The Telegraph – MEPs’ visit to Kashmir: Modi’s assault on the sovereignty of Parliament

While opening Kashmir’s doors to international evaluators, he has chosen to deny this right to Indian party leaders

Editorial Board

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 31 October 2019. The veneration of guests is an Indian tradition. But Narendra Modi and his government seem to have taken the mantra of ‘atithi devo bhava’ a bit too much to heart. Twenty Over 20 members of the European Parliament, the bunch was carefully pruned to include mainly right-wingers, had been invited to Kashmir to assess the situation on the ground.

The guests, evidently, have reciprocated the warmth of the hosts, parroting the Centre’s rhetoric in spite of the terror attack that took the lives of migrant labourers from Bengal. The issue, though, is not about such orchestrated harmony. The blatant double standards adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government as well as its convoluted strategy on a region as sensitive as Kashmir merits serious examination.

By extending an invitation to an unofficial delegation of foreign dignitaries, a professed ‘international business broker’ was given precedence over the external affairs ministry in arranging the meeting, Mr Modi, it can be argued, has contradicted his assertion that developments in Kashmir are an internal matter only. If this was indeed the case, what was the need for an assessment from visitors from Europe?

Opening up an internal matter to the scrutiny of lawmakers from the Continent could, in fact, strengthen the shrill voices demanding international arbitration on restive Kashmir. Could the BJP’s capitulation be attributed to the hostile international reactions to the prolonged lockdown in the Valley?

After all, the human rights situation in Kashmir had made it to Congressional hearings in the United States of America.

Moreover, a fair appraisal of the prevailing situation must include the people of Kashmir as a stakeholder in the dialogue. Interestingly, the invitation to a Liberal Democrat lawmaker was withdrawn when he insisted upon his right to engage freely in Kashmir.

What is unacceptable and shocking is that while opening Kashmir’s doors to international evaluators, Mr Modi has chosen to deny this fundamental right to leaders of Indian political parties. Should not this hypocrisy be seen as an assault on the sovereignty of Parliament, the repository of the will of a democratic people?

This discrimination is, in fact, worthy of legal scrutiny. Each of these transgressions on the part of an elected government is indicative of an inertia in policy. This is only to be expected when narrow ideology begins to colour the strategic vision. The BJP is not being careful with its narrative on Kashmir. That could explain this public relations disaster.

The Hindu – Intellectuals who wrote to PM ‘anti-nationals’: BJP

Special Correspondent

Kolkata – West-Bengal – India, 27 July 2019. A day after a group of eminent citizens wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in cases of lynchings, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh dubbed the signatories of the letter as “sycophants” and “anti-nationals”.

“If these sycophant intellectuals, who are writing to the Prime Minister, have any shame left they will first protest against lynchings in Bengal. People are being beaten up for chanting Jai Shri Ram in Bengal”, Mr Ghosh said on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, Mr Ghosh said that the intellectuals who wrote to the Prime Minister were acting as “stooges of Opposition parties out to malign the BJP government”.

“They are anti-nationals”, he said.

Forty-nine people including well-known filmmakers like Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen and actors like Soumitra Chatterjee and Kaushik Sen signed the letter dated 23 July.

Targeting those signatories who are from West Bengal, the state BJP president said that they are scared to utter even a word against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Mr Ghosh also alleged that Ms Banerjee was behind the initiative.

One of the letter writers “threatened”

Meanwhile, actor Kaushik Sen, one of signatories of the letter, told journalists in Kolkata that he has been “threatened by an unknown caller with dire consequences”.

Mr Sen said that the caller asked him that why he is “silent when Hindus are beaten up” and warned him to mend his ways or face dire consequences. The actor said that he had informed the police and other signatories about the development.

The Tribune – Shillong Sikhs get more time to submit papers

Tribune News Service

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 24 July 2019. Three cases slated to come up in the Meghalaya High Court on August 28 hold the key to the much-needed relief sought by the Sikhs of Shillong’s Harijan Colony, or Punjabi Lane area.

