BJP Backers' Secret App to Boost Hate, Fake News; ‘Bulli Bai’ a Surprise? You’ve Been Living Under a Rock
Plus: R-value higher than ever, Adani wins NTPC contract, 1.54 million CCTV cameras in 15 cities, prices to rise, buyers cautious, and Rs 14.86 crore state funds spent to bring tribals to Modi’s show
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Snapshot of the day
January 6, 2022
A new report by the World Inequality Institute marks out India again. It finds much more inequality within countries than between them. India is among the top three countries featuring “spectacular increases in inequality”. National average income levels are poor predictors of inequality and India, along with Brazil, is “exhibiting extreme inequality”.
In a survey of 47,000 families conducted by LocalCircles, more than 80% families said they would not buy property or a car this year, 78% don’t plan to buy jewellery and 28% will not make new investments.
Vehicle registration fell 16.05% year-on-year in December to 1,558,756 units, the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) said. Two-wheeler sales declined 20% YoY to 1,148,732 units from 1,433,334 units. “The economic situation on the ground is worrying. People have either lost their jobs or income levels have plummeted. I don’t expect it to improve this year,” said Vinkesh Gulati, president of FADA.
Prices of FMCGs like biscuits, milk-based foods and personal care items could continue to rise this quarter. Parle Products will hike prices again. Chennai-based CavinKare said the company continues to see “pressures” on commodity prices.
Adani Enterprises has won a contract to supply state-run NTPC just a week after announcing it would ship coal out of the Carmichael mine in Australia, a red rag for environmentalists. Bloomberg reports that Adani could deliver 1 million tonnes to NTPC and is in talks with Damodar Valley Corporation to supply another 1 million tonnes.
In light of the growing Omicron threat, the Uttarakhand High Court has asked the Election Commission of India to consider prohibition of large election rallies and issue directions for virtual campaigning; and also consider the alternative of virtual voting.
Remember the siege mentality seen at the flag-hoisting on January 26 at the Red Fort last year, supported by ministers and friendly media? This year, once the PM turned away from a rally in Punjab, “security lapse” acquired new meanings. The fact is that there were no crowds at the venue, but the twist came after the event. Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi held a press conference, regretted that the PM could not reach the venue, but made it clear that there was no security lapse, which the Home Ministry has asked him to explain. The project is to tar the Punjab farmer in words that were Whatsapped to the media.
The PM told officials who were at Bhatinda (the CM was isolating, with Covid-19 among his staff) to convey his thanks to the CM ― presumably because he escaped harm. Reactions came in. In December 2017, the PM’s convoy was stuck in Noida for over two hours due to a security breach. A few cops were suspended. No one said the PM was in danger or taunted the UP CM. In 2018, Republic TV crowed over photos of Modi’s convoy stuck in Delhi traffic, saying how this shows the PM has beaten back ‘VIP culture’. Why is this ‘PM’s life in danger’ paranoia reserved for Punjab?
Comparisons were drawn to how Nehru handled protests, or Dr Manmohan Singh. But comedians and artists were the quickest off the blocks, like Atul Khatri and Munawar Faruqui. Kunal Kamra recalled the 700-odd farmers who died in the protests. Of course, they did not die for Modi. The PM has not denied what the Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik quoted him as saying about the farmers who lost their lives: “Kya mere liye mare the?” Listen to Lalu Prasad Yadav from decades ago ― the life of a citizen is no less valuable than that of a PM.
JNU Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar, mired in controversies about arbitrary and vindictive decisions and inaction on campus violence, is among those shortlisted for the post of UGC chairman. Kumar, who has been on extension at JNU for a year, is among the candidates interviewed. The others shortlisted are Nitin Karmalkar, VC of Savitribai Phule Pune University, and Avinash Chandra Pandey, director of the Inter-University Accelerator Centre, an autonomous research outfit of the UGC. The post of UGC chairman has been vacant since December 2020.
Al Jazeera has spoken to women put up for ‘auction’ on the ‘Bulli Bai’ app.
The Supreme Court told the Centre that it would permit counselling for PG medical courses only after hearing objections of petitioners who have challenged the income criterion for the economically weaker sections. Justice DY Chandrachud turned down solicitor-general Tushar Mehta’s plea for counselling to begin. The Centre has failed to explain why it set an annual income ceiling of Rs 8 lakh for the EWS quota. The hearing continues today.
Former editor of The Hindu N Ram said in an interview, “The PM’s silence in this case [the Haridwar hate event] is very troubling. This is definitely orchestrated, this is planned. And a climate of impunity is created when the fascistic hatemongers reckon that they can get away with anything because ‘this is our regime’ and this is going to be a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ … These are clearly fascistic activities.”
Lt Gen Anindya Sengupta has taken over from Lt Gen PGK Menon (who was rather active on Twitter) as Corps Commander of Leh-based 14 Corps, responsible for the Ladakh border with China, and Siachen, Kargil and Dras with Pakistan.
India’s first cryptocurrency index IC15 has been launched. But there is no sign of a crypto law and no explanation for the mysterious hacking of the PM’s Twitter account, which had promoted Bitcoin.
