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June 24, 2018

India: Gauri Lankesh murder suspect’s ‘hit list’ spikes threat perception to Karnataka

Karnataka

Gauri Lankesh murder suspect’s ‘hit list’ spikes threat perception to Karnataka’s Hindutva critics

India: Butcher Thrashed By UP Cops For Allegedly Selling Beef Dies At New Delhi hospital

Butcher Thrashed By UP Cops For Allegedly Selling Beef Dies At AIIMS

Salim Qureshi alias Munna was picked up by two police constables on June 14 from his home and taken to a private wedding hall where they beat him up severely, his wife Farzana has alleged in a complaint lodged with the police.

India - Hapur Lynching: Police attempt a cover-up

The Caravan

Hapur Lynching: Police attempt a cover-up even as families of assailants admit to mob attack on suspicion of cow slaughter

By Sagar | 24 June 2018
Two days after Eid-ul-fitr, on 18 June, Mohammad Qasim, a 50-year-old residing in Hapur district’s Pilkhuwa town, received a phone call. He left home soon after—between 10 and 10.30 am. He told his son Mahtab that he would return with a goat or buffalo. He did not name the caller, but said that he had been offered a deal on the purchase of the animals in Bajhera Khurd, a village about 7 kilometres away. Mahtab assumed that the caller was an acquaintance of his father’s.
At about 4 pm that day, Mahtab recounted, he received a call from a neighbour, who told him that Qasim was at the Pilkhuwa Kotwali. “Thane gaye, thane mein nahi milein. Fir hospital gaye, wahan pe unki laash thi.” (We went to the police station, but he was not there. Then we went to the hospital. His body was there.) “Sharir pe nishaan the—dande ke, chakku ke, daranti ke” (There were marks on his body—of sticks, of knives, and of axes.)
Qasim worked as a butcher, and sold goat and buffalo meat. On 21 June, I visited his home—located about 70 kilometres east of Delhi, down National Highway 9. Along with his family, he lived in a rented room in a two-storey building in Pilkhuwa. Two goats were tied out front. Mahtab, 20, is the oldest of his six children. He makes a living selling fruit from a cart.
What happened after Qasim left has now been widely reported—upon reaching the spot purportedly for making the purchase, Qasim was attacked by a mob, brutally beaten, and lynched. A widely circulated video shows Qasim in a barren field located in the village Bajhera Khurd, in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur district. He is surrounded by a group of men who are thrashing him— Rajputs residing in Bajhera Khurd, according to village residents I later spoke with. The attackers can be heard calling Qasim a “sisterfucker” and a “pig.” Qasim appears to be in extreme pain—he is only half-conscious, and the flesh around his right ankle seems to have been hacked off. At one point, he collapses. The men can be heard discussing whether or not he should be given water and allowed to live. The video appears to have been shot in the presence of policemen; a voice from the crowd can be heard referring to a policeman present nearby. “Policemen found the cows,” the voice yells. “The ones standing right here.”
Another man was attacked as well—Mohammed Samiuddin, a resident of the bordering village Madapur, who reportedly came to Qasim’s help. He was severely beaten up and is currently in the ICU at Devnandini Hospital in Hapur city.
An image of Qasim, at his home in Pilkhuwa. (Credit: Shahid Tantray for The Caravan.)
Qasim’s family members told me that he was attacked because the Rajputs suspected he was involved in cow slaughter. “Hindus caught him and lynched him for attempting to slaughter a cow,” Salim, Qasim’s younger brother, said. The family members said that there was no truth to this allegation. “Where is the blood in the field? Where is the weapon with which he allegedly slaughtered the cow?” Salim continued, “My brother was killed because he was Muslim… why else would he have been killed?”
I spoke to over 20 residents of Pilkhuwa, including several who were unacquainted with Qasim’s family. They all repeated the same sequence of events, as they had heard it: according to them, Qasim was headed to Bajhera to buy cattle where he was waylaid by Hindus and was brutally beaten and killed, on the suspicion of carrying out cow slaughter. All of these persons said that Samiuddin was present in the field where the attack took place, and attempted to intervene. These residents said that they had heard of the incident from those living in Madapur village—where Samiuddin resided. They believed that the murder of Qasim was a hate crime against Muslims, and a part of larger conspiracy. “Ye sochte hain huqumat hamari hai,” Mohammed Irfan, Qasim’s brother in law, said. (These people think it is their rule.) “Yogi ne keh diya gai hamari maata hai, gai ko koi na kate, koi na chhede, kaatne wale ko umar qaid. Unhone dekh liya ki ab isse badiya koi neeti nahi hai. Musalamano ko maro, kaato aur gai rakh do.” (Yogi Adityanath has said that the cow is our mother, that no one should slaughter or touch cows, and that whoever does should be sentenced to life in prison. They have seen that there could be nothing better than this—beat Muslims, kill them, maim them, and keep a cow by them.)
