What happens when ‘eyes and ears’ of the government become its mouths?

Is the right-wing echo chamber – comprising of ideologically aligned corporate media and BJP’s overbearing presence on social networks – affecting Modi government’s ability to see the truth?

Vintage Logotype Etsy Banner (2)

Narendra Modi-led BJP Government is known for meticulous strategizing and ruthless execution. This was at display in August last year when it made the big move in Kashmir by stripping the state of the special status granted by Indian Constitution. It pre-empted any possible fallout in the volatile region by suspending the internet and telephone lines, arresting thousands of leaders – including BJP’s own former allies – and moved over 35,000 troops in addition to about 3 lakh already placed there. A curfew was imposed in the entire region. While all these ‘measures’ came under fire from a section of Indian civil society and international media, they did help the government in containing protests and clashes leading to loss of lives to a great degree, something that was subsequently paraded as an ‘achievement’ and ‘sign of normalcy’ by the government.

Considering this, it is intriguing to note the way the government was caught completely off-guard in the aftermath of the passing of Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 in the Indian parliament last month. The government failed to foresee the biggest resistance on the streets that it has faced since 2014 and was clearly taken aback with the scale and the spread of the protests. It took a few days before it could come up with a coherent response and devise a scheme to tackle this uprising.

What could have led to the government to miscalculate the impact of its CAA move on ground? By Home Minister Amit Shah’s own admission, the government ‘erroneously’ believed that the move, which for the first time sets a ‘religion test’ for Indian citizenship, wouldn’t have any consequences on the streets outside the northeast of India.

Was it the complacency that had set in considering mild, confused response its previous ‘big ideological moves’ evoked from political oppositions and liberal elite since it returned to power with an empowered mandate in May 2019? Or was it the belief that this mandate was an endorsement by majority of Indians for its ‘Hindutva agenda’? Since the protests broke out on December 15, it has increasingly become clear that a large section of Indians – especially its young – are fiercely against India stepping away from its secular path. What could have blinded the government to this disillusionment among the aspirational youth which was a large factor behind Modi’s rise in 2014 over Modi choosing ideology over the economy?

The other end of the echo chamber

Much has been written about how a media echo chamber created by ideologically partisan journalism outlets and algorithm-driven social media platforms affects citizens’ ability to make an informed opinion about what’s happening around them by increasingly filters the information, sending the citizen-audience only the information that they consume favourably and thus stratifies their opinion which may be in variance with the truth. Thus, it creates communities which are increasingly insulated from differing narratives being consumed by other communities similarly caught in their own echo chambers.

This phenomenon and its impact on democratic processes have been thoroughly discussed by media scholars. However, the focus mostly remains on how the echo chambers affect the citizens and their ability to make informed choices. The seemingly ‘irrational’ or ‘unexpected’ choice made by people in United Kingdom when they voted for Brexit have been cited as an example.

But what happens when the other end of the democracy, the government, is ensnared in an echo chamber? The current government in New Delhi provides an excellent case study of such a scenario. Over last six years, the government has created an echo chamber around it which comprises of a pliant broadcast media, a virulent social media army that has the ability to hijack every online narrative and a coterie of yes-men’ that surround the decision-makers. This system, which was actively spawned, nurtured and exploited by the government for a while now, makes it believe that everything is right with the government and agents of the wrongs have to be looked for and found elsewhere -in the opposition, among the ‘Muslims’ or, most conveniently, in Pakistan. Inside this echo chamber, every decision by the government enjoys tremendous support when, in reality, it may not be the case. The fact that it has an extremely centralised set-up, with only two persons namely PM Modi and his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, holding all the powers makes the government more susceptible to fall into such a trap.

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A protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) outside Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Photo by Arul Horizon

The state of India’s broadcast news media – especially Hindi news channels which have the largest reach – is well-known. Barring a few exceptions, the news channels have willingly turned themselves into the propaganda arms of the government. This control over broadcast media has paid the government dividends – the ability to set the narrative, the opportunity to discredit the critics, to divert attention from its failures and, most of all, as an instrument to build a larger than life image of Narendra Modi. In the imagination of Indian broadcast media, Modi is an omnipotent, incorruptible, self-less crusader against all things evil. He’s no less than superman and hence every move he makes is no less is worthy of being hailed as ‘masterstroke’. This dominance of pro-establishment discourse on corporate broadcast media has pushed the critical voices to the margins.

On the virtual front, the social media sphere remained BJP’s stronghold for several years starting from the build-up to the 2014 general elections. It caught on to the social media phenomenon much earlier than the rival political parties and built formidable machinery. Although others have since closed in, BJP continues to dominate the narrative to a great extent and uses it as a handy tool to spread its messages through a cobweb of ‘troll’ accounts and social media influencers. Its machinery is so well oiled that it controls the Twitter trends – indicating most discussed topics of the time – at will. A recent example, and embarrassing for BJP’s social media team, of this was when it trended a phrase with a spelling mistake #WeSupportCCA instead of CAA, the acronym of the recent Citizenship Amendment Act, with over 13,000 tweets mentioning the erroneous hashtag. These trends are intended to make the citizens believe what’s the mood of the nation. In the process, the government also seems to have taken them for the truth, forgetting that these are manufactured by its own internet army. This unquestioning, fervent support from media anchors, solidarity from prominent personalities from sports and cinema and validations with millions of posts and hashtags on social media platforms provides a confirmation – although fallacious – for the Modi-Shah duo that the path on which they are taking India enjoys overwhelming support.

Evidence? Look at the language.

The way the government and the BJP reacted to the CAA protests also provides us with some evidence of how its judgement of the situation is coloured by the echo-chamber. It also shows how Modi-Shah and their confidantes use the arguments and vocabulary from the right-wing echo-chamber. The strategy that the government came out with to tackle the protests -after initial days of bafflement- was to portray the protests as ‘violent riots’ (when, in reality, violence happened only in a fraction of them) and terming the protesters as stooges of the opposition parties or people who were misled by them. These ‘arguments’ were not fresh when they came from the government officially. The pliant media channels were running these for days before Modi made them but hadn’t worked as protests grew in their spread and size as anti-CAA, anti-NRC chorus swelled.

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Across India university students have staged numerous protests against CAA as well as Modi Government’s handling of the agitation with an iron fist. (Photo: The Indian Express)

The mistaken belief that these counters will work seemingly came from television studios and social media ecosystem, where they could be seen as working. In fact, in his December 22 speech at Ramlila Maidan, his first address to the nation since the protests broke out, PM Modi pushed the same two arguments to discredit the protest. The vocabulary he used was also the same being peddled by the media to discredit the protests. He urged the people to not listen to ‘Urban Naxals’ – a term governments friends in the corporate media and its faithful warriors on social networks use to describe the liberals and left-leaning intellectuals of the country – and that they should no listen to “Congress and its friends” or ‘Mamata didi’, whom the prime time anchors had been attacking for “misleading the Muslims”.

Only a few days later, Home Minister Amit Shah told the party supporters at a Delhi rally that it was time that the ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ of Delhi – a term used by pro-establishment media students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and those who sympathise with them – is taught a lesson. In fact, after the violence in JNU, the defence that the government put also was straight from the social media where BJP followers tried to argue that the violence was a ‘left-conspiracy’ to assaults own boys and girls to blame ABVP. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister questioned how activist and psephologist Yogendra Yadav reached JNU main gate “within 10 minutes of the violence breaking out” and hinted that the violence was staged. This claim, blatantly inaccurate as Yadav later showed, was clearly picked up by Javadekar from the right-wing cyberspace. Being a minister, he could have used the government machinery to confirm the timeline but he chose to rely on the social media for information.

Of eyes and mouths

In a democracy, the media is often referred to as ‘eyes and ears’ of the government. It would serve the government’s purpose better if the ‘eyes and ears’ provide it with the genuine picture of the situation in the country rather than telling the government what it wants to believe.

The usage ‘eyes and ears’ derives from a Persian intelligence service called ‘eyes and ears of the king’ established by Archemedian figure Astyages. The members were supposed to closely observe the society, prevent insurrections from the oppressed subjects and investigate evils in the society and report to the government. This information would help the ruler to rule.

In a democracy, there are no kings but, as Benito Mussolini once described it, is ‘a kingless regime infested with many kings’. These ‘many kings’ of democracy needs a functioning media to sense the mood of the voter-citizens, perhaps, much more than the kings of the olden times, as it’s the citizen-voters who make ‘the kings’. However, the pliant, pro-establishment media, of the kind that dominates Indian broadcast scene today, forgoes the role of being ‘the eyes and ears’ of the government but has morphed into its mouths, those which talk only the language approved by its masters. The social media is either looked at as a statistical tool to prove that the mood of the nation overwhelmingly favours all its decisions or is used to silence the critics.

This failing of the ‘eyes and ears’ to do its function will invariably lead to a disconnect between the government and the lived reality of the citizen; the drive of the former and the needs of the latter. In a functioning democracy, this is bound to end badly for ‘the kings’ of the time.

Dilip kumar’s jugnu & the moral panic in newly independent india.

While the masses loved it, the elite were riled up by Jugnu’s provocative framing of sexuality and depiction of college as a space for free intermingling of sexes. Several provincial governments banned the film, forcing the distributors to chop it drastically to rid it of ‘vulgarity’.

