Milan talks to Sadanand Dhume and Tanvi Madan about the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Maharashtra assembly elections, and Indian influence in UK and U.S. elections
On the season two finale of Grand Tamasha, Milan sits down with podcast regulars Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal and the Brookings Institution’s Tanvi Madan to round up this month’s political news from India. First, Milan and his guests discuss the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the protests that have rocked India. Next, they discuss the original “Grand Tamasha,” also known as the never-ending 2019 Maharashtra assembly election. Finally, Milan, Sadanand, and Tanvi debate the unusual intermingling of Indian politics and domestic politics in the United States and the United Kingdom.
This is the last episode of Grand Tamasha in 2019. Join us for season three, which kicks off in late January 2020. We would love to hear from you with any and all feedback on the show--what you like, what you hate, and what guests you’d like to hear from. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Intro: 00:00 "Unabashed" "The most unpredictable" "becomes a headline." "The most volatile" "outrageous behavior." “Unsubstantiated narratives" "A battle of personalities."
Milan Vaishnav: 00:12 Welcome to Grand Tamasha. I'm your host Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.This is the very last episode of Season Two of the podcast. Joining us for one final news round up our podcast regular Sananand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute. Sananand, thanks for coming in. Good to see you in the flesh.
Sadanand Dhume: 00:28 Good to be back as always.
Tanvi Madan: 00:29 And on the phone from New Delhi is Tanvi Madan with the Brookings Institution. Tanvi, thank you for staying up late.
Tanvi Madan: 00:34 Thanks Milan.
Milan Vaishnav: 00:36 Happy holidays to you both. Uh this week on the podcast we have a lot of ground to cover. We're going to talk about three topics. Last week, parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill or the cab. Over the weekend, several parts of India were rocked by violent street protest. We'll discuss the bill and the worrisome political fallout. Next, the state of Maharashtra finally has an elected government after weeks of wrangling between enemies turned would be coalition allies. We will discuss the original Grand Tamasha that is the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election and finally we are seeing an unusual intermingling of Indian politics and domestic politics, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, perhaps elsewhere as well. We will discuss how unusual this moment actually is and what it portends for the future. But let's start with the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill. Last week, parliament passed a bill which grants expedited citizenship to a slew of non Muslim minority groups, hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Supporters of the bill hail it as a great humanitarian gesture. Critics call it a version of India's own Muslim ban. Shortly after the bill became law, we saw major protests across the Northeast, but this weekend there were protests in New Delhi that turned violent. They were captivating images of lathi charges and burning buses and stone pelters consuming all of our Twitter feeds. Tanvi. Since you're in New Delhi right now, let me start with you. I'm wondering if you could kind of set the scene for us, you know, what's the mood in the city right now? Is there sort of a palpable feeling of anger? You know, what are people saying about the protest that are happening right now?
Tanvi Madan: 02:09 I think like many things we've seen over the last few years on the one hand, it really depends on who you ask. In some ways what people are saying reflects the polarization that we see not just in India today, but in many parts of the world, including the U.S.. So if you're a supporter of the Modi government, you are likely to be expressing support for the Citizenship Amendment Act and you think the protesters are either misguided or totally in the wrong and supporters have tended to focus on where there's been violence. They've accused protestors of provoking the police into kind of these lathi charges and other actions that you mentioned. And the idea behind this is not just obviously to appeal to the base, but also as in some way as Richard Nixon did in 1968 in the U.S. To appeal to what Nixon called the silent majority that kind of disapproved of chaos.
Tanvi Madan: 03:05 On the other hand, we are seeing people who oppose the government who have seen the peaceful protest as entirely justified. The police action as unjustified and over the top and the violence as instigated. What we don't know is the impact of these protests that you know, kind of police action and the, and the Citizenship Amendment Acts itself on that kind of silent middle or that silent majority, particularly those who have already have concerns about other aspects of government policy, particularly economic policy. I think what is interesting though that gets beyond kind of this polarization of supporters and opposition is that we are seeing some supporters of the government publicly expressed discomfort with the Citizenship Amendment Act and particularly its linking with the potential nationwide NRC. And, and I think the other thing that is kind of different is the scale and distribution of protests, particularly by students.
