple of days the government realised it’s not as easy as it had thought and subsequently, had to retreat. Ever since then, it has been working towards creating various embargoes on the Internet.

People in the mainstream media of course have been gleefully recommending the curtailment. Social networking and blogging continuously make their job hard. The moment they try to spread some misinformation, it is countered by Twitter or blogs with factually correct information, often posted by people close to the ground. This way, the so-called intellectuals who have been running their propaganda for more than 60 years, are unable to do so.

In fact, according to the grapevine, some of these journalists approached the Prime Minister Office and asked for help, and hence the current blocking of websites and Twitter handles.

The recent Assam riots between Bodos and migrant Muslims from Bangladesh and the consequent upheaval among the Muslim community members gave the government an excuse to tighten its leash on freedom of speech. Journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai started blaming the social networking websites for spreading hate messages. This was a totally falsified campaign as:

  • Twitter, Facebook and right-wing blogs had not instigated violence between the two communities in Assam
  • The doctored photographs of Rohingiya Muslims being killed in Burma first appeared in an Urdu newspaper, and again, Twitter and Facebook and nothing to do with it
  • The violence proceeding a Muslim gathering in Azaad Maidan, Mumbai wasn’t directly instigated by Twitter users as most of the rioters don’t use Twitter and Facebook
  • It has now been established that all the inflammatory material that appeared on various websites actually came from Pakistani mischief mongers and people currently being targeted in India had no hand in it

Nonetheless, Twitter accounts tilting towards the majority community began to get blocked. According to this report in Economic Times,

ET has exclusively accessed government directives blocking Twitter handles and web pages.

The directive to block 16 Twitter handles were part of the notification sent out by the communications ministry on August 20. Only one of the twitter handles—@PM0India (the digit zero instead of alphabet O)—bears resemblance to the prime minister’s official account ‘@PMOIndia’.

The Twitter accounts of two journalists—columnist Kanchan Gupta and television journalist Shiv Aroor—are among those that have been blocked.

The directives only say that it has been decided to block these accounts. It does not quote any sections of the IT Act or any other law under which the decision to block the websites has been taken.

The other twitter handles that have been blocked include

Dosabandit (@dosabandit), Eagle Eye (@eagleeye47), Twitanic (@anilkohli54), Sangh Parivar (@sanghpariwar), Amit Paranjape (@aparanjape), Sumeet (@sumeetcj), Pravin Togadia (DrPravinTogadia), Panchajanya (@i_panchajanya), Barbarian Indian (@barbarindian), Scamsutra (@scamsutra), Ekakizunj (@ekakizunj) and redditindia (@redditindia).

There are many people, predictably, trying to downplay the entire situation. Many condescendingly talk about “fake revolutionaries” who have got nothing better to do.

To an extent it is true. It is much easier to raise your voice and protest on Twitter. It is also true that most of the people would choose to remain quiet the moment they have to face physical repercussions of their opinions. But many won’t. There is a reason every journalist, every agency, every government and every business has an account on Twitter or Facebook, or at least they have a blog. Why? Because there is an audience. If they didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be blocked. They are blocked because they tilt opinion. Twitter handles of vocal journalists like Kanchan Gupta got blocked because they wield a certain degree of influence. They have a reach.

This holds true for many people using Twitter and Facebook and their own blogs. Right now most of the people cannot make sense of what’s going on. That’s why, despite having active accounts on Twitter and Facebook, they are constantly deriding their users.

It is not easy to block information these days. Blocked accounts and websites can be easily accessed if you want to access them. There are many ways you can connect to the Internet even if your ISP blocks you individually. International media is waiting for such news. In fact that’s why within a few hours the blocked accounts are being unblocked.

Are we going to follow the footsteps of Pakistan and China and turn into a Blockistan? No matter how much it makes some of the English-speaking mainstream journalists happy, blocking isn’t possible, at least sustained blocking. The Internet has empowered the silent majority and there is going to be a big backlash if the government, or another agency tries to take this power back. In what form this backlash is going to manifest? It remains to be seen.

Team Anna should understand that it’s not the middle class that is the problem

It is now obvious that Team Anna is barking up the wrong tree, and that is assuming, it really means to bark and is not trying to manipulate the clueless Indian public. If it really means to root out corruption then it’s not the middle class it should focus on, but the vote bank that brings the corrupt politicians to power again and again, and that is Muslims and caste-sensitive voters. Traditionally, the middle class has normally been anti-Congress. Neither with Muslims nor with the poor and backward classes corruption is a big issue (it impacts them, no doubt, but somehow for them it is more important that leaders of the community come to power irrespective of what they do or don’t do for their community).

Precisely this is the reason why Congress, Muslim and caste politicians indulge in corruption so brazenly. They know that their vote banks are not bothered much by their corruption. They don’t care much about the middle class because anyway they don’t depend on it to remain in power.

