By Rewriting India’s History, Hindutva Forces Meddling With India’s Present And Future

By Ashok Swain – In India, the on-going debate over the rewriting of the history reflects the intense conflict between competing visions of national identity that has overshadowed India’s public and political discourse for the past three decades.

India has a long record of quarreling over its own past, but for the last four years it seems like history has become a central theater of the political wars. There is nothing unusual to look to the past for answers to contemporary political projects and to seek the endorsement of history’s heroes. However, it becomes complicated and to same extent dangerous when these heroes and their ideologies are not presented based on facts but through manipulated messaging.

To complicate matters further, regime-sponsored historians are often approaching the past with both eyes on the majoritarian politics of the present regime.

One of the dangers of this politicized historiography project is that it uses the help of the dominant ideology of the present to find answer to the historical questions and, more importantly, tend to intentionally misinterpret the available pieces of evidence.

When historians do not scientifically interpret the evidence but get guided by political masters to manufacture a politically suitable version of history, it becomes a huge disservice both to the idea of history and to the health and character of country’s political debate.

Falsifications of historical evidence and symbols designed to discredit political rivals are universal features of the struggle for power. However, the really serious problem arises when a regime, intoxicated with a total control of political power, tries to extend this monopoly to the interpretation of history and to impose a prefabricated biased version of the history.

Nowhere else in the world is the fault-line so volatile between religious and ethnic groups as in India and it is becoming increasingly dangerous by Modi government’s obsessive desire and forceful plan to rewrite country’s history and manufacturing an interpretation, which suits its agenda for majoritarian politics. more>


Can India’s Biometric Identity Program Aadhaar Be Fixed?

By Jyoti Panday – The stakes in the Aadhaar case are huge, given the central government’s ambitions to export the underlying technology to other countries. Russia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand have expressed interest in implementing biometric identification system inspired by Aadhaar.

The Sri Lankan government has already made plans to introduce a biometric digital identity for citizens to access services, despite stiff opposition to the proposal, and similar plans are under consideration in PakistanNepal and Singapore.

The outcome of this hearing will impact the acceptance and adoption of biometric identity across the world.

At home in India, the need for biometric identity is staked on claims that it will improve government savings through efficient, targeted delivery of welfare. But in the years since its implementation, there is little evidence to back the government’s savings claims.

The architects of Aadhaar also invoke inclusion to justify the need for creating a centralized identity scheme. Yet, contrary to government claims, there is growing evidence of denial of services for lack of Aadhaar card, authentication failures that have led to death, starvation, denial of medical services and hospitalization, and denial of public utilities such as pensions, rations, and cooking gas.

During last week’s hearings , Aadhaar’s governing institution, the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), was forced to clarify that access to entitlements would be maintained until an adequate mechanism for authentication of identity was in place, issuing a statement that “no essential service or benefit should be denied to a genuine beneficiary for the want of Aadhaar.”

The UIDAI was established in 2009 by executive action as the sole decision-making authority for the allocation of resources, and contracting institutional arrangements for Aadhaar numbers. With no external or parliamentary oversight over its decision-making, UIDAI engaged in an opaque process of private contracting with foreign biometric service providers to provide technical support for the scheme.

The government later passed the Aadhaar Act in 2016 to legitimize UIDAI’s powers, but used a special maneuver that enabled it to bypass the House of Parliament, where the government lacked a majority, and prevented its examination by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The manner in which Aadhaar Act was passed further weakens the democratic legitimacy of the Aadhaar scheme as a whole.

It emerged during the Aadhaar hearings that UIDAI has neither access to, nor control of the source code of the software used for Aadhaar CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository). This means that to date there has been no independent audit of the software that could identify data-mining backdoors or security flaws.

The Indian public has also become concerned about the practices of the foreign companies embedded in the Aadhaar system. One of three contractors to UIDAI who were provided full access to classified biometric data stored in the Aadhaar database and permitted to “collect, use, transfer, store and process the data” was US-based L-1 Identity Solutions.

The company has since been acquired by a French company, Safran Technologies, which has been accused of hiding the provenance of code bought from a Russian firm to boost software performance of US law enforcement computers.

