Biden Sidesteps Rights-Related Concerns on Modi to Focus on Business; How Settling With Wilful Defaulters Incentivises Sharp Dealing
India signs Nasa space accord, what attracts the censor's scissors, BEL exported military-use equipment to Myanmar junta, India see-saws on gender parity, Amul Girl has lost her father
A newsletter from The Wire | Founded by MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sushant Singh, Sidharth Bhatia and Tanweer Alam | With inputs from Kalrav Joshi | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
June 22, 2023
Apart from the numerous deals that were reportedly all but done before Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in the US, India has decided to join the Artemis Accords for the peaceful exploration of the Solar system, and to return humans to the moon by 2025. A Nasa-ISRO joint mission to the International Space Station will be planned for next year. Yesterday, Ecuador also signed the Accords, the 26th nation to do so. GE will sell its F414 engine to HAL for use in the Tejas Mk2 light combat aircraft but clearances for ‘production’ of the engine in India and the ambit of technology transfer, if any) have still not been settled.
Rights groups in the US are urging President Joe Biden to give Indian PM Modi a public dressing down for human rights violations in India, which is also backsliding on press freedoms and leads in internet shutdowns. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Biden will not “lecture” Modi on the subject. But the White House announced that the two leaders will appear jointly after their bilateral summit on Thursday and “take questions from the press”. Modi abhors unscripted sessions with the press, at home and abroad, and Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council in the White House John Kirby said it’s a “big deal”. But to prevent the deal from ballooning grotesquely, questions will be rationed: one from an Indian journalist, and one from an American.
Perhaps the most arresting coverage of Modi’s day out at the UN, before the two leaders got down to brass tacks, was from the Associated Press, a story creepily headlined “backbends and corpse poses on the UN lawn”. The story said that the primal sound of ‘Om’ competed for attention with “the shouts of demonstrators across the street”. Doordarshan combed the crowd for positive quotes, like from Grammy winner Ricky Kej, who transparently liked the yoga, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who said that the PM is “scientifically thoughtful”, whatever that means. The national broadcaster was ably assisted by ANI, which got, among others, Richard Gere, who was right opposite the PM on the lawn and said that “this message of universal brotherhood and sisterhood is the one we want to hear again and again.” In India, sadly, such messages are never very audible these days.
Apart from rights activists, the International Press Institute (IPI) has called on US President Joe Biden to raise press freedom issues in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that the “weaponisation of the law against critical journalists has also become increasingly common” under his regime. IPI said that the “alarming deterioration” of press freedom in India must be halted, asking Biden to tackle these issues at home and abroad on priority. This week, IPI joined seven other international press freedom groups as part of the Washington Post’s Press Freedom Partnership to publish a newspaper ad calling attention to the plight of six journalists currently detained for alleged violations of Indian security laws. Bernie Sanders has also said that President Biden should speak of the repression of the press and civil society under Modi.
Deccan Herald reports that the Kuki and Meitei diasporas in the US will demonstrate in Washington, in the vicinity of the Capitol, to draw the attention of the international community to the social crisis in Manipur, which the PM has left behind. At least three delegations of politicians ― two from his own BJP party and one from the Congress ― were waiting to meet him in Delhi when he flew to New York. The North American Manipur Tribal Association will petition the US government and the UN for immediate humanitarian aid for displaced people in Manipur. Back home, in the state riven by ethnic violence, protesters boycotted International Yoga Day and burned effigies of PM Modi.
An indication of asymmetric priorities: the Twitter handles of Modi and the PMO have tweeted 30 times so far about the PM’s visit to the US, while the handles of Biden, POTUS and the White House have not tweeted about Modi at all. However, Jill Biden (@FLOTUS) did put out a tweet.
The Pew Research Center says that Americans see India in a positive light, but few have confidence in Modi. As part of the survey, Pew asked Americans about their confidence in seven world leaders to “do the right thing” in global affairs. Forty per cent said they had never heard of Narendra Modi. Americans under 30 are more likely “to say they do not know who Modi is (59%)”. But only 28% of US adults aged 65 and up say the same. Adults with less education are also more likely than those with higher levels of education to have never heard of Modi. And for those who have heard of him, “the prevailing sentiment is negative: 37% have little or no confidence in his ability to do the right thing regarding world affairs, compared with 21% who are confident in him.”
