domestic-affairs, politics

Manipur Is Burning: Why Are You Silent, Mr Modi?

The tragedy in Manipur shows that politicians who want to capture power will exploit the fault lines & aggravate social polarisation.

It’s said Emperor Nero played the fiddle while Rome was burning. Historians have pointed out that the story is baseless. The fiddle was not there in Rome during Nero’s time, and his favourite instrument was the lyre. When the fire began, he was 35 miles away from Rome. However, it is true that Nero availed of the fire to blame the Christians and started a wave of persecution, the first of many.

It would be wrong to say that the Central Government behaved like Nero, even though the fact remains that the Union Home Minister could find time to go to Manipur only three weeks after the fire started. In short, the fire raged on for three weeks before the fire brigade in the nation’s capital thought of taking note of it. In defence of the Home Minister, it can be argued that the all-important Karnataka State elections merited his attention.

Prime Minister Modi, in his super popular Mann ki Baat on 17 June 2023, spoke about the dark days of the Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 25 June 1975. He spoke about the ravages of cyclone Biparjoy in Gujarat. He had no time to say even a word about Manipur, where violent clashes were occurring with the state government abdicating its primary responsibility. Obviously, that upset many in Manipur.

We do not know how many listened to Modi in Manipur. But we do know that about twenty people gathered on the street; after listening for a few seconds, one of them threw down the transistor radio, and they all had the vicarious pleasure of smashing it into smithereens.

The mainstream media, print and electronic, have been telling us non-stop about the forthcoming ‘super summit’ in the White House. However, the atrocities in Manipur have been covered in some measure. The Indian Express of 19 June 2023 mentions the grim total of human beings killed as 120, with 45,000 displaced and 4,000 houses torched. It is painfully clear that Manipur is in a ‘state of nature’ with mindless violence spreading like fire with no government, able or willing, to take action to put down the fire.

As mentioned above, there is reason to fear that the grim toll might be much higher than 120. We are not getting the complete picture with the internet being suspended and for other reasons. For example, Times Now carried a report on 16 June 2023 with the headline titled: ‘Manipur Violence: Fresh Fire in Imphal A Day After 9 killed in Bloodiest Episode Since Unrest.’ A conversation with a retired civil servant from Manipur indicated that the toll was much higher.

We need to bring out a few points keeping in mind the readers outside India. First, there is a widespread impression that inter-ethnic violence is an integral part of the history of Manipur, and hence the current spell of violence is not to be blamed on any one individual or entity. This is cynical.

This spell of violence could have been prevented or at least could have been put down within days if the government in the state of Manipur and the Home Ministry in Delhi had acted responsibly.

Second, the impression that we are witnessing a violent confrontation between the Meiteis and the Kukis is wrong. The confrontation is between the Meiteis and non-Meiteis.

The Kukis have no access to the arms they once had as these are under lock and key under the August 2008 agreement termed ‘Suspension of Operations.’ On the other hand, the Meiteis were able to loot police armouries, with the Kukis suspecting, with the concurrence of the state government.

A brief chronology might help us understand how and when the violence began and how it spread in the absence of responsible action by the governments in the state and the central governments.

January/February 2023

The state government, led by Chief Minister N. Bhiren Singh, began eviction drives in the Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts, declaring tribal forest dwellers as “encroachers.”

March 2023

A violent clash started between the police and the tribals protesting eviction at Thomas Ground in District Kangpokpi. The state government announces a withdrawal from the 2008 Suspension of Operations Agreement. It was a trilateral agreement between the Central Government, the state government, and two armed groups (Kuki National Army and Zomi National Army).

The two armed groups surrendered their weapons, and the dialogue was to start with the state government to give as much autonomy as possible to the tribes, as the state government has always been dominated by the Meiteis, accounting for fifty-three per cent of the population.

The state government had not consulted the Central Government before taking the decision. Its subsequent efforts to get the approval of the Centre failed. At the same time, the Centre did not announce publicly that it was withholding approval, creating confusion.

The Kukis concluded that the autonomous Territorial Council promised as part of the 2008 Agreement was off the table.

April 2023

On 11 April, three churches in Imphal Tribal Colony were demolished by the government, claiming they were on government land.

On 19 April, the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to approach the Central Government within four weeks to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Meiteis. The Meiteis already enjoy the status of Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.

Obviously, the non-Meiteis resented the verdict.