The singing star Noor Jehan’s depature for Pakistan with her husband Shaukat Hussein Rizvi, who was the producer-director of Jugnu, may have contributed to lack of sympathy for the film among decision makers in India.

ATIKH RASHID

Jugnu (Firefly, 1947) was an important film in many respects. It was the first box office success for Dilip Kumar, then a newbie in the industry, and the last film of singing star Noor Jehan before she permanently left Bombay for Karachi. Jugnu was peculiar in another regard. It was among a few films that were conceptualised and made in pre-independence India but were released in theatres after the dawn of Independence and the pain of Partition.

The response to Jugnu – the love it received from the masses, the ‘moral panic’ it evoked among the elite, and the punitive action it invited from the young government – was an outcome of the time of transition that the country was going through. It also set the tone for the censorship project that Independent India would embark on –aiming to protect the ‘fragile morality’ of the ‘gullible masses’ – and continues to obsess itself with even today.

The present-day audience would likely judge Jugnu as a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy (which like many latter films of Dilip Kumar ends in a tragedy) that ticks some boxes and misses a few. The film produced and directed by Shaukat Husain Rizvi, then-husband of Noor Jehan, has a simple story. Dilip Kumar’s Suraj and Noor Jehan’s Jugnu study in separate colleges located on the same campus and fall in love. Jugnu is an orphan and Suraj is the only son of an ostensibly rich raisaheb who has accumulated debt. The family has planned to marry Suraj to a girl from a wealthy family hoping to receive dowry that will end their financial troubles. The circumstances mean that the lovers can’t marry each other and must feign unfaithfulness. The mutual heartbreak, ultimately, leads the couple to their tragic ends.

Those against the film objected to, among other sequences, this scene in which Jugnu and Suraj indulge in a flirtatious chit chat hiding behind a sofa in the latter’s home.

Although a mixed bag in terms of performances, the film is salvaged by the comedic episodes in the first half and a couple of good songs in the latter.

While the newspaper advertisements from the time tell us that the film, branded as ‘The Song of the Youth’, was celebrating ‘Silver Jubilees’ in multiple cities, it was also evoking an adverse response from the elite for depicting ‘college’ as a place of the intermingling of the sexes, and its provocative framing of youthful sexuality. It portrayed Indian youngsters as carefree romantics for whom the only thing that mattered was the success and failure in love.

Another topic of contention, repeatedly raised by its critics, was its depiction of a romance between the ladies’ hostel matron, played by Ruby Myers, and a professor from the boys’ college. There were still others who blamed it for slandering India’s higher education institutions by not focussing at all on learning activities that, ideally, should go on in a college.

The song ‘Loot Jawani Phir Nahin Aani’ performed by Latika in the film as part of the college drama was a major point of criticism. Many objected to the lyrics as well as “vulgar”, “nude”, “courtesan-like” performance by Latika.

A peek into the archive tells us that popular periodicals like Filmindia were routinely receiving letters from its English speaking readers complaining about Jugnu. While some wondered how such a ‘vulgar film’ was cleared by the Censor Board. Others demanded that it should be re-examined. Readers would reproduce the lyrics of an entire song (Loot Jawani…) to prove their point of Jugnu’s indecency and its portrayal of college girls as ‘courtesans’. Even Indians residing in Singapore and Colombo wrote with angst that the film was spreading the “wrong impression about college life in India”.

“Believe me, Mr Patel. The whole audience was exasperated – barring a few perhaps – when they saw a college girl dancing with the full garb of vulgarity in a drama staged in the college… Patrons of Indian films here like good stories with melodious songs and not historical distortions and semi-nude dances,” wrote M T Piyaseela from Colombo, in a letter published in the October 1948 issue.

Shiv Das Singh, a student from Jodhpur, feared that Jugnu might affect his educational prospects. “What would be the effect on our parents’ minds seeing the film…Will our parents then be ready to allow us to continue our studies further?” he wondered.

After a successful north India run, Jugnu was released at Bombay’s Capitol Cinema on October 1, 1948 but was pulled off the theatre within four weeks “in the midst of its triumphant run” after Filmindia editor Baburao Patel wrote a scathing review headlined ‘Jugnu: A dirty, disgusting, vulgar picture!’.

“Jugnu…tells us that college life in India is nothing more than a long sex hunt in which boys chase girls, explore their hand bags, rob their tiffin boxes and sing suggestive love ditties while making vulgar gestures; while girls sigh about heavily, seduce boys to tea, pimp for their friends, puncture their cycle tyres and sing songs of frustrated love,” Patel wrote in the review, adding, “no decent exhibitor with any pride for his profession or any self-respect should exhibit it in his theatre.”

Interestingly, Patel was Noor Jehan’s neighbour in Oomer Park, Warden Road, Bombay.

In fact, Patel informs us in the review, that he had sent an ‘advanced copy’ of the write up to the then Bombay Home Minister Morarji Desai who watched the film on October 26 and issued a ban three days later under Section 21 of General Clauses Act of 1897. This led to a lot of protests from the film producers and distributors for the ‘arbitrary action’ by the Home Minister on a film already cleared by a ‘full board’ of the censors, but to no avail.

The romance between hostel matron played by Ruby Myers and a professor from boy’s college was a major cause of the films popularity among the youth. It, on the other hand, also added to Jugnu‘s trouble with the government.

After Bombay, several other provincial governments banned the film. The distributor – Bharat Pictures, Akola – was forced to re-submit the film for certification where it was chopped off significantly. Records show that when the film obtained its first Censor certificate from the Bombay Board of Film Certification on July 7, 1947, its total length was 14,093 feet. After revisions made following the ban, it was reduced to 11,559 feet. In terms of the run time, the film lost 28 minutes of its original duration of 156 minutes. The film returned to the screens after a few months in truncated form.

In many ways, the extent of criticism that Jugnu received seems disproportionate to the provocation contained in the film. This response can be understood in two contexts. Firstly, the elite discourse in the newly-Independent India was focused on ‘nation building’, a project that would require the energies and services of the youth. Jugnu’s celebration of youngsters as carefree lads inclined to shrug off responsibility in favour of romantic pursuits did not go well with the government and others with a say.

Secondly, the decision by the film’s female lead Noor Jehan and producer-director Rizvi to choose Pakistan over India left little sympathy for them and their product among the Indian elite. For example, in its review of Jugnu, Patel made a misplaced and far-fetched connection between director Shaukat Rizvi and Qasim Rizvi, the head of extremist, separatist Razakar movement in Hyderabad.

In the pages of Filmindia, which was the most powerful film magazine at the time, Muslim filmmakers who were travelling between India and Pakistan in the fog of the Partition (some of which decided to stay back in India) are repeatedly referred to as ‘fifth columnists’ who need to be watched to ensure that “they do not use the powerful medium of the films” for nefarious purposes.

“The censors must watch carefully such anti-social and anti-religious activities of these fanatic producers who live with us to stab us from day to day,” warns an editorial in the November 1948 issue of Filmindia.

Notwithstanding the legal and circumstantial impediments, Jugnu went on to become one of the biggest films of the time and launched Dilip Kumar’s career in the true sense. In fact, it was a large poster of Jugnu put up in Bandra that broke the news to Ghulam Sarwar ‘Agha’, the fruit seller from Peshawar, that his son Yusuf had entered the film business and had become a star.

(This story appeared on indianexpress.com as ‘How Dilip Kumar’s Jugnu lost 28 minutes to confused morality of a young India’ on July 17 2021)

Maharashtra: Death registration system in shambles, data reporting for 2020 still incomplete

Slight rise in mortality in state in 2020; marked uptick in Pune, Mumbai hints at uncounted Covid deaths

ATIKH RASHID

As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, the extent of loss of life caused by the virus remains contested. There have been claims – by politicians and infectious diseases experts – that the number of deaths caused by the pandemic could be many times higher than the officially reported numbers.

One important way to arrive at a more realistic death toll, as per the experts, is to gauge the ‘excess deaths’ recorded in pandemic year after comparing them to pre-pandemic years and factoring in the natural growth trend. For this, deaths registered by the Civil Registration System (CRS) of the state governments act as a reliable data source.

While some states have created dedicated portals for the distribution of certificates and real-time data collection, in Maharashtra the process remains cumbersome. Most agencies responsible for recording births and deaths– municipal bodies or panchayats –send the death registration data to the state authorities manually. This means that the state-level agency, State Bureau of Health Intelligence Vital Statistics, responsible for collecting the data and reporting to the Registrar General of India, completes data collection three months after a calendar year came to an end. It reports the same to the Registrar by end of July, every year.

The Indian Express spoke to officials at the Bureau to find out that, so far, agencies in only 25 districts have submitted the record about the birth and date that happened in the year 2020 in the respective jurisdiction. Data is awaited from 10 other distsricts.

Govardhan Gaikwad, Deputy Director, Health Services, and Deputy Chief Registrar of Birth and Death in the state, says that every year the birth and death reports are sent for publication by end of July. This year, since the receipt of data has slowed down from the agencies issuing the certificates, it may take a bit longer. This means that data pertaining to all-causes deaths registered in the state for 2020 may be available only after a few months, and that pertaining to mortality in the second wave during February-May 2021, can only be available halfway through the next year.