Having canceled the Ranji Trophy due to Omicron, the BCCI now boasts of a plan to complete the league stage of the country’s premier domestic competition before the start of the IPL in April and then hold the knockouts after the league. This was planned last year, too, but did not succeed.
And why the first Buddhas in art wear finely draped Greek tunics.
Tek-Fog: An app to spread hate, manufacture social media trends
A two-year investigation by The Wire went live today, with Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar detailing what is known about Tek Fog, a secret and deadly app that supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party have apparently been deploying to drive social media trends and target critics of the government. Equally troubling are the links between the app and two private firms, Persistent Systems and Sharechat.
R-value higher than second wave peak’s
India reports 90,928 fresh Covid cases, 19,206 recoveries, and 325 deaths in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the Health Ministry confirmed India’s first death linked to Omicron. The New York Times reports that infections are spiraling in major cities like Delhi (where cases doubled overnight) and Mumbai (which reported a record 15,000 cases). Political leaders in power call for vigilance and impose restrictions — before heading off to crowded campaign rallies. Déjà vu, or déjà booboo? The government admits that India’s R-value is higher than the second Covid-19 wave peak’s. Covid-19 threatens the Vibrant Gujarat Summit on January 10-12. It has also put a question mark on visits by foreign dignitaries in January, including on Republic Day.
As the Centre prepares the vaccination campaign for health and frontline workers and senior citizens from January 10, it finally announced that the third dose will not be a mix-and-match ― everyone will get whatever they got earlier. Only Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is available for the 15-18 years age group. The company has announced that paracetamol or painkillers are not recommended after vaccination.
Iranian apples displacing local produce
The apex body of fruit growers and dealers of Kashmir has written to PM Modi about losses incurred due to the illegal import of Iranian apples. Demand for local produce has dipped and over 3 crore cases are lying unsold in Kashmir. Growers demand 100% import duty on Iranian apples.
JNU attack victims wait for justice
The victims of the violence at JNU on January 5, 2020, still await justice. More than 30 were severely injured when 100 masked persons armed with sticks and rods went on a rampage for almost four hours. They had accused RSS affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Apparently, the attack was carried out to prevent the students from protesting against fees hike and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
After recording the statements of victims, the police could not collect the chat data of WhatsApp group ‘Friends of RSS and Unity against Left’, where the attack was planned, as the Facebook subsidiary refused to share information without a US court order. The university delayed its probe owing to the pandemic.
The Long Cable
Surprised by ‘Bulli Bai’? You’ve been living under a rock
There is surprise and alarm at the discovery that those alleged to be behind a campaign to dehumanise and ‘sell’ Indian Muslim women are aged 18-21. The facts of the grotesque saga are here.
The surprise is alarming and the alarm is surprising. It is no exaggeration to point out that every arm of the Indian state has worked with terrifying single-mindedness towards a single goal ― the radicalisation of Indian Hindus against Indians of all other religions. The dismal state of progress in all other areas ― economic, social and political justice ― stands in stark contrast with the Adani-like jump in hatred and violence against Indian Muslims. There are obvious parallels with Nazi Germany but there are also significant dissimilarities.
Parallels can be seen in calls for the boycott of Muslim traders, followed by violence against them, blatant and enduring hatred against Muslims on prominent TV channels, mainstream cinema portraying overt and covert hatred against Muslims, respected English dailies carrying ‘advertisements’ that show Muslims as inherently criminal, religious sabhas being organised where large groups swear to murder Muslims, and so on. It bears repeated repetition that this hatred comes right from the top ― the PM says protesters can be identified “by their clothes”, the UP chief minister reduces an affectionate Urdu word for one’s father to a slur, the Haryana chief minister defends the violent denial of the right of Muslims to pray in public ― the list is exhaustive.
There is political sanction for radicalisation, and the deliverables are produced not only by the political party, or the press and popular cinema, but also by institutions. Absolutely legal conduct by Muslims sees swift punitive measures from the judiciary. There is a glaring contrast in standards of liberty for Muslims and others, and this is most evident not only in the unequal denial of bail but also in terms of which events in the news give rise to suo motu action by constitutional/appellate courts, and which don’t.
The police, which were always subservient to the executive, now have the impunity to mimic its prejudices ― hatemonger Yati Narsinghanand bragged that the police were supporting him, and a cop present was unable to suppress a chuckle.
Parliament has not only been abused thanks to the brute majority of the ruling party, but also became a site for bigotry when Muslim MPs were heckled with Hindu religious slogans while swearing a constitutional oath.
With the length, breadth and depth of the radicalisation program, the age of the accused in the latest ‘Bulli Bai’ case or the fact that they are geographically scattered should not surprise anyone who has not been living under a rock.
Now, the disimilarities with the Nazi project: the 2021 Indian variant of Nazism is deceitful, unlike the original. Unlike Hitler, India’s PM is still compelled to pay homage to Gandhi, peace and human rights when abroad. Even in India, he has to call the Constitution a holy book and swear by it. Sometimes, other institutions can also be shamed into temporary course correction.
