Why a Caste Census is Hemlock for BJP; ‘Maximum Vandalism’ in DU Syllabus

Plus: India, Afghans misjudged speed of Taliban, women still denied property rights, FM makes false MSME claim, wasted grain could have fed 82.3 million, and using evacuees as prop(aganda) for Modi

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

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Snapshot of the day
August 26, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Although India celebrated the administration of 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, it still lags on the share of population that has received at least one dose and the percentage population of fully vaccinated people. Of the people who have received one dose, the coverage in India is 33.1%, slightly better than the world average of 32.9%. While ​​the global average of fully vaccinated people is 24.8%, the Indian coverage is far lower at 9.6%, says Our World in Data. To meet its declared target of inoculating all adults by December 31, starting today, India would need to vaccinate 10 million people a day on an average

For domestic travel, states must not insist on a negative RT-PCR test report for the fully vaccinated, 15 days after the second shot. The Union health ministry advised states not to restrict interstate transport by air, rail, road or water. If tests are required prior to entry, this must be publicised widely. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea has banned repatriation flights from India, after accusing the Indian high commission of a deliberate “deception” which let in infected passengers.

Delhi University’s Oversight Committee has been slammed for removing renowned author Mahasweta Devi’s short story and two Dalit authors – Bama and Sukirtahrani – from the English syllabus. In the Academic Council meeting held Wednesday, 15 members submitted a dissent note against its functioning. They alleged there had been “maximum vandalism” in the Semester V syllabus.

The recommendations of the Supreme Court collegium, a record nine judges, were cleared within a week by the Modi government. The government wanted some names to be reconsidered but Chief Justice NV Ramana “declined to concede”. Justice Akil Kureshi had already been left out, causing consternation. He had sent Amit Shah to CBI custody in 2010. He heads the Tripura High Court. One of the judges elevated, Vikram Nath, currently Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, had praised Narendra Modi at a public event in February 2021. 

​​A MiG-21 fighter of the Indian Air Force crashed in Rajasthan’s Barmer district yesterday without casualties. This is the fourth MiG accident this year.

More BJP leaders reflect growing unease within the party over the demand for a caste census. Former Rajya Sabha MP CP Thakur said that the demand is “useless” and would “increase social tension”.

The Modi government’s National Monetisation Plan will lease public assets to private players at a predetermined price, to raise Rs 6 lakh. Such an exercise makes sense only if the government can convince bidders that the economy will prosper, states Hindustan Times. Has the pandemic and the slowdown which preceded it damaged India’s potential growth rate

The Asian Age has killed senior journalist Karan Thapar’s fortnightly column after he mentioned the mass violence against Muslims of Jammu during Partition on August 20, and argued that marking August 14 as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’ was intended to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment. “Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims suffered equally,” he wrote. 


India misjudged speed of Taliban advance

Foreign minister S. Jaishankar briefed leaders from all political parties on the situation in Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon and emerged from the 3 hour meeting to say the evacuation of Indians had dominated the discussion. This is hardly surprising, as the swift fall of Kabul was not something India or others had anticipated, though perhaps in hindsight they should have.

Last month, India had estimated that the Taliban would reach cities and provincial capitals only by the end of August, after US forces withdrew completely. They had also expected US air support for Afghan security forces. The Indian and Afghan governments believed that fighting would continue until winter set in.

Yesterday, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said: “Everything that has happened was anticipated. Only the timelines changed and certainly surprised us because we were anticipating [the takeover] a couple of months down the line.” In the New York Times, Afghan General Sami Sadat explained it thus: “It’s true that the Afghan Army lost its will to fight. But that’s because of the growing sense of abandonment by our American partners and the disrespect and disloyalty reflected in Mr Biden’s tone and words over the past few months.”

​​Rana Banerji, who headed the Pakistan desk at the Research and Analysis Wing, highlights the factionalism within the Taliban: “Despite dependence on the ISI for years for sustenance in safe havens and for rest and recuperation facilities inside Pakistan, Taliban leaders may be harbouring resentment over the ISI’s excessive control or dominance.”


BJP spokie dances at airport in praise of Modi…

Newslaundry reports that as 78 Afghan and Indian citizens evacuated from Kabul stepped out of the Delhi airport, TV reporters were mainly interested in assigning credit for their safe arrival to the Dear Leader: “Some appeared to egg on BJP workers to sing the praises of the prime minister. A Times Now journalist whispered to BJP rabble-rouser Tajinder Singh Bagga, who promptly shouted slogans in praise of Modi, accompanied by an awkward dance.”

