Indian Express – Horrified to hear Home Minister Amit Shah say at a public rally that he wanted voters to press so hard on the ‘button’ that registered their vote that it would send a shock all the way to Shaheen Bagh.

New Delhi – India, 09 February 2020. Never has an election campaign in Delhi been as ugly as the one just ended. Never have senior ministers of the government of India spent so much time on what is essentially a municipal election. Never before have we seen so open an attempt to make it an election to divide Hindus and Muslims.

Despite the ugliness and venom that defined the BJP’s campaign, early opinion polls indicate that it is unlikely to win Delhi. It deserves to lose. I speak as someone who has spent more than half a lifetime in this city and who cherishes its syncretic culture.

It horrified me to hear senior BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath make the word ‘biryani’ a term of abuse and to hear other BJP leaders speak of this election as a choice between ‘India and Pakistan’.

Horrified to hear a minister in the government of India urge his audience to ‘shoot traitors’ and to hear Home Minister Amit Shah say at a public rally that he wanted voters to press so hard on the ‘button’ that registered their vote that it would send a shock all the way to Shaheen Bagh.

Had he bothered instead to actually go and talk to the women in Shaheen Bagh, he would have discovered that they are not Pakistanis or traitors.

All they want from him is an assurance that he will not implement, as he has threatened more than once, a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Sadly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead of controlling his troops, has actually encouraged them. Last week in the Lok Sabha, he accused opposition leaders of spreading lies about the new citizenship law. And, during the campaign for Delhi, he said much too often that he saw in the Shaheen Bagh protest a sinister attempt to spread anarchy in India.

If he examines the protests without prejudice, he will discover that the protesters have genuine fears that if an NRC is held, they will be unable to produce the documents that prove that they are Indian. He may also discover that their fears have been exacerbated by the sort of speeches that were made by BJP leaders during the election campaign for Delhi.

As a ‘Dilliwali’, what the campaign brought home to me with brutal clarity was that India’s new ruling elite has not yet begun to understand Delhi. In their obsession with ‘Lootyens’ and Khan Market, our new leaders have not noticed that it is in this city that Urdu was born.

It is this city that is the capital of the Ganga-Jamuni culture this new elite so despises. Some of the greatest Urdu poets were born in this city as well as some of the greatest Hindi writers. And, it was out of this linguistic harmony that the language of Delhi became Hindustani.

This uniquely Delhi culture needs to be cherished, not torn to shreds by making Hindus believe that the women protesting in Shaheen Bagh are leading a jihad against India. BJP leaders have gone so far as to say that these women are ‘rapists’ and that, if protests like these continue, then Delhi will once more come under ‘Mughal Raj’.

This kind of talk is not just dangerous but ‘anti-national’ in the truest sense of that awful term. The Mughals did indeed rule India once, Muslim invaders did indeed commit terrible acts of brutality in Delhi, but it is also true that from those centuries of Muslim rule was born a culture that was syncretic. These syncretic ties exist not just in Delhi, they are woven into the fabric of north Indian culture.

This is why Delhi survived Partition and the influx of refugees who came to this city from the Punjab, bringing with them tales of unspeakable horror. My father’s family was among those refugees and not once did I hear them speak with hatred or bitterness about what had happened to them.

The only time I can remember my grandmother speaking about Partition was after I became a journalist and was asked to interview her for a story I was writing.

It was then that she told me that she had been fortunate to get on a train from Lahore to Amritsar at the time that was not attacked. All the other trains that day brought only corpses. She never spoke of this again to me because the pain was too deep.

Editorial: EC must ask itself why its censure is weak, why it is losing its power to chasten. It is very deep for a lot of Delhi’s citizens, but as Vidia Naipaul once said, “The past has to be seen to be dead; or the past will kill.”

It is tragic that this campaign for Delhi was about things that happened in the long dead past and not as it should have been, about Delhi’s future. This was entirely because of the tone of the BJP’s campaign. Losing Delhi will be just punishment for this shameless attempt to divide and rule.