May 202

On 3 May 2023, the All-Tribal Student Union of Manipur conducted a protest march; violent clashes broke out between the Meiteis and the non-Meiteis, mainly the Kukis. The state government issued ‘shoot at sight’ orders. The Indian Express, in a report published on 7 May 2023, said, ‘concerted attempts by the state government and valley-based civil society organisations set the ground for these riots’ in Manipur.

By 30 May 2023, 260 churches had been burnt, according to Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal. The RSS, the extremist Hindu militant group, is believed to be behind the attacks on the churches.

It is necessary to raise a question or two: Why is it that Prime Minister Modi, who has often spoken about India’s being the ‘mother of democracy,’ keeping silent? Does he hold that such silence is part of good governance?

The right thing to do is to dismiss the state government, put the state under the President’s rule, restore law and order, and seek in parallel negotiated solutions. Perhaps the restoration of the 2008 Suspension of Operations should be revived. Obviously, a stitch in time saves nine.

It is difficult, dear reader, not to recall the Proverbs of Solomon the Wise: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’

We do not expect President Biden to raise the Manipur violence with his honored guest. Biden’s occasionally soaring rhetoric about his mission to promote democracy need not be taken seriously.

In conclusion, the unfolding tragedy in Manipur shows that just as Nero found a ‘justification’ to persecute the early Christians who had nothing to do with the big fire. Politicians who want to capture and retain power by any means, fair or foul, will exploit the fault lines and aggravate the polarisation, real or imagined, that exists in every society.

We note sadly that democracy can be abused by clever leaders to undermine it. Democracy implies an intelligent and eternally vigilant electorate. Can we expect India’s electorate in the ‘world’s largest democracy’ to be intelligent and vigilant enough?

This artice was published on

June 30th, 2023 | category:domestic-affairs, politics |
domestic-affairs, international-affairs, politics

Mr Modi: Embracing The US Can Prove To Be Asphyxiating

A deeper defence dependence with the U.S. will constrain India’s options. Such a move will be foolhardy.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘state visit’ to the United States of America from 21 to 23 of June is by all accounts a study in glitz and glamour engineered by the Biden Administration with the First Lady Jill Biden playing a leading role. The Friends of BJP in America exerted their utmost by marching up and down in the cities and by shouting “Modi! Modi!” even when he addressed the Joint Session of the Congress. The media coverage in India was non-stop and irritatingly repetitive. The U.S. media took more notice of Modi this time than during his previous visits.

Modi’s last two visits were in September 2019 and September 2021. In 2019, Modi’s supporters in America had arranged for a rally in Houston, Texas, with President Trump in attendance. Violating protocol, Modi exhorted the audience to vote for Trump again in 2020. President Biden does no longer hold it against Modi. It seems Washington has assessed Modi is going to be re-elected in 2024 and therefore, it is prudent to invest in him.

All successful summits are pre-cooked. Washington sent its senior officials including the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defence, and National Security Advisor, to Delhi prior to the visit. It appears that Washington has worked harder than Delhi to complete the cooking on time.

There was no matter of importance that the two principals had to discuss and resolve differences — if any. That done, they could focus on praising each other, propounding their aspirations, and projecting their world view as they wanted to be projected.

The joint statement — of 6466 words in 58 paragraphs — is one of the longest of its kind. The previous one in June 2016, when Modi was hosted by Obama, had 3771 words. The one issued on President Macron’s visit in 2022 December was only 3254 words.

The joint statement is a study in soaring rhetoric. The two nations ostensibly are “among the closest partners in the world.” The pointed reference to the growing number of Indo-American voters is evident when it says, “The U.S.-India Comprehensive Global and Strategic Partnership is anchored in a new level of trust and mutual understanding and enriched by the warm bonds of family and friendship that inextricably link our countries together.” (Italics added.) Modi has emphasised time and again that he had discarded the hesitations in the past.

Leaving aside the rhetoric, let us look at the concrete items announced in the joint statement.

First: NASA and ISRO will develop a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of 2023.

Second: a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed on a Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership. Micron Technology will invest up to $825 million to build a new semiconductor assembly and test facility in India at a cost of $2.75 billion, with India bearing the rest of the cost.

The project will create 20,000 jobs. Another US company Lam Research plans to train 60,000 Indian engineers in semiconductors. Applied Materials, yet another U.S. company, will invest $400 million. All told, the total works out to $3.15 billion out of which India will invest $1.9 billion.

Third: two task forces were created to work together on telecommunications including 5G and 6G, and digital inclusion.

Fourth: a joint Indo-U.S. Quantum Coordination Mechanism has been established.

Fifth: the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Indian Department of Science and Technology will cooperate on 35 research projects.