“Government offices of three different types are involved in recording the births and deaths happening in the respective jurisdiction. While some submit the data using online means, most still depend on the manual method. This delays the receipt of the data by us, and we have to process and send it further,” explained Gaikwad.

Although Maharashtra does not have a portal of its own -like Rajasthan’s Pehchan for this purpose – it could use the national portal crsorgi.gov.in.

“Many agencies don’t use the online medium for real-time reporting of the data because it’s not mandatory as per the extant law. Also, some offices may be discouraged by the connectivity issues,” added Gaikwad.

Out of 35 districts in the state, birth and death registration data for only 25 has been recieved by the state Bureau so far. (Picture: Arul Horizon for The Indian Express)

Slight rise in mortality in state in 2020; marked uptick in Pune, Mumbai hinting at uncounted Covid deaths

The data that has been so far compiled by the state CRS shows a slight uptick in the number of deaths in 2020, the year in which the first Covid-19 wave hit the country, when compared with the previous year. The CRS data is not yet available for the more devastating second wave which hit the state between February and May 2021.

However, significantly, cities like Mumbai and Pune, which were the worst affected by the pandemic, show significant ‘excess deaths’ in 2020 when compared with registered deaths in 2019 and 2018.

Data submitted by 25 out of 35 districts to the state CRS shows that 5,78,912 deaths were registered in these districts in 2020. In the previous year, ie 2019 (the pre-pandemic year), these 25 districts had registered 5,16,138 deaths from various causes. (Cumulative deaths in all 35 districts for this year were 6,93,800.)


In 2018, another pre-pandemic year, these 25 districts had recorded 4,88,599 deaths. (Cumulative deaths for all 35 districts for this year were 6,67,900.)


Thus, considering only 25 states for want of data for the entire state, the year 2020 saw 62,774 additional deaths compared to 2019 which, in turn, had seen 27,539 more registered deaths than in 2018.


As per the state health department, a total of 49,521 Covid deaths occurred in the state in 2020. Of these, 35,450 were reported from the 25 districts that we are considering.


Cities like Mumbai and Pune showed a marked increase in the registered deaths during 2020, hinting at the possibility of uncounted Covid-19 deaths.


Mumbai had recorded 88,852 and 91,223 deaths in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The number rose to 1,11,942 in 2020, thus recording a jump of 20,719 deaths over the previous year. As per the Health Department records, Mumbai saw 11,125 Covid deaths in 2020.


In Pune, which had recorded 61,824 and 63,630 deaths in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the CRS recorded 79,683 deaths in 2019. While the rise in recorded deaths was 16,053, the Health Department counted only 7767 Covid deaths in Pune in 2020.

What are democracy & Autocracy waves ? What’s behind the surge of autocratisation across the world?

It was American political scientist Samuel P Huntington who proposed the concept of ‘Waves of Democracy’ and ‘Reverse waves (of autocratisation)’ to map the periods of surges and declines of democracy across the world.

Political scientists say the world is in the grasp of a third wave of autocratisation which is deceptively invisible. The new autocrats have given up on the old tactics of dramatic and violent coups, rather they rely on slow erosion of democratic processes and weakening of institutions that keep a check on their power.

ATIKH RASHID

Last month, V-Dem Project (Varieties of Democracy), a Sweden based independent research institute, released its annual democracy report making a key observation that India, the world’s largest democracy, has turned into an ‘electoral autocracy’.

Apart from this humiliating demotion of India, which has invited the ire of the Narendra Modi government, the report points to an accelerated autocratisation in several countries including United States, Brazil and Turkey that indidcate a trend that decline of democracy has hastened globally.

As per the report, 87 countries are now electoral autocracies that are home to 68 per cent of the global population. Liberal democracies, the group says have diminished and are home to only 14 per cent of the people.

The report says that with the backsliding of democracy in Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 is down to levels last found around 1990.

This decline in democracy is, the report says, is part of the “third wave of autocratization” accelerates – 25 countries, home to 34% of the world’s population (2.6 billion people), are in democratic decline by 2020. At the same time, the number of democratizing countries drop by almost half down to 16 that are home to a mere 4 per cent of the global population.

What are the waves of democratisation?

The concept ‘Democracy Wave’ was first introduced by the American political scientist Samuel P Huntington in his book ‘The Third Wave’ published in 1991. In the book, he argues that since the early nineteenth century, there has been three major surges of democracy as a political systems and two brief periods of decline. He calls the surges as ‘waves of democracy’ and the ebbs as the ‘reverse waves.’

Huntington defines a ‘wave of democracy’ as the “transition of a group of nations from non-democratic to democratic regimes during a specified period of time in which such transition to democratic regimes are significantly outnumbered by transitions in the opposite directions”.

As per Huntington, the first ‘long’ wave of democratization began in the 1820s, with the widening of the suffrage to a large proportion of the male population in the United States, and continued for almost a century until 1926, bringing into being 29 democracies including France, Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy and Argentina.

He argues that this ‘long and slow wave’ was followed by a ‘reverse wave’ leading to weakening of democratisation process. Between Mussolini’s rise to power in 1922 and 1942, the number of democratic states in the world to was brought down to a mere 12.

The triumph of the Allied Fources in World War II initiated a second wave of democratization taking the number of democratic countries to 36 by 1962. This was, says Huntington in the book, was followed by a second reverse wave (1960-1975) that brought the number of democracies back down to 30.

The third wave of democratisation, Huntington proposes, began with the Carnation revolution in Portugal in 1974 and continued with a number of democratic transition in Latin America in the 1980s, Asia Pacific countries and, saliently, in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He points out that this democratic wave was so strong that in Latin America that out of 20 countries in the continent, only two countries (Cuba and Haiti) remained authoritarian by1995.

A graph from Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg ‘s article showing three democratisation waves and three autocratisation waves as defined by Huntington and by them.

In 1991, when he published the book, he observed that there were already sign of commencement of a third reverse wave were already there, with nascent democracies like Haiti, Sudan returning to authoritarianism.

What are waves of Autocratisation?

Following Huntington’s lead, a number of political scientists have used these concepts to explain the ebbs and flows in the march of democracy.

For example, in March 2019, Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg published a research article, ‘A third wave of autocratization is here: what is new about it?’ in which they mapped the strengthening and weakening of democracies across the globe in over a century and ‘identified’ a distinct third wave of autocratisation that commenced in 1994.

Luhrmann and Lindberg define an autocratization wave as “the time period during which the number of countries undergoing democratization declines while at the same time autocratization affects more and more countries.”

They used V-Dem’s data on 182 countries from1900 to the end of 2017, or 18,031 country-years to demonstrate the a third wave of autocratisation. They do this by identifying ‘autocritisation episodes’ which push a country away from democratic practices. A total of  the 217 autocratization episodes taking place in 109 countries from 1900 to 2017.

The dates for the first two reverse waves presented by them are very similar to Huntington’s despite the conceptual and measurement differences. As per them during the first reverse wave 1922–1942 a total of 32 autocratisation episodes took place; they identified 62 episode in the second reverse wave between 1960–1975; during the ongoing ‘third wave’ of autocratisation they located 75 episodes starting from 1942 (until 2019).

“By 2017, the third wave of autocratization dominated with the reversals outnumbering the countries making progress. This had not occurred since 1940,” they say in the paper.

“In sum, an important characteristic of the third wave of autocratization is unprecedented: It mainly affects democracies – and not electoral autocracies as the earlier period – and this occurs while the global level of democracy is close to an all-time high. Hence, for now at least, the trend is manifest, but less dramatic than some claim,” they say.

Auotocratisation has become less dramatic!

Political scientists like Micheal Coppedge note that a key contemporary pattern of autocratisation is the gradual concentration of power in the executive, apart from the more “classical” path of intensified repression.

The latest V-DEM report points to an accelerated autocratisation in several countries including United States, Brazil and Turkey that indidcate a trend that decline of democracyhas hastened globally.

Although various observers including V-Dem, Freedom House, point to substantial autocratization over the last decade in countries as diverse as United States, India, Russia, Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, the democratic breakdowns have become less conspicuous. This, political scientists say, is because the contemporary autocrats have “mastered the art of subverting electoral standards without breaking their democratic façade completely.”

“Democratic breakdowns used to be rather sudden events – for instance military coups – and relatively easy to identify empirically. Now, multi-party regimes slowly become less meaningful in practice making it increasingly difficult to pinpoint the end of democracy,” write Luhrmann and Lindberg.

“A gradual transition into electoral authoritarianism is more difficult to pinpoint than a clear violation of democratic standards, and provides fewer opportunities for domestic and international opposition. Electoral autocrats secure their competitive advantage through subtler tactics such as censoring and harassing the media, restricting civil society and political parties and the undermining the autonomy of election management bodies. Aspiring autocrats learn from each other and are seemingly borrowing tactics perceived to be less risky than abolishing multi-party elections altogether,” they argue.

As per Luhrmann and Lindberg, the ‘erosion model’ has emerged as the prominent tactic in the third wave of autocratisation. The first and second waves, on the other hand, were dominated by blatant methods such as military coup (39% of episodes) or foreign invasion (29%), and by autogolpes, where the chief executive comes to power by legal means but then suddenly abolishes key democratic institutions such as elections or parliaments (32%).