In Bajhera, where the assailants reside, many residents told me that they had heard that Qasim and Samiuddin intended to slaughter a cow and a calf in a farm behind a temple, located close to the spot of the attack. This alleged plan, several residents said, spurred the Rajputs to attack the men, and led to the lynching.
Samiuddin, at the hospital. (Credit: Shahid Tantray for The Caravan)
But the FIR on the incident tells a different story—though all accounts indicate a suspicion of cow slaughter, it claims that the incident was one of road rage. The police officials at Pilkhuwa Kotwali, under which Bajhera falls, have registered a case against 25 unknown persons. The case was registered under Sections 147, 148, 307, and 302 of the Indian Penal Code—punishment for rioting, rioting with deadly weapon, attempt to murder and murder, respectively. The police have arrested two Rajput men: Yudhister Sisodia and Rakesh Sisodia, both residing in Bajhera. I examined the diary entry of the incident—the first-ever record, by police procedure, on which the FIR is often based—and spoke to various officers involved with the case. My reporting made it evident that the police was attempting to cover up the fact that Qasim and Samiuddin were attacked on suspicion of their involvement in cow slaughter.
*
Until 2012, Pilkhuwa town and the villages Bajhera and Madapur came under the administrative jurisdiction of Hapur tehsil of Ghaziabad district, following which the Hapur district was created. According to the 2011 census, Hindus comprise nearly 68 percent of the tehsil’s residents, and Muslims 31 percent. The three places—Pilkhuwa, Bajhera Khurd and Madapur—are part of the Dhaulana constituency, the representative of which is a Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Aslam Choudhary. Much of Dhaulana falls under Ghaziabad district—it is the only constituency of six in the district that the BSP won in the 2017 state assembly elections. The other five were won by the BJP. Choudhury defeated the BJP’s Ramesh Chandra Tomar, a four-time MP from Dhaulana. According to Qasim’s neighbour Jaluluddin, the Rajputs in Bajhera were enraged by Tomar’s loss. “They blamed the Muslims for it,” he said.
The residents of Bajhera Khurd did not contest the reasons behind the attack that the Pilkhuwa residents had described—many plainly told me that the attackers gathered to beat up the alleged cow-killers. I visited the home of Rakesh, one of the men who has been arrested. Rakesh’s daughter—she appeared to be in her late twenties, and refused to tell me her name—claimed that when her father had reached the spot, young teenagers were already beating up Qasim. She claimed that Samiuddin had managed to flee by this time.
As I sat in Rakesh’s house, many other women and children joined us. They all said that they were not present at the scene. Not one of them appeared to be fazed by the lynching: according to them, the attackers had done no wrong. “Accha khasa baith ke gaya gaadi mein, itna bhi nahi mara ki mar jayega,” Rakesh’s daughter said. (He sat in the car and went, they didn’t beat him enough to kill him). “Ilaj ke dauran mara hai.” (He died during treatment.)
In another video of the attack that was circulated on WhatsApp, a mustachioed man is seen questioning where Qasim is from. Salim and Irfan identified the man as Kiranpal Singh, a resident of Bajhera. I visited Kiranpal’s home as well. His daughter Lalita admitted that her father was indeed the man in the video, but said that he was only asking Qasim for his address and played no role in beating him. Lalita and two other women also admitted that the suspicion of cow slaughter was what incited the Bajhera Rajputs to attack the two Muslims.
Both Kiranpal and Rakesh’s families showed me copies of an article published in Amar Ujala on 19 June, describing the lynching. Accompanying the news report is an image of a cow and a calf with the caption: “Cow and calf seized from the crime scene by Police.” Two policemen were visible in the background of the photo. Interestingly, the article itself contained no mention of the cow or the calf.
Lalita said that the police had, in fact, seized a cow and a calf from the spot, and that the cows had been kept at the home of another resident of Bajhera. She called this man to her home as well—he, too, refused to divulge his name. The man, who looked to be about 40 years old, told me that the police had taken the cattle away the night of the lynching, and that no one had seen it again.
