BLOOD, CENSORED: When Kashmiris Become the Enemyby Dinesh Mohan, Harsh Mander, Navsharan Singh, Pamela Philipose and Tapan Bose. Yoda Press, New Delhi, 2018.
Blood, Censored, its authors tell us, is a book born out of the need to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Kashmir in the wake of the horrendous violence visited upon the valley by Indian security forces following the large-scale protests which erupted after the July 2016 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani. It is equally an effort to directly address the large swathes of Indian civil society whose response to the killings, torture and state sanctioned use of disproportionate force in Kashmir has been little more than tepid, at best. An affective, emotionally charged text, Blood, Censored wears its politics and heart on its sleeve; no small feat in the polarized and brazenly intolerant moment that is our present.
In terms of methodology, the book consists partially of ethnographic accounts based on a visit by the authors to Kashmir in December 2016, supplemented with meticulous secondary (archival) research, taking account of national and international coverage of the current conflict. The book is invaluable in its analysis of the various forces which have brought about the ‘dangerous new phase of the conflict’, (p. 7) and how this movement differs significantly from the militancy of the ’90s in that unlike the earlier movement which was dominated by armed groups, ‘the current movement for azadi does not deploy guns, except for a small band of indigenous insurgents... and second, the "jihadi" the "mujahideen" or "militants" – classified as "terrorists" by the Indian government – are almost nowhere in the picture. The current protests have been launched by the local youth and led by locals, rendering the so-called "separatists" almost irrelevant’ (p. 10).
The visit to Kashmir was organized under the auspices of the ‘Concerned Citizen’s Collective’, and the authors travelled to Srinagar as well as various towns and villages in the districts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Anantnag. In total, they interacted with nearly 200 people – ranging from ‘children disabled by pellets and bullets and their caregivers, to medical doctors from government hospitals, journalists, intellectuals, academics, artistes, lawyers, humanitarian workers, students and members of civil society groups’ (p. ix). The authors insist that theirs was not a fact-finding mission: it was a journey of solidarity in the face of the widespread apathy displayed by most of India’s media behemoths, seemingly committed to talking about what was going on in Kashmir exclusively from a ‘national security’ perspective, without once alluding to the human and social cost of this exercise; the lack of justice and the ‘agony of the Kashmiri people’ (p. vii).
The text is at its strongest when it gives voice to the realities, anguish and disillusionment of the many people the authors interacted with on their visit: it is clear that theirs is an effort to make room for these narratives, so long marginalized in the Indian mainstream, and it is this which makes Blood, Censored a vital and riveting read. It urges an Indian populace that finds it convenient to look away from the devastation perpetrated in the name of ‘national security’ to actually contend with the ‘wide swathe of public opinion (which) was nearly unanimous in expressing their anguish and alienation from the state’ (p. x), and what this might mean for the shape of the ‘freedom’ movement to come.
From raising the various problems with the Indian state’s choice of supposedly ‘non-lethal’ pellet guns capable of blinding those within their range for life (p. x), to flagging the inadequacy and ‘oddness’ of the Supreme Court’s response to the J&K Bar Association’s appeal that the use of pellet guns be discontinued – the court apparently told the association that it would ‘ask the central government to stop using pellet guns if the Bar Association was able to persuade the Kashmiri youth to stop pelting stones and return to schools and colleges’! (p. 21) – the text mounts a concerted attack on the hypocrisy, equivocation and outright brutality which are becoming hallmarks of the state’s response to a people it is no longer able to see as its own, even whilst it attempts to assert its sovereignty over the land they inhabit.
To read in gory detail what happens when a round of bare metal pellets is fired is to be able to understand what the authors are referring to when they write that Kashmiri youth feel disenfranchised by the Indian state (the only visible signifier of which is to be encountered in the form of the armed forces and police, estimated to number approximately 700,000, stationed in the valley) [p. 18], and have therefore lost all fear, including of death (pp. 13-14) at the hands of people they view as an occupying force. What does this mean for India’s Kashmir policy? If the current hard line stand espoused by the Centre forecloses the possibility of dialogue with varied interest groups in Kashmir, countenancing only ‘official’ ones like the leading political parties (considered ‘compromised’ by most Kashmiris because they are viewed as friendly/sympathetic to Indian interests), we have arrived at an impasse from where there appears to be no moving forward.
