BBC News – Inside Kashmir’s lockdown: ‘Even I will pick up a gun’

Indian-administered Kashmir has been under an unprecedented lockdown since Monday, when India revoked a special constitutional status dating back nearly 70 years. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled for two days around the region, where a bitter sense of betrayal threatens to fuel fresh conflict.

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 10 August 2019. In the heart of Srinagar city, Khanyar is an area notorious for anti-India protests. To get here during what amounts to a virtual 24-hour curfew, we pass through half a dozen roadblocks.

As we come across yet another barricade, I get out of my car to take some photos. A few men emerge from a lane-way to complain about living under what to many feels like a siege. “This is extreme thuggery on the government’s part,” says an elderly member of the group.

The paramilitary police try to hustle us away but the man wants to be heard. “You lock us up during the day. You lock us up at night,” he shouts angrily, wagging his finger. The policeman says there’s a curfew in place and that they must go inside immediately. But the diminutive old man stands his ground and challenges him again.

At that point, I’m ordered to leave. But before I can, a young man, carrying his toddler son in his arms, tells me he is ready to pick up a gun to fight India.

“This is my only son. He’s too small now, but I will prepare him to pick up a gun too,” he says. He’s so angry that he doesn’t even care that he’s saying all this within earshot of the policeman standing near us.

Across the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, I meet men who tell me they no longer want to live life in fear of the security forces. An insurgency has been taking place here for 30 years, but what residents call a “dictatorial order” from far-away Delhi has pushed people who never supported separatism into a corner.

They say it will have serious consequences for both Kashmir and India.

This is very much the dominant sentiment everywhere I go, anger mixed with fear and worry, and a fierce determination to resist the central government’s move.

Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, has been under a virtual lockdown since Monday morning and the city resembles a ghost town. Shops, schools, colleges and offices are all shut and there is no public transport on the roads.

Thousands of gun-wielding troops patrol deserted streets that are barricaded with coils of razor wire, and residents remain locked up inside their homes.

For nearly a week now, two of the former state chief ministers have been in detention while a third, who is currently an MP from the state, is under house arrest. Hundreds of others, including activists, business leaders and professors, have also been detained and are being held in makeshift prisons.

Rizwan Malik says Kashmir “now feels like a jail, a big open-air jail”.

He flew from Delhi to Srinagar less than 48 hours after Home Minister Amit Shah laid out his plans for Kashmir in the parliament on Monday.

He said he had last spoken to his parents on Sunday night, a few hours before the government shut down all communications, including the internet. There was a total information blackout, and because he couldn’t reach any of his friends or relatives either, he decided to return home.

“It’s the first time in my life that we had no way of communicating with anyone. Never before have I seen anything like this,” he told me at his parents’ home in Srinagar.

Mr Malik is furious that India has revoked Kashmir’s special status, which gave it a significant degree of autonomy and underpinned the region’s relationship with the rest of India for decades, without consulting the state’s people.

He’s not someone who believes in separatism, or has ever gone out and thrown stones at soldiers in protest; he’s a 25-year-old aspirational young man studying to be an accountant in Delhi. He says he has long believed in the idea of India because he is sold on the story of its economic success.

“If India wants us to believe that it’s a democracy, they are fooling themselves. Kashmir has long had an uneasy relationship with India [but] our special status was the bridge that joined the two. By scrapping it, they have taken away our identity. This is unacceptable to any Kashmiri,” he says.

When the siege is lifted and protesters are able to take to the streets, Mr Malik predicts that every Kashmiri will join them: “It was said that in every family one brother is with the separatists and the other is with the [Indian] mainstream. Now the Indian government has united the two.”

His sister Rukhsar Rashid, a 20-year-old architecture student at Kashmir University, says when she heard the home minister’s speech on TV, her hands began to shake and her mother, sitting next to her, began to cry.

“She was saying death would be better than this,” says Ms Rashid. “I keep waking up with panic attacks. My grandparents who live in the city’s Batmaloo area say it has turned into Afghanistan.”

India had been building up to its big move on the part of Kashmir it controls for some time. The government first announced late last month it was sending more than 35,000 additional troops to the region, an area that’s already the most militarised in the world because it is disputed between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

Last week, the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine was called off abruptly as the authorities warned of a terror threat. Then, hotels and houseboats along the picturesque Dal Lake were ordered shut and tourists asked to leave.

Everyone in Kashmir by then knew something was afoot, but of the dozens of people I spoke to, no-one expected Delhi would go this far and unilaterally revoke part of the constitution.

The communications blackout means reliable information is hard to come by, and news of what’s going on spreads by word of mouth. Despite the lockdown, we hear daily reports of protesters pelting security forces with stones in Srinagar and elsewhere. We hear a protester drowned when he was chased by troops and jumped in a river. Several people are believed to be injured and in hospital.

But the Indian government has been trying to show that all’s well in Kashmir.

On Wednesday, TV channels showed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval lunching with a group of men on the streets of Shopian, a town that’s described in the Indian press as “a hotbed of militancy”. It was an attempt to tell the world that there’s popular support for the government’s move even in the most difficult of areas and that peace and calm prevails.

But Kashmiris have dismissed it as a stunt. “If people are happy, then why do they need the curfew? Why is there a communication shutdown?” asks Rizwan Malik.

