Monday, March 30, 2015

Has Modi Govt. made media's life miserable?

(This piece was run by popular website www.thehoot.org.....former PTI colleague and friend Nivedita Khandekar quoted me in her much read and talked about piece) 

My quote:: tries to sum up the real game !!

Nirendra Dev, Special Correspondent with the Statesman, said: 

“Media persons had a certain comfort zone. Those who had turned into armchair journalists are unhappy. Stories are not being done on the information that the government wants to hide.”  
.......
Did reporting government just get harder under the NDA? No access to cabinet notes, no leaky babudom, beat ministers not talking, lobbyists banished from corridors of power. In a HOOT special, NIVEDITA KHANDEKAR talked to 50 journalists to probe the change. (Pix: South Block, which houses the PMO, from oneindia.com.)

While others worry about the ease of doing business, The Hoot worries about the ease of reporting on the Modi government's performance.  We present a survey in which working journalists talk about coping with more restricted access to ministers and bureaucrats in the central government.

Within days of the Narendra Modi government being sworn in 10 months ago, journalists  had started cribbing about how ‘nobody is talking, yaar’ and how the PM was keeping the media at bay.
 
By last August -- when Modi had already dumped the usual media contingent to take  only select journalists from state-owned DD and a news agency when he went to Japan -- the political-toon 'So Sorry' of Headlines Today/Aaj Tak group even came up with a cartoon film showing how Modi had been increasing his distance from the media on the basis of ‘No news is good news’. 
 
By September, Modi had still not held a press conference but, as he did during his Lok Sabha campaign, chose to engage with people directly through social media, mainly through his Facebook page and Twitter handles, unceremoniously bypassing the mainstream media. 
 
This prompted top editors to ask Modi to “enlarge access and engage more actively” with journalists. The Editors Guild of India said, a “top-down, one-way interaction in a country with limited internet connectivity and technological awareness cannot be the only answer for large masses of readers, viewers, surfers and listeners. Debate, dialogue and discussion are essential ingredients of a democratic discourse.”  
 
Getting quotes difficult but not impossible
 
This survey is an endeavor to find out if what top editors called a “top down approach” or a “one-way street” continues and if the picture is really as bleak as is being painted? I spoke to 50 print media journalists covering the central government, its different ministries and departments, all based in Delhi. (See list of newspapers towards the end). Most respondents were interviewed in December 2014 and January 2015 with very few in February 2015.
 

The outcome is reassuring. In the sense that even when they admitted there was a “conscious effort to block information”, a majority of the journalists said, “it is difficult yet not impossible to dig out information or that precious quote from the minister/officer concerned.” They criticised the kind of stories that are being written, with many of them dismissing these stories as low-hanging fruit.
 
Shemin Joy, a journalist with the Deccan Herald, said: “There is a fear among officers about revealing even that information which is not negative in media parlance. Sources also have reservations about giving inputs to friendly journalists. The Modi government has clearly sent out a message that they are not keen on entertaining the media. But at the same time, journalists also should share the blame. Reporters, including myself, should think whether we are putting in that extra effort, taking the extra two steps to get the news.” 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s archetypal Founding Father and India

Millions of words have been written and will be written on the glorious legacy of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died at the ripe age of 91 on March 23, 2015. But the best part of his personality and his lasting message for any country looking up
for the development of its people is his crystal clear emphasis on 'discipline' of the people.
Like thousands of his admirers, as a youngster in 1990s I too used to be awestruck by his
vision and firmness -- later glorified as 'pragmatism'.
Lee always preferred a trade or the right balance between democracy and discipline. In fact, this very aspect of the person had endeared him to millions of admirers including this blogger.
Another such admirer was Nagaland's deceased flamboyant leader Late Vamuzo Phesao.
Vamuzo, a former Nagaland chief minister, used to publicly laud Lee for his visionary and a radical thinker like approach and used to call it --- practical politics -- certainly the other word for 'pragmatism'.  Nevertheless, Vamuzo also used to admire another pragmatic politician of his time and in his own country - Jyoti Basu.
But Lee's determined nature, likes of Vamuzo believed, helped Singapore to stay always ahead of the curve.
I have often endorsed Narendra Modi brand of politics in India for its inherent 'darker side' --- the one-man show with the firm believe that the right sense of discipline in us the Indians can transform our national story too.
One reason for this certainly has been Lee.
with Indira Gandhi
Lee Kuan Yew's idiosyncratic or distinctive but peculiar formula of economic liberalization bringing in money from overseas 
combined with restrictions on political freedom has truly baffled many countries and contemporary historians. 
"He insisted that he would not rule by opinion polls, rejecting the idea that popular government entailed a need to be popular through his term, believing that voters would come round when they eventually saw the results of policies he had pushed through," ran a befitting obit piece in Singapore-based Strait Times.