This article first appeared in the print edition on 09 February 2020 under the title “Fifth column: Delhi’s worst election campaign”

The Tribune – Pakistan considering passport-free entry for Kartarpur corridor pilgrims

Islamabad – Islamabad Capital Territory, 08 February 2020. Pakistan is considering a proposal for allowing Indian pilgrims to enter the Kartarpur corridor without passport in a bid to attract more visitors to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah informed country’s parliament today.

The minister told the National Assembly during the question hour that passport-free entry of pilgrims was currently not allowed in accordance with the pact signed between Pakistan and India. However, a proposal for giving the entry without passport in order to attract more visitors was under consideration, for which detailed input might be sought from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Den Haag – Malieveld – Den Haag Centraal

Malieveld – Den Haag Centraal
31 December 2019

Den Haag – mini Manhattan


Tram 9 to Vrederust

Tram 16 to Statenkwartier

Tram 16 to Statenkwartier – Mini Manhattan

Den Haag Centraal

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Geo TV – Pakistan takes military officers from 45 countries to historical Sikh Gurdwara

Hassan Abdal – Panjab – Pakistan, 08 February 2020. A National Defense University-led delegation of senior military officers from forty-five friendly countries, led by Air Vice Marshal Syed Sabahat Hassan Shah, on Saturday visited Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassanabdal, reported Radio Pakistan.

Deputy Secretary Shrines Evacuee Trust Property Board, Imran Gondal, briefed the delegation about history and importance of Gurdwara Panja Sahib for the Sikh community in the country.

The foreign military officials lauded efforts of Pakistani government for better upkeep and preservation of religious places of different religions in the country.

Pakistan had in November last year inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor, a border corridor between Pakistan and India, connecting the Gurdwara of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

A large number of Indian Sikhs had made historic pilgrimage the day of the inauguration, travelling visa-free, to one of their religion’s holiest sites under a landmark deal between the two countries.

Last year, a leading British-Sikh philanthropist had also announced to commit £500 million for the Gurdwaras in Pakistan as a positive response to Pakistan’s move to establish the Kartarpur Corridor.

The businessperson had announced that his own charitable organisation, the Peter Virdee Foundation, would join hands with other Sikh groups to inject £500 million into hundreds of Pakistani Gurdwaras for renovation and modernisation. – If justice is the goal for CAA protestors, simply ‘defending the Constitution’ isn’t enough

Instead of just chanting Ambedkar’s words, it’s time to actually put them to work.

Aparna Gopalan

Op/Ed, 09 February 2020. As protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act continue to roil the country, the Constitution has emerged as the protagonist of the fledgling movement.

At rallies and marches, tens of thousands of people are holding up the document, reading it aloud together and expressing concern that the government is violating the Constitution with a legislation that adds a religious criterion for citizenship and discriminates against Muslims.

Many observers are taking heart from the protestors’ evocation of the Constitution. “We are witnessing now a rediscovery of the republic – and of our Constitution as its blazing torch,” remarked historian Rohit De, whose 2018 book A People’s Constitution seems to have prefigured the recent protests.

The special attention protestors have paid to the Preamble has been particularly revealing of how they are approaching the Constitution: not merely to a legal document but, as Gautam Bhatia, author of The Transformative Constitution, notes, as “a charter of values and principles; a vision of a free, just, and equal society”.

The Constitution is certainly a powerful symbol with which to challenge the current regime’s majoritarian vision of India. However, when the Constitution goes from symbol to strategy and when preserving the Constitution goes from a unifying chant to the raison d’être of protest, there is cause for concern.

If the goal of the Citizenship Amendment Act protests is not just to roll back the legislation but to create a society organised around principles of justice, it is time to reconsider the use of the Constitution as an organising rubric for dissent.

A largely lawless land

The first thing to remember is that for all the importance law holds, the vast majority of Indians live completely outside its reach. More than 60% of Indians live in rural areas. At least 200 million Indians are food insecure and 75% of the population consumes less than 2,100 calories a day due to poverty. An estimated 93% of workers labour in the unorganised sector.

To this large swathe of Indians, legal protections mean little, Constitutional rights even less.

Theirs is a world where child labour continues; where half of all formal sector workers earn less than the minimum wage, to say nothing of informal sector; where public provisions are stolen and wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme denied with impunity; and where untouchability endures, with all its attendant injustices.

One can imagine how tenuous the fundamental rights to equality and freedom are in such a situation.

