The Wire – In 10 Steps, Here’s how Modi and Shah managed the murder of democracy in Maharashtra

The two leaders knew they could not afford to let the Maharashtra government out of their hands and had prepared the ground, from day one, to ensure the BJP returned to power.

Siddharth Varadarajan

Mumbai – Maharashstra – India, 23 November 2019. In the early hours of Saturday, when the people of Maharashtra were fast asleep, the country awoke to strife and unfreedom.

News of the death of democracy, the tearing up of constitutional norms, was broken by the executioner-in-chief, Narendra Modi, through his preferred medium, Twitter.

Curiously, the morning newspapers had all led with the headline that the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray was going to be Maharashtra chief minister.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar had made this big announcement to reporters on Friday night after it was clear the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress had managed to sink their political differences and make common cause against the BJP.

For Prime Minister Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, Pawar’s announcement was a call for them to don protective gear and descend into the political sewers.

The two leaders knew they could not afford to let the Maharashtra government out of their hands and had prepared the ground, from day one, to ensure the BJP returned to power. They had already played fast and loose with norms and principles; all that was required was a final act of brazenness, which they pulled off without any hesitation or embarrassment.

Here, in 10 steps, is how Modi and Shah cleared the way for Devendra Fadnavis to return as chief minister of Maharashtra.

1. Prior to the election campaign, the Modi government at the Centre got the investigative agencies to escalate corruption investigations and charges against NCP leaders Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel. The two Pawars were implicated in a Rs 25,000 crore scam involving the Maharashtra Cooperative Bank. Ajit Pawar, incidentally, was also being probed for the irrigation scam running into thousands of crores.

2. The election results threw up an ambiguous result. When it became clear the BJP, with 105 seats, did not have the numbers to form the government by itself that it was not at all keen to give in to the Shiv Sena’s insistence on the chief ministership, the BJP’s man in Raj Bhavan, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, delayed the entire process of government formation.

3. Governor Koshiyari issued a perfunctory invitation to Devendra Fadnavis on November 9, the day the term of the previous assembly expired, giving him 48 hours. When he refused, Shiv Sena was given 24 hours.

When they said they needed more time, he gave the NCP 24 hours but recommended president’s rule before that deadline had even expired. This recommendation was in violation of the Supreme Court’s Bommai judgment.

4. The Union cabinet quickly recommended president’s rule and President Ram Nath Kovind signed the papers. This was done to buy time for the BJP to break the other parties.

5. When it became clear that the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena had overcome their ideological and political differences and agreed on a coalition government under the chief ministership of the Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah went all out to ensure the new coalition does not come to power.

Sharad Pawar denies he was party to this deal; the BJP claims he was but then, quite frankly, anything the party says on Maharashtra needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

6. A deal was hatched under which Ajit Pawar, who was booked by the ED in September for the cooperative bank scam, agreed to support Devendra Fadnavis. He was offered the post deputy chief minister and obviously given assurances that the cases against him would go into limbo.

7. Ajit Pawar got his MLAs to sign a piece of paper which many of them have alleged was under false pretences. They signed a paper for their attendance, rather than for supporting Fadnavis as chief minister, they allege.

8. President Kovind was woken up and asked to sign a notification revoking Central rule in Maharashtra. He did this at 5:47 am. But the president could only act based on a recommendation of the cabinet, and there appears to have been no cabinet meeting or recommendation to that effect.

The government says it took recourse to Rule 12 of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, which says the “Prime Minister may, in any case or classes of cases permit or condone a departure from these rules, to the extent he deems necessary.”
However, this rule’s primary purpose is to deal with a “situation of extreme urgency or unforeseen contingency”, according to the Cabinet Secretariat. And the swearing in of a chief minister in this manner can hardly be considered a matter of “extreme urgency” – unless the government had something to hide.

9. Based on a questionable list of signatures of NCP MLAs, which Governor Koshiyari made no attempt to verify despite the fact that the NCP president, Sharad Pawar, had already announced the party’s backing of Thackeray, Fadnavis was sworn in at 7:30 am.

