Monthly Archives: February 2013

How Robert Vadra made a killing in the Rajasthan sun

You could call him India’s canniest real estate investor. Or you could suggest that he was helped by those who knew he was the son-in-law of India’s most powerful politician. But whichever way to you want to see Robert Vadra, there is little doubt that he made, and is still making, his biggest killing in the deserts of Rajasthan, a state run by a Congress government under Ashok Gehlot.

Parts of this story have already been told in the media, including Firstpost. What we now bring you is the real scale of Vadra’s land holdings, and the humongous profit potential embedded in owning over 10,000 acres of land acquired for a song from unwary farmers. While his mother-in-law is trying to ensure that farmers get more than market prices, Vadra’s caper is about skimming the cream himself with inside knowledge.

Sixty percent of the state (208,110 sq km) is low-cost desert land. It is dead land with no water or habitation in sight. The cost is often as low as Rs 20,000 an acre at some places. You can’t make a killing unless you know someone would want to buy land at significantly a higher price than this.

In this desert state, Vadra picked up piece by piece of wasteland that was strategically located near power sub-stations in Bikaner and elsewhere. And from the few examples at hand, he is raking it in. A plot of 30 hectares costing Rs 4.45 lakh bought two years ago now fetches nearly Rs 2 crore!

No applause please: Vadra has proven to be an astute investor in realty. PTI

No applause please: Vadra has proven to be an astute investor in realty. PTI

Not only that, but in some places he is practically a monopoly seller of the land. In Kolayat, for example, Vadra calls the shots. His companies own nearly 90 percent of the wasteland there.

Through his agents and companies, he directly bought hundreds of acres of land from small and big farmers in areas with solar power potential. According to sources, Vadra owns over 10,000 acres of land in the state today.

Only the state government – and the central government – knew that land around power sub-stations would be valuable once they announced plans incentivise solar power generation. So, logically, the state should have bought land first.

It did, but it did something peculiar. The Congress government in Rajasthan acquired 50,000 hectares of land for solar plants, but bypassed the wasteland near power sub-stations during the acquisition process. Solar plants situated close to sub-stations are most economical since this means you have to invest less in grid lines to evacuate the power.

Did Gehlot’s government know that Vadra was going to buy, or did Vadra know in advance that the state government was going to announce it solar policy well in advance? Firstpost sent a mail to Vadra to get his version of things, but at the time of writing he had failed to respond.

Vadra started creating a land bank near power sub-stations from June 2009. Barely eight months later, in February 2010, the Central Government announced the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) Policy under which huge subsidies (nearly 40 percent) were offered for setting up grid-tied solar power plants.

Land in Bikaner where a solar plant is to be set up. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

Land in Bikaner where a solar plant is to be set up. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

Almost immediately, Vadra’s land located near power sub-stations soared in value. The land bought by the state government had practically no takers because most of it was not close enough for easy grid connections. The government is now mulling developing solar parks on this land by setting up elaborate evacuation systems. It will spend a pretty penny in doing so, while Vadra is sitting on crores of profits – and potential profits.

Not one of the 23 companies which obtained licences to set up grid-connected solar power plants under NSM opted for government land! This, despite the fact that the state government offered to lease out or allot the land at 10 percent of the market rate.

Now, stuck with land that no one wants, Rajasthan Energy Minister Jitender Singh says his government will build huge solar parks on the 50,000 hectares by setting up the necessary infrastructure.

For hundreds of private developers who have registered for solar plants in Rajasthan, land near a power sub-station is the top choice. This means they don’t have to bear the cost of putting up gridlines and related infrastructure to connect to transmission sub-stations. Not only that, by setting up solar projects next to sub-stations, the investor suffers minimum loss in transmission and distribution of power.

The state government’s land policy helped Vadra make crores because its own land policy involves only leasing the land, not selling it.

“This makes things more uncertain for a developer, because the government keeps changing and so does the solar policy,’’ a private developer requesting anonymity said.

For instance, on 24 February 2009, the Rajasthan government had issued a circular making it mandatory for solar power producers to supply a certain amount of free power to the state as they were getting vast amounts of land at throwaway rates. Moreover, the government shut “open” access for solar power plants built on the allotted government land. While private solar power developers who procured land on their own were free to sell power outside the state under the “open” access system, those opting to lease government land would have got stuck in case the state did not buy their power.

This circular did not make sense, and was overturned in the new solar policy of the state government in 2011. Under this policy, a private developer can take government land, but the land acquired by the government is 20-30 km away from the grid sub-stations.