Tanvi Madan: 04:05 It's perhaps larger than we've seen on other issues recently compared to, for example after the change of status of Jammu and Kashmir, you didn't see these kinds of protests. It is important to keep in mind though that the protests in India's Northeast for example, and the protests and the other parts of the country are not motivated by the same reasons. I think in the Northeast is partly because you can slice Indians, Indians identity different ways, not just religious but kind of ethnic and linguistic. And then, you know, amongst others there are various reasons they're protesting. Some say the act is unconstitutional, others say it's immoral, some argue it's a distraction from more important issues. I think the other interesting thing, and I'll end on this is it has kind of upturned Indian political parties' stated ideology a bit. So you see Nitish Kumar, in Bihar, his JDU, which traditionally would have opposed such a bill and now acts supporting it. And then you see the Shiv Sena the kind of BJP's traditional right wing ally in Maharashtra kind of tying itself in knots because it now has to find a way to maintain the coalition. It's created in that state with the Congress and the NCB.
Milan Vaishnav: 05:16 So Sadanand, you criticize the Citizenship Amendment Bill, I guess I should now refer to it by its official name. The Citizenship Amendment Act and your most recent column in the wall street journal remarking that, and I want to quote the BJP's hamfisted lawmaking isn't solving problems. It is creating ones that future generations will struggle to fixed. What exactly is the CAB's problematic legacy as you see it?
Sadanand Dhume: 05:40 So I mean that statement was - that point I made was, the column wasn't written in the context of the CAB, but the problem as I see it as much wider. So the problem with this new citizenship law is that it specifically and very pointedly excludes Muslims and only Muslims from this accelerated path to citizenship. So they allow six groups, they're Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Christians, Parsis and Jains. I've mentioned Parsis already did I miss one?
Milan Vaishnav: 06:15 Buddhists.
Sadanand Dhume: 06:15 Buddhists. Right. So there's those six groups they do not allow any Muslim group. Now there are people who support this in any case and they say, well, you know, this is because there are - Muslims are not being persecuted as Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. And that while that's true, it's, it's also true that there are Muslim sub-communities who are being persecuted. The Shia Hazara are very clearly being persecuted in Pakistan for being Shia. The Ahmadis suffered some of the most horrific persecution anyone does in the subcontinent. They're persecuted for their faith. Similarly, people have been taking machetes to, you know, Bangladeshi atheist bloggers. And so the logic doesn't hold first of all. But secondly, I think that any sort of mature democratic polity that is pluralistic has to work very hard to not only be fair, but to appear to be fair.
Sadanand Dhume: 07:11 And what you have in this situation is the citizenship law coming on top of a whole lot of other things, right? You've had, we've talked about these things. We've had the beef lynchings, we've had the appointment of really inflammatory people and people like Yogi Adityanath made chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Pagya Thakur who is a terrorism-accused to being sent to parliament by the BJP. So this is not as though this is, you know the past five years, this party has worked very hard to appear fair and then now they're sort of passing this law. This comes with the backdrop. There's a background to it. And what really worries me profoundly is that, you know, it's hard to, you know, it's hard to manage pluralism in any society. And this would be something that, you know, even if the government was doing everything right, it would be, it would require work. So why under those circumstances are you deliberately doing things, which in my view, just complicate things and make them tough.
Milan Vaishnav: 08:15 But you know what proponents of the government and the move say in response to that criticisms, Sadanand, is, you know, how can you criticize us for what is obviously a humanitarian gesture that gives safe haven and safe refuge for people who are being persecuted. So we haven't done it to 100% of your liking, but shouldn't we get credit for doing it to 75% of your liking? I mean, is that really a grounds for criticism?
Sadanand Dhume: 08:43 So I actually think the giving that showing that compassion to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and other people who have been persecuted or faced religious discrimination in those countries is a wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong. I just think that you could achieve exactly those same noble goals without deliberately making your own Muslim compatriots feel excluded and you should be able to achieve both of those goals. It's not difficult to achieve both of those goals. The fact that the government has chosen to pursue one and not the other is it is a problem.