This was a blatant violation of the principles laid down by former president K R Narayanan, who said that governors who don’t take steps to ensure the chief minister they are swearing in actually has the support of the requisite number of MLAs will only end up encouraging bribery and horse-trading.

10. The only way Fadnavis can survive as chief minister on the floor of the assembly is if Ajit Pawar can bring two-thirds of the NCP’s 54 MLAs with him. This means 36 MLAs. Anything less than that means the MLAs on side would have deemed to have defected. But there’s plenty of slip between the cup of law and the lip of enforcement.

Ruling party speakers in the past have been notorious in their partisanship whenever the anti-defection law has to be invoked. And the courts, regrettably, can sometimes take forever to deliver their judgments.

Time will tell what role the courts, the Election Commission and also NCP president Sharad Pawar will play in the unfolding drama. But one things is clear. Future historians, if they are free to ply their craft, will speak of Narendra Modi and not Indira Gandhi as the prime minister who institutionalised venality and the debasement of institutions in politics.

The Wire – Why Sikhs don’t see Khalistan terror through Kartarpur Corridor as a serious threat

For Sikhs rejoicing at the fulfilment of a long-awaited desire, it is painful to suggest that they will fall for Pakistani sponsored propaganda.

Chander Suta Dogra

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 16 November 2019. Just as Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular, the world over, were celebrating the opening of the Kartarpur corridor and it was being hailed as the strongest peace move thus far in India-Pakistan relations, fears have been raised in India about the possibility of Pakistan misusing the open access corridor to revive the separatist Khalistan movement in Punjab.

If there are those who see in the Kartarpur corridor a similarity with the ‘fall of the Berlin wall’, an equal number, especially from the strategic circles, say that ‘India has fallen into Pakistan’s trap’.

They say the Pakistan army, which pushed for the opening of the long-standing demand of a corridor, and completed the project in double-quick time because it wants to re-ignite the fires of terrorism in Punjab with the help of expatriate radical Sikhs.

That may well be true. But it would be unrealistic to assume that Punjab will soon be inundated with Sikhs who return from Kartarpur with subversive intent.

This part of the story does not take into account the deep aversion to Khalistan and terrorist violence that has taken root in the hearts and minds of Sikhs after the unrest which ravaged Punjab in the 80s and 90s.

Consider this: As pilgrims began filing into the historic Kartarpur Gurudwara when it opened for the Sikhs of India, their attention was drawn to a glass-encased bomb – a remnant from the 1971 India-Pakistan war – placed strategically on a pillar. A plaque on it stated:

“Indian Air Force dropped this Bomb during 1971 at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Sri Kartarpur Sahib with the aim to destroy it. However, this evil design could not be materialised due to blessing of Waheguru Ji (Almighty Allah). The said bomb landed into Sri Khoo Sahib (Sacred Well) and this Darbar Sahib remained unheart (sic). It is pertinent to mention that this is the same sacred well from where Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji used to get water to irrigate his fields.”

Some stopped to read the words. But Indian journalists reported that most devotees did not take kindly to what they saw as blatant anti-India political propaganda. Devotees from across the globe seemed unanimous in the thought that there should be no ‘dirty politics’ in the name of the Guru.

Some even wanted the offending bomb display to be removed. There were also reports of posters of prominent Sikh separatists such as Bhindranwale and General Shubeg Singh being put up near the shrine in the days preceding the opening of the corridor. These were removed when India protested.

For millions of Sikhs worldwide, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is the fulfilment of a long-awaited desire to pay respects at the last resting place of Guru Nanak Dev. Just four kilometres from the border and visible on clear days, the historic shrine was taken away from India in 1947 when a line was drawn to partition the country.

For almost seven decades, devotees on the Indian side peered longingly through binoculars at the shimmering gurdwara. To be able to pray and feel the ambience at the holy place is therefore a deeply emotional and reverential experience for all those who are making the pilgrimage today.

So when it is suggested that opening the corridor could pave the way for the return of dark days, most not only scoff at the predictions, but feel the suggestion that Indian Sikhs will fall for Pakistani sponsored propaganda is painful.

The average Punjabi is acutely conscious of the political games being played in the name of the Kartarpur corridor and is wary of being drawn into a quagmire that could potentially disturb the route.