The target in the first phase of NSM is 1,000 MW of grid-connected solar power projects by 2013. Jitender Singh says: “The decks have already been cleared for 820 mw of solar power. And over 800 private solar developers have registered with us.’’

Vadra’s land is thus in huge demand for grid-tied solar projects. He is selling these `agricultural’ plots exclusively for solar plants. Since the state is promoting solar power, the rate for converting agricultural land to industrial use is lower than the normal rate prevailing in the state.

Pratap Raju, Joint Managing Director of PR Fonroche Pvt Ltd, who bought land from Vadra’s company Blue Breeze Trading Pvt Ltd and Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd, says: “Bikaner did not have quite as high isolation as other parts of Rajasthan. It was still quite good. More importantly, this land we chose was 2 km from the sub-station, which meant evacuation costs would be less. Moreover, the sub-station was a 220 kv and brand new, which meant that we could expect quite high uptime/availability. So juggling these several variables – insolation, distance to sub-station, available capacity at the said sub-station – we found this land to be a top choice for us.’’

PR Fonroche, a French joint venture, is developing two solar projects totalling 20 mw of power at Kolayat, about 15 km away from Bikaner. The company had signed a powerpurchase agreement in 2011 and it bought land in May 2012, just in time to launch the project on the targeted deadline.

The site of an upcoming solar plant in Bikaner. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

The site of an upcoming solar plant in Bikaner. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

So what kind of killing did Vadra make? Raju says that the price he paid was perhaps something like five times the price of land just three-four years ago.

“It is important to choose the right land at a good price, rather than lowest price, to make the project viable,’’ Raju told Firstpost.

In fact, Kolayat is attracting several other private developers. Greentech Power Pvt Ltd, Alex Spectrum Radiations (P) Ltd, RH Prasad & Company Pvt Ltd and Hasya Enterprises (P) Ltd.

It is not known if they too bought land from Vadra, but in Kolayat, Vadra’s companies own nearly 90 percent of the wasteland. They may have no choice.

Vadra began his real estate investments in Rajasthan in 2009, when the Central government had not yet announced its new solar policy. There was only a hint of it in Prime MinisterManmohan Singh’s statement (while launching India’s Action Plan on Climate Change on 30 June 2008), that in the new energy strategy, “the sun occupies center-stage, as it should, being literally the original source of all energy.”

“We will pool our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with sufficient financial resources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people. Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India. It would also enable India to help change the destinies of people around the world’’, said the PM.

Well, one person whose financial destiny it changed was his party boss’s son-in-law.

Right from the beginning, it was clear that the Rajasthan government was sure to get the lead role in the new solar energy policy because it had perhaps the best solar radiation in India (6-7 kwh/sq m/day) and a vast pool of wasteland. Jodhpur district alone, a solar potential district, is bigger than Kerala.

To execute the policy, the Congress government in Rajasthan started creating a land bank in districts with solar potential. Surprisingly, land that was close to the grid was ignored during the acquisition.

And this is where Robert Vadra jumped in. In 2009, much before the grid-tied solar power generation policy was announced, he started buying wasteland near the sub-stations. Unsuspecting farmers, who live with the hope that their land, which is barren and of no use, will get acquired one day, suddenly found a messiah in Robert Vadra’s agent Mahesh Nagar, brother of Faridabad-based Congress leader Lalit Nagar.

Just 30 km outside Bikaner is a 220 kv grid sub-station located in Kolayat tehsil on National Highway 15. Between June 2009 and June 2010, 63 land deals were struck in Kolayat. And in all these deals, Mahesh Nagar is at the forefront, as an agent of Robert Vadra’s companies, Blue Breeze, Sky Light, North India IT Parks, Real Earth, etc.

A solar power plant in Bikaner, Rajasthan. The land was acquired from a firm owned by Vadra. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

A solar power plant in Bikaner, Rajasthan. The land was acquired from a firm owned by Vadra. Raman Kripal/ Firstpost

In some deals, he represented other individuals, including Robert Vadra’s Private Secretary Manoj Arora, and his own brother Lalit Nagar, apart from some unknown companies. But Vadra’s pointperson Mahesh Nagar is the agent in all the deals.

Firstpost sent a detailed questionnaire to Robert Vadra and Manoj Arora, asking them specifically about these individuals and unknown companies. Vadra has not replied yet to our queries.

