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The Big Story: Right here, right now
When the year began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announcing, introducing and passing a Constitutional Amendment introducing a 10% quota for the upper-caste poor, we should have known this would have been a year in which just about anything could happen. The massive mandate Modi’s government was given in the Lok Sabha polls in May only cemented this impression.
And so, this weekend, following a landmark Supreme Court verdict, it became clear that Ayodhya is going to get a Ram Temple on the spot where an organised Hindutva mob in 1992 demolished a 16th-century mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, sparking riots around the country.
If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this case, here’s an extremely basic recap: For over a century, Hindus and Muslims have clashed over this spot in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stands, with the Hindus claiming it is the birthplace of Ram, one of the avatars of Vishnu. In 1949, Hindutva organisations conspired to place a Ram idol in the mosque, effectively turning it into a makeshift Hindu temple and leading to a court case over who owns the land.
Then in the 1980s, the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, used a nationwide campaign for the building of a Ram temple on the spot as a means of whipping up passions (and sparking off violence), culminating in mass-scale vandalism that demolished the mosque on December 6, 1992. Since then the case had been in court, although it has always been politically volatile, with the BJP promising a Ram temple.
Many faultlines about Indian politics and society were exposed by the case, from the tremendous emotive power of Hindu nationalism to the difficulty other political parties have had in defending secularism, from India’s insistence on turning back to disputes from centuries ago to the growing marginalisation of Muslims. This reading list should get you caught up on the background.
On Saturday, the Supreme Court sat on the weekend to pronounce its decision in the case, after a record 40 days of arguments and two abortive attempts at mediation.
The short version of the verdict: The land goes to the Hindus, and the government has to set up a trust that will oversee all activities on it, including the construction of a temple. To make up for the mosque demolition, the Muslim parties will get another plot of land, double the size, but somewhere else – to be decided by the (BJP-run) state government.
The political implications are myriad, some of which Shoaib Daniyal has collected here.
Even earlier this year, before the elections, there were some people who believed that a Ram temple might not be built in their lifetimes, partly because the promise of one seemed more potent politically than the temple itself.
Yet, things have moved swiftly since then. Modi managed to unilaterally alter the position of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union (though until the people of the Valley are free to speak their mind, the fallout of that move remains unclear).
Now, the Supreme Court has cleared the decks for a Ram temple. The question to ask is: What next? Article 370 gone, Ram temple on the way, what could the Modi government have in mind following this?
Its socio-cultural agenda is, to some extent, clear:
- A pan-India National Register of Citizens, as Home Minister Amit Shah has been promising for some time now, along with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which combined would essentially mean state-sanctioned harassment of Muslims.
- A Uniform Civil Code: A long-standing right-wing demand that seeks to abolish the personal law of individual religions, essentially forcing minorities to follow the laws of the majority.
- An anti-conversion law: Another old demand, in place in a few states, that ties into the Hindu Right’s belief that poor Indians are often converted to Christianity through “bribes”.
In many of these cases, the question is not if but when. Will the BJP find it useful to push everything now, in the hopes that it can blunt the impact of what appears to be a severe slowdown? Or will it hold on to some of these moves, so that they can be used as selling points ahead of major state elections, or even the Lok Sabha polls in 2024?
So much has been accomplished by the Hindutva forces in the last 10 months that it is hard to predict what comes next. But what is clear is that, despite setbacks at the state-level and an economic slowdown, on the national stage, the BJP’s flag is flying high and for now it can attempt to accomplish just about anything.
What will the BJP do next? Will the Opposition have any answer to its moves? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Alok Prasanna Kumar, Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy:
“It’s a rare book that is both a thrilling adventure and insightful work on history and politics. Alpa Shah’s Nightmarch is just that. Exploring questions of what the Maoist movement represents to India’s Adivasis while she undertakes a week-long trek with them (under disguise), it provides nuance and rich texture to the whole discourse like few other works.
Have a recommendation for a book, paper, report or podcast that would add to our understanding of Indian politics or policymaking? Send it in to email@example.com
For those who can’t read Hindi, the text is a well-known phrase meaning, “He who wields the stick owns the buffalo.”
