I. Uttarakhand’s Religious Institutions Bill
The Uttarakhand government passed the ‘Uttarakhand Devasthanam Management Bill’ on December 10, 2019 and it has received the signature of the Governor. The law seeks to form a trust for the regulation and management of 51 shrines in the state, including the Char Dham (viz. Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri).
The law met with protests from temple priests, figures like Baba Ramdev, RSS functionaries and the Opposition. From the government’s perspective, the law will ensure better management of the temples and better facilities for the visiting pilgrims.
It is not the first of its kind. Prior to formulating it, the state government studied other existing models such as Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Somnath Trust, Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust and others.
Moreover, the government has also insisted that nothing in the law takes away from traditional roles and rights of other stakeholders.
Interestingly, protests have been muted and are more about competing vested interests trying to gain an upper hand. Instead of arguing against future implications of state intervention in Hindu religious places, the detractors are more concerned about income and revenue coming from the millions of pilgrims, which would now be utilized fully by the government, while others are concerned about their ‘job’ status and are attacking the government for not clarifying the role of existing priests and ‘pandas’ in the new management.
The selfish language in which objections have been articulated has not even once touched upon issues regarding interference in Hindu places of worship, which could be an issue if a minority-appeasing government were to come to power in the state. But this has not been raised. All objections are related to money, revenues, land control, livelihood/employment issues etc.
Indeed, the government itself has taken care to ensure that misuse of Hindu temples won’t be possible under different administrations, by incorporating that the CM will be the chairperson of the shrine board – the highest governing body – and if the CM is not a Hindu, he or she will nominate a senior minister from the council of ministers. The Minister in-charge of culture and religious matters shall be the vice-chairperson of the board, and if he or she is not a Hindu, then the CM shall nominate a member from the cabinet. This may not be much of a protection against a hostile administration, but is just a superficial assurance.
The last time such a controversy had erupted was in 2005 when the then Congress Chief Minister tried to pass a similar bill but backtracked due to revolt by the Congress MLAs themselves.
2. Bru Settlement
A historic agreement has been signed between the Government of India, governments of Mizoram and Tripura, and, the representatives of Bru-Reang refugees, to end the refugee crisis facing the Bru community since 1997.
Tensions between Brus and Mizos in Mizoram turned serious as powerful Mizo organizations attempted to leave the Brus out of electoral rolls of the state in 1995. The Brus, in turn, formed the Bru National Liberation Front and demanded the creation of an autonomous district council protected under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
In 1997, around 37000 Bru people living in Mizoram had to flee the state due to persecution and ethnic genocide in Christian-dominated Mizoram. While discrimination against them, deprivation of voting rights, segregation, violence and pressure to convert to Christianity had been going on for years, their militant resistance against it in 1997 led to a heavy reaction and all-out genocide from the Mizo people. As a result, in 1997, they fled to neighbouring Tripura.
The refugees are known as Bru in Mizoram and Reang in Tripura. They belong majorly to Hindu religion. In Tripura, since 1997, they have not been living in much better conditions, residing in camps and dependent on state largesse.
Much like the Kashmiri Pandits, these people too have been regarded as stateless refugees and displaced minorities in their own country. Attempts to send them back to Mizoram have failed, as neither their rights nor their safety could be guaranteed. In 2018, the latest attempt was made to send them back to Mizoram, but only about 328 families accepted the offer and the aid.
Conversely, before the ascent to power of a BJP-ruled government in Tripura, repeated appeals to the former CPI (M) government to allow the Bru people to settle in Tripura were rejected. CPI (M)’s non-tribal followers are still not very happy with the agreement. Similarly, many NGOs and ‘intellectuals’ feel the compulsive need to play devil’s advocate by trying to find faults where there are none.
Their primary contention is that Bru settlement in Tripura will pave the way for similar models to be adopted for all cases of refugee crisis – such as Kashmiri Pandits – wherein it would set a precedent where it will not be necessary to settle the refugees in their ‘homeland’. These are bogus arguments and purely theoretical conjectures for two reasons:
First, they ignore the fact that the will of the refugees also have to be taken into account. While Kashmiri Pandits are larger in number and have full intention of returning to Kashmir, the Bru people – numbering just 30,000 – have rejected multiple attempts to send them back to Mizoram despite all monetary incentives being offered.