On Tuesday, the the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) gave a fresh notice asking the residents to provide by August 30 the details about their residence in the locality. The prescribed format includes a column on the “period of stay” which has to be backed by “document of proof in support”.

“The Shillong Municipal Board has no right to ask us about the Harijan Colony. The Syiem (tribal chief) had given us the land. The colony does not belong to the SMB,” Gurjit Singh, secretary of the Harijan Colony Panchayat, said over the phone from Delhi. According to him, the settlement of Sikhs in Shillong dates back to the period before 1863.

Attempts, including a full-blown riot between the local Khasis and Sikhs last year, to evict the residents of Harijan Colony are a regular feature of the otherwise picturesque Meghalaya capital. The latest attack on the Punjabi Lane Sikhs came in the form of notices given to them by the SMB on May 31, asking the residents to prove by July 3 their ownership of the land or building they were staying in.

Tuesday’s notice is a continuation of the last notice. No resident of Harijan Colony complied with the May 31 notice. Following Tuesday’s notice, Gurjit Singh left for Delhi where he has been confabulating with Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee leaders and others and exploring various options, including legal options.

Court holds the key

Three cases will come up before the Meghalaya High Court on August 28:

  • A contempt plea filed by the Harijan Colony Panchayat against the SMB CEO for issuing a relocation notice disregarding a HC order
  • A review petition filed by state govt challenging the HC order which said the land ownership must be decided by a civil court first
  • A petition by Harijan Colony headman Billu Singh regarding a 1954 pact between the local tribal chief (Syiem) and SMB

The Telegraph – National Register of Citizens (NRC): A major storm is brewing

Even pro-BJP groups recognize that the registration exercise could end up condemning Indians to an appalling fate

Sanjoy Hazarika

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 15 July 2019. The National Register of Citizens process in Assam ploughs relentlessly on. At the end of this month a full list is to be published, ostensibly of all Indians identified in the state. That is when the scale of misery and jubilation may be gauged. Yet that’s not the end of this long, complex journey.

A few days back, another list was published of one lakh persons who are to be left out of the list because they could not produce convincing documentation; this followed scattershot complaints by unidentified persons against some who were already on the NRC.

For those who do not make the cut on July 31, there is a longer battle in store, they will have to spend time, funds (invest in lawyers) and appear before quasi-judicial processes, the foreigners tribunals, to prove their nationality.

These courts, manned by lawyers without extensive judicial experience or deep knowledge of jurisprudence, are the first point of appeal followed by the state high court and finally the Supreme Court.

The Assam government had said it would add 400 FTs more to the current 100 (it later promised 1,000), but has it made the clear determination of whether the person is fully qualified for that office and can take a decision without fear or favour?

Many of us who have followed the long and tortuous journey of the NRC, and the earlier struggle between the 1970s-1980s by student groups and others for detection of foreign nationals (that is, the ubiquitous ‘Bangladeshi’), had pinned faith in a process that would create a list which would be clean, clear and correct.

Knowing the complexities of Assam, a simple land with deep divisions, this was perhaps a naive hope.

The ‘foreigners issue’, as the question of informal migration (largely from Bangladesh) is defined in popular terms in Assam, is a challenge that goes back to the time of Independence. However, critical perceptions about in-migration and demographic change precede that.

Assam now appears to be entering an uncertain period with little clarity on a fundamental question: will the list competently identify ‘foreigners’? Arguably some 29 million persons had made the cut last July but all hell broke loose with the announcement that nearly four million had not.

Of the latter, 3.2 million persons have petitioned for their inclusion and the issue has figured at international and national forums. Some of the stories which have emerged over the past year are worth repeating, for they cut across religious, ethnic and language divisions and point to major inaccuracies.

In case after case, a pattern has emerged showing a combination of poor judgment, problematic data, arbitrariness or just indifference that has harmed Indians.

A Kargil veteran who was marched into a detention camp and then released; a policeman who cannot vote since he has been proclaimed a foreigner; a 92-year-old man who has had to be carried into court to face trial; a woman who ended up in a detention camp when the police could not find the person they were looking for and just picked her up; prominent Gorkhas including a Sahitya Akademi winner find themselves in the excluded list.