Sixth: the leaders welcomed Google’s plans to invest $10 billion in the India Digitization Fund. By doing this, Modi has paved the way to turn India into Google’s digital colony.

An observation is called for. In some cases, a firm decision has been taken at the government level whereas in other cases, the two leaders are encouraging the U.S. investors for decisions already taken or yet to be taken.

The most important MoU is the one between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for the manufacture of GE F-414 jet engines in India.

Two things are worthy of notice. This shows the beginning of the end of the technology denying policy towards India. This technology has not been shared with any other country so far.

The second point to note is that the joint venture is with the HAL, much maligned in the media for incompetence and non-delivery when Modi compelled the French company selling the Rafael aircraft to join up with the Ambani company with no competence in the matter. Perhaps, the US might have insisted on HAL as partner. Perhaps Modi has learnt from his mistake?

Incidentally, Adani was not invited to the White House banquet. Once again, we might conclude that Modi can learn.

Coming to the political part of the joint statement, we see that Modi has given away nothing of importance. The reference to Ukraine avoids any criticism of Russia. The call for respect for international law, U N Charter and territorial integrity and sovereignty is not linked with any specific reference to Ukraine.

On Security Council reform, Biden supports India’s bid for a permanent seat and specifically supported India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat for the 2028-29 term.

The formulation on Quad as “a global good” avoids any reference to China. Washington would have welcomed an anti-China formulation; the formulation on the Indo-Pacific also avoids any direct reference to China.

Paragraph 36 says that the two countries “reaffirm and embrace their shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism and equal opportunities for all citizens.”

In this context, we need to note that seventy-five members of the Congress wrote to Biden on 20 June – one day before Modi’s arrival. The initiative for writing the letter was taken by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, both Democrats. It said that there have been “independent, credible reports” that reflect “troubling signs in India toward the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organizations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access.” Biden was urged to take up the matter with Modi.

Biden did not bring up the matter during the official talks. Obviously, the claim in the joint statement about advancing “the aspirations of our people for a bright and prosperous future grounded in respect for human rights, and shared principles of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law” is not to be taken seriously as pointed out by American commentators. For example, in an article in Foreign Affairs (June 16, 2023) by Professor Daniel Markey says:

“If making democratic values the cornerstone of the U.S.-Indian relationship has always been a dubious strategy, today it is clearly doomed—because the very notion of common values has itself come to look fanciful. Ever since Narendra Modi became the Indian prime minister nine years ago, India’s status as a democracy has become increasingly suspect.”

The “world’s largest democracy” has seen an upsurge in violence directed at its Muslim minority, often whipped up by prominent politicians. It is trying to strip citizenship from millions of Muslim residents. It is muzzling the press and silencing opposition figures. The Biden administration, having cast itself as a vocal champion of democratic ideals, therefore finds itself on shaky ground whenever it characterizes the United States’ partnership with India as one of shared values.”

The TIME magazine (24 June, 2023) carries an article by Knox Thames under the caption: The Biden-Modi Meeting Was a Failure for Democracy.

Modi answered a question on treatment of minorities, specifically, Muslims, from Sabrina Siddique, a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal by using disingenuous rhetoric. Contrary to the usual practice, no follow-up question was permitted. Even agreeing to the joint press conference was treated by Biden as a generous concession by the media-averse Modi.

Modi repeatedly referred to India being the fifth largest economy; conveniently, he left out the fact that India accounts for the largest number of poor human beings too.

It will be naïve to believe that Biden honestly believes that he sees Modi as a credible collaborator for promoting democracy and human rights. It does not matter for Biden as he does not care about India’s democracy. He cares about American interests.

Clearly, by hosting an event that could help boost Modi’s popularity in an election year, Biden and the U.S. administration are using India as a pawn to negate Chinese influence on the geopolitical chess board.

Furthermore, by deepening the defence relationship, Biden hopes he might succeed in reducing India’s dependence on Russia for arms — at least over a span of 5 to 10 years.

However, it will not be in India’s interest to have a tight embrace with the U.S. Such an embrace can prove to be asphyxiating. It is better to shake hands rather than embrace. A deeper defence dependence with the U.S. will constrain India’s options. Such a move will be foolhardy.

This article was published on

June 30th, 2023 | category:domestic-affairs, international-affairs, politics |
domestic-affairs, politics

Where Is The Good Governance You Promised, Mr Modi?

If the Modi government is serious about keeping up promises of good governance, it’s important to focus more on governance and less on optics.