Professor Balkar Singh is a respected Sikh scholar and the director of the World Punjabi Centre in Punjabi University, Patiala. He was among the first to walk across the corridor and pay obeisance at Kartarpur.

Says he, “It is quite obvious that political entities in India and Pakistan, the Pakistani Army included, are all playing politics in the name of the Kartarpur corridor. The security establishment in Delhi is raising the bogey of Khalistan, and some elements in Pakistan may actually try to foment trouble in ham-handed ways.”

He added that the bottom line is that the community is not in any danger of being misled now. “We have suffered huge losses of life and property in the past. Khalistan has no present and no future, so why will anyone permit those bad days to return?”

This is also why recent attempts by expatriate radical Sikh organisations like Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s deep state, to hold a ‘Referendum 2020‘ on seceding from India has not had an impact. SFJ’s posters on a referendum, seen on the Pakistani side for a while, were largely ignored by Indian Sikhs.

The separatist Khalistan ideology has few takers in Punjab today. The few fringe organisations who claim to be its proponents are finding it hard to survive in an atmosphere where the very word has become anathema for the majority.

As Gurpreet Singh, president of the Kendri Singh Sabha, points out, “Residual fragments of Khalistanis are not even 1% of the population now. Even at the height of militancy, only about 5% of Sikhs subscribed to the ideology.

The talk of reviving the movement is just a bogey drummed up by those who wish to exploit Sikh sentiments for their own politics. To even imagine that patriotic Sikhs will fall for the blatant propaganda being conducted by a section of the Pakistani establishment is hurtful.”

If anything, the desire to keep it going is reason enough for Sikhs to desist from falling for Pakistani propaganda. The fear in Sikh circles today is that the beauty of the gesture from both countries that has come at a rather difficult time in India-Pakistan relations could be marred by the politics over Khalistan.

The Sikh world would rather see the shadow of Khalistan far removed from their holy shrines and many are decidedly uncomfortable that pilgrims to other gurdwaras in Pakistan like Nankana Sahib gurdwara and Panja Sahib have been subjected to anti-India propaganda in the past.

“Kartarpur gurdwara should not be allowed to be used as a platform for Khalistani forces because that is not the purpose of this corridor,” said Gurpreet Singh.

Voices like his are growing. The use of Sikh religious holy places like the Golden Temple in Amritsar for separatist politics in the past brings up bitter memories of its destruction during Operation Bluestar. Memories that the community has put behind.

In July, India shared with Pakistan its concerns about pro-Khalistan elements promoting anti-India activities in a detailed dossier which listed events between 2016 and 2019 that were orchestrated by Khalistani elements.

India pointed out that the four annual Indian Sikh Jathas who visit important gurdwaras in Pakistan every year under a bilateral protocol to visit religious shrines have been regularly subjected to anti-India propaganda during their visit.

Former Pakistan army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg was quoted as having said, “Pakistan army and the government should create trouble for India through Khalistan movement, it is the only way to teach India a lesson.”

But if elements in Pakistan are seeing an opportunity to foment trouble in Indian Punjab through the Kartarpur corridor, Indian politicians are not averse to using it to play with Sikh politics.

One of the first to oppose the Kartarpur corridor is Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, heading a Congress government. At the opening ceremony in Dera Baba Nanak, he warned Pakistan against misusing the corridor to “destabilise Punjab“.

Many see his opposition to the corridor as an attempt to hold the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) responsible for exposing Punjab to trouble.

The political acrimony between the two sides, and its potential implications are being watched with growing unease by the Sikhs. It is well known that one-upmanship between the two parties was one of the reasons for the birth of the terrorist phase in the past and a repeat in any new avatar will be strongly resisted by the community.

Sikh politics is largely that of a minority versus the majority, always a tempting trope for ambitious parties. With the benefit of hindsight, community leaders now want Sikhism to be left alone.

Away from the machinations of unscrupulous politicians on both sides of the border. This only means that the onus of maintaining the sanctity of the Kartarpur corridor and allowing the initiative to thrive and grow in a conducive atmosphere lies with responsible elements in both India and Pakistan.