The same question is repeated in every part of Srinagar, in homes, on the streets, in the sensitive old city areas that the locals call “downtown”, and in the southern district of Pulwama, home to the militant who carried out the audacious suicide bombing targeting the security forces in February that brought India and Pakistan close to war.

As I drive through the region, men hanging out in groups by the roadside or in moving vehicles flag down my car to talk to me. They say Kashmiri voices are being suppressed, and they are desperate to be heard. They tell me how angry they are and issue dire warnings of impending bloodshed.

“Kashmir is under siege at the moment. The moment it’s lifted, trouble will start,” says Zahid Hussain Dar, a lawyer living in Pulwama. “Once the political and separatist leaders are freed from detention or house arrest, there will be calls for protests and people will come out.”

Some in the Indian press have reported that since there have been no major protests in Kashmir valley so far, it means people have accepted the government’s decision.

But the Kashmir I see is seething. I’ve been visiting the region regularly for over 20 years to report on the long-running insurgency against Indian rule, but the sort of anger and resentment that is being expressed now is unprecedented.

Most people here say they will settle for nothing less than the government rescinding its order and restoring Kashmir’s special status.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is not known for rolling back decisions and this underpins fears in the valley that the government will come down heavily on those who resist.

On Thursday, Mr Modi defended his controversial decision, saying it was “the beginning of a new era” and promising employment opportunities and development for Kashmir.

Yet not many here are ready to back down. And it does not augur well for either Kashmiris or India.

Muskaan Lateef, a high school student, describes the current situation as “the calm before the storm”.

“It’s like the oceans are quiet, but the tsunami is about to hit the shore.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49294301https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49294301

BBC News – India ‘cow vigilantes’ lynch three men

Pithauri village – Saran district – Bihar – India, A mob in eastern India has beaten to death three men suspected of trying to steal cattle, police say.

They say the suspects were caught by villagers in the Bihar state as they were trying to load a buffalo and a calf onto a lorry on Friday morning.

This is the latest in a spate of “cow vigilante” attacks that have provoked alarm among religious minorities and socially underprivileged classes.

Hindus consider cows sacred and killing them is taboo.

Three villagers were later arrested in connection with the lynching.

Critics have accused the governing Hindu-nationalist BJP of not doing enough to rein in such violence.

Several dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured in mob attacks since 2014, when the BJP came to power, but there have been convictions in only a handful of cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for not condemning the attacks quickly or strongly enough.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49049372?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/world/asia&link_location=live-reporting-story

BBC News – Jai Shri Ram: The Hindu chant that became a murder cry

In many parts of India, Hindus often invoke the popular god Ram’s name as a greeting. But in recent years, Hindu lynch mobs have turned Ram’s name into a murder cry, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

New Delhi – India, 10 July 2019. Last month, a video that went viral on social media showed a terrified Muslim man tied to a pole being assaulted by a lynch mob made up of Hindu men in the eastern state of Jharkhand. In the video, 24-year old Tabrez Ansari is seen pleading for his life, blood and tears streaming down his face.

His attackers force him to repeatedly chant “Jai Shri Ram”, which translates from Hindi to “hail Lord Ram” or “victory to Lord Ram”. Mr Ansari does as told, and when the mob is finished with him, he is handed over to the police.

The police lock him up and his family is not allowed to see him. He dies four days later from injuries sustained during the attack.

Mr Ansari is not the only one to have been singled out in this manner. June was a particularly bloody month for Indian Muslims, who were targeted in several such attacks.

In Barpeta district in the north-eastern state of Assam, a group of young Muslim men were assaulted and then made to chant slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (long live Mother India) and “Pakistan murdabad” (death to Pakistan).

In the commercial capital Mumbai, a 25-year-old Muslim taxi driver was abused, beaten up and told to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by a group of men. Faizal Usman Khan said he was attacked when his taxi broke down and he was trying to fix it. His attackers fled after a passenger called the police.

And in the eastern city of Kolkata, Hafeez Mohd Sahrukh Haldar, a 26-year-old Muslim teacher at a madrassa (religious seminary), was heckled while travelling on a train by a group of men chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.

He told reporters that they made fun of his clothes and beard, and then insisted that he also chant the slogans. When he refused, they pushed him out of the moving train. Mr Haldar was injured, but lived to tell the tale.

The slogan-shouting and heckling is no longer restricted to the mob and the streets. Worryingly, it has also entered parliament. When the newly-elected lower house convened for the first time on 17 June, Muslim and opposition MPs were heckled by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when they stood up to take the oath.

The attacks on the minorities have been condemned by opposition politicians. Rahul Gandhi, before he resigned as leader of the main opposition Congress party, described the mob lynching of Tabrez Ansari as a “blot on humanity”.

Many critics, including cartoonist Satish Acharya, have also expressed alarm over the rising number of such incidents.

In villages across north India, devout Hindus have traditionally used “Ram Ram”, “Jai Siya Ram” (goddess Siya or Sita is Ram’s consort) or “Jai Ram Ji Ki” as a greeting.

And many feel a sense of unease that these attacks and killings are being carried out in the name of a god revered by millions for his sense of justice and benevolence. But “Jai Shri Ram” has now been turned into a cry of attack, meant to intimidate and threaten those who worship differently.

