technology and hindutva dog walkers and federalism nitish turns the tables on the bjp | political line

Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George

Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George

(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu . You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

Technology before and after 2014

Twice in two days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed fidelity to science, and rationality. Not only that, they went a step ahead to point out that some of the secular opponents of his politics are actually purveyors of superstition and irrationality. He cited Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who visits Noida, dismissing and disproving a long-held notion among UP observers that Chief Ministers who visit the place would lose the next election. His predecessors, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, had avoided visiting the UP city that abuts the national capital, for fear of losing power, which any way they did! In a reference to Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who is trying to emerge as his challenger at the national stage, Mr. Modi said it was “dangerous to have a person trusting more in superstitions and blind beliefs in power as they cannot do justice with a constricted point of view”. “I was once told in Gujarat not to visit a place as the CM’s chair will go away, but I still went there nevertheless because I have faith in knowledge and technology,” Mr. Modi declared on May 26. “I want to see a drone in every farm, phone in every hand,” they said on May 27, at an event that showcased drone applications.

According to Mr. Modi, before 2014 – that is when they became the PM – technology was working to the disadvantage of the poor, or at the very least, was perceived to be so. What changed the whole scenario in favor of the poor was his intervention, and now technology works to the advantage of the poor.

2014 as a historical cut-off point is a defining component of Mr. Modi’s politics. India has been seeing a cultural revival since 2014, Home Minister Amit Shah received at a pre-release screening of the film Samrat Prithviraj this week. Prithviraj had begun the independence struggle of India that lasted for a 1000 years, he said, adding 1947 and 2014 as two milestones in India’s progress towards freedom and progress. Incidentally, there are many more films in the pipeline that will recast Indian history, in service of the Hindutva project, ahead of the 2024 general election.

Unhappy Brahmins?

In Maharashtra and Haryana, Brahmins, at least a section of them, think it is time one of them became the CM. In Haryana, the BJP is in power. In Maharashtra the wishes for a Brahmin CM come from a BJP Union Minister.

Federalism Tract

Two dog-walkers and a rogue taxman: What their transfers say about Indian federalism

The Center recently transferred two IAS officers, husband and wife, from Delhi, one to Ladakh and the other to Arunachal Pradesh, following media reports that the couple used to capture an entire stadium every evening for themselves and their dog. This is not something uncharacteristic of IAS officers, the backbone of India’s central bureaucracy. All India services remain an efficient instrument of the Center to keep the regions in check, mirroring an imperial system that evolved before the Republic was born.

Zonal Director of NCB Mumbai Sameer Wankhede arrives at NCB office, in Mumbai.

Zonal Director of NCB Mumbai Sameer Wankhede arrives at NCB office, in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: PTI

The flamboyant officer of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), who shot to national limelight by arresting the son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, has been later found to have led a shoddy investigation by his department. He has now been transferred to Chennai.

Central Services officers enforce order and collect taxes – two functions that the Center wants to control more and more. The implicit message that the peripheries of the Indian Union are lesser than the heartland from New Delhi’s perspective was evident in these transfers. Officers posted in the northeastern State consider it as a punishment posting, although the more permissive nature of government spending in these border regions allows for opportunities for corruption. The people of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are not happy at being considered as dumping grounds for officers found unwanted in Delhi, and understandably so.

The Northeast was officially termed the ‘frontier,’ and now the region was under the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) until the early 1970s. The region’s relationship with the Center, whether Imperial or Republican, remained in a flux. That continues to be a matter of negotiation. “It is unthinkable to accept the Naga national flag as a cultural flag as hinted by the Government of India. The Naga national flag that symbolizes Naga political identity is not negotiable, ”the National Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN (IM) said recently.

On the one hand India, under the Hindu nationalist dispensation, is trying to precisely demarcate and tightly control the borders in the Northeast, but on the other, it is also trying to make it more open to commercial exchanges with neighboring countries — is that possible ? “What happens when the Northeast, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar get more deeply intertwined? Each of them stands to benefit from more access, opportunities, resources and markets. These endeavors will literally bring ASEAN closer to us, ”Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar recently received in Guwahati in Assam.

The logic of neoliberal understanding of the border – it remains open for everything else but the movement of people – is tested in the northeastern region of India. People living in these border areas have close cultural and familial ties across political boundaries. The demarcations are difficult to enforce in a landscape that people have crisscrossed for centuries. The Chief Minister of Mizoram openly challenged a directive of the Center to not welcome refugees from Myanmar. They are “… ethnically our Mizo brethren with whom we have been having close contacts throughout all these years even before India became independent,” the CM wrote to the Center last year.

Nitish turns the tables, again, on the BJP

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addresses a press conference after an all-party meeting on the caste-based census in the state, at Samvad Hall in Patna.  RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav is also seen.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addresses a press conference after an all-party meeting on the caste-based census in the state, at Samvad Hall in Patna. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav is also seen. | Photo Credit: PTI

The BJP and its alliance partner Nitish Kumar have been playing a cat and mouse game for a long time now. The BJP wants to corner Mr. Kumar and wrest the leadership of the alliance in Bihar, but it is not easy. Bihar is not yet ripe for an upper caste takeover as the BJP has managed in neighboring UP. Mr. Kumar was made the CM in 2020 even though his party, the JD (U), won fewer seats than the BJP because he represented the OBCs. Two things are happening since then – the BJP began to look for ways to clip his wings, and his popularity began to slide, dramatically. Mr. Kumar seems to have turned the tables on the BJP for now. He cornered the BJP into accepting his move for a caste count – a demand that the party has rejected nationally. In Bihar, that position would have been suicidal for the BJP. The last word on the BJP-Nitish equation hasn’t been said yet though.

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