The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 28-03-2023 | 01:45 pm
India’s political system is veering towards a full-blown tyranny. The targeting of Opposition leaders leading to the farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, the hounding of civil society and research organisations, censorship of information, the suppression of protest, are harbingers of a full-blown system of rule where all the interlocking parts add up to the one objective of tyrannical rule: To create pervasive fear.These actions are alarming, not because this or that leader has been targeted. They are alarming because the current BJP government is signaling not just that it will not tolerate the Opposition. It will not, under any circumstances, even contemplate or allow a smooth transition of power. For, what these actions reveal is a ruthless lust for power, combined with a determination to use any means to secure it. Neither the form of power the BJP seeks, nor the ends they deploy to achieve it, knows any constraints or bounds. That is the quintessential hallmark of tyranny.In a democracy, a smooth transition of power in a fair election requires several conditions. The ruthless crushing of the Opposition and the squelching of liberty erodes these conditions. The first is that professional politicians treat each other as members of the same profession, not as existential enemies to be vanquished by any means. Once a regime does that to its opponents, it fears the consequences of losing power. It can no longer rest in the comfortable belief that democracy is a game of rotating power; transitions should be routine. Can you now imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their minions calmly contemplating the prospect that they could ever be in the Opposition, after the hubris they have deployed against opponents and critics? The hallmark of tyrants is impunity in power and therefore an existential fear of losing it.The issue is not whether the government is popular. It may well be. Tyranny can be a stepchild of democracy, as Plato knew so well. The insatiable show and assertion of power the BJP is engaged in traps them in a logic where they will seek to create the conditions in which a fair and open contest is no longer possible. Their institutional imagination is paranoid — desperately trying to shut out even the slightest opening from which light might appear. What else but a paranoid system would target small think tanks or civil society organisations that do social service? What else but a paranoid system would appear to politically orchestrate a disqualification of an Opposition MP?And this same paranoia will make the prospect of even risking a fair electoral contest from now on a non-starter. Paranoia is the seed of all repression and we are now seeing it in full measure.Political parties that situate themselves as unique vanguards of a majoritarian national identity find it difficult to relinquish power. In normal politics there are many sides to an argument, and we can all pretend that different sides are acting in good faith even when we disagree. But when the ideological project is singularly communal and wears the garb of nationalism, every dissent is treated as treason. Ideological parties like the BJP will play by the electoral rules when they are not in a position to wield power, or when they feel electorally secure. But once this regime is entrenched, it will think it is its historical destiny to act as a kind of nationalist vanguard, no matter what the circumstances.In its own imagination, this nationalism will justify everything: From playing footloose with the law to outright violence. It has institutionalised vigilantism, violence and hate into the fabric of politics and the state. But this culture is not just difficult to dismantle. It is also part of a preparation to exercise other options in case a purely political hold on power is no longer possible. Parties that have institutionalised structures of violence are less likely to give up power unless they are massively repudiated.But the logic of tyranny goes further. Increasingly, the issue is not just the weaknesses of the Opposition parties. Even in the wake of this disqualification, Congress’s political reflexes, the willingness of its members to risk anything, and its ability to mobilise street power, is seriously in doubt. Opposition unity is still a chimera, more performative at the moment than real.But has the psychology of tyranny now been internalised by enough Indians to make resistance more difficult? India still has the potential for protest on many issues. But what is increasingly in doubt is whether India wishes to resist deepening authoritarianism.To take one example, India’s elites, broadly understood, have gone well past the quotidian fear of those in power. This kind of fear often expresses itself in a gap between public utterances and private beliefs. But what is happening is something far more insidious, where a combination of fear or outright support for government is so deeply internalised that even private demurring from blatantly authoritarian and communal actions has become rare. Ask any victim, who has been the object of the state’s wrath, whether they are at the receiving end of horrendous violence, or targets of administrative or legal harassment. Even the private shows of support will disappear as swiftly as the state intervenes. This suggests either a deep-seated cowardice or a normalisation of authoritarianism.The hallmark of a successful tyranny is to induce a sense of unreality in those who support it. This sense of unreality means no disconfirming evidence can dent their support for the regime. In this world, India has little unemployment, its institutions are fine, it has ascended to the glorious heights of world leadership, it has not ceded any territory to China, and there is no concentration of capital or regulatory capture. But the unreality centres mostly on the lynchpin of this system of tyranny, the prime minister. In his hands, repression becomes an act of purification, his hubris a mark of his ambition, his decimation of institutions a national service.Institutionally and psychologically, we are already inhabiting a tyranny, even if its violence is not in your face. A regime that is paranoid and full of impunity will overreach. But what is the threshold of overreach? The threshold seems to be shifting higher and higher. Communalism was unleashed. No reaction. The information order collapsed. No reaction. The judicial heart stopped beating. No reaction. The Opposition is being vanquished by unfair means. No reaction. Such is the logic of tyranny that the ogres of oppression roam free, while we look on indifferently as justice and freedom are tied in chains.
