The year that's ending was wretched but hindsight can be a useful thing

A policeman on duty in locked-down Srinagar. Photo: Reuters
This year began with the realisation that India would continue to be directed by the current ideology for a long time. It is ending with the revelation that the group being victimised by this ideology will not submit without a fight. The rest of the happenings in the year seem almost incidental. But let’s have a look at them anyway.

Straw polls around January showed that the National Democratic Alliance was far ahead of the almost dysfunctional Opposition and that the result of the coming election was going to be a done deal. Any doubt that remained was extinguished by the bizarre sequence of events around Balakot and Pakistan in February, in what passes for national security in India. There was a lot of bombast but it is unclear who got the better of the exchange, and certainly only one side could demonstrate that it had shot down an enemy aircraft and captured its pilot. However, the skirmish was portrayed in India as the greatest of military triumphs and the doing of a strong leader. Any challenging of this, or indeed even any probing of what exactly had transpired in this sequence, was considered treason.

Supporters of the BJP celebrate after the results of the Lok Sabha elections. Photo: Reuters
Anyway, the momentum carried on to April, when we entered the longest election season one can remember, a full six weeks from start to finish. This produced the expected result and the nation settled in for the second innings.

This was along predictable lines. In the first half of this year at least 20 people were harmed in cow-related lynching attacks. If you missed this then you are not to blame. The thing about such news is that once it becomes commonplace it gets demoted in the media and leaves the front pages. This is true of all news stories, but some of the silencing was also deliberate.

There was pressure on media groups to shut down their hate trackers. The last one capitulated around mid-year and it appears that, as of now, none exists. To repeat: Nobody is now recording data on lynching and related violence. The government does not recognise hate crimes as a category and so we will have no official data on this either. But they continue, of course, primarily because they are triggered by an externally generated sentiment against particular groups and, when that inflaming of passions is relentless, the violence will continue and spread.

Because of such things and others India continued to be clubbed with nations like Turkey and Russia. Meaning those nations which were theoretically democracies but had a powerful leader who used a narrow nationalism to suppress internal dissent. In this lot, sadly, the United States also belongs, a country towards which many have looked in the past for leading the way on individual freedoms. This seems to have been paused or reversed under the current administration, which India’s prime minister endorsed at a rally in Houston, the Gujarati — and specifically Patel — heartland of the US. 

Shortly thereafter, the current American president got himself impeached, becoming the third in his nation’s history (America has had a president impeached in each of the last three centuries). Of course, the Senate, which his party controls will bail him out, but what will be of more interest is the election to come at the end of 2020 when he will make a bid for another four years. 

India has linked itself both ideologically and emotionally at the leadership level to the current US administration, so it will be interesting to see what happens if a Democrat wins the election. Already we can see that India is not comfortable with the current Democratic Party in the US, which is more socialist and more rights-minded than before. 

In August, India further humiliated and disempowered Kashmiris through a clandestine action on Article 370. Kashmir’s leaders, who for decades have been forced to profess loyalty to India, were locked up and remain locked up. The Supreme Court, once again, played the role that we have come to expect of it in such matters. 

At a Congressional hearing in October, India was taken to the cleaners as its doings in Kashmir were revealed. In a follow-up to this, the Indian foreign minister ran away from a scheduled meeting with US Congressmen because one of their team, a vocal woman of Indian origin, had been part of the group that had criticised India. It will be interesting to see how the storied Indian foreign service, once a great institution but today merely a set of toadies, twists and turns its way out of trouble if the Democrats win. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston. Photo: Reuters
It is said that in America, it is the economic growth and jobs delivered by a president that ultimately determine whether or not he will be re-elected. If this is the case then perhaps India, meaning the Indian government, will be fortunate and Trump will return. It says something about this year that the economy is but a footnote even though it produced news that would have in other times become headlines. The gross domestic product growth rate in India began a countdown-like implosion from the last quarter of 2017-18: It has gone from eight, seven, six and five to now four. The jobs situation is the worst it has been in five decades. But for some magical reason this does not seem to be of concern, and certainly is not the primary issue in Indian politics today because we have been kept busy on other fronts.

A statue of Ram towers over Ayodhya city. Photo: Reuters
Rounding off the year, in November came the Babri Masjid verdict. My guess is that it will not stand the test of time, and the Supreme Court will be embarrassed of it, just as it was embarrassed by its habeas corpus judgment validating the violations that came in the Emergency. It may interest readers to know that the son of the man who presided over that first judgment is believed to have written the second one. Justice Chandrachud Senior wrote ADM Jabalpur and Justice Chandrachud Junior probably wrote Babri. 

In 2017, Justice Chandrachud Jr sat on a bench that decades later overturned his father’s judgment. “It is difficult, to be honest, to dissent with somebody who is much wiser, who is so knowledgeable, so profound,” Chandrachud Jr was reported as saying, when asked about how he felt overruling a verdict to which his father was party to. 

“The day I dictated that part of my privacy judgment, when I held that the habeas corpus judgment in ADM Jabalpur was wrong, it was 12 noon. I had about seven or eight hours of dictation to go. I told my secretary, ‘We’ll close for the day’. I had this feeling in my head that is hard to describe. I had publicly stated that my parent was wrong. But even if I had to say that again, I would,” Chandrachud said, adding that in hindsight, he reckons his father would have concurred with his verdict. 

“I think my father would agree with the ruling. I have always had this feeling that through his life, he believed he was wrong in the ADM Jabalpur case. I think he would’ve done it differently (had the circumstances been different),” Chandrachud said. Very good. I hope we do not have to await the next Justice Chandrachud to come and overturn the wrong judgment of this man, who is also wise and knowledgeable and profound. But by then the temple should already be up and it will then become irrelevant whether or not this judgment on Babri was wrong and any hindsight will be useless. 

Students offer roses to Delhi Police personnel during an anti-CAA protest in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters
To return to where we began, the last few days have been filled with resistance from Muslims. They have been the leaders and their community has been at the vanguard of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). They know that they are the target of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and they face a long, long night of harassment and the threat of permanent detention. This is not speculation, and it is certainly not paranoia — this is what has already happened in Assam. A report by a team sent by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to Assam’s detention centres (the NHRC predictably refused to publish it so the team published it on their own) will make this crystal clear. 

The thing about the NRC and CAA issue is that it is only among the Hindus that there is a lack of knowledge and information and interest about what they are and what they are meant to do. The Muslims, being the target of the legislations, are fully informed about the government’s intent and that is why they are on the streets. Their brave and courageous civil action, led by the students at the Jamia Millia Islamia university, and then by millions in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bengaluru and elsewhere, have been the best and most redeeming part of this thoroughly wretched year.

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