Chander Suta Dogra is a journalist and author.

This article is utter nonsense: 1) There is no Khalistan terror threat, but there is a strong pro Khalistan movement amongst diaspora Sikhs, who want to campaign in a peaceful manner for Khalistan. The supporters of this movement love India as much as I do, but they are fed up with subsequent Indian governments who have shown no respect for minorities. 2) When I lived in Panjab I met many Sikhs who would prefer greater autonomy or independence of Panjab. 3) The government and its agents keep saying that the Khalistan movement is minuscule, but they seem to be afraid of this minuscule movement. 4) Pakistan propaganda would have no effect on Sikhs if basic demands of the Sikhs like the rewriting of article 25 of the constitution were implemented.
Man in Blue

The Wire – Archeologist who observed dig says no evidence of temple under Babri Masjid

“Underneath the Babri Masjid, there are actually older mosques.”

New Delhi – India, 06 December 2018. The Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI’s) 2003 claim that there is evidence of a temple under the Babri Masjid doesn’t enjoy consensus, even among members of the group that conducted the dig.

The ASI submitted its 574-page report on the matter to the Allahabad high court in August 2003, saying proof had been found of a massive structure just below the demolished Babri Masjid. The Sunni Waqf Board, a party to the Ayodhya title dispute case, had said then that the ASI’s report was “vague and self-contradictory”.

Two archaeologists, Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon, had observed the ASI’s excavations on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board. In 2010, they wrote a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly detailing why they had objected to the ASI’s results, and the subsequent Allahabad high court judgment in September 2010.

According to the article, the duo had objected to various practices the ASI was following during its dig, which made “it clear that there was already a preconceived idea in the minds of ASI archaeologists”.

The authors argued that the ASI’s report had gone largely unchallenged because of the power it holds over researchers in the country. “Any archaeologist in India or from outside who wants to explore or excavate sites has to obtain a licence from the ASI. So no field archaeologist is willing to speak out against it or its outdated methods.”

It has now been 26 years since kar sevaks demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Hindutva right-wing is pressing for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site, even before the Supreme Court has given its verdict.

Varma, a professor of archaeology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, spoke to Huffington Post about why she thinks the ASI reached the results it did and the procedural lapses she observed.

She argues that, “even today, there is no archeological evidence that there was a temple under the Babri Masjid.” According to her, “Underneath the Babri Masjid, there are actually older mosques.”

Varma has also told Huffington Post that the ASI used three pieces of evidence, all questionable, to say that a temple had existed at the site.

A western wall: “The western wall is a feature of a mosque. It is a wall in front of which you say namaaz. It is not the feature of a temple. Temple has a very different plan.”

Fifty pillar bases: “These are completely fabricated and we filed many complaints to the court about it. Our argument is that if you look at what they are claiming to be pillar bases, these are pieces of broken bricks and they have mud inside them.”

Architectural fragments: “Of these 12 [most important architectural fragments], none of these were found during the excavation. These were recovered from the debris lying above the lime floor of the masjid. A temple, a stone temple, supposedly this is a stone temple, has much more sculptured material than what they have found.”

Previous excavations

Varma also spoke about older excavations around the Babri Masjid area. The first was in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham, the first director-general of the ASI. He had, she claimed, mentioned three mounds in Ayodhya, two with some sort of Buddhist stupas and one with a vihara.

While he banked on oral narratives that indicated some temples in the area had been destroyed, Varma says there was no mention of that in his report.

The second excavation was conducted in 1969 by the Department of Archaeology of the Banaras Hindu University, in the vicinity of Babri Masjid. Though few records from this excavation have survived to this day, they apparently concluded that the area had been inhabited in the early historic and the medieval periods.

Between 1975 and 1980, B B Lal, the then director-general of the ASI, revived the project. Lal’s work is significant in the history of the area, even though his initial report did not add much to previous work.

So what makes his project stand out? According to Varma (lightly edited for clarity),

By 1988, the [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] had picked up this whole issue of temples having been demolished at three sites, Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi.