It could look funny. The Naga leader Vamuzo, a former Naga underground 'Brigadier' believed in such theories, and used
to often take harsh steps to push his will. Succumbing to Naga students' pressure in 1990, the then Vamuzo government
had ordered that Nagaland government employees would retire at the age of 57 or completion of 33 years of service whichever is earlier. This was a shocker across the state and for government servants and their families in a state 
where in the absence of industries, 'the state government' has been the sole employer. The result as expected was catastrophy.
Soon tribalism game played in and non-Chakhesang Nagas launched tirade against Vamuzo.
 The moot point I am trying to make is a Lee Kuan Yew formula could not have brought in dividends in Nagaland.
 Well, if we argue that such a transformation in a state dependent on New Delhi's funding was not possible, perhaps
it will be erroneous to believe that the formula can yield positive results at the national level, in India under Narendra Modi too.
 One reason is simply because India is too vast and too complex than the tiny Singapore --
both in terms of land mass and population. Singpaore has a megare population of 5.6 million --- something unthinkable in many Indians towns and cities. 
In an interview with Matters India website last May after Narendra Modi's unthinkable electoral victory, I had spoken eloquently on Lee's lasting message for Indians.
"In Singapore, one ruler once said, there should be a trade between democracy or freedom and discipline. We also need it. What’s our freedom today? In Kerala and Bengal, people hate to work. And if you are bringing Hitler-Nazis comparison, I have said earlier, it’s advisable not to play the fear card. The Indian Constitution is too strong. Judiciary is strong. The President of India can dismiss any government. Rather I feel more powers must be vested in President’s office. A popular government can be put on well-check list then."  
The question put to me was: Is India witnessing now what Germany witnessed in early 1930s, the euphoria for Nazis and other fascist forces? What are the signs that our country is not heading that way?
But this was almost a year ago. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Interview with Muslim League leader

"Indian Union Muslim League stands stigmatised"


Former Kerala Education Minister and senior IUML leader E T Mohammed Basheer is known for his candour in Parliament. Elected to the Lok Sabha from the Ponnani constituency in Kerala, he is a member of the parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment and the parliamentary consultative committee.
As Education Minister in Kerala between 1991 and 1996, he was instrumental in promoting the concept of self-financing colleges in the southern state. 
Mr Basheer spoke to NIRENDRA DEV on various issues of national importance.

Do you subscribe to the view that the rural-urban divide is becoming obvious in government policies as well as the Indian Parliament? In the chaos of development and smart cities, are Indian villages getting lost?

Broadly I agree. But in terms of Indian Parliament, I won't say villages and issues of villages are not raised. The general attention to rural India is there from Parliament and the elected MPs. From Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MG-NREGA) to several other schemes, the villages remain in focus.
Look at the issues members of both Houses of Parliament, rising above party affiliation and rural and urban India, raise - on agriculture, health and developmental issues. So it will be wrong to say that the voice of the village is getting lost in Parliament.
I am stating this from my experience in Parliament, my interactions with friends from other parties as also from my experience in Kerala.

Coming to specifics, how are the government schemes generally tailored? Are you satisfied with the manner in which they are framed? Is there an urban focus? Some leaders are saying while we talk of 'smart cities', nobody really talks about a 'smart village'?
Yes, to an extent urban focus is more these days. But this has to do with education and awareness levels in urban pockets. But no government or politician worth his salt can actually skip the problems of villages. Fortunately, villages still are important to politicians and that's the political reality both for the Central government and Parliamentarians and for the state governments and MLAs in the state assemblies. During my seven-year stint as Education Minister in Kerala I had first-hand experience of this.


Then what about Budget 2015-16? Critics say that in the form of 'reformist' budget, it is actually a pro-rich and a pro-urban one.
Yes (Smiles). If you ask me on the budget 2015-16, it's a different story altogether. I am definitely unhappy with the first full budget of the Modi government. You are right when you say it’s pro-rich. But more than being pro-rich, the Budget is actually pro-corporate and pro-business houses. But at the same time, I am not surprised as the NDA regime is well known for its pro-corporate tilt.

