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 camp, 80% 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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Parzania – Review

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Parzania – Heaven & Hell on Earth

This movie had been into my list for long. Based on Godhra riots, this was probably the only movie in the last decade to have been banned in Gujarat. While the government, officially, did not ban it but cinema owners, in anticipation of violence, refused to screen it and the government did not provide any specific assurance to protect them in case such thing happens.

While I was not sure how correct or incorrect the decision was, it couldn’t be confirmed without watching the film. There were two major purposes to judge this movie – first, to judge the movie from the technical point of view if it did justice to the issue – and second, to see if there was anything in the movie that posed an eminent threat of violence in the state.

Objective 1:

It was one of the finest pieces of cinema I had seen in the last 10 years. Sarika and Naseeruddin Shah give their best performances till date along with all the other actors. There were some gripping moments in the movie which swings along three dimensions – the main story of Parzan, the conspiracy theory and the journey of Allen. The de-glam and de-dramatized (something which can’t be expected, had this movie been made by any Indian director, especially Prakash Jha) depiction of the events instantly connects with the audience and holds you to your breath till the end. Although, one spoiler in the movie is the stereotyping of the characters – the ministers, the police and the right wing extremists – which sometimes goes to the extent of being cheesy.

However, the movie offers some shots to ponder about.

  • Asif – because of few Muslims, the entire community gets disgraced

It was one of the scenes that projects how an entire community suffers because of act of few. This fact not only holds true across religions but also across nationalities, castes and states. The same scene also links to the conversation between Asif and Nikhat in the later part of the movie, where Nikhat explains Asif that replying back to the massacre by another massacre of innocent people is not the right way. Fight between few people of two communities should not consume lives of other innocents who live peacefully. If we really want to end this, question should be asked to the actual people who did this – and not with a sword or a gun in hand.

  • Plight of Chhagan – dilemma of humanity vs. own life

ImageWhile people might hate the character of Chhagan, in general, but I would believe there would be many who would understand his situation. When the rioters moved to kill him, he used his advantage of being a Hindu and was forced to help them to see them kill hundreds of people in front of his own eyes. The question we need to ask ourselves is what we would have done if we were at his place – as the dilemma is not whether you should be secular or not, but whether we put our life before others or the other way round. Majority of us would go for the first option – very well knowing that it will also put us in the same league as the culprits. And that was exactly what he said during his testimony in front of NHRC (National Human Rights Commission).

  • When a Hindu rioter saves the life of Nikhat

This was one of the most inexplicable scenes in the movie – even though it was merely about a 5 second shot without much of a dialog. It showed the presence of humanity even in chaos that prevailed. While emotionally, it was as touchy as it could have been but the message was not very clear on why it happened what it happened.

  • Conversation between Allen and Dr. Jairam Uncle on Gandhi’s response to 1919 Jaliawala Bagh massacre

ImageOne of the sub-plots of the movie, which was very well executed, was the story of Allen. Particularly, the scene between Allen and Dr. Jairam where he explains how, after Jaliawala Bagh massacre, Gandhi prevented himself from becoming a terrorist even with anarchy all around him or going into self-destruction but instead, he made himself stronger on his path of non-violence. Although it is very difficult to develop this kind of mentality for an average person who is struggling with the basic necessities of life and is not sure about his or his family’s security itself. However, it is the best right path to go about. I would deliberately use the “best right” since humans are the product of their surroundings and you cannot expect everyone to react in one single way nor you can say a particular reaction as absolutely right or wrong.

  • “Lord only gives a person a burden that they are strong enough to handle. That the burdens must fall somewhere in this world, and when they fall on you, it is not just a test but a symbol that life knows you have the strength to endure them. Never in my life I would’ve guessed that the religion can be both, the cause and the solution to the problem”

This is one of the best lines on life I have heard till date. While watching Shernaz holding together her family in the crisis while simultaneously swallow up the pain of her missing son, Allen realizes that a human receives only the amount of pain that he/she can endure. I am not sure how true it is. If it was completely true – there wouldn’t be any suicides. On the contrary, it probably depends on the amount of faith you have in God that your problems will definitely see an end one day and that everything will be alright.

  • Testimony of Shernaz in front of Human Rights Commission

There couldn’t have been a perfect end to the movie than this. It was one of the best performances I had seen on a movie screen. While Shernaz starting objectively describing the entire incident, it was a seamless transition to where she vented out her grief and emotional stress a mother goes through all the time while searching for her only son. The film effectively captures the grief of a father (Cyrus) as well – something Indian directors struggle to do.

ImageHowever, the dialog that struck me was “They were coming from all directions and it was impossible to go anywhere. We could not defend ourselves. We had no weapons. We were middle class families depending on Police to protect us and they did not do that”. It is very tragic that we Indians have to depend on our government and police to protect and defend ourselves and our families. There cannot be a more sorry state than this. Unfortunately, even the government does not encourage our citizens to self-defend. Why aren’t there mandatory self-defense classes in our schools? Why don’t we encourage women to have at least some kind of weapon in their purses instead of a makeup kit? Why don’t we educate our children on our rights as a citizen? Following non-violence is a good thing but when you’re out on your own in this world, only the power equality will be your key to survival.

Objective 2:

It was very difficult to decide whether the movie was a story teller or a conspiracy theory or a mix of both. The focus of the movie was to depict the plight of the family who lost their only son in the riots and how they have been doing everything they can to find him ever since. However, at times, the movie has drifted away from its original purpose, to portray that the entire incident was essentially right wing Hindu extremists’ conspiracy – completely discounting the train burning incident.

The movie shows the incidents of kerosene being ordered in large quantities in the city of Ahmedabad, saffron flags being placed outside Hindu houses to separate them from Muslim houses, adverts of Muslim businesses in plenty in the newspapers and Hindu extremists posing as population census officials just few days before the riots broke out. The director tries to tie together all this to build up a story that this was something the Hindu extremist groups had been planning for long and they just awaited an incident like Godhra to happen so that they can do, what is called “ethnic cleansing”.

However, plans cannot be made without set dates. In this case, the Human Rights Organizations call the train burning incident as a “spontaneous reaction” of minority groups against the eve teasing incident that happened on that fateful day at the Godhra Railway station, in spite of knowing the fact that:

  • The fire fighting system available in Godhra was weakened and its arrival at the place of incident willfully delayed by the mob with the open participation of a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal
  • The emergency brake was engaged by members of the mob, bringing the train to a halt
  • The coupling between the bogies S-6 and S-7 was subsequently cut and the doors of the bogeys were locked from outside and
  • 140 liters of petrol had been used to set the train on fire
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Godhra Station

On the other hand, the instant reaction within a day of the train burning incident has been termed as “well planned”. While the train burning incident can be planned knowing well that trains are scheduled to arrive on a particular day (if not particular time), how can reaction be planned? Did the right wing extremists knew in advance of when the train was going to get burned?

The movie also completely plays down the depiction of train burning incident while focusing only on depicting the other side of the story. Ideally, the director should not have got involved into the conspiracy theory itself, if the idea of the movie was to portray the story of a family who lost its dear one in the unfortunate massacre. Focusing the movie on what it is made for, would have made it a far better movie than what it is now.