The wind was howling through the streets of Firozabad’s Sadhupur village — then in Mainpuri district — that chilly evening on December 30, 1981. The clock had struck 6 pm but it was pitch-black outside. Premwati, then just 30, sat in the dingy kitchen with her sons Harishankar, 12, and Kailash, 8, as her 14-year-old daughter Sukhdevi made rotis.Suddenly, two men entered the kitchen. A third man in a police uniform stood outside the main door as a lookout. For five minutes, the two men fired indiscriminately. Sukhdevi was shot in the stomach, Harishankar in the neck and Kailash in the chest and stomach — all three died on the spot.Somehow, Premwati survived. Shot in the leg, a walking stick would become her permanent companion. It would also become a stark reminder of the day when 10 persons, including six women, belonging to the Schedule Castes were massacred by men belonging to the gang led by dacoit Anar Singh Yadav.Nearly 42 years later — the creation of a new district in 1989 adding about 32 years to the long wait — a Firozabad court pronounced its judgment in the Sadhupur massacre case on May 31. While two of the accused — Anar and Japan Singh — died during the pendency of the case, 90-year-old Ganga Dayal, who was convicted under Sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), was sentenced to life imprisonment and also fined Rs 50,000.“Is this what justice looks like? I spent my whole life waiting for justice. And I get justice now?” cried Premwati, 72, as she sat next to her husband Ram Bharose, 82, in the very house where her children were shot dead nearly four decades ago.The new districtFirozabad district general counsel Rajeev Upadhyay, who appeared for the victims, said the creation of a new district in 1989 delayed the verdict as a lot of time was spent on deciding where the trial should take place.“When this incident happened, the Shikohabad police station (under whose jurisdiction Sadhupur village fell) was in Mainpuri district. In 1989, the Firozabad district was formed and Shikohabad became a part of the new district. Because the case had already started in Mainpuri district, there were arguments over which district court should hear this matter,” said Upadhyay, adding, “It was a while before the (Allahabad) High Court chose the Firozabad court. After that, the accused kept seeking adjournments. That delayed the case further.”As she recalls the carnage, her eyes filling with tears, her throat choking up and her lips trembling, Premwati said, “Everything happened so fast. For a moment, I could not understand what was happening. I was completely numb. I didn’t feel any pain despite being shot in the leg. They just started shooting. They didn’t ask us anything. They didn’t give us a chance to speak. All I can remember is someone saying, ‘Chalo, ho gaya kaam (Let’s go. It’s done)’.”Half of Premwati’s family was wiped out that day. The only survivors were Ram Bharose, Premwati and their son Mahendra Singh, then just 2. Now 44, Mahendra survived only because he was lying in another room that evening. Ram Bharose, who lost his eyesight nearly 10 years after the incident, survived only because he was at a neighbour’s house. The wizened man recalled running towards his house as soon as he heard the unending pop of bullets.Mahendra, who works as a labourer to support his family of seven — his wife, six daughters and one son — said, “The government promised jobs on compassionate grounds to each victim’s family members. I have been trying to get that job since I turned 18. I have written multiple letters to the government. In response, I am sent from one office to another.”Two of Mahendra’s siblings — a brother and a sister who were born after the shooting — too failed to secure the promised job.A few houses away, Ram Naresh said he had only heard about how his 60-year-old grandmother Chameli Devi was gunned down that day. The 36-year-old grew up listening to stories from his father Ram Ratan about her brutal massacre. He said his father died last year and with him died the fight for the promised job on compassionate grounds. Ram Naresh said his father was appointed as a peon for just one year.“He was appointed as a peon at a regional employment office in Agra (over 80 km from the village) in 1982 but dismissed a year later. No explanation was given for his removal,” said Ram Naresh, showing multiple letters written by his father to the district administration seeking the reason for his dismissal. He added, “Four people were given jobs on compassionate grounds but only two still continue to hold their posts. The others were removed without any explanation.”In response to the Firozabad Additional District Magistrate seeking a clarification, a letter dated July 6, 2009, by the regional employment office of Agra division states that Ram Ratan’s services were terminated on “28.02.1983 due to non-receipt of order from the Government/Directorate to maintain the continuity of the post”.That night continues to haunt 58-year-old Kishan Swaroop. A boy of mere 16, he saved his life that night by diving under a cot as soon as he heard the gunfire. He lost three members of his family that day and a fire later consumed almost every document and all photographs of the deceased persons. All Swaroop has to remember them by is an undated newspaper cutting, yellow with age, showing a photograph of his brother Suresh’s body. The photo caption states: “18 year old Suresh: What was my fault?”One of the main witnesses in the case, Swaroop said, “I heard gunfire in my street. I ran inside the house and hid under the cot. A kerosene lamp was lit inside. That’s how I saw the dacoits. Three of them entered the house and opened fire. They killed my brother Suresh (18), my mother Parvati (60) and sister-in-law Sheela Devi (28).”In days that followed, Swaroop said, the village turned into a fortress due to the arrival of state and national leaders such as former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, then Union Home Minister Giani Zail Singh and then UP Chief Minister VP Singh. Two other VIP visitors — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chandrashekhar — would go on to become Prime Ministers.