In many cases, a mismatch of a letter in a name connecting them to either parent or grandparent was enough to bar them.

Most of the cases cited above, barring the Gorkhas, were people of Bengali origin, both Hindu and Muslim. It is not just about religion. The poor and vulnerable who cannot afford lawyers find themselves in this situation.

The NRC impact is spreading: other states are arming themselves with similar plans. Nagaland has started a 60-day exercise aimed at identifying the indigenous people (read members of 16 Naga tribes whose homes are in the state) and one anti-immigrant group has declared that the “indigenous” are those who are “Naga by blood”.

Does the definition of the indigenous in Nagaland includes mainland Indians, be they Assamese, Bengali (Hindus and Muslim), Marwari, Bihari or from other parts of this country?

It does not take a tarot card reader to see that a major storm is brewing. Many may not have predicted this when the NRC was given wings in 2016, after the Bharatiya Janata Party gained power in Assam. What has unfortunately happened is that the exercise in Nagaland and in parts of Assam could end up condemning Indians to an appalling fate.

Even pro-BJP groups recognize this. One said recently that it had procured 2.8 million signatures of people in Assam demanding an “error-free NRC”. It pointed out that the Supreme Court itself had suggested a pilot sample reverification of 10 per cent of the total number on the NRC but not issued orders for this. Its concern was that many Hindus of Bangla origin would be left out.

A recent citizen’s group which travelled across three districts in Assam found that many women, both Hindu and Muslim, have been declared foreigners because they did not have the documents to link them to their father, the crucial “legacy data” or family tree link in the NRC.

Prateek Hajela, the NRC state coordinator, has said that “inability to provide linkage documents appears to be the biggest reason why applicants couldn’t substantiate their claims”.

Indeed, from its very start, the NRC exercise has struggled with technical hurdles.

For one, the key base document for the NRC is its predecessor: the first and only NRC of 1951. Yet enumerators found that copies of this NRC were not available in three districts: Sivasagar, Cachar and Karbi Anglong.

So new data based on 16 parameters were developed for these district populations, 67 to 68 years after this initial exercise, based on electoral rolls and census data. Two separate systems of checks and cross checks have had to be created, quite different from each other. Is it surprising that there should be confusion?

The exercise is officially over on July 31. But there is no clarity on what happens to those out of the lists, will they stay at their homes and fight trials, will they have to move elsewhere, will those found as foreigners by FTs be sent to detention camps after a 120-period when appeals can be heard?

A Union minister of state for home affairs has told Parliament that a new manual for detention camps was being prepared with the following proposed facilities: “electricity, drinking water, hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets with running water, communication facilities, provision for kitchen”.

The draft manual has been sent to all state governments raising questions about how long the Centre proposes to keep people at such sites.

This is aimed obviously at blunting criticism by some who have been released from detention camps in Assam after their Indian-ness was upheld. They describe conditions are appalling with scores packed into a single room and sharing a single toilet.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that even those detected as Bangladeshis cannot be deported unless Bangladesh acknowledges them as its own, which it steadfastly refuses to do.

Governments are required to uphold Constitutional obligations, especially Article 21 of the Constitution, which proclaims that no one may be deprived of his life and liberty except by due process. In addition, there are India’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which does not recognize statelessness.

The author is international director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

The Tribune – Fresh 30-day notice to Shillong Sikhs

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 04 July 2019. The Shillong Municipal Board would soon issue a fresh public notice to Sikh residents of Punjabi Lane area, giving them 30 days to provide proof regarding possession of land or buildings in the area.

Meghalaya Deputy CM Prestone Tynsong disclosed this after a meeting of the high-level committee, constituted in June last year after violent clashes between Sikhs and local Khasis.

The deadline of an earlier notice expired on Wednesday. Tynsong said none of the residents complied and not paying heed to the new notice would amount to contempt of court.