So what's the basic problem with this year's Budget?
Essentially there is a complete lack of a holistic approach. The budget simply has not been able to focus on all sections of people. That's a big failure in any budget. They seem to have been carried away with the slogans. They have a number of slogans. For instance, there is “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat” and then “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. But there's no concrete action. These cannot be mere slogans but should be a commitment to the country and people, particularly to the youth, to take the nation to new heights. That has not happened.

Do you have concerns about the Modi government? For instance, Ghar Wapsi and other threats to minorities.
These are definitely a matter of concern. The fundamentalist elements in the country have been let loose since this government assumed power. Episodes like Ghar Wapsi are unwarranted. These are totally against the towering claims of development the BJP and the Prime Minister promised. 
IUML leader Basheer, MP


But what's happening politically? Why are the Congress and all of you in the Opposition not making the Government more accountable, especially in the Lok Sabha and in electoral politics?
Opposition unity is certainly not up to the mark, I will not hesitate to admit that. With the situation in the country - when workers’ rights are denied and communalism is on the rise - we have a great opportunity but that's not happening. We are also failing.

Coming to your party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), does it face the challenge of being stigmatised due to historical reasons?
I have to agree with you. The stigma is more in north India. Of course, we have a small base and are a small party but it is open to all people -- of all castes and creeds. We have a number of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes now and also an MLA. But you are right, the stigma has stuck due to Partition.

In the wake of the alliance in Jammu and Kashmir between PDP and BJP, there is already chatter in social media that the day is not far when BJP and IUML can strike an alliance. Your comment.
Yes, people could be talking about it. But we rule out any such alliance with BJP directly or indirectly. Even in Kashmir, the adjustment is only an unholy alliance. It has no meaning and it’s there only for power sharing. From our end in the IUML, I rule out any such arrangement with BJP, which does not believe in secularism at all. 



Another Muslim-based party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi has allegedly opened back channel talks with Hindutva forces and has been able to establish a base in Maharashtra.

We have heard all this, but we have no intention to open either front channel or back channel nexus with the BJP. In Kashmir, the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP cannot go beyond a point. BJP is already tasting the bitterness while in the  long run the alliance will  harm PDP. 

ends  (Published in The Statesman, March 21, Saturday 2015)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dimapur lynching: Love Jehad with a Difference

'Wheels within Wheels'

For over half a century, hatred and mutual suspicion have been the dominant social ideologies between the natives and 'outsiders' in Nagaland and other northeastern states. I am stating this despite my profound admiration of the Naga spirit of life and love and utmost regard for their friendship.
This xenophobia against "outsiders" (plain manu) was at display in most gory form in Dimapur, the township where I was born, on March 5, 2015.
Notwithstanding the broad heartedness of the Nagas towards many things in life, it is unfortunate but true that often 'Contempt' for non-Nagas has been a symbol of true manhood.

On the other hand too, the non-tribal "outsiders (or plain Manu)" - Indians from the plains in the mainstream as distinct from the hilly people - too have developed a minimum virtue to underestimate Nagas or to find fault with Nagas.  
NO; these have not come solely due to long years of insurgency or political problem, although partly these are also responsible factors for such state of affairs.

By disposition and design, Nagas are short tempered and this is again punctuated by the audacity of highly emotive and egoistic nature --- perhaps hardly understood by mainstream Indians. Perhaps this explains particularly why Neiphiu Rio reportedly turned down Prime Minister Narendra Modi's offer to join the union council of Ministers as a Minister of State. How could a former Naga chief minister join as a Junior Minister? Anyone else in his position from a state like Odisha or Bihar might have.
Nagaism, to me, thus has often remained unmediated glorification of complexity and myth.

But hidden in this complexity is the Naga sense of vigilante. A wrong doer in the eyes of Nagas ought to be punished. Head hunting is thus a sports and law can be made a mockery.

The March 5, 2015 incident, even Nagas believe, has brought into question the renowned Naga character of fairness and uprightness. 
My acquaintance with Nagas and other northeastern tribes makes it no difficult for me to judge my beloved Naga people as the most aggressive community in the region -- and that is to use a mild adjective. 
This actually brings us to understanding the intricacies of Dimapur lynching or at least near that.   
The principle of democracy and the spirit of religious faiths -- so much respected by the Nagas both from their traditional point of view and since the advent of Christianity - has been trampled. 

Ironically all these happened in a Christian dominated state and against a Bengali Muslim. These happened on the backdrop that a strong element among intellectuals and political players were only expressing anxiety about the alleged rise of Hindu fundamentalism.