“Since the dacoits had attacked us taking advantage of the darkness — there was no electricity in the village at that time — the government promised the village free electricity for life. The government kept its word for a while. Now, almost four decades later, we are being given electricity bills. The administration has threatened to put us in jail if we don’t pay up. This is like putting salt on our wounds,” said Swaroop.Bhagwan Singh was just a toddler when his grandmother Saguna Devi, aunt Sheela Devi and uncle Suresh were shot in cold blood. The 44-year-old said, “This (the murders) happened because of hatred against the Jatavs. Even today, the Jatavs have a separate cremation ground. We cannot even burn our dead on the same ground as the other castes. When this massacre happened, the leaders promised a memorial for the deceased. That promise still remains unfulfilled.”He added, “The incident continues to haunt us to date. We are victims of one of the biggest caste crimes in the country but the government hasn’t given us the promised jobs. In fact, even basic amenities like water and sanitation have not been implemented in the village. This treatment is shameful.”The Indian Express also reached out to Ganga Dayal’s family. After the shooting, he left his ancestral village Gadh Dansahy, around 25 km from Sadhupur, and moved nearly 50 km away to Nangla Khar village. To a question on caste discrimination, Ganga Dayal’s eldest son Jai Praksh, 62, a farmer in Nangla Khar, said, “There may be casteism everywhere, but we do not discriminate on the basis of caste.”Despite the conviction, Jai Praksh continues to believe that his father is innocent. He said, “My father was not in Sadhupur that day. Due to personal enmity, someone got his name put in the police complaint. The administration has put an old man in jail since May 31. We will file an appeal.”In the order dated May 31, Session judge Harvir Singh of the Firozabad District and Sessions Court said, “The evidence produced by the prosecution in this case establishes the presence of the accused (Ganga Dayal) at the place of occurrence. The statements of eyewitnesses establish the fact that when the accused came to their house, they were present inside and saw them. The evidence presented by the prosecution does not indicate any conclusion other than the guilt of the accused Ganga Dayal.”The aftermath of the massacreAfter the sound of gunfire in the village died, Sadhupur village pradhan Munichandra immediately despatched someone to inform the Assistant Station Master (ASM) of Makkhanpur railway station about the carnage. The ASM passed on the information to DC Gautam, the then Chief Clerk of Shikohabad railway station, located around 15 km from the village. Gautam hurriedly called up the police. On the basis of that telephonic conversation, the Shikohabad police station registered an FIR around 9.15 pm against Anar, Japan and Ganga Dayal.Ramesh Chandra, a witness in the case from the nearby Shivram Gadhi village, said that on the eve of the Sadhupur massacre, Anar and his gang threatened him into providing them shelter for the night.“I was sleeping outside my house. It was around 1 am. Three men came to me and said they wanted to stay there for the night. Out of fear, I gave them space to stay and locked the gate from outside,” Chandra said in his witness statement in court.He added, “The next day, Anar Singh asked me to get a blank paper and pen. He said he would topple the government and commit such a massacre that CO Tyagi (Shikohabad Circle Officer Ramsharan Tyagi) would learn a tough lesson. Anar Singh kept on speaking and I kept on writing. He made me sign the letter. When I asked him what he planned to do with the letter, he said he would see how (UP CM) VP Singh and CO Tyagi would hold on to their positions after this letter. Then, Anar Singh put his stamp on the letter.”Raghuvir, now 61 years old, shows the said letter — which he got laminated since it was an important proof of the crime — that the gang left in a village gali after the murders. Initial paragraphs in the letter express Anar’s anger over the “persecution” of his relatives by “arresting innocent people and keeping them in the police station for 20-20 days”. The letter vows that “there will be more crime” because of this “harassment”.The letter was examined by handwriting expert Shiv Prasad Mishra, who proved that it was genuine. Taking the letter on record, the court said, “Accused Anar Singh (deceased) had enmity with Shikohabad Circle Officer Mr. Tyagi and he had the impression that the poor people were being tortured by the government. In this sequence, this act has been done by waging war against the government, in which ten people died, while the dead people had no fault in any way, but to prove their supremacy, Anar Singh and his other members fired indiscriminately on helpless people.”Sadhupur shooting was the second attack on members of the SC community in the district. On November 18, 1981, 24 people belonging to the Jatav community were murdered in Deoli village, around 30 km from Sadhupur, by a gang of 16 armed attackers led by two Thakur youths wearing fake police uniforms.Raghuvir remembers the visit by Savita Ambedkar, the wife of Dalit rights champion BR Ambedkar, to the village after the massacre. There were talks by the victims’ kin regarding leaving the village but Savita Ambedkar inspired them to stay put and fight for their rights.“I was around 18 then. In that one visit, she left a huge impact on us. She said, ‘If you go somewhere else, what will you do when people there attack you too? Will you run away from there also? This is not the solution. Stay in your home, fight or die, but don’t leave it’. So they stayed and fought back,” said Raghuvir.Despite the deaths and the verdict, much remains the same in the village even today. Bhagwan added, “Caste discrimination is very much prevalent here even now. Even today, when we have a dispute with the Yadavs on any issue, they taunt us by saying, ‘Bhul gaye kya woh din (have you forgotten that day)?’.”