The invocation was first used as a political chant in the late 1980s by the BJP to mobilise the Hindu masses during the movement to construct a Ram temple at a disputed site at Ayodhya. The party’s then president L K Advani launched a march supporting the construction of the temple and in December 1992 mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram” marched upon the northern town and tore down the 16th Century Babri mosque.

The BJP believes the mosque was built after the destruction of a temple to Ram that once stood there.

The campaign galvanised Hindu voters in favour of the BJP and helped turn Ram from personal to political. Since then, the party has consistently invoked the deity during elections and the 2019 polls were no exception.

Critics say those who heckle minorities, inside parliament and outside it, see the BJP’s sweeping victory in the April/May elections as sanctioning their behaviour. The party won more than 300 seats in the 543-member lower house, propelling Mr Modi to a second term.

Mr Modi’s first term in power was marked by violence against minorities. There were numerous incidents of Muslims being attacked by so-called “cow vigilantes” over rumours that they had eaten beef, or that they were trying to smuggle cows, an animal many Hindus consider holy, for slaughter.

The prime minister did not condone such attacks, but has been criticised for not condemning them quickly or strongly enough either.

But right after the BJP’s stunning victory in May, Mr Modi expanded his earlier slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) to include “sabka vishwas” (to win the trust of everyone), giving rise to hopes that this term would be different.

A few days after Tabrez Ansari’s death, he told parliament that he was “pained” by the incident and that “the guilty must be severely punished”. But many Indians doubt that any serious action will be taken against those who carry out such attacks.

Several dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured since 2014 in mob attacks, but there have been convictions in only a handful of cases. In others, the accused remain free, often due to a lack of evidence, and some have been seen being feted by Mr Modi’s party’s colleagues.

BJP leaders often downplay such incidents, calling them “minor” and accusing the press of “maligning the image of the government”.

One BJP MP recently told a news website that the popularity of the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” was a sort of protest by Hindus “against a certain bias and tilt of the polity towards minorities”.

“They are also asserting that we are Hindus and we count as Hindus,” he said.

But critics say that there are other, better, ways of doing that.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48882053

BBC News – Viewpoint: Why India’s Chennai has run out of water

Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, is gaining notoriety as the disaster capital of the world, floods one year, cyclone the next, and drought the year after. But it is not alone. Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman explains why.

Chennai – Tamil Nadu – India, 02 July 2019. As I write this, it has rained in Chennai, the first real welcome shower, but one that lasted only 30 minutes. But, still, that has been enough to flood the streets and stall traffic.

The irony is that Chennai’s vulnerability to floods and its water scarcity have common roots. Blinded by a hurry to grow, the city has paved over the very infrastructures that nurtured water.

Between 1980 and 2010, heavy construction in the city meant its area under buildings increased from 47 sq km to 402 sq km. Meanwhile, areas under wetlands declined from 186 to 71.5 sq km.

The city is no stranger to drought or heavy rains. The north-east monsoon, which brings most of the water to this region in October and November, is unpredictable. Some years it pours, and in other years, it just fails to show up.

Any settlement in the region ought to have been designed for both eventualities, with growth limited not by availability of land but of water. Early agrarian settlements in Chennai and its surrounding districts did exactly this.

Shallow, spacious tanks, called erys in Tamil, were carved out on the region’s flat coastal plains by erecting bunds with the same earth that was scooped out to deepen them. Essentially, the infrastructure for water to stay and flow was created first; the settlements came later.

This agrarian logic valourised open spaces. Each village had vast tracts of land, including water bodies, grazing grounds and wood lots, demarcated as Poromboke or commons. Construction was outlawed in the commons. The three districts of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram alone had more than 6000 erys, some as old as 1,500 years.

So rather than transport water over long distances against gravity, early settlers had the technology and good sense to harvest water where it fell. But this faded with the advent of modern technology.

As urban logic took root, built-up spaces began to be seen as more valuable than open earth. In fact, one could argue that Chennai’s date with “zero water” was made in the 17th Century when it was incorporated as a city by Royal Charter. Born a colony of the British, the city rapidly became a coloniser of the countryside.

The British commandeered a small irrigation ery in a village called Puzhal, and vastly expanded its capacity to supply drinking water to the city, in response to the Madras famine of 1876. Renamed the Redhills Reservoir, this was Chennai’s first centralised, big-budget drinking water project.

Reliance on a distant water source disconnected residents of the fast urbanising settlement from local water and landscapes. For the urban agenda, this was great as it freed up inner-city water bodies for real estate development.

In the 1920s for instance, the ancient 70 acre Mylapore tank was filled up to create what is now a bustling residential and commercial area called T Nagar.

That tank was part of a larger complex called the Long Tank that extended nearly 10 km (6.21 miles) to the north. Now all that remains of these tanks are thoroughfares named Spurtank Road and Tank Bund Road.

The city has pursued its aspirations to become an economic hub by promoting itself as a major IT and automotive manufacturing centre. In addition to attracting new settlers to Chennai and vastly increasing the pressure on scant resources, these industries have dealt death blows to the region’s water infrastructure.

Land-use planning today is a far cry from the simple principles that prevailed in medieval Tamil Nadu.