Milan Vaishnav: 09:20 So you know, Tanvi we've seen a fresh wave of criticism of the Indian government from, you know, members of Congress from the us commission on international religious freedom, the State Department over the weekend put out a statement to say that it's closely following developments in India, you know, on the backs of 370 Citizenship Amendment Act, the NRC. Do you think that the concern from U.S. Government quarters is actually aggregating up to something larger?
Tanvi Madan: 09:47 I think that kind of two issues here. I mean one is you know, concern in the U.S. And I think there is a broader foreign policy question for India as well. I think on the U.S. Side, I still believe that as far as the administration is concerned publicly if things don't deteriorate further, I think publicly we won't see a major shift because of what we've talked before, which was this investment that even this administration has made both in this idea of India as a potential economic partner with all the friction that has occurred in the last couple of years. But also particularly that India will be, this will help shape a favorable balance of power in Asia vis-a-vis of China. And I think you'll see some of that cooperation in the two plus two meeting this week with the Foreign Minister, Jaishanker and defense minister Rajnath Singh traveling to Washington. And I think you'll see the focus on that at least officially I think.
Tanvi Madan: 10:50 But there will be concern within the government and not just within the government that the instability that these steps might cause and the high level attention and resources it will require of the Indian leadership to essentially resolve problems that people thought had been solved, including identity issues. That it will require -the amount of kind of resource and attention will require - will make that U.S. Investment in India shakier and that there will be concern that what does this mean for India's kind of economic growth and strength vis-a-vis China? I think there are smaller shifts that India should be watching closely, even if they might not be a major shift. I think this particularly ambassador Sam Brownback statement in particular signaling concern should suggest to the Indian government that on religious freedom issues, this is not just going to be Democrats expressing concerns.
Tanvi Madan: 11:49 Republicans too will be expressing concerns and voices will only get louder if the Modi government moves ahead on something else that they've talked about, which is the Anti Conversion Bill that because it will target Christian missionary groups. Will kind of, you know, I think will evoke more criticism from this government, particularly from people like Vice Presidents Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo and from perhaps the president who in an election year needs the evangelical vote. Let me just say one thing on the kind of foreign policy impact, even though you asked specifically about the U.S. But I think it matters for kind of this idea of India aspiring to play a leading role in the region. I think one is kind of the impact of something like this on the neighborhood. And the Modi government has done a lot in the last few years to kind of, you know, convey this idea of neighborhood first. Of working with the neighbors to take them along to particularly, you know, with Bangladesh has carefully built a relationship bodily because it's pivotal to India's Act East strategy.
Tanvi Madan: 12:50 And what it's done is one, you know, in terms of Afghanistan essentially said by including them that they can't, they essentially discriminate and persecute their minorities in those, Hindus and Sikhs there. And to Bangladesh, it has complicated Sheikh Hasina's hand. And you saw two Bangladeshi ministers cancel their scheduled visits to India. You also saw - even beyond kind of the neighbors - the postponement of the Japan, India, the Abe-Modi summit in Northeast schedule to be, even though they didn't announce it, it was supposed to be in the Northeast. And so, and you know, moreover from forget these things, you can even see on an image front suddenly you've seen comparisons of protests on this, especially with students and kind of police kind of the lathi charge, et cetera. Just hearing the comparisons of the protests on what's happening in India and in Hong Kong.
Tanvi Madan: 13:40 And I think finally kind of the opportunity cost for India's foreign policy makers and implementers. Think about the amount of time and resources they're spending having to tackle. You know kind of people's concerns and questions about this issue, which they could be spending on something else. Now. as far as the government is concerned, I think people, particularly people in the ruling party, they'll say, look, that's fine. It's all worth it. We don't care about what people say. And even if we did foreign policy comes second and is in service to domestic politics and promises, but eventually this will catch up. And you know, something will give to some extent, particularly given that India playing a leading role in the world stage was something that was also one of a Prime Minister Modi's promises during the election.