The Hindu – Amartya Sen says ‘Jai Shri Ram’ not part of Kolkata’s culture

Slogan is a recent import and used as a pretext to beat people up, he states.

Staff Reporter

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 06 July 2019. Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has said the affinity towards the slogan, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, was a recent development in West Bengal and not part of Kolkata’s culture.

It was not a phrase to which any consequence was attributed earlier “in my days,” he said “It, Jai Shri Ram, is a recent import used as a pretext to beat people up,” he said in an interaction with students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, where he was a professor of economics in the mid-fifties, on Friday.

Earlier in the day, at a seminar in the city on advancement of education through teachers’ capabilities, Professor Sen said when “someone is asked to alight a rickshaw, told to repeat a particular phrase and then hit with a stick if the person refused to say so then then I am alarmed.”

At least a dozen cases had surfaced since the declaration of the recent general election results when members of a minority community were beaten up in the State allegedly even after saying ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ On Wednesday, an 11-year-old boy was thrashed in Hooghly district allegedly for refusing to say ‘Jai Shri Ram.’

Professor Sen, however, did not mention any particular incident but indicated that such incidents were growing. “We do not want to discriminate between various castes, religion or communities, but it is increasing,” he said at the seminar.

Later in the evening, in Jadavpur University, where he interacted with eminent social scientist Partha Chatterjee, Professor Sen reiterated the issue of discrimination.

“These days, when I hear that members of a particular community are scared and going out of their houses in this city with an element of fear, then I fail to recognise this city, the city of my pride. We need to ask questions now,” he said.

Professor Sen was interacting with Professor Chatterjee on ‘Kolkata after Independence: A personal memoir’ that is possibly part of his forthcoming autobiography.

‘Hindu Mahasabha introduced similar culture’

He further said in the question and answer session that Bengalis were not connected with “the culture” of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or Ram Navami but this new culture was imported to promote divisive politics in the State.

He argued that the Hindu Mahasabha once introduced a similar culture in the State to create an atmosphere of divisive politics. “For the same reason, this ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan is introduced,” he said.

Professor Sen extensively discussed his student days in Presidency College [now a university], the excitement in the university area in central Kolkata or the iconic Coffee House, his years as a student with its warmth and the politics of the 1950s.

He also fondly reminisced about his early years in Jadavpur University as a teacher and his days at Cambridge University.

Gandhi Bhavan, the main auditorium of Jadavpur University, was chock-a-block and many could not enter the auditorium to listen to the interaction.

A few who came from the districts were upset and later posted on social media asking why the event could not be hosted in a bigger space.

BJP State president Dilip Ghosh, however, said that “nobody is listening to intellectuals like Amartya Sen”.

He said, “Everywhere, people are raising both their hands to say ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ Communists are finished”.

The Tribune – Shillong Sikhs reject government panel on land

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 03 July 2019. The Harijan Panchayat Committee, spearheading the resistance to Meghalaya government’s attempt to evict Sikh residents of Shillong’s Punjabi Lane area, today accused the high-level committee (HLC) under Deputy CM Prestone Tynsong as being “partisan” and said that no way they would accept its decision.

The HLC was constituted by the state after an incident of assault in the Punjabi Lane area in May last year, which resulted in violent group clashes between Sikhs and local Khasis.

The Harijan Panchayat Committee also categorically rejected what it called the “polite threat” of the Deputy CM, who had recently asked the Sikh settlers to shift on their own from Punjabi Lane, also known as Sweeper’s Colony.

On May 31, the Shillong Municipal Board issued notice to the Sikh residents to provide documents with regard to their possession of land or buildings in Punjabi Lane, located at a stone’s throw distance of Shillong’s prime commercial area, Police Bazaar.

Today was the last day of the submission of documents, but none complied with the directive.

The Telegraph – The environment was not a priority for any party

A candidate who made the environment his campaign mission lost miserably, but he believes he succeeded in no small way

Manasi Shah

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 09 June 2019. At first glance there is no telling that the man in blue is the green candidate, Independent, for Calcutta South. Niraj Agarwal, who contested this Lok Sabha seat against heavyweights such as the Trinamul’s Mala Roy and the BJP’s Chandra Bose, looks the corporate type that stays a mile away from issues political.