After years of teasing around with the idea of joining politics — the conversation would come up before the release of several of his films — Tamil superstar Vijay may finally be taking the plunge. Sources close to the actor said he was looking to launch his party following the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and may contest the 2026 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls.All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyyakam is an organisation of fans of Vijay, who goes by the screen moniker Thalapathy or leader. All of the star’s activities outside of films, which include social welfare programmes, are conducted under the banner. And it is through the organisation, which has members across all districts of Tamil Nadu, that Vijay is doing the groundwork before he makes a decision.“Everything needed to start a political party is being done now. Our fans are currently being energised with specific local tasks and programmes. Basic data collection from all districts concerning voters and key issues is being carried out. Some agencies are being contacted for future predictions of issues and agendas. There is no fixed date for the party’s launch, but it will be after Lok Sabha elections. He has made up his mind,” a senior member of the Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyyakam said.Sources close to him in the film industry said Vijay would not headlong push into the 2024 Lok Sabha elections but plan gradually.Detailing the actor’s plan, they said: “His father (director S A Chandrasekhar) initiated his political plans in 2009 when the fan group was formed. Vijay has always been uncertain and unsure about his political destiny. In 2021, he told us privately that he might not consider politics until a significant political vacuum arises in the state. However, his current move (of starting groundwork) might be to advance his plans, indicating a decision to join state politics currently dominated by (Chief Minister) M K Stalin and (AIADMK leader) Edappadi K Palaniswami.”Another friend said Vijay was preparing for the 2026 Assembly polls. “It (joining politics) requires significant effort and time. But he believes he has a space here, especially with the gradual retreat of DMDK leader Captain Vijayakanth (a yesteryear Tamil star), and Rajinikanth’s decision to abort his political plans,” the friend said, also referring to “the larger political void in the state following the deaths of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and former chief minister J Jayalalithaa”,Asked if the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections would decide Vijay’s plans, the friend said that would not be the case. “It is not about who is in power in Delhi.” However, the friend added, “the growth and resurgence of the Congress in a post-election scenario will influence his decision”.Vijay and senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have met in the past. In fact, the initial rumours about the actor’s political debut surfaced after he met Rahul at his Delhi residence, which was a decade ago.Subsequently, his father Chandrasekhar came to be seen as pushing political ambitions for Vijay, with the latter seen as hesitant. In 2020, Chandrasekhar had formed an outfit called the Vijay Makkal Iyakkam (VMI), apparently without Vijay’s permission. In September 2021, Vijay had publicly distanced himself from the VMI and even filed a lawsuit against 11 individuals, including his parents. The VMI was subsequently dissolved.A month later, Vijay had made an indirect foray into politics, when members of his fan organisation contested rural polls, and won 115 of the 169 seats, though it was under an informal arrangement. Vijay’s criteria for choosing the contenders is said to have been “educated youth” and “equal representation for women”.According to sources, in his latest bid, Vijay is acting on his own and has distanced his father from his camp.The film industry in Tamil Nadu has always been intertwined with politics, with the two major parties in the state — the DMK and AIADMK — famously led by popular film personalities. While the DMK’s Karunanidhi was a screenwriter, the AIADMK’s M G Ramachandran, or MGR, was a popular matinee idol. His successor Jayalalitha was a successful and renowned actress. Current Chief Minister M K Stalin’s son Udayanidhi Stalin, the Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, is also an actor.Other major actors have also flirted with the idea of politics. For years, there has been a buzz about superstar Rajnikanth’s political entry, with alleged backing of the BJP and veteran political strategists such as Tamilaruvi Maniyan, until he said in 2020 that he was dropping the plan.Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maalam (MKM), launched in 2018, has so far failed to make a major mark.Among the stars dabbling in politics, Vijayakanth, who had his heydays in the ’80s, had achieved some success. However, he was never considered a “superstar” in the league of the others before him, often branded as the “King of B and C Class theatres”.Vijay, on the other hand, is a massive star and is considered one of the leading film personalities in the state. His films continue to enjoy mega commercial success and he himself has a huge following. It is this status that he is expected to tap into as he makes his way to politics.However, Vijay’s political foray will find resistance from the DMK as well as the BJP. Stalin has already started grooming Udhayanidhi as his successor, and he has been taking breaks from his acting and producing career to increasingly focus on the party.The BJP does not have a veryr amiable relationship with Vijay, with the actor drawing party ire for his barbs against Digital India and GST, the flagship initiatives under the Narendra Modi government, in his 2017 movie Mersal. Then BJP national general secretary H Raja had even attributed communal motives to Vijay, referring to him by his rarely used original Christian name, Joseph Vijay. He had gone on to tweet Vijay’s voter ID with his real name, commenting: “Truth is bitter.”But for fans, it is Vijay’s relative youth appeal — he is 48 — that is his biggest draw, representing a break from traditional, legacy politics. “People will vote if you have a convincing face and dedicated youth behind you. Factors such as old faces, veterans, and legacy belong to old politics,” said one of the leaders of his fans’ association.