None of these accounts—neither the testimonies of the residents of Madapur, Pilkhuwa and Bajhera Khurd, nor the videos—have made it into the FIR or formed part of the police investigation yet. Not a single person I met who was associated with the attack suggested that it had anything to do with road rage. Further, crucial evidence in the case appeared to have been either misplaced or destroyed.
During my visit, I accessed the diary entry for the incident. At all police stations, it is customary to make an entry when a call regarding an incident or complaint is received. It is based on this entry that the police begins a preliminary inquiry and determines whether an offense is cognisable. The entry for the attack makes no mention of any road accident. Under the column for the “cause of the incident,” it reads: “Unidentified accused surrounded Qasim and his friend Samiuddin and beat them up with sticks, during which Samiuddin was injured grievously, while his friend Qasim died during treatment.”
The diary entry for the incident. (Credit: Shahid Tantra for The Caravan)
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
The description in the FIR, which is signed by Samiuddin’s brother Yaseen, is completely different. The document lists Yaseen as having stated: “My brother Samiuddin, while he along with Qasim was going from Madapur to Dhaulana via Bajhera, was hit by a motorcycle. When he protested … the motorist called around 25-30 people … who beat them up with sticks.”
This account is not borne out by my reporting. I met Yaseen at Devinanadan hospital, where Samiuddin is being treated. He told me that he did not write the FIR and signed it because he was asked to by the person who wrote it—Dinesh Parmar, a Rajput of neighbouring village Hindalpur, and an acquaintance of Samiuddin.
I spoke to Parmar over phone. He told me that the circle officer, Pawan Kumar, pressured him to write whatever the latter narrated (The circle office is a police official whose rank is equivalent to that of a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Most circle officers are in-charge of three police stations in their subdivision.) Parmar said, “I told him this was wrong. I asked him why he”—Samiuddin—“would pass through the place that is Madapur’s jungle to go to Dhaulana at noon in summertime. But he asked me not to bother about what was being written because it was he who was going to investigate it anyway.”
According to Parmar, Samiuddin had gone to his farm—which later became the site of the lynching—to fetch jowar. A few cows were already wandering in the field, he said. He added that Samiuddin ran into Qasim, who was passing by, and that the two sat down to smoke bidis. Parmar said that a young man named Hasan had accompanied Samiuddin.
The field where Qasim is said to have first been spotted by the villagers. The spot is visible for miles around. (Credit: Shahid Tantray for The Caravan)
The field where Qasim is said to have first been spotted by the villagers. The spot is visible for miles around. (Credit: Shahid Tantray for The Caravan)
“Someone saw them and spread the word that they were there to slaughter a cow,” Parmar told me. Hasan escaped, Parmar continued, and reached Hindalpur, where he took shelter in Parmar’s home. It was Hasan who narrated this incident to him, he said. I contacted Hasan over the phone. He admitted that he was with Samiuddin on the day of the attack, but refused to speak further.
I visited the field where the Bajhera attackers allegedly spotted the three men. It is piece of ploughed land of approximately 600 square yards that has no crop growing on it, amid tens of other empty and cropped fields. There are no houses with a radius of at least a kilometre of the plot. The temple was located over 500 metres away from the spot. The place where Qasim is seen to be collapsing in the video was also at least a kilometre away from the field—implying that he may have been either forced or carried by the mob. That field, too, was plain and open. It is implausible to imagine anyone picking that field as a site to slaughter a cow—any person on that field would have been visible from miles away. When I pointed this out to the villagers in Bajhera villagers, many claimed that on the day of the attack, the field was covered with jowar—which is a tall crop. They claimed the police had razed the field clean on the same night.
No one in Bajhera was able to explain how Qasim came to the second spot. Some men in Pilkhuwa, however, said they believed that Qasim was tied to a bike and was dragged by Rajputs to the field.