This deceit is not a relief. It is dangerous because it has the effect of keeping many outside and inside India confused. Many confuse deliberate deceit with organic chaos and conclude that ordinary politics is alive and well. They are misled into underestimating the scale and speed of radicalisation. This popularly manifests in debates about whether hatemongers are the ‘fringe’. Whether a sentiment is fringe or not ought to be estimated not only by the number of its supporters or even the breadth of its institutional sanction. It also ought to be estimated by the number and the political, social and economic power of the community at risk.
Another dissimilarity is perhaps preventing the edifice from collapsing ― India’s plural ethos, which isn’t something Indians are born with but which was cultivated with great labour for decades, especially during the first 17 years of the Indian republic. This plural ethos continues to create obstacles for the Radicalise India Project (R.I.P).
(Dushyant is a lawyer and columnist. He tweets as @atti_cus)
The appointment of Modi’s old favourite from his Gujarat days, Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officer Bharat Lal, as secretary of the Lokpal Secretariat has raised eyebrows. Many expected Lal to become secretary for drinking water and sanitation, since he had worked as additional secretary there and overseen prestigious drinking water pipelines projects.
Chennai airport among top 10 globally
Chennai International Airport is ranked eighth for on-time performance among large international airports globally for 2021 by Cirium, a provider of aviation data. It is the only Indian airport in the top 10. The top three are Miami, Fukuoka and Haneda. On-time departures for Chennai is 89.32% on 70 routes globally analysed by Cirium.
Prime number: Rs 14.86 crore
That’s the amount pulled out from the budget for tribal welfare to get tribals from across Madhya Pradesh to attend PM Modi’s Tribal Pride Day event on November 15 in Bhopal, to woo voters under the BJP’s tribal outreach programme. Over Rs 12.92 crores was released on November 9 to all districts, and over 1.94 crores additionally given to 11 districts. It was used for transportation, boarding and lodging.
Some raita on the side?
Jayant Pankaj on the rising number of CCTV cameras in India, with around 1.54 million cameras spread across the top 15 cities. Almost 91.1% of them are in New Delhi (5,51,500), Hyderabad (3,75,000), Chennai (2,80,000), and Indore (2,00,600). Their proliferation, in India and abroad, has done little to combat crime - the stated rationale.
The male nurse asserts himself
Nursing has historically been considered a woman’s field. Scroll reports that now men are asking for parity in training and employment.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
The Chinese challenge has uncovered India’s fragilities ― political, economic and diplomatic problems, the result of choices made after 2014, writes Sushant Singh, a contributor to The India Cable.
‘Bulli Bai’ is at least the fourth instance of Muslim women being put up for ‘auction’. It is a direct result of the state’s inaction on ‘Sulli Deals’ and Islamophobia, writes Sanyukta Dharmadhikari.
As India persists with political rallies despite Omicron, Ruth Pollard writes, “We’ve seen this movie before. In April 2020, as India reeled from a wave of hospitalisations and deaths… a mask-less Modi boasted of huge crowds at an election rally.”
AFSPA has created a grotesque climate of impunity. Even the local police, who are not covered by the Act, at times begin to assume they are, writes Pradip Phanjoubam.
Vijay Prashad writes that elections in three states will be a contest between the BJP’s polarising, violent, Islamophobic messages and efforts to create a more plural, democratic India.
The government should pay Devas Multimedia $1.3 billion, as awarded in damages by an arbitration tribunal and close the chapter on glory-hunting former CAG Vinod Rai’s imagined scams, says Mint.
Sushovan Sircar writes that in the context of personal data and information, four primary issues raise grave concerns for privacy in 2022.
Instead of investing only in metros and highways, spend on smart rail, green transport, climate-resilient water systems and refurbishing existing infrastructure, writes Partha Mukhopadhyay.
Tikender Singh Panwar writes that around the world, more and more cities are being run by political leaders directly elected by citizens, while in India, we find that cities are run by chief ministers who are oblivious to their needs.
With the government withdrawing from the social sector, the role of NGOs is rising and critical. To tar a certain section of them and squeeze them out of existence will do the country no good, writes Shemin Joy.
Zoya Hasan writes that the rights-based approach to development is the way to rescue UP and reverse the damages caused by the counter-revolution in the heartland of our democracy.
“They called us Covid warriors, but we were never more than cannon fodder and the people of India, the acceptable collateral damage,” writes a resident doctor anonymously for Youth Ki Awaz.
Journalist Hariprasad Radhakrishnan travels to Pudukkottai for Suno India, to speak with V Suryanarayanan and Prabhakar Jayaprakash to understand fishing communities and solutions to the India-Sri Lanka fishing dispute.
The sudden death of Neil Nongkynrih, Padmashri and mentor to the Shillong Chamber Music choir, one of the country’s finest, has saddened many. One of the last posts of the choir, from his repertoire:
Over and Out
‘Pushpa’, a new song from the Telugu film industry which dropped in December, claimed to subvert the male gaze. But on closer scrutiny, BBC reports, it is a mere gimmick, and deeply offensive.
Gandikota: the stunning Indian gorge in Andhra Pradesh that resembles the Grand Canyon. It’s also home to two ancient temples and a 12th century fort.
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