The company is also facing a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging it fraudulently took more than $1 billion from US law enforcement agencies.

By delegating the collection of citizens’ biometrics to private contractors, UIDAI created the scope for the enrollment procedure to be compromised. Hacks to work around the software and hardware soon emerged, and have been employed in scams using cloned fingerprints to create fake enrollments.

Corruption, bribery, and the creation of Aadhaar numbers with unverified, absent or false documents have also marred the rollout of the scheme. more>


Negotiating With Power?

By Santosh Desai – The is the reason why filing a First Information Report in India is so difficult; the possibility of a negotiated settlement often takes precedence over the application of the law.

Power when dangled over these situations has a way of pushing those involved towards a negotiated understanding; not surprisingly, the powerful and connected have the upper hand in such a situation.

The preservation of status quo in an environment of rules requires both an exaggerated formalization of rules as well as a great willingness to bend these in order to get a desired outcome. The apparent intractability of the rules is used as an incentive nudging those involved towards a negotiated settlement.

The success of this gambit depends on the ability to move dramatically between a position that argues that the rules are completely fixed to one that allows for complete flexibility just this once.

The use of power to cement existing reality rather than to alter it seems to be the motivation at work here. In theory, rules are rules, and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, no matter who is involved. In practice, this is far from being the case.

For starters, rules in India are constructed so that in many cases, it is virtually impossible to implement them blindly, so complex, onerous and far removed from reality are they. This makes rules contingent by necessity; and it is this flexibility in the application of rules that creates both corruption as well helps move things along.

But above all, it keeps a form of social order intact. The legislative and administrative systems in India are subservient to the social ecosystem, and work within its ambit. Power thus becomes a social instrument that needs to be brokered keeping the dominant interests in mind. The disinterested application of the law is not possible in a context where these interests take priority. Hierarchies are respected, networks are nurtured, money speaks loudly, and settlements are negotiated.

The idea of the ‘settlement’ which finds a measure of mutual self-interest being catered to is only thinly related to abstract notions of justice. The poor and weak ‘accept’ an unfair resolution because the alternative is much worse.

What are otherwise their rights become favors that they seek from the powerful for a price. The powerful build constituencies by creating a cumbersome system and then offering a way to navigate the same. more>


Can ‘Make in India’ work?

Why India is not going to be the next China – or anything like China ever

By Kanti Bajpai – Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he would promote a ‘Make in India’ revolution. Nearly four years later, a manufacturing revolution is nowhere in sight. Make in India was supposed to not just boost manufacturing, it was also supposed to generate employment. Estimates show there has been virtually no jobs growth.

To be a manufacturing power, a country needs a strong state which identifies niche areas, supports them and encourages innovation. It enforces contracts and property rights. It also provides public goods including law and order and an efficient bureaucracy.

Nobody would pretend that the Indian state is anywhere near being a strong state. It is often violent and despotic, but that is a measure of its weakness, not its strength.

India has no history of industrial-scale innovation – no world historical inventions that it has scaled up.

It is a trading nation and a nation that does well in areas that requires delicate craftsmanship and care, areas that are (for want of a better word) human in scale. It is also a nation that does well in providing services. It could, with better laws, incentives, and technology, be competitive in tourism, hospitality, fintech, and international education and healthcare – areas where human beings still count, where more personalized attention matters and where machines and scale are less important. more>


American lessons for India

By neglecting science and public welfare, the US is losing the marathon in some respects
By Dipankar Gupta – We look up to America for a number of good reasons. But there are a few cautionary tales as well, especially in the area of public spending.

The US, however, rarely looks outside its borders, east or west, for ideas. The Midwest, the country’s navel, is where it gazes most often. This is where elections are won or lost, and where homebred culture and cars are made.

Between 2000 and 2017 there have been as many as 25 train mishaps in the US, prompting the head of Amtrak to confess that the latest crash is a “wake up call”. It took 60 years, between 1940 to 1999, for 25 train accidents to happen, but only 15 years since to clock that number.

This graphically demonstrates how rapidly public railways have declined in America. We are not starting on the subject of the 56,000 US bridges that need urgent repair. This may sound and taste like India, but we are still talking America.