Dear Readers,Earlier this week, India’s Union government announced the MSPs (minimum support prices) for 17 crops in this year’s Kharif season.MSPs play a very significant role not just for India’s farmers and the farm economy but also for India’s consumers and the kind of food prices they face. That is why MSP announcements are keenly watched and often deeply politicised. With India heading for a general election in less than a year, the MSP announcements could prove of critical political significance, apart from their economic impact.What are MSPs? Why do they matter?MSPs are “support prices” announced by the government (and sometimes state governments add a bonus amount to them) and the intended aim in announcing them is to provide a safety net for farmers.As a farmer, one is worried sick each season because one does not know what one’s harvest will fetch. Given the acute lack of warehousing and cold storage in India, a farmer has little bargaining power in the market. If the market prices are below the farmer’s cost of production they and their families can be ruined.Widespread distress of this kind tends to have broader ramifications as well. For example, if one particular crop, say cotton, led to the ruin of many farmers, then farmers will avoid growing cotton next season. This, in turn, will reduce supply and push up prices. Higher prices will then show up across the different products for consumers.By announcing MSPs, the government makes a promise that it will buy (called procurement) from farmers at the announced prices. Since MSPs are calculated in such a manner that covers the basic costs of cultivation, the hope is that MSPs will save farmers from ruin.The other big purpose of MSPs is to serve as a tool in the hands of the policymakers to tweak the production pattern. If the government wants to incentivise the production of pulses, as against paddy (rice), then it can give a relatively higher hike in MSP of pulses than the MSPs for paddy.Does the government actually buy all crops at MSPs?No. It is important to remember that, while the government announces MSPs for a whole host of crops both in the Rabi (winter) and the Kharif (summer) season, it procures only a few of those crops and that too from only a few states.According to a CRISIL research report, crops such as paddy, cotton and, to a limited extent, pulses get procured at MSP. Only few Kharif crops benefit from government procurement.“However, not all crops benefit from it (MSPs), leave alone equally. While around 45% of the paddy produced is procured at MSP, it is about 25% in case of cotton and only 1-3% in case of pulses,” according to CRISIL.“Also, the procurement is concentrated in only a few states — in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana for paddy, in Telangana and Maharashtra for cotton, and in Maharashtra and Karnataka for pulses,” states the CRISIL report.What are the economic and political aspects of MSP announcements?India’s farm economy — or for that matter that of any country — doesn’t really fully adhere to market principles. Partly that’s because national food security is a strategic concern. Moreover, if large a population is involved in farming as it is in India, then it is unlikely that farming will prove to be remunerative.But government intervention makes everything political. Closer to elections, it is natural for governments to announce high MSPs to win over the farmer vote.The economic aspect of MSPs, however, is not limited to farmers alone. While a sharp rise in MSPs (or higher MSPs over a sustained period) does alleviate farm distress, it can also lead to a spike in food inflation.The trade-off between the interests of the farmer, on the one hand, and consumers, on the other, makes deciding MSPs so difficult. The political dimension just adds to the complications.So, what has been announced?On June 7, the government announced that MSPs for the Kharif season will go up by an average of 7%; the actual range varies between 5% to 10.5% depending on the crop.However, since different people speak for different stakeholders, this increase can be viewed in many different ways.How big is the hike in MSPs? Has it been motivated by political concerns?“This is the highest MSP increase in the last 5 years and the second highest in the last decade,” states a Citi Research note by Samiran Chakraborty (Managing Director, Chief Economist, India).At the same time, “the government has refrained from large MSP spikes usually seen in pre-election years (34.1%, 19.6% and 15.2% witnessed in the last 3 pre-election years),” finds the Citi note (SEE CHART 1).While India’s farm distress is decades long, it is important to remember that it has only deepened over the past decade.How does this hike compare with the rate of food inflation and the rise in cost of production?The prices of cereals went up by almost 14% in April this year. In other words, they were 14% more than what they were in April last year. From that perspective, the MSP hike is modest.However, the Citi Research note finds that cost of cultivation went up by 6.8% and from that perspective, a 7% hike in MSPs is enough to ensure that farm economy does not lose out to the non-farm economy.How will this hike impact inflation and monetary policy?It is unlikely that this hike per se would