The BJP could not find a way to form the government in Maharashtra. Because its ally, Shiv Sena, was refusing to accept anything less than a 50-50 share in power including the chief ministerial post for half the term. The governor has now invited the Shiv Sena to try and form the government.
The first batch of Indian pilgrims went down the new Kartarpur corridor into Pakistan. The corridor allows Indians to travel to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev. Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani PM Imran Khan inaugurated their sides of the corridor.
Moody’s lowered its India outlook to “negative” down from “stable”. It said that it does not expect growth to pick up massively any time soon.
The Congress in Chhattisgarh will not be implementing NYAY. At least not for now, said Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who explained that he had to fulfil the promises he made ahead of state election first before he could consider the massive income support scheme which the Congress had promised in the national elections this year.
New Delhi buzz: This story claims Modi told a collection of top bureaucrats “that they had spoiled his first five- year tenure but that he would not allow them to spoil the second”. Meanwhile, there is some noise about further tax reforms on the anvil.
The government withdrew writer Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of India status. The move, coming months after Taseer wrote a piece for Time magazine calling Modi “divider-in-chief” turned ugly, with his mother Tavleen Singh – who has supported the prime minister over the years – now calling this move “evil”.
On Scroll.in this week: Hard Times
If you like the Political Fix, you will probably enjoy our new series on Scroll.in, Hard Times (my pitch to call it “Downturn Abbey” didn’t win out ultimately).
With the series, we hope to bring you simple explainers, insightful analyses and glimpses of real lives that help us understand what India’s economic slowdown actually means. The series is an ongoing one: You can read all the pieces we have published so far here, and can sign up to get everyone in your inbox here.
- Does the Modi government even understand what is going on with the Indian economy?
- How do we know India is facing an economic slowdown – not just a temporary speedbump?
- Why does the Modi government want money from the states to do its job?
- ‘People will eat fish if they earn well but there’s no money,’ says a Guwahati vendor
Subscribe to Hard Times, and write to firstname.lastname@example.org telling me what you would like to see in a series about the Indian economy.
Reports and Op-eds
Could India’s retreat from the RCEP be tactical? We were going to focus on India’s last-minute decision to pull out of the world’s largest trading bloc before the Ayodhya, so go read all the pieces in this thread by University of Hong Kong Visiting Fellow Ananth Krishnan instead. Business Standard’s AK Bhattacharya asks if this retreat could be tactical and result in a pact with the US?
Two interesting pieces look at the success of Narendra Modi in the face of India’s economic uncertainty. Milan Vaishnav in Foreign Affairs contextualises Modi’s 2019 electoral victory despite all the signs that the economy is slowing down. And Pramit Bhattacharya in Mint offers an explanation for it: “the desire for fast and sustained economic growth [is] often overwhelmed by the BJP’s desire for fast and sustained political growth.”
It’s not just about the Shiv Sena’s stubbornness. Although the piece is from before the events of the last few days, News18’s Vinaya Deshpande offered an insightful look into the politics behind Maharashtra’s alliance mess.
Structural fault-lines go some way towards explaining air pollution and India’s volatile onion prices. Roshan Kishore in the Hindustan Times breaks down how both issues are reflective of India’s flawed agricultural policies.
India needs a minimum wage, because it will unleash growth. NIPFP Director Rathin Roy argues for a national floor minimum wage not just from an equity consideration but also based on the idea that it “uses the consumption power of the aam aadmi to leverage economic growth.”
Can’t make this up
An Indian politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party has figured out why the country’s air turns so rancid over the north every winter. While scientists are still working to figure out what is the biggest contributor to India’s horrible air pollution and what can be done about it, the BJP’s Vineet Sharda said it was the fault of poisonous gases, released by Pakistan or China.
“We should think about whether this is a conspiracy by Pakistan to release poisonous gases into India, because it knows it cannot win a war against India? Whenever Pakistan has fought a war against India, it has lost.” Evidently a very different kind of war is being lost here as well.
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