Over 2,200 hectares of land was bought in Kolayat on a war footing in one year. One hectare is equivalent to 3.95 acres. So nearly 8,800 acres of land, equivalent to one sector of Gurgaon, was sold off in Kolayat. This is the tip of the iceberg, because this information is based on investigations conducted near just one power sub-station only. There are nearly 30 power sub-stations in Rajasthan.

Here’s an indicator of the kind of profits Vadra could have made. A plot of 30 hectares costing Rs 4.45 lakh two years ago now fetches nearly Rs 2 crore!

Vadra’s Sky Light Realty Private Ltd bought this plot in Kolayat on 31 March 2010. Just two years later, on 4 May 2012 (according to a sale deed available with Firstpost), Sky Light sold off 29.36 hectares of land in Kolayat for nearly Rs 2 crore (Rs 1,99,58,121) to French joint Venture Fonroche Saaras Energy Pvt Ltd.

The land was as barren as it was with the farmer. Vadra’s company did not add any value to it. Blue Breeze and Sky Light together sold over 55 hectares of land to Fonroche.

Likewise, Vadra’s Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd sold 3.25 hectares to one Rishipal, resident of Haryana, for Rs 22 lakh (Rs 7 lakh a hectare) on 11 May 2012. Interestingly, Rishipal sold this land to Fonroche seven days later on 18 May 2012.

BJP MP from Bikaner and former IAS officer Arjun Meghwal wondered why Robert Vadra had to invest in dead land in Bikaner. “One can understand Vadra investing in the Gurgaon realty sector, but why Bikaner of all the places,’’ asked Meghwal.

Well, he has his answer now. Bikaner is fast emerging to as the next solar hub in the country! And Robert Vadra made his hay in the sun.

Buddhu Revealed! Rahul Gandhi Embarassed By Student

Just as Rahul Gandhi got promoted officially as the Vice President of the Congress party and he is making inroads to motivate the youth and woo them to vote for his party, the challenges have begun. It is heard that recently Rahul had a slight jolt when he was faced with a question that stumped him.

Sources say all this happened when Rahul was at Jawahar Bhawan trying to moderate a talk on the future of internet by a Google official. It is heard that Rahul was speaking about the availability ofacademic material online and changing learning processes when he was interrupted by a JNU student.

The student reportedly quoted about a newspaper article which revealed that in large parts of India even class VIII students don’t know how to read and write. The student questioned Rahul on what congress is doing to improve the condition. Without replying to that, Rahul passed the buck reversing the question on the student asking what he is doing.

But the student reportedly didn’t give up and said “If I knew I would not have asked you.” Before Rahul could get embarrassed further he changed the topic and went ahead with his speech on responsibility of citizens. That’s how our rulers are folks.

Ladies and Gentleman, I present to u the future Prime Minister of India.. This man is an embarrassment.


February 1, 2013


On January 26th, I was in the writers’ lounge at the Diggi Palace Hotel, in Jaipur, where the city’s annual literary festival was being held, and was in a leisurely conversation with fellow writers. Suddenly, a group of police officers barged in. A gruff man in a traditional kurta pajama, wearing a black cap and a shawl, was leading them. I began to hear the name of Ashis Nandy being repeated. Ashis Nandy is one of India’s foremost intellectuals, a clinical psychologist and sociologist who has produced some of the most original and important works of scholarship in independent India in his forty or more years in public life. He is also a prolific writer of essays and newspaper columns and a feisty public speaker.

“How could Ashis Nandy call us the most corrupt in India?” the politician in the black cap shouted at the growing crowd of festival organizers and writers. A few hours earlier, Nandy had been on a panel discussion called “The Republic of Ideas” with Urvashi Butalia, a writer and publisher; Tarun Tejpal, a magazine editor and novelist; and a few others. The conversation had turned to the endemic corruption in India. Nandy, a small, bespectacled seventy-five-year-old man with a balding head, a wispy beard, and a ready laugh, had, as usual, an unorthodox take on corruption, “I do wish there remains some degree of corruption in India because I would also suggest that it humanizes our society.”