Milan Vaishnav: 14:30 So let's move on to our second topic, which is the political fireworks in Maharashtra. Sananand, you know, let me start with you on this. This was supposed to be I think a relatively straightforward election. The BJP, its longtime ally the Shiv Sena tipped to come back to power in a state where, you know, just a few months prior they had done exceptionally well in the 2019 parliamentary elections. But that relatively simple, clean outcome never materialized. You know, what actually happened?
Sadanand Dhume: 14:55 So sort of short version is that the BJP and the Shiv Sena won about - between them - they won 161 seats. You need 145 to form a majority to get a majority and form the government. So they had a comfortable majority, but then the relationship between these two allies - two long term allies - I mean the Shiv Sena in fact has been, you know, the BJP's, you know, single oldest ally. They've been together since the 1990s. It fell apart because the Shiv Sena, even though it had about half as many seats as the BJP said that it wanted to share the chief ministership. It wanted a sort of rotational chief ministership and it claims - the Shiv Sena leadership - claims that this is what the BJP had promised. And the BJP said, well, you know what nonsense, we're not, you know, we're not buying this.
Sadanand Dhume: 15:44 And for the longest time I think most people figured that this was just a, you know, the Shiv Sena was just sort of bluffing and that, you know, in the end these two, it was logical for these, for these old allies to form the government. But then there were sort of, you know, twists and turns and the, the long and the short of it is that the BJP tried to break away and other opposition party the NCP and form a government. But they didn't do that successfully because they had just co-opted one leader Ajit Pawar, but not most of the actual members of the assembly. And that government didn't last at all. I had left the BJP looking embarrassed and now we have this strange beast of a coalition government, which has so, you know, the Congress, the NCP, which are traditionally regarded as secular parties in India, allied with the Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sena now providing the chief minister in this in this new government in rush right now. It's anybody's guess how long it'll last. But that's the situation right now.
Milan Vaishnav: 16:46 Uh Tanvi, I'm wondering about what you think the election signifies for Indian politics more broadly. I mean, who do you think, in your view were the sort of winners and losers of this political tussle?
Tanvi Madan: 16:59 I think in terms of what it signifies is that we're in an era of strange bedfellows. That at a time that the BJP is doubling down on ideology at the center, at the state level, at least forget principles of policy. It's all about power and that, you know, who kind of can build that coalition and it doesn't matter what people had said in the past, what the ideology is, what they've been advocating for that if you can, you know, cobble together that coalition however you incentivize those potential partners that you are the, you know, people are going to be willing to do that and whoever can do it well is the one who's going to form these governments. I think in terms of the winner, I think you've got to say in many ways the NCP and particularly Sharad Parwar I mean and he managed we still don't know how much of what he managed to do in cobbling together this coalition, having his nephew kind of break away and join the BJP, but then come back to him.
Tanvi Madan: 18:03 It's not clear how much of this was planned, but regardless, he's seen as somebody who's managed to outmaneuver the person that everybody calls India's political mastermind or BJP political mastermind Amit Shah. And so it's hard not to say, and you know, people - they've managed to get cases dropped and a whole bunch of other things. So I think, you know, the NCP and Sharad Pawar. I think loser: voters. I mean, I can't imagine this is what a BJP voter intended or a Shiv Sena voter intended or frankly for that matter, an NCP or Congress voter intended. And so in some ways their preferences almost seem irrelevant as long as the political parties can figure out the right numbers.
Milan Vaishnav: 18:45 You know, Sadanand, you know, many commentators have said that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine - this kind of unwieldy coalition - is essentially walking into a trap that Amit Shah has set. That you know, when and not if the coalition collapses, the argument goes, the BJP is going to inevitably kind of sweep in like the knight in shining armor. Do you think this is the likeliest outcome?
Sadanand Dhume: 19:09 I think there's two plausible stories here. One is exactly what you're saying, because the truth of the matter is, no matter what, you know, our views or my views of the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition may be. The fact is they won the mandate, they went there together in a coalition and they told them, asked the people for votes. The people voted for them. And I think that's a very powerful thing that the BJP can carry with it if it has to go back to the people. So it has, you know, to that extent it has, it had an element of the moral high ground. It's of course sullied that with its weird machinations and trying to break the NCP and you know, have this government sworn in illicitly at the crack of dawn and so on. So it's, it's, it's lost some ground, but it's still - that still holds.
