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Attempt to Trigger Riots in Ayodhya By Time-Honoured Means; India's Reticence On Ukraine Undermines Its Soft Power, Security
IPO-bound LIC in the red in real terms, 17 die in sewers in a month, plight of China-bound students, Yuvraj’s dad passed off as Modi and Modi passed off as book guru, why tough guys shouldn't dance
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
April 29, 2022
Seven men – Mahesh Kumar Mishra, Pratyush Srivastava, Nitin Kumar, Deepak Kumar Gaud, Brijesh Pandey, Shatrughan Prajapati and Vimal Pandey – were arrested for plotting to trigger riots and a communal conflagration in Ayodhya. They are understood to have thrown meat and holy books into mosques, in the time-honoured tradition of the ungodly, and put up inflammatory posters outside religious shrines. Remember Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas? Who would plot this? Who profits from Hindu-Muslim discord? Journalist Ajit Anjum asks when Bulldozer Baba’s machines will level their homes.
Some 89 swords and a dagger were seized on the Mumbai-Agra highway, according to NDTV, along with exhortations to people to pick up arms, defend themselves and kill Muslims, an echo of the murderous rhetoric of dharam sansads. The arms were reportedly being transported to Jalna in Maharashtra. The world is taking note. The Financial Times reports that “politics has been turned on its head [as] India reels from a wave of religious violence. Critics claim the ruling BJP has tacitly encouraged hardline Hindu groups while clamping down on Muslim communities.”
“As for those at the wrong end of government, the stark fact is that nearly all are Muslims. Although India’s 15% Muslim minority suffers most from communal violence, it is Muslims who are targeted for collective punishment,” reports The Economist. “Hindu agitators, including one who recently called over a loudspeaker for the rape of Muslim women, are getting soft treatment. But numerous Muslims remain in jail, often charged under anti-terror statutes, for far milder statements. Indian justice is not always so partial. Granting bail to three Muslim students jailed for sedition, a judge declared, ‘The unity of India is not made of bamboo reeds which will bend to passing winds.’ But he made no mention of what had cost the youths five months of freedom: tweeting cheers to Pakistan for winning a cricket match.”
The railways have “cancelled some passenger trains to allow for faster movement of coal carriages to avoid a full-blown power crisis.” Coal reserves at power plants are reported to have “declined 16% since the start of April.” PTI reports that acute coal shortages during the heatwave “have triggered blackouts across many parts of the country as states struggle to manage record demand for electricity and low feedstock at power plants.”
LIC has a Rs 6,028 crore problem which would show it in the red, rather than marginally profitable. The updated IPO documents mention that despite several previous attempts, LIC has failed to sell securities in the secondary market. LIC’s IPO prospectus acknowledges that the company is in violation of a key regulatory norm by not having transferred these investments to shareholders’ accounts. LIC said of the Rs 11,264.6 crore worth of debt paper of mispriced insurance policies, paper worth Rs 5,350.6 crore represents non-performing assets for which full provisioning has been done at an amortized cost. If this is shown in the balance sheet, LIC would have to show a loss of Rs 6,028.15 crore.
A Business Standard analysis shows that the number of Indian students studying abroad has almost doubled in the last few years. In 2015-16, according to government data, 574,871 Indians were studying abroad; by March 2022, that number had shot up to 1.32 million. Further analysis shows that four countries — the US, Canada, UAE and Australia — account for two-thirds. Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, the number of international students in Indian colleges grew only 16.7%, from 42,293 to 49,348. Of the 49,348 students in India, over 13,000 — or a fourth — were from Nepal.
Weeks after the WHO suspended the supply of Covaxin through UN procurement agencies, the MEA suggested that vaccine maker Bharat Biotech should address the issue immediately to avoid cancellation of the world health body’s emergency use approval. “The issues pertain to m-RNA based booster dose requirement by countries which, in effect, negates our effort to obtain recognition for Covishield and Covaxin, suspension of supply of Covaxin by WHO, acceptance of Corbevax and Covaxin-based vaccination certificates for children and international travel by Indians vaccinated with Sputnik-V,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in a communication to Dr VK Paul on Tuesday.