Nandy spoke about lower-caste politicians, and argued that because they have only recently gained access to the spoils of power, they didn’t yet have the sophisticated social networks that allow India’s upper-caste élite to hide their corruption. Indicating his fellow panelist Richard Sorabji, an Oxford scholar, Nandy said, “If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favor by accommodating my nephew at Oxford; if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship.” He mentioned Mayawati, a Dalit (formerly called Untouchable) politician who is president of Bahujan Samaj Party, the largest lower-caste political party, and was the chief minister of Utter Pradesh until last year. Like a vast number of Indian politicians, she has faced charges of corruption (which have since been dismissed). “If she has to oblige somebody or have somebody in the family absorb the money, she will probably have to take the bribe of having a hundred petrol pumps, and that is very conspicuous, very corrupt indeed. Our corruption doesn’t look that corrupt, their’s does.”

Tejpal, the magazine editor from Delhi, followed Nandy’s thought and described corruption in India being a class equalizer, as the only chance for the people on the “wrong side of the tracks” to make it in a highly stratified and unequal society. Nandy responded, “It will be a very undignified and—how should I put it—almost vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the O.B.C.s and the scheduled caste and now increasingly the scheduled tribes. And as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive.” Dalits, the former Untouchables, and others on the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system are described as Scheduled Castes in Indian legalese; India’s poor and marginalized tribal communities are known as Scheduled Tribes. The Indian Constitution initially guaranteed affirmative action for these two groups, but over the years other castes on the lower and middle rungs of the caste ladder have been included—often after political agitations—as “Other Backward Castes” (O.B.C.s).

A populist television journalist, who was also on the panel, promptly called Nandy’s remarks a casteist slur and demanded an apology. Within moments, Nandy’s remark about most corrupt Indians being from traditionally oppressed and marginalized lower castes and tribes was tweeted without its context. Television channels and wire services ran the headline: “SC/ST/OBCs most corrupt: Ashis Nandy.” His words divorced of the complexity of his argument and their context spread quickly—an allegation against a multitude, provoking anger and offense.

And that was what brought Kirori Lal Meena, a lower-caste member of Parliament with a formidable constituency in the state of Rajasthan, to the writers’ lounge at Diggi Palace. Meena’s supporters were already agitating outside the festival gates. Meena sat cross-legged on a bench, his hands interlocked and his body language stiff and unrelenting. He demanded that Nandy be produced. He was accompanied by police officers, who took seats around him, their faces tense. The festival organizers moved about frantically, speaking to Meena in polite, supplicating voices, urging some sort of reconciliation. He seemed keen on legal action against Nandy.

Tejpal, the co-panelist, joined in and began describing Nandy’s career. Nandy had for decades supported and written about equal citizenship for the religious minorities, the lower castes, and the poor in India—even putting himself at risk.

In one of the gravest moments of crisis in Indian polity, after the mass sectarian violence in the state of Gujarat, in 2002, when more than a thousand Muslims including pregnant women and children were killed by extremist Hindu mobs—with the alleged complicity of the government led by Hindu nationalist chief minister Narendra Modi (who is now positioning himself as a candidate for Prime Minister and the future leader of India)—Nandy wrote an essay describing Modi as a “classic, clinical case of a fascist,” with “clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits.” The essay appeared in one of India’s much respected intellectual forums, Seminar magazine.

Six years later, after Modi was reëlected in Gujarat, Nandy published an article in the Times of India commenting on the dire state of civil liberties and institutionalized prejudice against minorities in Gujarat. Article Nineteen of the Indian Constitution guarantees free speech, but it is a right limited by five exceptions: the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India; the security of the state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order, decency or morality; and in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. All these can be interpreted rather broadly, and potentially encompass almost any critical writing, political statement, or cultural expression. In this case, Modi’s police registered a criminal case against Nandy, charging him with promoting communal disharmony—making assertions prejudicial to national integration.

Nandy fought the case for several years and Indian intellectuals and liberal journalists rallied behind him. “ The case against me in Gujarat has not been closed, but the Supreme Court of India stayed my arrest,” Nandy told me.

His history and biography failed to check the anger at the Diggi Palace. Meena refused to relent; his hands continued their dismissive, unrelenting interlock.

A few minutes later, Nandy appeared. He was sombre. He faced Meena and spoke slowly, explaining his comments, insisting that his remarks weren’t a casteist slur. Namita Gokhale, a co-director of the festival, appeared with a tea-tray, offering the first cup to the enraged politician.

Meena seemed to demand a written explanation. Nandy began to write. One of the sheets of paper was torn as he wrote. He copied his explanation onto another sheet. I stood by his shoulder, watching him slowly pen his words. Nandy repeated his earlier arguments about the entrenched social networks of the élites facilitating their corruption and added,


But when Dalits, tribals and the O.B.C.s are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed. 