Wetlands were off-limits for construction, and only low-density buildings were permitted on lands immediately upstream of tanks. The reason: These lands have to soak up the rainwater before letting it to run to the reservoir.

It is this sub-surface water that will flow to the lake as the levels go down with use and time. Unmindful of such common sense, the IT Corridor (a road which houses a large number of IT companies in the city) was built almost entirely on Chennai’s precious Pallikaranai marshlands.

And the area immediately upstream of Chembarambakkam, the city’s largest drinking water tank, has now been converted into an automotive special economic zone (SEZ).

Other water bodies have been treated with similar disdain.

The Perungudi garbage dump spreads out through the middle of the Pallikaranai marshlands.

The Manali marshlands were drained in the 1960s for Tamil Nadu’s largest petrochemical refinery. Electricity for the city comes from a cluster of power plants built on the Ennore Creek, a tidal wetland that has been converted into a dump for coal-ash.

The Pallavaram Big Tank, which is perhaps more than 1,000 years old, has over the last two decades been bisected by a high-speed road with the remainder serving as a garbage dump for the locality.

In Chennai, the water utility supplies are barely a fourth of the total water demand. The remainder is supplied by a powerful network of commercial water suppliers who are sucking resources in the region dry.

Along the periphery of Chennai, and far into the hinterland, the land is dotted with communities whose water and livelihoods have been forcibly taken to feed the city. The water crises in these localities desiccated by the city never make it to the news.

The world won’t change unless we replace capitalism with other ways of doing business that are not premised on the exploitation of nature and people.

Our dominant economic model, with its blind faith in technology, is doomed.

Modern economy views open, un-built land as useless. It believes that value can be extracted from such lands only by digging, drilling, filling, mining, paving or building on it.

Degrading land use change is colliding with climate change in all the modern cities of the world, exposing their vulnerabilities.

Chennai’s struggles with water, be it flooding or scarcity, cannot be addressed unless the city re-examines its values, and how it treats its land and water.

Further growth and more buildings are not an option, it needs to actively shrink in size instead.

By ushering in policies to promote land-friendly economies in the state’s hinterland, the government can make it easier for people to migrate out of the city in a planned and feasible way.

Although difficult, this would be less painful than what would happen if they were to wait for nature to do the job.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a writer and social activist who lives in Chennai.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48797399

BBC News – India arrests after mob attacks female forest officer

Sixteen men have been arrested after a female forest official was brutally beaten with sticks by a mob as police officers watched in the southern Indian state of Telangana.

Kagaznagar – Telangana – India, 03 July 2019. The mob, led by a member of the state’s ruling party, was protesting against a tree plantation drive on Sunday.

A video of the incident has gone viral, and the party has condemned the attack on Twitter.

The forest officer is being treated in hospital for severe injuries.

A video of the incident shows the mob attacking the officer with bamboo sticks, as she stands on a tractor and tries to placate them.

She is repeatedly hit with the sticks until forest officials and local police step in to disperse the mob and contain the attack.

The footage has gone viral in India and led to outrage across the country.

This prompted a high-ranking official of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party, Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, to condemn the incident on Twitter.

The leader of the mob has been identified as Koneru Krishna Rao, a local official who is the brother of a TRS lawmaker. The party confirmed that he has also been arrested.

In his defence, Mr Rao told local media that he was trying to “ensure justice for tribal farmers as forest officials were destroying their crops”.

“The forest department is terrorising tribal farmers and confiscating their land forcefully”, he alleged, adding that the attack was “accidental”.

Two police officers, who were at the scene at the time of the attack, have been suspended for failing to protect the officer, BBC Telugu confirmed.

The incident occurred in the town of Kagaznagar, where the state’s forest department has been authorised to carry out a plantation drive as part of the Kaleshwaram project, a large irrigation scheme, which was inaugurated last week.

Opposition parties in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party, have strongly condemned the attack.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48822530

BBC News – Indian MP Mahua Moitra’s ‘rising fascism’ speech wins plaudits

Geeta Pandey

Delhi – India, 26 June 2019. A spirited turn at the microphone by a first-time female MP in India’s parliament, in which she listed the “signs of early fascism”, has been hailed as the “speech of the year” on social media.

Mahua Moitra, of the opposition Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), said she had seen a list of the early warning signs of fascism on a poster in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the US.

She said she was reading the points to show that India’s constitution was under threat and the country was being “torn apart” by the ruling party’s “lust to divide”.

Ms Moitra began by acknowledging the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the recent elections, but added that “the very nature of the overwhelming-ness of this mandate makes it necessary for the voices of dissent to be heard”.

Then, in a rebuke to the governing party, she listed these seven “danger signs of early fascism”:

  • There is a powerful and continuing nationalism that is searing into our national fabric,” she said. “It is superficial, it is xenophobic and it is narrow. It’s the lust to divide and not the desire to unite.”
  • She pointed to a “resounding disdain for human rights”, which she said had led to a 10-fold increase in the number of hate crimes between 2014 and 2019.
  • Ms Moitra criticised the government for its “unimaginable subjugation and control of mass media”. She said India’s TV channels spend “the majority of airtime broadcasting propaganda for the ruling party”.
  • She attacked the government for what she said was an “obsession with national security”. An “atmosphere of fear” pervaded the country, with new enemies being created every day.
  • “The government and religion are now intertwined. Do I even need to speak about this? Need I remind you that we have redefined what it means to be a citizen?” she demanded, saying laws had been amended to target Muslims.
  • She said “a complete disdain for intellectuals and the arts” and “the repression of all dissent” was the most dangerous sign of all – and it was “pushing India back to the Dark Ages”.
  • The last sign, Ms Moitra said, was the “erosion of independence in our electoral system”.