“Democratic erosion became the modal tactic during the third wave of autocratization. Here, incumbents legally access power and then gradually, but substantially, undermine democratic norms without abolishing key democratic institutions. Such processes account for 70% in the third reversal wave with prominent cases of such gradual deterioration in Hungary and Poland. Aspiring autocrats have clearly found a new set of tools to stay in power, and that news has spread,” write Luhrmann and Lindberg.

As per the latest V-DEM report, in 2020, the third wave of autocratisation has accelerated considerably. “…It now engulfs 25 countries and 34 per cent of the world population (2.6 billion). Over the last ten years the number of democratizing countries dropped by almost half to 16, hosting a mere 4 per cent of the global population,” says the report.

While PMAY(U) beneficiaries suffer, state & central agencies Caught up in war of words

The correspondence between Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), obtained by The Indian Express using the RTI, shows that there has been little progress towards resolving the issue although both the agencies acknowledge that poor families are badly suffering due to the delay in release of central subsidy.

Naseem Bano, a widow from Parbhani district, is among the PMAY(U) beneficiaries who are awaiting release of the central subsidy to complete the construction of their houses. (Pic: Atikh Rashid)

As Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (Urban) beneficiaries in Maharashtra, especially those from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), continue to suffer due to the delay in the release of central subsidy, the state and central agencies are blaming each other, documents obtained by The Indian Express under the Right To Information Act show.

As reported by the Express earlier, a total of 2.19 lakh houses have been sanctioned in the state under Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) vertical of PMAY(U), in which each beneficiary family receives Rs 1.5 lakh from the Centre and Rs 1 lakh from the state.

In Maharashtra, of the total sanctioned houses since 2016-17, only 18,665 have been completed, while construction of 63,415 is stuck in various stages owing to non-release of subsidy funds by the Centre. In most cases, the construction has reached up to lintel level and the dwelling units are standing roofless.

In the remaining 1.2 lakh sanctioned cases, no progress has been seen despite the release of the first instalment of funds. This state officials reckon, could be because of financial hardships caused by Covid-19 to the EWS families, who may have diverted the funds towards basic needs.

As reported earlier, many BLC beneficiaries in the state, who had started the construction a year or two ago, have given up hope of finishing the work, owing to the prolonged delay in the release of Rs 1.5 lakh central subsidy. They have laid old tin sheets over the newly constructed walls so they can move in. In the most precarious condition are those who had demolished an existing kutcha house and had moved into a rented home.

Express spoke to many such families in Parbhani, Hingoli and Beed districts, who have spent a considerable amount on rent and are now repenting their decision to demolish the existing house in the hope of a better house.

While both the agencies – the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the nodal agency for implementing PMAY(U) in the state – told the Express that the delay was caused by the pendency in the submission of Utilisation Certificates (UCs) by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and the issue will soon be resolved, documents obtained under RTI Act show that the two agencies have been corresponding since March 2020, but the issues causing the delay in the release of pending funds are far from resolved.

Letter from Maharashtra Principal Secretary (Housing) SVR Srinivas to PMAY(U) Mission Director Amrit Abhijat on November 2 2020.

On March 4 2020, Rishi Kumar (Director-HFA-IV) had written to Sanjay Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary (Housing), Maharashtra, informing him that senior officials in MoHUA and Finance Ministry were in favour of halting the release of central funds in light of non-submission of UCs by states for funds released earlier.

The MoHUA followed up on October 7, 2020, when Amrit Abhijat, Mission Director, Housing For All, wrote to SVR Srinivas, Principal Secretary (Housing), Maharashtra. “So far, an amount of Rs 803.55 crore has been released to Maharashtra against which we have received UCs for Rs 127.16 crore only. As per General Financial Rules, UCs for amounts released prior to 31.3.2019 have become due and without the receipt of these, further release of funds is held up,” wrote Abhijat.

In his response dated November 2, Srinivas blamed the MoHUA for not following PMAY(U) guidelines, and releasing only a part of the amount it owes to the state towards the first instalment of houses sanctioned under BLC and AHP (Affordable Houses in Partnership) and ISSR (In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation) components in the state. He said that since ULBs were busy in Covid-19 management for the better part of the year, they should be given time to submit the pending UCs.

As per him, with a total of 7.40 lakh dwelling units sanctioned in the state under BLC, AHP and ISSR components of PMAY(U), the state should have received 40 per cent (Rs 4433 crore) of the total subsidy amount for these DUs as the first instalment.

“Contrary to the PMAY (U) guidelines, instead of releasing the entire first instalment of Rs 4,433 crore which is due to the state, the MoHUA has insisted the utilisation certificates for the 70 per cent for the partial amount released from the first instalment,” wrote Srinivas.

He said that the state government has been receiving demands from ULBs for release of pending funds and delay in the release of funds has caused “unrest among the beneficiaries”, especially those from EWS sections.

On December 18, Abhijat wrote back, reiterating that the state government will have to submit UCs worth Rs 324.87 crore to MoHUA before further funds are released. By this time, the UCs received by MoHUA had gone up to Rs 211.94 crore (from Rs 127 crore in March 2020). In this letter, Abhijat raised several other fresh compliance issues, including AADHAR seeding of the beneficiaries into the PMAY(U) portal, action taken report on the recommendation of the third party quality monitoring agencies, geo-tagging of the current stage of the constructions, among others.

“Therefore, I would request that all thus compliances may be done as soon as possible and come up with the proposal to release further funds to the state,” wrote Abhijat.

When reached for a comment, officials with MoHUA and MHADA, requesting not to be named, said that they were working to resolve the issues at the soonest.

Financial troubles, tiny houses: Why many PMAY allottees rejected the home offer

In October 2020, PMC had alloted affordable houses being constructed under PMAY(U) to 2,918 poor families but only 731 of them claimed them. Now PMC has announced names of 2,187 fresh allottees urging them to book the unclaimed homes.

ATIKH RASHID

In August 2017, Babaram Bhagne (53), a helper at an automobile spare parts shop in Nana Peth, was among the 40,000 hopefuls from economically weaker families who had given applications to claim low cost homes being built under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) in Pune city.

In October 2020, he was among the happy club of 2,918 applicants who were declared ‘winners’ to get the homes being built by Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) with assistance from private builders at five different locations in the city.

Two months later, he is one of the 2,187 individuals who have decided to let go of this ‘opportunity’. On Monday, PMC’s PMAY (U) cell posted a list of new ‘winners’ from the waiting list who will now have a chance to lay claim over the homes that remained unclaimed in the first round.

“On the day our name was announced in the lottery, we were told to pay up Rs 1.02 lakh (10 per cent of the total price of the apartment) within a month. I had no income from March to October 2020 as the automobile shop I work for was shut due to the lockdown. It was extremely difficult for me to arrange the sum within such a short time,” said Bhagane, who presently stays in a rented home in Sukhasagar with wife, a son and a daughter. He said that getting a housing loan for payment of the total cost (pegged at Rs 9.67) lakh was difficult due to break in employment.

But that wasn’t the only reason he let go of the home offer. “At 350 square feet carpet area, the apartment is too small for my family. My son has finished his graduation this year and very soon we will start thinking about his marriage. Once our family expands, this house will be too tiny for us. Hence, we thought and decided that instead of taking a loan to pay for this small flat, we will wait for an opportunity to buy a bigger home once my son starts earning,” said Bhagane.

The houses are being built for economically weaker sections (EWS) under Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP) component of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban). Under this component, the central and state assistance is provided to housing projects where 35 per cent homes are reserved for EWS customers and are made available to them at an affordable rate.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) had announced eight projects under AHP in August 2017 and has also invited applications from EWS families. Of these, five projects progressed and in October 2020 PMC drew lotteries to determine the beneficiaries who would get the opportunity to buy low cost 2,918 apartments from the pool of 40,000 applications that it had received.

The five housing projects are located in Hadapsar, Survey No. 106A (340 homes), Kharadi (786), Vadgaon Khurd (1108), Hadapsar, Survey No.89 (584), and Hadapsar, Survey No.106A12 (100). Each dwelling unit is a 1BHK (bedroom, hall & kitchen) apartment with a carpet area of about 350 square feet.

As per officials at PMC’s PMAY(U) Cell, not all allottees who didn’t lay their claim over the homes found the offer unattractive or were not able to pay up the booking amount. “We had accepted the applications in 2017 and the lottery was drawn full three years later in October 2020. Many may have changed the contact numbers and did not get our messages. Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, many may have also moved out of the city and did not see lists of the winners published in the newspapers. We were receiving calls and personal visits of such people after November 23 but we could not consider their requests as it would have been unjust to those in the waiting list,” said Dinesh Rokade, Joint-Director for PMAY(U) implementation in PMC areas.

Financial incapability, however, remains a recurring theme among the allottees, including those who have laid a claim and paid up the first installment. “It’s beyond my comprehension why they had to make the allottment in the thick of the lockdown,” said Satvashila Bhosale, a domestic worker who stays in Yerwada area. “My husband who worked in a Titan shop lost his job during the lockdown and now banks are refusing to give us a loan. We are in a big trouble since we don’t want to lose the money we have already paid,” she said.

