Playing with fire

June 08, 2016

Homes of members of a sect burn following clashes with police at a park in Mathura (AFP)

The recent incident in ‘holy’ Mathura of armed squatters opening fire on policemen killing two officers, shows that the Indian politician is a very slow learner.

The country has lost a prime minister and countless innocent lives to the bullets of cult followers in innumerable encounters.

Yet, such cults thrive on prime government property, create a following, build mini empires and stash firearms which are unleashed on the administration at will. Can it happen without political patronage?

It’s a cocktail that is deadly, both literally and figuratively. The price that the country has paid in the past, both politically and socially, is really immeasurable. The exact nature of the cult and its armed battle with the police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh is still unravelling.

But the basic ingredients are not any different from the good old concoction that has spared none, including a Prime Minister who lost her life to assassin’s bullets. Political games with so-called religious cult leaders or ‘Godmen’, as they are popularly known, is fraught with danger.

Add to that the lure of money power, land and a cache of firearms, and the impact is lethal. This is what has happened in the holy town of Mathura in a state that is bound to see an array of experiments by political parties to gain power in the elections due a year later.

For something like two years, followers of this group headed by a semi-literate man were allowed to occupy nearly 121.4 hectares of government land. Ostensibly, they took shelter on this large piece of state property while passing by from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh on their way to the national capital, New Delhi, to participate in a protest.

But, the organisation called Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena (SBSS) turned out to be a large group of squatters. Any organisation which has weird demands like 50 litres of petrol or diesel at a pittance of one rupee, annulling of elections of President and Prime Minister, all under the garb of being followers of an idol like Subhash Chandra Bose, should be seen as suspect by any administration. It is obvious that the administration would not have kept its eyes deliberately shut, if not instigated by some political bigwig.

It is like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale occupying the Golden Temple, the Mecca for the Sikh community, at Amritsar with his bunch of armed men and then dictating terms to the most powerful Prime Minister the country has ever had, Indira Gandhi. Without political encouragement in the years preceding 1984, Bhindranwale would not have reached that position. Ultimately, Indira Gandhi paid the price for that with her life and the country faced the infamous carnage of Sikhs in its wake.

The social and political impact of that power game, which emanated from the internal politics of the then ruling Congress party, gets thrown up every now and then in some form or the other. The stories of ‘Godmen’ acquiring large tracts of land by spreading so-called powers and talking about peace are, literally, dime a dozen. Sometime in 2014, the effort of the police to arrest one man close to one of these Godmen had led to the death of six persons in the violence that ensued.

It was much later that the Godman was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a woman. It was the same Godman who had blamed the woman whose gang-rape led to the framing of new rape laws in the country. Godmen have been arrested for other reasons like fraud and forcible occupation of land as well. Each one of them have amassed wealth that is certainly questionable and, in many cases, still under investigation.


But, the SBSS appears to be slightly different. As per the evidence that has been unearthed until now, it practically had a bomb making factory on the property that it had squatted upon. It’s ardent supporters were so well armed that they took on the police force in a gunbattle, killing an officer of the rank of a superintendent of police and an inspector, among many others.

Clearly, none of the supporters of such Godmen would have dared occupy government land in the first place, let alone build a mini army of an estimated 3,000-odd people that could challenge state machinery, without some political backing.

The question is who are the politicians backing such a thuggish cult? In fact, if anybody needs to be charged with sedition, it is the political class which encourages such Godmen-led organisations. Some three decades ago, there was a huge debate in Parliament over political-criminal nexus in electoral politics.

The connection was fuelled by money power. That money power has been replaced by land and the politician is still in control of it despite free market economy. Political investment of this kind is dangerous for the country.

And, without doubt, this issue is bound to figure in the electoral battle that the young Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) will be facing. His description of it all being ‘lapses’ on the part of his government are not really addressing the real issue.

It’s funny. Can’t you see?

This is something which has got everyone irritated, upset and angry on both sides of the debate. The reaction to the ‘funny’, which many believe to be sick, video conversation between two Indian icons - cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar and singing legend Lata Mangeshkar - has been rather strong. Some believe it is an overreaction, like most other examples of the (Barbara) Streisand effect wherein an episode which is attempted to be suppressed gets very wide publicity.

The episode relates to a video which Tanmay Bhat, a comedian from the AIB group, put on Snapchat mocking Tendulkar and Mangeshkar. The subject of discussion between the two, using the face swap mechanism, was cricketer Virat Kohli, who has reached a point in his career where he is being compared with Tendulkar.

The language used by Tanmay Tendulkar towards Tanmay Mangeshkar and the irreverence of it all has left people either laughing or disgusted or livid. The range of reactions is indicative of the changes in the demographic profile of the country.

The young are certainly rising in numbers and the old are not going away in a hurry with better capacity to fight life threatening diseases. The references to Tanmay Mangeshkar’s age as ‘5,000 years old’ or her death etc have, naturally, got many livid because none expects anyone to speak ill about the 86 year old legend.

Such irreverence accompanied by the profanities uttered against Mangeshkar, evident in the reactions, is again a reflection of the age of the person reacting to what many believe to be reaching ‘sick’ levels. But, an 18 year old tells this writer that not everything in that video was disgusting.

“People must understand that it is a comedy. And, in a comedy there is bound to be something or the other which is offensive. The elders should know this much. So, it is very stupid to get riled up about it and ask for Tanmay Bhat’s arrest. What law is it that stops such comedy? So ridiculous. If somebody doesn’t like it, it should be just ignored.”

India has the largest number of young people in the world. And, it appears the older people need to get used to this kind of thinking to level with the general trend in a young society.


It has become some sort of an obsession with the Narendra Modi government to change the names of various government programmes or schemes named after the Nehru-Gandhi family.

It is a fact that the Nehru-Gandhi family has produced three Prime Ministers and between them have ruled the country for more number of years than any other. This not to say that the BJP government has not tried to name some programmes after their leaders who were staunch Hindu nationalists.

To be fair to the government, none of the programmes have so far been named after Modi himself. But, this has not prevented the people from naming something after Modi. It is not a programme but, of all things, a fish.

And, fish that comes from Oman! Sardines imported from Oman have been named after Modi by the fisher folk in the coastal district of Mangaluru in the southern state of Karnataka. The reasoning is rather odd. Karnataka used to get a lot of sardines from the western state of Gujarat, geographically further up from Mangaluru on the country’s west coast. Gujarat was the state of which Modi was chief minister before he became Prime Minister of the country.

Over the years, the supply of sardines from Gujarat to Karnataka also dried up. The severe heat conditions which have prevailed over the western coastal districts have also contributed to this shortfall in the catch of sardines. This has, representatives of fishermen associations say, led to the import of sardines from Oman.

And, these landed in the Mangaluru fish market sometime around 2014, the year that Modi became the Prime Minister. So, the smart fisher folk of Mangaluru named it after Modi. In their Tulu language, it is called ‘Modi Bhutai’ or ‘Modi sardines’. Now, the latest is that Omani sardines are landing up at Mangaluru even from Kochi in the other southern state of Kerala.

Nobody exactly knows why this fish has been named after Modi. One of the plausible reasons could be that they are ‘big’ and ‘tasty’, according to two representatives of two fishermen associations. It is not clear if Modi, a strict vegetarian, is even aware that sardines have been named after him. Let’s see if he reacts to it at a public meeting that he may address in the future at Mangaluru. Till then, it will be a good additional talking point between Oman and India!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]