Ms Moitra spoke for about 10 minutes while MPs from the treasury benches tried to shout her down, but she stood firm and called on the Speaker to rein in the “professional hecklers”.

Her speech in English, which was laced with facts and figures, even included a couple of poems in Hindi. Many people on social media praised her for reciting these as she is not a Hindi-speaker, her mother tongue is Bengali.

A former investment banker with J P Morgan, Ms Moitra quit her well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to Indian politics. She has been the TMC’s national spokesperson for several years and regularly appears in prime-time TV debates.

During the recent elections, I spent two days following her around on the campaign trail in rural Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal state, where the TMC is in power.

In speech after speech, she took direct aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP. She talked about the deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan. She accused the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims. She said elections in the past were to change the government, but this election was to save the constitution of India.

So on Tuesday, when the 43-year-old stood up to address the lower house, I was expecting an intelligent speech. But it was more than that. It won her fans and admirers and trended on Twitter for hours.

Ms Moitra’s speech is significant at a time when one party, Mr Modi’s BJP, dominates parliament and the opposition is struggling to be seen and heard.

It is even more significant considering politics in India is still very patriarchal. It is dominated by men, and women make up only 14% of members of the house. And although there are some fiery female MPs, there are many who prefer to stay on the sidelines.

Ms Moitra, however, is not afraid to ruffle feathers and many will hope her speech inspires more female MPs to do the same.

“We are in the opposition, so we have to bring up the issues. We have to speak up and we have to point it out. We will speak up on whatever issues there are,” Ms Moitra told BBC Hindi on Wednesday, a day after her speech.

“The opposition’s job is to highlight the failings of the government and highlight issues that are not being dealt with by the treasury benches. That is my job and I will do that to the best of my ability.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48755554

BBC News – Is India exaggerating its economic growth?

India’s economic growth might be overestimated, according to the country’s former chief economic adviser.

Sameer Hashmi

Mumbai – Maharashtra – India, 13 June 2019. In a column published in an Indian newspaper, Arvind Subramanian said his research shows India has changed how it measures growth, and this led to its gross domestic product (GDP) being overstated by about 2.5% annually.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s panel of economic advisers has rejected his conclusions, adding it would soon issue a “point-to-point rebuttal”.

Mr Subramanian’s observations have, however, reignited concerns about the credibility of India’s economic growth data.

It was the fastest growing economy in 2018 but many leading economists have argued the new methodology is flawed as it does not truly reflect the economy.

What’s the controversy?

In 2015, India changed the way it measured GDP.

One of the major changes: GDP is now measured by using market prices rather than basic costs. Simply put, the GDP was used to be calculated based on the wholesale prices at which producers received their products. Now, it’s calculated based on the market prices paid by consumers.

And the base year was shifted from 2004-05 to 2011-12 to assess quarterly and annual growth figures. Since then, the methodology has been under scrutiny from economists and statisticians.

Mr Subramanian has reinforced those doubts by claiming that the economic growth for the period between the financial years 2011-12 and 2016-17 is exaggerated. While official estimates put it at 7%, he pegs the “actual growth” at about 4.5%.

His comments are based on his own research, which has been published by the Centre for International Development at Harvard University.

Since 2015, when the new methodology came into effect, a growing number of experts have questioned the high growth estimates under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Despite his government’s claims of rapid growth, unemployment touched a 45-year high between 2017 and 2018.

Raghuram Rajan, former head of India’s central bank and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, has expressed doubts over the data given the high rate of joblessness.

What does the Indian government say?

The government has defended its methodology for calculating economic growth.

“India objectively measures the contribution of various sectors in the economy and the country’s GDP estimates are based on accepted procedures and methodologies,” India’s statistics ministry said in a statement.

This is the not the first time that the government has been questioned over data collection. A study by the statistics ministry found that in the fiscal year which ended June 2016, 36% of companies in the database used for calculating India’s GDP could not be traced or were wrongly classified.

The government itself has admitted there are deficiencies in the way it collets data.

Mr Subramanian has called for an independent panel of experts comprising Indian and foreign nationals to examine India’s GDP data.

“My new research suggests that post-global financial crisis, the heady narrative of a guns-blazing India – that statisticians led us to believe – may have to cede to a more realistic one of an economy growing solidly but not spectacularly,” Mr Subramanian writes.

How will this affect India?

It’s a big blow for Mr Modi’s government, which recently won a second term but is already under pressure to revive economic growth.

The government’s own figures admit that India is no longer the fastest growing economy, it lost that tag to China when its GDP grew at its slowest pace in five years.

Not only could this hurt India’s reputation but it also highlights how economic policies implemented over the past few years may have actually impeded growth by giving an inaccurate picture of the economy.