To help the allottees secure a bank loan, the PMC has set up home-loan stalls in its premises where housing finance companies and loan consultancies are guiding the allottees with loan procedure and accepting applications if they find them eligible. “Problem with most of the allottees is that they already have borrowed from banks and have unpaid loans on their accounts. Most have very poor credit history. In fact, some of them availed personal loans to pay the first installment for PMAY home which reflects poorly on their financial health. This makes them very weak loan candidates,” said a DSA (direct selling agent) present at the spot.

Rokade said that the PMAY(U) cell at PMC is learning from its mistakes earlier and the future AHP projects (five of them are being planned) will take into accounts the issues faced by the allottees and make the allottment process quicker and more accessible to the EWS families.

A short history of Delhi’s Muslim ghettos

The story starts with the demarcation of ‘Muslim Zones’ in the capital to protect Muslims from violence in 1947. During 1970s, these areas are seen as ‘unhygienic pockets’ requiring beautification and are subjected to demolition drives. In the post-9/11 world, they are pushed further to the margins as ‘terrorist hide-outs’ and are subjected to frequent police searches.

Muslim demography of Delhi. Map by Raphael Susewind

ATIKH RASHID

INDIA’S partition in 1947 and the resultant influx and efflux of communities caused a sea of change in the demography and character of the Delhi city.

Before partition, the city was home to a big and prosperous Muslim community which comprised of about one-third of the city’s population. However, the emigration of Muslims – some out of choice, others due to compulsion of violence – reduced the Muslim population of Delhi drastically. It is estimated that around 3.3 lakh Muslim residents of Delhi left for Pakistan and around 5 lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees from riot-torn West Punjab came to Delhi.

As per estimates, the Muslim population of Delhi came down from 33.33 per cent in 1941 to a mere 5.33 per cent in 1951.

Several localities which were predominantly Muslim, such as Chandani Chowk, Khari Baoli and Karol Bagh were emptied out to a great extent with the emigration of Muslims and were replaced with Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs.

Creation of ‘Muslim Zones’

In the aftermath of Partition, Delhi was thrown into grips of anti-Muslim violence, especially at the hands of Hindu, Sikh refugees coming from West Pakistan who had suffered the loss of life and property. Between August-October 1947, as many as 20,000 Muslims were killed within Delhi in communal riots and almost all the Muslim residents – especially from mixed localities – had shifted to temporary camps that had sprung up in Purana Qila, Nizamuddin and Humanyun’s Tomb.

Muslims from Delhi and nearby areas taking shelter in Purana Qila in September 1947.

When tempers calmed – with efforts by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad – the Muslims in the camps who had not migrated to Pakistan started returning to their homes. It was felt by the government that ‘mixed areas’ – where Muslims and Hindus previously stayed together – were no longer safe for Muslims to return to. The government decided to rehabilitate displaced Muslims in predominantly Muslim localities such as Pul Bangash, Phatak Habash Khan, Sadar Bazar and Pahari Imli areas which in government communications were being referred to as ‘Muslim Zones’. It can’t be ascertained to what degree the government succeeded in implementing this plan fully, but it was put in motion by the agencies surely.

“Certain largely Muslim mohallas were cordoned off, and abandoned houses there were to be kept empty by police intervention so that either Muslims could return to them or other Muslims could be moved there and provided safety,” says Vazira Zamindar her book The Long Partition and The Making of Modern South Asia.

Zamindar quotes Sardar Diwan Singh, the editor of Risalat, on how this shifting from ‘mixed localities’ to ‘Muslim zones’ happened.

“Muslims from mixed areas were asked to move to the Muslim zones. The constable stood at the street corner and they had five minutes to gather their belongings and go. Many thought this was only a matter of a few days and that they would return when the public had calmed down…”.

But, as per Singh, the Muslims did not or could not return to the houses.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru supported this policy saying if Hindus and Sikhs were accommodated in empty houses left behind by Muslims who departed for Pakistan, it would “push out” Muslims residents.

“There was a tendency on the part of the Muslim residents of the other houses, next door, to leave their houses because they felt they were being pushed out,” he said later in a parliamentary debate.

The Muslim Zones thus created soon were attached with a stigma of being “communally sensitive areas” and “zones of trouble”.

“For Muslims staying in these ilaqe (areas) was not a matter of choice; nor was these enclaves celebrated zones of culture. Instead, living in these areas became a compulsion for Muslims for safety. In a span of a few years these pockets were marked as ‘communally sensitive area(s)’- a stigma that transformed these areas in later decades from protected sites into alleged zones of trouble,” writes Nazma Parveen in her study on ‘Muslim localities of Delhi’.

Resettlements of Shahjahanabad

About three decades later, another round of creation of Muslim ghettos happened. It was due to the ‘urban beautification-inspired demolition drives’ that were held in the midst of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. The drives, executed by Jagmohan Malhotra of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), were aimed at beautification of Jama Masjid, Turkman gate areas with a plan to revamp Shahjahanabad. Thousands of residents of these areas (mainly Muslims) were forcefully and violently evicted and ‘resettled’ in localities such as Seelampur and Welcome.

During the emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi several demolition drives took place in Old Delhi in 1976 with an aim to beautify the congested areas.

As per author Ghazala Jamil, these areas continued to expand during 1980s as more Muslims from the Old Delhi areas who shifted out from Old Delhi houses due to various reason started settling in and around Seelampur and Welcome. Hindus moving out of Old Delhi would, on the other hand, shift to Shahadara, Geeta Colony and Uttam Nagar. Also, in localities where Muslim-population was greater, Hindus sold off their properties and moved out and these localities became largely Muslim.

“By the late 1980s, segregation in Delhi on religious identity lines became almost final and complete,” Jamil writes in Accumulation by Segregation: Muslim Localities in Delhi.

Migration of UP, Bihar and elsewhere

From the 1990s, Muslim migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other areas of north India started coming and settling in the localities north of Seelampur and formed the belt of largely Muslim localities in ‘trans-Yamuna’ areas ranging between Seelampur and Loni Border including Gautampuri, Chandbagh, Jafferabad, Gokulpuri and other areas where the recent Delhi riots were largely concentrated.

During the same period, Jamia Nagar saw unprecedented expansion with migration of aspirational migrants from north India and many new colonies came up. Some scholars have linked the migration of 1990s and 2000s of Muslims from UP and Bihar to Delhi’s Muslim ghettos to communal polarisation that happened during Ram Janmabhoomi Movement and 2002 riots of Gujarat.

“A very small portion of this population (residing in newer ghettos) can trace their earlier generation residing in Delhi before 1947, a vast majority being migrants from UP and Bihar. The pockets of Muslim population got consolidated (some even expanded) after each communal riot in the country especially the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992 and Gujarat pogrom in 2002,” writes Jamil.

The affluent class among Muslims who did not identify with the lot living in the ghettos formed gated enclaves either within these Muslim areas or on the borders in localities like Zakir Nagar Extension, Joga Bai Extension, Joharmi Farms or housing societies like the Taj Enclave.

“Still shunned from the affluent Hindu areas they resorted to using a new group membership as a source of positive self-esteem,” observes Jamil.

‘Terror Hide-Outs’ requiring combing operations

In one of his report (June 1 1948) about the plan of ‘Muslim Zones’, Delhi’s then Deputy Commissioner M S Randhawa refers to these zones as ‘Miniature Pakistans’ creation of which is being resented by Hindu and Sikh refugees of Delhi.

In over seven decades since, the Muslim ghettos of Delhi – as those elsewhere in India – have not been able to shake off the stigma, suspicion and derision associated with them.

The situation turned markedly volatie in 2008 when the controversial Batla House police encounter happened in which two university students alleged to be terrorists were killed by police. This was followed by a scores of arrests from the Muslim neighbourhoods often without police following proper legal procedure. The incident and what followed disgraced the neighbourhood in the public sphere as a ‘terrorist hideout’.

Prof Mohamad Sayeed writes in his essay about, how Batla House incident created an environment of fear among the local Muslim residents, a fear that was different that the fear of riot or violent attack life and property.

“First, it was not the fear of a known enemy—another group or community. It was fear of an unknowable source that could cause incomprehensible damage. Here, the police had emerged as the agency that could act without caring much about the mandatory procedures. Despite doubts about the veracity of the ‘encounter’, however, it was not just the police and wrongful arrest and detention that was feared, but also the possibility that there might be actual terrorists living among them. Thus, the likelihood that the encounter was not fake was as terrifying as its converse. The event had exposed the neighbourhood to its deepest vulnerability,” writes Sayeed in his essay ‘Fear, law and politics after the police encounter at Batla House, New Delhi’ published in the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology in January 2020.

January 2020 riots in Northeast Delhi left 53, most of them Muslims, dead. (Photo Courtsey: Praveen Khanna for The Indian Express)

Researcher Nazima Parveen summerises the journey of the Muslim Ghettos of Delhi, which are again in the news for prolonged sit-in protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and as the areas which suffered maximum damage during the communal riots that followed, in the following manner:

“These localities were looked at differently over the period. In the 1940s they were seen as ‘Muslim-dominated’ areas that were to be administered for the sake of communal peace, in the 1950s, as ‘Muslim zones’ that needed to be ‘protected’, in the 1960s, as ‘isolated’ unhygienic cultural pockets that were to be cleaned and Indianized, and in the 1970s as location of ‘internal threat’ – the Mini-Pakistans – that were to be dismantled and integrated. In altered political scenarios of 1990s and 2000s these pockets were looked at as ‘terrorist hide-outs,” writes Parveen.