“I got into this because I wanted my children to grow up in a cleaner environment. You have to relate to something in order to champion it,” says the 37-year-old cyber security expert.

Agarwal, who polled a mere 1,658 votes, did not contest these elections thinking he would pull off a big win, but he did know what he was doing.

He says, “The idea was to use the momentum around elections to shake up people into thinking that the environment should be an election issue, at whatever level.”

From what Agarwal says about his campaign, he practised what he preached. He, along with his friends, wore masks with the message “Vote For Environment” and ran a zero carbon footprint campaign, basically, no paper. He says, “Parties take out pamphlets and newspaper inserts.

These are definitely effective ways of reaching out to a votebank but these methods would go against the very cause I am fighting for. So I did everything digitally including carrying the electoral rolls on my tablet.”

Agarwal’s election symbol was a pair of binoculars. “Someone suggested an hourglass to show time is running out; someone else a torch to show light, or a spanner to mean we will fix things,” he says.

Finally, he settled for what he thought best represented foresight. His campaign tagline read: A party candidate works for the party and an Independent candidate works for you.

Once the general elections were announced, Agarwal studied the party manifestos and was disappointed. He says, “In the BJP manifesto, there was a fleeting mention of air pollution and the National Clean Air Programme. But it was just another policy document rustled up in time for the elections. I also studied the feedback of environmentalists.

Even they felt it was all hogwash. The regional parties did not mention environment at all. That’s when I thought, why should we wait for another five years and another party and another individual to realise that there is an environment problem?

The leaders are not waking up, at least the electorate should wake up and understand that whoever they elect must be aware of these issues.”

Agarwal has two decades of volunteering experience. He has rallied for issues as varied as the uplift of underprivileged children, feeding the hungry, rehabilitating destitute children found in and around railway stations.

Sometime in early 2018, he started an online project called India Against Pollution. It was about raising awareness of the battered environment to a degree that citizens demanded more action from elected governments. “The greater the awareness, the more will be the pressure on the government,” he says.

The poll issues Agarwal fought on were an extension of these things. His 15-point manifesto covered pollution, of all kinds; rising costs, poor quality of education; affordable healthcare; vanishing greenery; public space encroachments and so on and so forth.

His campaign website was called VIKALP, an acronym for Vote Independent Ko At Lok Sabha Polls. He explains, “Vikalp also means alternative. We wanted to give people an alternative way of looking at politics. Personal attacks and mud-slinging that happens in Indian politics is not required. We need more issue-based elections.”

Agarwal says, prior to this he had little clue about the entire election process, from nomination to research. But even when things were getting difficult, Agarwal says he knew he would make a statement just by contesting these elections. He says, “And that statement would be that a well-read and well-qualified citizen can also be a part of politics and act as a change-maker.”

Some people got his point, but it became apparent to Agarwal that even they would not cast their votes in his favour. He says, “People would ask me if I was getting money for this, if I was a proxy candidate, if I was there to cut into the BJP’s votes.

Some of my friends told me they understood the importance of my green campaign but they would not vote for me because they were going to vote for Narendra Modi. This election was completely polarised at many levels.” Before result day, he called other candidates and requested each of them to make environment the priority, whoever got the people’s mandate.

Agarwal lost his deposit but it does not seem to have cast a shadow on his enthusiasm. He says, “There is a huge awareness gap that has to be filled.

We need to take action, not only at our own level but also demand it from our leaders so they are compelled to do something. We are planning to petition all 543 MPs and ask for their (green) roadmap.” He pauses and continues, “Just like parties are fighting against each other to put money in our bank accounts, we want parties to compete with each other on who will plant more trees.”

The Telegraph – How Hindu nationalism is changing India

Book excerpt: Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India, Edited by Angana P Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, Christophe Jaffrelot

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 22 April 2019. Over the past five years, India has moved further away from the multicultural model set forth in its secular constitution.