The Indian National SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortium (Insacog), a network of 28 research labs sequencing coronavirus variants nationwide, has consistently delayed data release for scientific scrutiny and provided patchy data to its own scientists, undermining its own objectives. It has over the past 15 months sequenced and analysed over 204,000 genomes but only 135,000 are available for independent scientific scrutiny, reports The Telegraph.
Feeling the heat on the language question after trying to push Hindi down people’s throats (remember Amit Shah in Parliament?), Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan has said that the BJP government had not stated that Hindi is the national language. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has hailed regional languages. Bommai said, referring to the row triggered by actor Ajay Devgn’s illiterate statement (See Reportedly): “After the reorganisation of states on linguistic basis, mother tongue or regional language is important and supreme in states. All should understand and respect that.”
Amazon will increase its stakes in India with 41 new titles, including sports content. Amazon Prime has launched a rent-a-movie service and announced licensing deals with the biggest Mumbai studios.
The US has raised concerns about India’s Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill and draft non- personal data governance framework, claiming these could threaten innovation and economic growth. In its latest ‘Special 301’ Report, the USTR kept India on the priority watch list.
Genetic and chemical studies of human bones recovered from an abandoned well in Punjab’s Ajnala corroborate historical accounts that they are the remains of soldiers from the 26th Bengal Native Infantry regiment, of soldiers from Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and eastern UP, who were killed during the 1857 revolt, reports The Telegraph. An account of the uprising, published in 1858 by Frederick Henry Cooper, deputy commissioner of the district, had documented the capture, imprisonment and killing of 282 Indian soldiers.
The BBC examines why the West is reckoning with caste bias now. April 14 was marked by at least two US universities as Dr BR Ambedkar Equity Day. Before that, Canada’s British Columbia also declared April as Dalit History Month.
“Digital blackmail and endless threats, scammy loan apps have soared across India.” Restofworld.org reports that nearly half of the digital lending apps available in India between January and February 2021 were illegal, as per the RBI.
Film, television and theatre actor Salim Ahmad Ghouse passed away yesterday. He performed in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and English films. He played multiple roles in Shyam Benegal’s signature take on Nehru’s Discovery of India ― Bharat Ek Khoj ― Ram, Krishna and Tipu Sultan.
A video of an elderly man at the crease has been shared on social media with the claim that it is PM Narendra Modi playing cricket. However, it’s Yograj Singh, former Indian cricketer and actor ― and the father of Yuvraj Singh.
Modi also figures prominently in India’s official displays at the Paris Book Festival.
Alvida disallowed at Srinagar mosque, J&K jails teeming with PSA detenus
In Kashmir, the Lieutenant Governor has decided to disallow the last congregational Friday prayers, today, of Ramzan at Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid. Alvida, the last Friday of Ramzan, is special. Police said “the decision was taken as it would be difficult for them to manage such a huge congregation.” This is ‘normalcy’? The administration is trying to blame the people, with sources connecting the inexplicable move with 13 people picked up “for shouting pro-azadi slogans during Friday prayers” at the mosque. The Peoples’ Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration, an amalgam of regional parties, denounced the LG’s move as “unacceptable and reprehensible”, and direct interference in personal matters.
A massive crackdown using the draconian J&K Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978 over the last two months has overburdened prisons in J&K and many warrants lie unexecuted, The Print reports. Over 500 people are being held under the act in J&K, 150 of whom were arrested in March-April alone. These numbers are over and above the prisoners jailed for regular crimes. The J&K Police seek to move them to jails in UP and Madhya Pradesh to make room for more PSA detenus.