The political temperature has been rising in India. It will continue to rise until the 2024 general elections. The national capital led by the Modi government and his party, the BJP, and its progenitor, the RSS, are in an election mode. The Opposition has no choice but to follow.

After the landslide electoral defeat in Karnataka, the BJP and the RSS have started introspecting. The RSS’s mouthpiece The Organizer has recognized that a combination of Hindutva and Modi charisma would not work at state elections. In a recent op-ed, Prafulla Ketkar, the editor wrote:

"For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is the right time to take stock of the situation. Without strong leadership and effective delivery at the regional level, Prime Minister Modi’s charisma and Hindutva as an ideological glue would not be sufficient. The positive factors, ideology, and leadership are genuine assets for the BJP when the state-level governance is operational.

I should like to coin a new phrase “Hindutva and Moditva” to refer to the failed recipe in Karnataka. It is obvious that the duty of an elected government in a democracy is to deliver good governance without indulging in divisive party politics. Modi did promise good governance in 2014 and 2019."

So, let’s ask some basic questions on two current issues of national importance.

The brave women wrestlers who won Olympic medals have been seeking justice, so far unsuccessfully, from the Modi establishment. Seven women wrestlers claim that they had been sexually molested by the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.

The main accused, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a sixty-six-year-old politician from the BJP, has been holding the office as president for ten years. A six-time Member of Parliament he has been described as a “history sheeter” by The Print, in 2017. “History sheeter” is an Indian coinage to refer to a person with a criminal record.

The wrestlers protest began in January 2023. It is indeed intriguing that Prime Minister Modi has not mentioned it in his popular Mann Ki Baat (Speaking from Heart), a radio programme listened to by millions of people globally.

The Delhi Police registered First Information Report (FIR) against Brij Bhushan only after the Supreme Court ordered it to do so. The Sports Minister Anurag Thakur has assured the wrestlers, during a six-hour conversation, that the Delhi Police would act by 15 June.

Why is a Union Minister speaking on behalf of the Delhi Police, which has a streamlined system for communicating with the citizens? Perhaps, the need for good media optics before Modi’s visit to Washington due on 22 June has motivated the government to settle the matter?

Another instance of bad governance is the Odisha train accident.

On 2 June 2023, occurred one of the worst of rail accidents in history when three trains collided. The grim toll announced officially is 275. The real toll might be higher. We the public still have not been told how the accident occurred.

There is reason to fear that an elaborate project to mislead the public about the real causes might be afoot. On 4 June, Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “The root cause of the accident has been identified. And the people who have done it have also been identified.” Intriguingly, the Commissioner for Rail Safety (CRS) constituted a team to investigate the matter only by 5 June. Even if the Minister knew the root cause should he have announced it even before the CRS had started its work?

Without even waiting for a preliminary report from CRS, the Railway Board recommended, and the Government of India ordered the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to investigate the matter. It is the first time in India that the CBI is investigating a rail accident. If the findings of the CBI and of the CRS are different which one will the Government accept and act upon?

There is a general impression in the capital that the Railways, obsessed with the slow-moving Bullet Train project, and the much hyped about Vande Bharat Trains running at a higher speed, have not paid enough attention to safety.

In this context, an under-reported CAG report published by The Telegraph on 10 June 2023 is worth reading. Briefly, in 2017 Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the establishment of Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (Railway Safety Fund) with a corpus of Rs. I lakh crore in 5 years. The Government of India was to provide Rs. 80,000 crores with the rest coming from the Railways. However, in 4 years, the total budget allotted was only Rs. 20,000 crores, instead of Rs. 80,000 crores.

The abolition of the Railway budget was a wrong decision taken in 2017. Equally wrong is not having a minister exclusively for the Railways.

The Bullet Train project was not the most needed of the Railways. In February 2016, writing in The Frontline, I had pointed out that safety was most important aspect. I wrote:

"In terms of safety, India has the highest rate of accidents causing death and injury. China registered 132 deaths owing to rail accidents from 2000 to 2010. In contrast, as per official statistics given by the Indian Railways, in 2001-02 alone India’s toll was 326. Our record is appalling."

Undue attention to favorable optics for the head of government does invariably detract from the government’s ability to deliver. It’s improbable to expect a sudden change in approach. However, good governance, which Modi promised to deliver in every election campaign, is found wanting.

The people of India deserve good governance. If Modi is serious about keeping up promises of good governance, it’s important to focus more on governance and less on optics.

This article was published on

June 17th, 2023 | category:domestic-affairs, politics |

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