For example, interest rates in India were kept high to tackle inflation but that created more barriers for businesses, forcing them to borrow capital at a high cost. To make matters worse, the unravelling of the bad loans crisis impacted banks, making it difficult to access money.

The central bank lowered interest rates thrice this year to boost the economy after growth started to falter.

The lack of jobs and the agrarian crisis gripping India are two huge challenges that have weighed down economic growth.

Apart from restoring confidence in the economy, experts say there is an urgent need to revamp the statistical system to capture real-time data for policy analysis. The government has said that it’s working with the World Bank to modernise the way data is collected

Mr Modi has set up committees to device policies that would help attract investment and create employment. Given the gloomy outlook on India’s economy, Mr Subramanian, too, expects the government to act swiftly to tackle the slowdown.

“Going forward, there must be reform urgency stemming from the new knowledge that growth has been tepid, not torrid,” he writes.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48609326

BBC News – India court releases army veteran detained as foreigner

Guwahati – Assam – India, 07 June 2019. A high court in India has ordered the release of a decorated Indian army veteran who was hauled off to a detention camp after being declared a “foreigner” under a controversial measure. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare reports on how the man’s arrest has outraged India.

It was the evening of 27 May and Mohamed Sanaullah, 52, had just reached his home in Guwahati in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, when he got a call from the local police superintendent’s office.

The man on the other end of the line told Mr Sanaullah that the state’s foreigners tribunal had declared him a “foreigner” four days ago and asked him to report there.

“He knew what lay ahead,” Mr Sanaullah’s lawyer and son-in-law, Shahidul Islam, who was with him in Guwahati at the time of his arrest, told the BBC.

He spent the night in police custody.

On Friday, the high court in Assam granted Mr Sanaullah bail. But his lawyer told the Indian Express newspaper that his appeal challenging his detention in the first place is still pending.

Mr Sanaullah is one of four million people who was left off the latest draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last year.

The NRC was first created in 1951 to determine who was born in India and who might be a migrant from neighbouring, Muslim-majority East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh.

The census, conducted only in the north-eastern state of Assam, counts as citizens those who can prove that they were residents of India before midnight on 24 March 1971, a day before Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan.

An army veteran with 30 years of service, Mr Sanaullah was working as an officer with the border police, GuwahatiGuwahatia unit of the state police service – when the call came.

Ironically, one of its main jobs is to stem illegal migration from Bangladesh.

Mr Sanaullah was dispatched to a detention centre the next day, where he has been ever since. There are hundreds of people, also declared foreigners, who are in six detention centres around the state.

Even though the most recent version of the NRC was only published in 2018, Assam has a history of trying people suspected to be foreigners. For decades, it did so under a 1983 law, until it was repealed in 2005. The detention centres were set up in 2009 because of fears that those declared “foreigners” would try and escape.

Many have been languishing there for years.

But Mr Sanaullah was luckier than most. His story caught the attention of national media, which began flashing headlines that a “war hero” in the state had been declared a foreigner.

Outrage quickly followed.

A leader from India’s main opposition Congress party said Mr Sanaullah’s detention was an “insult” to India’s armed forces, adding that it demonstrated that the NRC had been compiled in a “high-handed and flawed” manner.

Others asked if the purpose of the NRC was to identify illegal migrants or label all Muslims as illegal immigrants.

Officials are quick to point out that tens of thousands of Hindus were also left off the list. But critics cite the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

In fact the bill was shelved after people in Assam vehemently protested against it fearing that Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC would still get citizenship to stay on.

As news of Mr Sanaullah’s detention spread, the country’s top court also got involved, expressing its “serious concern”. It summoned the state’s co-ordinator of the NRC and asked him to ensure that the process by which people were deemed foreigners or not was carried out properly.

Mr Sanaullah’s case documents revealed that the case against him was built on the basis of “witness statements” questioning his nationality. These statements were made in 2008 and 2009 by three people in his home village.

The documents also contain an alleged “confession” where Mr Sanaullah reportedly said that he is actually from a village near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

But these are all being questioned now.

For one, all three “witnesses” are flatly denying making any statement against Mr Sanaullah to the investigating officer, who has been identified as Chandramal Das.

“Sanaullah was like family to us. Why would I give a statement against him? I never met Chandramal Das or even heard his name until now,” Sobahan Ali told the BBC.

Another, Quran Ali, said he was mystified to learn his name was given as that of a witness because he had not even been living in the village at the time that he was supposed to have made this statement.

They say their names have been misused and their signatures forged on the document.

Mr Sanaullah’s family also deny he ever made any “confession” about his birthplace to anyone.

These revelations have now prompted police to register a case against Mr Das.

Mr Das, who retired last year, told the NDTV news channel that the entire thing was a “mix-up of reports”, and that he had meant to investigate another man whose name was Sanaulla (both names would be spelled the same in the local language).

“My father only heard of the probe in 2018 when his name didn’t figure in the NRC draft list,” Mr Sanaullah’s daughter Shehnaz Akhar told the BBC.

“It was only when he went to the NRC office that he found out that there was a 10-year-old case against him.”

Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhary, a senior lawyer at the Guwahati high court in Assam, says that this case is hardly unique and that there are hundreds of people like Mr Sanaullah who are languishing in detention camps.