…But is he doing enough for Afghans?

Rangina Kargar, a woman Afghan MP, was deported from New Delhi five days after the fall of Kabul, despite holding an official passport. India had welcomed two Afghan Sikh MPs, Narinder Singh Khalsa and Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, just two days later. Has India cancelled all pre-issued visas? Meanwhile, processing of “e-Emergency X-Misc visas” appears to be delayed, and “very few” e-visas have been issued. Only about 20 “closely associated” with India have been allowed on evacuation flights.

Crystal Bayat (24), the face of the peaceful resistance to the Taliban regime, is a Delhi University alumnus. A “human rights activist, entrepreneur and aspiring diplomat,” Bayat studied political science at Daulat Ram College in 2016-2019. She told The Telegraph that while friends and teachers cared for her, she can’t say the same about India. “I expect India to show friendship at this time of crisis. I don’t think they are helping very much right now.”

Afghan students in Bengaluru are facing multiple challenges. Most will be without accommodation by next month and cannot rely on financial support from parents. Exam fees are also a concern. The Federation of International Students Association (FISAB) has been writing to universities in Bengaluru and to the government.


Women still denied property rights

Women’s access to land rights should have improved after 2005, when the Hindu Succession Act was amended to grant daughters equal inheritance rights. But daughters and sisters are conspicuously missing from land records. According to a 2014 study in nine states, nearly half of women landowners are widows.

Earlier this week, a tehsildar in Rajasthan called on women “voluntarily” to give up their rights to a share of parental agricultural land, khatedari.

A 2014 study in 34 Gujarat villages found that 22.2% of women surveyed gave up claims on agricultural land in the preceding three years. Most were forced to do so, according to the Working Group for Women and Land Ownership. Scroll reports that in many Gujarat villages, however, women describe surrendering their claims as normal and natural.


The Long Cable

For the BJP, a caste census is like a neat shot of hemlock

Seema Chishti

The calls for a caste census by Bihar’s Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav, bitter exes who came together to make a pitch to PM Modi, and the Samajwadi Party promising a caste census if it comes to power in UP, have made the going tough for the BJP. The ruling party appears to hold the political trump card ― the Hindu versus Muslim binary it has created ― but the entry of caste could change this.

The UPA government had commenced the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 in June 2011, “through a comprehensive door to door enumeration.” But as the Modi government categorically replied in the Rajya Sabha on August 11, it will not collect fresh data for a caste census. Union Minister Nityanand Rai said, “The raw caste data collected during the Socio-Economic Caste Census in 2011 is with the Registrar General of India but there is no proposal to release the data as many technical problems were noticed in it by RGI, and the data has also become very old and is not usable.” 

There are good reasons why the BJP wants to stay miles away from the caste count. A precise enumeration of the strength of each caste would politically empower these caste groups, resulting in strident demands for full control of political power, threatening the BJP’s politics of a Hindu monolith.

The numbers may simultaneously upset the upper castes, should they reveal their share to be much smaller and the share of “the 50%” disproportionately larger. The upper castes are overwhelmingly with the BJP today and their insecurities would trigger instability, which no dominant ruling party wants (listen here for more). Conversely, in Karnataka, when it transpired that the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats, the two dominant backward castes, were likely to add up to less than what was assumed, the data was shelved for fear of unpredictable political consequences.

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Historically, political change in India has been sharp and tumultuous when accompanied by caste assertion ― in 1925, with the Social Justice movement in Tamil Nadu, the 1967 rupture in the Congress hegemony backgrounded by caste assertion, even if via socialist parties, or the 1989 Mandal movement that completely altered the politics of north India. When caste comes into play, the change has always been seismic, and the political landscape is altered for decades.

The RSS/BJP invoked the Ram Temple to counter calls for social justice, which is anathema to the conservative project. The bevy of OBC politicians introduced in the mix ― Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Shivraj Chauhan, Narendra Modi ― signalled a smart strategy to accommodate multiple castes in the Hindu hierarchy, with the promise of ‘samrasta’ or harmony, and respect. ‘Lower’ castes would not be equal to upper castes, but placed on a shelf that accepted them. The parameters of the acceptance would not be of ‘justice’, but accommodation and elevation by talking up their Hindu identity. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the kamandal (an object denoting Hindutva) subsuming the mandal (a reference to the Mandal Commission and social justice) within the Hindu umbrella was a masterful implementation of Deendayal Upadhyaya’s ‘Integral Humanism’, which prioritised ‘stability’ as an ideal structure for India. While slotting castes according to their station under the Hindu framework of graded inequality, they bypassed ambitions of justice and equality. The Brahminical project first became a Hindu project during the process of counting, via successive censuses from 1881. Consequently, what we now know as ‘Hindu’ encapsulates many castes. This move created a far larger population that identified itself as Hindu (see this essay for more). By trying to erase the yearning for ‘social justice’, yet keeping castes inside the fold, the RSS/BJP may effect a shift that’s as significant.