Sadanand Dhume: 19:54 The other thing going for that argument is that, you know, in many ways Additya Thackeray, Uddhav Thackeray's son is really the sort of the Maharashtrian version of Rahul Gandhi. And by that I mean a sort of, you know, character whose main role in this drama is to bring down his family own party with his naivety and lack of political skills. So that's my view of Additya Thackeray. So you can really imagine this ending very, very badly, like an extinction level event for the Shiv Sena, which of course plays very well for the BJP. However, there's another way of looking at this, which is that look, things are very fluid. The economy's not doing very well. Maharashtra is a huge prize, the second largest state in terms of number of looks or by MPs, but also, you know, the richest state and the largest state in terms of economically by some measure and to allow this huge prize to kind of slip into the hands off the opposition at a time when the economy is slowing and there are protests brewing. You don't know how this is going to turn out. So I, I would say, you know, we don't know.
Milan Vaishnav: 21:03 I want to move on to our third and final topic. It's something we've already kinda touched upon, which is the ways in which Indian politics and domestic politics in the United States across the Atlantic and the United Kingdom are intersecting and kind of weird and interesting ways. The conservative party of the UK won a crushing defeat in last week's general election. This was an election marked by many things not only by dueling Hindi campaign videos on both sides of the aisle, but also by an overt attempt by the Overseas Friends of the BJP to campaign against the Labor Party in light of that party's criticism of what India had done in Jammu and Kashmir. Here in the United States, as Tanvi mentioned earlier, India is sort of heating up as a talking point among members of Congress and even presidential candidates. Tanvi, you have always been an astute observer of kind of public relations and diplomacy. I'm kinda wondering how consequential were the actions of the Overseas Friends of the BJP? I mean, do you think that they were operating with some kind of official endorsement from the powers that be in New Delhi?
Tanvi Madan: 22:04 Well, as far as they're concerned, I find it hard to believe that the Overseas Friends of the BJP went rogue. But one thing to keep in mind is that as is always the case with the Indian diaspora, there was more than one British Indian group. And in some cases they were apparently working - from what we've heard from some of the reporting - at cross purposes in the same constituency, you had some backing even Labor candidates who they supported and other British Indian groups kind of you know telling people to vote against Labor and particularly against Jeremy Corbyn. Did it make a difference? I don't think we have sufficient evidence to say one way or the other. The groups are claiming that they did make a difference. Not, not I mean obviously they are and though even they have kind of tempered their claims somewhat.
Tanvi Madan: 22:55 Part of the reason is it's hard to dis-aggregate how much the Kashmir factor or kind of the anti-Labor advocacy that some of these groups are doing and how much that was the factor that caused you know, some of the Labor losses that we saw. Or it was, you know, the reasons that have caused the Labor loss even beyond constituencies that had significant British Indian populations. But whether they actually, whether or not they actually kind of made a difference - these groups. There's another question of whether folks that they are connected to in Delhi and other diaspora groups and other countries think that they, these groups were affected because if they come to the conclusion that this, that this didn't make a difference either in terms of actually causing Labor to lose support or in terms of conveying to the Tories, the conservative party, that it's worth quoting the British Indian board and by by kind of connection courting India then have an impact on how the Indian diaspora and potentially even folks in Delhi will approach future elections, not just in the UK but in other countries as well.
Milan Vaishnav: 24:05 I mean, Tanvi, let me stay with you for a second. Do you think it's possible that we could see something similar take place, you know, in the U.S. 2020 elections? I mean, especially given how critical many Democrats have been of what's happening in India domestically right now?