There's already talk about the collective failure of the State government, police, the influential Church, the Civil Society, the Naga Hoho or such organizations and public leaders. On the political space, the state chief minister's principal political detractor the rebel NPF group has issued a statement stating that both the chief minister Zeliang and Home minister Y Patton have miserably failed to estimate people’s angst. This resulting in the breakdown of law enforcing agencies thereby leading to the death of an accused person, Syed Farid Khan, who was in the judicial custody, on the charge of a rape of a Naga woman. 

"Had there been timely intervention from the government, such ugly and inhuman incidents could have been averted," the NPF statement said. Other citizens in and around Dimapur have called it a "huge wake-up call" that requires corrective steps to change people's attitudes, take positive action and to make people accountable.
But more than the angst of the people as they stormed into side a jail and attacked the accused, paraded him naked and finally leading to his untimely death, it is important to analyse why the incident came to this far. Never in the past even in Nagaland such an incident has taken place where people attacked someone in police custody. Of course the charge was serious as hardly cases of molestation of women are heard in Nagaland. And even if there are, most of them being allegation of excesses and human rights violation by the army and para-military personnel against local Naga women, courtesy AFSPA.
In 1993, there were a similar charge of molestation against a few individuals and all locals and belonging to a particular group of people. 

The vigilante element was in operation then too and the accused were paraded in Dimapur town itself. It is not without reason that twenty two years back media hype was nowhere as compared to the situation today. 

So perhaps it is also important to reflect that perhaps things would not have come to such pass had there been strong condemnation of the episode in 1993 itself. On the contrary, things were forgotten following a bad yardstick called --- let the sleeping dog sleep. The seed of xenophobia has existed pretty well.

But with regard to 2015, March 5, incident, there is yet another element that needs to be scrutinised threadbare. This time around the people's anguish was directed against a Bengali Muslim. Muslims like Hindus in Nagaland are ought to be considered as 'outsiders (or plain Manu)'.

The AIUDF leader and Dhubri MP Badruddin Ajmal has his argument when he demanded a CBI probe into the entire episode.
Raising the issue in Lok Sabha during zero hour on March 13, Ajmal said, "shocking part of the incident was that Khan was alleged as illegal Bangladeshi immigrant even by DGP where as Khan's father was in Indian Air Force
and two brothers are serving with Indian army in Assam Regiment". 
"It is evident that a co-accused in the same case who was locked in the jail was not touched but
Farid Khan was dragged out, paraded naked for hours and lynched," he pointed out. 
This brings into focus the role of the Nagaland police and the Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang, who has already briefed the union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the incident and subsequent developments and arrest of those involved.

But his political detractors too have their point when they say the administration virtually went on leave that day.

But with regard to  March 5 incident, there is yet another element that needs to be scrutinised threadbare. This time around the people's
anguish was directed against a Bengali Muslim. Muslims like Hindus in Nagaland are ought to be considered as 'outsiders (or plain Manu)'.
Importantly, since 1990s thousands of outsiders --- obviously mostly Hindus from Nagaland --- including the Nagaland government employees have left the state permanently. One reason for the same being growing 'hatred' and communal tension. These again got magnified due to extortion demand and threat letters served to 'outsider Nagaland government' employees from time to time.

But please note in the meantime, local Nagas, for that matter unlike the Mizos, did not really improve upon the dignity of labour factor nor at the level of entrepreneur skills. Thus the vacuum for labour especially certain odd jobs in small scale business did exist. The Bengali Muslim population - albeit from Assam - and possibly few from across the border in Bangladesh - got an avenue to exploit that vacant space. 

The illegal migrants, if they are called so, be it from Assam, Nepal, Bangladesh etc are in Nagaland today because they offer "cheap labour" and are readily willing to take up jobs that local Naga people would not and perhaps even other outsiders from mainstream - West Bengal, Bihar or Rajasthan would also stay away. 

On the other hand, Bengali Muslims allegedly work with such methodology that local anguish against them could have been fueled further in last few years. In recent times, many Bengali Muslims have developed a unique pattern in marrying local Naga women and in the process establish their foothold on strong ground. It is not without good reason that the term 'Sumi-Mia' (or Naga-Mia) has come into the local idiom.
So the possible angle that the local fury was also guided by a 'mass hatred' towards a Mia (as Bengali Muslims are called so in Dimapur) cannot be overlooked.   (ends)
Naga CM T R Zeliang with Rajnath Singh

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Budgeting : An art of the possible


A finance minister’s job is inevitably cut out, that with having to revive growth momentum, contain the prices of essential commodities and alter the growth pattern to ensure gainful employment remaining at the top of the agenda. 