India’s cavalier response is also explored in ‘Dealing with a Lawless State’ (pp. 63-77), iterating the ‘special’ treatment meted out to Kashmir and Kashmiris: for instance, how pellet guns are reserved for use only in the valley, and would never be wielded against agitating Patels, Jats or Marathas; or how the impunity afforded by draconian pieces of legislation like AFSPA creates conditions which allow authorities to ‘circumvent the rule of law’ (p. 64), and all of this while media agenda setting exercises nudge mainlanders into thinking of Kashmiris exclusively as people ‘fighting, killing and dying in encounters with the armed forces... proclaiming azadi, blazing guns and pelting stones’ (pp. 64-65), instead of outlining the various ‘different expressions of resistance... through (gathering) evidence and activism’ (p. 65) which have blossomed in the valley over the decades of this conflict.
The book deals equally with the human, socio-economic and political costs of the ongoing conflict, bringing to the forefront aspects completely neglected by most media houses. For example, it explores with great empathy the specific toll on women that is the trademark of most armed conflicts world over. This toll is twofold, alluding to their participation in the actual conflict, as well as bearing the burden of maintaining the chimera of normality, all the while dealing with the almost naturalized risk of sexual brutalization (pp. 41-44) that is their constant lot. This also raises several concerns over mental health, with studies showing that women are twice as likely to suffer mental health morbidity as men (p. 45). This strand of analysis also suggests that for Kashmiris in general, but for Kashmiri women in particular, there is the risk of falling into what Paul D’Souza has called ‘perpetual (undesired) liminality.’1 He uses this term to describe the condition of the wives of Kashmir’s ‘disappeared’ men; the women locally known as ‘half-widows’ (women whose husbands have gone ‘missing’, with their legal position unspecified), but the concept might be of use to think through the conditions of precarity which characterize the lives of most of the valley’s inhabitants.
The book ends with a reflection on the Indian state at war with its own citizens; the result, the authors analyse, of Kashmir being an outlier in terms of the imagination of the Hindu rashtra India seems to be inching towards becoming. The chasms between principle and action; between India’s professed constitutional secularism and its treatment of Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state, are glaring. Equally, the lack of a solution to the fact that Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh minorities ‘do not feel safe and equal’ (p. 78) in the valley after the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in the ’90s, is a further diminishing from the project and promise of Indian secularism. Equally, the ‘taming and domestication’ of Kashmir has long been an article of faith with the RSS and its cohorts. One has only to turn to their constant hankering after the removal of Article 370 for confirmation of this bias.
There is a small amount of repetition which plagues the first chapter of the book, which sharper editing would have helped eliminate. If intentional, this feels a tad laboured. The text could also have benefited from creating even more room for the testimonies and voices of the people the authors met while in Kashmir, because the archival work, while solid, is largely available in the public domain, but their journey of solidarity isn’t, and I wanted to hear more about what must have been, in some instances, incredibly difficult conversations to have. Despite decades of engagement with the place and people, not one word in this text is about what the journey ‘did’ to these authors – there is no navel gazing here – only deep humility and empathy. Ultimately, it is this that makes Blood, Censored one of the most important books available today for all those who fight the fight for India’s soul.
Assistant Professor, Communication Area, MICA-India, Ahmedabad
1. Paul D’Souza, ‘Life-as-Lived Today: Perpetual (Undesired) Liminality or the Half-Widows of Kashmir’, Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 8(1), 2016, pp. 26-42.
COSTS OF DEMOCRACY: Political Finance in India by Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2018.
Sarojini Naidu, a key leader of India’s freedom movement and president of the Indian National Congress famously commented that it costs the party (the National Congress) a fortune to keep Gandhi in poverty. In her statement, she was making a strong case for public funding of politics. Well, India is into the seventh decade of its constitutional democracy and the average citizens simply cannot figure out how its democracy is funded. The world’s largest democracy lacks empirical data and high quality studies and analyses on political finance, including the sources of donations and their spending, evolution and the changing dynamics of the party system including intra-party democracy, voter behaviour and reliable electoral data to say the least.