The police did not investigate these accounts. The day I reached Bajhera, the station house officer, Ashwini Kumar, who is also investigating officer in the case, the circle officer, Pawan Kumar, and the sub-divisional officer Hanuman Prasad Maurya were leading a meeting with the villagers at a government school in Bajhera. Kumar said it was a “shanti sabha”—a peace meeting. All the attendees were Hindu—no resident of Pilkhuwa was present. Kumar asked me not to cover the meeting, and to stay off the premises. When I refused to leave, two security guards escorted me out.
After the meeting, I asked Kumar what was discussed at the gathering. He told me that some men of Bajhera had left the village, fearing arrest. “I told them there is no need to fear as we will not touch any innocents,” Kumar said. I then asked Kumar if Qasim was killed on suspicion of cow slaughter or due to an incident of road rage, as the FIR claimed. “We didn’t seize any cows,” Kumar replied, and did not clarify further. When I asked about the Amar Ujala picture, he said, “Go to the spot. You will find cows everywhere. If somebody clicks a picture, what can we say?”
I asked Kumar if he qualified the incident as a hate crime. “No,” he said.
Salim, Qasim’s brother, told me that the police did not return Qasim’s mobile phone to his family. The investigating officials did, however, hand over the blood-soaked vest and the shorts that he was wearing at the time of the attack. Salim said that the police claimed they did not find a mobile phone.
The police officers gave me contradictory answers when I brought this up—Pawan Kumar told me that the mobile phone had been returned to the family, while Ashwini Kumar, the investigating officer in the case, refused to divulge what he seized from Qasim’s person and the crime scene. He merely said that all seized objects were part of the investigation.
Pawan Kumar also told me that the seized clothes were yet to be sent to the forensic department for examination. He was not able to specify which items of clothing the officers had seized, and which they intended to send to forensics. Mahtab, Qasim’s son, said that the family had buried the clothes that were returned to them, along with the body—effectively, the evidence has been destroyed.
Another troubling aspect of the investigation is that no FIR was taken from Qasim’s family members, on the grounds that there cannot be two reports registered regarding the same case. The only FIR that has been registered is under Yaseen’s name. Pawan Kumar said that Qasim’s family members have been made witnesses in the case.
When I asked if the statements of the Qasim’s family had been taken, Kumar evaded my question. He said that he has been in touch with the family “since the cremation.” When I pressed him further, he admitted that no written statement had been taken from the Qasim’s family.
Another picture of the incident has gone viral—it depicts a group of men carrying Qasim by his limbs. The picture was met with outrage online, as many considered it proof of the police’s complicity. On 21 June, the office of the UP director general posted an apology on Twitter: “We apologise for the incident. All three policemen seen in the picture have been transferred to Police Lines and an enquiry has been ordered.”
Ashwini Kumar is one of the police officers visible in the image. Ashwini described the men carrying Qasim as “aam public”—civilians—that were helping the police take Qasim to the police van. When I noted that the image appeared to show the men torturing Qasim and not helping him, Ashwini said, “The man weighed around a quintal and needed more men to carry him.” Contrary to the DGP’s claim on Twitter, when I visited the area on 21 June, Ashwini was still leading the Philkuwa Kotwali. He chaired the peace meeting along with the CO and the SDO, and also spoke to me in the capacity of the investigating officer.
As the time this piece was published, Qasim’s family was still awaiting the postmortem report. Kiranpal, who the deceased’s family was able to identify, had neither been detained nor arrested, nor were most of the men visible in the videos, all of whom were easily identifiable. According to the police, Hasan’s statement had not been taken as of 22 June, even though he was available over the phone to me.
According to Kunwar Ayyub Ali, a BSP leader who is a lawyer popular among the residents of Pilkhuwa, since the first FIR does not mention “communal lynching” and “cow slaughtering,” the “line of investigation will be different from the beginning to end.”
Aslam Chowdhary, the MLA from the Dhaulana seat, blamed the Yogi government for the incident and told me that there was a sense of impunity among some Hindus. “They kill whoever they want to,” he said.
On 20 December 2017, Veerendra Kumar, a Janata Dal MP, had asked the central government in the Rajya Sabha if it “has any proposal to bring a stringent law against mob lynching.” Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, the minister of state for home, had replied: “No such proposal is under consideration.”
Sagar is a web reporter at The Caravan.