But choosing between mindless populism and fiscal prudence also led Union finance minister Arun Jaitley to deny the North-east its share of the “budget cake” even if 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had generated much hope among the people there.

What has actually left a large number of North-east watchers surprised is that perhaps for the first time the budget did not even pay the minimum lip service to the northeast.
However, New Delhi denies that the budget ignored the region, with the cross argument suggesting it would benefit from proposals like the setting up of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Assam, an Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Nagaland and a Centre for Film Production, Animation and Gaming in Arunachal Pradesh.


As mentioned earlier, ours is a country of populism and freebies. The more the government gives, the more eager will people be to grab more — preferably free of cost and without hard work. Sadly, people in the North-east are no exception. The patronising cult of politics let loose for decades by the Congress at the Centre has actually spoiled them, as is evident from the harsh impact of a dilution of the work culture and the propensity to engage in corruption and nepotism.

To be fair, the North-east states have their own problems — some inherent, some manmade and some imported from Lutyen’s city. Which would suggest the need for an extra push, a point highlighted by the Prime Minister and Jaitley from time to time. In the fitness of things, therefore, Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu and Jaitley would have done well to appreciate that the North-east has its own limitations and peculiarities.

Thus, given the pros and cons of the General and Railway Budgets for 2015-16 with regard to the region, no one seems willing to walk the talk even as both Prabhu and Jaitley have tried to shun populism and tread a long-term road map. For his part, Prabhu, a chartered accountant by profession, did an auditor’s job in text book fashion. 

The roadmap for the railways, after many years, is on running the enterprise efficiently. Instead of announcing new railway lines, he focused on taking a quantum leap on increasing revenue, evoking positive reactions from the industry and private investors who found his proposals “more of a business-like document”.
With regard to the North-east, he was happy that Arunachal Pradesh was now on the railway map and also that several pending projects, including the broad gauge line in Barak valley, needed to be completed.


For his part, Jaitley, suave orator that he is, started on the right note, striking the right political notes about the Modi government’s cooperative federalism. “We have embraced states as equal partners in the process of economic growth. States have been economically- mpowered more than ever before,” he said, while stressing the need for accelerating development in the eastern and North-eastern regions, which, he said, were “lagging behind in development on many fronts. 

We need to ensure that they are on par with the rest of the country”.
This was, among other things, endorsed by the Prime Minister in no unambiguous terms. “The budget indicates our commitment to ensure that development of Eastern and Northeastern India gets an impetus and drives future growth,” he tweeted within hours of the budget’s presentation.

Given the ground reality though, both Prabhu and Jaitley offered the region precious little. Predictably, while Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, otherwise facing a tough election next year from the BJP, said the budget was “pro-rich” and contained nothing for the Northeast, with the Assam BJP claiming both budgets were “a break from tradition”.
Said Assam BJP spokesman Shiladitya, “The days of announcing new trains and electionfocused rail budgets, both Congress traits, are over. The Railway Budget only proves the Prime Minister’s commitment to improving rail services through reform... similarly, the General Budget from Jaitley, also laying thrust on reform and long term vision, will go a long way to help the North-east.”

The electoral fray in Assam is becoming more curious by the day, as in the recent municipal polls the BJP put up a commendable show and, importantly, this came within days of saffron outfit facing an unprecedented drubbing. In fact, despite the Arvind Kejriwal juggernaut in Delhi, the BJP swept the municipal polls, winning 340 wards and mustered a majority in 30 municipalities.

Which brings us to the debate on fiscal prudence as enunciated by the Modi government in its first full budget. First, it has played to the hilt the phrase “cooperative federalism” and, going by the 14th Finance Commission report, has almost decided to do away with, or at least dilute various provisions of the “Special Category states” norms.
By this, the North-east will be back to the Fourth Plan mechanism wherein developed states got away with certain advantages. This is not for the first time such a stricter financial mechanism is being mooted. 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the recommendations of the Ninth Finance Commission, headed by Congress leader NKP Salve, had left the North-east states in anguish.
In other words, the development challenges in the region will perhaps now be taken care of by the generalised approaches applied in the rest of India. This uniform yardstick for development, as also underlined in the creation of Niti Ayog, has been opposed by Tarun Gogoi and Mizoram chief minister Lalthanhawla. Chief ministers and planning ministers from other North-east states also have similar arguments. 

Their refrain is that no attempt has so far been made to appreciate the development issues of the region in a way different from that in the rest of India. They fear the Prime Minister’s stress on shifting from plan to market economy will benefit big industrial states like Gujarat and harm small and backward ones like Assam or Mizoram.