In [that year], B B Lal took a photograph of pillar bases, which he said was taken and excavated at Ayodhya between 1975 and 1978, and published it in Manthan, which is the [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] journal.

He also presented the photograph at the World Archeological Congress in Croatia, saying that if excavations were to be carried out, they would find evidence of a temple.

Lal’s assertions helped the BJP create a large-scale political movement out of the Babri Masjid monument, and in 1992, the mosque was demolished. In 1999, after the National Democratic Alliance assumed power, the topic of excavation became big again, according to Varma, and the Allahabad high court ordered the ASI dig in 2002.

A questionable ASI report

The ASI, according to Varma, left much to be desired in its final report. While the initial sections read normally, the conclusion stands out. She told Huffington Post:

If you read the entire report, there is no mention of any temple. It is a standard report. What is missing is a chapter on bones and human skeletal remains. That is what they also found but they never published it.

What you will also find is that the names of the people who wrote those [other] chapters is mentioned. But in the conclusion, there is no name mentioned.

And in the conclusion, in the last paragraph of the report, they say that given the evidence of this western wall, and pillar bases, and some architectural fragments, there was a temple underneath the Babri Masjid.

It is literally written in three lines. Otherwise, nowhere in the discussion, is there any talk of a temple being found. With the same evidence, we have interpreted that there were actually two or three phases of smaller mosques underneath the Babri Masjid.

The Wire – Minorities Panel says Hindutva groups using Pulwama to target Muslims, Kashmiris

CRPF also reaches out with offer of assistance to Kashmiris in other parts of India facing harassment and difficulties.

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

New Delhi – India, 18 February 2018. Thursday’s gruesome suicide attack on a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force in Pulwama which left over 40 jawans dead and many more injured has evoked strong protests across the country. However, in many places reports are coming in of these protests being used by right wing groups to incite hatred.

On Saturday, the Delhi Commission for Minorities raised the issue with the Delhi Police. In a letter to commissioner Amulya Patnaik, the panel chairperson, Zafarul Islam Khan charged that there have been “attacks on Kashmiris, even on ordinary Muslims, in various parts of the country in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Pulwama”.

Pointing out that “even in Delhi attempts are being made to vitiate the atmosphere and start riots,” Khan referred to the systematic manner in which these protests are being used to foment trouble.

‘Provocative slogans being raised’

“Hindutva crowds are taking out rallies in Muslim areas and in front of Muslim homes in mixed population areas, raising provocative slogans,” he said in a letter to the commissioner, demanding immediate action from the police.

Khan cautioned that “unless Delhi Police is alert and proactive, riots will erupt like those in Jammu city for instance.” He urged Patnaik to “order all police stations in Delhi to be alert, proactive and responsive to the need to keep peace and amity at all costs.”

In at least one locality of the capital, B K Dutt Colony, where a peaceful march was taken out by residents in memory of the slain CRPF men, The Wire’s reporter was witness to a handful of activists at the front shouting provocative communal slogans against “Babar ke auladon”, an anti-Muslim phrase popularised by the Hindutva groups during their campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid.

Incidentally, there have been sporadic incidents of violence and criminal intimidation that have been reported from different parts of the country over the last two days.

Violence in Jammu, Patna

In Patna, a mob attacked Kashmiri residents in Kashmiri Bazar on Friday leaving at least four of them with injuries. Following this, about 40 Kashmiri residents, who ran eight shops, are reported to have decided to wind up their businesses and leave.

On Saturday evening, The Wire received a call from a group of Kashmiris in Dehradun who had been evacuated by the local police to a “Muslim area” after mobs threatened them with violence. “Please help us to get airlifted from here”, one of their representatives said.

In response to reports of harassment and threats from across the country, the CRPF has reached out to students and others from Kashmir who are in different parts of India with a helpline.

Jammu too has been burning for the last two days. Though curfew was imposed in the city after mobs took to the streets and torched over 50 vehicles, the violence had continued unabated. There have been reports from Jammu of properties of Kashmiris being attacked. A number of vehicles belonging to Kashmiris were also targeted.

This also led to protests in Kashmir by drivers who claimed that they were often sought out as soft targets by such mobs despite their having no role in terror incidents in the state.