PMAY(U) subsidy delayed, thousands of beneficiaries forced to live in shanties or half-finished houses

Of the 2.19 lakh homes sanctioned in Maharashtra under Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) component of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship housing scheme, only 22,000 have been completed. Most beneficiaries – including those who have finished work – await release of Rs 1.5 lakh central subsidy

Delay in the release of Central Government share of PMAY(U) subsidy has halted construction of houses in many towns of Maharashtra for several months now. Roofless under-construction houses have become a common sight in small towns of the state. (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

ATIKH RASHID

Beneficiary led construction (BLC), one of the four components of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)– Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programme to construct affordable houses in urban areas by 2022, when India will mark the 75th anniversary of its independence – has emerged as the most popular component of the scheme.

The high demand for BLC, especially in small cities and towns, is because of the comparative flexibility it offers to beneficiaries to construct stand-alone houses on their own plot. The other three components of the scheme are the Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS), Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP) and In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation (ISSR).

Under BLC, the central government provides an assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh per beneficiary for construction of a new house, with a carpet area not exceeding 30 square metres or enhancement of 9 square metres to an existing house. Several states have also offered their own financial assistance to the scheme, with the Maharashtra government offering an additional Rs 1 lakh per dwelling unit (DU).

Homes sanctioned under BLC are more than those sanctioned under three other components combined.

The popularity of the scheme in the state can be gauged by the fact that 2.19 lakh DUs have been sanctioned under the scheme since 2016 under 350 urban local bodies (ULBs), including municipal corporations, municipal councils and nagar panchayats, till date.

However, the initial enthusiasm of the beneficiaries of the scheme and the urban local bodies (ULB) is now replaced with uncertainty and dismay. This has been caused by delay in the release of the promised central subsidy of Rs 1.5 lakh – in whole or part – to the beneficiaries who have already started the work. As a result of the 2.19 lakh houses sanctioned between 2016-2019, only 22,000 houses have been completed.

The state and union government officials involved in PMAY(U) insist that there is no shortage of funds for the scheme but the release of funds has been plagued by the failure by the ULBs to submit utilisation certificates (UC) for funds earlier released and the inability of a section of beneficiaries to show progress.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdown has only made the matters worse in the state as a large number of beneficiaries are not able to pitch in their own share towards the construction of the houses. The result: Over 1 lakh beneficiaries in the state have not shown any progress despite receipt of first few instalments.

At the national level, of the total 67.44 lakh DUs have been sanctioned under BLC 36.67 lakh have been grounded and 17.08 have been completed. As many as 13.44 lakh have not shown any progress.

In Maharashtra, of the about 80,000 projects are incomplete most have reached up to lintel level and are standing roofless. The first instalment of Rs 1 lakh from the central assistance will only be released for them after the roof has been cast and many of the beneficiaries expressed inability to do so. The Indian Express found that many beneficiaries have now given up hope and started putting old tin sheets over the newly constructed walls where an RCC roof was intended to be cast.

Many beneficiaries have given up hope and have moved into half-constructed houses by putting old GC sheets over the walls instead of waiting for the funds to cast the RCC roof promised under PMAY(U). (Photo Credit: Atikh Rashid)

Officials with ULBs say that despite repeated follow-ups with PMAY(U) authorities, no solution is being found to the issue of incomplete houses although desperate beneficiaries continue to badger them with queries about the release of funds.

Desperate wait for the new house

It’s been over eight months since Mukhtar Begam’s family in Pathri – a town of about 40,000 in Parbhani district – moved into a metal sheet shanty erected on an empty plot under high-tension electricity wires. After her house was sanctioned under PMAY last year, the family dismantled the kuccha house to build a new two-room home, with a kitchen and a toilet, as promised by the scheme. Since then, she has come to repent her decision.

The construction progressed until the lintel-level when the money ran out. The family has spent over Rs 2 lakh on the house, including the Rs 1 lakh they received from the state government. Her husband is a woodcutter who earns Rs 300 on the days he manages to find work. His income has dried up since March, when the nationwide lockdown came into effect in India.

“He has to travel to cut trees and during the lockdown, all the travelling came to a halt. We were struggling to survive,” said Mukhtar Begum, who is mother to three daughters and a son.

Monsoon has been especially challenging for the family. While they are used to a leaking roof, life in a makeshift shanty during heavy rain has posed some new and frightening challenges. The overhead high-tension wires often snap in strong winds and fall on the tin roof of her house, turning the entire tenement into an electrically-charged unit.

LIkes hundreds of others the work on Mukhtar Begum’s home has halted in absence of money. (In the inset, she points to the overhead electricity wires that she sees as a mortal danger for her family). (Photo Credit: Haseeb Shaikh)

“It happened thrice till now. Sometimes we rush out and other times, when it’s raining, we have to stay inside. I hold my breath and start chanting god’s name – clutching my youngest child to the chest,” said Begum, pointing to the wire over her roof. “I’m repenting for having demolished my house and came into the lure of having a nice pucca home for my kids. Often, I cry over this. My husband has even threatened to abandon me because of the constant cribbing over the house,” she said.

About 100 metres away, in Vilas Gople Nagar, Babarao Tambe is repenting that he picked PMAY (U) over Ramai Awas Yojana, Maharashtra Government’s housing scheme for poor families from SC/ST, which also provides the 2.5 lakh subsidy for a new DU.

“My cousin who got a house sanctioned in Ramai at the same time I got mine under PMAY. I have so far received Rs 1 lakh and have spent Rs 3.60 lakh on the house. Of this, Rs 2 lakh of I have borrowed. My cousin has received Rs 2.5 lakh in subsidy and his house is ready and he has a loan of about a lakh to repay. I would have been better off if I had applied through that scheme,” said Tambe. He demolished his mud-house in February 2019 to build a new and shifted to an empty tenement in the neighbourhood. The stay has turned out to be for over a year now. The new house looks strong and imposing but needs further work such as plastering of the inner walls, installation of doors, windows and fittings in the bathroom and the toilet. “I don’t have any money left and am waiting for the next instalments of the subsidy which are now due,” he said.

Babarao Tambe stands next to his new house being built under PMAY (U). Behind him is the tenement where his family has been living for about a year and must continue until the work on the new home is over. (Photo Credit: Atikh Rashid)

In the entire town of Pathri, 1153 DUs were sanctioned under the scheme since 2018 and work started on 1050 tenements between January 2019 and January 2020. As of October 5, only 200 homes have been completed while 621 remain various staged of incompletion. All these houses have received Rs 1 lakh in two instalments from the state government’s share– one of Rs 40,000 and then Rs 60,000 – and are awaiting further funds to complete the work. About 250 have shown no progress.

In Jintur, about 60  kms from Pathri, only 175 beneficiaries who have completed the construction out of 1250 sanctioned DUs and even they are awaiting one to three instalments (Rs 30,000 to 1.5 lakh) of central assistance. As many as 500 remain without a roof (have progressed till lintel level) and in rest of the cases, the work did not start at all.

In the Hingoli town, headquarter of the neighbouring district, construction of 1098 houses was sanctioned and work orders were issued in 951 cases. Of these 448 DUs have been completed while 503 DUs are stuck at the lintel level. Most of the beneficiaries who have completed their houses have not received central assistance.

“We received 11.33 crore from the state government and should have received Rs 16 crore from the central government but are in receipt of 35.40 lakh. Utilisation certificates of all the funds have been submitted – not once but four times – but further release have not happened. In fact, for some of the beneficiaries we used unspent funds from the state government assistance,” said HIngoli Municipal Council Chief Officer Ajay Kurwade.

Most desperate is the section of beneficiaries who had moved into rental accommodations after dismantling their existing homes to construct new, better ones under PMAY(U), say local politicians.

“In Pathri, many beneficiaries are staying in rented houses and have spent a considerable amount in rent. Due to the long delay in the release of third and fourth instalments of the subsidy, many have now started to return to half-constructed houses by covering them with tin or plastic sheets because they can’t afford pay rent anymore,” said NCP leader from Pathri and MLC Abdullah Khan Durrani. The high cost of sand (at Rs 25,000 per brass) has also made it difficult for poor families to finish the construction on their own, he added.

COVID-19, lockdown hampered EWS families’ ability to invest ‘beneficirary share’

Beneficiary Led Individual House Construction under PMAY (U) aims to provide ‘assistance’ to economically families constructing a new house or enhancing an existing house. An estimated cost of the work is pegged at Rs 4 to 6 lakh. As per various proposals sent by local bodies from Maharashtra, such a house (with the desired strength, size, design and finish) requires an investment ranging from Rs 4.5 to 6.5 lakh and thus the beneficiary needs to put in about Rs 2 to 4 lakh from his own pocket to complete the house.

It appears that the local bodies either failed to apprise the beneficiaries that they will have to put in such an amount or the contingencies of the ongoing pandemic – prolonged lockdown, loss of wages – has deprived them of the resources that they could otherwise have put in.