Tanvi Madan: 24:18 I think could we see something similar? Possibly in terms of approach, but there's some key differences in the U.S. And UK not for one in the U.S. They're just not as many Indian Americans as a percentage. Second, they tend to be concentrated in blue states. Third Indian kind of permanent residents in the U.S. Unlike their equivalent in the UK can't actually vote. So I think these differences do make a difference. There's also a couple of other aspects there will be greater scrutiny because of what happened in the last election here because the Russians there will be greater scrutiny on foreign influence in general. And so perhaps groups might be a little bit more careful, not just in terms of foreign influence, but also what the Chinese diaspora are seeing in many parts of the world, which is are kind of diasporas voting or do they all dual loyalties? That's a concern that people should be concerned about. And then I think the other differences, because this system, a divided government in the U.S. Indian groups in American groups could find itself in India, could find itself in a situation where even if you see a Trump coming, getting reelected, you could see a Democratic House again, which could complicate things if India has, or Indian Americans have gone out and made such a big difference in what will be considered in a less than normal way. Finally, we don't know that any, any of this will be effective because it's not clear how, we don't have enough data on how Indian American votes, how they feel about some of these issues. You know, that are going on in India, including Kashmir or citizenship amendment act. And we particularly don't know if there's a difference, for example, on generational lines. I think there are two places where it could make a difference. And so you might see some movement. One is fundraising because Indian Americans do disproportionately fundraise and, and of contribute to campaigns at where they can make a difference and second, certain congressional races and perhaps some districts perhaps in places like Florida and Texas, they could kinda make the marginal difference in terms of numbers as well.
Milan Vaishnav: 26:30 So ,Sadanand, you had a piece over the weekend, in the Times of India, which was not so much about the impact of Indian politics in the U.S. But more about what British politics might say about what's going to happen in India. And I think the central kind of claim of your piece is that, you know, Boris Johnson's rousing reelection holds important lessons for the opposition in India. And I'm wondering why you think they should be paying attention to what happened in the UK?
Sadanand Dhume: 26:56 So I'll get to that. But let me first sort of comment on your previous question. I am extremely skeptical about these claims that the Indian diaspora in the UK - and by that, you know, these groups really mean the Hindu diaspora, right? - Uh,affected the outcome. They claim at about seventy seats or so. Uthere is no evidence that I've seen that is remotely convincing. Uif you look at the twenty seats with the largest Indian population in Britain, eighteen of them are with Labor. If you look at some of the MPs,uI think there's a guy called Barry Gardiner, Virendra Sharma - some of the MPs who were specifically and very publicly targeted by these BJP leaning groups - they've won reelection. Uthe fact is that this was a blowout for Boris. Boris Johnson won comfortably. And I have a feeling that some of these overenthusiastic people are trying to piggyback on it and claim that it was really about them. Uand the evidence does not, does not add up. And I think people who are interested in this, I mean, you know, I'm not an expert in British politics, but there are people like [inaudible] and others who've actually been spent some time studying this. So be skeptical about those planes and be even more skeptical about the potential Indian American impact on us elections, both in terms of numbers and spread. I mean some of those issues that Tanvi spoke about, but also in terms of how many Indian Americans are really, you know, processing, you know, U.S. Politics through the prism of some, you know, hyper nationalist, BJP lens.
Sadanand Dhume: 28:33 And I'd say that the answer to that is hardly anyone. Now coming back to the sort of Boris Johnson and populism point I mean, I think one of the things that's, that's sort of interesting is that if you look at, you know, the word is used so much, but if you look at these sort of classic populists around the world many of them have these extremely plebeian backgrounds, right? So people that, you know like Erdogan growing up in this tough neighborhood in Istanbul, Duterte in the Philippines really so clearly set apart from the kind of ruling families like the Aquinos and some of those other sort of big Filipino families. And similarly in India you have sort of Modi, the man of the masses and then you have this sort of clueless Rahul Ghandi born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Sadanand Dhume: 29:17 And I think that as a result of that especially in India, we have tried to, we've sort of associated populism and biography because there's sort of those two things are, are tied together. But what you can see what's like Boris is that in fact, it is possible to steal the other side's clothes, so to speak. You can be a person of privilege. I mean, Boris Johnson went to Eton, went to Oxford, was a sort of, you know, he said, I mean, he, he plays off of it very intelligently, right? His sort of the, his being a toff, but I think that that's sort of that, that, that there's an opening. So if we are in this moment in Indian politics, that's going to be defined by populism, does that mean that a populist to oppose the BJP would have to also have a sort of similar background or can it be done another way? Because if you're, if you're an adept enough politician, if you're able to pick up both policies and symbols in a more intelligent way. So, I guess this is just another way of saying that don't blame Rahul Gandhi's background for the collapse of Congress, blame Rahul Gandhi's ineptitude.