Second, what is a homeland in this case? Bru history itself is complex. According to traditions, the Queen of Tripura belonged to the Bru community and Bru were traditional people of Tripura, having migrated to Mizoram after 1947, where they began to be treated as second-class citizens. Therefore, to say that the agreement deprives the Bru of their homeland or legitimizes ethnic cleansing is irrational. If the government were to follow intellectuals’ advice and imagination, Bru would be left to languish stateless in camps for some more decades.
In the wake of the deal, Mizoram is acting magnanimously and claiming that Bru left on their own and were always welcome to return. Mizos also claim that a lot of Brus are staying happily in Mizoram. But the catch here is that most of the Brus in Mizoram have already been converted to Christianity, while Brus living in Tripura are still Hindus. Thus, this agreement has not only given them a homeland, but also protected this minority’s religion and culture.
Under the present agreement, the Bru-Reang refugees will be given formal residence, voting rights and be made eligible for all central government programmes within Tripura itself. The Home Ministry has allotted a Rs. 600 crore package for the same. The Bru people who are already residing in Mizoram will not be eligible.
The key offers of the package include: Rs. 4 lakh per family to be withdrawn after 2 years; 40×30 sq ft residential plots to each family; Rs. 5,000 cash per month for two years for each family; free ration for two years and aid of Rs. 1.5 lakh to build their houses.
The settlement of this crisis is seen as a major milestone, not only in Tripura and Mizoram, but for the entire North-east. It signals the Centre’s thorough approach towards resolving all problems of the region and making it not only a part of ‘mainstream’, but an active reflection and symbol of India’s culture.
3. Bodo Settlement
Following close on the heels of the Bru settlement, the Union Home Ministry also signed the Bodo Settlement Agreement – yet another milestone in resolving the decades-old problems of the Northeast – with all the three factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), six other Bodo groups and the government of Assam. Having NDFB on board is an achievement as it was not a part of previous agreement, and wanted complete secession from India.
The Bodo crisis is more than 40 years old and centers around the demand for a separate homeland for the Bodos and has been led by All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) since 1972, through violence and militancy.
According to the agreement, the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam will be redrawn and renamed. BTAD is currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The BTAD will be renamed Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). The agreement will include villages with dominant Bodo population within the BTR, while those with non-Bodo population will be excluded. Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status.
Without acceding to the demand for a separate Bodoland state, the agreement gives more powers to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
The Centre will provide a Rs 1,500-crore-assistance-package over the next three years for the development of Bodo areas, and more than 1500 armed militants have surrendered.
Previously, attempts were made to resolve the Bodo crisis by signing agreements in 1993 and 2003, but these left considerable gaps and did not satisfy all Bodo groups. While the 1993 agreement led to the creation of the BTC, the 2003 agreement gave the BTC more financial powers.
4. What the JNU Protests Show
Protests have been going on at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi for the last two months. They intensified since early January after unprecedented mob violence in the university on the evening of 5th January.
On the evening of 5th January, masked mobs entered the campus from outside, armed with sticks and rods and started attacking students in various hostels. Both ABVP (BJP’s student wing) as well as Leftist student groups were involved.
Media created a one-sided picture where only the evening violence was reported. In reality, the events of 5th January were a precipitation of the virtual hostage situation that had been created by the Left-dominated JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) since the preceding week.
In line with the agitation against fee hike, going on for the last two months, the JNUSU gave a call to boycott the registration and admission for the upcoming semester – whose registration started from December 31st – as well as a boycott of examinations.
Students who wanted to register did so secretly, while Leftist goons physically roughed them up and prevented them from registering. While various faculty members – across the ideological spectrum – were critical of the racket and ruckus being enacted by JNUSU, they did not openly oppose it. Faculty members from various departments protested – in barely audible voices – against the complete forceful lockdown on all centers/departments and closure of classes. Anyone who tried to teach was harassed by JNUSU.
On 5th January, in the afternoon, Leftist goons – led by none other than the JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh – clashed with ABVP members at the site where registrations were going on. Ghosh was seen with some masked people then. A few ABVP members were roughed up. In the evening, the masked mobs that perpetrated violence supposedly came from outside the campus and consisted of, both, Left and ABVP people, since both Leftist and ABVP students were injured in the violence and admitted to AIIMS hospital.
Therefore, as video-graphic evidence started emerging, it became evident that both sides were involved in the violence, but the Left started it. If culpability is to be extended further, as it should, the near hostage situation and illegally forcing of the students to forgo registration since the preceding week was also perpetrated by the JNUSU.