While there has been little or no public investment to create an enabling infrastructure for studying democracy (other than the Lokniti which is a non-governmental body largely focusing on election surveys), universities and research institutions have done precious little to deepen our understanding on critical aspects of our democracy and party system. In the absence of critical empirical and ethnographic studies, reliable surveys and data mining, subjects as critical as political finance remains a domain of guesstimates and speculation and most analysts rely on anecdotal evidence.
This volume, Costs of Democracy: Political Finance in India by editors Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav goes a long way to fill some of the critical gaps and is likely to spur a new generation of scholarship on political finance and related issues. Costs of Democracy is an illuminating volume that sheds light on the least studied political finance of the world’s largest democracy. To map how money and politics interacts in India, the authors of the volume have employed diverse and cross-cutting methodological tools on a much wider canvas: parliamentary, assembly and local self-government bodies. Four compelling questions that the volume tries to address are (i) What is the institutional and regulatory context governing the flow of money in politics? (ii) What are the sources of political finance? (iii) What do campaigns spend on and why they spend such vast amounts? (iv) How does money operate at, and interact with, different levels of government?
The chapter by Eswaran Sridharan and Milan Vaishnav opens up the debate by highlighting the challenges of electoral management and the critical role played by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in organizing and ensuring the integrity of elections encompassing more than 850 million voters. With their deep understanding of public institutions, the authors have done well to highlight the legal loopholes on transparency and disclosures and enforcement which renders the ECI helpless to widespread violation of electoral laws by parties and candidates.
Neelanjan Sircar’s sharp chapter, ‘The Role of Personal Wealth in Election Outcomes’ that unpacks the Gordian knot of political finance, particularly focusing on the sources of such finance. It is an important contribution to the understanding of the political finance regime in India. Sircar does well to marshal granular data of more than 20,000 parliamentary candidates between 2004-2014 to provide statistical trends of what he calls ‘self-financing candidates’ in Indian elections. However, there is a catch given that self-reported affidavits by contesting candidates reveal a minuscule fraction of what they possess. Nonetheless, it is an important scholarly contribution to a critical public policy area that has received no serious empirical treatment.
While the role of personal wealth may be growing in financing elections, other sources are not to be underestimated. In a unique methodological manoeuvre, Kapur and Vaishnav use novel methods to explore the connections between the cash rich construction sector (cement consumption patterns) and elections to state assemblies. They found a contraction in cement consumption during the month of assembly elections suggesting the prevalence of a quid pro quo between the builders and politicians. Their study sheds light on how ‘under the table campaign contributions’ play spoilsport on regulation of the economy and the much publicized ‘ease of doing business’.
A chapter by Lisa Bjorkman and Jeffrey Witsoe adds more meat to the debate by focusing on aspects of spending on elections. A rare ethnographic study of political finance contrasting Mumbai and Bihar (an other being Milan Vaishnav’s, When Crime Pays, 2017), it debunks the popular myth of straightforward flow of money from party to voters.
Adding more muscle to ethnographic methods in which this volume excels, the chapter by Simon Chauchard untangles the dynamics of the commonly observable gift giving culture (euphemism for vote buying) during elections and why elections are getting ever more expensive. While his contribution does not unravel anything that is unknown to most political observers and election analysts in India, the author makes an important contribution to the understanding of political finance by developing a comprehensive inventory of different contributions.
A cracker of a chapter is by Jennifer Bussell who employs large survey data from the politically competitive states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh to deepen our understanding on the sources of campaign finance and how money is spent. While many of her findings concur with the insights of Bjorkman and Witsoe, the real utility of her chapter lies in expanding the maze of political finance to include the third tier government or panchayats. The chapter by Michael A. Collins is unique in itself. While most research debates focus on mainstream and influential parties, there is hardly any serious investigation into how a relatively unknown Dalit party in Tamil Nadu gets its funds and sustains its political activities.
The concluding chapter by Kapur, Sridharan and Vaishnav makes a comprehensive attempt to lay out the implications for policy makers. The best part of the chapter is the short but sharp analysis of failed initiative of demonetization and public funding of political parties. The highpoint of the chapter is the listing of future research areas, particularly aspects of subnational variation in electoral spending and the nature and extent of political competition in India. Following the broader objectives of the book, the authors have done well by outlining a detailed blueprint for reform of political finance, including highlighting the need for strict disclosures, enhanced powers for the ECI, among others.