According to Mark Reutter of Progressive Policy Institute, in the first 13 years after 1956, as much as 46,350 km of interstate roadways were built and, tragically, 95,600 km of rail tracks taken out. In an ironic coincidence, 1956 was also the year when Japan started planning its high speed trains.

Railways have never won state support in the US after their heydays in the 1930s and 1940s. Politicians complain that trains will never make money, so why fund them? In Europe, the calculations are very different.

For example France’s prestigious, high speed TGV train service makes regular losses but gets government money anyway because the public benefits from it.

Not only does TGV reduce travel time, its wide network has also brought booms to towns, like Lille, that had gone bust in the 1950s. China’s high speed train system is also not a financial success, but the country is going ahead with planning a 500 kmph railway system anyway. more>


Ban, mandatory, compulsory: Three vile words increasingly define the modus operandi of India’s ruling politicians

By Ravi Shanker Kapoor – Something is rotten in the statecraft of India. Nothing else explains why three words – ‘ban,’ ‘mandatory,’ and ‘compulsory’ – are most widely used in not only governance and politics but also in public discourse. And not just the words; bans and mandatory requirements are also increasingly becoming a reality in what is supposedly the biggest democracy of the world.

The formulaic, quintessential Left-liberal explanation for this is simple: under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fascist proclivities of Hindutva are asserting themselves; hence the increasing use of coercive measures. QED.

But Modi didn’t invent coercion, mandatory measures and other illiberal practices. For instance, the draconian Section 66A was added to the Information Technology Act by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government; the incumbent regime supported it in the court, though.

BJP’s ideology and agenda are different from those of the grand old party. But its methodology is still defined by the three obnoxious words: ban beef, make Sanskrit and Vande Mataram compulsory in Rajasthan schools, make it mandatory for people to stand up while the national anthem is played, etc. Any resistance to and criticism of such measures is dismissed with disdain.

Persuasion, discussion, debate and compromise are and should be the hallmarks of a liberal democracy.

Why is it so? The primary reason is that governance, which is essentially a process involving a great deal of assiduity and patience, has been reduced to a hodgepodge of events, rhetoric, and clever messaging. more>


India’s Achilles heel: Bureaucracy

2G judgment indicates the nation’s civil servants are the real weak link in its governance
By Sanjiv Shankaran – Policies and guidelines which led up to the 2G allocation spanned two governments: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA and Manmohan Singh’s UPA. The common thread that binds them is the disappointing quality of work when it came to fleshing out details in policy. Given the ambiguous nature of guidelines and poor drafting, controversies are a foregone conclusion.

Poor drafting of legislation has been the bane of India’s legislative framework. The telecom rules were a particularly appalling case. Definitions of critical terms such as “associate companies” are not clear. It’s these aspects which come through in OP Saini’s judgment, making one wonder if we are looking in the right place for answers to what happened.

Some senior bureaucrats come in for adverse mention in the judgment. Former telecom secretary DS Mathur is regarded as evasive in his deposition. Consequently, his testimony is discarded by the court as he is considered an unreliable witness. Another bureaucrat, Pulok Chatterjee in the prime minister’s office, fails to meet a citizen’s legitimate expectations.

Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is shown up in poor light. Their incompetence is another incalculable cost imposed on society. more>


Why Congress should embrace religion and ignore charges of ‘soft Hindutva’

Times of India – Why traffic in religion at all? Because democracy demands it. The easy answer to the hardcore secularists is this: Indian politics is, and has always been mixed up with religion, because the majority of Indian people, our society and culture are still mixed up with religion. Unlike the hard secularism that emerged in Europe after the bloody conflicts that separated church and state, India’s softer secularism does not reject religion.

Our Constitution calls for a principled negotiation with it, rather than walling it off from the state. Secularism can easily coexist with religious sentiment — what it must oppose is communalism. Political parties, as the intermediaries between state and society, have to reach out to religious groups, which have a hold on voters.

If BJP makes a battleground out of Hinduism, Congress must be prepared to meet it there too, and assert its values. But it must be creative, not reactive.