While the media sensationalized this to a great extent, the resolution of the problem was quick. In the next few days, the JNUSU held meetings with the HRD ministry and started giving mixed signals to the students, asking them to register but not pay the fees. Student community and student councilors from various centres soon turned against the JNUSU and exposed their double-speak, besides heavily criticizing the JNUSU for its arbitrary and dictatorial methods.
The tensions are very much visible. The JNUSU has backtracked and students to continue to boycott registration, but it’s of no use now. Despite the ongoing boycott, around 88% students have already registered and paid the full fees. The university is acting lenient and continuously extending deadlines for registration – well into February – so that all students can register.
The entire episode has ended with the JNUSU and Left without any credibility and exposed. The motivations were clear all along – it was not just the fee hike, but also the resignation of the VC that the students wanted. Interestingly, this VC – whose record of management is considered to be poor – was appointed by former President Pranab Mukherjee in 2016 by overriding the choice of the then HRD minister, Smiriti Irani’s candidate, VS Chauhan, since the Congress party had protested against the latter.
The JNUSU lost credibility further when its President gave public statements saying that their protest was also against government actions in Kashmir. This was followed by the unsavoury spectacle and revelations of how JNU activists had organized the anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi.
For now, the matter has been resolved. It is very evident that even Leftists were among the 88% students who have registered, as they could no longer afford to pay the late fee fine and realized that the court case they had filed in Delhi High Court will not resolve this confrontation any time soon.
5. Unmasking of Anti-CAA Protests: Funding Trails, Islamist Iconography, Anti-India Vocabulary
In last few weeks, there has been a complete unmasking of the anti-CAA agitation, especially in Delhi, due to four recent developments:
First, it has been revealed, through various sting operations, that the whole protest – led majorly by Muslim women – has been funded by paying the protestors 500-700 rupees per day.
Second, the symbols used in the protest – the sloganeering, posters etc. – have been exposed to be extremely anti-Hindu. Small Muslim children have been video-graphed inciting the crowds to kill PM Modi and Amit Shah for being anti-Muslim. This pathological hatred is further reinforced by posters showing disrespect to Hindu religious symbols or insinuating conversions to Islam (such as posters with women in bindi wearing burkha or Goddess Kali wearing a burkha or smashing of Swastik etc.).
Third, rabidly self-exposing speeches coming from Shaheen Bagh – which has started to resemble a mini-Kashmir – have shocked the wider society. Most recent was a speech made by JNU PhD student of History, Sharjeel Imam, who said that it is the duty of Muslims to separate Assam and the rest of Northeast from India. He proceeded to identify that this could be done by blocking Chicken’s Neck (small strip connecting India with Northeast) as it was Muslim-dominated. He – as well as famous Muslim journalists and intellectuals before him – insisted that secular people have simply ‘used’ the Muslims and that if they wanted to ally with Muslims, they should do so on latter’s terms by accepting the use of Islamic religious slogans.
Fourth, in the most damning revelation so far, it was revealed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that the Islamic organization, Popular Front of India (PFI), has not only spent millions to fund anti-CAA protests all across the country (especially UP), but also that they gave money to Congress’s Kapil Sibal, advocate Indira Jaising and many others to fight cases of love jihad and organize anti-government agenda. Sibal admitted that he had received money for fighting the Hadiya case (love jihad case in Kerala), but denied getting paid for anti-CAA agitations. As per ED revelations, Sibal received 77 lakh rupees.
These latest developments have been the final nail in the coffin of anti-CAA agitators. Their agenda of perpetrating an anti-India and anti-Hindu protect, under the protection of the Constitution and the National Flag, is now crystal clear to the public. None of the anti-CAA lobby members have been able to justify these developments. The polarization is unprecedented, as Muslims – through several public speeches – have made it clear that this was not about CAA, but about perceived anti-Muslim actions of Modi government, such as the Kashmir issue, triple talaq Act and Ram Janmabhoomi verdict.
The degree of polarization is increasing, as it is becoming clear that Muslims of the city are trying to bring it to a stand-still. Journalists perceived to be right-wing were roughed up or not allowed to enter Shaheen Bagh, further reinforcing how a part of Delhi has literally been hijacked. Furthermore, Muslim activists and people have attempted to sit on protests in other community-dominated areas too, such as Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Hauz Rani, etc. although they are being continuously disrupted by the police to avoid creating a situation similar to Shaheen Bagh.