To conclude, the volume is a compelling attempt to deepen our understanding of India’s opaque political finance, which is a nightmare for researchers given absent disclosures and public data on donations and spending by parties. While the book helps by shedding light on the sources of funds and their spending, of slack regulations and institutional capability, we still know little about other related dimensions: the role of big money in politics, growing plutocratic influence on party finance, implications of an opaque political finance system on democratic politics and, importantly, comparative political finance, including a growing trend of public funding of elections. One hopes the authors of the volume will take the next logical steps and address some of the issues listed above.
Senior Fellow, ORF, Delhi
GODMAN TO TYCOON: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev by Priyanka Pathak-Narain. Juggernaut Books, New Delhi, 2017.
ON 25 June 2018 Baba Ramdev took part in a session at Madame Tussauds in London where a 20-member team was busy taking his profile photographs from several angles, measuring the size of his cranium and discreetly shuffling the silver strands of his scraggly beard. The exercise was in preparation for his wax statue to be put up in the world famous museum. Delighted at the prospect of being counted among the galaxy of international celebrities, the yoga guru tweeted: ‘First time the statue of a yogi will be installed at Madame Tussauds museum in London. This will further add to the glory of the science of yoga and will motivate people across the globe to adopt a yogic lifestyle.’ He was aware that his moment of ‘international’ glory had finally arrived.
Ramdev had made an incredible journey from obscure beginnings to the world of fame and fortune. Born Ram Kisan Yadav, son of an impoverished farmer from Said Alipur, Haryana, Ramdev once had to struggle hawking herbs and home-made Chyavanprash on his bicycle from door to door to help his family make ends meet in the late 1980s. Three decades later, Baba Ramdev is a powerful tycoon at the helm of Patanjali Ayurveda Limited, the country’s fastest growing consumer goods company.
Godman to Tycoon is the story of Baba Ramdev that shows him, warts and all. It is precisely such a portrayal that the Baba did not want to be made public. Fearing a dent in his image as an essentially spiritual personage, he wanted the book to be restrained. The petitioners approached the court on behalf of Ramdev and in August 2017 a Delhi court banned publication and distribution of the book. It was an ex-parte order and the court later lifted the injunction on the book, conceding that it was not scurrilous and was based on materials already widely circulated and published in the media. The author Priyanka Pathak-Narain has taken extensive interviews of people connected with Ramdev and cited sources for her statements, without being judgmental. The account is credible enough and the book is neither a hagiography of the Baba nor a sharp critique of the man.
Baba Ramdev, well known as a yoga adept, nonetheless, is at the centre of the narrative as a successful businessman. His brand, the Patanjali, has acquired an iconic status in the national and international market. Offering over 500 consumer products ranging from creams, shampoos and household cleaners to biscuits and clarified butter, the Patanjali products have garnered a huge consumer base that has propelled the company to staggering heights and is giving the rival multinational giants a run for their money. An ex-CEO of Patanjali Ayurveda remarks about Baba Ramdev, ‘He has a prodigious imagination and terrific business sense. He may have a squint eye, but he knows where the money is.’ The Baba has built an enormous business empire because he is quick to feel the pulse of the market. So while at one time he thought that advertising was a waste of money, he is now spending on it in a big way. He is his own successful brand ambassador.
The author begins the Ramdev saga from his early years. The boy Ramdev was a sickly child prone to illnesses. Soon after he was born it was noticed that something was wrong with the baby’s face. A paralysis set in at infancy permanently damaging his face and leaving him with a twitching eye. As a teenager he attended Khanpur gurukul run by the Arya Samaj in Haryana and then proceeded to gurukul, Kalwa. He learned Sanskrit grammar, mastering Patanjali’s Ashtyadhayi and the Vedic texts, tended cows, collected alms from the nearby villages, performed headstands and other complex yogic postures and breathing exercises. This was also when Ramdev formed a friendship with his future collaborator and man Friday, Acharya Balkrishna. In Haridwar they joined the Kripalu Bagh Ashram in Kankhal under the tutelage of an aging swami. On 5 January 1995 Ramdev, Balkrishna and Karamveer, his other mentor, registered the Divya Yog Mandir Trust in Kankhal, Haridwar. They organized their first yoga camp in 1997. About ten-twelve people gathered at the Kripalu Bagh Ashram in Kankhal, where Ramdev set up his class under a litchi tree.