While its prescriptions have never been followed to the letter, as seen in the underrepresentation of minorities, Muslims in particular, in the administration, the police and the military, as of 2014, Muslims also began to vanish from elected assemblies, where this minority is hardly represented anymore.

Not only are Muslims marginalised in major institutions and the public sphere, but they are targeted by Hindu nationalist militias as well. These groups are trying to rid the public space of this minority by (re)converting its members to the dominant religion, preventing them from praying in the open and prohibiting them from acquiring real estate in mixed residential areas.

They are also trying to cut the majority community off from the Muslim minority by preventing interfaith marriages. Over and beyond this, the vigilantes attack Muslims, accusing them of eating beef or taking cows to slaughter, which is against the law.

Not only do these accusations sometimes result in perfectly illegal lynchings, but in many cases vigilantes also enjoy police protection.

The fact that vigilantes and police work hand in glove has several explanations. Firstly, not only is Muslim presence in the police very weak, but also, Hindu nationalists endeavour to infiltrate this pillar of law enforcement.

A BJP Member of the Legislative Council (upper house of a state legislature) from Karnataka interviewed by Cobrapost and journalists at party headquarters in Mangalore thus explained, ‘We have tried to send some of our boys into police.

When I talk to students I tell them to join the police. So, when we need help there are a lot of karyakartas [militants of the] [RSS]. Sixty percent of the young constables are our students.’

Secondly, while the conduct of Hindu militias is illegal, they enjoy a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the majority because they claim that they are acting in defence of the dominant religion.

Thirdly, and correlatively, vigilantes enjoy popular support and neutralise opponents, not only because they promote Hinduism, but also because of their sense of organisation, their penetration of society and the weapons they carry.

Sangeet Som, mentioned above, thus explains:

This is Hindustan and it does not matter which party is running the government. In a democratic country like this, there are many other ways to get things done. The police know it well that we will do picketing, hold demonstration and all this will lead to rioting. So, they perforce co-operate with us.

This ability to enforce its version of the law no matter what party is in power, and thus independently from the state, demonstrates the success of the RSS project, which since 1925, has endeavoured to win Hindu society over to its cause rather than to conquer political power directly.

The attitude of those in government is of course important, but more than anything else, the RSS expects them not to interfere with its work and even to facilitate it. It does not expect the state to operate in its stead, as no state can transform minds from above.

That is a long-term task that can only be accomplished through action at the grassroots level, and which is compatible with a certain form of democracy.

In Som’s above-quoted remarks, he indeed speaks of India’s democratic nature as a good thing. The country can thus continue to enjoy a positive image abroad, and majority rule, at the heart of the democratic system, is naturally appreciated by proponents of Hindu majoritarianism.

Once the majority is won over to Hindutva, its champions are bound to benefit from this regime. This is indeed the position of proponents of an ethnic democracy, a concept I will return to in closing this chapter.

This notion is a contradiction in terms because it divides the ‘demos’ into two categories: some citizens do not have the same rights as others simply because of their faith. But majority communities living in ethnic democracies do not see things this way.

Israeli Jews, for instance, claim to support the principles of democracy, as the supreme court moreover stated in a 1988 decision denying the right of the Progressive List for Peace to participate in elections because the party refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state in essence: ‘there is no contradiction whatsoever between these two things: The state is the state of the Jews, while its regime is an enlightened democratic regime that accords rights to all citizens, Jews and non-Jews.’

The judges even went so far as to consider that ‘the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state does not negate its democratic nature, any more than the Frenchness of France contradicts its democratic nature.’

This approach does not pertain only to institutions, as, according to Smooha, ‘Jewish public opinion not only condones constraints imposed on Arabs, but also endorses preferential treatment of Jews.’

An opinion poll taken in 1995 among Israeli Jews showed that 74.1 per cent of them expected the state to give Jews preferential treatment over Arabs, who, for 30.9 per cent of the respondents, should not even have the right to vote, or be hired in civil service jobs according to 32.2 per cent.