Milan Vaishnav: 30:30 I feel like this is how we started the season off. We're ending up in a very familiar place. I want to end the show like we do every time we get together, the three of us by asking each of you to tell our listeners about, you know, a story that's coming out of India that we should be paying attention to but perhaps are not. Tanvi, let me start with you. What is going on that you think our listeners need to know about?
Tanvi Madan: 30:52 So one of the things that struck me, and it's something that was not just on my list, I thought it'd be interesting to hear your views on it, Milan, was this idea, particularly after thethe Maharashtra government was formed that the BJP has already peaked a few years ago in terms of its, you know, capture of state governments. And that, you know, there was really interesting maps showing and we have seen this kind of as almost like a juggernaut with that kind of saffron color getting across all Indian states, one by one, but that we are now starting to see it recede. And you know, whether that's a kind of a, a general trend or it's just the kind of nature of anti-incumbency and the particular, you know, the way the states are going, I mean the timeline which the states are going to election I don't know. But I think to me it's just interesting that for all the talk and for, you know, a party that just won a historic majority that we all at least seeing on the state level that we are starting to see losses for them that we haven't seen in the past.
Milan Vaishnav: 32:00 Yeah, I do think it's interesting although it wouldn't take very much, I think to tip the balance the other way. You know, if Maharashtra implodes, you could get a BJP government. We know that in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in particular, the Congress victories there are rather tenuous. The BJP could well you know, come back to power. So it wouldn't take a lot to see a kind of different narrative. And the, and the other thing too is that, you know even when the Congress was the hegemonic force of Indira Gandhi in the 1960s and when we all remember the '67 elections in which, you know, you had an incredibly popular center leader, but the, the, the party face a lot of travails at the state level. And I think this is why I continue to think the economy is a huge source of vulnerability for this government. Imagine if you had the economy going on all four cylinders or even three or four cylinders, I think we might be seeing a, a very different map. Sadanand. And what do you think that we should be listening to this week?
Sadanand Dhume: 33:04 So I think the, what, you know, the noises we're hearing from states about GST, I think that's a really big story. And if there wasn't so much else going on that would probably, you know, arguably be the biggest story because what you're looking at is state level leaders who are basically arguing that they have not, you know, the government isn't, doesn't have enough tax resources. They're saying, and they are complaining that they have not been given the money that they have been promised by the federal government. And if you sort of, you know, toss in CAB and NRC and I think what you're, what you're, what you're looking at is state level politicians for the first time I think being this audible about the, how the resource pie is divided. And so to me that's hugely significant.
Milan Vaishnav: 33:57 Who do you think had the best week in India?
Tanvi Madan: 33:59 Wow, that's a tough one. I actually didn't have one for that just because it seemed to be a fairly strained week here. So I'm going to pass on that Milan.
New Speaker: 34:13 Uh Sadanand?
Sadanand Dhume: 34:14 Well, I'm not sure if I'd say a week, but I'd say month: Rahul Bajaj, the leading industrialist who got up at this event public event and essentially, you know, lit into Amit Shah the Home Minister and pointed out that, you know, a lot of people feel worried about criticizing the government. They feel that the government doesn't take criticism in the right spirit. And that people in business did not feel this way about the previous government. And I think it took a lot of courage to say that to Amit Shah's face in public, and so he's, to me, he's the winner of the week or the month or whatever.
Milan Vaishnav: 34:56 Yeah. I mean, I think the, the winner is the Sangh Parivar, the constellation of Hindu nationalist organizations, of which the BJP is a part we've seen now a third kind of a feather in their cap. You know, you had 370, you had the Babri Masjid judgment in the Supreme court. Now you've had the CAB passed in conjunction with the NRC further fuels that narrative. So I think you know, after just what, seven or eight months of a second term or the government of many of their objectives have come to pass. Sananand, and who do you think had the worst week?
