It is fair to imagine that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has elevated networking in Lutyens’ Delhi to an exalted art, lives in a world where people exist only as props to boost and massage his ego. His hangers-on, many of them well-known lawyers, journalists and politicians, play this role sincerely. Several of them were present, for instance, at the Delhi High Court on Sher Shah Suri Road on 6 and 7 March 2017, when the finance minister had to sit for his cross examination in a Rs 10-crore civil-defamation suit
he had filed against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and five others of the Aam Aadmi Party for alleging that he was involved in corruption during his tenure as the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association, or DDCA. But all the votaries could do little to halt the nonagenarian Ram Jethmalani in his line of questioning—as Kejriwal’s counsel, the maverick lawyer put on display not only his courtroom craft, but also the pleasure he derived from embarrassing the plaintiff, Jaitley.
As he sat on the floor leaning against the wall, Mohammad Hussain Fazili’s wary expression revealed the uneasiness he felt in sitting with me—a stranger—to talk about his arrest, incarceration and acquittal in the case of the 2005 serial bomb blasts in Delhi. I had arrived at Fazili’s house on the afternoon of 8 March 2017, unannounced. I walked past several rows of concrete two-storey houses in Srinagar’s Soura neighbourhood before I reached one constructed with mud and timber. “Is this the house of Mohammad Hussain Fazili?” I asked a lanky young man standing in the balcony on the first floor. He asked me to identify myself and the purpose of my visit, and then nodded at me, directing me inside. An old man with a neatly trimmed beard, who I later learnt was Fazili’s father, stood at the entrance to the house. He studied me carefully, before telling me to enter the guest room. Fazili followed me into the room. Although Fazili seemed suspicious of me in the beginning, he was considerably warmer once I showed him my press credentials. He said with a wry smile, “My family is always worried about me since I was set free. They inspect every visitor before letting me meet them.” He added, “Haadsa hi aisa hua ki unko kissi pe bharosa hi na raha”—The tragedy was such that they no longer trust anyone.
On 14 March 2017, the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appointed Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga as a spokesperson. Bagga enjoys a significant following on social media—he has over 2 lakh followers on Twitter, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was also one of nearly 150 social-media users who were invited for a closed-door interaction
with the prime minister at his residence, in 2015. Bagga describes himself on Twitter as a “#SwayamSewak,” and is well-known for vehemently criticising those who oppose the ruling party.
On the morning of 3 March 2017, when Amit Bhardwaj took the stage in a packed auditorium at Delhi’s Hyatt Regency hotel, the audience erupted in a thunderous roar. Rows of people leapt to their feet, chanting, “Amit, Amit, Amit!”
Alok Vaid-Menon is a poet, writer and performance artist, who identifies as a non-binary transfeminine person and uses the pronouns “they/them.” Born and raised in Texas, Vaid-Menon rose to public prominence as part of Dark Matter, a duo ofnon-binary trans South Asian performance artists. Vaid-Menon is currently touring across India, conducting performances, talks and workshops that address social-justice issues.
On 16 October 2015, Justice JS Khehar, the current Chief Justice of India, led a five-member bench at the Supreme Court that struck down the ninety-ninth constitutional amendment
passed in both houses of the parliament and ratified by 16 state legislatures, on the grounds that it infringed upon the independence of the judiciary. The ninety-ninth constitutional amendment paved the way for the National Judicial Appointments Commission, or the NJAC. The commission was intended to replace the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary, under which the chief justice of India and their four senior-most colleagues select judges to the high courts and Supreme Court of India. In his leading opinion in the four-judge majority judgement
, Khehar was scathingly critical of the NJAC—which would have included members of the government. “The political-executive, as far as possible, should not have a role in the ultimate/final selection and appointment of Judges to the higher judiciary,” he noted, “Reciprocity, and feelings of pay back to the political-executive would be disastrous to ‘independence of the judiciary.’”
In the recently concluded Manipur assembly election, the Congress won 28 of the 60 assembly seats to become the single-largest party in the state, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 21 seats. By the evening of 12 March 2017—the day after the election results were announced—the BJP had the support
of the National People’s Party and Naga People’s Front, which won four seats each, and that of the Lok Janshakti Party, Trinamool Congress and one independent member, with one seat each. On 13 March, Najma Heptullah, the state’s governor, asked the Congress’s Okram Ibobi Singh, the incumbent chief minister, to submit his resignation, and invited the BJP-led coalition to form the government and prove their majority on the floor of the house “as soon as possible.” Though he is yet to prove his majority, two days later, N Biren Singh took oath
as the new chief minister of Manipur—marking the end of Ibobi’s 15-year tenure, and the start of the BJP’s first-ever rule in the state.
At close to 3.30 pm, vote tallies on most news channels put the Indian National Congress as having won 63 seats in the Punjab assembly—four ahead of the 59-seat majority required to form the government in the state. The Aam Aadmi Party, which had hoped to break ground as a national-level party with a win in Punjab, has reportedly
won less than 25 seats. The Congress was last in power in the state between 2002 and 2007, following which the Shiromani Akali Dal, led by the Badal family, ruled Punjab for 10 years. In his January 2017 cover story, “Under a Cloud
,” Hartosh Singh Bal reported on the issues facing the state and why Punjab was searching for an alternative to the Badals. In the following excerpt from the story, he discusses the issues with the AAP’s organisation in the state and where it was faltering.
On 24 February 2016, Amit Shah, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was in Bahraich to unveil a statue of Suheldev
—an eleventh-century king who is believed to have ruled Shrasvati, near present-day Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district. In the speech that followed, Shah said that it was his privilege to be present at the event, lauding Suheldev as a figure whose name is revered not just in Uttar Pradesh, but in the entire nation. The BJP leader went on to describe the defeat of the Muslim king Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud at the hands of Suheldev, who, he claimed, put a definitive end to Masud’s campaign to invade India. “A citizenry that does not remember its brave ancestors,” Shah continued, “cannot make history.”
On 23 February 2017, Gurmehar Kaur, an undergraduate student of literature at Lady Shri Ram College posted an image in which she was holding a placard that read “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP.” This picture formed part of an online campaign that had been initiated in response to the violent attack
that members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarti Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student affiliate, had launched at Ramjas College on 21 February, because of the inclusion of Jawaharlal Nehru University scholars Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid at a seminar called “Cultures of Protest.” The image soon went viral
, and several other students uploaded similar photographs. Shortly after, an older video from April 2016
began circulating widely on social media. In the video, Kaur held a series of 36 placards addressing the death of her father, who was killed
when militants attacked a Rashtriya Rifles camp in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999 during the Kargil war, and called for peace between India and Pakistan. One of the placards she held in the video read: “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him.”