Smooha adds, underscoring the scope of the problem: ‘Most Jews do not even perceive the above differential practices as discriminatory against Arabs, but consider them rather as preferences rightfully accorded to them as Jews in a Jewish state.’

Paradoxically, Smooha concludes, ‘The Israeli case demonstrates the viability of an ethnic democracy as a distinct type of democracy in deeply divided societies.’ He considers on the whole that, ‘As a mode of conflict regulation, it is superior to genocide, ethnic cleansing, involuntary population transfer and systems of non-democratic domination.’

Such an approach resonates as an invitation to minorities to accept a status as dominated, second-class citizens, the plea of Arabs of Israel. In India, a similar evolution may one day result in constitutional amendments transforming a de facto Hindu Rashtra into a de jure one.

Excerpted with permission from Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India, Edited by Angana P Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, Christophe Jaffrelot; HarperCollins India, Rs 899

BBC News – Why ‘India’s FBI’ agents are clashing with police

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 04 February 2019. Imagine state policemen in the US detaining FBI agents investigating a case on state territory. Then imagine the governor of the state starting a public protest against the FBI and the president for carrying out what she calls an act of vendetta against her government.

Now imagine federal forces being deployed to protect their offices in the state, fearing attacks by supporters of the governor. This possibly sounds like a plot from a dystopian political novel. But it is what is happening in India.

A group of detectives belonging to India’s federal investigation agency, the CBI, arrived at the well-secured home of the commissioner of police of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) in West Bengal state on Sunday evening.

They said they wanted to question Rajeev Kumar in connection with a ponzi scandal. (The multi-million dollar scam, involving businessmen, politicians, journalists and film producers, defrauded a large number of small investors.)

But Mr Kumar refused to meet the detectives. Instead his forces detained the agents, who are recruited from the police forces themselves, and took them away to a police station. They were freed after a few hours, and returned without being able to question Mr Kumar.

Mr Kumar had led the early local investigation into the scandal, before the case was taken over by the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The federal agency, say reports, unsuccessfully tried to question Mr Kumar half-a-dozen times in the past in connection with some evidence he had purportedly collected in the case. The agency believes that he is “hiding” something.

The ponzi scandal, involving at least two small investment companies, came to light in 2013 under the watch of the leader of West Bengal state. In India’s male-dominated politics, Mamata Banerjee is a rare firebrand woman leader who commands mass support.

She took power in 2011, ending 34 years of communist rule in the state. (The following year, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.) The feisty Ms Banerjee has ruled West Bengal ever since.

Ms Banerjee has a testy relationship with the federal government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is, in part, because Mr Modi’s party is trying to make inroads into Bengal, using its usual mix of development promises and sectarian rhetoric.

After a series of setbacks in state polls Mr Modi no longer looks invincible in general elections due this summer. And Ms Banerjee, an astute rival, is trying to position herself as a prime ministerial contender, in the event of an opposition win. Recently, she organised a well-attended meeting of 23 opposition parties who vowed to defeat Mr Modi.

Ms Banerjee, who is now holding an “indefinite” public protest in Kolkata, accuses Mr Modi’s party of targeting her government.

The BJP picked up 17% of vote share, but just two seats, in Bengal in the 2014 general elections. The party is desperately hoping for an improved performance this summer. It accuses Ms Banerjee of triggering a “constitutional crisis” by setting her police on federal agents.

Historian Ramachandra Guha says the latest battle is a “war between two ruthless and amoral politicians with absolute and equal disregard for institutional propriety”.

In the end, this unprecedented, and ugly, incident is actually symptomatic of a worrying erosion of India’s institutions and the regrettable breakdown of political bipartisanship.

The CBI, which reports to the ruling federal government, was once described as a “caged parrot” and has been used by successive governments to hobble political opponents. It has, many believe, lost credibility. In October, the government had to remove the two men at the top of the agency after each accused the other of corruption.

The standoff is the latest manifestation of a crisis that has often bedevelled the Indian state: the inability of an extremely powerful federal government, Mr Modi rules with an outright majority, to handle equally powerful and assertive regional leaders. It is a crisis which is at the heart of India’s federalism.