Since then the Baba has come a long way, making his mark not only as a practising yogi but more importantly, a business tycoon. He has taken yoga to the nooks and corners of cities, small towns and villages and his TV shows have become immensely popular on account of the simplified technique that dissociates yoga from complex esoteric philosophy. At the same time, as a saffron-clad Pied Piper he can make his stomach churn, wrap his legs around his neck and dazzle viewers with his virtuosity. Giving the promise of instant good health, he sells asanas as cure for various ailments. Duly impressed, the audience responds with generous donations.
With Acharya Balkrishna, the Baba then hit on the idea of using Ayurveda medicines to supplement the benefits of yoga. Balkrishna had no formal degrees in medicine but had studied the ancient Ayurvedic system. Patanjali soon became a trusted name for medicines and the profits multiplied. On the Baba’s business acumen and the runaway success of Patanjali the author attributes three reasons: First, cheap labour. The average Patanjali worker on the factory floor earns Rs 6000 per month. Workers are brainwashed to believe that working for Patanjali is an act of piety, a seva, so the ordinary rules of the labour market do not apply. Second, owning two television channels, Aastha and Sanskar, has been a terrific advantage, taking Patanjali and the Baba into the living rooms of the target audience every day, and all day. Third, the profit margins are kept low. As a result his business enterprise has grown exponentially. By 2010-11, he had a turnover of Rs 317 crore, a figure rising to Rs 5000 crore in 2015-16. By May 2017 it was Rs 10,000 crore. He has certainly made his rival companies sit up and take notice.
In his meteoric rise to commercial heights, Ramdev did not shy away from adopting means which were not always above board. In fact, he has used every trick of the trade to achieve results. Though his enterprise has fallen foul of the law several times yet, he does not seem perturbed. Ironically several godmen in India today are found to be remiss on this count. They flout laws with impunity. One is reminded of a mega cultural event organized by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 2016 on the Yamuna flood plains. When pulled up by the National Green Tribunal for environmental violations and asked to pay a five crore rupee fine, the godman audaciously refused to pay up and said he was prepared to go to jail instead.
In 2006, CPM leader Brinda Karat took on Baba Ramdev, alleging that the Ayurvedic medicines prepared by Patanjali contained animal parts and human bones and that the Union Health Ministry had found that the Baba had violated licensing and labelling provisions. Dismissing the charges, Ramdev responded in a manner quite uncharacteristic of a yogi; he had his devoted followers, members of the Hindutva brigade, set upon Karat launching a vitriolic attack. The substantial charges against Patanjali remain unanswered to date.
His soaring popularity brought Ramdev in close proximity to powerful politicians and other public figures, a relationship he has successfully used to promote his business and sidestep legal niceties. A couple of murky episodes are also alluded to in the book – the mysterious disappearance of his guru Shankar Dev, and unsolved mysteries of the deaths of people connected closely with the ashram. Acharya Balkrishna too has been under the scanner of investigating agencies. In 2011 the Central Bureau of Investigation alleged that Balkrishna had submitted fake educational degrees to the government in order to procure an Indian passport. That case is still ongoing. Then there is Ramdev’s problematic friendship with Subrata Roy of the Sahara group who would go on to be sentenced to jail for defrauding three crore investors of Rs 17,400 crore. Several of Patanjali products have been found to be of dubious quality. An insider has reported that what Patanjali often sells as ‘cow’ ghee is not cow ghee at all. It is actually ghee that is made from white butter that is, in turn, made of the milk of various animals, not just cows that is procured from small and marginal producers in various parts of the country. Products manufactured by smaller companies are routinely repackaged affixing the Patanjali label.
The book needs to be read by both the admirers and detractors of Baba Ramdev to understand the concoction of market forces which may turn heady with a mix of spirituality and commerce, and to learn how not to cross boundaries.
Satish C. Aikant
Former Professor of English and HOD, H.N.B. Garhwal University