It must not let others set the terms, because the sense of majoritarian injury can be bottomless.

Congress should engage with religion as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did — to use the spiritual reserves within it, to steer it towards social justice and empathy. ‘Soft Hinduism’ should be a badge of honor for Congress, because after all, Hinduism is not a weapon in the party’s hands. Whether Hinduism, Islam or any other faith, religion is a soft thing, to be held dear but not brandished in another’s face. more>


Listen to Babri Masjid’s ghost

It’s telling us that politics based on religious identity doesn’t work in the long run
By Sagarika Ghose – Since secularism lapsed into identity politics, it led inevitably to a reaction and mobilization in the form of a counter-identity, namely Hindutva. Identity politics in the form of secularism has extracted a heavy price and Congress is down to its lowest tally of 44 seats. Identity politics in the form of Hindutva looks triumphant but it too contains the seeds of its own destruction.

No state better illustrates Hindutva’s journey than Gujarat. Once a Congress bastion, the party streaked to a three-fourths majority in 1985 with the Madhavsinh Solanki crafted caste alliance known as KHAM. But zenith was followed by nadir. In the same year Rajiv sacked Solanki as chief minister and Congress was soon consigned to irrelevance.

After the riots, Hindutva won in 2002 and 2007, but in 2012, let’s face it, Hindutva took a back seat to the reinvented persona of Modi. The footsoldiers of the Ayodhya movement, kar sevaks, VHP and Bajrang Dal lost out in politics. Instead it was a superbly repackaged image of Modi as development guru (and Hindutva icon) who led the saffron juggernaut.

Sure, Hindutva in Gujarat and in the rest of India is fast being ‘normalized’. Today Muslims are at their lowest ever representation in Parliament. Gau rakshak attacks on suspected cattle traders across north India have gone largely unpunished, and the patriotism of Muslims is regularly questioned.

Yet even as Hindutva has grown strong, so have its challengers. Three young caste leaders in Gujarat – Jignesh, Alpesh and Hardik – have emerged as a powerful counterpoint to religious politics. Bengal’s didi is fighting Hindutva with her own brand of street power and Hindutva has failed to make a dent in Kerala.

Hindutva provides initial momentum, but dissipates over time unless there is a ‘plus’ factor that goes beyond religious polarization. The canny Indian voter gives identity politics a chance once, maybe twice, but over time turns her back on it if there’s no recognizable delivery of welfare, liberty and justice. When Congress-style secularism became about advancing sectional interests, the voter rejected it.

If Hindutva starts to become only about the identity of a few and becomes an assault on the individual liberties of the many, if the right to speak, dissent, make movies, write books, eat meat, dress, marry, love, or speak a language of one’s choice is threatened, Hindutva too will meet the same fate as ‘secularism’. more>


Disturbing debate on Rahul Gandhi’s Hindu-ness

India’s top national parties are reducing the importance of being Indian
By Robin David – You are not a Christian or a Parsi or a Muslim or a Jew. You are a non-Hindu.

Given the manner in which both parties are fighting over the issue, it seems that the ‘Hindu’ is an exclusive club for the privileged. To become a member, you have to meet the stiff criteria set by the club management and be ready for a rejection.

By questioning Rahul’s Hindu identity, the BJP has challenged his membership to the club and asked him to establish his credentials. Although BJP leaders haven’t said it in as many words, the implicit message is that Rahul does not deserve to ask for the votes of Hindus in Gujarat because his Hindu credentials are questionable.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra even demanded that Rahul “must say who he actually is”.

Congress, on the other hand, released Rahul’s photograph with a janeu to establish that he is a ‘janeu-dhari Hindu’. By putting the spotlight on his janeu, the Gandhi scion seems to be saying that he is more Hindu than most Hindus. He has also put on the backseat the identity of being an Indian.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this entire debate is the normalization of the idea that being a Hindu is the primary identity one is expected to have to make an impact in an election in this country.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Rahul is in fact a Christian. Does he in any way become less eligible to ask for votes from Indians who live in Gujarat? One would like to believe that 70 years after Independence, one’s Indian identity matters more than one’s religious identity in an election.

But going by this debate, it does not seem so. more>