However, this second corruption equalizes. It gives them access to their entitlements. And so, as long as this equation persists, I have hope for the Republic.

I hope this will be the end of the matter. I am sorry if some have misunderstood me. Though there was no reason to do so. As should be clear from this statement, there was neither any intention nor any attempt to hurt any community. If anyone is genuinely hurt, even if through misunderstanding, I am sorry about that, too.


When Meena left the lounge, television crews had been waiting for him; he was unyielding as he faced the cameras. In a few hours, news came that Mayawati, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, had demanded Nandy’s arrest for his remarks. Nandy’s family sought to get him back home to Delhi. A few policemen and the organizers took him out of the festival venue through a back door. The embattled, aging scholar walked briskly through the crowds as the sun set on Jaipur. He stepped into a car and drove six hours through the night to Delhi.

Politicians from all communities in India are among the first to take offense, partly with an eye on political profit and increased visibility. And yet one of the foremost Dalit intellectuals, Kancha Ilaiah, who teaches at a university in Hyderabad, was in Jaipur. Ilaiah’s best-known book, “Why I am Not a Hindu?”—a searing critique of the Hindu caste system—is required reading on the subject. Several years back, attempts were made to censor Ilaiah’s essays on caste by the authorities of his university. A letter from the registrar of his university directed him to write “within the canons of conduct of our profession” and accused him of “accentuated social tensions” through his writing. It was the Indian equivalent of Princeton trying to stop Cornel West from writing about race.

Ilaiah, the polemicist, is a slight, soft-spoken man with wisps of grey hair. At Jaipur, he wore a navy-blue suit, rimless glasses, and carried a bag full of books. Ilaiah was troubled by Nandy’s statement but opposed calls for his arrest. “His statement was not intended to hurt, but it is an assertion that encompasses the ethical life of eight-hundred million people. Are our laborers corrupt? Are our tribals who live and toil in the forests corrupt? Nobody ever said that the slaves were corrupt,” Ilaiah told me. “Ashis Nandy intended to support the cause of an oppressed people but he deployed the wrong concept and made an incorrect assertion. It is a very emotive issue. You are calling a people corrupt, a people whose life in this country is harsh.” It was not as if their marginalization was entirely in the past: “Even at a conference like this, not even one per cent of the participants are from Dalit or other lower-caste communities.”

The Jaipur police proceeded to register a criminal case against Nandy and sought the video recording of the discussion to check if the scholar’s comments constituted an offense under the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act of India. (The law is aimed at preventing untouchability, which includes denial of access to certain places to an S.C. or S.T. person; preventing him or her from getting water from any spring, reservoir or any other source; or making a comment in order to insult or intimidate with intent to humiliate a S.C. or S.T. person in any place within public view.) The police also ordered the organizers of the literary festival not to leave the city until they were questioned by the police about, among other things, whether they had breached the terms of an undertaking they had signed to “not hurt the sentiments of any community or religion during the literary festival.” A court order helped them return home after two days, but the police summoned Nandy to appear in Jaipur for a probe against his remarks.

The undertaking the organizers had signed was a condition that the Rajasthan government had imposed after opposition from Muslim groups and death threats forced Salman Rushdie to cancel his visit to the festival last year. (David Remnick wrote about it at the time.) Even before the Nandy affair, there was a certain jitteriness around open speech, nationalism, and religion at the festival. India’s most powerful Hindu supremacist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Association, had issued a warning that the participation of Pakistani authors was “not in the country’s interests at the moment.”

Younger officials of the R.S.S.’s political wing and India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party threatened to stop Pakistani authors from entering the venue. Like their brethren on the Hindu right, a little-known Islamist group called for banning from the festival four writers—Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, and Ruchir Joshi—who had read extracts from Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” during the previous festival.

The threats seemed mere bluster when I first arrived in Jaipur, although visitors entered the venue through metal detectors, and scores of policemen and private-security men were present at the gates. Diggi Palace’s lawns held a boisterous crowd of writers and readers, a cacophony of voices debating the global economy, religious landscapes in India, and arguing about the Jewish novel. I saw the Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam signing copies of his new novel, “The Blind Man’s Garden.” Aslam was excited about the end papers: “Aren’t they gorgeous?” A little later, I saw the Indian novelist Jeet Thayil, one of the authors that the Islamic fringe tried to ban (and whose novel “Narcopolis” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year). He had been assigned a policeman who followed him throughout the festival. “He has been with me at all my talks and at all the parties,” Thayil said. “After we attended several talks, he was bored and asked, ‘Is this what you do? You talk all day about books?’ Yes, I said. He was quiet after that, but his amusement and disbelief at our vocation was evident.” Thayil went on to read a section from his novel where the word “cunt” and its variations appeared several times. Four charges of obscenity were filed against him at a Jaipur police station.