five UN special rapporteurs write to India's foreign minister to adhere to human rights norms in National Register of Citizens

Adhere to human rights norms in National Register of Citizens: UN to Sushma
| TNN | Jun 22, 2018

GUWAHATI: As Centre is set to complete counting the Indian citizens living in Assam by June-end and list their names in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and exclude illegal settlers from Bangladesh, five UN special rapporteurs have jointly have written to Union minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj and reminded her of India’s obligation to adhere to international human rights norms and standards against racial discrimination.

The rapporteurs on minority issues, contemporary forms of racism, promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and on freedom of religion or belief in their letter stated, “There is no official policy outlining the implications for those who will be excluded from the final NRC. It is reported that they will be treated as foreigners and that their citizenship rights may be revoked in the absence of a prior trial. They may subsequently be asked to prove their citizenship before so-called Foreigners’ Tribunals.”

They stated that NRC update has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, “who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship.”  [ . . . ]


FULL TEXT AT: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/adhere-to-human-rights-norms-in-national-register-of-citizens-un-to-sushma/articleshow/64703738.cms 

June 23, 2018

India: Hapur Mob March - where are we heading? Cartoon by Satish Acharya



Mob justice, mostly on the basis of social media rumour is threatening to drive our civilised society back to the dark age. We seem to be in a hurry to reach there. The image of a mob dragging the victim’s body with police in the lead will haunt us forever. Where are we heading? Mail Today cartoon.
https://www.cartoonistsatish.com/hapur-mob-march-where-are-we-heading/

June 22, 2018

Book Review by Nandini Sundar of Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir by Teesta Setalvad


A Defending General

Nandini Sundar (nandinisundar[at]yahoo.com) teaches sociology at the University of Delhi.

Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir by Teesta Setalvad, LeftWord Books, 2017; pp 226, ₹280.
What does the Constitution really mean? Who interprets it? Who implements it? This book by one of India’s most courageous citizens offers us some insight into these questions. It also explains why someone like Teesta Setalvad who has been not just a foot soldier but also a general defending the Constitution, is enemy No 1 for a regime bent on destroying it.
Why do people believe so deeply in the Constitution, and the promise of fraternity and equality that it embodies? For Setalvad, some of this belief in the Constitution came from her own lineage of legal luminaries; and her account of her growing-up years is interesting. But Setalvad also recognises that she is not alone—that this belief is shared by many others, including the survivors of the ghastly communal violence she describes—the victims of the Gulberg housing society in Ahmedabad and the Naroda Patiya massacre. That they have not taken to retaliatory violence and instead pursued their cases through the courts is a testimony to this unshakeable belief.
Although she is best known for her work in seeking justice for survivors of the Gujarat genocide of 2002, Setalvad’s account places her efforts regarding the Gujarat violence in the context of a long history of journalistic coverage of and engagement with communal violence. She and her partner Javed Anand started Sabrang Communications and Communalism Combat in 1993. Some of her descriptions of witnessing communal violence are startling—seeing someone’s hand chopped off in front of her, and desperately working the phones in Gujarat in 2002—among others. The book also brings back the horrors of 2002 like the killing of Kausar Bano and her nine-month-old foetus at swordpoint, and a small child whose entire family had been wiped out in front of him.
For at least five years before the Gujarat genocide, she had been touring the country warning people that there was a terrible build-up of communalisation, censuses were being conducted of Muslims and Christians, and that textbooks were full of hate. I have heard her speak with urgency and detailed factual backup at one of these meetings. As a lawyer and civil liberties activist, K Balagopal commented in the August 2003 issue of Communalism Combat that the journal was remarkably prescient. In some sense, we are all living through that kind of prescient horror now, knowing that fascism is upon us, but not knowing how to stop it.
The book also offers several insights arising out of her career as a journalist and activist, for example, on the importance of beat reporting, covering the Antulay cement scam trial, the world of Bombay journalism in the 1980s, the critical importance of institutions to maintaining democracy, the need for universities to teach courses on the history and sociology of riots, and the fact that peace must eventually come through a combination of demands upon the system and citizen action to promote harmony.
No Level Playing Field
The most interesting chapters of the book, however, are the last two where she describes the tortuous processes of seeking justice in the Supreme Court through a court-monitored special investigation team (SIT) and the recurrent legal cases against her, the most recent ones timed neatly with the filing of the Zakia Jafri case. This case directly names Narendra Modi as a potential accused, and raises the critical question of command responsibility.
When Setalvad describes the functioning of the SIT, the story becomes sadly familiar. The petitioners are denied copies of the SIT’s report while the accused, the State of Gujarat does receive these copies. This was much like the National Human Rights Commission, who when asked by the Supreme Court in 2008 to investigate the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, acted as if it was the petitioners who were the accused, even as it worked closely with the state and central governments.
As the author notes:
It has been found time and again, that the Courts, even the Supreme Court, treat petitioners or interveners who are rights advocates or witness/victim survivors on a different plane than the mighty state. When the rights advocates or witnesses initiate legal action they are often merely given a formal role—their submissions heard by the Court. But they are not taken as seriously as the views of the State. Interventions are subtly relegated into a hierarchy. Procedural fair play is subverted and substantive shifts take place in jurisprudence. (p 148)
What totally buries the idea that the courts provide a level playing field is the ease with which petitioners can be tormented by seemingly unconnected and entirely false cases. How is it that so many petitioners in human rights cases are embezzlers, murderers and what not? In Setalvad’s case, she has been charged, among other things, with misusing funds and violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act; one of my co-petitioners in the Salwa Judum case, Kartam Joga, was in jail for two years for supposedly being involved in an ambush of the Central Reserve Police Force. I have been accused of murder, rioting and bearing arms. And yet, somehow these clear misuses of the state’s machinery to coerce and deter petitioners are not taken seriously by the media or courts with corresponding strictures passed against the state for harassing their opponents. In Setalvad’s case, she lives on the edge of being arrested and it is a wonder that she has managed to bring up children, and continue her work.
The book also highlights another familiar fact: senior Supreme Court lawyers defending the state are getting paid lakhs per hearing, ranged as they are against desperate survivors, activists and pro bono lawyers. Setalvad brings out the dubious role played by amicus Harish Salve in accepting R K Raghavan as head of the SIT at Gujarat counsel, Mukul Rohatgi’s suggestion, without consulting the petitioners. Raghavan concluded that there was not enough evidence of a conspiracy to charge Modi. When Modi, armed with this “clean chit,” went on to become the Prime Minister, Raghavan found himself appointed as India’s High Commissioner to Cyprus.
One of the most moving passages of the book is her joint tribute to Maulana Umarji and Veer Bhadra Mishra of Varanasi. Maulana Umarji ran the Godhra camp, was imprisoned and falsely implicated in the Godhra train burning incident, and did not even get bail from the Supreme Court while the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against Muslims got bail within six months. The latest in this genre is the acquittal of Maya Kodnani.
Autobiographies are always difficult to write but they are essential, because India and the world need to know what inspires and sustains someone like Setalvad. Tighter editing by the publishers would have eliminated repetitions that have crept in here and there. For instance, on page 59 we are told that she comes from a family of distinguished lawyers—this after 10 pages of description of their legal careers. Several issues, for example, mass graves and the appointment of Raghavan as head of the SIT are repeated in different places. In many cases the description of an event or a phenomenon degenerates into a list of family and friends who supported her through it. One hopes that when the book goes into a second printing, the publishers will take care of these distracting irritants.

India: Will competing monks help the BJP regain lost ground? | Kanchan Srivastava in Asia Times

Asia Times

Will competing monks help the BJP regain lost ground?

Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, is where yoga entrepreneur Baba Ramdev’s core base is growing and he could be a key player for the ruling party
June 22, 2018 5:25 PM (UTC+8)  
 
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (L) and yoga Guru Baba Ramdev. Photos: AFP
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (L) and yoga Guru Baba Ramdev. Photos: AFP
 
The speedy approval came after consumer goods company Patanjali threatened to move its mega food park from Noida in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, citing bureaucratic hurdles.
To retain the mega project worth US$1 billion, the State Cabinet, or council of ministers, resolved a long pending issue by allowing the transfer of allotted land between two subsidiaries of Patanjali – from Patanjali Ayurveda Private Limited to Patanjali Food & Herbal Park Private Limited.
“The Food Park will enjoy the same incentives as committed to [the]  Ayurveda Park earlier,” said Satish Mahana, the Minister of Industries in Uttar Pradesh.
However, highly placed government officials said only the cabinet could take such a decision. “Any decision taken at the bureaucratic level to allow subleasing of the land between sister companies could have led to allegations of favoritism owing to revenue loss.”
The food park, touted as the biggest in the country, will be spread across 455 acres and is supposed to generate 10,000 jobs and produce goods worth $4 billion annually.
The delay in clearances followed by Patanjali’s Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna tweeting about shifting the project out of the state was read by many as a rift between two saffron-robed monks, Ramdev and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
However, observers said it was just a “friendly fight” for public consumption.