The BJP, confident of the OBCs, with Modi’s OBC identity like topping on his powerful Hindutva credentials, introduced reservations for the economically weaker sections in a nod to its restless upper caste base before the 2019 elections. Just before the UP state elections, the BJP was expected to produce the Rohini Commission report, promising to ‘sub-divide’ OBCs, cementing an anti-Yadav OBC consolidation in the state. A national caste census would nuke this delicate rejigging which rests, since the RSS-promoted organisations such as the Samajik Samrasta Manch speak of samrasta and not samaanta (equality) nor nyay (justice), on “harmony between castes ― as they are and where they are”. The upper castes are on top, and the backward castes fit in that Brahminical framework. 

A caste census would be hemlock for the Sangh, distracting from the Hindu Rashtra project by foregrounding caste. It would hurt upper castes if it forces the government to promise more affirmative action for backward classes. By reawakening the desire amongst OBCs for ‘social justice’, equal rights and political power, a caste census can pull the rug from under the wobbly but successful model that the BJP has built within the Hindutva rubric, controlled by the upper castes, with deprived backward castes folded within it.


Reportedly

Data is not the Modi government’s strongest suit, and in the case of vaccine approvals, poor data can cost lives. Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila’s Covid-19 drug, the antiviral injection Virafin, has had an extraordinarily kind run with the regulator. One wonders why. Follow this chain of events. Its Phase 2 data was dodgy and it costs Rs 12,000.


FM caught out by Narayan Rane’s data

On August 21, while addressing the launch of the Ubharte Sitaare Fund in Lucknow, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that UP has the highest number of micro, small and medium enterprises. However, this is false. The state has 12,78,072 MSME units registered, the third-highest, according to data shared by the Union Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Narayan Rane in the Lok Sabha on July 29. Maharashtra (28.38 lakh MSMEs) and Tamil Nadu (15,40,859) top the list.


Prime number: 82.3 million
That's the number of people who would have got subsidised food if 411,810 tonnes of wheat and rice were not wasted in transit and by pilferage in the past four years, reveal a Standing Committee report on food, consumer affairs and public distribution, tabled in Parliament earlier this month.

Indian-Americans far ahead of rest of US

Indians in the US, with a median household earning of $123,700, compared to the national average of $63,922, and with 79% college graduates against the national average of 34%, have surpassed the overall American population in terms of wealth and education. The number of people who identify as Asian in the US nearly tripled in the past three decades, and they are now the fastest-growing of the four largest racial and ethnic groups. About 4 million Indians reside in the US, including 1.6 million visa holders and 1.4 million naturalised residents, and a million are US-born residents.


Deep Dive

The Reserve Bank of India spotted “a bunch of  leaky holes at Punjab National Bank” – just after the Nirav Modi scandal erupted. The central bank’s FY18 inspection report for PNB doesn’t paint a pretty picture – neither for the state-run lender nor the RBI. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Rom-Communism and hope in the land of a million mutinies: Priya Ramani writes on Indian sport, interfaith marriages, lived resistance, protesting farmers and other things that give her hope in new India.


Listen Up

Ustad Zakir Hussain and TM Krishna meet and converse for the first time. In a freewheeling conversation about their respective experiences that have shaped them as artists, their craft, the importance of listening and being present and alive to the world around them.


Watch Out

A documentary on the lives of the late scholar Gail Omvedt and her husband Bharat Patankar by Somnath Waghmare is awaited. See this trailer which gently dips into their lives.


Over and Out

Vidyadutt, 83, holds the record for growing the heaviest radish in India, weighing 23 kilos. He now aims to beat the world record of 31 kilos. Over the last 50 years, he has built up Moti Bagh, his five-acre farm, but “around him lie 7,000 ghost villages with no one to till the land.”

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died the day before yesterday, was a big cricket fan. Mick Jagger and he were at The Oval when India faced Australia in the 2019 World Cup. India won the encounter, with Shikhar Dhawan scoring a century and emerging as the player of the match. India is presently not doing too well, with all out at 78 yesterday.


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