My own panel had been, appropriately enough, about censorship. In it, I’d dwelled on the image of a tall, gangly man with a luxurious mustache in an ill-fitting leather jacket and baggy trousers, walking about the newspaper offices in Srinagar, the main city in the Indian-controlled Kashmir, a decade ago. I was a novice reporter travelling between sites of atrocity, visiting the drab offices of pro-India or pro-Kashmiri independence politicians for press conferences. The man always stood in a corner, listening intently, scribbling intensely. Occasionally, I would bump into him and he would ask about my family, or bring up an event he had missed. “I had to take my son to a hospital. Please tell me what was said? Who asked the questions?” It could feel like a fellow reporter seeking help, but I had learned by then about his vocation: he was the policeman whose job was to report on the press. The colder, faceless sign of surveillance and censorship was a faint noise, a crackle over the phone, a slight echo of your own voice that reminded one of the policemen listening to our words. The regime of censorship in conflict zones like Kashmir extended to unknown callers making intimidating threats to writers and journalists–and in the worst cases, assassinations.

But Kashmir has for decades been a state of exception, a gray zone where democratic imperatives are subservient. Recently, the Indian government has been showing greater intolerance of dissent and critique beyond the borderlands, too. Apart from censorship and surveillance by the government, an insidious trend of political, ethnic, and religious groups threatening artists, writers, and scholars with violence and legal action has been gathering strength across India.

In September, Aseem Trivedi, a Mumbai-based cartoonist, who mocked politicians facing a litany of corruption charges by redrawing the seal of India—replacing the lions with wolves—was arrested on charges of sedition in Mumbai. After intense criticism by the courts and civil society, the charges were dropped and Trivedi was released.

On November 18th, Mumbai was shut down following the death of its most powerful and controversial Hindu politician, Bal Thackeray—a divisive figure who, as the leader of Shiv Sena party, had a record of inciting xenophobic and sectarian violence. Fears of violence by his grieving party-members kept vehicles off the roads and shops closed. A twenty-one-year-old woman in a Mumbai suburb remarked critically on Thackeray’s death on her Facebook page, “People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a ‘bandh’ [shutdown] for that.” A friend of hers liked the comment. The police arrested both girls and charged them under a section of India’s Information Technology Act, which governs cyber offenses. The girls were eventually released on bail after appearing in a local court.

Shiv Sena, the political party that Thackeray headed till his death, and whose members lobbied for the arrests of the two Mumbai girls, has, in fact, performed the role of a vigilante censor in India. The great painter Maqbool Fida Husain, known as the Picasso of India, was in his nineties when he became the target of the Hindu right for a series of nude paintings of Hindu goddesses that he had made in the nineteen-seventies. His exhibitions were vandalized, his house attacked, and criminal cases were filed against him.

Threatened with arrest, Husain had to leave India and live in exile in London and Dubai, before he accepted citizenship in Qatar in 2010. “He kept calling us from London, from New York, pleading that he must absolutely come back to India, ‘not die in a foreign land,’” his friend N. Ram, the publisher of The Hindu newspaper wrote after Husain’s death in June, 2011, in a London hospital.

And just a few weeks back, Muslim groups in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu protested against a thriller that they believed depicted Muslims as terrorists; the release of the movie was delayed by a local court. It was about these stifling trends that my colleagues and I spoke.

By Wednesday morning, another case has been registered against Nandy under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Fearing arrest, Nandy appealed to the Supreme Court of India, which has the authority to stop his arrest and quash the case against him. On Friday, Justice Altamas Kabir, the Chief Justice of India, along with two other judges, heard his appeal. Nandy’s lawyer invoked free speech, but the judges reprimanded him: “Tell your client he has no license to make such comments.”

The court said it would reserve judgment until seeing the government’s response to the motions. “In the meantime, the petitioner will not be arrested in FIR filed in connection with the statement made by him at the JLF, on January 26,” the Court ordered—so Nandy would have to wait in jail. After the decision, the scholar spoke to the press, expressing his gratitude to the court. Nandy added, “I will have to be careful now.”

Photograph by Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty.

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