“It’s happening because of lapses on the part of the agencies. Police officials lack knowledge and sometimes act in a biased manner. And the Foreigners Tribunals are manned by members who give verdicts but have little experience. The minimum experience to be a member is seven years.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48523963

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Vet charged with blasphemy over medicine ‘wrapped in religious text’

A Hindu veterinary doctor in south-east Pakistan has been charged under the country’s strict blasphemy laws after allegedly selling medicine wrapped in paper bearing Islamic religious text.

BBC News, 28 May 2019 – An angry crowd set fire to his clinic near Mirpur Khas, Sindh province, and other Hindu-owned shops were looted.

The vet said his use of the paper, apparently torn from an Islamic studies school textbook, was a mistake.

If he is convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry harsh penalties for anyone who insults Islam. Critics say they target a disproportionate number of people from religious minorities.

According to reports, the vet had used pages from the school textbook to wrap up medicines for a customer with sick livestock. But the customer saw Islamic religious content on the pages and went to a local cleric who informed police.

Maulana Hafeez-ur-Rehman, a local leader of the religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami, told BBC Urdu that the doctor had done it deliberately.

According to police, the vet has insisted that his use of the paper was a mistake.

He has since been charged with insulting religious beliefs and defiling the Koran and faces life in prison.

Islam is Pakistan’s national religion and public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.

Correspondents say hardline politicians have often backed severe punishments, partly as a way of shoring up their support base.

Hundreds of Pakistani citizens have been charged with blasphemy over the past few decades and some cases have triggered an international outcry.

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.

She spent years on death row until her conviction was overturned in 2018 by the Supreme Court. She has since left the country.

https://bbc.in/2Wv9it4

BBC News – How Narendra Modi has reinvented Indian politics

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 24 May 2019. Narendra Modi has scored a resounding victory in the Indian general election, securing a second five-year term. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas looks at the main takeaways.

1. The second landside is all about Narendra Modi

India’s polarising prime minister made this an election all about himself.

He should have faced some anti-incumbency. Joblessness has risen to a record high, farm incomes have plummeted and industrial production has slumped. Many Indians were hit hard by the currency ban (also known as demonetisation), which was designed to flush out undeclared wealth, and there were complaints about what critics said was a poorly-designed and complicated uniform sales tax.

The results prove that people are not yet blaming Mr Modi for this.

On the stump, the prime minister repeatedly told people that he needed more than five years to undo more than “60 years of mismanagement”. Voters agreed to give him more time.

Many Indians seem to believe that Mr Modi is a kind of messiah who will solve all their problems. A survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based think tank, a third of BJP voters said they would have supported another party if Mr Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.

“This tells you how much this vote was for Mr Modi, more than the BJP. This election was all about Mr Modi’s leadership above all else,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told me.

In a sense, Mr Modi’s second successive landslide win echoes Ronald Reagan’s abiding popularity as US president in the 1980s, when he somehow escaped blame for his country’s economic woes. Reagan was called the Great Communicator and for being a “teflon” president whose mistakes never stuck to him. Mr Modi enjoys a similar reputation.

Many say Mr Modi has made India’s elections more presidential. But strong prime ministers have often overshadowed their parties – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Indira Gandhi are some obvious examples.

“There is no question that Mr Modi is the most popular politician in India since Indira Gandhi. He is peerless when it comes to the national stage at the present,” says Dr Vaishnav.

The 2014 win was partly a vote in anger against the corruption-tainted Congress party. Thursday’s win is an affirmation for Mr Modi. He has become the first leader since 1971 to secure a single party majority twice in a row. “This is a victory for Modi and his vision of a new India,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of history at Ashoka University.

2. A cocktail of development and nationalism worked

A combination of nationalist rhetoric, subtle religious polarisation and a slew of welfare programmes helped Mr Modi to coast to a second successive win.

In a bitter and divisive campaign, Mr Modi effortlessly fused nationalism and development. He created binaries: the nationalists (his supporters) versus the anti-nationals (his political rivals and critics); the watchman (Modi himself, protecting the country on “land, air, and outer space”) versus the entitled and the corrupt (an obvious dig at the main opposition Congress party).

Aligned to this, deftly, was the promise of development. Mr Modi’s targeted welfare schemes for the poor, homes, toilets, credit, cooking gas, have used technology for speedy delivery. However, the quality of these services and how much they have helped ameliorate deprivation is debatable.

Mr Modi also mined national security and foreign policy as vote-getters in a manner never seen in a general election in recent history.

After a suicide attack, claimed by Pakistan-based militants, which killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in disputed Kashmir and the retaliatory air strike against Pakistan in the run-up to the election, Mr Modi successfully convinced the masses that the country would be secure if he remained in power.

People having no obvious interest in foreign policy, farmers, traders, labourers, told us during our campaign travels that India had won the respect of the outside world under Mr Modi.

“It is all right if there’s little development, but Modi is keeping the nation secure and keeping India’s head high,” a voter in the eastern city of Kolkata told me.

3. Modi’s win signals a major shift in politics

Mr Modi’s persona has become larger than his cadre-based party, and a symbol of hope and aspiration for many.

Under Mr Modi and his powerful aide Amit Shah, the BJP has developed into a ruthless party machine. “The geographical expansion of the BJP is a very significant development,” says Mahesh Rangarajan.