Indian students still can’t return to China
Though students from countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand and the Solomon Islands have been permitted to return to their universities in China recently, no such opportunity has been granted to more than 22,000 Indian students. Mostly medical students, they are attending online classes, without practicals. Jaishankar’s talks with his Chinese counterpart last month and the MEA is now reminding Beijing about this. China is preferred by Indian students, especially to study medicine ― it’s cheaper, and admission is easier. China ranks third globally in international student intake, after the US and UK.
New UPSC chair’s qualification ideological
The appointment of Manoj Soni as chairperson of the Union Public Service Commission has caused a major controversy, though he has been a UPSC member since 2017. In the past, UPSC chairpersons were renowned academics or career administrators. To make the former vice-chancellor of Vadodara’s MS University and a former speechwriter for PM Narendra Modi responsible for the recruitment of officers of the All-India Services, given his saffron background, is a recipe for disaster. The self-proclaimed scholar-monk has ties to the hugely influential Swaminarayan sect and was a staunch defender of Modi’s government in Gujarat, making it clear what his real qualifications are.
The Long Cable
Reticence on Ukraine is undermining India’s soft power and national security
India punched above its weight in shaping world affairs through its history because of its enduring commitment to democracy, secularism, and human rights. But dithering on the invasion of Ukraine, in conjunction with increased religious intolerance, now prevents it from being an effective global power. India should use its diplomatic clout and its policy of Non-Alignment to bridge differences between the West and Russia, strengthening its own alliances while curtailing Chinese expansionism.
When India became independent, Jawaharlal Nehru not only took on the role of prime minister but was also external affairs minister and carefully cultivated the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) to represent India overseas. From that time, India influenced the global discourse on human rights and the international world order. A founding member of the UN, it underscored its importance for intervening in states’ affairs when human rights were at stake, and carving out a space for non-aligned nations. India’s outsized presence in global affairs enabled it to influence the outcome of conflicts. India was front and centre in negotiating an end to the Korean War in 1953, and worked with the US to resolve the Suez Crisis. These early interventions established its importance in global affairs. India was able to do this despite its weak economy, poverty and communal divisions, a rare feat in a bipolar world.
While many have criticised Non-Alignment as a weak and ineffective policy, as seen in India’s zealous pursuit of friendship with Communist China and its subsequent defeat in 1962, its ability to introduce and uphold a democratic and secular Constitution and maintain national unity in an otherwise authoritarian region made it stand out in the developing world. Its influence was grounded in its commitment to its Constitution, a rarity then.
India’s support for constitutional values and human rights ensured it stood on the right side of history during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Indira Gandhi’s government vociferously protested the violence in East Pakistan and opened India’s borders to nearly 10 million refugees while arming the Mukti Bahini, and rallying the global community against Pakistan. Its rapid entry and withdrawal from Bangladesh, despite threats of war from the West, reinforced its position as a regional power with the moral high ground to fight against violations of human rights. India’s functioning democracy and its respect for international law cemented its position as a regional power, and inspired many newly established nations to embrace democracy. As Russia continues its onslaught in Ukraine, India’s refusal to censure it has been noted, fraying ties with traditional partners.
When India undermined its own democracy during the Emergency and dithered on taking a stance in global conflicts, it dented its credibility as a global power. A few months after the Suez Crisis, which India played an integral role in ending, India did not condemn the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and started to be viewed as a Soviet ally. Similarly, India’s reluctance to condemn the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan was criticised by countries in the Non-Aligned Movement and the West; India signalled that invasions are acceptable.
Now, India’s fading democratic traditions and its refusal to take a stand against Russia on Ukraine works against its national interests. Abstention makes Russia more dependent on China for support, which works against India, given rising tensions with both Pakistan and China. India must strengthen its alliances to balance their growing hostility in South Asia.
The reluctance to uphold the principles that the West claims to stand for damages India’s credibility as a trusted partner for the West and Japan. ‘Non-alignment’ no longer makes India a credible partner in world affairs; it isolates India further, while strengthening Sino-Russian relations. This works against India’s interests, with two hostile neighbours encircling it.