Indeed, the rule of law has been weak in India for decades. Everything from concrete legislations like land reforms to guiding principles like socialism have arguably only ever existed in the letter of the law. Follow-through on laws remains so feeble that even Supreme Court judges have become frustrated, commenting in 2018, “What is the use of passing the orders when no one is bothered to implement it?”

In such a case, we may well wonder how much the letter of the law matters, especially when there are only 13 judges per 10 lakh people, a mere 0.2% of the budget is allocated to the law ministry, and only the literate and powerful can afford the years of lawyers’ fees and court appearances that are needed to fight for legal rights.

In this situation, how can the Constitution ever said to be “the people’s”?

Gap between law and justice

The letter of the law contains both pro-people and pro-elite provisions, but the latter seem to win out time after time. What is decisive, then, is not how progressive the law is but which group has the power to implement it. One is reminded of the prescient warning of Bhimaro Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, from 1949:

“On the January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril”.

Ambedkar’s warning has gone unheeded. With the top nine Indians owning as much wealth as the bottom 50%, we have vehemently denied social and economic equality. Inequality has imperiled democracy, and chanting the Preamble will not be enough to bring it back. Without equalising the distribution of wealth, protecting the Constitution is not enough, worshipping it even less so, to create a just India for all.

The second thing to remember is that the law, even if there were some miraculous way to actually implement it, is not automatically synonymous with justice.

From the start, Indian law has harbored repressive tendencies as evident in the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1985, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002, portions of which have been repealed, thanks only to widespread criticism of human rights violations.

Each of these laws have justified virulently anti-minority and militaristic atrocities. Legal scholar Oishik Sircar points out the hypocrisy well when he writes,

“On national television we were comfortably consuming Gulzar’s mellifluous rendition of why each citizen needs to defend the samvidhan (Constitution) on one hand, and the prime time coverage of the state’s manufactured Constitutional legitimacy for an armed offensive against the ‘Maoists’ on the other.”

Immersed in the idea of emancipation that the Constitution provides, Indians have been all too prone to pledge blind loyalty to the state insofar as its actions are legal, in the process conflating the legal with the just.

No substitute for people’s power

A third limitation of this over-reliance on the Constitution as a strategy for organising the protests is a strategic one. While evocations of the Constitution during protests might inspire a sense of national community, they provide no programme for action. How can citizens actually block the Citizenship Amendment Act?

What is the concrete path from slogan to political change? Rallies and demonstrations organised around the Constitution lack leverage, a key part of any successful movement.

A general strike leverages the threat of work stoppage to achieve its goals, civil disobedience leverages widespread social disorder and international criticism, and grassroots agitation leverages votes and the legitimacy of elected leaders.

But Constitutionalism takes the wind out of all these strategies, flattening stark antagonisms between elite and oppressed while positioning all as equal petitioners before a benevolent state.

Constitutionalism’s very ability to screen out socioeconomic inequality has enabled the mainstream media to incessantly cover anti-Modi dissent without any mention of the working class.

If you surveyed the average person on the street, they would probably know something about the citizenship protests but nothing about a January 8 mass strike that, according to some claims, drew one-fifth of India’s population onto the streets.

That strike, which targeted concrete socioeconomic injustices and offered clear strategies of gaining leverage, was given hardly any airtime and left no impression on the public, or even on fellow dissenters.

This is a grave omission. Imagine what could have happened if the goals and strategies a mass strike had informed the Citizenship Amendment Act protests – if minorities, students, farmers, laborers, and conscientious citizens could join together for widespread civil disobedience against both the act and unemployment, both majoritarianism and economic injustice?

The opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s citizenship initiatives have become a Samvidhan bachao andolan, detached from the bread-and-butter issues of an impoverished population.

Meanwhile, other mass movements across the world have actually taken up strategies of the mass strike, civil disobedience, and electoral pressure to fight austerity, agitate for public goods, and demand an overthrow of the political elite class, to challenge longstanding inequalities in social and economic life.

India needs to join this movement. Instead of just chanting Ambedkar’s words, it’s time to actually put them to work.

Aparna Gopalan is a writer and educator pursuing her PhD at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the reproduction of inequality and poverty in rural India.