Traditionally, the BJP has found its strongest support in India’s populous Hindi-speaking states in the north. (Of the 282 seats the party won in 2014, 193 came from these states.) The exceptions are Gujarat, Mr Modi’s home state and a BJP bastion, and Maharashtra, where the BJP has governed in alliance with a local party.

But since Mr Modi became PM, the BJP has formed governments in key north-eastern states like Assam and Tripura, which are primarily Assamese and Bengali-speaking.

And in this election, the BJP, where it contested more seats than the Congress, has emerged as a force to reckon with in non-Hindi speaking states like Orissa and West Bengal in the east.

The party’s modest presence in southern India still doesn’t make it a truly pan-Indian party like the Congress of yore, but the BJP is moving towards it.

Twenty years ago when it was in power under Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP seemed content being the first among equals, the largest party in a group of parties which tried to run a stable government.

Under Mr Modi, the BJP commands an overwhelming majority in parliament as the first party, and there are no equals.

He and Amit Shah have adopted an aggressive take-no-prisoners style of politics. The party is not a seasonal machine that comes alive during elections. It appears to be in permanent political campaign mode.

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar believes India could be moving towards a one-party dominant state like the Congress in the past.

He calls it the “second dominant party system”, with the BJP leading the pack, and the main opposition Congress remaining “weak and nominal” and the regional parties losing ground.

4. Nationalism and yearning for a strongman played a key role

Mr Modi’s strident nationalism as a main campaign plank seems to have overruled the more pressing economic problems facing voters.

Some analysts believe that under Mr Modi, India could be inching towards a more “ethnic democracy”, which requires the “mobilisation of the majority in order to preserve the ethnic nation”.

This would look more like Israel which sociologist Sammy Smooha characterised as a state that “endeavours to combine an ethnic identity (Jewish) and a parliamentary system drawing its inspiration from Western Europe”.

Will Hindu nationalism become the default mode of Indian politics and society?

It will not be easy, India thrives on diversity. Hinduism is a diverse faith. Social and linguistic differences hold India together. Democracy is an additional glue.

The BJP’s strand of strident Hindu nationalism, conflating Hinduism and patriotism, may not appeal to all Indians. “There’s no other place in the world where diversity is so spectral and a drive to homogenise so fraught,” says Professor Rangarajan.

Also India’s shift to the right is not unique to India, it’s happening with the new right in the Republican Party in the US, and the central ground of French and German politics has shifted rightwards.

India’s rightward shift is clearly part of a wider trend where the nature of nationalism is being redefined and cultural identity is being given renewed emphasis.

How valid are fears that India is sliding into a majoritarian state under Mr Modi?

He is not the first leader to be called a fascist and authoritarian by his critics; Mrs Gandhi was called both when she suspended civil liberties and imposed the Emergency in the mid-1970s. People voted her out after two years.

Mr Modi is a strongman, and people possibly love him for that.

A 2017 report by the CSDS showed that respondents who supported democracy in India had dropped from 70% to 63% between 2005 and 2017. A Pew report in 2017 found that 55% of respondents backed a “governing system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts”.

But the yearning for a strongman is not unique to India. Look at Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.

5. India’s Grand Old Party faces an existential crisis

The Congress has suffered a second successive drubbing but for now is likely to remain the second largest party nationally.

But it’s way behind the BJP and is facing a major crisis: the shrinking of its geographical space.

In Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, India’s most populous region, the party is virtually non-existent. The party is invisible in southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In the industrially developed west of India, the party last won a state election in Gujarat in 1990, and hasn’t been in power in Maharashtra since Mr Modi became PM.

Several questions are going to be asked after a second successive general election debacle. How can the party become more acceptable to more allies? How will the party be run? How does the party reduce its dependence on the Gandhi dynasty and open itself to younger leaders? (The Congress is still a party of second and third generation leaders in several states.) How does Congress build a grassroots network of workers to take on the BJP?

“The Congress will likely muddle along, as it has in the last several election cycles. It is not a party known for deep introspection. But there are enough two-party states in India where the Congress is at odds with the BJP to create a floor for the Congress,” says Milan Vaishnav.

Political scientist Yogendra Yadav, who’s also a politician these days, believes the Congress has outlived its utility and “must die”. But parties are capable of reinvention and renewal. Only the future will tell whether the Congress can rebuild itself from the ruins.

6. A mixed future for India’s regional parties

In the bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends more MPs to parliament than any other, the BJP is looking at a repeat of its stunning 2014 performance when it won 71 of 80 seats. It is one of India’s most socially divided and economically disadvantaged states.

This time, Mr Modi’s party was expected to face stiff competition from a formidable alliance of powerful regional parties, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, which was aptly named the “mahagatbandhan” or grand alliance.

Mr Modi’s charisma and chemistry appear to have triumphed over the hard-nosed “social arithmetic” forged by these two regional parties who have always counted on the faithful votes of a section of lower caste Indians and untouchables (formerly known as Dalits). That faith is now broken, and it also proves that caste arithmetic is not immutable.

India’s regional parties must now rethink their strategies and offer a more compelling economic and social vision. Otherwise, more and more of their own voters will abandon them.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48293048