The Guardian explains why, despite the glaring differences between the governments of India and the US, it’s win-win for Biden, who gets an ally in the Cold War against China, and Modi, who can play to the domestic gallery with arms deals and the cobra pose. In The Atlantic, Daniel Block says that Indians both accept the strategic need the US has for India, and do not want it to intervene in India’s internal affairs. “Mostly, however, Indian activists had a simple request for U.S. officials: Stop praising Modi, and instead tell the truth.” “As the president of one stumbling democracy joins hands with a PM bent on hobbling another, the project of global freedom seems one step closer to collapse,” writes Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff in the New York Times. “India’s Modi is a right-wing despot — not a rock star like Springsteen,” writes Rummana Hussain in the Chicago Sun-Times. In Bloomberg, Pankaj Mishra says that the US shouldn’t mistake Modi for India. In the Financial Times, Edward Luce says that Biden has taken “Operation seduce Narendra Modi” to new heights. Today, a New York Times editorial says that Modi’s visit presents a “quandary” to the US.
Amit Shah has called an all-party meet ― a briefing expected to control political damage ― to discuss the situation in Manipur on Saturday. He will be beaten to the draw by perhaps 20 Opposition parties, which will meet in Patna on Friday at the invitation of Tejashwi Yadav and Nitish Kumar to prepare for the 2024 general election.
An investigation conducted by Justice for Myanmar (JFM) ― a covert group of activists that has campaigned to “dismantle the Burmese military’s business practices and systematic corruption” ― has revealed that the Indian PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) exported $5 million worth of military end-use goods, technology and technical documents to the Myanmar junta from November 2022 to April 2023. “BEL, which maintains a branch office in Myanmar, transferred the equipment knowing that the Myanmar military is the end user and that it is committing ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity,” the group said. The supply chain was uncovered through the database of Panjiva, a global trade data company.
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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman left for Paris yesterday to attend the meeting for a ‘New Global Financing Pact’ on June 22-23. She will engage in bilateral and multilateral interactions. In the June quarter, hiring by India Inc fell to a two-year low, and for some recruiters, even to the lows of early 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic. Roughly 225,000 active positions are open, down about 100,000 from a year ago. A 75% quarterly decline in hiring is attributed to revenue problems and fatigue about new hires following cycles of excess hiring and layoffs.
The Enforcement Directorate is searching 14 premises in Maharashtra in connection with a ‘Rs 100-crore Covid-19 centre scam’. The case stems from a complaint by BJP leader Kirit Somaiya. Among those being raided are Sujit Patkar, close aide of Shiv Sena (Uddhav Bal Thackeray) faction leader Sanjay Raut and Suraj Chavan, personal assistant of Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya. Premises linked to IAS officer Sanjeev Jaiswal, who was earlier additional municipal commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, are also being raided.
Twitter has no choice but to obey local government, said Elon Musk, after meeting Modi in New York on the first day of his four-day state visit to the US. Weeks ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey had alleged that the Indian government had threatened to shut it down for not complying with takedown orders during the farmers’ protest.
In Punjab, the New York Times reprises a tragic story that is age-old: women are married to strangers from the diaspora, pressed for dowry to improve their husbands’ prospects, and then abandoned in their villages.
The Drug Controller General of India has authorised GEMCOVAC-OM, a first-of-its-kind mRNA vaccine for the Omicron variant from Gennova Biopharmaceuticals of Pune. A year ago, the business received clearance for GEMCOVAC-19, the nation’s first Covid-19 mRNA vaccine.
The School of Asian and African Studies in London has joined educational institutions in the US in firewalling itself against caste prejudice. The Students’ Union has added the marker to its Equality and Diversity Policy.
A silent crisis is developing in Darjeeling’s tea plantations: climate change is harming production, the quality of the tea and the health of workers. The Hindu reports that the effects of climate change are pervasive.
The Amul Girl has lost her father. Adman Sylvester daCunha, who died yesterday, created Amul’s mascot in 1966, along with the enduring tagline ‘utterly butterly delicious’. Since 1994, his son Rahul DaCunha has handled the Amul ‘topicals’ ― the hoardings in which she has commented for decades, with unfailing grace and good humour, on all things from nukes to cricket. The series is believed to be the world’s longest-running campaign featuring a single character. Yesterday, sadly, it outlived its creator.
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