O yes, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian Elections

Dear Hasan Minhaj,

Yes, brother, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian politics! Absolutely not. I totally agree with that but not for the reasons that were portrayed in the first couple of minutes of the show.

During my stay in the US, I did observe a general lack of understanding of India and Indian politics among the majority of Indians who have settled there since decades and your show was just a proof of that. I am not blaming but then somewhere the NRIs refuse to accept that lack of knowledge and feel entitled to speak up just because there are platforms available and there are listeners.
It was just sheer incomplete information, no understanding of the core issues of Indian society + politics and an extremely one-sided view of the issues, organizations, and the leaders.

Through this blog, I am just attempting to bring in some perspective to the topics covered. I am not the epicenter of the knowledge or insights but having closely following Indian politics till date and having witnessed, in person, BJP’s administration and Modi’s leadership while growing up in Gujarat and living in India up until 2015, I guess I do bring in some level of credibility.

1. Balakot Attack
About the Balakot attack, you failed to mention that Indian media has recently provided enough details about how the targets were actually hit as the latest satellite images show (Indian Air Force collates proof of strikes at Balakot camp80% bombs hit target: IAF gives satellite images to govt as proof of Balakot airstrike, Balakot airstrike: 80% bombs hit target, says IAF in proof submitted to govt).
The portrayal of the entire incident as their word vs our word is quite naive. If you follow the news, you would know that Pakistan has continuously denied access to the international media to the site of air strike (Pakistan continues blocking media access to IAF’s air strike site, Why does the media have no real access?, No access to Pakistan religious school that India says it bombed) but just touring them around the forests. Pakistani PM was also caught red-handed lying on television when he said Pakistan had captured two Indian air crafts in the dogfight that followed a few days after the air strike when the fact was the second plane was Pakistan’s F-16 itself and the pilot was badly beaten up by the locals (and is said to have died in the hospital later on). Pakistan has also failed to acknowledge this – which is terrible for a soldier who risked his life for the country.
And saying that the Indian government was exploiting Kashmir for elections is also a totally idiotic. Indian army conducted operations in Myanmar in 2015 and then in PoK in 2016 (in response to Uri attack). Even in 2016, the same excuse was given by the anti-India and anti-BJP folks that due to elections in Uttar Pradesh, this was done. The fact is that, in India, every year some 4-5 (or even more) states go into elections to elect a state government. So, it is common and easy to portray any positive step of the government as an election hoodwink.

2. Jobs
You spoke literally just for 10 seconds on this topic to give out a judgment. The fact of the matter is that this is one topic where there is significant confusion (just read these two articles: The reason India jobs data is not credible and The sharp debate on jobs data shows govt may arrive at a process for understanding India’s labour market) and making any conclusive statement is absolutely naive. There are plenty of data sources giving a variety of information but none of them covering the entire spectrum. Unlike the US, the UK, and many other western countries, India has never had any credible source of employment information. While the larger estimates do not favor the government at all – more confusion in this matter will only be detrimental to the government.

3. Demonetization
You showed a CPI worker (AIKS cap, red t-shirt and CPI flag in the background) criticizing the demonetization – so obvious. If you don’t know what AIKS is and the equation between CPI and BJP – research a bit. You, spending just above 60 seconds on the topic to conclude it as a failure is an absolute injustice to the topic itself because it was a very carefully planned exercise which had other aspects too – which was obviously ignored in the video – like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the closure of shell companies identified due to this exercise. You may want to read the following:
Govt cancelled 2.24 lakh suspected shell companies post demonetisation, disqualified 3.09 lakh directors, 2.09 lakh companies deregistered; directors face action, Black money accounts frozen, 2-3 lakh shell company owners now face up to 10 years jail.

If you really want to know what failure of demonetization looks like – just read about demonetization in Venezuela.
And while you talked about demonetization, you failed to mention the largest financial inclusion exercise carried out before that – the Jan Dhan accounts. While India received independence way back in 1947 and bank nationalizations happened in the 1969 and 1980, it still excluded more than half of the population from the financial system. While the numbers vary slightly from sources to sources, even by 2014, half or less than half of the Indian adults had a bank account. And, from there the number up to 80% and still counting. Yes, there are arguments that many (maybe a majority) of these newly opened accounts are dormant. But one also needs to take into consideration that any behavioral change in society takes persistent efforts and time. People who are habituated to deal in cash for 70 years post independence will not move to transact through their banks overnight.