“Many seem to think that PMAY is like previously implemented schemes where the government was providing all the money. In PMAY (U) you have to pitch in your own share. If they are not able to do that, the work lags,” said Dilip Muglikar, Executive Engineer, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) which is implementing PMAY(U) in the state.

Naseer Shaikh is one such beneficiary who is palpably desperate to finish the work but is unable to invest more than Rs 50,000 for the construction. “I have spent Rs 50,000 by borrowing from friends and family – apart from Rs 1 lakh subsidy received – and can put in no more. I work in a bakery and due to the lockdown, my earnings have suffered in the last six months. I don’t have a penny to put in the house and the officials are telling me that I would not get the next instalment if I don’t finish casting the roof for which I will need about Rs 80 to 1 lakh,” he said.

The rainy season has been “very tough” on Naseer Shaikh this year who demolished his existing kachcha house in the hope of building a better one under PMAY (U). Without money to finish the work on his own, he is left with no option but to wait for the next instalment of subsidy. (Photo Credit: Haseeeb Shaikh)

Last week, municipal officials in Pathri issued notices to 250 beneficiaries whose work had not progressed satisfactorily. “Most pointed to the lockdown having affected their earnings,” said a staffer requesting not to be named. “They are also unwilling to put in money because they see that those who did are also stuck because of non-release of subsidy in the latter stages of construction,” he added.

A year ago when the scheme picked up and beneficiaries were getting subsidy amounts on time, suppliers of construction material were willingly supplying cement, steel and bricks on credit. “They knew that the money was coming –in a week or two. But now since no funds have been released for months they have grown cautious and turning away those seeking to buy on credit,” said civic worker from Parbhani.

PMAY (U) officials blame non-submission of Utilisation Certificates by ULBs for delay

As per Muglikar, the factor that has caused withholding of the central assistance from the beneficiaries whose work has progressed satisfactorily is the failure a section of ULBs to submit utilisation certificates (UC) of the central funds received by them.

“Funds from the sanctioned central subsidy are held up because of the issue of submission of the UCs. As per the rule, the state will have to submit UCs for at least 70 per cent of the released funds to seek further release. Of the Rs 600 crore odd central assistance released to ULBs in Maharashtra, we have so far submitted to the MoHUA only 214 crores. Another UCs for Rs 200 crore have been received from ULBs and will soon be sent to the union ministry. Once the number crosses 70 per cent (about Rs 450 crore) our case to seek the release of next rounds of funds will be strengthened,” said Munglikar.

Officials suspect that the ULBs may have failed to submit the UCs because a section of the beneficiaries may have spent the money elsewhere. “The Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdown may have played a role,” said Muglikar.

When contacted for a comment, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) did not provide an official response. On condition of anonymity, a highly placed officer said that the Ministry was aware of the issues being faced in the implementation of the BLC in Maharashtra and was taking urgent steps to resolve them. “We are in regular touch with the MHADA officials and have now written to the state government. The issue is not caused by a lack of funds. We are seeking submission Utilisation Certificates (UC) and will soon resolve the problem,” said the MoHUA official.

ULB officials and local politicians are not ready to buy ‘non-submission of UC’ argument. “If some ULBs have not submitted the UCs then they should be affected. Why should the funds of hundreds of other ULBs be stopped and thousands of poor beneficiaries be left in the lurch? People are suffering terribly due to the delay and have lost confidence in the scheme. It will be difficult for us to approach newer beneficiaries who had earlier shortlisted to be included in future DPRs,” said a municipal council chief officer requesting anonymity.

Grocers miss what readers didn’t during the lockdown: the printed newspaper

With supplies drying down due to the halt in printing of papers during early weeks of the lockdown and continued trouble for newspaper distribution, the newspaper scrap is in short supply across the country. With increased prices, retail users such as grocers and snacks-sellers are feeling the pinch.

Newspaper raddi is widely used as a convenient and cheap packaging material by grocers and snack-sellers.  (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

ATIKH RASHID

DISAPPEARANCE of printed newspapers during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown caused little trouble to most news consumers who picked up news from other sources including the free ePaper PDFs that they seamlessly received, read and forwarded to others on their phones. While the readers – the primary consumers of the newspaper during its short life of half a day – were indifferent, those who use the paper during its afterlife as scrap have started to feel the pinch now due to the shortage caused by the halt in printing a few months ago.

The impact of printing presses coming to a standstill during March-May – and continued trouble in printing and distributing the newspapers – is being felt by grocers, fruit vendors and snack-sellers who have to now scrounge for scrap paper which they use as a cheap and convenient packaging and serving material. The domestic paper recycling industry which generally uses waste paper cheaply imported from abroad is now dipping into the domestic supply thereby increasing demand and causing an acute shortage of paper scrap for other users.

Users such as grocers are being forced to buy newspaper raddi – at it’s colliquolly called – anywhere between  Rs 20 to 35 a kilo from dealers (usually priced at Rs 12 to 15, depending on quality).  The scrap collectors are in turn ready to cough up Rs 15-20 per kg and are less likely to harangue the household seller for a cheaper acquisition. 

There’s no raddi

There are two types of newspaper scrap that enter the market: used raddi (bought from individual newspaper buyers) and unused raddi (acquired in bulk from publications, sales agents comprising of unsold newspaper stocks). Users of scrap paper generally prefer the latter kind as it’s cleaner, uncrumpled. 

Scrap dealers say that the stocks of the both kind have dried down and they are not able to meet the demand.

“For several weeks in March-April, newspaper printing was shut, so naturally no newspaper scrap came into the market. Even now schools, colleges, public libraries, and most of the offices are not functional. These are places that we get newspaper raddi from. Also, door-to-door scrap collectors are not able to move freely in housing societies, bringing down the receipts of scrap paper considerably,” said Navin Thakkar, a dealer in Pune.

As per Anurag Asati, co-founder of The Kabadiwala, a Bhopal based firm that provides doorstep junk collection service, the major reason for shortage of newspaper raddi in the market that the pandemic has stopped international waste paper coming into India.  “The Indian paper recycling industry uses 20 per cent domestic scrap and 80 per cent imported waste paper. Since Covid-19 has affected imports, the recycling industry is drawing more from domestic supply and hence is causing a shortage of scrap paper in India,” said Asati.

The afterlife of a newspaper

Once the newspaper starts circulating as scrap, it acquires a life of its own. The peculiar logic of printed information unintentionally passed from one hand to another is adeptly manipulated in cinema where it often becomes a device to deliver plot-twists. For instance, in Gadar-Ek Prem Katha (2001), Sakina accidentally comes across a scrap paper informing her of father’s wellbeing across the border in Pakistan. 

As per Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and Registrar of Newspapers for India, every day 70 million copies are printed and sold by 17,573 registered daily and weekly newspapers in India. Of these, 34 million copies are sold by top 20 newspapers – a club dominated by Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and English language dailies.

To print these, the presses consume about 17.1 million metric tonnes (data for 2017-18) of standard newsprint per annum, part of which is imported from abroad. As per a discussion paper published on the website of Department of Industry and Internal Trade, about 13 million metric tonne newspaper and magazine scrap enters the market every year with an estimated market value of Rs 13,000 crore. A part of this is acquired by domestic manufacturer of newsprints who complete the circle by supplying it for fresh publication. Other users such as by grocers, snack-sellers and farmers (who use it to wrap fruits to hasten ripening) leads to the paper becoming domestic trash which may end up in landfills with other degradable waste.

Major deficit in Mufassil towns and villages

In the interiors, the prices of raddi have seen a much steeper rise. This, locals traders, say is due to higher reliance on paper for packaging as compared to cities where plastic bags – which are comparatively expensive – are used. With plastic bag supply chains getting disturbed owing to the lockdown as well as bans on the use of certain kinds of plastic imposed by the government, the use of newspaper raddi has gone up recently in larger cities as well.

“Generally I sell Marathi raddi for Rs 20 and English for Rs 25 a kilo,” said Munna Ambure, a newspaper vendor in Parbhani. “My scrap fetches a better price than household raddi because mine is unread paper which is cleaner. Now the price has gone up to Rs 30/kg for Marathi and Rs 35/kg for English papers. But since lockdown, I have reduced my daily newspaper orders considerably as many people have unsubscribed owing to the fear of pandemic. I am not left with much of the scrap to sale,” he said.

Wholesaler Thakkar feels that with the flow of scrap paper will go up when schools, libraries will open and fear among the readers subsides thus leading to picking up of newspaper printing.

“With the government deciding to let the schools open by November, we are hoping that the by December things will normalise and the business will stabilise a bit,” said Thakkar.

As per Asati, with recycling industries spending more to buy raw material from domestic scrap market – than cheaply imported paper waste – the prices of recycled paper will go up thereby increasing the prices of books, notebooks and diaries in the short run.

“It’s affecting the packaging industry now. When schools open, you will find that the prices of books and notebooks will be higher than usual,” said Asati. 

In Maharashtra interiors, farmers hit by fast spreading cattle virus

Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), an infectious viral disease of the cattle and bovine animals, is fast spreading in some districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, creating panic among dairy farmers.