Two saffron monks

Their friendliness is well known in political circles. Ramdev was the first guest to visit Yogi when he became Uttar Pradesh’s chief ministerin Lucknow in March last year. That visit lasted four hours.
One day later, Ramdev inaugurated the Yoga Festival in Lucknow where he showered praise on Yogi and said he wanted to develop the state “together” with him. He also urged the chief minister to include Yoga in the school curriculum, which was promptly agreed to by the Uttar Pradesh government.
Ramdev flew to Lucknow again in December to “congratulate” the chief minister on the BJP’s good performance in the civic polls. BJP leaders, however, claimed that Ramdev was a “thorough businessman” and had been close to every ruling party in order to expand his empire. So his meetings with Yogi should not be viewed as “personal rapport” with the chief minister, they said. The party admits that the celebrity Yoga guru is close to RSS and is on good terms with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Win-win situation

To repeat its success in general elections next year, the BJP needs to perform well in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous and politically significant state which carries the largest number of parliamentary seats. The party won 75 of the 80 seats there in 2014.
Along with Modi, the party relies heavily on Yogi – the Hindutva’s poster boy for electoral campaigns who propelled a massive mandate for the BJP in the State Assembly last year. However, Yogi’s popularity seems to be on shaky ground on his home turf. Under his leadership, the BJP has lost three parliamentary seats in recent by-elections, including Yogi’s parliamentary seat.
On the other hand, Ramdev’s core base is intact, if not growing, thanks to yoga and his fast-moving consumer goods business, primarily based on the Ayurved-swadeshi-cows theme, which is similar to the RSS ideology. The faithful, mostly the middle class, still swear by Ramdev. That unwavering faith in the leader is the envy of many political parties.
Ramdev’s ability to blend the spiritual with nationalism and political rhetoric could make a difference in the 2019 polls, observers say, just as it did in the 2014 general elections. Uttar Pradesh cannot afford to lose such a strong campaigner.
Uttar Pradesh, with a huge developmental backlog, needs Ramdev the businessman as well. Big investors have largely been elusive despite the all out efforts of Yogi. He has also not succeeded in tackling crime and corruption, adding up to the anxiety of BJP’s core voters.
Meanwhile, the growing youth population – the median age in the state is 20 – need jobs, which are not in abundance, leading to heavy migration to other states and Gulf countries.
Ramdev’s Patanjali promises to train and involve local farmers and youth in organic farming and dairy farming. The process could create goodwill for the BJP in rural areas and possibly change the face of Uttar Pradesh from a “grain producer state” and “cow belt” to a processed food-maker.
This project, with packaged food verticals, is a shot in the arm for Patanjali, which aims to capture a 25% share of the Indian consumer market in the next few years compared to its 14% share at present.
The company’s revenue over the last fiscal year remained stagnant and it blamed changes in the tax regime. However, its business has boomed since the BJP took power. Revenues at the consumer goods enterprise are soaring – from about $156 million in the financial year ending in March 2013 to about $1.6 billion in 2017.
The firm’s products are available in every corner of the country, including in the canteens of India’s security forces, Parliament and malls. Patanjali advertisements echo the RSS’ Hindu nationalist ideology by appealing to consumers’ patriotism and emphasizing the ancient Indian medicine system Ayurveda.
Ramdev’s official link with the BJP started in March 2013 when he met its then chief Rajnath Singh in Delhi. Singh offered to support Ramdev’s vision and asked him to campaign for the party.
The yoga guru campaigned extensively across India to help make Narendra Modi the prime minister. A fortnight before the elections, Ramdev invited Modi to Patanjali’s headquarters in Haridwar, in the neighboring state of Uttarakhand.
In return, BJP leaders endorsed Ramdev’s vision of India, a populism laced with assertions of ancient Indian glory and nationalism. Yoga is also being promoted globally and Modi has taken command. The collaboration is expected to continue at least until the 2019 elections.