4. Disenfranchisement of Immigrants
You mentioned the disenfranchisement of immigrants in Assam but failed to mention that these were illegal immigrants. It was also surprising that you missed out on some very basic details on NRC

  1. It was first prepared in 1951 to tackle the issue of illegal immigrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
  2. The current NRC exercise is a part of the Assam Accord that was signed by the then Congress PM in 1986, Late Rajiv Gandhi (you should have asked Shashi Tharoor about this) but was never implemented and
  3. The current exercise was mandated by the honorable Supreme Court of India on October 2013 (when Congress government was in power).

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh is a monstrous problem for both, West Bengal and Assam. It is being portrayed as Muslim immigrants (as if a particular religion is targeted) but they fail to mention that the immigrants come from Bangladesh which is 90% Islamic. Many governments, including this one, have been trying to arrive at a solution and a part of the solution is to send the illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh.

Yes, when the first list of National Register for Citizens was created, it did include some actual citizens as well but that was due to lack of documental evidence and there was a time period provided to such citizens to submit the relevant documents. Ironically, this whole infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh (and Rohingyas from Myanmar) totally contradicts the perception that minorities are not safe in India 🙂

5. Hindu Nationalism is not anti-Muslim
BJP talks about Hindu nationalism but that speaks of Hinduism as a value system – not religion. Every single scheme of the present government has been targeted to every single Indian irrespective of religion or caste – be it Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjawala Yojana, Aayushman Bharat, Make in India, Awaas Yojana and many others. This government is also the first one to introduce reservations based on economic status, rather than social status.
So, calling the current government as communal or anti-Muslim is highly ironic especially when compared to the previous Congress government that stated that a certain community has the first right on India’s resources. Some of the most perceived right-wing leaders like Subramanian Swamy has a Muslim son-in-law. He himself is married to a Parsi. The PM, in his addresses, always iterates 1.3 billion Indians instead of using a collective of religion or caste or anything else that divides India. Unfortunately, he and BJP often gets targeted and accused as anti-Muslim because, unlike other parties, they are not in the practice of appeasing minorities for votes. You may want to read this:
PMO intervenes to end Kerala disabled boy’s fight for education.

6. Affiliation with RSS
Regarding his affiliation with RSS, if you know about the RSS in detail as most of the Indians do, it becomes a source of confidence and not a source of concern. RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pretty much translates to National Volunteers Group – no reference to any particular religion or caste etc. Yes, the organization is primarily focused on the Hindu way of life and incorporating discipline into the Indian youth (the video that you showed of the physical exercises is essentially a part of inculcating the discipline). Having said that, RSS has been always forefront in carrying out relief work in any natural or man-made disasters – be it in Kashmir or Kerala. The organization has given some of the greatest and the most respected leaders India has seen post-Independence.
You might be surprised to know that RSS has many members from Muslims, Christian, and Sikh community and they understand the true philosophy of RSS. It also has a Muslim wing itself called RMM (Rashtriya Muslim Manch), a Sikh wing called Rashtriya Sikh Sangat (What brings Muslims, Christians and Sikhs to RSS? Why do they join the organization that is considered to be the antithesis of secular politics in India).
Time and again, the western media and public in general, has always failed to understand the Hinduism because they tend to see Hinduism from an Abrahamic lens. You should read the book “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines” by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan.

7. Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination
Regarding the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi – I know, for western media, Mahatma Gandhi is pretty much next to God – but research is required in understanding the background of the whole thing which the majority of Indian media and almost the entire of western media never took interest in and always talked about it in a superficial manner. I am not justifying the assassination – it was definitely wrong – but the reason for condemnation of assassination also matters as much as condemnation itself. I would suggest you watch this and try to get some perspective

8. Monk with a Gun
You mentioned “Monk with a Gun” but one needs to go back to understanding the history of India where this (weapons) was actually the part of the education. This is not something new. I have mentioned more about it here.
Regarding changing the names, it is not a change of the name per se. It is restoring the original names (not sure why nobody told you that). And it is not anti-Muslim for sure. It is anti-Mughal – the dark era in the history of India that was marred by systematic destruction of India’s vast natural resources, forced religious conversions, destruction of India’s agricultural strength, unjust and high taxes (including jizya), and many other atrocities by the Mughal invaders. Similar exercises have happened time and again. Just read here – Renaming of Cities in India. Again, it requires some good reading.

9. Lynchings
Regarding the lynchings, there are two major points. The narrative that it has been increasing since 2014 is wrong because 1) There is no credible data available that suggests that since 2014 there is an increase; 2) NCRB started reporting communal riots only after 2014 – so obviously there were no reported lynchings before 2014 since nobody was actually recording it; and 3) Mob lynching has been talked more since 2014 and has caught media attention but just because we come to know more about it now and not before doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist at the same scale earlier. Mob lynching is a result of a challenge that India faces in terms of law enforcement which is being tried to overcome since decades. I would suggest you watch this

You may also want to read this: Can Data Tell Us Whether Lynchings Have Gone Up Under Modi, And Should It Matter?

10. Democracy in Danger
When you say that Indians also feel that the “democracy is backsliding” – you show Yogendra Yadav who has been a classic anti-Modi person who will obviously say those things. If you don’t know the history of Yogendra Yadav, please read about him. Since 2014, there have been regular attempts to project that the Indian democracy is in danger under the present government (completely ignoring the fact that this is the government elected by citizens of India with a landslide victory – the first time in three decades. I would actually not consider 1984 because that landslide was driven by emotions rather than performance). Be it the award wapasi show, tukde tukde gang, intolerance debate or EVM drama. If you do not know about these terms, please read.

Again, I sincerely hope there wasn’t any agenda behind this episode. 29 minutes is a too short a time considering the breadth of the topics covered – which essentially meant quantity was prioritized over quality – and in this case misinformation or half-information was prioritized over a genuine talk.

If true, it’s sad that nobody from BJP opted to speak to you and you only received one-sided biased Leftist view of the Indian politics from Shashi Tharoor. He is a great orator but it was very sad to hear that he obviated corruption. But then it is nothing new – that has been the mentality of the Congress and many other parties since ages. When Rahul Gandhi was asked about dynastic politics at University of California, Berkeley, he just said “that’s the way India works” – in spite of having a present government that has not only opposed dynastic politics in words but also in practice. Just follow the news around the list of candidates they released for the upcoming general elections in India and the whole logic behind identifying the right candidate for the right constituency. They are demonstrating how democracy should actually work.

While talking about all other things, within one minute, you could have also covered this bullet point list:

  • India is the 6th largest economy (10th in 2012-2015) by nominal GDP (3rd by PPP) – World Bank
  • India jumped 57 places (134 to 77) in ease of doing business in just 4 years – Tradingeconomics.com | World Bank
  • The government went on to simplify the indirect taxation system by bringing everything under GST (Centre and State) and categorizing items to make some very essential items under 0% taxation.
  • The Indian PM received the Champion of the Earth from the United Nations for his bold environmental leadership on the global stage – United Nations Environment Programme
  • International Yoga Day was one resolution that received massive support (co-sponsorship) of 177 countries out of 193.
  • Sushma Swaraj was invited as a Chief Guest at OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) States – the first time since its inception in 1969 – and in spite of opposition from Pakistan – so much for the anti-Muslim government and the party.

Again, here, I may not have been able to cover everything in detail. I am not even sure if I spending so much time on writing this was even worth it. But this is something that ought to be done.

P.S. I also came across this video which has some brilliant points debunking myths spread around the western world about India. Great work by The Sham Sharma Show:

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Misplaced Protest

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Finally, after two weeks of unending protests, boycotts, vandalism and accusations, since its release, I managed to watch PK two weeks back. While I was already planning to watch it for sure, the protests that followed, added more spice to the entire plan. I am sure it did the same for millions as well who watched the movie. Unfortunately, I had been a bit too busy with my life which didn’t allow me to watch the movie early and then to complete this post on time.