spike inflation. However, it is noteworthy that food inflation may still spike if the normal monsoon is affected by El Nino.Given that this hike is unlikely to spike inflation by itself, it will allay the apprehensions RBI and the members of its Monetary Policy Committee might have about possible inflation surge later on in the year.What does it mean for the government’s finances?Higher MSPs and more procurement as well as the storage and disbursal of subsidised foodgrains are all expenditures that weigh down government’s financial health. According to Citi Research, this “MSP increase will not materially alter the government’s food subsidy budgeting.”What will be the likely impact on rural India?This is possibly the crucial aspect of the MSP decision.Latest GDP data showed that personal consumption growth — the biggest contributor to India’s GDP — was growing at around 2.5% over the past two quarters. This is starkly lower than India’s overall GDP growth rate of 7.2%.Worse, within this broader trend, it is the rural economy that is lagging behind urban India. “The consumption growth trends in the GDP have been weak with drivers of rural consumption remaining uneven,” states the Citi Research note.Given this context as well as the market expectation that the Karnataka election result would have resulted in a stimulus for the rural demand, this hike is muted.“The 7% MSP increase might just be enough to cover the increase in cost of production but does not signal a pre-election populist boost to rural consumption. There was some market perception that after the Karnataka election results, the government might be focusing more on stimulating rural demand,” states Citi notes.However, it does provide a caveat.“The extent of MSP increase does not support that hypothesis, though in theory, populist spending could be more back-ended, closer to the general election date.”See you on Monday,Udit
Why did the government take close to five months to warm up to the protesting wrestlers? How come in a matter of days the Sports Minister Anurag Thakur changed his stand from “we have done everything the wrestlers asked for” and “now the law will take its course” to “we are willing to have a discussion” and “chargesheet will be filed by June 15”?Hidden in this spectacular climbdown is the failure of the government to understand the gravity of sexual harassment allegations against the erstwhile WFI chief BJP MP Brij Bhushan Saran Singh and also the resolve of the Olympians—Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia—at the helm of the protest. The wrestlers have shown that they aren’t some seasonal sloganeers. This realisation has dawned late on the government negotiators.For months now, there has been an attempt to dismiss the Jantar Mantar sit-in as a politically backed move by opportunists to take over WFI. In their frantic search for the layers of intrigue, the authorities remained blind to the crystal clear core of the case—the seven police complaints with graphic details of repeated abuse by Singh. On the eve of the new parliament opening, with the wrestlers planning a march to the capital, there were late night talks to pressurise the protestors. The wrestlers didn’t relent. They took to the streets and got detained. The pictures of Delhi Police’s high-handedness went viral, the International Olympic Council (IOC) found them disturbing and the global media put them on their front pages. The Sports Ministry should have known the country’s top wrestlers better. Vinesh, Sakshi and Bajrang are masters of a sport that gives an athlete just six-minutes to showcase the skills they have sharpened for years. Their minds don’t freeze under duress, they can’t be hustled into making rushed decisions. The ticking clock is their bio-rhythm, they know how to stretch seconds. Their aggression isn’t about bravado, it is a calculated computation of rewards and risk.The backstories of wrestlers, all from modest families from rural areas, have long periods of hopelessness. They haven’t got anything easy. They fight, they fall, they stand, they win—that’s been their life story.World Championship medalist Vinesh has been the face of the protest. A self-proclaimed “moofat” (straight talker), she by her own wish, mostly keeps away from the high-profile negotiations. She is the Stubborn One, the hard nut that doesn’t crack easily. It’s the time and place that shapes a person’s character and Vinesh had no option but to be strong-willed and stubborn.Vinesh was 9 when her father was shot dead by, what the family says, a mentally unstable relative at the front gate of their home. In their neck of the woods, Vinesh says, the life of a young widow was a curse. On the day her father died, mother Premlata lost the right to smile. It could be wrongly interpreted by the village’s men folk.Within a year of her father’s death, Premlata’s scans showed cancer. For the housewife, unaccustomed to the world outside home, this was a bolt from the blue. For chemotherapy she had to travel by bus to Rohtak. Illiterate and alone, she had to embrace the unknown, familiarise the unexplored. Circumstances would give Premlata a crash course in being worldly wise and be the single mother of a sporting icon.Last month at Jantar Mantar, on a sultry May evening, Vinesh had agreed for an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express sports team. During the interaction that went on for more than an hour, Vinesh got emotional when asked about mother. Hidden in the answer was the reason behind the stubbornness of the tough nut.