So in this light, everything becomes meaningless unless you tackle the real issue. These are the classes that need to awaken and see what overwhelming corruption is costing them. Instead of organising fasts and dharnas in big metropolitan cities, they should go to the villages and small towns from where the cancer of corruption really metastasises. The middle class already reels under the juggernaut of corruption unleashed by Congress, realises it very well and hence scarcely votes for this party.

You may say then why Congress is in power in Delhi?

That’s because there is no viable alternative and you can blame it on the BJP. Delhi traditionally has been a BJP bastion but right now there are no publicly visible BJP leaders of considerable reckoning and this directly benefits Congress. That’s another issue.

The recent declaration by Team Anna that it is going to launch a political party has sounded alarm bells in concerned circles because indirectly it is going to benefit the Congress. Since Team Anna mostly targets the middle class and the middle class is mostly anti-Congress, whenever Team Anna becomes politically active it is going to eat into this very vote bank. So whatever votes go to anti-Congress parties will be now diluted by this new political entity. So the greatest beneficiary of this new political development is going to be Congress, the very party they seem to be fighting against. Doesn’t it sound like a conspiracy? At least to me it does.

If it is not a conspiracy, Team Anna should target rural India not the middle class. In fact, the team shouldn’t even target politicians, but people who keep on voting for these politicians — Muslim and caste vote banks in North India and regional vote banks in South India.

The saving grace could be that right now Team Anna doesn’t seem to have much direction. So they might not after all be able to become politically relevant and cause lasting damage.

Why do ministers “resign” when they are caught red-handed?

It sometimes feels that mainstream news channels have accepted de facto that corruption has become a part of Indian politics and so it is nothing more than political manoeuvring. Yesterday a reporter from IBNLIVE was talking about the impending resignation of 5-time Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh (who is now the Union Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises). The court recently established that the CD containing the recording of conversations between him, his wife and an IAS officer regarding a bribe is not fabricated. Of course the case will be pursued further and the Congress is saying that the charges are untrue. But this is not the point.

Have you ever seen a minister being sacked due to corruption charges and charges of malpractices? They very nobly meet the “President” of the party and submit their resignation, earning the so-called “moral high ground”. The news reporter talking about the affair on IBNLIVE said that this resignation would be a blessing in disguise for the minister who would now get more time to consolidate his base in the state. The bribing charges against the Minister was being talked about as if it was not a crime, but just a political development, a kind of reshuffling.

These corrupt ministers ceremoniously resign as if they are doing a favour to the country.

Why doesn’t the Indian electorate vote for the right reason

I was just reading this article on a village in Bihar that has no electricity, no water supply and none of the facilities we take for granted like a health centre or a school. And this village is represented by Lallu Prasad Yadav, a walking and talking political nuisance and windbag. So I was just wondering, why couldn’t these villagers vote for electricity, water supply and a school, instead of empty promises and perhaps bottles of country liquor? For instance, get us electricity and water supply within the next two months and we will vote for your party, something like that. Getting electricity and water to a village within a couple of months isn’t impossible.

Most of the goons like Lallu are elected to power not because of their work, but the useless stuff they distribute and the pathetic promises they make during pre-election campaigns. You might say but then these villagers deserve what they get but that is not the point. Ours is a highly patriarchal society so whatever the males of the village do, the children and the women have to bear the brunt. Once country liquor or lose cash is distributed among these men they do not only vote for the wrong people themselves, they also make the women and the young adults to vote for the same charlatans (assuming they are not threatened into voting for wrong candidates by the henchmen of these charlatans).

These silly people don’t understand that they are prolonging their misery by focusing on immediate gains. But is this the only story? Is it about silly and stupid and backward villagers constantly trapped in their own imprecation of ignorance and greed? It might be (and that’s why recently I suggested that illiterate people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, but the issue is debatable), but the problem is not confined to backward Bihari villages. Even among the intellectuals and the middle classes dwelling in the cities and towns, the same problem persists: either they don’t vote, or even when they do, they have no clue whom to vote for.

We are not aware in terms of our rights and responsibilities. We see elections as just days when we have to go and cast our votes and then flaunt that little mark on the tips of our fingers. We are not politically conscious and we don’t have strong opinions regarding our politicians. We don’t realise that these politicians impact the way we and our children live our lives and spend our days in this country.

Our current political mess is simply because we don’t vote for the right reason whether we are living in villages or cities. We either vote indifferently as if we couldn’t care less who comes to power because basically they are the same (very convenient) or we can be easily incited/enticed. Both these problems have attained an alarming state. The political class isn’t going to do anything about it because it works in their favour. The more indifferent you are, the more corruption they can indulge in with greater impunity because they know  that your indifference is going to help them maintain a political status quo. But what if all the candidates listed are basically of the same variety? This is why it is very important to fully support movements like Anna Hazare’s. He may sound a bit loony sometimes but the fundamental approach isn’t misplaced. He is raising all the issues whether rightly or wrongly, that we should be raising as concerned citizens. Take for instance the right to recall. But that is another topic.

So unless we start voting for the right reason we are never going to get the sort of politicians needed to give us a balanced growth.