The virus strain currently active in Maharashtra is said to have about 20 per cent morbidity and about 1 per cent mortality rate. ( Photo by Hasib Shaikh)

LUMPY Skin Disease (LSD), an infectious viral disease of the cattle and bovine animals, is fast spreading in some districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, creating panic among dairy farmers. According to the state Animal Husbandry department, so far 93,252 infections of the Capripox virus, which was first detected in the state in Gadchiroli district in April, have been recorded in the state.

The virus causes the development of stiff, round, cutaneous nodules of 2-5 cm in diameter on the skin of the animal, besides causing fever, lesions in the mouth and reduced milk production. The virus strain currently active in Maharashtra is said to have about 20 per cent morbidity and about 1 per cent mortality rate. The state has launched a vaccination programme.

The virus is not zoonotic and doesn’t infect humans through consumption of milk or meat. Though it affects the cow and buffalo, however, infection in the latter has been found to be minimal.

As per the state Animal Husbandry department, Chandrapur is the worst affected with 50,419 cases, followed by Nagpur with 12,296 cases so far. Other affected districts in Vidarbha are Gondia (8,150), Vardha (3,598) and Gadchiroli (1,358). In Marathwada, the disease has been detected in Nanded (13,136) and Parbhani (2,182) in considerable proportion with a sporadic spread in several other districts.

Of the 93,252 animals infected so far since April, 67,035 have recovered following medical intervention.

Devarshi Meher, a dairy farmer from Pathri in Parbhani district, who owns a herd of about 100 cattle, said three of his cows were showing symptoms. “Two have swollen feet and can’t walk. The third one has developed nodules on the back. The milk production has considerably decreased,” he said, adding that he found privately sold vaccines expensive and was trying to contact government veterinarian hospitals for subsidised inoculation.

Dr Devendra Jadhav, deputy commissioner of Animal Husbandry (Disease Control), said the department has launched a massive vaccination programme and has so far inoculated 1.52 lakh animals with Goat Pox vaccine.

“Soon after the detection in Chandrapur, we had started a vaccination programme in Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Nagpur. We have 4.5 lakh vaccination doses available with us. Whenever an infection is detected, we are sending the vaccine to inoculate the healthy animals to contain the spread,” said Jadhav.

He added that the virus is not highly virile and the mortality rate is also not high. Owing to the spread of the virus to newer areas, an advisory has been issued to dairy farmers enlisting preventive measures that they need to take while rearing the animals.

“Since the virus spread via insects, it’s very important that the sheds are kept insect-free. The animals can be massaged with insect repellents. Apart from this, affected animals have to be kept away from healthy ones and should not be taken away for grazing. Also, once an infected animal is found, cattle in a five-km radius should be inspected and inoculated,” said Jadhav.

The latest outbreak of the disease was detected in Mayurbhanj and Bhadrak in Odisha in November 2019. In January this year, cases were reported from Alappuzha, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala.

When india’s first film festival was suspected to be a ‘communist ploy’

Held in 1952, when cold war anxieties were on a high, the film festival prompted the American government to send a delegation headed by Hollywood director Frank Capra to “uncover” the conspiracy and hinder its success. 

Hollywood director Frank Capra with Hindi film star Dev Anand in Mumbai during first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in 1952.

ATIKH RASHID

AN international film festival was still a novelty when India decided to hold one in 1952. In fact, the first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in January-February 1952 in four (now metro) cities was the first such event held anywhere in Asia. There were only eight international film festivals in the world at that time and all of them were in Europe, including the oldest in Venice.

So, when India, then a recently decolonised “third-world” country, announced its plans to host an international film festival, it led to varied reactions from within and outside the country. Among these, and most curious of them all, was the American response.

Apparently, the US authorities suspected the festival was a “communist shenanigan of some kind” and sent a delegation to “uncover” the conspiracy and hinder its success. Those were the initial years of the Cold War and both the USSR and the US were trying to influence the non-aligned countries in their favour to nullify any political or cultural influence exerted by their rival superpower. According to film historian Amrit Gangar, both the superpowers had an eye on newly independent India and IFFI 1952 provided a useful platform to somehow influence the India’s global-political stance. He says, “Only a few months prior to IFFI, an Indian film delegation was in the USSR where it had received a grand reception in the presence of the well-known Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin. Soon after IFFI ended, Indian film personalities like Nargis and Raj Kapoor were invited to the US where President (Harry S.) Truman met them at the White House.” Significantly, among the 12 visiting delegations, Russia’s was the largest, with 13 members, headed by then deputy minister of cinematography N Semenov.

The responsibility to head the American delegation fell upon celebrated Hollywood director Frank Capra, known for films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and It Happened One Night (1934). Capra biography The Name Above the Title (1971) gives us details of this “assignment” came to him and how he successfully completed it.

In December 1951, Capra writes, he received a call from an officer of the US state department informing him that the US ambassador in New Delhi needed Capra’s services and wanted him to travel to India for a few weeks.

“Frank, listen. Chester Bowles, our ambassador to India, is worried. He thinks he smells a rat in the International Film Festival of the motion pictures that Indians are holding in a week. Bowles thinks the festival is a communist shenanigan of some kind, but he doesn’t know what. Here’s where you come in,” Capra quotes the official as saying, adding that the ambassador had specifically asked for Capra as he wanted a “freewheeling guy” to take care of American interest on his own. “I want Capra. His name is big here (in India), and I have heard he is quick on his feet in an alley fight,” Bowles had apparently told the officer.

At this time, Capra was in the midst of a personal challenge as well. Only a few weeks ago, the US army had denied his security clearance to participate in a top-secret conference pertaining to warfare technologies, after finding some “derogatory information” on him. This essentially meant that the American establishment was questioning his loyalty to the country. This deeply hurt Capra, who got busy in trying to clear his name. When the proposal for the India tour came up, he proposed that he would only go to India if his name is cleared. His wish was met, and he embarked on the journey. He was to head the delegation, with Harry Stone of the Motion Picture Association of America and Floyd E Brooker, the audiovisual expert as members. All three were briefed by the US state department officials with instructions to Capra: “Just play it by ear, Frank, and report to Ambassador Bowles.”

Frank Capra (seated, first row, second from left) with Jawaharlal Nehru at the Delhi inauguration of IFFI 1952 at National Physical Laboratory


As Capra records, for several days after his arrival in Bombay, he groped in the dark about what he was expected to do and what “the communist conspiracy” was. Since Ambassador Bowles was on a trip to Nepal, Capra couldn’t discuss “the matter” with him to get clarity. When Capra approached other US officials based in India, he found that they were as clueless: “When you find out, tell us.”

On his fifth day in India, Capra met Baburao Patel, the boisterous and boastful editor of filmindia magazine, who said something about the festival which gave Capra a “hint of what was bugging Bowles”. Patel reportedly told him that IFFI was a plot by communists in the Indian film industry to open doors to Russian films which were being kept out of the country by censors as these films were “too political and inflammatory”. “So local film Reds hatched the festival idea to ensure showing of dozens of Russian and Chinese films” in four cities as an appeal to the people of India to “breach India’s film barrier using the festival as a Trojan horse”, Capra wrote in the diary, published in the autobiography.

What Capra did not know was that Patel himself was an anti-communist worried about an imminent “communist takeover” of India. “A blind man can see that our country is going to have a Red future unless the democratic forces and institutions in the country take active and aggressive steps,” Patel wrote in an editorial published in the April 1952 edition of filmindia. Patel was also mighty displeased with the idea of the festival. Throughout filmindia’s coverage of it, he called it “International Fools’ Festival”.

Having thus received a “confirmation” from Patel, Capra gave an ultimatum to the festival organisers that in case of any “pro-commie” speech at the festival, he will “leave, taking along all the American films and holding a press conference to explain (reasons) of my leaving”. Throughout his Bombay and Madras stay, he tried making speeches asking the filmmakers to guard themselves against “totalitarian system”.

He complained about the Russians to Indira Gandhi knowing fully well that “it would get to the Prime Minister”. Capra would meet Nehru when the latter inaugurated IFFI’s Delhi edition. “Charming, simple man. Could be the most important man alive today,” Capra noted in his diary.

Capra and other foreign delegates paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat during first IFFI’s Delhi leg. They are accompanied by Gandhi’s grandchildren including Gopalkrishna Gandhi (extreme right) who as then 7.

This anxiety about the communist ploy, sometimes, took hilarious turns.

On one instance, when the guests were to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Raj Ghat, the flower wreath that Capra and his colleagues had ordered turned out very thin. Capra was convinced that “the Reds had bought them all up”. According to his version, the American delegation then devised a plan to “outsmart” communists by taking along two of Gandhi’s grandchildren (through Capra’s recent acquaintance with Devdas Gandhi). The plan worked — the event got great publicity. That day he noted in his diary: “This should kill the Reds”.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, one of the “grandchildren” who visited Raj Ghat with Capra, was seven then. “It seems incredible that anyone could be as naive as to think, say and do what Mr Capra sets down. It all seems like something out of Alice In Wonderland,” Gandhi told The Indian Express.

Capra though, wrote in his autobiography, when Ambassador Bowles returned, he was “pleased with his report”.

This article appeared in the print edition with the headline ‘A Plot to Unravel’ on November 17 2019. I can be accessed here.