“No one supported my mother. We grew up seeing her struggle. If a single woman, who was illiterate, could fight society on her own and make us big wrestlers, then we can do it too. If we don’t speak out today, then all the struggles of my mother would have gone to waste. I won medals, that’s all right, but if we win this battle, she will proudly say, ‘I gave birth to them’,” she would say.Sakshi too was an outlier in society where wrestling wasn’t a common career choice for young girls. Unlike the Phogats, she wasn’t from a wrestling family. Her father was a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) driver and mother an anganwadi worker. Back in the day, girls didn’t train with boys. Sakshi’s coach Ishwar Dahiya once told this paper the taunts he had to hear when his academy turned gender neutral. “I was told that I was mad to have boys and girls wrestle together. Kya sher aur bakri ek ghat se peete hain? (Can a lion and a goat drink water from the bank?)” he says. The male as predator, the female as prey – it was a sickening, but apt, stereotype for a society where gender disparity had been normalised. Once again it was the mother’s push that put an Indian wrestler on the world stage. It was she who forced the family to sell their old home and move closer to the stadium where she trained. They were driven, they didn’t want their sacrifice to go to waste. .In the medal bout at Olympics, Sakshi was trailing 1-5 with two minutes to go. Lesser wrestlers would have given up but Sakshi was patient. She knew she had to pounce but the timing of the killer move had to be perfect. Her trademark ‘double leg’ attack gave her an 8-5 lead and a historic bronze. “Even when I trailed I knew I could win. I had to win,” she would say. At Jantar Mantar, for these past few months, that same ‘I had to win’ belief prevails.Bajrang, the engine behind the protest, epitomises this positivity. Known as the comeback man, he is at the head of the table at all negotations. Stories of his endurance are part of Indian wrestling circuit. It is said that once the Olympic bronze medalist did more than 1000 squats. It’s his strength and stamina that make him the last man standing at most bouts. Most of his famous wins are because of his final flourish. He tires his opponents, waits for an opening and drives in like a truck. Just when the world thinks he has sunk, he unties the ropes and surfacing triumphantly over the waters like Houdini.At the post Tokyo Olympics Express Adda in 2021, the two medalists Bajrang and Neeraj Chopra had come together to share their success stories. Here, he dwelled on a trait that makes them world beaters. It was after Bajrang gave the behind-the-scenes story of the bronze medal bout which he won with an injured knee. “The doctor had said you are responsible if you play because your injury can become worse and you might need surgery. I said even if it breaks, it doesn’t matter…. An Olympic medal comes first,” he had said.Nodding his head all through Bajrang’s answer, Chopra would intervene. “In Haryana, we have a saying, ke karegi tayari jab ladegi jidd aari, meaning sometimes our preparation may not be as good, but it’s our stubbornness that helps us win”. At least, the Sports Ministry should have known the jidd of our wrestlers.Send your feedback to email@example.com
The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, which was brought into force by the previous BJP government, to impose a near total ban on cow slaughter in the state, is at the centre of a controversy again, now that the newly formed Congress government is making a move to withdraw the law.The Congress party indicated ahead of the 2023 state assembly polls, and during the poll campaign, that it intends to withdraw cow slaughter ban on account of difficulties faced by farmers due to restrictions imposed on the trade of sick and unproductive cattle by the 2020 law.The situation came to a head recently, after the new minister for animal husbandry in the Congress government, K Venkatesh, indicated the the party’s intent by saying “If bulls and buffaloes can be slaughtered, why not cows?”These remarks invited protests from the opposition BJP, which emphasised upon the sacrality of the cow in Hindu culture, and forced Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to indicate that any amendments to the 2020 law would only be done after due discussion. Randeep Singh Surjewala, Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP, also rebuked the animal husbandry minister for his remarks on Thursday.What is the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020?The law came into force in 2021 after being passed in the state legislative assembly and council by the ruling BJP government – amid objections by the opposition Congress and Janata Dal Secular parties. It is a stringent law to restrict the slaughter of all forms of cattle in the state.The 2020 law repealed and replaced the less stringent Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 which has been in the state since then. While the 1964 law banned the killing of “any cow or calf of she-buffalo” it allowed the slaughter of bullocks, and male or female buffalos if certified by a competent authority to be above the age of 12 years, incapacitated for breeding, or if deemed sick.Under the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, cattle have been designated as “cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock and he or she buffalo” and their slaughter is banned. The only exemptions are buffaloes above the age of 13 years and certified by a competent authority, cattle used in medical research, cattle certified for slaughter by a veterinarian to prevent spread of a disease, and very sick cattle.The new law has also increased punishment for breaking the law, to the range of three to seven years of jail, or fines ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh or both. As per the 1964 law, the maximum punishment was for a period up to six months of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 1000.The new law also prescribes punishments for illegal transport of cattle, sale of meat and purchase or disposal of cattle for slaughter – namely, a prison term of three to five years, and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh.Why did the BJP introduce such a stringent law in the state?The ban on cattle slaughter has been a prominent demand of right-wing Hindutva groups like the RSS, the VHP and others, which form the core support base of the BJP. These groups have viewed cattle – especially the cow–– in a religious rather than an agrarian context.During the BJP’s tenure in Karnataka between 2008 and 2013 the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010, was passed by the B S Yediyurappa led government.The 2010 law however did not receive the assent of the Governor, and the Congress party, which came to power in 2013 reverted to the less stringent 1964 law, which allowed cattle slaughter on a limited basis – especially those classified as being old, sick or unproductive on farms.After the BJP returned to power in 2019, the Cow Protection Cell of the party in Karnataka wrote to chief minister BS Yediyurappa seeking a re-introduction of the 2010 law that was shelved by the previous Congress government.