There had been a lot of hue and cry (or should I say anger and violence!) over how it is an out and out anti-Hindu movie and highly offensive to the religious sentiments of the majority. In India, you can mess with anything but religion. And when your movie’s theme itself is satire on religious malpractices, you must expect firecrackers (metaphorically) irrespective of whether you are correct or not.

But this isn’t the first time. Before PK, it was, Oh My God. However, OMG did it in slightly less explicit manner than PK. Also, OMG was a little more balanced in terms of taking a dig at religious malpractices. Having said that, doesn’t mean that PK has been biased. Unfortunately, Rajkumar Hirani gave the ammunitions to the extremists by casting Amir Khan as a lead actor. That’s where OMG survived the ire with Paresh Rawal. But, at the same time, purely from the acting point of view, no other actor would have been as great as Amir to play the character of PK.  The movie rightly points out the religious malpractices rampant across the country which leads to so much waste of money, time and energy every day. That amount is way too high compared to what the movie has earned so far.

I came across the following, the other day, which makes a failed attempt to take a dig at PK.

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The only logical answer to this would be – Well, yes, do that and don’t watch the movie. If you are able to get the message the film wants to convey and follow it as well, without watching the movie, work is done for the makers of the movie anyway!

 

The Concept of Religion:

It needs to be said today that religion is for people and not the other way round. PK explained the concept very easily when the protagonist mentions that if you take away the religion from people, they will feel hopeless. Even if false, presence of God, gives them hope – a reason to live. But the question is – which GOD? Unfortunately, people who are into the business of religion don’t know the answer to this question – as shown in the movie when Saurabh Shukla was speechless. Such uncomfortable questions being asked through the movie will affect their business negatively and make their survival difficult – which led to such protests.

 

Religious Disrespect:

The unfortunate allegation on the movie is that it has been disrespectful to the religion. The truth that I see is that the movie is disrespectful to people who do business of religion – the character of Saurabh Shukla. But more unfortunate is the question by protestors is that why other religions are not maligned? It exposes a dangerous mentality that if rest of the religions were equally disrespected, it would have been fine? Hinduism says “ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” (Truth is one, there are many paths to reach there). This, inherently, assumes respect for all other faiths and non-tolerance to disrespect for any religion.

 

A Dig on Amir Khan:

The fact that 99% of the movie cast and crew are Hindus completely ridicules the allegations on Amir Khan. In addition, about 75-80% people who have watched the movie would be Hindus who have not found it offensive. The reason is that they are not the ones who are doing the business of religion. It is also the reason why the movie has been all time highest grossing till date.

 

Lord Shiva Scene:

I had heard a lot about the Lord Shiva scene that was alleged to be highly offensive to the Hindu community. Needless to say, when I watched that scene, all I could see is a person playing a character of Lord Shiva in a function and being chased by someone who thought he is the actual Lord Shiva. Imagine a situation where you show the photo of Lord Shiva to a 2-3 year boy and tell him that this God will solve all your problems. What reaction would you expect from him when he is in real trouble (say his toy is missing) and this person, playing a character of Lord Shiva, comes in front of him in the exact same get up that the kid saw in the photo?

 

To be honest, if one WANTS to get offended, she/he can get offended by every single movie. Every movie will show someone or the other in bad light. Here is the small list:

Pyaar Ka Punchnaama: Highly offensive to girls

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: Offensive to girls who don’t behave girly (SRK is never attracted to Kajol till she behaves like a girl)

Vivah: Strengthens the prejudice against dark skin girls

Dhoom Series: Offensive to Mumbai Police. Shows them in bad light every single time.

Hum Saath Saath Hai: Offensive to adopted children

Gangs of Wasseypur: Offensive to the people of Dhanbad

Rohit Shetty Movies: Offensive to car manufacturers

Sajid Khan Movies: Offensive to everyone

 

On a serious note and looking at the brighter side, sense has prevailed in the majority of the Indians and protested against the protests in a non-violent way by making the movie the greatest success of all times in the Indian cinema. That is the best answer Indians can give to religious intolerance that the country’s culture disapproves of.