The apologists say that even though the usual projects and special concessions have not been made, Jaitley did announce a number of initiatives with longterm implications to help the region.

Announcement of a project development company in manufacturing hubs in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam through separate special purpose vehicles to catalyse investments from the Indian private sector, they say would boost and redefine trade and commerce between the land-locked northeastern states and other Southeast Asian countries.Many are already describing these as special moves to put in place the Act East policy of the new dispensation headed by the Prime Minister. 

The taste of the pudding is in the eating, but as the new time space envelopes the Asian and global economy, perhaps it's relevant also to think differently on how one should eat.  Perhaps it’s relevant to develop an art in eating than the pudding itself. 

ends


Monday, March 2, 2015

Ghar Wapsi, Attacks on Christians and Media


The 'Ghar Wapsi' - re-conversion - roadmap being undertaken by the RSS and other affiliates is actually a dangerous game. But as a media person, I am constrained to say that equally dangerous — if not more – is the ruthless manner in which the media has hyped these episodes. Actually, the media only supplies oxygen to communalists, especially among the majority Hindus.

Frankly, most Hindus, in my conviction, are least bothered about how many Christians in Kerala or Muslims in Agra have “come back” to the fold of Hinduism. They are more concerned about the issues of development and employment — the original agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One could vote against the BJP but this agenda should not be derailed.


But what happens when publicity is generated over the “Ghar Wapsi” programme and rank communalists like Sakshi Maharaj and Yogi Adityanath steal the limelight. On the other hand, in some pockets a few minority leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the AllIndia Majlis Ittehadi Muslimeen, gets his opportunity to play up the “fear” card. This helps players like him expand base. Owaisi’s party, once virtually tamed in Hyderabad, has now expanded base and has found a toehold in Maharashtra, too.
In fact, none other than Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, father of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, said in the Lok Sabha on 11 December that the Agra episode of “Ghar Wapsi” was blown out of proportion by the media. 

Mulayam, never a votary of pro-Hindu politics, stunned the opposition members in the Lok Sabha, if not embarrassed them, when he said the debate on the much-talked about “reconversion” row was “unnecessary... When there is no trouble in Agra... When people of Agra are not talking about it... Why the debate here”? he’d asked.

A section of Christians has also played a dangerous game when opposing the move by a group of Catholics to invite the Prime Minister to a function to mark the canonisation of two Keralites, Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia. Two sections of the Catholic church in India — the Latin rite and Syro-Malankara rite — had opted not to be part of the function. This is not appreciable as Christians should not walk into the trap of “isolationists”.
PM Modi’s 17 February speech at the function did go down well, especially his assertion that the religion of an individual in India, as guaranteed by the Constitution, was a “personal matter”. He continued, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions”. He appealed to all religious groups “to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance” to safeguard the religious rights of all.
Over the months, the Christian clergy has said that thousands of Christians have faced threats in recent months from hardline Hindu groups agitating to make India a “Hindu-only nation”. Hindu groups have also intensified their campaign to forcefully reconvert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, it alleged.

Most conflicts in the world now have to do with negativism. Individual and collective apprehensions of what the future will bring serve to create an aura of insecurity for everyone of us. Half the violence in the world, not excluding the insurgency-related conflicts in the North-east, is as much related to this phenomenon. In Nagaland, the late Vizol Angami, perhaps the best known man of integrity among Naga chief ministers, once said the root cause of tribal-non-tribal conflicts in the region was due to “the fear factor” about outsiders.

Not many can deny this. This is mostly accentuated by the category of people who thrive on preserving the divides and fuel “apprehension" about the unknown enemy. Thus, political and student bodies often play the parochial card — sometimes between Nagas and non-Nagas, Nagas and Kukis, Assamese and Bengalis, Khasis and non-Khasis or Mizos and non-Mizos.
Perhaps covertly, various religious bodies have also been playing their parts. Church organisations have their reasons to talk about mythladen Hinduism or the “negative power” of mantras or Tantrik philosophy from the mainstream.

These fears and differences are actually sustained by what I often say is “a network of myths”. These are religious, political and also social, and most often based on lies.

Therefore, my worst fear about the wide publicity given to the RSS and the BJP’s “Ghar Wapsi” (reconversion) programme is that it should not leave any gory impact in the sensitive Northeast. People there are extremely touchy and moody and this frame of mind can be easily exploited by forces inimical to the growth and prosperity of North-easterners.