“As the chief minister in 2010 you tried to enact the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010. The Governor did not give his assent for the law to come into force. The Siddaramaiah government subsequently withdrew the bill,” the BJP Cow Protection Cell said in a letter to the CM dated August 27, 2019.“Now the BJP is once again in power in Karnataka and the party in its manifesto for the state assembly elections has stated the need for banning cow slaughter and introduction of a more stringent law than what was drafted in 2010. The government must examine the issue and introduce a bill in the next session of the state legislature,” the letter stated.In December 2020, the BJP government tabled and passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020 in the state assembly while the opposition, Congress and JDS, staged a walkout. The opposition alleged gross violation of principles for functioning of the legislature by the BJP, in context of the manner in which the bill was tabled and passed without a debate.“It is considered necessary to repeal the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 to prohibit the slaughter of cattle and for the preservation and improvement of the breeds of cattle and to endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry in terms of Article 48 of the constitution of India by enacting a comprehensive legislation,” the new law said in its statement of reasons for introduction.In February 2021, the bill was passed in the legislative council despite the BJP having fewer members than the combined strength of the Congress and JDS in the house. The two parties once again opposed the bill, with Congress leader BK Hariprasad stating that the BJP has double standards on cattle slaughter – one where it supports slaughter in states like Kerala, Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, and another where it opposes slaughter.What have been the repercussions of the 2020 law?The agrarian economy has been majorly impacted by the 2020 law, especially in southern Karnataka, where cattle is an integral part of livelihood in terms of dairy farming and agriculture. Farmers have been up in arms over the ban on cattle slaughter, and there has been widespread complaints in the farming communities that the BJP’s ban on cattle slaughter has deprived farmers of alternatives when cattle fall sick or turn unmaintainable.The latent anger in the farming community against the cow slaughter ban, coupled with other aspects of the tenure of BJP government – including the high cost of fertilizers and fodder – is believed to have played a central role in the defeat of the BJP in the 2023 polls.Traditional cattle markets have been slowly shutting down and there were few merchants to buy cattle. Moreover, there have been also been incidents of right-wing cow vigilantes – who are granted immunity under the new law – taking law into their own hands to prevent the transportation of cattle for slaughter to states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu.“The government claims that the ban on cattle slaughter has benefitted the ecosystem but it has done nothing. Farmers would sell cattle earlier if they were unproductive but that cannot be done now. The cattle cannot be sold in the markets because a case will be filed against the farmer,” current Congress CM Siddaramaiah said in February 2023 as opposition leader.“Remove the cattle slaughter law, it is a hidden agenda and communal agenda. There are no buyers for sick and aged cattle. It is a loss for the farmers,” he said.What is the newly elected Congress government likely to do?One of the promises made by the Congress party in its manifesto for the 2023 Karnataka polls was “to repeal anti farmer laws enacted by the BJP government and to withdraw all politically motivated cases against farmers.”Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who has been a vocal supporter for the repeal of “anti farmer” laws like the cattle slaughter ban, the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) (Amendment) Act 2020, and the Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 2020, told a delegation of farmers recently that he will review calls for amendments to the Cattle Slaughter Act, the APMC Act and the Land Reforms Act.The Congress is likely to seek a return to the 1964 law, which imposed a ban on the slaughter of cows but allowed the restricted slaughter of cattle of other forms on the condition of old age, sickness and lack of productivity. The party is expected to project the move as being critical to the livelihood and economic survival of farmers, rather than a religious issue.“They (BJP) amended it once. We reverted it to the earlier provisions. They have amended it again. We will discuss it in the Cabinet meeting,” Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said recently.However, the Congress party is likely to face strong opposition from the BJP on the matter and is expected to tread cautiously despite its numerical advantage in the legislative assembly. There are some concerns that a move to repeal the 2020 law ahead of the 2024 parliament polls may be detrimental to Congress interests in northern India, where the move could acquire a religious connotation that is unconnected to the realities of the agrarian economy.The word of caution given to the new Congress minister for animal husbandry by the Congress central leadership “to stay within his limits” on the cattle slaughter ban issue is seen as an indication of the Congress adopting a calibrated approach to fulfilling its poll promise to repeal “anti-farmer” laws enacted by the BJP.