India’s moral authority to shape global affairs is declining as its commitment to democracy and secularism fade. Nonetheless, India is still well poised to influence global affairs and still commands influence in the world. With a seat on the UNSC, strong relations with the Quad, Western democracies and Russia, it should be at the forefront of efforts to resolve global conflicts and set expectations for the international community to follow. India’s polarised domestic politics undercuts its claim to be a leading democracy and therefore a global power. If India is to retain its soft power, it must practice the values the Constitution enshrines: democracy, secularism and free speech, and stand against aggressors violating international law.
(Vibhav Mariwala studied History and Anthropology at Stanford University. He tweets @VibhavMariwala)
Actor Ajay Devgan (now Devgn) has never misled us about his erudition. But by asserting that Hindi is a national language (multilingual India doesn’t have one) and then sneering at Kannada, he has made it clear how little he knows about languages. He tweeted about Hindi in a superior tone, ending with ‘Jana Gana Mana’ ― but India’s national anthem is from Bangla. Devgn faces flak and people ask why he was starring in Singham, and if he thinks dubbing is a standard to judge languages by. See this rap song made in 2019 about the Tower of Babel that India is.
Prime Number: 17
At least 17 people have died working in sewers in six separate incidents across the country in just the past one month.
The heatwave in India has left millions struggling to cope, and an orange alert has been finally issued by the Indian Meteorological Department for five states ― Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, UP and Odisha. The New York Times says that “the heatwave poses health and logistical challenges for manual labourers, farmers, firefighters, power engineers, government officials and others”. Do read this for some basics and this for more details and information on the heatwave.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
A public relations campaign cannot be run by the armed forces on manipulative leaks. The coverage of the conflict in eastern Ladakh is probably the worst ever in recent military history. We lost the perception battle to China, writes Lt Gen HS Panag (retd).
The government should not issue rebuttals in bad faith of international Covid-19 mortality estimates that challenge official figures. It should instead release data that could resolve uncertainties, writes Murad Banaji.
Rukmini S writes that the Indian government’s complaints that WHO’s methodology to calculate uncounted Covid-19 deaths are incorrect.
In unleashing state power against Jignesh Mevani, the BJP has inadvertently made him a hero, writes Arati R Jerath.
Ram Puniyani reviews Jan Breman and Ghanshyam Shah’s Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism.
Amit Baruah writes that a quick timetable on statehood and Assembly elections could begin the process of addressing the discontent in the Kashmir Valley.
A Green Deal for India is the need of the hour, to help “address the triple crisis the country is now facing: an economic slowdown, poor health services and high carbon intensity of economic activity,” write Rohit Azad and Shouvik Chakraborty.
The midday meal menu cannot be determined by political parties operating on myopic interests instead of food and nutrition scientists, writes Roopashree Shanker.
Hopefully, Ajay Devgn will educate himself and arrive at the enlightenment that Hindi = national language is a drishyam (in the context of the film, a false visual superimposed on real events) propagated by those who fear India’s incredible linguistic wealth, writes Sowmya Rajendran.
Anand Patwardhan says that “silence is no longer an option.”
“Borders shouldn’t seal out one side from another. Borders are and should be bridges,” says Geetanjali Shree.
Fiza Ranalvi Jha writes on the work of filmmaker, production designer, visual artist and producer Aradhana Seth.
Jahnavi Phalkey joins Shibani Mehta to discuss the history of India’s nuclear programme. What is the relationship between science, the state, and nationhood in India? How did collaborations take place between philanthropists and scientists in early and mid-20th century India?
‘Addicted to Hate’: understanding anti-Islamic violence in India and Sweden, with Dr Sumaiya Sheikh, neuroscientist and founder of VOILEnd.
Over and Out
Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar was the only Indian film to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes ― a thread by Paperclip recalls the astonishing production.
Tough guys don’t dance. A bride, miffed about a groom who danced too much, married someone else in the meantime.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.