Sadanand Dhume: 35:35 Not saying Rahul Gandhi for once. I would say actually the worst, the worst week was Narendra Modi's. And I don't mean this in terms of political support. He's obviously a very popular leader, but what he said the other day about these protests where he talked about he singled out Muslims and he said that, look, you should, you can tell by the clothes that they are wearing, who these people are. I thought I was just so petty, demeaning, it diminished his office. And it's something that I think that he will, you know, have a hard time recovering with because there's no conscionable way in which you can sort of condone the prime minister of a country who is supposed to be the prime minister of all Indians and who himself has to his credit repeatedly said that he wants to be the prime minister of all Indians, you know, and under these stressful conditions sort of singling out one community for this kind of censure. And so to me he's the loser of the week.
Milan Vaishnav: 36:40 And there's really no room for misinterpretation of comments here. Tanvi, what about you? Any candidates for worst week?
Tanvi Madan: 36:48 Sure. I think there are lots of candidates for wost week. Let me highlight one thing that's had a very bad week. And that in particularly in a democracy is this kind of repeated solution to shut down the internet. This has not happened in Delhi. I think that would raise some eyebrows and a lot more protests from people who would not normally protest, but we've seen this not just in Kashmir, which by some counts now has become one of the longest, if not the longest internet shutdown in any democracy ever the longest period. But also just to sher number that India is leading in many regards amongst democracies on this count. And while this is not always, I mean, not in all cases is this kind of just something government say sometimes it's genuinely done. For example, a few years ago when Northeastern students and workers were being targeted in Karnataka, sometimes the government think that's the only way, but I think it's become this quick and easy solution. And so I think, you know, it doesn't actually solve the problem. And we've seen this now in a number of places in the Northeast and in Uttar Pradesh and now I think in one place in Bihar as well. It's doesn't actually solve the problem. It is just increasing it in some ways. And I mean too that if you want to me to say who had the best week is the idea of civil disobedience in India. And that's a good part of the democracy and I, you know, whatever you think about why they're protesting this this country was, it is very much part of this country's origin story at least in terms of independent India. And for students to continue around the country to go and exercise that. Right. I think it shows that for all the complaining about kind of democracy deficit, et cetera around the world, that there all still kind of very healthy aspects of Indian democracy.
Sadanand Dhume: 38:54 To end on a lighter note, sort of the joke doing the rounds. It's about, you know, how Amit Shah claimed that everything was normal in Jammu and Kashmir and with all these internet shutdowns are like spreading the normalcy all over the country, all be normal.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:09 Um well you guys are always very normal and I want to thank you both for coming on being regular guests on the show. Just like to point out our last news Roundup with YouTube was our most popular episode to date. Take that Hasan Minhaj, Sashi Tharoor, Arvind Subramanian. You beat them all. Since I'm on this show every week, I know it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you. Look forward to having you guys both in the studio in the new year and happy holidays to you both.
Sadanand Dhume: 39:35 Happy holidays.
Tanvi Madan: 39:36 To you as well.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:37 So before we wrap up, I'd like to give a special shout out to several folks who make this show possible every week. First of all, thank you to Lauren Dueck, our producer extraordinaire. We would not be here without Lauren's magic, so thank you very much. Second, thank you to our awesome audio engineer, Tim Martin, who is the man behind the knobs and the dials and the sound booth. Thank you for making a sound good every week. Also I want to thank social media guru, Patrick Kane and Megan Maxwell who puts up transcripts of the show every week. Rachel Osnos for keeping us all straight. It's been a fun ride. We'll be back sometimes towards the end of January with season three. One final plea to our listeners, we would love to hear from you with any and all feedback on the show what you like, what you hate, what guests you'd like to hear from us next year. Please email us at email@example.com that's firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a line on Twitter @MilanV
Outro: 40:25 The Grand Tamasha is a co-production of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Hindustan Times. You can find us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget to rate and review. It helps others find the show more easily. For more information about the show and to find the writing we referenced on this week's episode, visit our website GrandTamasha.com. Production assistance comes from Megan Maxwell and Rachel Osnos. Tim Martin is our audio engineer and Lauren Dueck is our executive producer. Thanks for listening and see you next week.